Wednesday, 27 January 2010

A Member's Club for Non-Members

If you've ever had a the pleasure of dining at the Oak in Notting Hill and tasting one of the best truffle pizzas in all of London, then you've probably made it upstairs to their super duper exclusive-looking lounge, with its super duper non-exclusive door policy.
Upstairs at the Oak looks like my non-existent rich aunty's uber-luxurious Chelsea mansion-style living room, which for some strange reason ended up on the top floor of a pizza restaurant. Last night, I had the pleasure of taking a friend there for a warm and cozy glass of Sangiovese, some split pea puree with flatbreads and roasted aubergine tapas on the side. After far too many glasses of wine and far too much conversation, we both realized that the lights had come on and it was time to go home. I always hated being that last person at a bar or a party - it always makes me feel like a bit of a loser (moi, loseuhr?). So needless to say, we were having a good time.
And a good time it was. Sitting way too comfortably on an velvety sofa, occasionally staring at an old blurry (or was that just my eyesight gone awry) painting of some unknown white-haired/white-bearded 18th century nobleman, hiccupping through 3 glasses of wine and munching away on some delicious home-cooked style Italian tapas, we forgot to leave. 
Personal note #1: get the hint - if you're still lounging around at a bar when the lights go on, you've probably overstayed your presence. Personal note #2: get the hint - if you're still sipping on wine when the lights go on, you'll probably feel as flimsy as I do today. Personal note #3: Have a great day, zesties!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Fashionable Foods

If you have ever found yourself at Harrods, Selfridges, Dover Street, Liberty's and Harvey Nichols, then you will have had to pit stop at their respective food markets, cafes and restaurants. I am here to talk to you about one in particular, where aesthetics and fashion play a particular role. Visually, it's got the most elegant and luxurious aisles, food packaging bedecked in grey, golden and silver images, and displays you'll want to replicate in your own kitchen. Quality is a must where London's poshest and most extravagant shoppers are involved. 

So yes, the Foodmarket at Harvey Nichs on the 5th floor of the Knightsbridge store, is worth the detour. Especially if you're galavanting down the aisles of Tom Ford and Stella McCartney on floors 3 and 4, the Foodmarket is worth the detour. There is nothing discrete about the fifth floor food joint. Their claim to fame is that "it's the most fashionable food destination for die hard foodies and fashionistas alike." I say that's a pretty big statement, but hey, I think they measure up to it. So stop by for a quick coffee and pie or linger on for hours in their posh restaurant. It's a catwalk in its own right.


Monday, 25 January 2010

Columbia Road Flower Market-London's Not So Secret Gem

Columbia Road Flower Market was the one thing on my list I was dying to do for months and hadn't come around to doing yet in my quest for London Zest. Which is strange considering I love markets and I love flowers, and lately I have come to love Hoxton and Shoreditch. Yesterday, I broke the spell once more and ventured out to East London, camera in hand, huge empty grocery bags on each arm, an empty stomach dying to be fed, and a big smile on my face. Apparently that was enough to prepare me for my colourful little adventure on Columbia Road.

And colourful it truly was. I was surprised at how many different types of flowers could actually be sold at flower market and how many of those I had never seen before or didn't know the name of. I picked out a few bunches of tropical and local bouquets and filled my Sainsbury's bags enough to make me keel over from the weight. I kept walking and noticing the variety of corners and angles that would catch my camera-ready eye. Some little spots made me think I was in the midst of some tropical open market, and all I needed was a cool and icy guava juice to quench my thirst and tide me over til lunch. Others were just plain London: funky, colorful and unique.



There is something quite cute and cozy about the fact that Columbia Road is actually a regular road on regular days without flowers everywhere and that normal people actually live in this adorable street dotted with cute stores and bakeries.

And each little store, each little corner, each little food joint has something quite quirky about it, sells God knows what, but still manages to attract a couple tourists and curious eyes, like this trinket/junk store below.

That's the magic of open markets I guess.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Why? Cos You're Worth It

It's been a while since I've written anything on fashion and I thought it only appropriate to do so under very strict conditions. We live in recessive times, you see. And that means that we are now more frugal, more careful and much more conscienscious about what we're spending our money on than ever before. It's not even an effort any longer. We do it naturally, it's part of our generational DNA. We look at shopping as an investment, as a smart decision. We may impulse-buy a times, but even an irrational shopping spree has "economic recession" written all over it. We, as shoppers, have given places like Primark another amazing year and an anti-cyclical boost up the hill. H&M is booming, so is Zara, Topshop and so on. The recession also means that we have had to accentuate our creativity through our clothes even more so than before, just because the high street brands sometimes lead to another recessive shopper having purchased the same leopard coat as you.

Cos store, on 222 Regent Street (Whitefields and Soho), not a secret to any of my readers, I'm sure, is how you can prevent that exact case scenario. The sister store of H&M, born out of Swedish wedlock between H&M and London Fashion Week '07, is a perfect miracle solution to the recessive ordinariness we've been plagued with. You'll find all the cool pieces you've been missing from your closet, low prices and very little replication on the street. Cool items like camel cropped leather jackets, tye-dye dresses, Jill Sander-type boyfriend shirts, fun and original harem pants, cute clutches, accessories and cheap tees are all unique and sure to make heads turn.


You'll also find some fierce trans-seasonal outfits, from knee-high socks and winter bermudas (!!!) accompanied by a loose knitted sweater, to navy (it's all about the navy) and marine striped t-shirt dresses and tops.

So the trick is, shop the high street, definitely. But be creative. There is nothing more irritating than thinking you have found the dress of your dreams at a killer price and your next door neighbour has got the exact same one.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

London Zest 2.0

I had been debating for months about whether to change my header, and it was not an easy call. I sort of liked my old one but the picture of a clothing store narrowed my content down to clothes. I like food so much, it wasn't fair to my zesty foodie discoveries.

And then, I don't know why, I struggled to find a color scheme, format and style that I could really associate with what I'm writing about: zesty gems in London. Well, I didn't do it myself, of course. I had to call upon the freelance designing genius of one of my best friends in NYC. And after many many attempts and many many drafts, we finally came to one common conclusion: Keep it vintage, make it zesty. You know what? I think we've got it!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Old Pubs Gone Thai- A London Specialty

One of the things that always struck me as a particularly London phenomenon, apart from the amount of beer people drink in the daytime, Gastropubs, the way some English girls have decided it will never be too cold to put on that miniskirt without tights (no less) and so on, was the amount of old English pubs turned into Thai restaurants in this town. I always thought to myself: this has got be the strangest combination of cultural opposites you could possibly imagine. But then it started to make sense. Who wouldn't want to sip on a pint of cold (Thai) beer while enjoying a good ol' plate of Pad Thai? It makes complete sense! No, it's genius! I guess for Thai restaurants, there was something to be said about localising your product. This is as local as it gets. Now in my opinion, there are only 3 Pubs turned Thai worth bringing up:

my favourite: The chicken pad thai

1- The Walmer Castle in Notting Hill- A gem of a pub on the adorable Ledbury Road, offering an eclectic and authentic Thai menu to eat in or to take away. It's definitely up there with my faves. Enjoy your crunchy spring rolls and sweet and vicious Thai Green Curry downstairs at the bar or upstairs in the restaurant's dining room. The summertime is the peak season for this joint as the outside tables lend an open opportunity for Neighborhooders to bask in the sunshine, eat, drink and mingle. What could be better?

2- Two Point in Marylebone- Crawford Street is where it all happens in the restaurant world. Well I'm just a big fan of Marylebone so give me Thai food in a special place like Two Point and I'm game. Chang beer and Singha Beer, both refreshingly exotic tasting beers are a great addition to one the cheapest dinners I've had in London, and one of the best at that.

3- Finally, Pu's Brasserie is the hot business spot for lunch, without the prices and without the lengthy waits. This place is for regulars only and you can tell solely by its extremely secret location. The Lincoln's Inn Fields right off Holborn is the perfect little dark alley for a fantastic Tom Kha Gai, prawn crackers and Pad Thai. The variety of Lunch Menus is a low budget alternative to a more pricey and less satisfying lunch at Pret. 


Friday, 15 January 2010

A Work (shop) of Art

Sometimes I forget how much Shoreditch has to offer. And that includes pretty much everything from restaurants, shops, cafes and art galleries. Ever been to White Cube in Hoxton Square? My favourite gallery- great featured artists, fantastic space. Love it. Shoreditch High Street is filled with street-side gems, Redchurch leads into Boundary Street, which in my mind, is one of the coolest East London side streets. Charlotte Street, dotted with cool vintage and retro boutiques is a like a strip of New York's Lower East Side. Lately, I have been staying away from Shoreditch. Too far. Too lazy. Call me a snob. Call me all those names you used to call your little brother when he gave you an unexpected wedgie.

Yesterday, I ventured out to Liverpool Street though, and strolling down from Bigshopsgate and onto Shoredtich high Street, I stumbled into Squint Furniture store. Not a typical furniture store I must say. The upstairs room is a gallery space, I guess with some pieces made in the recent days. The downstairs part is a combination of a show space and workshop space. Cool. In an effort to cover my camera from the curious eyes of the store keeper, I snapped picture after picture of these truly original bespoke pieces, made, not from scratch but nearly. Prices vary from £300 to £1500. Depends on the detail or size of the item. But the most important thing to know is that all pieces are made to order. You could almost call it a DIY project. Almost.

Mirrors, chandeliers, lamps and bedside tables, patchwork eye candy for everyone, but that's if you like the patchwork thing. I, myself, am a big fan. The craftsy combination of pieces of fabric jumbled together to make one large colourful truly one of a kind piece of cloth has always fascinated me. Now slap the whole thing on an antique sofa or chair. You've got a work of art. And if you don't dig the patchwork thing, it's pretty cool regardless. 

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

My Kind of Strip Bar

Who knew waxing could be anything but a chore? Strip Waxing Bar in Notting Hill is as sexy as it gets, and Victoria Beckam said so. And yeah, I'm an ex Spice Girl fan (I said EX!), so I tend to take everything VB says with arms and ears wide open. Ummmm....well, almost. 

Notting Hill is full of these little gems, whether you're on the Portobello side, the Bayswater side or event the Westbourne grove side, it's all there for the pleasure of your little eyes. This one had me quite curious at first, since looking into the window of this mysterious looking place, I hardly knew what to make of it. Firstly, because I didn't know what they sold, wax, underwear, S&M props and trinkets??? So I walked in, with a LondonZest attitude- that means open-minded and positive in case you didn't already know. I already felt at home.

I booked an appointment, waxing that is, not S&M. The menu was stupendously cheap, with a bikini wax starting from £22. Along with the many variations of different waxing jobs, you could choose your wax flavour. As a provencal chick, I went for the lavender, and I must say I didn't know whether to bring it home as a candle or let the lady do her job. Anyways, the decor was even more appealing. Per usual the boudoir wallpaper and backgrounds always win me over, so that was that. The candles everywhere, the lovely ladies, and the variety of sexy lingerie inside the boutique, from Stella McCartney, Elle McPherson, Hanky Pankies and La Perla, you will never go hungry for anything else. 

It's all there, the lingerie, the wax, the lovely scents, the experience. I wouldn't leave, so I booked my next appointment.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Tailors of Panama Hats

Anyone in the mood for some sun, raise your hand. It can get cold here in London, you know, and sometimes all you need is a little escape to somewhere deliciously sunny and tropical for all of your sorrows to get washed away. I say, we all at least pretend to go to the sun. It's the next best thing. So, in my efforts to browse the web for a cheap sunny vacation spot, I also happen to think of a couple places that might make this imaginary sunny vacation ultra special: the one and only Panama Hat.

I have developed  a secret obsession for this little straw thing.

For my male zesties, I have handpicked a few special places to head over to in order to look like the handsome man above. Yeah that's right. Now that's my kind of guy. The Panama-sporting, vacation going, supersmart grin-wearing, James Bond-playing kind of a guy. I'm looking to find me one of those. See if you can attempt this look by checking out these three fantastic Mayfair hatters:

Swaine Adeney Brigg on St James Street

 Bates Gentlemen’s Hatter on Jermyn Street

Lock and Co also on St James Street

These three hat shops are the first stop on your Holiday journey. It's inevitable, the Panama Hat must be acquired. Because the next step is: fly away!

Lady zesties, for us, there's always the smart Topshop option. Check out this adorable Panama, available now at your neighborhood Topshop for £20, and spread your wings to Bermuda, Bahamas, Key Largo and St Barths. Believe me, you'll fit right in.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Hey Elvis, Happy Birthday

Today (correction: tomorrow Jan 8) would have been Elvis Presley's 75th birthday. Think about that for a minute. Think about what the world would be like if the King of Rock were still alive. Let's not even start talking about the King of Pop not being around anymore, cuz that would open a whole new can of worms and today's not the day. Today we commemorate Mr Presley's rock n' roll. His sexy, smooth-like-honey voice, his unparalleled booty shake and his fine and mighty guitar stroke. His hair flip and his twist and shout. His way with women. The way he made Vegas come alive and the way he lit up the stage. Unfortunately the way he had with the bottle and the way he had with the junk food. Without Elvis being alive, we are a little less rock and a little less roll. We will never have another Elvis. 

For today's entry, I found it only appropriate to praise the King's music. And for that, my little karaoke gem find will do the trick just fine. Yeah that's right, karaoke. A few weeks ago, a group of girlfriends and I had the pleasure of hitting the mikes of Lucky Voice in Soho (or in Islington). We didn't know what hit us until we walked into the small and intimate "Lost in Translation" effect karaoke rooms where the tambourines, pink wigs and shiny microphones were waiting to be picked up by a couple of crazy singers with off-tune voices. It was an hour and half of pure bliss. Just make sure no one monopolizes the playlist and you'll be fine.

Here is a Top 5 Karaoke list of songs:

1. Hound Dog- by Mr Presley
2. Total Eclipse of the Heart- by Bonnie Tyler
3. My Sharonna- by The Knack 
4. Like a Prayer- by Madonna
5- Bohemian Rhapsody- by Queen

All song suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Soho Says: Veg Out, Eat Your Sprouts

Somewhere in my carnivorous lifestyle, I forgot to take a pause and enjoy veggie foods. Not because I dislike them, nor because I find them boring, but mostly because, in my effort to put into my body a balanced combination of nutritious vitamins, carbs and proteins, I always think that I have to put meat on my plate. I'm just a very very ignorant Vegetarian eater. If you were to ask me to name five foods, which sound like a veggie but actually fall into the protein category, I could name you one: nuts? And maybe beans. And, what about tofu? I actually happen to hate tofu. Actually hate is a strong word for something I find to have absolutely zero flavour. Though I have grown to the idea of shoving it into a veggie dish just for the protein factor. I am becoming more and more open minded to the veggie diet. Some say it's healthier, it's less murderous and surely, you want to believe all the theories about the veggie diet preventing against some types of cancer. I want to believe those theories. I really do.

So I accompanied a Veggie eater to this curious place in Soho, on Berwick Street, called Beatroot. It's not a particularly charming place. It almost feels like a fast-food joint. The colourful walls, chairs-attached-to-the-table, and minimalistic deco of the place are not particularly inviting. But, you do get a tremendously rich variety of veggie dishes, made from fresh produce and more than anything, made with veggie love. Their moussaka, dilled coleslaw, basil pasta and roasted veggies are like little slices of veggie heaven. 

These guys (creating, making and serving the food) are passionate about the diet, they speak highly of it, they really praise the veggie lifestyle. They don't look down on carnivores but they kind of want you to convert so they smile a lot, they bounce a lot and fill out your lunch boxes til your stomach can't take it anymore. 

That's a nice difference to most lunch places, where the lunch boxes are always only a third filled up. I hate that. Anyways, gotta go try out this place. Plus it's in the midst of Soho, on a surprisingly charming street, and it will make you feel like you're doing something good to your body. At least that once.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Bye Bye 2009- A Retrospective of My Fave London Discoveries

Happy New Year, zesties! This year is going to be a good one. I am so excited to get into gear and accelerate into this new year, better yet, into this new decade, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, where I have yet to discover many many new places, gems and secret spots. My New Years resolution: continue on my quest for London Zest. But first, let me recollect on my favourite London discoveries of 2009.

1. My fave neighborhood: Though I live and breathe the Notting Hill life, Farringdon was by far my best 2009 discovery. Quirky, industrial and cool, it offers some of the hippest London restaurants, cafes and boutiques. St John's for a good old British dinner, Modern Pantry for a funky North London breakfast and Quality Chop House for the most bizarre and out of the ordinary steak dinner.

The Modern Pantry, Farringdon

2. My fave brunch: Bistroteque in Bethnal Green/Shoreditch is always my back-up brunch alternative when I am looking for a little jiggy jiggy. The food is delicious, the scrambled eggs and mushrooms are mouthwatering and the avocado on toast has won me over big time, while the musical background provided by the extravagant and bizarro restaurant pianist have made me a usual at this hot Shoreditch spot.

Bistrotreque, Shoreditch

3. My fave shop: Aime on Ledbury Road is the hub of all the designers that are cool (and somewhat affordable) in my book: Isabel Marant, APC, Vanessa Bruno etc. It's a mystery the shop is always nearly empty, when it's just off of Notting Hill's hip and posh-laden Westbourne Grove.

Aime, Ledbury Road, Notting Hill

4. My fave shoe brand discovery: Bloch Ballet flats are the most comfortable, adorable and affordable ballet flat on the planet, available at Bloch in Covent Garden, Liberty's and Selfridges.

5. My fave jewelry store: Kabiri in Marylebone. I have not yet found an equally diverse jewelry store in London. This eclectic shop offers some of the most original, creative and wearable pieces.

Kabiri, Marylebone High Street

6. 2009: the year of the bicycle: Wandering down the streets of Islington, I discovered London's, better yet, Britain's, most beautiful bicycle shop, Bobbin Bicycles. In this gem of a jewelry box, I found my Christmas present, the vintage, the gorgeous, the one and only Gazelle bicycle.

7. London, the land of tea parties: Sketch Tea Parlour and Liberty's Tea Room have given me a new appreciation for Britain's staple beverage and favourite afternoon activity.

Sketch Tea Parlour

8. My fave open market: Borough, of course. No further explanation required.

9. My one and only lunch destination: Leon's on Carnaby, Canvey and Regent Street, organic fast food joint, has me addicted to their Superfood Salad, Beef Chili and Carrot Juice.

10. My fave Notting Hill discovery: All Saints Road, with the yummy and neighborhood find, Italian Ripe Tomato restaurant, and the sweet and lovely The Jacksons, the gem find of the year, with the coolest boots.