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House of Coco’s wellness editor Anji McGrandles uncovers the hidden gems of S’Agaró, Catalonia’s best-kept secret nestled between Barcelona and Girona on the stunning Costa Brava coast

Situated on the Costa Brava coast, sandwiched between Barcelona and Girona is S’Agaró, Catalonia’s best kept secret that promises an unforgettable escape. This exclusive garden village is home to some of Spain’s most sought-after villas.  Built in the 1920’s it hugs the renowned Cami de Ronda coastal trail and boasts breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea and golden sands of Sant Pol beach.  At the heart of S’Agaró is the elegant Hostal de La Gavina, the region’s most glamorous, exclusive hotel which I checked into for the weekend.

The region offers an abundance of pristine beaches, Michelin Star restaurants and natural beauty without the crowds.   Its easily accessible, just one hour drive from Barcelona and 30 minutes from Girona and what makes this a fabulous getaway is you can easily explore both vibrant cities while making this tranquil retreat your base, its perfect for those seeking a blend of relaxation, culture, and stunning scenery.

While Barcelona is a popular Spanish city break, I recommend you spend time getting to know glorious Girona.  This stunning, quieter and more compact city packs a punch when it comes to architecture, history, food and drink. 

I arrived in Girona at the end of Temps de Flors, Girona’s flower festival that sees the streets come alive with colour each May. The city is a carpet of colourful, delicate flowers with beautiful blooms decorating gates and doorways.

Girona has a new and an old town, divided by the Onyar River. Several small bridges connect the two districts, the most famous is the bright red bridge built by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (who also built the Eiffel Tower in Paris). Grab a coffee and one of the city’s most famous breakfast pastries, Xuixo de Crema (pronounced choo choo), a traditional Catalan pastry, that’s crisp on the outside and stuffed with an irresistible creamy filling.  Sit on one of the cute bridges, enjoy your Xuixo de Crema and take in the charming colourful town houses that are dotted along the river.

There’s so much history in this pretty city and the best way to explore it is a walking tour.  Discover filming locations from Game of Thrones, boutique shops and the city’s striking cathedral.   It’s also a gastronomic destination, and if you want to uncover all the hidden gems while trying some of the tastiest local delicacies then book an evening walking tour with Girona Food Tours.  Enjoy the freshest seafood at L’Arros or indulge in something sweet at Jordi Roca’s Willy Wonka style gelato, Rocambolesc.  Afterwards make a pit stop at Sol Gastrobar in the ‘Wine Square’ for a cold glass or Albariño.   If you are looking for fancy dining there’s 12 Michelin star restaurants in and around the area, the most famous of these is the three-starred El Celler de Can Roca, run by the Roca brothers. 

During a visit to S’Agaró it is impossible not to be swept up in the silent glamour and history of Hostal de La Gavina, built in 1932, it still has some of the original features, artwork and furniture.  There are so many stories seeped into the walls of the hotel, guests like Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Jack Nickolson and more recently Lady Gaga have all stayed here. 

The hotel beautifully marries an eclectic mix of opulence and hacienda finca.  As soon as you enter the sweeping reception area you are greeted with polished marble floors, high ceilings, rich dark wood furnishings and showstopping floral arrangements.  Each of the 75 rooms and suites are uniquely designed all in line with rest of the hotel’s chic style.

Hostal de La Gavina is also home to four restaurants, Candlelight, which is overseen by Michelin-starred Chef Romain Fornell and spearheaded by Sous Chef Oriol Fernandez, is renowned for its innovative dishes.  Fernandez, a protege of Alain Ducasse, brings his passion and creativity to the table serving exquisite haute cuisine.   Garbi, which offers healthy Mediterranean dishes is perfect for lunch, here you can retreat from the sun and sample a spectacular Paella and a glass of the local wine.   El Barco, is home to a beautiful outdoor terrace and serves an a la carte menu of seasonal tapas.  Just a two-minute walk, perched on the beach is La Taverna del Mar, famed for its locally caught seafood served on the water’s edge.  Expect plump pink langoustines, delicate sea bass in salt and juicy mussels served in a rich marinera sauce.  El Barco bar is a cute snug, where Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra had a showdown after he flew out to Spain amid rumours swirling of her affair with a bull fighter.  It’s great for a late-night tipple or signature cocktail.

For those who love water sports you can head to Sant Pol beach just below the hotel and try out paddleboarding, water skiing and kayaking.  The hotel can also arrange for you to try some local excursions.  I’d recommend booking the boat trip with husband and wife duo Clara and Jaume at La Gastronomica.  This three-hour journey along the Costa Brava coast is a great way to learn more about the region’s food and wine.  Clara, a sommelier has an infectious passion for everything local and along with chef, Jaume they showcase the simplest, freshest ingredients onboard the boat dishing up one of the most delicious brunches I have ever had. Local cheeses, octopus and chickpea stew are served alongside a delicate white Grenache from Empordà.   The boat stops off at a wonderful cove where you can swim, sunbathe, snorkel or paddle surf. 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of S’Agaró and to celebrate there are a series of events being held from May 2024 – February 2025.  There will be exhibitions, a regatta, concerts and a firework display amongst other celebrations, so its worth checking out what’s happening if you plan to visit.

S’Agaró is a standout Spanish destination that delivers the perfect blend of natural splendour, cultural richness and laid back charm. So, pack your bags and discover this enchanting corner of the Costa Brava – where the Mediterranean meets a sense of timeless tranquility.

Book Hostal de la Gavina here.  Rates start from €280 (approx. £239) per night for a Classic Room, including breakfast.

The Beaumont, which was once upon a time the carpark for the luxury clientele of Selfridge’s in the 1920s, has withstood the test of time as one of London’s most beloved Art Deco masterpieces.

In 2020, The Beaumont started a massive renovation project. Our girl Hannah Tan-Gillies ventured into the heart of Mayfair to experience the newly opened rooms in The Beaumont’s extension, take a tour of the sprawling Roosevelt Suite and of course, experience the gastronomic delights of The Colony Grill and discover why The Beaumont is one of the best hotels in London.

The suites in the new wing blend contemporary style with Art Deco elegance

The Beaumont is one of a few independent London hotels that have stood the test of time. The hotel is inspired by the transatlantic hotels of the 1920s with an Art Deco twist. Offering 72 gorgeous rooms and 29 suites and studios, including the well-known Antony Gormley Room, The Beaumont is all about blending old world elegance with a contemporary luxury vibe.

Art is a central theme throughout the hotel which offers an enviable collection of paintings and works throughout both public and private spaces. In fact, the Le Magritte cocktail bar was inspired by a Magritte painting of which the original belongs to the hotel’s owner. (A recreation of the painting hangs behind the bar).

The new rooms embrace the hotel’s Art Deco past and features an elegant colour palette of neutrals and navy. We stayed in one of the Superior Studios which was generously sized and kitted out with every amenity a modern luxury traveller could require. With views over Mayfair rooftops, large bathrooms and a delectable complimentary Beaumont Baker’s Basket, the room was a luxurious home away from home for our one-night stay at The Beaumont.

The Roosevelt Suite, which can be configured to occupy the hotel’s entire fifth floor, is as impressive as its namesake. The Presidential Suite can be extended to include five bedrooms and features a sprawling terrace unlike anywhere else in Mayfair. A rich terracotta wallpaper adds gravitas to the main living space, which features a large seating area and dining table.

Designed by Thierry Despont, elegant Art Deco touches and include a lacquered drinks cabinet serving a delectable selection of Prohibition- era-inspired cocktails. Artworks from acclaimed artists including Henri Matisse, Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell and Anne Desmet. Feature throughout the space, which is undoubtedly one of London’s finest suites. It is a veritable feast for the eyes.

The Beaumont is one of London’s longest-standing independent hotels (and for good reason)

For dinner, we sampled the classic menu at the Colony Grill, a New York style grill that offers a menu of American classics with panache. The menu is decidedly old fashioned but executed to perfection. We recommend starting with a plate of oysters before indulging in a Rib Eye or Sirloin Steak for which The Colony Grill is famous. This is also where breakfast is served, where we (to banish the sins of the previous evening) opted for the full Vegan.

From check-in to check-out and long after, The Beaumont was an absolute joy to behold. Led by General Manager Duncan Palmer, who regaled us with tales of his hospitality adventures around the world and the important hand he played in the development of The Beaumont, it is no wonder this hotel has remained and will remain a true jewel in London’s hotel scene.  

Screenshot

Rooms at The Beaumont start from £700 per person including VAT. Includes: For breakfast, a daily ‘ Beaumont Basket’ of homemade viennoiseries, seasonal preserves, coffee or tea and juices. 

Fresh organic coffee, teas, soft drinks, still & sparkling water, & snacks from the in-room bar. lUse of The Beaumont’s chauffeur-driven courtesy limousine for emissions-free local trips (subject to availability). Use of the Spa and 24-hour Gymnasium throughout your stay. For more information visit www.thebeaumont.com.

Located along the southern edge of the Californian Central Coast is the super scenic, Monterey County.  This beautiful seaside city was made famous by writer, John Steinbeck whose novel, Cannery Row was inspired by the renowned, waterfront thoroughfare lined with former sardine factories that is now home to hotels, shops, and restaurants.

What makes Monterey worth a visit is the plethora of things to do.   Whether you are looking for adventure, want to explore the local marine life, enjoy a taste of the local wine or kick back with a book on the beach there is something for everyone.

Just further along Highway 1 (which reopens in April) is the neighbouring town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charming picture postcard destination that packs some punch for its size. 

Carmel’s romantic cobblestone streets are brimming with art galleries, great places to eat and boutique shops.  The main stretch of road runs from downtown directly to the sugar-white beach.  The town is jam packed with culture, unique backstories and film buffs will also be excited to discover that Clint Eastwood who served as mayor of Carmel resides here, and is often seen dining in Michelin Starred, Aubergine restaurant. 

One of the best times to visit is towards the end of summer. It’s less crowded and you can still expect balmy weather.  Start in Carmel before exploring Monterey Bay and the surrounding area.

Where to stay

Just a stone’s throw from the beach and a short stroll from the shops and restaurants, is the Carmel Beach Hotel.  The hotel opened in 2023 and is one of six new boutique hotels in the town.  The vibe here is laid back luxury, this intimate property has just 26 rooms and three suites.  My room was contemporary and spacious, with fresh whitewashed walls and bedding with accents of marine blue taking inspiration from the ocean.  The large bathrooms comprise of double vanity units, shower and a free-standing roll top bath.  There’s a pretty courtyard restaurant, cocktail bar, spa and gym.  The staff are friendly and deliver a personal seamless service you don’t get from big faceless chains.  During my stay I was running late for a dinner reservation and the manager personally drove me to a local restaurant. 

The breakfast here is fabulous, both mornings I had it delivered to my room.  A cute basket of continental delights are served alongside your preferred hot dish.  The eggs were cooked to perfection, toast still warm and bacon crispy.   

The location makes it ideal for sunset walks and picnics on the beach.  

The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa sits on stilts directly above the crashing surf of the Pacific and in the prime location of Cannery Row.  The hotel is plush with lots of polished marble, soft carpet, dark wood and large ceiling to floor windows that look out over the bay.  The rooms are spacious and have a similar classic design and décor that continues throughout the hotel. 

When it comes to dining you are spoiled for choice.  There’s lobby café’s, excellent room service and for more casual cuisine guest can head to Schooners, there’s a heated deck and uninterrupted views of the ocean.   The menu includes classic American staples making it the perfect choice for breakfast or a light bite. Coastal Kitchen offers fine dining.  Executive Chef Michael Rotondo serves an ever-evolving tasting menu that showcases the culinary treasures from the region.

The adult only spa is decadent retreat for those looking to relax after a day exploring.  Located on the roof, with dramatic panoramic views from the sundeck, there are two outdoor hot tubs, a steam room and indoor sauna. There is also a gym.

Eat and drink

Chez Noir’s French inspired menu showcases innovative, seafood-centric dishes that have earned them a well-deserved Michelin star.  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.

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.  Slick service and a menu dedicated to delicious farm to table fare is what sets Lucia apart from other restaurants.  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.

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 a short drive from Monterey Bay, and 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 an abundance of 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.

What to do

While staying in Monterey you must pay a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium who are celebrating their 40th anniversary in October.  Here, you can see leopard sharks meander through kelp forests and sea turtles bobbing amongst schools of colourful fish.  Floor to ceiling tanks span two floors at one of the largest aquarium exhibits in the world.  There are interactive experiences, a variety of behind-the-scenes tours (some of which allow visitors to feed penguins) and touch pools, where you can get close to sea cucumbers, bat rays and tide-pool creatures.  This is no run of the mill aquarium, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the region, it showcases more than 35,000 animals and plants representing over 550 species.   

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. You’ll be collected from your hotel by their knowledgeable guide, Steve who will keep you entertained with the inside track on all things Monterey.  Expect to stop off at some of the finest wineries along the coast, make sure you call in to Galante Vineyards tasting room to see Jack!

Monterey Bay is California’s best location for viewing whales, great white sharks and spotting an abundance of marine life including dolphins, jellyfish and sea lions.  Discovery Whale Watch trips depart from Fisherman’s Wharf daily and the team onboard are the best in business for spotting and guaranteeing whale sightings.   The three-hour tour is an extraordinary experience that allows you to get up close to these amazing creatures, I got to witness a humpback breech and a pod of dolphins escorted our boat out of the bay.   Throughout the trip the crew tee up sightings, impart knowledge and facts with passion, ensuring you have a memorable experience.

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

We’ve got so much to celebrate in the world of food and drink at the moment. This includes our Exciting Food And Drink Round-Up, plus it’s almost Mother’s Day here in the UK, and there’s lots of delicious things to gift to your mum or the mother figure in your life.


We’ve included some outstanding drinks that can be for yourself or gifted to others, especially mum! There’s even some foodie bits and pieces that you’ll probably want to keep to yourself but they should be shared.

Mother’s Day Food & Drink Gift Ideas

Crosstown Doughnuts

Crosstown


Treating mum to a box of doughnut delights is sure to put a smile on her face this Mother’s Day. Indulge in this perfect treat – a box of six or 12 handcrafted Crosstown doughnuts, complete with ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ edible toppers. Includes Dark Chocolate Truffle Sourdough Doughnuts filled with a rich and indulgent chocolate truffle, coated in luxurious dark chocolate ganache. Also includes Homemade Raspberry Jam Sourdough Doughnuts, with fresh, fruity raspberries and comforting vanilla, filled with raspberry jam and topped with vanilla glaze and freeze-dried raspberries. Priced at £29.95 for 6, and £49.95 for 12 from Crosstown.

Belvoir, Limited Edition Elderflower & Rose Cordial

Belvoir


Belvoir’s Elderflower & Rose Cordial is made to their traditional family recipe, crafted from masses of hand-picked elderflowers with rose petal extract for a delicately floral taste. The limited edition Mother’s Day bottle say’s Happy Mother’s Day on the label and with Love From on the label too, which makes it the perfect gift for Mum. Priced at £4 (500ml bottle), from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Ocado, Booths.

Category is: Cocktails, by David Dodge and David Orton with Prestel Publishing

Cocktails


If Mum’s a cocktail lover and a fan of Drag performers then this book is for her. The book is filled with sixty delicious, easy to make cocktails and zero-proof drinks, inspired by iconic drag queens. Learn how to make the ‘Donut Come For Me’, named after RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Kim Chi, or why not try a ‘Tingly Crangrarita’ made for UK drag queen Tayce. Each recipe is accompanied by a beautifully-rendered illustration and profile of the queen, king or non-binary performers who inspired them. Category Is: Cocktails! is packed with brilliant concoctions and deep-dive diva trivia. Priced at £12.99 from Waterstones, Amazon, Blackwell’s and more.

Non-alcoholic and Soft Drinks

Mariage Frères, UME CHA 2024 Tea

Blue Tea


Luxury French tea purveyor Mariage Frères celebrates its 170th anniversary this year with the launch of vintage blue tea UME CHA 2024. Championing the French Art of Tea since 1854, Mariage Frères has launched this delicate blue tea with notes of blossoming plum trees. A comforting and silky tea with round, floral notes inspiring sweet reverie. Extraordinarily blue in colour when brewed, the loose-leaf tea is encased in a collectible cannister adorned with gold flakes. Priced at £28 per 80g tin, from Mariage Frères.

Belvoir, Brand New Lemonades

Belvoir


If you’re looking to switch up everyday hydration for something that’s lighter on sugar, contains nothing artificial and brings new flavour to savour, say hello to Belvoir Farm’s Sicilian Blood Orange Lemonade and Elderflower Lemonade. Destined to become your zestie besties this summer, they contain fewer than 20 calories per 100ml and come in smaller 500ml bottles (two serves) to keep handy in the fridge for an everyday treat without the sugar. Priced at £2 per bottle from Waitrose.

Alcoholic Drinks

SERVED, Pre-mixed Cocktails by Ellie Goulding

Served


SERVED, the award-winning premixed cocktails brought to you by Ellie Goulding are the perfect fit for BBQ’s, summer drinks, and alfresco dining moments. These bar quality cocktails in a can are crafted with 100% natural ingredients, a double measure of premium spirit and real fruit to give an authentic but exquisitely refreshing flavour, setting them up to be the affordable luxury of 2024! With Mojito, Passionfruit Martini, Margarita, and Pina Colada offering some crowd-pleasing cocktail favourites, SERVED cocktails are also made with wonky fruit to help reduce food waste. They are also vegan, gluten-free and have no added sugar. Priced at £26 for a Taster Pack (8 x cans), from Served Drinks.

Don Julio, Blanco Tequila


Don Julio Blanco Tequila is made from the finest blue agave plant though a time-honoured distillation process. A smooth, fresh tasting tequila, Blanco is the heart and soul of Don Julio and the base for all their tequilas. Offering a crisp agave flavour and hints of citrus, this is tequila in its truest form. The spirit can be enjoyed in a variety of innovative cocktails. Priced at £47.85 from Amazon.

The Drinks Bureau Cocktails in Cans


Serving up seriously tasty cocktails in cans, party boxes and soon to add frozen cocktail pops to their collection. Made with premium quality ingredients, which are vegan and allergen free, their award-winning ready-to-drink cocktails taste like bar-made drinks without the faff and in fabulous little packs! Cocktails include Spicy Margarita, Passionfruit Martini, and Espresso Martini. Equally, new no and low cans have been added, which include Shirley Temple, non-alcoholic made with cherry, ginger, lemon and bitters. Also, Dirty Shirley is a 5% abv, with a moreish ginger zing! Keep any eye out for frozen cocktail pops in both G&T and Passionfruit Martini. Priced between £12 to £15 for 4 cans, from The Drinks Bureau.

Food

Häagen-Dazs, Limited Edition Vanilla Pint for Charity

Ice Cream


The iconic Häagen-Dazs Vanilla pint undergoes a fresh new look to celebrate its iconic female founder, Rose Mattus and The Rose Project, with proceeds being donated to The Prince’s Trust Change a Girl’s Life campaign. Launched just in time for International Women’s Day it will have a fresh new look tub. Priced at £5.15 from Sainsbury’s.

Melora, Manuka Honey

Melora


The Manuka honey from Melora is harvested from New Zealand’s super plant and can be used in many dishes. Breakfast is the perfect time to add Melora’s Manuka Honey into your porridge, or have on your toast. It can even be added to hot drinks for both health reasons and to replace sugar. You can buy the Manuka Honey either as honey, or as flavoured honey, or even as lozenges to help fight colds and flu viruses. Priced from £7 for Honey, £12.50 for flavoured squeezy honey bottles, and £6.39 for lozenges, from Melora.

Jelly Belly Bubble Tea

Jelly Belly

Calling all bubble tea enthusiasts! Jelly Belly introduces the Bubble Tea Collection, the perfect blend of tea, tapioca and sweetness in jelly bean form. Hitting shelves this month, bubble tea buffs will soon be able to enjoy five unforgettable flavours inspired by the beloved beverage – Mango Milk Tea, Taro Milk Tea, Matcha Milk Tea, Strawberry Milk Tea, and Thai Milk Tea. Priced between £0.95 – £6.50, from Jelly Belly.



Exciting Food And Drink Round-Up – Words by Rachel McAlley

For more Food & Drink with House of Coco Magazine

What better venue than Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor Brasserie in Leeds to enjoy a leisurely meal with friends or family? Try for yourself the Exquisite Winter Dining Menu.

The Winter Dining Menu at Harvey Nichols offers a selection of starters, mains and desserts, plus a cocktail for just £30 per person. A 3-course menu that is running until 17th March, which means that you’ve still got plenty of time to book yourself in for this wonderful treat.

Leeds


Guests can choose to dine at any of the Harvey Nichols restaurants including Leeds, where we dined, or Knightsbridge, Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh.

The menu offers dishes such as warm onion and potato hash with whipped goats cheese, and chilli tomato jam, which we tried. Or, escabeche of sea bass with potato, confit shallot, and smoked paprika aioli, another dish we tried. There are two other starters on the menu including chicken liver parfait or charred smoked haddock too.

As you can imagine everything was served beautifully, presented immaculately, and tasted divine. We even had food envy as the table opposite tucked into starters we hadn’t opted for, and the haddock looked extremely delicious.

Exquisite Winter Dining Menu


With five mains courses to choose from, there’s something for all tastes. We decided upon the pan-fried sea bream, served with crushed potatoes, baby gem lettuce, crispy onions and salsa verde. Our other main was the braised shoulder of lamb, with black olive mashed potato, roasted red pepper, whipped goats cheese, and tenderstem broccoli, with a rosemary sauce.

We couldn’t call it between the mains because the fish was flaky and delicate, yet the lamb was hearty and flavoursome. Both were quite outstanding from start to finish.

The dessert menu showcased some wonderful options including whipped milk chocolate ganache, or rhubarb and custard mille feuille. Equally, there was the dessert of all desserts, sticky toffee pudding, or selection of cheeses with crackers and chutney.

Exquisite Winter Dining Menu

One of us was too full to indulge, the other tried the cheeses which were supplied from Yorkshire cheesemonger Cryer & Stott of Allerton Bywater. The cheese was so good, and such a great way to end the meal at Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor Brasserie in Leeds.

We would suggest you book now before the 17th March as this limited time menu will cease to exist past this date, and you don’t want to miss out!

Winter Dining Menu here, book yourself a table here.

Huge thanks to the wonderful front of house team at Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor Brasserie for looking after us perfectly.

Exquisite Winter Dining Menu At Harvey Nichols written by Rachel McAlley

More Food and Drink features with House of Coco

In this exhilarating tale penned by our very own Hannah Gregory, readers are whisked away on a whirlwind adventure through the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, as she embarks on a girls’ road trip with her beloved friend. As a part of the furniture here at House of Coco, Hannah brings her trademark wit and charm to every word, inviting readers to join her on a journey filled with laughter, exploration, and, of course, delectable culinary delights...

I have a friend, a very special friend. Eighteen months ago she was taken away from me – I’m being a tad dramatic, no one died but her husband works for the American Air Force and the time had come for them to be stationed far away from these English lands. Amid the snotty sniffs and gulpy wails of our goodbye we agreed we would meet every year for an epic voyage. Both avid travelers and the majority of our friendship being made up of random road trips and adventures, it was settled – every year an escape, just us, a time to reconnect and explore whilst belly laughing and telling each other how much we had missed each other in the process and so the time came for the first of these expeditions to take place. 

We knew we wanted a road trip – America for ease. We knew we wanted epic vistas, a mix of bright lights and cityscapes with jaw dropping scenery and coastal roads. We wanted the quintessential experience – nothing but us, the open road and a banging playlist and most importantly we knew we wanted food and lots of it – a firm believer that nothing reinforces bonds than breaking bread I made it my mission to find the best eats, the most sustainable producers and the most exciting offerings knowing nothing brings people together better than good food.

And so it was settled, I would fly into Las Vegas and meet her there, we would spend a few days in Sin City soaking up everything it had to offer, the glitz, the glamour, the decadence. From here we would wind up the Pacific Coast Highway to SloCal – an area of Central California famed for its slow paced living, food and wine and incredible scenery. The perfect girls road trip that reconnects two friends as they connect with the west coast. 

Viva Las Vegas!

Flying into Las Vegas instantly makes you feel like you are the main character of a movie. Forehead pressed up against the glass of the plane window as the iconic strip comes into view, neon lights glowing in popping contrasts against the inky black sky, it’s hard not to daydream about what adventures are about to unfold. Perhaps it’s from watching too many films that site Vegas as their backdrop or maybe the hopeful notion that in a mere few hours maybe, just maybe, you could become infinitely richer. Whatever it is was manifesting itself in a physical reaction – a grin splashed across my face and butterflies doing back flips in my belly, I was ready to revel. 

Where to stay

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is  an adults playground and  the perfect hotel for first timers – a luxury and decadent offering in the heart of the strip, its location makes for the perfect base to explore everything there is on offer. Feeling like Charlie when he entered Willy Wonka’s factory for the first time, my eyes were on stalks, never mind the fact I hadn’t seen my friend for the best part of two years, I couldn’t stop looking at the lights, the people, the theater of it all. Entering the hotel under giant chandeliers, bouncing light to create a kaleidoscope of colour over the high gloss black floor, the ringing of slot machines buzzing around the space, cheers and whoops from crowds, cocktail shakers adding a rhythmic beat underneath it all, a place for those who are triggered by sensory overload this is not but for those looking to be fully immersed in everything synonymous with Vegas – this is it. 

As the lift whisked us upwards to our Terrace Studio room, the enormity of the hotel became apparent with signs to restaurants, bars, pools and fitness suites flashing past us. You could spend a week here and still struggle to see everything the hotel has to offer let alone what lies outside of it and the enormity didn’t stop there. Opening the door to our studio, the vastness continued – a king sized bed that allowed both of us to fully starfish without fear of punching (very important when spending the next two weeks sharing mattresses), a separate seating area that would have allowed for about fifty people, a bathroom that left me shrieking THAT quote from Pretty Woman and the cherry on top, a private terrace offering views of the strip for as far as the eye could see. As I lent on the balcony, the hot desert air whipping around my face, the colours of the flashing lights creating dancing shadows on the ground below, I thought ‘this is it, this is Vegas’. I could have stayed there soaking it in all night but I was plucked from my neon coloured thoughts by one of my favourite sentences, “shall we go and get a cocktail?” 

As we navigated our way through winding corridors, up and down escalators, around clusters of seating areas that I assume are provided to give explorers a needed rest as they traverse the miles of the hotel, we found ourselves in a bar that sat within the belly of the aforementioned chandelier. Strings of crystals draped around us and we sipped on our martinis, we couldn’t have felt more Vegas if we tried. The balcony bar overlooking the main atrium of the hotel is the perfect spot for people watching or to grab a drink before heading to the many options for dinner. However, in an uncharacteristically sensible turn we decided to call it after one – this was a marathon not a sprint after all – but not before setting out on a mission to find Secret Pizza; a hidden ‘grab and go’ pizza joint that I had noticed doing the rounds on social media. As we wound ourselves through the warren of the inner workings of The Cosmopolitan, the secret spot soon revealed itself through a plethora of excited diners giddily running back to their rooms laden with pizza boxes and a queue of people tumbling out a record lined corridor, try as they might to keep this place under the radar, it’s impossible when the slices they are serving are this good. And so, armed with a pie, merry from a martini, we skipped back to our room and fell into a deep slumber ready for the next day. 

Where to eat and drink

Sadelle’s 

No trip to Vegas is complete without an amble through The Bellagio, the short walk from The Cosmopolitan takes you past the iconic fountains and into the famous conservatory, filled with ornate floral displays themed to the season, nestled at the back of which sits Sadelle’s. Another of those perfect people watching spots (this soon became my favourite activity in Vegas), starched white table cloths, napkins tied with a bow to represent a tuxedo and waiters dressed to the nines, my movie main character feeling continued. You would be amiss to order anything but the French Toast here – it is stuff of legend. Billowy clouds of thick cut, soft bread doused in syrup, adorned with fresh berries and topped with a mountain of whipped cream. It is what childhood dreams are made of. Sipping my mimosa whilst heaving forkfuls of the sweet breakfast into my mouth, I knew it was going to be a good day. 

Best Friend

Our first evening ‘proper’ it seemed only fitting to visit ‘Best Friend’, the brain child and absolute sensation of a place from Roy Choi. A mash up of bodega, bar and restaurant serving his best loved plates from his Kogi foodtruck, as with so many places in Vegas, this isn’t just a restaurant but an experience and an epic one at that. It now proudly sits at the top of my ‘if you go to Vegas you MUST visit here’ list. Entering the ‘bodega’, another sensory overload as eyes adjust to bright lights, walls lined with typical findings on bodega shelves interspersed with merch and artwork, music blares as diners enjoy a quick bite at the bar or wait for their table ‘out back’. It sounds too much but it works, the energy is infectious and even the most weary and jetlagged are instantly recharged. Plucked from the chaos, we were told our table ‘out back’ was ready. Walking through the red plastic butchers curtains and into the restaurant space that could have easily doubled up as a club, the vibe continued with a DJ perched above the tables, playing old school hip hop, watching his audience sway and bounce as plate after plate of glorious food was set down in front of them. The menu here is extensive and everything we tried was fantastic, the slippery shrimp being the hands down stand out dish. It was reassuring to see both tourists (spottable as they couldn’t stop staring in wonder, myself included, at the madness) and residents – yes, those do exist, I know one. A sure fire sign that this is a restaurant worth visiting. This is the kind of eatery that feels like ‘pre’s’, I detest myself for using that word but you know what I mean, you leave high and ready for a party. So we did just that.

Amalfi by Bobby Flay

I have to admit something. Pre this trip I had never heard of Bobby Flay. I have mentioned this to a couple of Americans over the last few months and the look of sheer horror has been intense. I’m glad I didn’t know who Bobby Flay was because had I known I was going to a restaurant of a ‘celeb chef’ I would have probably balked. Big shiny Food Network status aside, this restaurant was OUTSTANDING. Inspired by Bobby’s many trips to the Amalfi coast, you can expect an extensive seafood offering and big Mediterranean flavours. The jewel of the restaurant being the market led fish display, gargantuan turbots and bright red mullets sitting on a bed of crushed ice, lovingly spiritzed every five minutes by a chef (who I am 99% convinced job’s title is chief spritzer). Diners are invited to talk to the fishmonger about the catch of the day, how it’s prepared etc. I was in heaven, potentially asking one too many questions about the catching methods and sustainability of each floppy flounder but nothing was too much trouble for both the wait and kitchen staff alike. They were eager to take us through the menu, making suggestions here and there, recommending wine pairings and giving a subtle nod when we mulled over the thought of having an additional side. Having spent the two months previous to this trip on a Greek island I was a tad fished out so opted for the steak which was perhaps the best steak I have ever had.  My pesci friend devoured the perfectly cooked bass and together we shared plate after plate of pasta, caprese’s and stuffed courgette flowers. Everything about this place was sensational and a complete contrast to the previous night’s Best Friend. Where Roy had encouraged us to dance on the tables (not quite but it probably wouldn’t have been frowned upon), Bobby allowed us to relax in elegance, low level music and the gentle hum of the restaurant allowing for long conversations over plates of pasta and proteins, exactly what was needed for this girls trip. We had danced and now we dined. 

The Barbershop Cocktails and Cuts

When a bar has a queue of about 100 people outside it I instantly have two thoughts. One, that must be a great bar. Two, there is no way in hell I am queuing for a bar. Lucky for me we had a booth reserved and I could be one of those insufferable people that sauntered past the crowd and I can confirm, the queue is absolutely worth it.

Nestled in The Cosmopolitan, a barbershop by day – yes, you can actually get a shave, this speakeasy style affair is everything you want from a bar. Through the janitor’s door and down a staircase you enter a decadent low lit space, all wood paneling and chesterfield sofas with first class whiskey based cocktails and live music that varies from western warblings (in the best way)  to karaoke (I think that still counts as live). 

Making your way down the ‘secret’ staircase conjures feelings of big kid energy, fully knowing what is in store you still can’t help but giggle and feel you are being  led to a secret hideaway. Another fantastic example of Vegas theatre and experiential offerings – a must for anyone visiting.  

Things to do 

The Neon Museum

Determined not to just drink and gamble our livers and life savings away, we took a visit to  The Neon Museum. In hindsight perhaps this would have been better at dark so one could appreciate the iconic signs coming to life but it was still just as wonderful by day. A quick taxi ride to the graveyard of Las Vegas past and present and we were immersed in history and iconography. I would highly recommend to any fellow magpies who are mesmerized by flashing, twinkling things as I am – seeing some of the most recognisable signage up close and personal was an absolute treat, not to mention made for a great backdrop for an impromptu photo shoot.

Agave Bar & Grill

High up in the maze that is Resorts World sits the Agave Bar & Grill, a tropical oasis in the middle of a concrete desert. Vegas pools are often synonymous with party and I’m sorry to say, these 37 year old bodies are just not cut out for it. We wanted relaxed, chilled, cocktails brought to us, massages available on request and Agave delivered. The food offering is stripped back and basic but exactly what is needed to line stomachs before a day of poolside drinking – think burrito bowls and chicken wings, perfect washed down with a Bloody Mary. Perhaps it was due to being ‘off season’ but the pool was calm and tranquil. After two days of heavy drinking and eating, the ability to flop onto a lounger, roll into a pool and have a server bring you a frozen pina colada every thirty minutes was exactly what the doctor ordered and the perfect way to spend a sunny day on the strip.

“O” by Cirque De Soleil

We knew we had to tick the ‘big Vegas show’ box at least once during our time here and so on our last night we opted for “O”. Having never been to a Cirque show but knowing the reputation of them and that housed in Vegas, we were most likely going to be in for a spectacle, so we excitedly made our way to The Bellagio (with a couple of stops on the slots on route). Nothing could have prepared me for the next two hours of my life. As stages magically moved and shifted, floors became pools of water, acrobats plummeted and tumbled not just across the stage but into it, we gasped and cheered along with the rest of the audience. Sitting on the edge of our seats, grabbing each other’s digits, we were enraptured. I’ve heard people say before that going to the theatre or the cinema is a silly thing to do for a date (appreciate my friend and I aren’t dating but same premise) but I firmly disagree. The sharing of  such a spectacle and then being able to dissect it and discuss it afterwards is such a special experience. I would recommend anyone – kids, adults, shotgun weddingers, ANYONE, to go and see this show and prepare to have your mind blown.

Las Vegas reminds me of a festival site. The Cosmopolitan, our very glitzy base camp, the hundreds of activities and eateries all mini stages. Strategically planning days around when we can get back to our room to refresh and rehydrate as you would your tent. Looking at lengths of walk from one area to the other, planning outfits for every eventuality. It was this feeling of play and escapism that captured me, living in your own little man made world that purely exists to provide fun and frivolity. Sure, it’s not sustainable but good lord for a few days it is magic.

And so with that, part one of our girls road trip was complete. Our brief to each other, to eat, to drink, to be merry, to ‘do’ Vegas hard ready for the softness of California and we did just that. Rolling out of The Cosmopolitan car park, a little poorer, a lot rounder and absolutely full to the brim of love and laughter, we were ready to hit the road and Thelma and Louise this trip (minus the murder and double suicide).

Find out more about Las Vegas.

There are daily direct flights to Las Vegas from London and Manchester with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

British Citizens will need complete and Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) to visit the States.

Read part 2 here

When you think of the Maldives, what comes to mind? Crystal-clear waters, pristine white sand beaches, and overwater bungalows perfectly tailored for romantic getaways, right? While it’s true that the Maldives has long been synonymous with honeymooners and couples seeking a romantic escape, there’s so much more to this tropical paradise than meets the eye.

While it’s great for relaxing and taking time out, each resort has unique experiences to spark your sense of adventure, stoke your senses and light your imagination.   Two resorts that excel in personalised experiences and deliver in abundance are Gili Lankanfushi and Six Senses Laamu.  Both resorts serve up lashings of luxury, plum sunsets, pink skies and azure waters but what sets them apart from their Maldivian neighbours is the exceptional experiences.  Here’s my favourite things to do in the Maldives.

Discover an underwater world at Six Senses Laamu

One of the things that sets Six Senses Laamu apart from the other resorts is the spectacular house reef that hugs the edge of the island, coupled with a state-of-the-art immersive research facility and you have a unique marine experience that lets you take a deep dive into ocean life.  

The Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) by Six Senses Laamu is a collaboration of marine biologists from the resort and three partnered NGOs; the Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Olive Ridley Project. The Sea Hub of Environmental Learning in Laamu (SHELL), home to MUI, is a stunning visual and interactive experience that showcases the marine environment.  Here a cool team of marine biologists conduct innovative research in the lab facilities and take guests on an extraordinary journey into the ocean.  This awesome facility wouldn’t look out of place at the Science Museum.  Full sized manta’s hang from the ceiling, while a series of dedicated informative stations are dotted around, jam packed with fun facts and statistics on the mysteries of the ocean and those who inhabit it.

The SHELL is home to an interactive room designed for guests to discover the secrets of Laamu and the underwater world. Highlights include an augmented reality sandbox which allows you to change and redesign habitats and topography using projection mapping technology. There’s a nifty little piece of animation kit that lets you get creative and watch your favourite marine creatures come alive on a large screen and watch them swim in a virtual world.  I came away with a plethora of facts and a better understanding of the ocean.

Following some time exploring the SHELL you can get up close and personal with sharks, parrotfish and green turtles at the house reef.  Private tours are available for beginners as well as seasoned divers and snorkelers.  

The coral reefs of the Laamu atoll are rich in colour and brimming with marine life. I took a snorkel tour with the resident marine biologist who knows all the best spots along the reef to get a glimpse of Nemo and the impressive eagle rays.  I spent over an hour exploring the stunning coral garden coming face to face with oriental sweetlips, a moray eel, schools of needlefish and pretty Moorish idols.  It’s easy to get lost in this breathtaking world.   

Whether you are a marine enthusiast or a novice, I’ll guarantee you’ll quickly fall in love with the ocean and this is without a doubt the most impressive snorkelling sites of the atoll.

Experience your own private jungle cinema

Upon arrival at Gili Lankanfushi you are assigned your own Mr Friday, a dedicated butler service to ensure that your stay and experience is second to none.  I can vouch that this is very much the case, with my Mr Friday going above and beyond to make sure my stay was nothing short of incredible, recommending a series of unique experiences to enhance your stay.  My Mr Friday arranged for a slice of movie magic under the stars, a fantastic way to spend an evening.  Nestled in the middle of the island ensconced in your own private leafy jungle is an outdoor cinema like no other.  Ahead of my private screening I got to request my movie of choice and select from a mouthwatering barbeque menu.  This wasn’t your run of the mill burger and sausage menu, instead it comprised of succulent lobster and fresh seafood with wagyu beef and premium cuts of meat, accompanied by delicious sides and salads.  

After drinks on the beach watching the sun go down, I was whisked to a quiet nook of the island where flanked by tress and foliage was the most fabulous outdoor cinema.  I was greeted with a glass of champagne while a private chef was getting to work on dinner discreetly in the corner.  The set up was nothing short of spectacular.  A large screen played out an action-packed Denzel Washington movie while my date and I were served starters, and our champagne was topped up at an intimate candle lit dining table.  After our main course we retreated to a cosy lounge area, with reclining beds and blankets.  Here we sipped more champagne, indulged in a delicious chocolate treat for dessert and enjoyed the rest of the movie. 

Be warned, once you experience the private jungle cinema at Gili, popcorn and a slushy at the local Odeon just won’t cut it.  It has ruined the regular cinema experience for me!

Indulge in Culinary Delights

Situated amidst the outstanding beauty of Six Senses Laamu, the team at Kaji bring the vibe direct to your dinner. Combining the artistry of Teppanyaki with the stunning backdrop of the Indian Ocean, this culinary gem promises an unforgettable journey for the senses.

As soon as I enter the restaurant, I’m hit by the aroma of warm sizzling garlic that fills the air and entices my taste buds.   

There’s a set menu of five courses, each thoughtfully curated to showcase the freshest seasonal ingredients and bold flavours. From tender cuts of beef to seafood delicacies, each dish is a masterpiece.

The dining experience revolves around the ancient Japanese cooking technique of Teppanyaki, where skilled chefs showcase their talents in an open kitchen setting.   What makes Kaji exceptional, is the theatrical element where right before your eyes, chefs expertly grill and flip.  I get to take a seat around the Teppanyaki grill, where I am treated to a front-row view of the culinary action unfolding before me. The chefs, deftly wield their knives and spatulas with precision and grace, chopping with speed and accuracy, turning cooking into an art form. It’s not just a meal, it’s a performance.

But beyond the spectacle, it’s the quality of the food that truly shines at Kaji. Every ingredient is sourced with care, ensuring the highest standards of freshness and flavour. The chef takes time to talk you through each dish, explaining with passion the process.  Whether it’s the buttery texture of the scallops or the umami-rich taste of the miso-marinated black cod, each dish is a testament to the resort’s dedication to excellence.

And let’s not forget the fun factor. Dining here is not just about satisfying your hunger – it’s about enjoying a lively and convivial atmosphere with friends and fellow diners. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply indulging in a night of gastronomic adventure, you need to book a table at Kaji.

Nightly rates at Gili Lankanfushi start from £1,397/$1,722 based on two adults sharing a Villa Suite with breakfast included. For more information or to book please visit Gili Lankanfushi

For more information on bookings at Six Senses, Laamu please contact reservations-maldives@sixsenses.com or visit the website

House of Coco travelled to the Maldives via Dubai with Emirates.  London Heathrow to Male return is £1,749. This is based on Premium Economy from London Heathrow to Dubai and then Economy from Dubai to Male. Prices subject to change. 

From new openings to old friends, London’s dining scene is as exciting as ever. While we do love cooking at home, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t also love eating out at a restaurant and enjoying both the food and ambience of dining out.

Full of both trusty chain restaurants and independent spots, perhaps you’ll know some of the restaurants listed here – or maybe there’ll be some hidden gems you’ll be sure to add to your list. While most of us are seasoned brunch-ers in this city, there are a variety of cuisines that are certainly underrated and well-deserving of a shout-out here.

So if you’re looking for a new restaurant or two to add to your list for 2024 – or if you are happy to be reassured that some old friends are still solid favourites, continue reading for your food fix below.

Best restaurants to book in London

Tandis, Finchley Road

Try Iranian cuisine in London at Tandis Persian Restaurant

One that might not be on your radar but certainly should is Tandis. Previously located in Haverstock Hill, the restaurant moved to Finchley Road some five years ago now – but we’re here to tell you that the same great taste remains. While it may not be as well known as other Persian restaurants more centrally-located, this is our Persian food editor’s family favourite and we’re here to guide you through the best dishes to order, should you (and you should) make your own reservation soon.

All Persian meals must start off with tearing the flatbread (usually lavash, taftoon) and scooping up thick lashings of the creamy mast-o musir (yoghurt dip with shallots). Other starters we’d recommend include the traditional tahdig (crispy rice from the rice cooker or bottom of the pan) topped with either gormeh sabzi (Persian lamb and herb stew) or gheymeh (lamb and split pea stew). If it’s your first time dining here – or at any Persian restaurant – kebab is the main event. You can choose from koobideh (minced lamb), barg (lamb fillet), jujeh (chicken) or shishlik (lamb chops) – all accompanied by saffron rice, a grilled tomato and salad.

However, if you’re a seasoned Persian diner – or just fancy trying something different – the khoreshts (stews) and rice dishes are so delicious and not to be missed. There’s plenty to choose from – but top dishes include fesenjan (pomegranate and walnut chicken stew) and zereshk polo (rice with barberries and braised chicken). Oh, and every Persian meal finishes with black tea and baklava – enjoy.

Tandisrestaurant.com

Umu, Mayfair

Umu restaurant in Mayfair has already been our Japanese highlight of 2024

Might we have just found our favourite Japanese restaurant in London? We’re ashamed to say it isn’t even a new opening, as Umu has been tucked away in a quiet corner of Mayfair for 20 years – but we’re certainly glad this hidden gem is on our radar now. From its discreet entrance to its elegantly simple dining room, Umu offers diners a Kyoto kaiseki experience, paired with impeccable service.

The Michelin starred spot immediately instigated a sense of calm as soon as you walked through the door – while the recommended sake (a light, floral style) went down a treat as we sipped alongside the first course of turbot carpaccio, as well as sea bass, lobster, chutoro (fatty tuna), scallop and yellowtail (my personal favourite) sashimi. Everything had a distinct freshness to it, with the accompanying soy sauce simply enhancing the existing flavour – as opposed to point blank adding it or even (this has happened at a few restaurants) masking the original taste of the fish.

The tempura selection was fantastic – with both lobster and mushroom proving both fish lovers and vegetarians would have an equally enjoyable experience at Umu – while the grilled turbot was plated up so simply but was so satisfying to both the tastebuds and the tummy. The star of the show? The nigiri selection was flawless. Both the toro topped with padron pepper and red mullet with bottarga excelled, while the langoustine and scallop gunkan varieties were also fantastic. The soy sauce, with lemon and lime juice and chives, was a great addition, too.

Those with a sweet tooth can round the meal off with the Mayfair Garden dessert; Japanese seasonal tiramisu with matcha green tea and a pourable Ginjo sake (my kind of pudding, this), as well as other seasonal sweet treats available.

Umurestaurant.com

Marlowe, Shoreditch

new restaurant london montcalm east marlowe
Marlowe is the new restaurant in the Montcalm East hotel

New to the Montcalm East hotel by Old Street station is Marlowe. Inspired by legendary playwright, Christopher Marlowe, the restaurant pays homage to the vibrant history and diversity of the city. The bar staff make a mean amaretto sour cocktail which is great for sipping as you peruse the menu. The cured trout with pickled cucumber and ham hock and chicken terrine with cranberry relish both make great starters – both packed with good flavour.

For the main course, the slow cooked pork belly with baby gem, tomato and brioche was a standout – although we’d prefer either a less sweet tomato sauce or adding more of a fiery kick – and while the beef cheek and bone marrow flatbread was tasty, we wouldn’t personally class it as a flatbread (as is phrased on the menu). For desserts, opt for the pavlova which was the perfect sweet treat to finish – and make sure you sit by the window for some satisfactory London traffic-watching.

Marlowelondon.com

Hithe + Seek, Bankside

hithe seek hannah crosbie small plates wine pairings menu london
Catch Hannah Crosbie x Hithe + Seek until 2nd March

Stylish bar and kitchen Hithe + Seek has joined forces with wine conoisseur Hannah Crosbie for this limited edition menu of small plates and pairings. Available Tuesday to Saturday until 2nd Mach, the menu features six tasting-menu sharing plates, accompanied by matching wines. For just £99, this also includes a fruity aperitf cocktail with which to kick things off.

Themed around stages of love – or romantic encounters, should we say – this menu featured a variety of dishes, with excellent wines. Our favourites included the ‘Catfish’ which was, in fact, torched king oyster mushroom ‘scallops’ with oyster leaf and parsip purée, paired with a fresh but mellow Taittinger Nocturne Sec NV – while the ‘My-Type-On-Paper’ (langoustine and smoked cheese risotto with citrus bisque foam) was the ultimate decadent comfort dish and the New Zealand Pinot Gris was our favourite wine of the evening. The chilli and mango mousse, hidden in a dark chocolate sphere was perfectly seductive as ‘The Ex’ to end the meal – we would definiely deliberate going back to that one, to be fair.

Vavasour, Pinot Gris; Awatere Valley, New Zealand

Hitheandseek.com

Lusin, Mayfair

Have you tried Armenian food? Another lesser-known cuisine of the Middle Eastern region, Lusin is actually the first Armenian restaurant to arrive in Mayfair’s hotspot of fine dining restaurants. The restaurant itself is as beautiful as you’d expect – and the menu is packed full of traditional dishes. Lusin’s signature aubergine rolls are stuffed with walnut and whipped cheese – and make for a great starter – as does the hummus topped with cubes of wagyu beef.

Also not to be missed are the kibbeh and sujuc (Armenian sausage) rolls. The restaurant’s specialties include a deliciously slow braised lamb shank, served with rice, the classic meat-stuffed manti and the signature dish: the cherry lamb kebab. While Lusin’s famous rose-flavoured ice cream with candy floss is popular across social media, we were more taken with the honey cake, which features layers of honey biscuits and cream and served with actual honey comb.

Lusinrestaurant.com

Fish Game, Wood Wharf

fish game roberto costa london restaurant macellaio rc

A charcoal grill restaurant, Fish Game prides itself on serving up a menu full of sustainable British ingredients, with a particular focus on game and fish. Founder Roberto Costa is known for his mouthwatering steak restaurant, Macellaio RC, so while we were increasingly tempted by the charcoaled beef ribeye, we wanted to try alternative dishes, that the new restaurant was more known for.

Starting things off with the chargrilled squid, with fermented chilli and fried cavolo nero – this was a dish we could have eaten on repeat, all night.Packed full of flavour, it set a very high standard from the get-go. The chilli lime-marinated, chargrilled octopus and bone marrow with butter chilli sauce was rich was delicious, nonetheless, and the steak tartare was not only tasty but made at the table, providing a little bit of dinner theatre, for those who enjoy it. The sweet and sour mallard was the perfect blend of flavours but the star of the show had to be the grilled Cornish monkfish, served simply with rosemary, lime and Maldon salt – and it was perfection.

Fishgamerestaurant.co.uk

Caravan, Covent Garden

An oldie but a goodie, Caravan is the OG brunch spot in London. With its renowned dishes remaining on the menu – such as the jalapeno cornbread with chorizo, it’s clear why this is a restaurant that has withstood the test of time. It’s latest location is in the heart of Covent Garden – and this spacious spot proves its popularity, as it is constantly packed full of brunchers.

The fried rice bowl with greens, a fried egg, kimchi mayonnaise, sambal, crispy shallots, peanuts and coriander was elevated with additional crispy tofu and halloumi – and the hazelnut chocolate and poached strawberry french toast with candied hazelnut was a delicious sweet treat with which to finish. The buttermilk fried chicken could have potentially done with a scallion pancake, rather than a classic one – but was delicious, nonetheless – and we experimented with hard juices by adding mezcal to our green juice. 10/10 would recommend.

Caravanandco.com

Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, Shoreditch (and other locations)

sticks sushi london shoreditch restaurant
Sticks ‘n’ Sushi has opened its latest London location, in Shoreditch

What was once a boutique-style restaurant in London has now grown to a huge chain that appears to be in every corner of the city – but we’re glad to report that quantity hasn’t compromised the quality at Sticks ‘n’ Sushi. The Shoreditch location features the same menu as the other restaurants so veterans can expect the same famous ebi bites (tempua shrimp), grilled edamame, sushi selection and yakitori sticks. Not to be missed are the scallop ceviche, scallops in kataifi batter with trout roe and the seared nigiris (not everywhere does these).

Sushi-wise, if you’re not opting for the mini maki maki (which includes highlight rolls such as the tuna, avocado and tempura shrimp Hells Kitchen and the seared salmon and snow pea Shake Aioli), there’s a miso marinated black cod futomaki and spicy tuna roll that never disappoint, either. Don’t forget to leave room for the sticks, with top choices including the beef with herb butter, miso marinated black cod, cheese wrapped in bacon, grilled shrimp and much more. If you’re worried about not fitting in dessert, don’t worry – Sticks ‘n’ Sushi follows Japanese protocol, where just a small sweet treat is necessary to finish the meal.

Sticksnsushi.com

El Rancho de Lalo, Brixton

Get your Colombian food fix a El Rancho De Lalo restaurant

Brixton is home to El Rancho De Lalo – a Colombian restaurant which offers up canteen-style food. A family-run restaurant, there’s certainly a laidback and authentic ambience to this eatery. The chicharon (crispy cubes of pork belly) and the empanadas stole the show out of the starters – particularly when dipped in some tangy salsa – while the mains featured a variety of grilled meats, with our personal favourite being the whole grilled fish. We’ll be heading back on weekends, when a more extensive menu is served.

Instagram.com/elranchodelalo

Hannah Gregory heads to Glastonbury to visit a 17th century coaching in turned Middle Eastern modern eatery centred around local produce, traditional ingredients and a lot of love.

In the autumn of 2023, Chef Ayesha Kalaji burst onto our screens during her time on MasterChef Professionals with a palpable kindness and exuberance not often seen in that kitchen. In an environment which is usually awash with furrowed brows and pulsing head veins (believe me, I should know) her warmth and passion for the cuisine of her Jordanian heritage were infectious. Impossible to watch without smiling and championing her on from the sofa, I was desperate to try her food and see if what she put on a plate matched what she oozed on camera – joy, fun, effervescence and a knowledge that can only be gained from years of absorbing the know-how of house-hold kitchens, listening to cooks of the family pass down nuggets of wisdom about ingredients and cooking methods. A promise of food as rich in history as it is in flavour.

Location, location, location

A 17th century coaching in turned modern Middle Eastern restaurant, Queen of Cups is nestled in the heart of Glastonbury. Aptly named as both a nod to the restaurants mystical home, drenched in centuries of spirituality, white magic and bubbling energy from the famous ley lines coupled with the tarot card of the same title symbolosing feminine energy, emotional connection and compassion – all of which make up the ethos and heart of the restaurant.

The weekend we visited also happened to be the Frost Fayre, an annual community event to celebrate ‘peace and goodwill to all’ ahead of the festive period. There was something truly magical about winding through the bitterly cold streets of the town, stopping to take in carollers or grab a glass of mulled wine before taking refuge in shops heady with scents of natural oils and potions, knowing our final destination was Ayesha’s warm bosom (not literally). It was impossible to ignore this weird 21st century parallel we found ourselves in… two slightly wise women, following the star (google maps), the air heavy with scents of Frankincense and Myrrh, ambling towards the inn full of middle eastern promise – it truly was a modern-day Christmas tale.

Fortunately for us, there was room at the inn and as expected, we were welcomed in with open arms, the front of house team, either through osmosis or careful selection, exuding just as much charm as their proprietor. Guided through the restaurant, all feminine purple accents and curated artwork depicting various guises of feminine energy, the space is humble and unassuming.

The food

The menu is based around sharing plates all of which promise to be as gloriously colourful as chef herself. With a plethora of ingredients not often seen on this grey land, her team are on hand to guide you through the menu and answer questions effortlessly and enthusiastically.  Plates come as they come resulting in a table bursting with colour and smells, each dish begging to be paired with its neighbour – a swipe of the Frena bread in the watercress labneh here, a dunk of a Lebanese spiced potato in whipped Westcombe ricotta there. It is a truly unique and enjoyable eating experience that further cements the notion of bringing people together over great food.

Small plates to pave the way

We began our meal with nibbles of Teta’s (a colloquial Lebanese term for Grandmother and another nod to the importance of family recipes within this restaurant) pickles and Frena bread – a richer, fluffier cousin of the humble pitta. The pickles as sharp and pleasantly pink as you would hope. Not being the best of friends with gluten and not wanting to waste precious stomach real estate, I had every intention of bypassing the bread but when I saw pillowy cloud after pillowy cloud of it appear on the pass it was impossible to resist. With a good char from the hot coals, a lightness that made it looked like it was floating on its plinth and a sheen of butter glistening down it’s curves, I had to have it, gluten intolerance or not and my lord was it worth the bloat that followed that evening. A plate of Watercress labneh with roasted beetroot doused in pomegranate seeds, za’tar and pangrattato to accompany was a match made in heaven – using the bread to mop up every ounce of the thick, punchy labneh, creating perfect mouthfuls with its adornments like a child rifling through a jewellery box.

Mesmerising main dishes

From here we worked our way through the menu, as each plate landed on the table a gasp followed by an ‘oooh’ and an ‘aaaah’ reminiscent of children at a firework display. Hibachi grilled merguez sausages, the content of which is determined by the season were smokey and spicey, complimented by their bed of cooling yoghurt, the micro herbs and fresh lemon cutting through the richness. Grilled Nabulsi cheese (one of my favourite plates) served by the slab like an elevated saganaki situation, drenched in Persian black lime and honey that pools around it ensuring every bite is layered in flavour and complexity, the cheese covered in a blanket of preserved lemon and fresh oregano to cut through the fatty cheese. A larger plate of red miso and cardamom glazed hispi cabbage with a fiery veduja and butterbean puree, kalamata tapenade and yeasted buckwheat was a party of textures and flavour profiles. The standout dish for me however had to be the seven spiced Jerusalem artichokes with pickled foraged mushrooms, whipped westcombe ricotta, zoug and smoked almonds. A jumble of flavours that could easily get messy but were infact perfectly balanced, piles of deliciousness where every mouthful promises to be different. The zoug so loaded with garlic it smacks you around the face, crispy, spicy artichokes and vinegary mushrooms. A perfect example of east meets west and a demonstration of Ayesha’s championing of local growers and ingredients.

With waistbands straining more and more each second, we were about to throw in the towel when we thought what a waste it would be to leave plates still covered with sauces and goodness and so for thorough  mopping a last minute addition of Batata Harra (Lebanese spiced potatoes) were ordered – crispy on the outside soft and fluffy within, we made the right call and with that, the plates returned to the kitchen perfectly polished.

Our one regret was that we had not planned accordingly and so could not make the most of the very exciting dessert menu – dishes such as Tonka and Fig leaf mousseline with hazelnut brittle and Dark chocolate and Persian lime cremeaux called to us but we just couldn’t do it. Instead, we settled on black tahini and black cardamom ice cream with poached cherries, a light finisher to the afternoon and a continuation of bold flavour pairings that really work.

The food we ate was clearly a labour of love – the love could be tasted in every dish. Personality, warmth and emotion as tangible as the ingredients themselves.

Let’s hear it for the chef

Sitting opposite the pass and with full view of the kitchen, it became instantly apparent that Ayesha’s likability transcends the TV screen we had become accustomed to seeing her on.  Steering her ship from behind the pass, she can be felt and heard throughout the restaurant, leading her brigade to deliver plate after plate of delectable food with a kindness and encouragement that made we want to jump up and get involved with them. I felt as if (and I mean this with love and respect) I was in the presence of a chef, a matriarch, a land lady and a captain –  all booming voice, bountiful personality and bold as brass mannerisms.

The beauty of this establishment harks back to a core belief of mine, yes the bells and whistles of fine dining eateries and fancy pants restaurants are fun and impressive with all their slick lines and brushed steel but what it comes down to is the flavours on the plate and the passion of the chef. Food is about bringing people together, sharing history and culture, educating and inspiring people and Queen of Cups does this in spades.

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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