Lunch high above London at the Sky Garden

 Darwin Brasserie at the Sky Garden

The ever-changing face of London includes the myriad new towering architecture thats’s adding to the dramatic skyline of  this beautiful city.

South of the river, The Shard is London Town’s tallest building (and possibly my favourite) at 306m (95 storeys). The views are truly spectacular down and across the river towards the City where most of the soaring sky-scraping structures live.

Possibly the most famous is the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe) at 180m. Then there’s The Leadenhall Building (AKA the Cheese Grater) at 225m, Tower 42 at 183m and 20 Fenchurch Street (AKA the Walkie-Talkie) at 160m. Today we’re heading to the top of the Walkie-Talkie for lunch at London’s highest public garden – the Sky Garden.

The Walkie-Talkie was designed by world-renowned Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly and is the fifth tallest completed building in the City. Yes, there’s more coming. It’s 38 storeys high and the floor-to-ceiling glass and high domed ceiling produce a beautiful light-filled enormous area to explore. Our lunch venue, the Darwin Brasserie is on Level 36.

The balcony provides spectacular (if somewhat scary) photo opps or you can pose in the super-size forest on high. You can visit the Sky Garden without having to eat (though you still have to book) – but you know me, how could I resist the chance to have lunch in London’s highest public garden. Oh and does that mean someone has a higher private one somewhere? The mind boggles.

What’s on the menu

The simple brasserie-style menu offers  a good range of fish, meat and vegetarian dishes. The roast sea trout came with honey-spiced pumpkin and spiced yogurt and was topped with crispy pancetta. A sight to behold on its beautiful (somewhat appropriate!)sky blue plate .

Sky Garden: luscious trout

Luscious trout topped with crispy pancetta

The steak tartare came with confit egg yolk, baby gem lettuce and sourdough crisp. Perfectly spiced and served with hot crispy fries. Steak tartare is one of my regular favourites and this was a great one.

Sky Garden: steak tartare

Spicy, fresh tartare with crunchy lettuce

The tender lamb tagine came atop saffron couscous and topped with saffron mayo.

Sky Garden: Lamb tagine

Tender lamb tagine atop saffron couscous

As it’s truffle season (and I love truffles) we couldn’t resist ordering an extra helping of truffle and parmesan fries.

Sky Garden: truffle fries

Earthy truffle and parmesan fries

I loved the Sky Garden, and its setting in a part of London I don’t visit often enough. Wandering around the City is a unique experience, too, with striking modern buildings reaching for the sky. Here are some shots of outside and inside our Walkie-Talkie.

I visited with my husband and my niece, Maxine, who you may see cropping up regularly in future blogs as we have just done a European exploring extravaganza. So watch this space I have plenty of exciting stories to share.Sky Garden: views

Today’s price point

Okay eating at Darwin Brasserie isn’t the cheapest affair. But then you do have to bear in mind the surroundings you’re dining in.

Our lunch for four (with only a main course each and that extra portion of fries) came to just short of £100. Wine by the bottles starts from £32.50.

The Sky Garden is on Level 36 in the Walkie-Talkie at 20 Fenchurch Street in the City of London.

Southern Italian delights at Il Sud

Today we’re heading to Il Sud, just north of Oxford Street. It’s in Fitzrovia – a London borough that’s buzzing with fabulous places to eat. This new opening is the brainchild of three guys who hail from Southern Italy and are showcasing the dishes of this foodie region. So much splendid produce to work with, and a menu to salivate over.

While we contemplated our tasty options we tucked into a plate of beautifully fresh focaccia, topped with rosemary and spicy tomato relish and dipped into pungent olive oil.

Il Sud: Focaccia

The freshest of tasty focaccia

What’s on the menu

Il Sud offers a selection of classic Southern Italian fare with a lovely line-up of starters, a choice of pasta and risotto dishes and meaty and fishy mains.

I’m a huge burrata fan and the creaminess of this cheesy ball was perfectly complemented with heritage tomatoes, capers, olives and anchovies. Maybe one of the best combinations ever. The sort of dish that transports you straight to the sunshine of southern Italy (in your mind anyway).

Il Sud: Burrata

Creamy burrata perfectly matched

Seafood is obviously also a big part of coastal Italy’s food and one of the classic ways to serve it is simply deep fried like this frittura di calamari e gamberi. Fresh calamari and prawns in a light batter with a tasty mayo dipping sauce.

Il Sud: seafood

Luscious, crispy seafood

The homemade pappardelle was served with a rich and melt-in-the-mouth wild boar ragu and a sprinkling of tangy parmesan.

Il Sud: wild boar ragu

The richest of wild boar ragu

I loved the look of all the starters so decided to order one as my main. Certainly a good decision. The seared scallops were served with pea sauce, crispy red onion and red pepper veloute. A pretty-as-a-picture dish that, most importantly, tasted as great as it looked.

Il Sud: scallops

Tender scallops and fabulous flavours

Today’s price point

And finally…

Our lunch for two cost £46.

Starters range from £7 to £12.50 and pastas start at £14.

Il Sud is at 21 Berners Street, Fitzrovia

Lunch Chelsea way at Hans’ Bar & Grill, in 11 Cadogan Gardens

Today we’re heading into lovely Chelsea to the elegance that is 11 Cadogan Gardens. This beautiful boutique hotel set on a quiet Chelsea side street just minutes from Sloane Square offers the ultimate in luxury and comfort.

It’s made up of four converted Victorian houses, with plenty of nooks and crannies to discover, corridors to explore and rooms to relax in. And we’re heading straight to the stylishly modern and newly-opened restaurant Hans’ Bar & Grill.

11 Cadogan Square: Entrance

The stylish entrance to 11 Cadogan Gardens

It’s a light-filled and stylish space with a slanting glass roof and decor in restful shades of green.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Han's Bar & Grill

The wonderfully stylish space that is Han’s Bar & Grill

There’s a delightful range of dishes on offer. This beautiful plate of tuna tartare was paired with yuzu, wasabi and coriander, giving the mouth-wateringly tender fish a real zesty flavour.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Tuna tartare

Spicy tuna tartare that’s pretty as a picture

Today I went for something really different – the slow cooked duck egg with peas, barley and sherry. This vibrant bed of greenery was topped with the perfectly cooked yellow of the rich duck egg.

Never has a vegetarian starter tasted so indulgent, with its silky consistency, amazing textures and fabulous flavours. Peas are my favourite vegetables and I’d go back to Hans just to have this plate of perfect pea-ness again.

11 Cadogan Gardens: duck egg

A splash of yellow in a bed of green

As Hans is a grill we though we’d focus on that section of the menu. The 9oz rose veal cutlet was packed with flavour and amazingly tender.

11 Cadogan Gardens: veal cutlet

Tender and tasty rose veal cutlet

The substantial Barnsley chop (basically a double lamb chop) was also the height of tastiness. It’s hard to beat top quality meat that’s simply and perfectly grilled.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Barnsley chop

Luscious lamb in a Barnsley chop

There’s a delicious selection of sides available which pair beautifully with the meaty mains. Like these glossy peas cooked with bacon, baby onion and lettuce. I know, more peas – I do really love them and this was a fabulous dish.

11 Cadogan Gardens: peas

The perfect combo of peas, bacon and onion

The cauliflower cheese was given an extra kick with the addition of mustard for another lovely pairing.

11 Cadogan Gardens: cauliflower

Mustardy, cheesy cauliflower

Today we decided to go big and sample some of the delectable-sounding desserts. The record will show that most of the time I order pud it’s a panna cotta. Do love a panna cotta and today’s offering was buttermilk served topped with rhubarb and little bubbles of ginger beer gel.

A dessert that got a satisfied sigh with each mouthful.

11 Cadogan Gardens: panna cotta

The creamiest of dreamy panna cotta

And then there’s the salted caramel chocolate pot served topped with vanilla ice cream. Wow! The dessert of kings with crumbly little chocolatey bits to finish it off.

11 Cadogan Gardens: caramel chocolate

The yummiest of salted caramel chocolate

And here’s a the view of the lovely light-filled space across our delicious desserts.

11 Cadogan Gardens: dessert

Looking across pudding at the stylish space

After all that fabulous food I could certainly have done with a siesta – which is exactly what you can do if you’re lucky enough to be staying in the elegant hotel. The rooms are all unique and they’re spacious and plush with fabulous bathrooms. You’re certainly not going to want to check out from here!

11 Cadogan Gardens: room

The rooms exude elegance and comfort

There are plenty of areas around the warren of a hotel where you can relax or celebrate special occasions. This is the stunning Mirror Room, just perfect for parties and myriad instagramming opportunities.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Mirror room

The spectacular and sparkling mirror room

Or why not put your feet up in the library? How I wish I had one of these in my house.

11 Cadogan Gardens: library

Relax in the luxurious library

11 Cadogan Gardens is the ultimate refuge in the busy hub of Chelsea – you’re close to everything as well as being wrapped in their environment of serenity and style. And you’re gonna love the food, too.

Today’s price point

And finally…

Our three courses for two came to £94.

Wine starts from £5 a glass.

Hans’ Bar & Grill is in the luxurious 11 Cadogan Gardens Hotel

The hotel entrance is at 11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea

The restaurant entrance is at 164 Pavilion Road, Chelsea.

Covent Garden’s latest lovely addition: Cora Pearl

Today we’re heading for Henrietta Street just off the Covent Garden Piazza to newly-opened Cora Pearl. It’s the second restaurant from the team behind Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair (which I’ve never been to…should remedy that asap, especially as it’s in Shepherd Market, which I love!).

Both restaurants are named after famed courtesans (basically prostitutes, with wealthy or upper-class clients). Kitty Fisher was one of the world’s first celebrities who was famous simply for being famous. She swanned around London in the 1700s, getting painted multiple times by famous artist Joshua Reynolds.

Cora Pearl did pretty much the same in the 1800s. The story goes that having got bored living with her grandmother in Covent Garden she roamed the streets unchaperoned (horrors of horrors) and one day accepted the advances of an older man (more horror!) allowing him to take her to a drinking den and ply her with cakes and alcohol. He took her virginity and left her with £5, more money than she’d ever seen in her life. It’s thought she was 20 at the time and clearly switched on – as she quickly looked at her options and decided to focus on becoming the kept woman of several dedicated lovers – all with the financial means to keep her in luxury.

Cora’s namesake (I am the only one who instantly thinks of Downton Abbey when I hear the name Cora) is in a historic Covent Garden townhouse – how I’d love to live in one – with huge windows with light streaming through onto the stylish velvet green banquettes. The vintage mirrors and lights add to the sparkling ambience and the feel of opulence.

The food is a delicious mix of English and French cuisine with a touch of Italian thrown in for good measure.

What’s on the menu

There are a range of small plates which all looked so tempting we decided to share a selection. The Bloody Mary mackerel was nothing short of spectacular, so fresh it felt like it was just out of the sea and topped with crunchy onion and a spicy bloody mary jelly.

Cora Pearl: Bloody Mary Mackerel

The freshest of mackerel with a spicy topping

I’m rather partial to a good charcuterie plate – a tasty selection of ham and salami served with crunchy pickles of onion, gherkin and radish.

Cora Pearl: Charcuterie

Savoury charcuterie and crunchy pickles

Today’s magical dish was the pasta. Cow’s curd agnolotti, peas and summer truffles. Beautiful pillows of soft creaminess with a sublime sauce and that hint of the extravagance of truffles. And it looks so beautiful, too.

Cora Pearl: pasta

Heavenly pillows of truffley pasta

I’m also rather partial to a Caesar salad and this was a really clever take on it. Quail Caesar! (get it!?) had the same ingredients as a classic Caesar with the substitution of quail instead of chicken. Served hot with a delicious gravy-like sauce and a pile of little gem topped with parmesan and croutons on the side. Tasty and cleverly conceived of.

Cora Pearl: Caesar salad

An unusual and tasty take on Caesar salad

And then there’s the chips. These are ginormous constructions of heaven – crisp and golden on the outside and wonderfully soft inside making each mouthful magical. The king of chips worth a visit to Cora Pearl for on their own!

Cora Pearl: Chips

Giant chips to dream about

Having said that it’s all rather splendid. And just the sort of establishment I can imagine Cora would expect one of her gentlemen to take her to. And what a jolly good time they would have had, too.

Today’s price point

And finally, here’s the bottom line.

We paid £41 for our five dishes.

White wine starts from £29 a bottle and red from £27.

Cora Pearl is at 30 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, just off the Piazza.

Filipino delights at Yuu Kitchen

So today we’re heading East – something I don’t do very often in London – to the E1 postcode close to Aldgate East tube station. And appropriately we’re going to be trying some Eastern food – Filipino to be precise – a first for me.

Yuu Kitchen predominantly serves the delightful food of South East Asia with a fusion of Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese cuisine. And now they’ve added a special Filipino or Pinoy section. The Philippines is a melting pot of influences from the Pacific Rim, Malaysia, China, South America and even Spain – you’ll find a mix of cuisines from the many countries who have invaded or attempted to colonise the islands. And it’s a fascinating and fabulous mix.

What’s on the menu

The dishes are designed to be eaten tapas-style (my favourite way). We started with the pork chicharron, a pile of warm, crunchy pork scratchings served with chilli vinegar for dipping. The scratchings sizzle as you dip. I love a good pork scratching – a real guilty pleasure and even more, these are among the best I’ve had.

Yuu Kitchen: pork scratchings

Beautifully crispy pork scratchings

And now for something completely different and a first for me (it’s certainly a day of firsts!) – cassava fries. Cassava is a tuberous root that’s officially the third-largest source of carbs in the tropics. It’s pretty dense and I’m imagining takes some cooking. Our chef explained the cassava is boiled for some time before being fried to produce these, light tasty delights with their soft inside and crisp outer layer. They were served with hot-smoked paprika and tangy adobo mayo.  Adobo is a local vinegar-based sauce that also includes a combination of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic and soya sauce. It’s delicious.

Yuu Kitchen: cassava chips

Cassava chips are amazingly tasty

The presentation at Yuu Kitchen is also delightful with this clever, pretty plate of food bound to cause oohs of delight. The sisig lollipops contain a pork centre of seven-hour pineapple juice braised pig’s head covered in panko breadcrumbs and served with adobo mayo and chicharron – some of those delicious pork scratchings crumbled on the side. Dip the luscious lollipop into the mayo and then the chicharron to coat. So rich and tasty. Probably my favourite lollipop ever.

Yuu Kitchen: Sigsi lollipops

Sigsi lollipops look so cute and taste so good

Next up what I’m calling the Filipino version of burgers called cheese ube put (takes a few goes to get that past autocorrect intact). These mini treats are so delicious with their steamed buns, chorizo bilbao, caramelised onion, avocado and garlic aioli. Seems like this is a burger I could eat every day.

Yuu kitchen: burgers

Exotically delicious little burgers

They’re so good I had to show you twice!

Yuu Kitchen: burger

Up close on the mouthwatering burger

And there’s more

This meal was becoming quite a revelation with beautifully tasty, exotic dishes. I wasn’t so keen on trying the crispy pig’s ears, having sampled a version of them before and finding them tough and tasteless. Not today’s. These ears are slow-cooked for three hours and served with a honey soy glaze, sesame seeds, pickled radish and chives. The slow cooking has actually made them really tender and the honey soy glaze is the perfect flavour match. As a result, we agreed that this was actually our favourite dish of the day. Who’d have thought?

Yuu Kitchen: pigs ears

Delicious crisp and sticky pigs ears

The bistek is a little piece of steak in batter served on a crispy rice cake with lemon soy, and a trio of onion. Another pretty morsel rich in flavours. Also pretty exotic.

Yuu Kitchen: beef

Delicious morsels of beef on rice cakes

The lechon kawali is a 12-hour braised pork belly, thinly sliced and with delightful slivers of crispy crackling, topped with savoury mama sita’s sauce (it’s a secret but you’ll love it). Certainly love a good pork belly.

Yuu Kitchen: pork belly

Melt-in-the-mouth pork belly

Well that was the end of our Filipino delights. And time to sample a couple of dishes from the rest  of the menu. The tuna kinilaw is luscious raw tuna served in a spicy marinade of coconut milk, cafa lime leaves, lime juice, chilli and red onion. Beautiful.

Yuu Kitchen: tuna ceviche

Refreshing and zesty tuna ceviche

After quite a meaty feast we asked our chef to recommend a vegetable dish for us to try. Grilled cauliflower served with sweetcorn, jalapeño dressing, shallots, garlic chips and chives. Certainly the best cauliflower ever, smokey and spicy.

Yuu Kitchen: cauliflower

Possibly the tastiest cauliflower dish ever

Yuu Kitchen is a beautifully stylish place to eat with great murals decorating the walls and an incredible lighting display with ornate bird cages.

Yuu Kitchen: Murals

Yuu Kitchen is decorated with dramatic murals

Yuu Kitchen: Art

More stylish art

Yuu Kitchen: lights

Love the stylish lighting

Today’s price point

And finally, the bottom line.

It cost £68.50 for all the dishes I’ve described here. Certainly a real feast for two.

White wine starts from £24.50 a bottle, red from £23.50.

Cocktails start from £8.50.

There’s also a  selection of delicious fruit teas for £4.50.

Yuu Kitchen is at 29 Commercial Street, London E1. Aldgate East tube station is a five-minute walk away.

Chill out tapas time at Lady of the Grapes

Today we’re heading to one of my absolute favourite streets in the whole of London Town. Maiden Lane in Covent Garden is home to myriad bars and restaurants – the choice is quite mind-boggling. And there’s always somewhere new to try – like Lady of the Grapes.

This cosy little establishment describes itself as an organic wine bar and wine shop. It champions female winemakers with its extensive wine list. There are shelves along the walls packed with delicious deli products and there’s a delightful tapas menu.

What’s on the menu

We started off with a bowl of the freshest bread and some delightfully salty salami – with a side of tiny, crunchy cornichons.

Lady of the Grapes: Salami

Tasty salami served with cournichons

There’s a wide cheesy choice and we went for the beautifully creamy blue which was served with the sweetness of preserved figs.

Lady of the Grapes: cheese

Blue cheese with preserved fig

Luscious salmon gravlax was served on the freshest of bread and arrived looking a bit like a magical garden with the lovely fresh salad accompaniment.

Lady of the Grapes: gravlax

Little gravalax toasts beautifully presented

I am partial to a pissaladiere – a kind of tart of caramelised onions topped with anchovies – and in this case some roast red peppers too. The simplest of things so often taste the best.

Lady of the Grapes: Pissaladiere

The fresh and tasty pissaladiere with anchovies

Here it is up close and glorious.

Lady of the Grapes: pissaladiere

Close up on the scrumptious little tart

Lady of the Grapes is also a deli and the shelves are packed with bottles of delectable goodies and salamis hang temptingly, too. Don’t know how I resisted and didn’t take some home with me.

Lady of the Grapes: deli

The shelves are stacked with tempting goodies

Lady of the Grapes is the sort of place I’d want to be my local. Perfect for a quick after-work drink and a bowl of olives or a leisurely dinner lingering over their lovely range of tapas dishes.

Service is warm and friendly and the place gave me an all-round feeling of happiness. Well, that’s Maiden Lane for you.

Lady of the Grapes is at 16 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden WC2