Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

365 days have passed since I stood in the crowds on the Embankment, craning my neck to get a good view of the fireworks exploding over the Thames, heralding the beginning of a new year. 

And looking back, as one must at the end of the year, those 365 days have been a stressful, terrifying, wonderful rollercoaster. 

I've revelled in the highs. I made thousands of pounds of profit for my university opera society. I graduated from Cambridge. I discovered vlogs about how to accentuate my eyebrows (for better or for worse). I read 87 books. I dined at a host of incredible restaurants: Hutong, (being halfway up the Shard, it was quite literally the highest point of the year!) The Hand and Flowers, The Delaunay, and finally Galvin La Chapelle last week, to name just a few. And lastly, I started this blog, and opened a door into a community of likeminded writers, photographers and foodies who welcomed me without hesitation, and who are some of the loveliest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.

That said, I've been reflecting on the lows today, too. I won't dwell on them here because nothing too catastrophic happened in 2014; all I'll say is there were a few unwittingly missed turns that have left me feeling anxious and out of sorts. Though I could equally blame those feelings on the post-Christmas lull!

I'm determined to stay positive, and am confident that 2015 will be all about righting myself and getting back on course. I'll be back next year with lots of content that I didn't get round to posting this month. As for tonight - I'm going to spend my evening thinking about my resolutions for 2015. I'd love to know your resolutions if you've made any - I'm craving some inspiration! 

I hope you all have a wonderful New Year's Eve, whatever your plans, and wish you all a very Happy New Year! Let's make 2015 the best year yet.

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Birthday Feasting and Drinking

It was my birthday earlier this month! I turned 23 on Friday 5th, meaning I had an entire weekend at my disposal to fritter away on various birthday-related food and drinks. Which was exactly what I was planning. Prepare yourselves, dear readers - I've edited them down as best I can, but there's still an absolute onslaught of photos to follow.

Friday evening saw my parents and I stepping out in Soho for a good old-fashioned birthday meal on the town.

But first...cocktails. And not in any old establishment, but one hidden behind a slightly seedy-looking door on Gerrard Street in Chinatown - Opium! Its cocktail list is structured like the courses on a traditional restaurant menu, with aperitifs, entrées, mains and digestifs on offer.

I swapped drinks with my mum straight away, as we preferred what the other was having. So that worked out very well for me - mine was a bit too fresh and crisp for my taste, almost savoury. 

A Quintessential Cooler for Padre Lim which came in a suitably masculine rocks glass. (Really want a set of these for my future home!) Vodka, smoked pineapple syrup, grapefruit juice.

Wild Blossom Shaken, imbibed by yours truly. Noilly ambrebitter truth elderflower, lime juice, rose water and rose champagne. Delicious, especially when washing down the superb selection of dumplings on offer. Opium has everything from traditional king prawns to crab and samphire, lobster and mushroom and truffle. We tried them all. Probably not recommended pre-dinner, but it was my birthday, after all!

A brisk walk from the bar took us into the heart of Soho. Our destination? Ember Yard, for tapas-style dining. Here's the highlights from our meal.

Smoky bites of chorizo with a saffron aioli.

Iberico pork fat chips with chorizo ketchup. Cooked just the way I like them, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Oh, and you might be able to tell from the hazy experimental shots, but my dad got me a pancake lens for my birthday so I was having lots of fun playing with it during this meal!

Buttermilk fried squid with capers, lemon, sage and thick squid ink aioli. Save me from myself. I could eat an entire bowl of these salty, crispy delights to myself. In fact, the squid isn't even in this picture as we'd scoffed the whole thing before I had a chance to whip out my camera...

Steamed and chargrilled octopus with pepperonata and mojo verde aioli. 

The sweetest spare ribs I've ever had. Roasted and chargrilled, glazed with a quince sauce and served on a bed of celeriac purée, these were sticky, unctuous and made me want to chew them right down to the bone. And... I did.

A burrata which provided a perfect creamy foil to the spicier, sharper tastes at the table.

And then home for not one but two birthday cakes! One made up of different cakes from the amazing Lanka, and a red velvet from Hummingbird. Double cake is what happens when parents don't communicate about who's buying...and I certainly wasn't complaining.

Saturday brought with it hastily made plans to see friends for dinner and drinks. We secured a table at Princi on Wardour Street for pasta, pizzas and other delicious Italian fare. I totally forgot to get my camera out, but some of my friends aren't used to my blogging tendencies anyway... Next we headed north of Oxford Street to quaff a few cocktails. I chose a place I've been wanting to try out for ages - Reverend JW Simpson! It's an underground bar designed to look like a dingy-looking flat recently vacated by a member of the church. With plaster and wallpaper peeling off, shadows of crucifixes hanging on the walls and fireplaces gaping open, it's got a purposefully creepy vibe - but the drinks are A+. 

We were brought the most amazing looking shots on a tray, and gleefully downed them in remembrance of our fresher days. How cool are those tiny goblets? Later it transpired that these weren't actually on the house but a mixed-up order, but we didn't have to pay for them anyway. A good reason to go back soon,  I reckon.

Lovely school friends Eleanor and Katy bought me birthday drinks. First, a Rebourne Royal (gin, lime, elderflower and fizz...I'm so predictable) and then an Aphrodite Sour (tequila, more eldeflower, Picon Club, lemon juice and bitters). I really need to look into buying myself an elder tree.

I spy a bit of Asian blush goin' on up there. Sigh at myself. But it was so nice to see the girls! Really need to make sure I do more of this in 2015. There's my first New Year's resolution!

Sunday rolled around quickly (a bit too quickly, actually - I'm not the spry young thing I was at 18, able to hop out of bed at 9 AM after a night of carousing...) and Alex came down on the train to visit me in the afternoon! We checked into a lovely hotel on Russell Square - the Hotel Russell, for anyone needing somewhere to stay near Euston any time soon - watched an incredible sunset from the sixth floor and opened presents. Am now officially a fan of staycations. The perfect break after a busy November.

The hotel had a wonderful old-school charm about it and reminded me a little of the more old-fashioned hotels in America (genuinely don't know where I'm getting this from...Home Alone 2, maybe?) despite being situated slap-bang in the middle of London. 

When night fell, we headed to the Soho Grind for a quick coffee and I fell in love with the interior (if not the coffee - somehow I've gone 23 years without ever having a cup of the stuff).

And I ended the weekend where I'd started it - at Ember Yard! Yes, my parents and boyfriend managed to book exactly the same restaurant, out of the hundreds of dining establishments available to us in London. Just goes to show how well they both know me and my love of small plates...!

We kicked things off with cocktails - no idea what they were, as the menu's already changed since we were there a fortnight ago - but both were very good indeed. I think mine involved Basque cider of some sort, whereas Alex's ice sphere was so cool (geddit) it's eclipsed my memory of what the actual drink contained entirely. I'm going senile at 23.

Alex was pretty upset that I was dining at the same place twice in one weekend, but I reassured him by picking my favourites from the previous meal as well as some of the dishes we hadn't tried on Friday.

That incredible calamari again. I wasn't lying when I said I could eat another bowl...

The best pre-Christmas (or post-Christmas, for that matter) Brussel sprouts that have ever passed my lips. The sprouts were hidden in a creamy swiss chard gratin made addictive with pieces of celeriac, smoked ricotta, and migas. 

We also ordered courgette flowers stuffed with goat's cheese and drizzled with honey, but they weren't particularly photogenic. So here's a photo of Alex's happy diner face instead.

Yup, the ribs again. Though this time they'd been sliced in a way that made the meat harder to get to - it certainly didn't fall off the bone like it had on Friday. Something that one notices when one has the same dish twice in one weekend, I reckon!

And the star of the entire weekend - Ember Yard's signature dish. Sweet, tender Ibérico presa (shoulder meat) bites to be smeared with whipped jamón butter. I honestly couldn't fault this. So memorable it makes my mouth water a fortnight later.

And a wonderfully wobbly cinnamon and milk tart with a scoop of chestnut ice cream and cranberry jam. Festive flavours that melded very well together, and the perfect full stop to my weekend of birthday indulgence.

So I think I managed to expand my stomach adequately in time for Christmas, don't you? Thank you very much to everyone who made my birthday revellings so lovely! It was so wonderful to be surrounded by friends and family, especially at the end of the year. The perfect start to the festive season. 

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Maltby Street Market

Maltby Street Market is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favourite places in the city. Located in the historically rich borough of Southwark, a Saturday morning in the market sees all the flavour of Borough without the relentless tourist hustle and bustle. It also hosts some of the most unique food traders I've come across in London, as well as Lassco, an incredible antiques showroom.

Fresh produce and craft vendors rent out the spaces under the railway arches. 

My favourite stalls, though, are to be found in the open market along the 'Ropewalk'. Festooned with world flags, it buzzes with traders selling everything from Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon (the best) to excellent espressos and cake, with tables spilling out on to the promenade for punters to sip cocktails and wine in the early afternoon. Yes, even if it's drizzling. We're British - what do you expect? 

Right in the middle of it all is the Lassco Showroom.

The showroom is filled with curiosities and ephemera from all corners of the world. Bunting and chandeliers, decommissioned theatre lights, antique taps polished to an enviable sheen, covetable furniture and vintage pamphlets are just some of the objects on sale here. Also on sale? The medieval monstrosity, the Hamburg Hydra, gracing the front cover of a magazine from the '80s, below.

Print typewriters...

...real typewriters...

...and early festive decorations. A far cry from the tinsel we wind round our trees or the bright lights along Oxford Street, these quaint hand-blown glasses hail from the Victorian era. Filling them with candles at Christmas would turn them into 'fairy lamps' to be hung in the windows or placed in the porch. So enchanting and simple.

After wandering around the showrooms we sat down for lunch at St John Bakery Room. Our family loves Fergus Henderson's cooking so much that my mum celebrated her 50th birthday with a private meal at St John! Above: fried sprats with a horseradish cream.

Squid in black ink. 

A kohlrabi salad.

And an old-fashioned pâté with perfectly crisp cornichons. I'm pretty sure I polished off 80% of this hunk all by myself.

For dessert, tempting brownies and pastries from the St John bakery just around the corner. And sourdoughs that kind of resemble giant chocolate biscuits in the picture below...Mmm. 

Also for dessert: a bag of these chocolates masquerading as cocktails, dusted with cocoa powder. Indulgent, rich and extremely addictive.

I love Maltby Street! Can't wait to go back again soon to visit the excellent fruit and veg grocer's at the Dockley Road end of the market, as well as pick up some of the mouthwatering desserts from Poppy Smadja. If you're a foodie at a loose end on a Saturday morning, Maltby is a must.

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