Despite frequenting The Alchemist for a number of years, I’ve never given the cocktail citadel a proper review.
This could be, perhaps, because I’ve typically only drank in the bar’s North England venues. The first Alchemist launched in Manchester’s Deansgate in 2010 on the site of a former 19th century ‘den of iniquity and alchemy’ (giving the bar its name) and I hadn’t actually visited the brand’s London sites since my hometown return.
Luckily, the whole affair met past expectations – their St Martins Lane outpost is a little bit of alco-theatre in the theatre district. And then some.
The cocktails fizz, smoke, pop and – well – transmogrify like they have for years while the food menu tantalises in its own way; there is a little bit of everything and a lot to keep your mouth watering.
After toasting with a Smokey Old Fashioned (Woodford Reserve, maple syrup, Jerry Thomas bitters and smoke), my dinner date and I shared tempura prawn lollipops, steamed pork buns and duck gyoza – all of which went down a simple but delicious treat.
I was especially surprised to see the menu championing seitan (both in ‘nuggets’ and boneless ‘wings’) but decided to forgo my vegan favourite for a later date so we could share some mains.
Forgoing the pant stretch of the Vietnamese Banh Mi (my favourite street food of all time), we opted for the tandoori seabass (unbelievably flavoursome) and poke bowl (which, while loaded, was a little more ‘great vegan salad’ than ‘poke bowl’).
All in all, it’s wonderful to know I can line my stomach with an array of affordable yet appealing bites when fate leads me, inevitably, back to The Alchemist.
Their Penicillin (Ardbeg 10 yearr, Chase Marmalade vodka, lemon and burnt cinnamon) is the only dessert I’ll ever need.
I love a bouji staycation and I’m very aware that turn of phrase makes me sound like an absolute trollop.
There’s just no way around it; hotels are to good times what good times are to a Lela. To date, the record of extraordinary days to days I’ve ended up face-planting into sheets someone else has mace is one-for-one. I back staycations for all occasions.
For my recent birthday, newly opened aparthotel The Chronicle had my name written all over it.
Though the building nestled just a street back from Chancery Lane (and, most importantly, a quick Uber to Shoreditch) it is unbelievably quiet and spacious. As parent company Supercity Aparthotels’ reputation might suggest – a veritable home away from home.
The Chronicle boasts 53 elegant apartments (five of which have private terraces) with comfort-minded living areas, beautiful bedrooms, original – and typically cheeky – art, luxe bathrooms, Kerridge-ready kitchens, and all associated amenities.
It was the perfect pad to fill up (and glam up) before a boozy birthday brunch with drag queens and an even better hangover hideaway.
In fact, the complimentary Sky TV package (including sports and movies) really helped with the latter.
Though its impressive 200-some mile range may have got us there on a single charge we were faced with freezing temperatures, traffic and a need for bass-heavy road trip playlists – all of which drains the range.
(Planned pit stops are key to avoid range anxiety.)
Beyond that, we were as good as gone!
With bags loaded and push-button ‘engine’ revved, I began to notice the LEAF’s little luxuries. Everything in the car was smarter and slicker than expected; keyless entry, digital screens, parking cameras, bluetooth Bose audio, hands-free calling, et al. All working to make every second spent on the road enjoyable.
The LEAF is also, bizarrely, a lot of fun to drive. Silent, but deadly (if you will):
Its e-Pedal lets you accelerate, brake and come to a complete stop with a single pedal. Its Propilot (and Propilot Park) helps keep you centred, covers blind spots and even parks for you with the press of a button.
A heated steering wheel and seats don’t hurt, either.
By the time we reached Long Hare Barn we were looking up parking permit prices to support a longer-term investment.
The two-cottage site, Little Hare Barns, is part of Premier Cottages’ new collection of properties with EV Chargers which made it the perfect destination for our EV-centric trip.
The weekend was spent walking around the Beacons, cooking up a storm in the super-stocked kitchen, playing board games next to a roaring fire, making friends with locals in nearby pubs, and nursing our New Year’s hangovers in the cottage’s beautiful expanse.
We simply popped the LEAF on charge the night before we were due to drive back and motored home to the Big Smoke with ease.
I would do it all again in a heartbeat and couldn’t recommend this exact trip enough.
A week’s stay in Long Hare Barn for five starts from £592.50 and a three-night weekend from £474 (www.premiercottages.co.uk, 01873 811200)
Without much thought or effort, I’ve become the go-to girl for whisky recommendations in my social circles. So much so I have had thirsty friends both savvy and curious beg me for a definitive whisky guide.
The trouble is, I fall in love with something new more often than I will ever get through a bottle. My partner and I’s personal collection alone is thirty-one bottles strong.
Nonetheless, I know my way around a whisky cabinet and feel that knowledge is worth a share. Lo and behold, my 2019 Whisky Wishlist: the best to gift, bring, quaff and mix.
Tumblers at the ready…
The Best Whiskies to Gift
For the Whisky Lover
Royal Salute 21 Year Old Gift Pack, £160
The Royal Salute 21 Year Old Masquerade Ball Festive Gift Pack – inspired by the famed royal Masquerade Balls held at the Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in London – features the brand’s crown jewel (an exceptionally crafted 21 Year Old whisky) alongside a miniature version for collectors.
Fans will know Royal Salute was first created as a gift for the Coronation in 1953 making the whisky, quite literally, a gift fit for a queen.
Octomore 9.3, £175
This is, unfortunately, my favourite whisky of 2018. Though I’ve had phenomenal whiskies at lower price points, this liquid wildfire more than deserves its price point.
The Octomore 9.3 is loaded with salty peat, malted barley, aromas of smoked tea and – somehow – evokes the same physical delight I felt the first time I burned golden syrup.
The bold single malt was made using whisky drawn from eight cask varieties and the result is fruit-filled (think dried figs & dates), spicy and finishes with a hell of a lot of caramelised oak.
The teeny tiny distillery make unexpected use of Aussie-wine casks (especially ex-Apera) and have even experimented with a ginger beer cask edition. I cannot wait to see what they do next.
Hibiki Harmony, £62
This is the kind of book you want to judge by its cover. The light amber Japanese beauty is one of the most elegant whiskies I’ve tasted; there is an abundance of apricot, cinnamon and a slight barrel char that play against each other to perfection.
In my mind, Hibiki is one of the best bottles one could use to entice a cocktail lover towards whisky. Unique notes of lychee and rose surprise everyone I’ve poured a dram for and I couldn’t have a whisky cabinet without it.
The Best Whiskies to Bring
Whiskies With A Story
Ailsa Bay, £55
Spoiler alert: this whisky will disappear as fast as you can open it. And it is far more than its honeyed, super-peated drams (which, bizarrely, always leaves me craving maple bacon).
Ailsa Bay stands out from the crowd for a number of reasons. It is the only whisky to undergo ‘micro maturation’ (aka a new spirit is first aged in small bourbon casks for six to nine months to spur rapid, intense maturation) and the bottle itself not only displays its PPM (Phenol Parts per Million) but its SPPM (Sweet Parts Per Million) – the latter of which is a revolutionary method for measuring a whisky’s sweetness.
Glenfiddich IPA Experiment, £40
I thought I was going to hate this. I love my Glenfiddich. I love my India Pale Ales. The combination, however, seemed a man-bunned step too far.
In reality, the first experiment of its kind has resulted in presumably freak results. The IPA Experiment – now forever the first single malt scotch finished in IPA craft beer casks – is chock full of green apple, vanilla, and fresh hops. Like a decadent woodland brunch in a glass – and far silkier than you’d imagine.
Aqua Vitae, £40
Let’s be quite clear – this is a spirit, not a whisky. But it’s managed to fool most people I’ve taste-tasted it with.
Aqua Vitae is a new spirit from Lindores Abbey in Fife, where the origins of single malt whisky first began in 1494. We’re talking origin authenticity here, in all senses. It is complex and warm (plums and pineapple aplenty) with a light herbal finish that works beautifully both straight and cocktailed.
The Best Whiskies to Quaff
Fireside Whiskies For The Family
Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve, £46
This is not your typical Glenlivet. For this go-round the Speyside Single Malt has been selectively finished in high-quality Cognac casks and the flavour is, well, rich AF.
After maturing in bourbon and sherry casks, the signature Glen-creaminess is hiked by a minimum of six months in casks of classic cognac sweetness. It is all rather luscious and moreish.
Ardbeg An Oa, £48
This Ardbeg is a total wildcard. The notes range from butterscotch to tobacco leaf and it might just be one of the most widely appreciated quaffers around.
The An Oa, in spite of its general peat, also has a number of unique citrus notes. I, personally, taste a lot of lime but my partner always mentions a hit of orange. It’s an unusual Islay but one you won’t want to move on from.
Adnams Rye, £40
I figured I should pencil in a rye or two to cater to everyone’s preferences and Adnams is as rye as it gets.
While there is a tonne of cinnamon, vanilla and orange peel on the nose, the palate is far drier. It’s all cereals, coffee and fudge post-taste – just as you’d expect after five years in brand new French oak barrels.
Old Ballantruan ‘The Peated Malt’, £35
Unusually, this Speyside whisky is an absolute peat monster. With this single malt, the Tomintoul Distillery brought a mass of mezcal trademarks to the table – clay, smoke, mint and metal reign supreme.
Of the – perhaps hundreds of – whiskies I tried last year, it also has the most direct palate to finish transition. It is neither subtle nor overwhelming – just explosively worthwhile.
The Best Whiskies to Mix
For Cocktail Parties and Beyond
Yellowstone Select Bourbon, £48
Yellowstone’s Select Bourbon is my Old Fashioned bourbon of the moment, due – in large part – to its complexity. While I find many bourbons too sweet or simple, Yellowstone Select takes you on a journey. Spiced bananas foster. A nut-covered fruit danish.
It is a warm bourbon. The kind you’d sip on a porch with your grandparents and the one I’ll continue to reach for first when I feel like cracking out the bitters.
Inchmoan 12 Year Old, £39
The Inchmoan 12 Year is a marmite whisky in many respects. While I love the nose (think burnt wood and mint), there is a slight medicinal quality to its peat that stops me reaching for it when I’m in the mood for a dram or two.
It does, however, have an extraordinarily long and toffee-d finish which works brilliantly in complex cocktails. Likely the result of ageing in a mix of recharred American oak and refill bourbon, American oak barrels. There’s even a lovely hint of seaweed citrus when combined with simple tonics.
While I love drinking Suntory’s Toki straight, it’s also a veritable dream for highball lovers.
It is one of my favourite blends and a real celebration of Japan’s most unique drink profiles; perfectly balanced grapefruit, honey, thyme and vanilla Oak.
It is, fortunately, also one of the cheapest whiskies on this list and available in most large supermarkets.
When I pulled this pink power suit out of its box, both my partner and I genuinely squealed. Him, potentially to guard his eyes. But I bloody love it.
The company who sent it, Opposuits, specialise in slim fit pencil skirt suits in designs you just don’t find anywhere else. For the bold, you can wear everything from an American flag to a flock of flamingoes. Less daring? You have a considerable number of colour blocks to choose from.
Somewhere between dining at Marco Pierre White’s Marco’s New York Italian and sitting down to write this review, my memory card got well and truly corrupted.
I spent more than a few days trying to repair the little square’s wrongs, to no avail, before I released my growing indignation wasn’t very, well, Marco of me. And everyone could stand to be a little more Marco.
Pierre White is, and will always be, the enfant terrible of celebrity chefs. I knew it the second my bored teenage curiosity sat me in front of a copy of White Heat, I knew it the fateful day I somehow shared a kitchen with the man, and I – unexpectedly – knew it when I left his new Milton Keynes restaurant impressed.
Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much. The shiny-but-simple New York Italian is attached to a Holiday Inn and, if experience has taught me anything, I know to keep most hotel-connected restaurant expectations to a minimum.
As the fact that I’m even blogging this might suggest, I had to surrender my caution almost as soon as I sat down. The staff were lovely. The food was lovely. The drinks were l- well, actually…the drinks deserve an adjective of their own.
Marco’s new menu is Pierre White done unobtrusively; classic American starters, mains and desserts dusted with Italian flavour and flair. Affordably. It fits the perfect hole that Bardolino, Mr. White’s, Wheeler’s of St James, Koffman and Mr White’s and his eponymous steakhouse had yet to fill in the chef’s portfolio.
We started with as-you’d-expect calamari fritto misto (with salsa-ed mayo) and buffalo wings before being blown away by the surf ‘n’ turf – a rare 10oz ribeye, New Orleans blackened shrimps in garlic and rosemary butter, with some subbed-in sweet potato fries.
The dish – and the bloody behemoth wine list – was incredible. We took our time with the Amarone della Valpolicella Classico throughout the meal – an incredibly elegant and rich Venetian made for red meat. Though it wasn’t a two-bottle sort of night, the Waipara Hills Sauvignon Blanc, – one of my favourite Kiwi wines – stood out as another unexpectedly fantastic option.
It’s not a restaurant I’m going to travel to Milton Keynes for, but it is absolutely a restaurant I’m going to want to visit when I’m in Milton Keynes. It’s an experience that sent my eyebrows up to the high heavens in an oblivious candid. And that counts for something.
* A decade later, it would be described as “the most influential recipe book of the last 20 years” by my equally-beloved Jay Rayner.
I’ve been having a bit of a ponder about New Year’s Resolutions; their importance (or lack thereof), their success rate (or lack thereof) and their true intentions (yep, same again). It is the latter, specifically, which sent my brain a-spiralling.
More people seem to berate those making resolutions than make ones for themselves these days and I’ve decided to avoid becoming that person. Instead, to get on board with the resolution makers. To support each desire spurred by the simplicity of a spinning planet. If there’s one thing we don’t need at the moment, it’s a world where people feel belittled for attempting to better things themselves and, increasingly more so, others.
I don’t need a real public declaration of the things I hope to achieve or people I hope to help in 2019 (not my jam), but I do promise to increase the frequency of your oft-request outfit posts. And I genuinely wish you the best with everything you’re setting up to achieve.
I get really excited to cook over the Winter months. Though I get a decent amount out of rustling up something special throughout the year, being forced to spend more time indoors offers a great excuse to test new recipes; in this case, HelloFresh‘s Pork and Apple burger recipe reimagined.
It is fast food done healthy and, with my little tweaks, a lunch or dinner full of festive flavour. Treat yo’ self.
Pork and Apple burger recipe (with rosemary chips and festive tweaks!)
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 small potatoes
1 green apple
250g pork mince
2 brioche buns
A few raisins and walnuts (if preferred)
A few walnuts/raisins (optional)
1. Take the pork out of the fridge 40+ minutes beforehand to get it to room temperature.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees and strip the leaves from the rosemary before chopping super fine.
3. After scrubbing the potatoes under water, chop them into fries or chips and toss in a swig of olive oil. Add the rosemary and salt/pepper to taste.
4. Cook on the top shelf of the oven for roughly 30 minutes, turning once.
5. Peel the apple and grate 3/4 of it into a bowl. Add the pork to the bowl with some cinnamon (to taste – I like a lot), high-quality ground salt and pepper.
6. Form the mixture into 2 patties (they’re best if they are held together, not pushed together – it allows the meat to cook evenly).
7. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil on medium-high heat in a non-stick pan. Once hot, place the patties in and cook for roughly 5 minutes on each side. It is important for each side to form a crust before flipping so they don’t break up.
8. Cut the remaining apple into small chunks and add walnuts and raisins, if desired (they tie all the flavours together beautifully).
9. Get everything out of the heat, place your chopped apple mixture on top of the finished burgers, and chow down!
Christmas quite literally crept up out of nowhere, didn’t it?
It’s been a little bit different to the traditional ‘sands through the hourglass’ surprises of yesteryears for 2018. I have been so genuinely bogged down in work, life and their inconsequential demands that the shops seemed to trade their bikinis for baubles in the blink of an eye.
Stress, naturally, set in. While I’m fortunate to spend Christmas with some of the most unbelievable people this universe has to spare me, I am an impossibly idealist gift giver. My partner needs perfection. My Secret Santa needs every sensation £50 can afford. The children in my life need Christmas magic.
They’re not unattainable ideals. But they’re not really Christmas, either.
Through most of my adolescence, Christmas was marked by transit. Being chaperoned to people across land and sky. Always hoping snow would be a halcyon. And always gazing longingly at duty free Toblerone bars.
It seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? That triangle-shaped blocks of chocolate could form memories that last decades. But they did.
Sadly, long security queues and no money to call my own worked against me. I would scuttle past the mass of mini-mountains year after year with just enough time to question how I might, one day, get my hands on the holy grail.
Somewhere between the airports and adulting, I forgot. I forgot how the smallest gift would have meant the world to me. A £9.99 mountain of milk chocolate and nougat. A super-value selection pack of milk, white, dark or fruit and nut chocolate (at £7.99). To this day, I still think of these simple Swiss chocolates as the perfect gift; for Secret Santa surprises, for stockings, et al.
A sweet gesture, at one time, would be more than enough for all of us. Whether you’re buying for one or one-hundred this Christmas, gift with that in mind.
(Just please don’t buy me any more Toblerone, friends and family, because this realisation has instigated something of a hoarders situation.)