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24 Hours in Paris (and the “best restaurant” in Paris)

He leaned over from his barstool and whispered in my ear "This is the best restaurant in the neighborhood. Maybe even in all of Paris."

This week I landed in Paris for 24 hours - one hour for a work meeting, the remaining hours for exploring. 

While I returned to some of my old favorite stomping grounds, the reality is that I haven’t lived in Paris for nine years (le sigh) and needed to scope out some new spots. 

I took a French class this past Fall to brush up on my Francais and my teacher recommended Les Cocottes.  She also suggested it to two of my friends who recently went and raved about it. 

Tuesday afternoon I wrapped up my meeting, said “Au Revoir” to my colleagues, and ventured to the 7th Arrondissement. Although the area is home to some of Paris’ most famous landmarks (Eiffel Tower, Musee D’Orsay, Hotel des Invalides), it exudes a neighborhood/village vibe. 

I made my way passed Champs de Mars, down Rue Saint Dominique, and found myself in front of Les Cocottes. I had heard rumors of the no reservations policy/long waits, but by my 1:15 arrival, I was seated right away at the bar, which actually seemed to be the prized restaurant real estate. 

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While some classic Parisian restaurants hold on to an infamously traditional look and feel, it was a pleasant surprise to see how a restaurant could segue into a modern era. Les Cocottes has created a comfortable, yet casual ambiance that feels like 2014, while still maintaing and serving classic, melt in your mouth, what-you-come-to-Paris-for French food.

I started with the Foie Gras (I think the salad dressing was made of crack because never in my life have I wanted to eat more plain lettuce). 

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Followed by Pavé de cabillaud demi-sel, ragout de pommes de terre et carottes (Cod, potatoes, and carrots).

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I don’t even like carrots, but…..wow.

There are simply no words.

I only wish you could smell this photo. 

As I paid for the meal and savored my last few sips of wine, an older gentleman entered the restaurant, was greeted by the staff as if he was everyone’s best friend, and sat next to me at the bar.  

Monsieur obviously took pride in his appearance and the result was immaculate -  tortoise shell glasses, a silk tie, and a silver napkin holder were sartorial perfection, reminiscent of another time. 

He asked me if I was enjoying my wine. I replied “mais, bien sur” and that even though it was my first meal at Les Cocottes, it hoped it wouldn’t be my last.

Jean Servot proceeded to tell me that he dines here every week, always ordering something different.  He confided that he’s lived in the arrondissement since the 1930’s and then he leans over on his barstool and whispers in my ear "This is the best restaurant in the neighborhood. Maybe even in all of Paris."

The next thirty minutes were spent discussing life, love, France, and the United States (his favorite state is Colorado). Although we spoke only in French, he asked me where I was from originally and was shocked to learn the answer was America.  He assumed, based on my accent, that I hailed from Australia or Great Britain.  This was no news to me since I was placed in the Aussie/UK group instead of the American group during my “Accent Class” at The Sorbonne. I’m still trying to figure out that riddle….

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Finally, it was time for me to go. I told Jean that it was an absolute pleasure to meet him. His response was much more charming.

"Today, President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande will meet, but I consider myself to be infinitely more lucky to have had this meeting with you.”

Even the waitresses swooned. 

We exchanged cards and said “Until next time”, not “goodbye”. 

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Afternoon Tea - The Pelham

The five of us met just six months ago (except Elysha and I who have known each other for 17 years) and now here we are celebrating Hannah…  

Celebrating what, you may ask? Her baby girl who will be gracing us with an appearance in just a few more weeks. 

We celebrated in the most logical way - with afternoon tea. 

The Pelham is the opposite of London’s legendary tea houses. Instead of being in an ornate grand room at a massive hotel, The Pelham is a townhouse in South Kensington and the tea room is an intimate space as if you were getting cozy at a friend’s house.  

Their afternoon tea included all the typical fix-ins, although it has to be noted that those peanut butter chocolate bites at the top were the winner and the fruit cake pops in the middle tray were the loser.

I’m of the opinion that you can’t go wrong with finger sandwiches. Realistically, they’re simple and boring, but there’s something about those light bites that I love….

Especially the cucumber sandwich one. It’s the most ridiculous of the bunch, but it’s my favorite.

They served several small scones person person, which helped to maintain the light fluffy texture (nothing worse that a big crumbly dry scone).

And the jam…..perhaps a haiku will do it justice.

Raspberry jam on my scone.

Drizzle from my spoon.

Taste buds dance.

Three hours later (no really, how did we drink tea for so long?) Hannah opened a couple presents for baby girl S.

And we discussed some very deep, meaningful life questions, most important of which is will Hannah deliver in the same room as Kate Middleton? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

This bunch of girls - what a good find.

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A Ketchup Revolution: Food, Friends, and Great Cause

*Long post, but worth the read

Kori Hill and I met in college (she’s the blond second to the right in the below photo from, gulp, 2006!). We became sorority sisters, and then roommates in our illegal 6 person “sorority house”.  

She gave me my college fake id that never ever got turned down - thanks girl - and is also hands down one of the funniest people I know. 

Like Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig level.

In fact, she used to perform her epic Sally O’Malley skit in our living room on an ongoing basis. Even visualising it now makes me crack up, but I digress. 

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Fast forward to 2013.

Kori wed Matt, who happened to go to the same college as Joel.

Small world.

During their honeymoon period, Kori and Matt decided to pursue their passion (food!) and began working on something incredible.

Inspiring.

And delicious.

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'Chups - fruit-based sauces and dips (i.e. ketchup alternatives) made to enhance and brighten the traditional tomato-dominated ketchup market. 

Matt wears the chef hat and Kori is team captain of marketing. 

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Flavors include cherry, blueberry, peach, mango, and plum.

Just imagine all the mouth watering recipes outside of the usual burger and fries.

Oh wait, they’ve taken care of that for you.

Each variety of ‘Chups uses whole fruits and other natural ingredients instead of tomatoes, but still has the same tangy and sweet zip of tomato ketchup. 

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While the ‘Chups brand has been growing organically in the last couple months, Kori and Matt decided it was time to take their sauce game to the next level.

Yesterday, the DC duo launched a fruit ketchup Kickstarter campaign to support their mission to diversify a tomato- dominated market. 

Their goal? Raise $12,000 in startup funds to help bring ‘Chups to restaurants and store shelves.

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Here’s where you come in.

Feeling inspired? Or hungry? Or both? 

Don’t just sit there. Do something!

Watch their hilarious video and make a donation (big or small) to their kickstarter by clicking HERE and turn their fruit sauce dreams into delicious reality.

I leave you with a photo of tots topped with ‘Chups.

Why?

Why not?!

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Tags: Food
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The Lanesborough Afternoon Tea

Although it was perfectly elegant (and delicious!), I’m learning that the classic hotel English teas are not my preferred choice. 

They feel a bit stuffy. And uptight. 

Instead of warm and welcoming, the Lanesborough’s buzz was cold and abrasive.

While I can get behind pretentious food, I believe there’s a time and a place. For afternoon tea, I prefer a cozier aesthetic where the food and atmosphere warm my soul just as much as the tea itself. 

And I found just the spot last week. Stay tuned for details!

Tags: London Food
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Neighborhood Favorite - La Fromagerie

New York’s Murray’s Cheese Shop was my favorite store in the entire city. Thank goodness I used to live close by.

Turns out, I also live in the same neighborhood as London’s cheese paradise, La Fromergie. 

And, if I may be so bold, it somehow trumps my former favorite. Here’s why…

  • Take Murray’s Cheese 
  • Change the decor to reflect a rustic country shop - think distressed wood tables, wild flowers on every nook, buckets of produce.
  • Move all cheese and cheese mongers into a walk-in cheese room (instead of keeping the cheese in a glass case and the workers behind said case)
  • Encourage customers to get up close and personal with the cheese - taste test, ask questions, savour the smell
  • Move to the communal tables and order a slice of their daily quiche and salad with a cheese and charcuterie plate on the side
  • Enjoy a glass of wine
  • Take it all in and bask in the moment
Tags: London Food
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Eccentric Afternoon Tea (and the Most Unique Bathroom in London)

Friends and family got very creative when it came to my Bridal Shower last June. Since Joel and I had a transatlantic move on the horizon, my mom’s great friend, Rachel, surprised us with a truly special gift to welcome us to our new home…

Afternoon tea at Sketch!

A salon that feels like one part Mad Hatter, one part fairy tale forest, one part surreal wonder emporium, and one part spaceship art gallery….

To sum it up - Sketch is sensory overload, in the best way possible.

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Our table was in the Gallery, the modern wonder emporium space of Sketch. I brought Elysha along, as Joel isn’t much of a tea man, but if the over the top scene at Sketch was any reflection, no other men in London are, either. However, instead of a typical ladies who lunch/drink tea tea crowd, the funky salon was jammed with an edgy fashion crowed.

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The menu took a more modern artistic approach than you’d expect at traditional afternoon tea, including caviar and quail egg or salmon roe and creme fraiche finger sandwiches.

These were all a total win in my culinary book.

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Surprise to no one, the assortment of pastries were as fantastic as one would imagine, particularly the fig custard tart.

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But my favorite was the surprise dessert addition, this passion fruit and blackberry cheesecake cup.

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Fluffy scones rounded out the meal, topped off with two made in house berry preserves.

We had such a difficult time deciding which one was better that we continually tasted one then the other then the other and so on, essentially running in circles on our taste buds.

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But as good as the afternoon tea was, it was completely upstaged by the bathroom, an experience until itself.

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It’s hard to say which is more unusual…..

The technicolor ceiling or individual pod toilets?

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Totally wacky.

Totally delicious.

Totally a London scene.

Totally wonderful afternoon.

Thank you, Rachel!

Tags: Food London
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Adding Maltby Street Market to my “must go and eat” list.

Tags: London Food
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Borough Market

I know, I know - another food market…but there’s a reason that Borough Market  is London’s most renowned food market.  

Elysha, Pascal, and I spent an entire afternoon here eating our way from stall to stall, talking with the chefs and traders, and saying “oh my gosh, that looks so good” about one hundred times.

The sheer size of the market was very overwhelming when we first arrived, so we created an eating plan of attack…

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First, we did one full loop around the entire market. This was the most time intensive part of the day because all you’ll want to do is stop and stare at the food at every.single.stall.  That’s totally okay!

Take in the sights.

Take in the aromas.

Chat up the other people to  see what they’re eating, liking, etc.

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Watch the masters at work, grilling, chopping, selling away!

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Take advantage of gourmet generosity! 

Almost all the vendors were more than happy to serve up a sample taste of their cheese, meats, noodles, fruits, breads, etc. There’s no better way to know if you’ll want to come back for more than to taste test yourself.

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Side note: always ask before taking a cook’s photo - their knives could surprise you.

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And try your hardest to save dessert for last. Or, if you’re like us, just sample desserts during the initial lap (like ten different brownies….)

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At this point, take a break and pick up a cup of Pimms. You’ve earned it.

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Consult your party and make a list of all the food you’ll want to eat. In an effort to taste as many dishes as possible, it’s best to share one dish per stall.

Then go nuts.

See a sausage you want? Snag it.

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Want some paella with all the fixins? Chow down.

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See some super gooey cheese being melted and spread on potatoes and think “my god, what is this culinary wizardry?”  Don’t hold yourself back.

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Make sure to stop and make some friends along the way. Like with this guy.

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And this guy.

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Don’t forget to leave room for a cinnamon donut break. Just because.

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Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll turn another corner and find even more to tempt you.

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If you’re not good at the standing and eating thing, grab a table or your own spot of pavement to enjoy your selections.

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Finally, I dare you to try and take a normal photo. If you’re like me, you’ll end up focusing more on shoving food in your mouth than smiling at the camera.

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Tags: Food London
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If the last couple weeks and upcoming schedule of events is any indication, this blog might very well turn into a food market hub.

I’ve found my calling!

This post’s food market of choice? The Brick Lane Boiler House Food Hall.

You see, I wasn’t supposed to even know about this food market just yet, but food fate had its way and directed me here in the cruelest way possible…after I was stuffed from a previous meal.

That, my friends, is what you call culinary torture.

The original game plan was to have Sunday brunch near Spitalfields, followed by a trip to Columbia Road Flower Market to channel my inner Eliza Doolittle (i.e. stock up on flowers and plants for our new flat’s patio and keep my fingers crossed that they don’t die).

The tube was delayed, the wait for brunch was longer than expected, we spent too long catching up with friends, yadayada - long story short, we weren’t going to make it to the flower market in time.

At that point, my day wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t get to walk through some sort of market. Call me selfish, but I was being a street market baby and forced the waitress to disclose the closest market.

Crisis averted - she pointed us in the direction of Brick Lane, home to curry houses galore and streets and roads and alleys of markets.

Stuffed to the brim with pancakes, eggs, and sausage, I was hoping to come across some antiques and knick knacks to “warm up” our flat. What I didn’t expect was the Boiler House Food Hall, a former brewery with stalls of dishes from Poland, Malaysia, Morocco, Italy, Korea, Ethiopia, Greece, Mexico, India, Ireland - the list goes on and on.

Our group of four (all former New Yorkers) cursed ourselves for being too full to taste test each cuisine. We’re not used to seeing street fair/market food stalls look SO fresh, so heavenly! It was a pure misery for our stomachs, but at least our eyes and noses were able to sample the fare.

Tags: London Food
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Day Trip to Brighton

Seeing as the only person I knew living in London would be leaving within weeks of my departure (plus one surprise arrival coming soon), the city was literally a pool of strangers when I first arrived.  The last time I was forced to go out and actively make new friends was freshman year of college and I questioned how I would approach the same situation ten years later.

To be totally transparent, the first two weeks felt lonely. 

Although I was constantly meeting new people, most of the time it felt like forced social situations and instead of prospering, I felt suffocated, exhausted, vulnerable and even a bit scared. I suppose it’s the New Yorker in me that expects everything in life to be immediate (job, friends, flat, TADA!) and in retrospect I laugh at myself and how silly I was being - it was only two weeks!

As week three began, life in London did a 180.

We moved into our new flat (hurray!), meetings sprang up back to back (hurray again!), and all of a sudden I began to click with these potential new friends and filled my calendar with lunch dates, wine dates, and wine + cheese dates (possibly the very best kind of date…)

And I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Last Tuesday, I met up with three of these girls (two Australian, one British) for a day trip to Brighton. We’re all in a similar situation here in London, so to be able to talk to someone who fully understands the reality that is our life right now is invaluable.

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Back to our day trip…

Brighton is a beach town on the southern shore of England, a quick hour train ride from London Bridge Train station.  If you’re looking for a sandy walk on the beach, look elsewhere - it’s nothing but rocks here….

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But if you look closely, you may find a quirky surprise.

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For lunch, fish and chips was a no brainer. Thankfully, Jen proved to be a tremendous planner and found The Regency for us. After walking passed a bunch of other empty “Fish and Chip” type restaurants, it was obvious we found the Brighton all-star thanks to the packed restaurant and, what we would soon discover, the food.

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Total.Win.

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Plus, I learned that cod is the “less fishy” fish and chips, while haddock has a stronger fishy taste.

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We spent the afternoon exploring “The Lanes”, winding roads of shops.  While there were a couple unique stores, the vast majority fell into two categories - tourist shops or chain stores that we’d all been to already in London.

And although I didn’t fall in love with Brighton, exploring a new town will never get old.

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Tags: Travel Food
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Tourist Afternoon in Covent Garden

Lauren is a mere days away from leaving London (and me!) and returning to the States, so we’ve been trying to spend as much time together as possible.

She recently took off an afternoon of work and somehow, after we determined we “wouldn’t do anything touristy”, we found ourselves in the heart of Covent Garden…..tourist central. 

I hadn’t been to the area since I was 14 and being the street performer enthusiast that I am, it was actually a welcome surprise.

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Since it was a Friday afternoon, the crowds were very reasonable and not too overwhelming. 

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I watched a man perform a singing solo in the atrium…

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Ran into an old meaty New York friend…

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And stared at this man for a solid ten minutes trying to figure out his trick.

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I proceeded to do the same thing with yoga, but alas, their gravity secret remains a mystery.

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At that point, Lauren suggested some afternoon tea - how very British!

We continued the touristy theme and popped into Lauduree, which although was once revered as a Paris-only attraction, has lost a bit of its cache thanks to global openings.

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Frankly, if a cafe can serve up a pastry and tea like this, I could care less how “touristy” it is.

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We shared this raspberry delicacy, which combined with the heavy cream for tea was sweet heaven.

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As if you had any doubts, we joined the clean plate club.

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I have so many traditional Afternoon Tea spots on my list…

Let’s see how long it takes me to eat and sip my way through them!

Tags: London Food
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Sunday Roast - The Orange

Although tomorrow is Labor Day, the US’ unofficial end to summer, last Monday’s Bank Holiday was the UK version. To say the city was dead would be an understatement.

I imagined Brits enjoying their holiday in the countryside, dinging on the traditional Sunday Roast. I may have been in London, but I found a restaurant that felt a bit like the country and served a Sunday Roast - two birds, one stone. 

The Orange is located on a street full of furniture shops, perfect for pre or post meal window shopping. Once you arrive, the light wood interior coupled with the weathered chests and wide open windows make it easy to forget that you’re in the city.

Joel went for the beef roast while I opted for the chicken.

I slightly preferred the beef, but both were strong contenders.

What really took me surprise was…

There was so much food!

Meat, potatoes, veggies, Yorkshire pudding (similar to a popover).  As seen in the picture below, I barely made a dent. 

One thing to note - I’m not a huge fan of roasted potatoes, but The Orange’s took them to another level. They were perfectly moist on the inside and very, very crisp on the outside.  

First Sunday Roast? Check!

Have any other Sunday Roast restaurant suggestions for me? Shoot me an email at CaseyCulture@gmail.com

Oh, and guess what? London seems to be back in full swing!

Tags: Food London
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I first passed the Duke of York Square Market on a very sunny Saturday while rushing off to view a couple of potential flats. Every ounce of me wanted to stop and taste my way through, but with priorities being the way they are (must.find.place.to.live.), I vowed to return the following Saturday to explore.

Last Saturday morning arrived and brought with it a miserable rainy day (the 6th out of 8 days….not that I was counting). Regardless, I went to the Chelsea market and discovered every possible food stand imaginable….

Oysters.

Empanadas.

Duck confit wraps.

Sushi.

Cheese, cheese and more cheese.

The list goes on with over 70 stands, each serving their own unique variation. And to be frank, this wasn’t your typical market street food.

Everything looked so…..gourmet.

Next up? Return when it’s not raining so instead of holding an umbrella, I can use both hands to chow down.

Tags: London Food
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The Orange Egg: Tom’s Kitchen

It didn’t take long….

It was likely more of a mental craving than anything else, but on our first Sunday in London, I craved brunch. Something similar to New York. Something that would refresh my taste buds of my former life.

Turns out, London takes their brunch equally as seriously. 

After a quick Google search, I found Tom’s Kitchen, which not only was a quick walk away, but also boasted my ideal brunch: locally sourced food + casual, “neighborhoody” atmosphere.

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90% of the time, Joel and I split our meals.

In fact, this is such a important point in our relationship that Joel mentioned it in his weddings vows.

So, why do we do it?

Easy - we get to taste more of the food. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a restaurant, perused a menu and thought “hmm, there is only one item on here that I’d like.” Reality is, I’d usually like to try at least 75% of the menu, but that’s likely not a smart strategy.

Fast forward to Tom’s Kitchen where Joel and I executed our typical share model that works best during the always tricky “Savory vs. Sweet” brunch dilemma. We picked Belgian Waffles with Blueberry Compote and Chantilly Cream and Eggs Royale (i.e. Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon).

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As I wrote earlier, I do prefer locally sourced food. Yes, this is such a yuppy thing to say, but you cannot disregard the taste difference - that’s a fact. And frankly, when it comes to food, I’ll get behind almost anything that improves the taste of food.

While reading the menu, I saw the following featured next to the eggs section:

"Ever wondered why our eggs taste so good? They’re from Clarence Court in Liskeard, Cornwall. A cross between Old Cotswold Legbars and Mabel Pearman’s Burford Browns, the hens eat grass, herbs and cereals laced with sun-drenched maize, which help produce a more intense yellow yolk.”

And then I slowly sliced open the poached egg and BOOM!

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By more intense yellow, they meant orange…..and it may have been the best poached egg of my life.

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The whole meal was simple and perfect, exactly what we were craving and more, so much so that we’re still talking about it a week later.

I won’t be living in Chelsea for much longer, but I’ll absolutely be back to Tom’s Kitchen.

With bells on.

Tags: Food London
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Oblix - Goodbye and Welcome to London

New York to London….

On the surface, the cities feature many similarities, making the transition (so far), an easy one.

Another thing making the transition easy? The fact that one of my great college friends, Lauren, has called this city home for the past six years. To welcome me here, she planned a dinner at Oblix, a British restaurant inspired by the rooftop views and grills of New York….a bit of a culinary half way point to ease me into my new life.

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Oblix is located in The Shard, a skyscraper adjacent to the Thames River that earned it name thanks to its shape.

Fun fact? It’s currently the tallest building in the European Union.

And the views? They make you feel really lucky to be in London, which is perhaps another reason for choosing this specific venue to celebrate.

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After talking about living in London together for years, my time finally arrived…..just a couple weeks before Lauren moves back to the States.

Ironic, no?

The two of us stood there gazing at this fine city….watching the lights, bridges, and sky reflect back on us.

Lauren shared what she’d miss the most.

I shared what I was looking forward to the most.

And with a glass of wine, we toasted to new beginnings.

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And then I pretended to play the drums, naturally.

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While trying to not disturb this couple, who clearly scored the money table.

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As the sun set and live jazz filled the lounge, we were finally escorted to our table.

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Which included a detour through the open kitchen.

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Our group of four shared a couple small dishes of Burrata (homerun…but then again, when is Burrata not?), Soft Shell Crab (excellent) , and Scallops (meh).

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And then dove head first into our entrees - classic American steak for most of the table, lamb chops for yours truly, and decadent mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, and french fries….just in case. (PSA - although the meat was quite good, they overcooked most of our plates…..as in Rare came out Well Done.)

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Verdict? The views were spectacular…..and deserve a repeat visit. However, I’d stick with the lounge, enjoy a cocktail, and skip the full meal.

At around 12:15 am, 4 hours after we arrived, we took in our final views and called it a night.

Welcome to London.

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Tags: London Food