Sunday, 27 December 2009

A Little Bit of New York Zest

New York has been pretty awesome, what with the Christmas season being in full motion and all. And I've also just really enjoyed walking around Central Park, the Upper West Side and Chelsea, eating at my fave restaurants, shopping at my fave shops, breathing in the Christmas cheer, going to my fave museums, and just taking in all the cool things I used to love about New York. This is my top 10 list of everything from food, shops, walks and cultural bits that make New York, for me, a special and unique place in the world.

1. Best skyline view/ sunset walk: The most beautiful walk and view in New York takes place on the Brooklyn Bridge. I used to recommend this walk to all my friends/family that would come visit. The coolest thing to do is to take the subway to the other side of the bridge and walk (or bike!) back towards the city, at sundown when the skyline is a multitude of colorful patterns, lines and curves. That view, in my opinion, is the best view of the New York skyline.

2. Best neighborhood for an afternoon walk/shop/coffee stop: the Lower East has, over time, climbed its way to my favourite places to shop, walk around and grab a late afternoon coffee or early evening drink. Rivington, Ludlow, Essex and Norfolk are among the many funky shop-filled streets of the neighborhood.

3. Best dress shop: Honey in the Rough: my lovely and bubbly friend Ashley Hanosh's quirky and secret dress and accessories shop on Rivington Street offers the most fantastic and unique pieces for ladies with style and sass. Stop by for a lovely shopping experience and you will not leave empty handed. And that's a good thing.

4. Best banana pudding/cupcake: The Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery on Rivington Street will leave you salivating for more. The sweet smell of icing and banana cream will knock you over with excitement. I've never tasted such heavenly banana pudding or red velvet cupcakes- and I'm no fan of bananas nor have never been one to go on and on about red velvet cake, mostly cuz I never got where that funky color came from.


5. Best 2 Italian restaurants: Bar Pitti on Sixth avenue and Houston (Soho) followed by Malatesta Trattoria (West Village) both offer some simple and inexpensive Italian dishes and pastas. Bar Pitti has the people watching, while Malatesta just has a kick ass tiramisu. Your choice.

Bar Pitti, Soho/West Village

 Malatesta Trattoria, West Village

6. Best brunch: Bubby's in Tribeca. Best green eggs and ham and eggs benedict south of Houston. This legendary joint has much more to offer than a mile long queue and Harvey Keitel sitting in the back room chatting up the waitresses and sipping on his beer. It's a lively place, really, with some good ol' Southern American food, but some normal American food as well. 

7. Best burger: Shake Shack at Madison Square Park and the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien Hotel. New York's 2 unmissable burger places, both located in the lower to midtown areas.

Shake Shack, Madison Square Park

8. Best cocktails: Little Branch on 7th avenue and Leroy Street, serves the most funky drinks ( a la Milk & Honey) from the vamped up Pimm's Cup (go Britannia!) to the classic but sexy Mojito, Trinadadian style: The Queens' Park Sizzle.

9. Best manicure/pedicure: and this is for us Londoners who can't get enough of the Vietnamese style mani/pedi, just cuz it's quick and dirty, cheap and chic. Iris Nail on Broadway between 10th and 11th, does the job just fine. You get a little MTV reality junk, with a side order of NYU students' gossip. Love it.

10. One more for the road- Best Borough Market New York equivalent: Chelsea Market (on 9th avenue between 15th and 16th) is the luxury version of a department store food court, offering a wide variety of different food joints, Lobster shacks, delis and grocery stores and also housing the famous Nicole Farhi store and restaurant, known to all us Londoners as 202. 

That's it for now, zesties. Heading to Paris tonight for some New Years celebrations. I hope the Christmas festivities were warm and fuzzy for all of you. Enjoy the New York Zest. In the meantime, LondonZest will be on hold til further notice:)

Thursday, 24 December 2009

As My Friends Jay-Z And Alicia Once Said...

When you're in New York, you're in an Empire State of Mind...

In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
Theres nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York,
these streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you,
Lets here it for New York, New York, New York
Welcome to the bright light...

New York is beautiful and snowy and I couldn't be happier to be back home to celebrate Christmas with my family. I hope you feel the same way wherever you may be. Merry Christmas, Zesties! I will be back after the festivities with a little zest on New York. 

Christmas cheer and Christmas joy to all:)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

All I want for Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth and... A Couple of Men in Tutus

Who ever said the ballet was cheesy and girly is clearly delusional. I've just seen the coolest, hippest, hottest ballet ever and it was right here in London. Matthew Bourne's rendition of Swan Lake at Islington's Sadlers Wells, was a real gem to watch. The music was, as usual, stunning and captivating. I even caught myself closing my eyes a few times too man, swaying side by side along the waltz-like tempo, and dreaming I was swept off my feet by the young prince himself. The set design, was yes, unusual, but surprisingly fresh and creative. The story, fun, light and relateable, caught me by surprise and was something to the sort of Hello's cover story from last March. A young prince, torn between fulfilling the duties asked of him by his Queen Mother and the Kingdom, and not succombing to the temptations of real life, girls, alcohol and rock n' roll. (Prince Harry anyone?)

Actually, I not only realized that I was witnessing a whole new modern adaptation of the classic romance story I was once so attached to as a little girl, but that the cutesy frilly young swan ballerinas, weren't the slim, feminine, or goddess-like ballerinas we all know too well. Yes, they were slim. Yes they were god-like. But they were certainly not feminine. In fact, the men impersonating the hundreds of swans haunting the young prince's dreams were more haunting than the the dream itself. Their bodies...My God! Their bodies! 

The story itself is endearing. Touching really. Even haunting. And sometimes cheery, fun and comical. The young prince tries hard to gain his mother's tough (yet promiscuous!) love and approval but in vain, fails. He then escapes his rejections by dreaming up a storm, wherein swans appear by the hundreds and suddenly become a symbol for the love his mum is unable to give him. The relationship between himself and the king swan is unnervingly touching and powerful. You will want to run on stage and grab the boy for a good ol' hug. Don't do it though, you run the risk of getting booed. I tried it, no fun. Watch a short clip here.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

I've got the Salmon Skin Under My Skin

Inaho, Bayswater/Notting Hill's ultimate secret Japanese restaurant, has officially made it to my Top 10 favourite eating places, people. And if Kate Moss is a fan, well so am I. This is why she and I alike, have a thing for this quirky minuscule Klein-blue-walled Japanese eatery.

1. The food is excellent. The rolls are not too perfectly rolled that you pay too much attention to the look of them and less attention to their taste. The fish is fresh and tender. The soups, tempuras and meat dishes are all butter in your mouth. I can't stress it enough. The sushi is some of the best in London.

2. The place is so tiny that it only fits about 5 tables. I like a small cozy place. It makes me feel like I've been nominated to eat there. Sometimes, if I'm in a particularly happy mood, I feel like I could be leaving with an Oscar.

3. The "open" tag on the glass door hardly ever appears. "Closed" is a word I have become more familiar with, when walking past this curious looking blue hut everyday. Actually catching it during an "Open" moment can feel even more gratifying.

4. I've mentioned the quality of the food. Let me re-emphasize how good it is. The salmon skin roll is crunchy, fluffy and just scrumptious. Fluffy. And Crunchy. And scrumptious. Already said that. Yummy.

4. There is one waitress for "all" the tables. She runs around like a little goose with her head cut off trying her best to keep everyone in the mini restaurant as happy and excited as she is. She looks like a Japanese manga cartoon character. Am I stereotyping? She's awesome.

5. Again, it's all too freaking good.

6. The room steams up from the steamers and the cooking in the kitchen. The eating area looks like the set of an old Japanese 1950s movie inside. Weird kitsch objects hanging form the ceiling, Japanese and non-Japanese. Some funky drawings also hang from an eye-squinting Japanese farming landscape wallpaper. It's all very "In the mood for love" really.

7. The poeple-watching is priceless. Neighborhooders with an edge. People like Kate moss. People who come solo. People like you and me.

8. Can't give any more reasons to go. It's too pretty for words. Too good for a long-winded description. Just go. Book a table and go. Well make sure they're open, book a table and go.

Inaho, Hereford Road, Bayswater/Notting Hill

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Vintage Shopping-By Appointment

Thank you Daily Candy for leading me to this special place in Notting Hill, the second-hand clothing heaven on earth, Chic & Seek. Call up for a "relaxed" appointment (020 7229 4308) with lovely shop/home owner (that's right her shop is her home), Tara Nash-King, for the vintage ride of your life. Meandering in Notting Hill, you'll find her shop in a  "sleepy mews just stones throw away from Portobello Road and Ledbury Road." It's actually off All Saints Road, the coolest street in Notting hill where my fave Italian Restaurant, The Ripe Tomato, sits.

The mews house stocks the most beautiful dresses, shoes, handbags and everything vintage from the most exclusive designers and all for a quarter of the original retail price. She calls it "top-end fashion uniqueness available to all." Okay, okay, it's still expensive, you'll tell me, but the just for the experience, it's worth it. In one corner, you'll dig out a really special Roberto Cavalli dress while in the other you'll stumble upon awesome Gucci studded sandals.
Roberto Cavalli, size 8, £250

Gucci Sandals, size 36.5, £145

And it's not over! You'll also revel at the sight of last season's Louboutin platform sandals!

Louboutin Sandals, size 37.5, £135

Vanessa Bruno here, Isabel Marant there. Marni and Dries van Noten everywhere! It is truly as if you've stumbled into Ali Baba's cave, and without the weird men in Aladdin pants chasing after you!

Isabel Marant boots, size 38, £110

And guess what? You know that putrid old clothes smell that most vintage shops seem to carry around with them wherever you go? Chic & Seek doesn't have it! In fact, it smells amazing! 

Anyways, forget about the smell-bit...just hear me out. If you're not ready to spend the money, convince a friend to take you along with them, and take in all the beautiful colors, garments and sparkles around you. It's like waking up on Christmas day when the tree is more beautiful than ever and all you want to do is put your nose in it.

ps: if you're feeling cold and lazy, you can order online!
ps2: Spring cleaning is closer than you think. If you want to clean out your closet of some cool designer stuff, she takes that in too and you'll get a share of the money if she's able to sell it!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

London's Best Kept Secret-The Sanctuary

Ever been to a place so tranquil in London, that you forgot you had just stepped out of the hussle and bussle of the city just five minutes prior? Goddam those crazy Christmas shopping Saturdays. I'd much rather be spa-ing and getting pampered in peace, while everyone else is stomping on each other, shouting obscenities to one another and swearing on their mother's life things you wouldn't want even your vulgar aunty to hear. That's right, a little massage here and there never hurt anybody. I can be selfish. We can all be selfish. Especially pre-Christmas. It's that time of year to be taking care of yourselves, ladies.

Last weekend, I was lucky and selfish enough to accompany a few close and equally selfish friends to The Sanctuary Spa, a peaceful and luxurious oasis of tranquility on the adorable paved Floral Street, smack in the middle of Covent Garden. If you decide you want to be selfish too, not only will you be pampered like never before, but you'll feel like Cleopatra on an opium cloud, bathing in milk, while being fed grapes straight from the grapevine, forgetting all of those nasty heartaches caused by your beloved Julius Cesar.

Treatments range from the signature oxygen and collagen facials, Thai and Swedish massages and mani pedis, to the more special treatments such as the sugar scrubs, floats, wraps and exfoliants. 

You can book 25 or 50 minutes and also enjoy the spa's many facilities all day long. You can lounge around, eating and reading, chatting with your friends and simply enjoy what the spa has to offer; great soothing aromas, lovely food, great spaces for you to spread out, and professional care. Call up for a day session at £69 and book the treatment of your choice to go along with it. You won't regret it. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the inside is mystifying. 

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Here Here Baby Gazelle, Come to Mommy

Ladies and gentlemen, the day has finally come for me to tell you all that I am closer than ever to achieving my dream of owning a Gazelle Dutch Style bicycle. The model in question is a modern make of the 1940s original version. It is a true piece of art and I will cherish it, cradle it, caress it til I am on my deathbed. Cross my heart.

Sunday afternoon, I went to the, and I quote, Most Beautiful Bicycle Shop in Britain (that's what they call it there so I'm not just making it up...and I agree), Bobbin Bicycles, on St John Street, in the heart of cute and quirky Islington. The place is filled with vintage two-wheeled jewels, retro helmets and funky bicycle accessories. The store director, Tom, is a delightful sweater-vest sporting character, and knows his product like his own child.

Not only that, the selection of bicycles is mind blowing. And I kid you not, zesties, the Gazelle Oma is a true beauty. It is sleek, it is simple, it is retro and it's feminine and it rides like a vintage Jaguar. The driving on the left side of the road is what is scaring me for the most part, but it's my belief, that after some practice runs around the block, a couple rides in Hyde Park and a few scratches and scares on the street, I will be riding my new Gazelle baby like a true London lady.

The Classic Gazelle 

My Gazelle Oma will be the cream version below. The below picture is a wee bit small but hopefully you get the idea. Add to that a smart looking helmet and a mailman-style panier, and I'm ready to roll.

 All in all, it is a magical bicycle. And in less than 2 weeks, it will be mine forever!!!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

A Swedish Holiday in London- Preparing for Lucia

I have a special affinity for the Swedish traditions...for anything Swedish actually. I am an avid Stockholm enthousiast and enthousiast is an understatement. Love the city, have been there 5-6 times before, sometimes in the dead of winter, when it's pitch black outside by the time you get out of lunch at NK, or when it's broad day light, all night long, in the hot months of June and July and you're thankful for those IKEA special light-blocking curtains.

The Archipelagos are also, in my mind, some of the most beautiful islands/places I've been to in my life. 

And don't even get me started on Swedish people. Swedes are not only some of the most gorgeous human beings I've encountered in my lifetime, but they're also some of the warmest. I'm not kidding...I know, it's kind of surprising for a people living in a supposedly cold bloody country. But it's true, I really do believe it. 

I recently learned from my sources that there are some two hundred thousand Swedes living in London. I don't know if you realize but that is a whole lot of Swedish people living outside of Sweden. I even hear London is the third largest Swedish population in the world, after Stockholm and Gothenburg. That is pretty surreal if you ask me.

Anyhow, I came to talk about Sweden because a very important holiday, called Lucia, is nigh, and the festivities of light are soon to take place. On December 13th to be exact. Lucia, aka St Lucy, is a young lady who came with lights and sweets to brighten up the skies and souls of Sweden. Rumour has it, that back in the day, 304 AD, she was martyred by the Romans during one of the darkest days of winter, hence all the lights and the candles on her crown. 

It is one of the few saint days observed in Scandinavia. And one of the yummiest at that. You will want to try a delicious Swedish Saffron Bun, originally called the Lussekatter, at the Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street in Soho, at Fika on Brick Lane, at the Nordic Bakery in Golden Square, or simply try it yourself by following this recipe here.

If you're interested in finding out more about Swedish cooking in general or Swedish specialty foods especially for Lucia, go check out Totally Swedish, a cool and everything-store dedicated to Swedish stuff only on Crawford Street in Marylebone. 

There you'll be able to dig out a variety of Swedish foods and cooking ingredients, including candy (not Swedish fish), coffee, caviar, meatball gravy, pickled gherkins and herring, crisps, and ginger biscuits (Pepparkakor, the best ginger snaps you'll ever taste), as well as all types of magazines, life-changing cheese-slicers and a wide range of other fantastic nonsense. 

As for me, I'm very excited for the Lucia holiday. I get to go spend it at Met Mum's house with Little L. and lots of other beautiful people. On that note, Happy Lucia everyone!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Luxe Chocolate in the Heart of Marylebone

I've been stuffing myself silly lately, what with the hundreds of Lindt chocolate Santas and bunnies, chocolate covered almonds, and the five too many kinders and smarties that I had over the weekend... and  to tell you the truth, I don't know how much more of it I can take. I know the Holiday season is coming up but I've been stuck in the pre-Holiday season for far too long! I was just in Switzerland over the weekend where chocolate is like...peanut butter in the US. It's the best damn chocolate you can eat, the finest and the purest. And it's just so friggin good. Ok ok, so I know comparing chocolate to peanut butter is pretty much like murdering a baby kitten, but I am just so into the PBJ (Whole Foods homemade PBJ...oh I miss you dearly), that I have no other comparison to give.

Cocomaya Chocolatier on Connaught Street in Marylebone has noting to do with Lindt, Cadbury, Smarties or Ferrero. It's a whole new category all on its own, and I'd be lying if I told you it's just chocolate. Because it's not. It's luxe chocolate. It's fashionable chocolate. Imagine Prada chocolate. It's like that, except not Italian. The chocolatier is a lovely Northern Irish Cambodian man (I know! Go figure!) who is a true chocolate artist and who will revive your chocolate senses like Juliette Binoche did in Chocolat!

It was co-founded by the Liberty's guy and the Agent Provocateur you know what I'm talking about? If you're feeling festive and generous you can also have the chocolates made to measure for an exclusive and personal gift. Now they are making other things non-chocolate as well, which are just delectable, and you'll even drool over some miniature Damien Hirst chocolate skulls!


The shop is a delightful hidden gem off the high street of Marylebone. You'll want to retreat there forever and eat nothing but pure Luxe Irish Cambodian chocolate for the rest of your lives!


Friday, 4 December 2009

Newburgh & Carnaby For Your Christmas Shopping

I'm a huge fan of the Christmas shopping experience. I know, you must think I'm mad and that there's nothing worse than rushing on the 24th of December in the cold and frosty afternoon, up and down the high street desperately trying to pick out your last gifts for that one person in your life you don't rally care about or even like that much. I get it, I do. That's why it's best to start your christmas shopping early. I've been shying away from the high street stores trying to find the hidden gems, boutiques and personal finds that will make those happy faces shine on D-day. That's my favourite part. The happy faces. And just because of those, I enjoy my Christmas shopping.

Working at Oxford Circus, I find it incredibly difficult to find a quiet area nearby to take a breather. That's why Carnaby and Newburgh Streets are little slices of heaven right off the beaten paths of Regent and Oxford Streets. I love these two little streets. I actually stumble upon something new everytime and my eyes always sparkle at every new shop that opens. In between Liberty's, creative artsy "everything" stores, cool dress shops (like the adorable Beyond the Valley) and cute lil cafes, you'll find a whole afternoon worth of activities, to enjoy especially around Christmas time.

Liberty Back View on Newburgh Street

Beyond the Valley, Newburgh Street

If you're around the hood for dinner, take a 15 minute walk down and around the area to digest. You'll find the evening lights to be most refreshing.