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If you haven’t heard of renowned Colombian chef, Juan Manuel Barrientos, you will very soon. He is affectionately known as ‘Juanma’ by locals and at the very young age of 40 is already the founder of a hospitality group that includes restaurants and hotel across the Americas. He was named one of the 50 best chefs in Latin America and there is no doubt you will see his empire extending into Europe in the not-too-distant future.

His original restaurant is based in Medellín. It is now situated inside his boutique El Cielo Hotel. You can appreciate his popularity with a visit to his fabulously inventive restaurant there. With an open kitchen, you can see all the staff in action. They are all dressed in white lab coats with hair nets and meticulously beavering away at their workstations. You can be excused for thinking you’ve walked into the world of Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory.

Their tasting menu includes more than 15 courses or ‘moments’ as they like to call them in the restaurant. They like to create a sense of mystery with their menu. If you look online, you’ll find a long list of mostly single words, which don’t describe the ingredients of the dish. They are in fact, different regions of Colombia and your gastronomic journey at El Cielo is a whirlwind tour of the different regions of the country. What is important to note is this tasting menu is only available at the Medellín branch. If you visit their Michelin-starred restaurants in Miami or Washington DC, only some of the highlights might be on their menu.

The moments are designed to stimulate your senses. The restaurant is well-known for its choco-therapy, so for one course, you’ll be crushing a chocolate truffle ball with your hands. Then you will be enjoying the delights without the use of cutlery. It will bring back innocent childhood memories when dining was less rigid and formal.

This is also the case for another course, where diners are offered edible balloons with helium inside. That is the cue for a chorus of Donald Duck voices reverberating around the restaurant. What makes their concept so successful is they take the seriousness out of fine dining and with every course, they bring a heartfelt smile to everyone’s faces.

Although not advertised on their website, they do cater for dietary requirements. They can readily prep for a vegetarian version of the tasting menu. For example, when they present locally cured charcuterie, they can offer smoked peppers instead.

Dishes are nevertheless always exquisitely presented. The “tree of life” is a case in point, it’s a crunchy canopy of yucca bread presented in a tree trunk structure that made it resemble a bonsai tree.

You might have thought the “tree of life” would represent the Amazonas course. Instead, it is the fish course that contained arapaima. It is the largest freshwater fish in the world and is found in the Amazon River. The dish is presented with burning charcoal and you do wonder whether it is intentional to represent the long-suffering rainforest. The Arapaima has a rather firm texture reminiscent of cod. Another seafood course is the Cartagena-inspired sausage course that is made with crab meat and white fish.

If you are a meat lover, your main course will be paradise. It’s a confit duck served with a peach sauce along with a duck reduction sauce. It’s a surprise you see a lot of menus offering duck and orange but rarely see duck and peach paired together.

The meal is also interactive. For one of the dessert courses, you are a paleontologist looking for an ammonite, as you brush away the edible powder to reveal your dessert. History is never far away from your experience. With the petit fours, it is presented alongside a replica of the Muisca raft, which is the most famous artefact from the Gold Museum in Bogota.

Coffee is an integral part of the Colombian dining experience. The cafetal course includes the use of liquid nitrogen before your coffee is served to resemble the misty conditions of the coffee-growing regions of Colombia.

Throughout the meal, the kitchen excels in showing its mastery of molecular gastronomy. The full experience generally takes at least 3 hours, so make sure you plan either a full afternoon or evening for your meal. ‘El Cielo’ means heaven in Spanish and you will be in gastronomic heaven by the end of your meal.

For more information on the restaurant, please visit –

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From quaint brunch spots to unique wineries and Michelin Star dining, Monterey County, CA has a diverse, vibrant culinary scene. Here’s our guide to some of the best foodie experiences in Monterey County.

Best Foodie Experiences in Monterey County

Michelin Star Dining

The cool coastal town of Carmel by the Sea is quickly becoming a firm favourite with foodies.  This postcard-pretty town is home to top-notch wineries and Michelin-starred restaurants.  Chez Noir’s French-inspired menu showcases innovative, seafood-centric dishes that have earned them a well-deserved Michelin star.  The restaurant comes from husband and wife duo, Jonny and Monique Black, both of whom bring their experience of working at Michelin-starred restaurants to the project. Jonny previously cooked at restaurants including Per Se, Atelier Crenn, and Quince. 

Tucked away down a quiet street in Carmel, Chez Noir is a true haven for food enthusiasts seeking a unique and intimate dining experience. The velvet corner booths and open buzzy kitchen set the stage for a memorable meal. The menu boasts a fusion of flavours, from tantalizing appetizers to decadent desserts. Highlights include their perfectly seared scallops and the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate fondant. The staff’s knowledge and passion for each dish add a personal touch, making Chez Noir a must-visit for those who appreciate culinary artistry.

Craft Beer Paradise

For beer aficionados, Alvarado Street Brewery is a pilgrimage site in Monterey. The industrial-chic setting exudes a laid-back vibe, creating the perfect backdrop for sipping on innovative craft brews. From hoppy IPAs to rich stouts, the beer menu is a testament to the brewery’s commitment to quality and creativity. The friendly staff are more than happy to guide you through their extensive selection, ensuring you find the perfect pint to pair with the bar food. Alvarado Street Brewery is a haven for beer lovers and a testament to Monterey’s thriving craft beer scene.

Coastal Elegance with a Culinary Twist

Just a stone’s throw from the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf, Jacks Monterey at the Portola Hotel & Spa, is the epitome of coastal elegance.  Tall bar tables, as well as plush lounge-style sofas surround the full-length bar that stretches across the back of the restaurant.  Unlike some hotel restaurants, this is contemporary and cosy.  At one end is an open fire and the lobby entrance features a tree adorned with twinkly lights.  While the setting is fabulous, the menu and service are excellent.  The menu showcases locally sourced ingredients, transforming them into exquisite dishes that capture the essence of the region. The Jacks Famous Chowder is a standout, a hearty bowl of the local dish is brimming with clams, dungeness crab, organic corn, artichoke hearts and bacon.  For mains choose from fresh salads, pizza or larger plates like their Short Rib Ravioli served in a silky tomato, mushroom and sherry cream sauce with shaved parmesan.  The drinks menu features some fantastic local wines like the Bernardus Griva Sauvignon Blanc and Imagery Pinot Noir.  There is a great selection of cocktails too.   With its stylish interior and prime location, Jacks Monterey stands out as a top-notch dining destination on the Monterey Peninsula.

Sip, Savor, and Cruise

Embark on a wine adventure like no other with Kombi Wine Tours, where vintage style meets exquisite vintages. Board the classic VW Kombi, ‘Sweet Pickle’ and journey through the scenic vineyards and wineries of Monterey, indulging in a curated selection of wines from the region. Their knowledgeable guide, Steve is full of local tit-bits and banter which makes the tour not just educational but thoroughly entertaining.

Carmel by the Sea is home to husband and wife wineries, Dawn’s Dream and Galante Vineyards.  Jack Galante heads up Galante Vineyards, what Jack doesn’t know about wine is not worth knowing.  He is Mr Carmel by the Sea (the town was founded by his great grandfather) and his knowledge and passion are infectious.  His wines are rich, full bodied and include Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as limited amounts of estate grown Malbec, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and several other blends.  Every bottle has a ‘cowboy philosophy’ on the label, which is very Jack.  He also commissions local artists to create unique pieces of art on bottles which can be refilled or saved as an investment.

Meanwhile Jack’s wife, Dawn, is serving up some outstanding tipples over at Dawn’s Dream Winery which is tied to non-profits for women and children. Her dedication to producing her ‘wines with a purpose’ has been revolutionary in the industry, supporting many great causes each year.  The microclimate in the region is perfect for crips Pinots and Chardonnay.  Dawn has dedicated three of her Pinots to each of her daughters, Rachel, Alyssa and Nicole.  I loved Jack’s style but Dawn’s wines were my favourite.

Just along from Carmel is Corral Wine Co.  Their tasting room has a ‘casual, local wine bar’ feel and this is reflected in their motto, ‘we aren’t fancy, we just make good wine.’  Corral’s young winemaker Adrien Valenzuela is creative and, on a mission, to produce well balanced wine with a lot of flavour. He says that sourcing grapes from some of the regions very best vineyards is ‘key to their success.’ His wines are exceptional, the Sauvignon Blanc is vibrant and crisp with lemon blossom notes and a pleasant minerality.  Their Rose wine is also a big hit, it’s light and delicate, with aromas of strawberry and orange blossom.  

Puma Road Winery is a family operation who use grapes grown in Apex vineyard soil which gives their wines a unique taste.  Expect crisp Blanc de Blancs, cool Chardonnays, and light Pinot Noir.  All their wines are crafted from grapes direct from their own estate and they reserve five percent of the output to create exclusive wines for their label.  Their wine tasting room is close to Fisherman’s Wharf and offers wine by the glass and bottle, small bites, and often has live music.

Whether you’re a wine novice or a seasoned connoisseur, Kombi Wine Tours tailor the experience to ensure you get the most out of each tasting.

Seafood Extravaganza

For a seafood feast that celebrates the bounty of the ocean, Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette is the place to be. This award-winning upscale seafood restaurant is perched above the marina dunes at the Sanctury Beach Resort.    The space is carved out into three distinct dining spaces, a buzzing bar and lounge, perfect for pre-dinner drinks, an expansive dining room that faces an open raw bar and for long summer evenings there’s an al fresco dining patio.

Located a short drive from Monterey Bay, this restaurant exudes coastal charm with a menu that pays homage to the region’s maritime heritage. The raw bar is a standout, featuring an array of oysters and seafood. The wood-fired grill adds a smoky richness to dishes like the grilled octopus and honey glazed duck. The casual yet sophisticated atmosphere, coupled with the welcoming staff, makes Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette a go-to spot for those craving a seafood extravaganza.

Quaint and Quirky Culinary Haven

Tucked five minutes from Cannery Row is Happy Girl Kitchen, a quaint and quirky culinary haven with a focus on organic, vegan and vegetarian options.  The menu, filled with farm-fresh ingredients, reflects the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability and community. The avocado toast is a must-try, showcasing the simplicity and excellence of Happy Girl Kitchen’s approach to food. The team here specialise in making jams and pickles so you can stock up on rich tasty preserves when you visit.  Whether you’re in the mood for a brunch or a take-away lunch, Happy Girl Kitchen delivers a fresh, seasonal menu that celebrates the beauty of wholesome unpretentious food.

Enjoy the stunning Californian vistas

Lucia restaurant at Bernardus Lodge and Spa is nothing short of spectacular.  Situated in the Carmel Valley it’s nestled on the grounds of rolling vineyards, olive orchards and 28 acres of fragrant lavender.  With beautiful vistas, tables at Lucia are sought after. 

The main dining room, located just off the lobby is contemporary. French wooden floors, soft cream furnishings, chandeliers and a focal, showpiece fireplace set the scene for a culinary cache.  The patio doors open onto an al fresco dining terrace.

The day I visited the Californian sun was shining so the outdoor terrace was bustling with ‘ladies who lunch’ and while it’s a popular spot, it still has an air of calm and tranquillity. 

Slick, seamless service and a menu dedicated to delicious farm-to-table fare is what sets Lucia apart from other restaurants.  There’s a great selection of small and large plates to choose from.  The wood brick pizzas are divine, the seasonal salads are served like a work of art and the larger plates source prime cuts of meat and market fish. Choose from a selection of wines from the Bernardus vineyard to accompany your meal.

After lunch you can wander around the gardens or enjoy a game of bocce or croquet on the lawn.

House of Coco travelled to Monterey County courtesy of See Monterey.

We arrived at San Jose airport at dusk and spent the two-hour drive to Lazy Z Resort in winding darkness, nestled amidst the enchanting beauty of Californias Sierra Nevada Mountains. When the sun peaked through our cabin’s curtains the following morning, I was up and out, breathing in the forest and marvelling at a herd of startled, galloping deer. It was as though I’d stepped into Narnia’s wardrobe; London felt very far away.

Where to Stay: Lazy Z Resort

Lazy Z, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is as much loved by Californians escaping to the national forests and parks for their annual family vacation, as it is for jet-setters seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience. The hideaway offers 13 cabins and cottages, a pool edged with waterfalls (that send you into a meditative state), and a model American clubhouse. Staying here situates you nicely between Tuolumne County’s stunning Stanislaus National Forest and historic Gold Rush towns, Alicia’s Sugar Shack and Cover’s Apple Ranch (drool below), and leads you quietly into Yosemite National Park, free from crowds driving straight from San Francisco.

  • Overnight stay at Lazy Z Resort($140-$285 per night depending on cabin size)

Where to Eat: Alicia’s Sugar Shack

“It’s Just A Coffee House Made Out of Wood, Espresso Coffee Tastes’ Mighty Good!”

A 10-minute cruise down Highway 108 into Sugarpine will land you at Alicia’s Sugar Shack. Alicia, one of the friendliest people on the mountain, lures in hungry nature-lovers about to embark on a day of outdoor activity, as well as a troop of loyal locals. The smell of freshly baked handmade pastries and brewed Italian coffee fills the shack and makes you feel at home.

The menu is a hearty balance of sweet and savoury. I opted for the Açai Bowl with all the toppings, and others dove into the Eggs and Bacon, the Breakfast Burrito (winner), and as a table, we shared the Biscuits and Gravy, a hearty Southern American stick-to-your-ribs kind of dish. Delicious. Alicia candidly toured us around her Italian-equipped kitchen, where she bakes fresh for her cafe as well as for private clients. I had to ask as she bid us farewell with a complimentary bag full of cookies (snickerdoodle, oatmeal, chocolate chip), “Alicia, where do you put it!”, to which she chuckled, “Oh my, I don’t eat it!”. Words of warning for the loyal locals.

What to Do: Kayaking on Pinecrest Lake

A 25-minute drive out of Sugarpine towards Pinecrest Lake allowed our food to digest and kept our claws from grabbing at the cookie bag. Reluctantly, we locked our cameras in the car and made our way to the recreation centre, passing, what I’d like to imagine was a Boy Scout meeting. We wobbled into our kayaks and worked our paddles onto the 300-acre lake, wonderfully fringed with pine trees parted by the occasional vacation cabin. If you own more than one kayak you should consider the best kayak carrier.

The summer sees an influx of locals enjoying the cooler climate of the mountains, 5,600 feet in elevation, but while we were there the lake was calm, warm, and beautifully untouched by other paddles. We swam, chatted, and like snakes, lay on large flat stones soaking up the autumnal sun. If you’re not into kayaking, I’d recommend the 6.5-mile hike to Cleo’s Bath, a gorgeous and secluded swimming hole.

Where to Eat: Cover’s Apple Ranch

We arrived at the perfect moment: apple-picking season. The ranch, family-run for generations, serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon cakes and coffee-on-tap (which our kayaked-out bodies were in the market for). We went for the infamous Mile High Apple Pie and pancakes (we’re on holiday), accompanied by Cover’s homemade apple sauce. The ranch, with its fascinating history of economic boom – Tuolumne County once sold itself as “The land of promise for apple growers” – as well fire-destroying tragedy, continue to:

“perpetuate the long-standing reputation of quality homemade pies, turnover and breads”

They’re certainly doing a great job. When your energy levels are back up, visit the Ranch’s farm, tour the apple cider factory, and take a ride on the mini model steam train that tours visitors around the orchards.

Retreat back to Lazy Z

On the verge of a pie-coma, head back to Lazy Z, chill by the pool and read your book. Your time in Tuolumne County is about to go from kayaking to haunted saloons. Stay tuned for my next post on California’s incredible (and heavily overlooked) Gold Rush towns: Sonora, Jamestown and Groveland.

Plan your trip

Tourist Board

Head to visittuolumne.com

Flights

Nearest airports include San Francisco and San Jose – Tuolumne County is a 2.5-hour drive from there.

British Airways flies from London Heathrow to San Jose from £387 return including taxes/fees/carrier charges.

To book, please visit ba.com or call 0344 493 0122.

Car Hire

Car hire from San Jose with Hertz (starts from £25 a day)

For an epic road trip behind the wheel of an iconic American vehicle, check out Hertz new American Collection

The Hunter’s Moon is the new drinking, dining and Sunday roast destination on Fulham Road. Chelsea’s latest local was founded by Oliver Marlowe and Hubert Beatson-Hird and offers a daily changing menu of modern European dishes alongside an extensive and comprehensive drinks list.

In the kitchen, Chef Director Oliver Marlowe has created an exciting menu showcasing classic British favourites alongside more innovative choices, using the best seasonal ingredients. We had the opportunity to try the Sunday roast at the new venue and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

Sides are made to share with delicious options including smoked bacon and cabbage; roasted artichokes and endive with aged balsamic. We were offered a decadent cauliflower cheese cauldron to have with our roast, the perfect accompaniment. The experience was akin to entering your slightly sloaney friends’ country house for a ‘no expense spared’ Sunday roast, complete with an AGA and sky light extension. We had feeling that we were in for a fantastic time and would be leaving completely satisfied.

A charming fusion of traditional and modern British style, The Hunter’s Moon features bespoke hand-made furniture and artisan textiles and materials, alongside unique reclaimed antiques and vintage finds. Designed by Boxx Creative, the bar has a dark, warm and sophisticated colour palette, offset by deep accents and complemented by textures, striking patterns and prints. Soft layered lighting and eclectic artwork adorning the walls further enhance the atmosphere, providing an inviting space for guests to relax. Dogs are welcome and well catered for too, with water bowls available on request and maybe even a treat or two.

A blackboard will champion a range of meat cuts and daily specials, whilst those looking for a more casual bite can choose from a bar menu of snacks and sharing plates. Think hearty pub favourites – scotch eggs and sausage rolls, alongside courgette and ricotta croquettes and steak tartare. Come weekends, guests can also indulge in a Saturday brunch with dishes including huevos rancheros with grilled flatbreads; and eggs Benedict with Gochujang hollandaise and crispy pork belly.

Other menu highlights include the likes of beef wellington with cocotte potatoes, crispy trompettes and Madeira sauce; double baked cheese soufflé with Montgommery cheddar, melted leeks, button mushrooms and truffle; and blackberry and custard pavlova with pink praline crunch.

On the drinks menu guests will find an extensive wine list, offering a selection from a wide number of regions and with a vintage to suit every taste. Craft beers and ales will feature alongside international brands and top shelf spirits, with classic cocktails available on request.

huntersmoonlondon.co.uk

I’ve recently instigated ‘Sunday Funday’ with one of my friends, an initiative to get us out of the house, make the most of our weekends and discover new pockets of London we haven’t yet experienced which last month delivered us to Marylebone Village.

Despite its W1 postcode and proximity to Oxford Street (and ergo my 9-5…) Marylebone still manages to feel like an area of London relatively new to me, that’s managed to keep its village charm and ambiance. Of course there are chains – two Pret’s practically within an arm-span on the high street – but alongside them nestle a healthy dose of independent shops, food suppliers and restaurants, not to mention a spectacular Sunday Farmer’s Market with a host of utterly delectable produce.

Here are our tips for the best foodie discoveries, make sure to head down on a Sunday to make the most of them…

Good Life Eatery

Situated towards the southern end of Marylebone Lane, the Good Life Eatery strives to encourage us all to eat better, healthier and happier. Founded three years ago by co-founders Yasmine Larizadeh and Shirin Kourus, they wanted to bring something new, fresh and healthy to London’s food scene. Its menu includes cold-pressed juices and smoothies as well as ‘all-day yumz’ from a ‘Shred Breakfast’ of poached eggs, sweetcorn, hummous, shredded greens and omega seeds to the more indulgent and yet still deliciously healthy Chestnut & Almond Waffle, served with rhubarb and chia compote, coconut yoghurt and banana mash.Grab yourself one of their powerful shots to kick your metabolism into gear – we loved the First Aid Shot of Lemon, Echinacea, Turmeric and Baobab.

Aubaine

If you like your breakfasts a little more indulgent (read: French), London favourite Aubaine has an outpost on Moxon Street. Typically decorated in its signature palette of tonal greys, it’s a big branch offering their classic menu of treats like Lobster Benedict, Black Truffle Scrambled Eggs and the Full French breakfast of Toulouse sausage, eggs, portobello mushroom, Alsace bacon, baked beans, sweetcorn fritter, kale and slow-roasted tomatoes. Where they really come into their own however is the pastries (quelle surprise…). We popped in mid-morning to warm up after our chilly mooch with a steaming pot of tea and one of their Pain aux Pistaches, a twice-baked pain au chocolate with pistachio and almond. And yes, it was every bit as delicious as it sounds…

The Ginger Pig

Carnivores may already be familiar with London butcher The Ginger Pig; with eight shops across the capital, the Marylebone Village outpost is one of only two that offer their signature butchery classes, alongside the Borough Market space.Have a look at forthcoming dates on their website; there’s an Easter lamb shoulder nose-to-tail class coming up, or try the Game class. Seasonal variable, the class currently covers fur game or venison and rabbit until September, whilst the featured game class covers grouse, partridge and pheasant from October to January.

Beef is dry-aged in house for a minimum of 28 days. Sausages and burgers are made by hand by their skilled butchery team, while bacon and gammons are cured either by hand-salting or using a traditional brine; in short, it’s a meat-lover’s dream. Make sure to sample one of their signature sausage rolls – their bestseller – with crispy, flaky pastry and deliciously juicy sausagemeat, before picking up dinner.

La Fromagerie

Those with a sensitive nose may wish to avoid this emporium of cheese. Turophiles take note; this may be your Holy Grail. La Fromagerie Marylebone is one of three sites in central London, each of which houses a signature temperature and humidity-controlled cheese room featuring dozens of favourite and little-known varieties, along with a tasting café complete with a carefully-sourced wine selection, selected by region to complement the cheeses and tasing menus.

With a pantry of delicious treats made in-house, you’ll want to stock up on their seasonal chutneys, pickles, preserves and jams, not to mention the homemade granola, hummus, cultured butter and buttermilk and seasonal fresh produce delivered each week from delivered each week from markets in Italy, France and farms around the UK. Stick around for lunch and you’ll be rewarded by cheesy favourites like fondue, raclette and one of the best grilled cheese sarnies you’ll every try.

La Brasseria

One gets the impression from La Brasseria that it’s something of a local favourite. We headed there for lunch and it had the comfortable hum of conversation from tables dotted with families of several generations, couples out for a lazy lunch, groups of girlfriends catching up; it’s the very epitome of a cosy brasserie.

The decor is gorgeous; teal walls, wood panelling and brass fixtures, it nails the chic Italian design. We tucked in to a creamy burrata with sliced tomatoes and prosciutto, followed by a perfect carbonara packed with pancetta and one of their signature crispy pizzas. The weekend brunch is also a total treat, with dishes like French toast with maple bacon, banana and pecan nuts and the Italian American with fried eggs, prosciutto and road potato.

Marylebone Farmer’s Market

I’m saving the best for last, but Marylebone Farmer’s Market has enough to it that it could warrant a visit to the area just by itself. On every Sunday, the market is a showcase of some of the finest and freshest food producers from around the UK. Ironically, the very first stall we came across was fresh fruit, veg and apple juice from Perry Court Farm in Kent; five minutes from my parents’ house it’s a place I’ve frequented many a time.

We passed freshly baked breads from the likes of Karaway and Clapham’s Old Post Office Bakery, pies, cakes and pastries courtesy of Honeypie Bakery, fantastic fungi from The Mushroom Table and the most incredible sausages from The Parsons Nose, who served up freshly cooked bangers dripping with onions for a hearty breakfast bap. Windrush Valley Goat Dairy is a must-visit, for not just their cheeses but delicious goat’s curd and milk, and make sure to stop off at Anatolia, a Turkish couple making gozleme and tantuni on site using their mother’s recipes.

If you’re heading to the market for your food shop make it an early one; we popped back at 12 en route home to find several stalls sold out, all the fresh fish gone and not a bunch of flowers to be seen where there were dozens an hour before. What a wonderful sight to see so much local support for small producers, buying fresh and seasonal over the plastic-drowned produce in our supermarkets.

www.marylebonevillage.com

You might be wondering why Hollywood heavyweights like Kevin Costner and Oprah Winfrey choose to live in Santa Barbara County rather than Los Angeles. And even the likes of Harry and Meghan have chosen to call Montecito home. Much like the French Riviera, the small-city, Mayberry coastal setting is an irresistible attraction. It is popular with surfing aficionados, culture vultures and wine enthusiasts. However, paparazzi are rarely spotted in the region. In this article, we examine why Santa Barbara is ready to blossom, not just for celebrities but for the international tourism scene.

World-class hotels

Hollywood royalty adores discreet five-star hotels and it is no surprise you’ll see the likes of Jane Lynch and Michael Keaton falling in love with Hotel Californian. The ornate Spanish colonial revival architecture along with the Moorish interior from celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard is a magnet for celebrities. The Mirador Rooftop Deck, which offers panoramic 360-degree views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean is a crowning jewel of the hotel. All of the surrounding buildings are three storeys or lower due to changed building laws post-1925. The stunning Majorelle spa is equally popular with Majorelle blue tiles that are often found in Moroccan designs

Santa Barbara

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara is the place for celebrity weddings. Hollywood couples who have celebrated their wedding there include Nick Carter and Lauren Kitt, Fergie and Josh Duhamel, and Travis Barker and Shanna Moakler. The hotel is just slightly outside of downtown Santa Barbara and tucked away on 78 acres of land overlooking the Pacific to offer that seclusion and privacy celebrities require. You can appreciate the beauty of the surroundings by going on a nature hike along the Chumash Nature Trail. They have one of the finest steakhouses in the region with Angel Oak and their newest opening, Bacara Wine Tasting Room is attracting countless plaudits.

Funk Zone

The area by the waterfront has risen like a phoenix from the ashes in recent years. Evolving from decrepit warehouses to the trendiest district of Santa Barbara, it is now home to countless wine-tasting rooms, gourmet restaurants and art galleries. Wine appreciation rather than mere wine consumption is the name of the game here. You are very likely to encounter one of the Baldwin brothers at The Society: State & Mason, the newest wine-tasting room in the zone. Exquisite wines are either paired with tapas-style dishes or innovative truffles from Jessica Foster. Madras curry-flavoured milk chocolate anyone?

The trendy restaurants are equally in demand in this part of town. Blackbird Restaurant pays homage to one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Alfred Hitchcock, with subtle nods including a photo with Alfred Hitchcock and a seagull on one shoulder and a blackbird on the other. The menu passionately supports local produce from Santa Barbara spiny lobster to Hope Ranch mussels. The cocktails from renowned mixologist Devon Espinosa are not to be missed. On the border of the Funk Zone, you’ll find upscale Mexican cuisine at Santo Mezcal and a meat lover’s paradise at the retro-decorated, Rare Society.

Ganna Walska Lotusland

If Willy Wonka was in the botanical industry instead of confectionery, this is precisely what he might have created. 37 acres of the most fantastical gardens and stunning architecture. Ganna Walska, who used to own the estate until she died in 1984 (aged 96), used to call herself the ‘head gardener’ and ‘enemy of the average’. It is one of the top five gardens in the world in terms of comprehensiveness. The attractions range from the immaculately pruned Japanese Garden to the imposing cactus garden to the priceless cycad garden with plants that date back to the Jurassic period. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are known to be regular visitors and live close by.

Eclectic Museums and attractions

For a city of under 89,000 inhabitants, the museum-to-local population ratio is extremely high. One of their finest is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art . With around 25,000 pieces of distinguished artwork that span over 5,000 years of human creativity, it is no surprise over 150,000 visitors flock to the museum every year. They often have special pop-up exhibitions that highlight lesser-known, yet deserving artists such as Joan Tanner. Her outlandish sculptures made of plastic corrugated roofing sheets, re-bar, cast concrete etc. were displayed earlier in the year. The museum even has Oscar links, thanks to Christopher Plummer who famously won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in “Beginners”. In the film, he played Paul Chadbourne Mills who was the director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and came out as gay later in life at the age of 75.

For family-orientated experiences, there is MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. The ultra-immersive installations will get your scientific brain motivated whether you are 8 or 80 and is popular with celebrities like Julie Bowen. A visit to historic Stearns Wharf is a must where you’ll find the equally interactive Sea Center. There you can touch an exotic array of marine life from sharks to rays to sea stars. To explore the rich history of the city, there is the Old Mission dating back to 1786, when the Church was building its presence in the area through these settlements. The graceful charm of the Mission has earned it the nickname “Queen of the Missions”. There is also a historic cemetery and mausoleum, a nine-room museum of classical artwork and artefacts, and numerous lush gardens.

Quirky experiences

With the philanthropic nature of the locals, you will be unsurprised to find a cat therapy cafe in the city centre. You can visit for an hour and play with 15-20 free-roaming rescue cats. They also sell apparel as well as help their resident cats find a forever, loving home. Not far away, you’ll find Salt cave Santa Barbara, the largest in North America. There are numerous therapeutic benefits to resting in their crystal cave rooms lined with pink Himalayan salt.

https://santabarbaraca.com/

London boasts a plethora of dynamic rooftop restaurants in the city centre. One that has stood the test of time is Galvin at Windows. Being situated on the 28th floor of the historic London Hilton on Park Lane, you won’t be surprised to find unimpeded views of London’s fascinating skyline.

Galvin at Windows: Dining in the Clouds

A Culinary Powerhouse Overlooking London’s Skyline

Chef Patron is Chris Galvin. Along with his brother Jeff, they’ve dominated the London restaurant scene for years with their Michelin-starred cooking skills at restaurants like Galvin La Chapelle. They famously opened the Wolseley restaurant in 2003 and Chris had already earned his first Michelin star at the Orrery back in the year 2000.

At Galvin at Windows, he has appointed talented Marc Hardiman as head chef. Marc had perfected his skills at the Ritz as Senior Sous Chef. Interestingly, Chris had worked as a commis chef at the Ritz back in the day.

With such power-packed CVs, you wouldn’t be surprised to find the food at Galvin at Windows is remarkably polished. Service is attentive yet discreet from the moment you step into the restaurant.

Indulge in a Luxurious Sunday Lunch Experience at Galvin at Windows

A great way to experience their menu is to try their Sunday lunch menu. For the quality of food and service and the views on offer, it is very reasonably priced at £59 per person for 3 courses. It is available from 12 pm to 3 pm every Sunday lunch.

Furthermore, they are dishes you readily pay a premium for, as the ingenious combination of ingredients is unlikely to be recreated at home. Think locally sourced Halibut paired with St Austell Museels, yuzu kosho, nori, Champagne and rose. It is rightfully decadent as you would expect dining at a rooftop restaurant in the heart of Park Lane.

Savor Exquisite Flavors: Must-Try Dishes at Galvin at Windows

Dishes I would recommend trying include a beautifully sweet heritage tomato salad. It has a beautiful zestiness due to the addition of ponzu dressing and has some weighty substance with the presence of moreish goats curd.

Their beef carpaccio was a delightful surprise. It had a real depth of flavour due to the fact it has been dry aged and they used the finest quality black Angus. It was very cleverly paired with artichokes, mustard seeds and a smoked egg yolk for added complexity.

Enhanced flavours were also the order of the day with the main courses. Cornish Brill had an extra umami kick with the inclusion of Porthilly oysters and coastal herbs. The extra ingredients are always given careful consideration on how they can enhance and support the main act.

Innovative Creations and Spectacular Views at Galvin at Windows

They had a very healthy take on the classic lasagne. The ‘lasagne’ sheets were made with celeriac whilst the filling was stuffed with meaty confit king oyster mushrooms. There was a hint of truffle used, but it was never overpowering. This is very much unlike less celebrated restaurants, which often use truffles to compensate for a lack of flavour in their dishes.

The highlight of their not-to-be-missed dessert section is the blackcurrant soufflé. Blackcurrants are incredibly underrepresented in fine dining menus. They have high levels of Vitamin C and antioxidants. The soufflé rose to just the right height and it had the perfect smooth consistency inside. It was paired with a delectable cheesecake ice cream and topped with crème de cassis to add to the blackcurrant notes.

Pairing the right ingredients to enhance the flavours is also evident in most of the other desserts on the menu. Case in point is the exquisitely executed white chocolate and blackberry crème brûlée. They’ve included a blackberry sorbet, so the tart and sweet notes come through even stronger. The texture was silky smooth along with the requisite crunchy topping. The dessert was finished off with a muscovado sugar shortbread.

When booking your table, check which side of the restaurant you might be sitting on. For example, when we visited for Sunday lunch recently, it was particularly glaring on the Hyde Park side. I would recommend booking for the Oxford Street side of the restaurant for Sunday lunch. You will still enjoy spectacular views of the London topography.

If you want a great recommendation for an apéritif or digestif, do check out their neighbouring bar, 10 Degrees Sky Bar. They offer some highly innovative cocktails and you can still admire the stunning views from the 28th floor.

For more information on the restaurant, please visit –

https://www.galvinatwindows.com/

The enchanting region known as the Brandywine Valley lies in the picturesque landscape of southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Renowned for its breathtaking scenery, rich history, and vibrant cultural offerings, the Brandywine Valley captivates visitors with its blend of natural beauty and artistic heritage. From lush rolling hills to meandering waterways, this idyllic area has long been a haven for artists, writers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Whether exploring its charming towns, immersing oneself in its renowned art museums, or simply savouring the tranquillity of its rural landscapes, the Brandywine Valley offers an unforgettable journey through a tapestry of beauty, history, and inspiration.

From botanical gardens to nature parks

Less than one hour from Philadelphia is a lush region of Pennsylvania widely regarded as America’s Garden Capital. The prime attraction is Longwood Gardens. It is one of the largest botanical gardens in the United States and draws millions of visitors each year.

Brandywine Valley

With over 1,077 acres of designer gardens, open meadows and woodlands, this is a horticultural wonder of the world. The botanical garden is so vast, that it is divided into six distinct districts. My recommendation is to head there in the evenings to catch the Illuminated Fountain Performances. And focusing on the conservatory district and the main fountain garden district.

With its 19th-century architecture, the conservatory is considered the crown jewel of Longwood Gardens. You might observe delicate bonsais that have been trained to elegant shapes for over 100 years. They currently have a Chrysanthemum Festival that celebrates the arrival of fall. The dazzling arrangements would make even Marie Antoinette at the Palace of Versailles green with envy.

Their Illuminated Fountain Performances are accompanied by a varied playlist ranging from Madonna to the magic of Mozart. It is a 30-minute show that illuminates the skyline with infinite colours and energetic jets of water that pierce the night sky.

A nature park to consider visiting is Valley Forge National Historical Park. It is under 45 minutes away from Longwood Gardens. The park has over 3,500 acres of meadows and woodlands but more importantly numerous historical monuments.

It was the encampment site of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778. It is widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern US Army. You can visit the headquarters of General George Washington and learn how they ultimately defeated the British army.

They have numerous hiking trails to cater for all levels. Biking or trolley tours are also options. Whilst you can even drive your car around the park on a self-guided audio tour.

Countryside culture

UK and European tourists might not have heard of John James Audubon, but a visit to the eponymous centre will enlighten you about his undoubted importance. His crowning glory was completing the book, Birds of America. It captures 453 life-sized paintings of North American birds with remarkable colours and vibrancy.

At the museum at Mill Grove, there are countless interactive displays to learn about the habitat, nest, and conservation of native birds.
You can enter a sound forest to hear bird songs in different habitats. And you can use a magnifier to examine different bird feathers up close.

You can see a treasured early edition of the Double Elephant Folio of The Birds of America. You can also view the original copper plate that Audubon used to produce his bird print.

What the museum does very well is not to shy away from the controversy of John James Audubon. There is a section explaining that he was a slave owner, spoke out against emancipation, and killed plenty of birds whilst also contributing to the conservation of birds.

One of the finest museums in the United States is the Brandywine Museum of Art. It has an unparalleled collection of Wyeth and American art. N.C. Wyeth House & Studio Tour is the best way to understand why the Wyeth family has contributed so much to American art.

You’ll learn how N.C. Wyeth found fame from his illustrations of The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and Treasure Island (1883). His son, Andrew found even greater success as a realist painter with masterpieces like Christina’s World. The studio has maintained much of its original character, as your guide will explain how the lighting and the painting ladder helped with N.C.’s work.

In the museum, you’ll find numerous fascinating non-Wyeth masterpieces such as Sugaring Off, and Maple by Grandma Moses. She is famously a self-taught artist who started her painting career at the age of 78.

The best places to dine out

Local produce is the key in this region. At Kennett Square near Longwood Gardens, they are the self-proclaimed mushroom capital of the world. Around 50% of America’s mushrooms grow in the vicinity of Kennett Square.

The best restaurant in Kennett Square is unsurprisingly called Portabellos. The restaurant has been run by husband and wife team, Brett Hulbert and Sandra Morris for the last 10 years.

Their signature roasted mushroom soup is incredibly popular with locals. The addition of Madeira wine adds extra complexity to the flavours. Local mushrooms make a guest appearance in a significant number of dishes from their lobster ravioli to their veal forestier.

Finish off your meal nearby at La Michoacana. Their popular homemade ice cream has even drawn visits from President Biden. They have unusual flavours like avocado and cotton candy.

Another restaurant to consider is Founding Farmers at King of Prussia. Their USP is they source all their ingredients and make everything from scratch. This includes their bread to their beers. They have active recycling and composting programs that divert around 90% of their waste from landfills.

The restaurant is at 6 locations on the East Coast and is majority owned by American family farmers. They offer a 5% wellness charge that ensures staff have free mental health resources, access to health insurance paid sick leave etc.

Their signature dishes include American classics like Yankee pot roast and shrimp & grits. However, their most popular offering is their decadent weekend brunch. They offer a generous carving station filled with the likes of herb-crusted roasted turkey and molasses-glazed ham. And before your meal, make sure you check out the spacious King of Prussia Mall. It is the third-largest shopping mall in the country.

Where to stay

For Valley Forge, I would recommend staying at Tru by Hilton Audubon Valley Forge. It is a casual and welcoming hotel. It is within a short driving distance to key sites like Valley Forge National Historical Park and John James Audubon Center. Unusually for American hotels, they offer a complimentary breakfast too.

For Kennett Square, I would recommend staying at the Inn at Whitewing Farm. It is a charming family-run farmhouse hotel. They have 10 romantic guest rooms and suites surrounded by immaculately-maintained grounds. They are situated minutes away from Longwood Gardens.

For more information on the region, please visit –

https://www.brandywinevalley.com/

Have you ever had to stay 48 hours (or less) in a city – on purpose? I’m not talking about layovers where you manage to sleep on hard plastic chairs because there is no airport lounge open in the wee hours of the morning.

Due to flight schedules, I found myself with a mere 48 hours (technically it was 35 hours) in London in early September. I welcomed the short time in the city, as I have not visited since March 2020. Clearly, I needed to make the best of my time and being that this was my 5th time to the UK capital, I was not queuing up to go to the London Eye.

How does one spend a short time in London? Here are my suggestions to help manage your time well.

Stay:

Choose one property, in one central area, near transit. Thanks to the Tube, its’ all very accessible. Yet depending upon the airport in which you land (Heathrow or Gatwick), you can guarantee an hour (or depending upon traffic) more has gone by.

My area of choice for this trip was the Mayfair/Kensington/Soho area, which is the fanciest area in London that I have ever stayed in. You really can’t go wrong as there are so many great boroughs in London, each with their own highlights. There is no need to travel across the city to only spend an hour or so to get back.

My wonderful, but short stay was at the COMO Metropolitan London just off the landmark Hyde Park Corner. If you have ever played the original version of Monopoly – you will know the address, its Park Lane. Conveniently, Bond Street, Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Piccadilly are within easy walking distance.

There are 144 rooms and suites, as well as 19 long-stay apartments. Additional amenities include Nobu for Japanese-Peruvian cuisine and COMO Shambhala Urban Escape for Asian-inspired therapies. At COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, Guests can indulge in award-winning wellness treatments such as facials, massages, and acupuncture. There is also an onsite steam room and 24-hour fitness center, where personal trainers are available upon request. Barring my time limit, I would have visited the Shambhala Urban Escape.

Should you have any questions about an itinerary, the concierge is happy to answer questions and help plan your stay. The helpful concierge was able to secure two tickets to the Victoria Albert Museum’s DIVA exhibit, which was already sold out for the Saturday afternoon.

When I awoke from my restful slumber (Sadly, I had to pull myself out of the comfortable bed for my flight) I was served the most delicious breakfast in record speed. The coffee was strong, the hash browns were crunchy and the omelette had everything I requested. In 30 minutes, I had left the hotel and was whisked away back to Heathrow.

Activities/ Eats:

Perhaps you are jet lagged and tired, and all you really want to do is close the dark-out blinds and hibernate with room service. Fight the urge. The city is calling your name to explore.

South of Hyde Park is the Victoria Albert Museum (V & A South Kensington). The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.8 million objects, books and archives that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. The museum holds many of the UK’s national collections and houses some of the greatest resources for the study of architecture, furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewellery, glass, ceramics, book arts, Asian art and design, theatre and performance.

It’s one of my favourite museums in the world and the main entry is free (tickets are needed for special exhibits). While I managed to check out the DIVA exhibit, the new Gabrielle Chanel Fashion Manifesto exhibit just opened (and sadly sold out – unless you become a member).

The Victoria Albert Museum is right beside the beautiful Natural History Museum, and if you have time and the attention for it, it’s also a great visit.

Pressed for time, I needed to get my fill of all the London institutions I could – my first stop was Fortnum & Mason. First founded in London in 1707, after Queen Anne permitted her footman William Fortnum to sell discarded candles from St James’s Palace, Fortnum’s has forged a close relationship with the British Royal household ever since. Fortnum & Mason has held several warrants, including one from Her Late Majesty, The Queen and continues to this day with His Majesty The King.

I have only had Afternoon Tea at the Piccadilly flagship once, but should your schedule allow 3 hours, it’s a quintessential must do. I left with a large bag filled with tea, chocolates, cookies and lemon curd spread. Had my bag not been filled to the brim, I would have brought more. While there is a store in Terminal 5 at Heathrow, nothing beats a visit to the beautiful flagship.

From food to textiles, Liberty is another one of London’s great retailers. In 1875, Arthur Lasenby Liberty borrowed £2,000 from his future father-in-law and took a building on Regent Street, with just three dedicated staff and plenty of ambition. The Tudor style building is magnificent with flooring constructed by the timbers of two ancient ‘three-decker’ battleships. The HMS Impregnable – built from 3040 100-year-old oaks from the New Forest – and the HMS Hindustan, which measures the length and height of the Liberty building. Shoppers can find luxuries from around the world, and most notable is the Liberty textile archive. Around the holiday season, Liberty comes out with a massive Advent Beauty Calendar that draws queues and always sells out. I love browsing through their section of stationery and Liberty print products.

If you are a fan of stationery and leather essentials, the Smythson flagship on New Bond Street is a must-stop. Since 1887 Smythson has been creating bags and accessories to notebooks, diaries, stationery, and home accessories to suit every adventure. Of course, a brand with so much heritage also has several Royal warrants under its belt. Pick up a notebook or two and have initials embossed in the cover, makes for a perfect gift to give (or keep).

Perhaps you are wondering if I had a chance to stop, sit and enjoy London’s finest food? With such a short timeline, I unfortunately did not. However, if you can make reservations over lining up in a queue for time-management sake, try one of the establishments in the area below.

Sometimes it is nice to visit familiar restaurants in other cities, so the expectations of service and food quality is clear. While I have visited the LAVO in New York, the restaurant recently opened during London Fashion Week at the BoTree Hotel. Split over two floors, LAVO is flooded with natural light, complete with a grown Olive Tree and features a sleek bar area with an intimate terrace. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu features a selection of high-end Italian dishes created by Chief Culinary Officer Ralph Scamardella and Head Chef Stefano Lorenzini.

SUCRE opened in London after a successful open in Buenos Aires in 2001. Founded by Chef Fernando Trocca the restaurant pays tribute to Argentina and its Mediterranean roots. The beautiful dining room is adorned with massive decanter chandeliers with a wood oven and huge “parilla” (or grill) at the centre. This ensures cooking is done the Argentine way, using embers rather than the live flame. The Sunday Asado prix fixé 3 course menu starts on October 15, where guests can choose from several mains, including a mouth-watering 300 g Striploin with Chimichurri.

If you are looking for something exclusive to London, try Franco’s. Established in 1945, Franco’s is considered as one of London’s first Italian restaurants. Head Chef Stefano Turconi’s menu offers homemade bread and fresh pasta, a variety of fish and meat as well as vegan and gluten free options. Franco’s opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The bar and heated outside terrace are open all day. Perfect for a quick chat over a drink. I have heard that the dedicated rosé wine section is one of the largest in the city.

Nestled in The Bloomsbury Hotel, you will find the Dalloway Terrace. This restaurant has been on my list for a while, as it has a dreamy ambience. It is a year-round garden terrace (fully heated in the winter). Open all day, the restaurant offers brunch, afternoon tea and a pre-theatre menu. The Dalloway recently partnered exclusively with Neal’s Yard Remedies and London Essence to celebrate their commitment to British biodiversity and sustainability.

Side Hustle’s newly launched brunch menu is what we were here to sample / devour. Having had a quick peruse of the menu ahead of visiting, my mouth was already watering at the thought of Mexo Benedict- the Side Hustle version served with lashings of siracha spiked hollandaise and guac, not to mention anywhere that serves tacos for brunch gets my vote.

The day I chose to eat at Side Hustle was one of those days in London that starts off blue and then from nowhere turns black. Big, fat, heavy rain drops fall from the sky with such force you wonder if you will end up with bruises. The most well-seasoned Londoner’s become drowned rats, hair sticking to cheeks, anything and everything being used as make shift umbrellas – newspapers, handbags, small children. Puddles the size of lakes appear out of nowhere, drivers appear to adopt a private joke style game of seeing how many people they can drench. Tubes over crowd, buses stop working, basically it’s the apocalypse and every man for themselves.

Falling into Side Hustle, heaving open the heavy wooden door and hearing the screams of the drenched ebb away as it slowly closed behind me, I felt as if I had entered another world. Calm, serene, heavy with the scent of opulence, the host team perfectly coiffed and manicured, ready to welcome you into the dark panelled room complete with countertop seating and booths plus the option for diners to snack at the incredibly atmospheric bar littered with potions and blends destined for the signature cocktails on offer and curated with such flair that it has earned the bar a spot on the 50 Best list. The vibe was luxe, as a NoMad off shoot should be. Dark wood panelling, earthy deep greens and brass accents cutting through the moody aesthetic are balanced by warm lighting with subtle nods of Latin America bleeding into the décor – a whole shelf of curated tequilas, large skulls reminiscent of those synonymous with Day of the Dead that act as vessels for the house tequila laced Pina Coladas sit amongst huge vase style urns used to house the self titled ‘cocktail explosions’ that feed 6 and come with a warning.

It is one of those spaces that on entering you feel safe and at ease, content in the knowledge you will be taken care of, the booth seats are ready and waiting to receive you and the blinds offer the perfect balance of privacy from the outside world but just the right amount of give to people watch… or watch people drown, depending on the weather.

And so, settled and safe from the biblical monsoon outside we began our meal.

Drinks first and on a mission to remind myself it was actually July despite the madness taking place outside, I ordered the aforementioned Pina Colada. At this stage in the game I was unaware it came in a skull larger than mine, crowned with wedges of the golden fruit and her green stalk. She was giving Carmen Miranda albeit, a little darker. The drink itself was delicious, a Pina Colada stan, I was nervous for a tequila based rendition(that and it has been known that tequila can make me a little lary but in the name of good journalism I took the risk), this was the perfect balance of coconut and pineapple, not too rich nor too sweet.

Side Hustle offers both small and large plates that can be taken as starters and mains of ordered on mass to share amongst the table. First to arrive was the Mexican staple of some form of chip and dip (although in Mexico they are usually on the house). With three salsas on offer, we settled on the Pipian, a blend of pipitas, red pepper and chili arbol – an expertly seasoned offering balancing chilli heat and earthy seeds. It was one of those dishes where you felt the nutrition of the salsa outweighed the fried tostadas provided to scoop with.

We also shared Croquetas de Esquites and yellowfin tuna tostadas served with Aguachile. It never ceases to amaze me to see the different way corn is played with in Mexican kitchens and so I was excited to see the Side Hustle rendition – sweet kernels, running through crème fraiche, spiked with epazote, rolled and deep fried.

The tuna was fresh and light, a wonderful opener to the mains heading our way.

In preparation of the tacos and burrito, an apothecary style bottle of homemade hot sauce was delivered to the table – a nice touch and a welcome edition to our main plates. It was well made, you can taste the ingredients and feel the heat start to build rather than the instant fire that many hot sauces tend to deliver. Onto the main event – a plate of lamb birria tacos complete with tomato and radish salad and a breakfast burrito for my dining partner, served with a well made mole for max dunking.

The tacos were good, and yes I know I said my mouth was watering at Eggs Benny but what can I say, tacos are my love language and who am I to stand in the way of love.The lamb was melt in the mouth, falling apart and topped with wafer thin, perfectly pickled discs of radish, a welcome hit of acid to cut through the fat. The obligatory consommé served on the side, rich and fatty and delivered the perfect drip on every bite of the taco. The tortillas were perfectly cooked, pliable and full of flavour and when loaded with the rich lamb, the coriander heavy tomato salad and a few drips of hot sauce made for a winning combination.

The burrito was heavy and substantial – thank goodness, there is nothing sadder than an underfilled burrito. The mole complex and full of layers of flavour.

We completed our meal with another round of cocktails, this time I went for the ‘Pardon Plea’, a blend of rum, tequila, green apple, coconut and palo santo – which was eye wateringly punchy which in turn made it incredibly refreshing. My partner who doesn’t drink was equally well looked after as the bar has a fantastic mocktail menu that you can tell are as expertly thought out as the alcoholic menu. His first El Diablito, alight and refreshing blend of ginger, hibiscus and lime. His second incredibly unusual pandan situation which you could have easily mistaken for a sour – truly exceptional drinks.

And so, as much as we wanted to squeeze in a desert of Mango Prepardo or an ice cream sandwich, we were just too stuffed and with that we braced ourself for the carnage of the outside world, lucky for us, our Mexican morning had trickled out of the restaurant and into the streets of London and we were back to blue skies.

Find out more and book your table here.