Tuesday, 6 October 2015

If you happen to be in Milan this month...

Whenever anyone asks me where to go in Milan, I always say Piazza Gae Aulenti.

It's the brand new, shiny part of the city that's still undergoing exciting developments. The piazza itself forms a bridge between central Milan and what's known as the "Isola" (island) district, a rather hipster area which used to be somewhat cut off due to the train lines at Garbaldi FS nearby.

New shops and bars continue to pop up around the piazza, a new community space has been constructed, a new park is on the horizon and the new metro line passes right by - it's all new, new, new, new.

And for a limited time only (until 31 Oct), this inconspicuous little structure is offering the chance to experience the whole of Italy in 3D:

I'd walked past it at least twenty times before I bothered to go in and have a look. It's a free visual and audio show, with images from the Italian landscape and culture projected in 360 degrees, accompanied by some of the finest Italian classical music - it's quite a moving experience!

It's best experienced inside the Panorama theatre but for those of us who aren't going back to Milan any time soon (sob sob), here's a video of the experience:

Again, it really is well worth a trip, especially for any other Italophiles out there! It's been open since May but I haven't really been around this summer so only discovered it towards the end of its stay.

And even if you don't make it and plan on visiting the city some other time, I'd still recommend exploring the area.

The piazza definitely bursts to life more than ever during the summer when the pavement cafes overflow and children and dogs run through the water fountains to cool off. By night, the entire space becomes one giant bar area with games tables and cushions and chairs to lounge around on.

But don't fear! Even with winter on its way, there's still plenty to keep you occupied:

And it's the perfect spot for an after-dinner passeggiata...

Queueing for ice cream at 10pm; my kind of country!

If you follow the bridge away from the piazza and towards the new residential skyscrapers, you come across a new park (not the one I mentioned earlier - this is another new park. Everything is new!) Here you can lounge on the brand new grass, looking around at the huge, brand new villas worth millions and millions of euros sitting opposite brand new business headquarters - right on the edges of the historic city!

It's pretty cool in the dark although I do prefer this part in the daytime

A green oasis in the heart of the city.

I miss it so much!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Afternoon Tea at Claridge's

Wow, so I've been super quiet lately! 

It's all part of the moving-into-your-first-ever-proper-place experience. No more free wifi courtesy of mum and dad/the university/your student landlord - when you're moving into a flat or house as a proper adult, you have to think about these things.

Which I blatantly did not.

Luckily I moved away from mum and dad/the university/the student landlord and straight into a flat directly across the road from a Sainsburys store, which is currently (unknowingly) sponsoring my existence. Not only can I dash across the road (literally across the road - as I sit here typing on my bedroom floor, I can see the bright orange letters of comfort and provision mere metres away) for dark chocolate digestives whenever I want, I can also use their wifi whilst I wait for Sky to come and lift me out of the dark ages. Winning.

Sadly though, Sainsburys wifi blocks access to most blogs. Including mine. So I can write posts (as I've just discovered) but I can't actually respond to comments or visit anyone else's little corner of the internet. Sad times.

(Sainsburys wifi also blocks half the websites I try to use and is not very conducive for streaming so I think it's high time I lodged a formal complaint about this mischievious free service that I'm not paying for!)

So anyway that's that and there's nothing more I can do except count down the days until Sky day (it's 7 people. 7 days!) and get on with blogging about summer.  

Which included a rather lovely little trip to this rather lovely little place...

It has been my mum's one request for the past few birthdays to have afternoon tea at Claridge's. 

She has dropped hints and asked explicitly and reminded us kindly yet it's never happened before, usually because we're too busy chasing down the other items on her wish list. This year, she asked again... and didn't ask for anything else. So I finally booked a table using the online booking service.

And then cancelled the booking and rebooked for a different date. And then cancelled again and rebooked again etc. etc. as I tried to schedule as many summer holidays as possible around our afternoon tea and basically the moral of the story is this: Claridge's is full of very nice and patient people who will put up with you faffing around even if you change your reservation five times in the space of a week.

(Don't worry, this was all before I actually told Mum we were going!)

When the day finally arrived, we stepped through the revolving doors into another world and another time. Soft carpets instantly drank our footsteps and giant art deco mirrors refracted our reflections into shards. The beautiful monochrome floors had been polished and buffed so perfectly, they looked as if they were made from glass. They were (and still are) probably much cleaner than I could ever hope even my kitchen to be. It was instantly evident that the attention to detail is absolutely beyond someone as messy and "that'll do" as I am.

But oh, Claridge's is not a "that'll do" kind of place.

We were about ten minutes early (this was after a further ten minutes of loitering outside wondering if it was ok to go into this hallowed place before our allotted time but in the end we scurried in because rain). A very friendly lady showed us to the "cloakrooms" (that's the toilets if you're unsophisticated like me and thought it was just a cloakroom - although you can leave your bags and coats in there too). Once we had made use of the facilities (i.e Mum had stroked the Lalique light fittings and I had managed to splash water all over the beautiful old sinks and taps that the poor cloakroom attendant had just polished) we were shown to our table.

We weren't in the main salon but our table was instead tucked in a lovely, cosy little corner just beyond it.

Now there is no messing about here. We all know what we've come for. The menu we were handed consisted entirely of a selection of teas, complete with detailed descriptions of their origins and flavours. I chose the Cornish Earl Grey as the description revealed that it is the only English tea in commercial production with the tea being grown in (you guessed it) Cornwall.

The sandwiches were brought in on large sharing plates. I'd asked to have just the vegetarian and fish sandwiches as I don't eat meat but when they arrived they'd included additional flavours that hadn't appeared on the main menu such as cheese and chutney. Mine arrived on a separate plate although that didn't stop some people trying to pinch them anyway!

We'd turned up pretty hungry - our sitting was at 3pm so we'd starved ourselves all day for maximum afternoon tea capacity. So when they asked us if we wanted a second round of sandwiches, the answer was a resounding yes.

Although this meant that by the time the cakes arrived, we realised that we were in a spot of bother.

Now I don't know about you, but as I've gotten older my appetite has begun to reach some form of limit. I used to be able to eat and eat and eat until there was literally no food left but over the years, I've had to start making notes of the things I just cannot manage to finish anymore.

Sadly, unlimited cake is now on my list of things I just can't.

My teen years were so wasted. Why did I not come to Claridge's before?

All the same, I had a pretty good crack at it.

I don't need to tell you how good these tasted do I?

These exquisite little pastries are the stars of the show. They are just so damn aesthetically pleasing even if our stomachs were beginning to roll at the sight of them. All the same, we got on with our duties and began eating. I started with the zingy berry macaroon with a plan to alternate between the cakes and the scones which aren't quite as sweet. Mum made the rookie error of diving straight into the scones and following up with the cakes meaning she didn't quite manage to finish hers.

And then they brought us this!

I had mentioned on the booking form that it was for Mum's birthday but I hadn't expected anything to come of it really so we were all thrilled when this turned up. Although she then had to eat it so I don't know how long those feelings of joy lasted. (I jest, you can't fail to be in high spirits when taking afternoon tea at Claridge's.)


Besides, they will very kindly box any that you can't manage so that you can take them home and enjoy the magic a little longer.

But some people just don't know when to stop.

As in... I just don't know when to stop.

And I made sure I finished every last bite.

I have only ever felt that full once before and that was after polishing off a 3-course meal and two cocktails at the Hard Rock cafe, to then be taunted by my sister whispering "mayonnaise" and "chocolate fudge" (etc.) in my ears.

Our very kind waitress could see exactly what kind of situation was developing at the table and before anything regrettable occurred, she'd arrived with a large pot of freshly brewed mint tea and three new cups.

On the way out we had one more look at the magnificent entrance, one more admiring stroke of the Lalique lights in the toilet (Mum) and one last photo before the spell was broken and we stepped back into modern day London.

It was truly an extraordinary afternoon.

I'd read before going that the staff treat everyone as if they are the most important of guests and I couldn't fault that review one bit!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Get To Know Me

I'm very excited to have been nominated by the lovely Lucy over at Foodie Force to do the food bloggers Get To Know Me tag!

Admittedly, I feel like a little bit of a fraud for this. I may throw the fdbloggers hashtag around on Twitter but I'm not entirely sure I could honestly, hand-on-heart say that I fit that category - especially as most of the (very few) recipes I've ever posted have been Michele's. Gulp.

But nevertheless, I'm more than happy to join the food blogger fun - so let's get started.

Name: Lucy (this is me in case you didn't know:)

What was your reason for starting a blog?
I love indulging in writing and seeing as the university newspaper only had a limited amount of pages  and plenty of other much more talented  students to print, I decided to harness my own little webpage where I can write as much as I want. Mwahaha.

What's the dish you're most proud of?I have a couple of recipes that I always whip out when I want to impress friends at dinner. They're really simple and speedy but always get rave reviews (but then I don't mix with a particularly foodie crowd so I'm getting off easily here). In any case, my favourite main is usually anchovy and red onion spaghetti with pecorino - the saltiness of the fish and cheese is balanced by the sweeter onions.

I've been making the same cake for years too and I've completely tailored it to how I like it. It's basically a simply chocolate sponge but as soon as it comes out of the oven, I drizzle a generous helping of maple syrup on the filling side of the sponges before slathering them in Nutella. Then I slap them together and top off with melted chocolate.

What one kitchen utensil could you not live without?
Sharp kitchen knives. When I cook at someone else's house and the knives don't actually chop.. argh.

You're stranded on a desert island; what three ingredients do you take with you?
Well firstly I'm assuming that I'm on a desert island just off the coast of Italy so I can flag down the coastguards/local fishermen and get them to bring me extra, yummy, Italian supplies. Failing that - I really have no idea! Maybe that Huel stuff, that new nutritionally complete powder? It sounds boring but... what three ingredients could provide that?

Ok, a proper answer... definitely Hotel Chocolat's 50% milk chocolate. It's just too good. So then two savoury ingredients so I don't get bored of eating sugar all the time... Stracciatella, which is my favourite Italian cheese. And then I should probably take a vegetable shouldn't I? Let's go with kale because I'm constantly bordering on anaemia and it's a bit more exciting than spinach.

I'm assuming that I will be allowed to fish and somehow harvest herbs, bake bread and press my own olive oil (?!?!?!) on this desert island too...

Who do you take inspiration from?
Blogging-wise, pretty much every blogger I ever read! You can learn something from everybody.

What's your favourite social platform?
I like browsing Instagram for an aesthetic hit but I really appreciate the instant reach of Twitter. I've gone off Facebook lately although I never used it for blogging purposes anyway.

Biggest disaster in the kitchen?
I tried catching a falling makeshift bain marie once - my friend basically knocked the precariously balanced pans off the hob and my instant reaction was to catch them, resulting in boiling water dowsing my hands. They looked like chicken leg skin for weeks! This wasn't even for a particularly gourmet creation - we were melting chocolate for cornflake cakes!

Favourite spot for coffee?
Exploding Bakery in Exeter. The cakes are just incredible. Although it can be hard to get a seat inside so on a miserable day, Boston Tea Party just up the road. In Milan, I like sitting outside with a coffee anywhere between Moscova and Piazza Gae Aulenti to soak up the atmosphere.

Favourite photo you've taken?
Food-wise, I don't have one! I actually prefer my landscape pictures as I think I do those much better. Nevertheless I like this one from my post about Erba Brusca, the colours and the candlelight just remind me of a gorgeous evening.

What would you say is your most successful blog post and why?
For me success is all about interaction with readers so any post that inspires a well thought out comment is a success for me. I don't get huge numbers of page reads every day but that's fine as long as some of the people who do read drop me a comment :)

Nominate three food bloggers you'd like to get to know more:

Lisa at Not Quite Enough
Rachel at Handbags and Cupcakes
Andrea at Andrea's Passions

That was fun!

And a great distraction from the terrifying fact that I am officially moving into my first flat today, aaargh!!! I don't have any internet there so ciao for now blogosphere and I'll be back asap!