Wednesday, 23 June 2010

On Those Summer Nights

It's not that I'm a night junkie and that I'm one of the those girls who's out on the town every night. I'm not one to party hardy. Not at all. On the contrary, I've been much more of a homebody since living in London than I've ever been; and that has suited me somewhat. Perhaps because I'm a little older and I've been there. You know, done that. Perhaps because recuperating from a rough night is not as easy as it used to be. You feel me? I'm not so keen on those Sunday hangovers anymore, especially when they have the tendency to drag on through to the following Wednesday. I'm also not so keen on waiting in a queue to enter a members' club-only-"hotspot" just so I can say I "got in" and end up coming right out one hour later. These places are, might I say, a little too tired for my taste. I guess I've become a bit of a nightlife snob. Not because I like it posh, but because I like it comfortable and easy. But wait a minute, is that really too hard to ask?

Last weekend was my first encounter with real London nightlife. I know, sad. Forget about the Boujis', the Maddoxes and the Cuckoos of the world. The Paradise in Kilburn is where it all happens. It's the hidden treasure of London nightlife. Don't be fooled by its fanciful name, The Paradise is not a gentleman's club and it's not where your Granny plays Bingo. The Paradise is the real Londoner's night piece of heaven. Though decadent by nature, with its sexy crowds, hanging taxidermy and velvety sofas, The Paradise is nothing but an old-school place for a fun-filled night out with friends. 

Competing at the same level as the high and mighty Shoreditch scene, Kilburn's night gem is the latest hot place to be seen at. With the best DJs in the West part of London playing 80s retro hits and 90s funky tunes, several floors to discover, a delicious gastropub serving some classics with a twist and two outdoor gardens, you won't find a better venue to enjoy those endless summer nights.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Back to the Retro Future

I'm normally not such a huge fan of the old rancid smell of vintage shops. It's nauseating. At times, completely repulsive and a huge deterrent in my ability to enjoy my time browsing through the racks of a shop. But my last visit to a certain vintage boutique made me feel quite open-minded about the whole experience. Yes, the smell of old clothes somewhat permeated the air above and around me, but taking it all in, I was more impressed by the quality of the garments than overwhelmed by the sweet smell of old clothing. Plus, it's always a nice surprise to leave a shop in London with only £40 less in your bank account.

Pinch your nostrils no more, zesties, as I am talking about London/Stockholm's one and only Beyond Retro, located in the West End and Brick Lane: the magical kingdom of retro shopping, and the best place to find a special something for a special occasion. Lately I've had quite a thing for vintage boots. I'm a big sucker for cool, riding-style boots, and I'm all about the summer dress-fall footwear combination. Check these out, for £35 or less.

Speaking of summer dresses, lately, and I don't know about you, I've been really eager to whip out that flowery summer dress from the dark corners of my closet. It's been just a tad too prickly outside though, and I haven't mustered up the courage or warm blood to slap one on. Here is an example of a summer dress, for less than £30, that will take you straight to the outdoors of California just by wearing it. Summer barbecue coming up, anyone? A chilled Margarita please, and some Mamas and the Papas as background music.

I've also experienced a sudden urge to acquire one of those awesomely cool felt hats - one with a feather sticking out from a silk ribbon on one side. The Bavarian-style one. Or just a simple English-style one like this one below. Gotta love the Alexa Chungness of this gorgeous piece of head-wear.

That's just it, isn't it? Alexa Chung shops here! Or does she? If not, does she even know that there are about a trillion denim shirts to choose from in this uniquely cool retro boutique? And that once you've got a denim shirt, well you pretty much got yourself an outfit. Oh, but smack something else on your toosh than a pair of leggings, please I beg you. There is nothing less sexy than a girl in just leggings.  Check out the rack on that girl! (or lack there of).

I mean, check out the denim shirts on that rack!

Beyond Retro - Vintage Shop
110-112 Cheshire Street, London E2 6EJ
58-59 Great Marlborough Street, W1F 7JY

Monday, 14 June 2010

The London Gelato Fan Club

I have decided to change my blog name to London Gelato Fan Club. Just kidding. No, seriously though. London has a number of things at your disposal, but one thing it lacks in is a half-decent gelateria. I should start a fan club. A place, where like-minded gelato aficionados like myself can gather around and discuss the latest gelato spots of London. Serious topics deserve fan clubs. Like football, cheese and musicians, gelato deserves a Facebook page too. And if there already is one, let me know and I want in. I have had a special thing for gelato ever since living in Rome a few years ago, but I haven't found an equivalent since arriving in London. I've missed a good double scoop of gelato. Back in Rome, almost daily, I would wander down the streets aimlessly, feeling the sunshine on my shoulders, hungry for the sweet kiss of an ice cream cone. Weirdly enough, I have always found the sensation of biting into a rich and creamy scoop of straciatella ice cream to be equally as satisfying as a first kiss. And like kissing, gelato tastes even better when it's the first in a while.

So hold onto your chair, Zesties, as I have had the pleasure of smacking my lips onto one of London's best gelatos, and one of the shops happens to be right around the corner from my flat! Gelato Mio, the ultimate and authentic Italian gelateria, is actually spread four ways throughout West London, and is conveniently located in Notting Hill/Holland Park, St Johns Wood and Fulham. They offer fantastic and original flavours from nutella and caramel, to melon and tiramisu. 

There is something there for everyone, even the football fans! Check out their website or go visit the parlour for a sneek peak at the national teams' flavours, with Italy being represented by Olive Oil, France by Goat Cheese, Brazil by Caipirinha and England by Pimm's! Not sure how I feel about the goat cheese ice cream, but you've gotta applaud the Italians for their creativity and their talent with producing delicious things.

Gelato Mio
138 Holland Park Avenue, Notting Hill
37 Pembridge Road, Notting Hill
138 St. John's Wood High Street, St John's Wood
495 Fulham Palace Road, Fulham

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

London's Secret Garden

With all of that city chaos and noise that we surround ourselves with daily, it's important to find a moment of peace and quiet somewhere in our busy schedules.  Personally, I find that when I get caught up in the moment of working, planning, organizing and living my life, I forget to breathe and I choke. So I step out of the zone. Yoga and pilates help, sure. But then again, in order to even participate in these so-called "meditative activities," I am constantly planning ahead too. What with booking everything in the diary and ensuring that nothing overlaps, even those relaxing moments of my day require a minimum of organization. It's a mind game of fake relaxation. Your brain tricks you into believing that you are taking time off. But actually, it's all a big fat lie. Sometimes, I must admit, I can't catch a break. I am living too fast.

For all of you who suffer from the fast life and the syndromes of fake relaxation, it's time to step out of the zone and find yourself a secret garden. I have mine. While it is no hidden gem to most Londoners, it definitely is a secret garden of sorts. Kensington Gardens is, by way of being perfectly groomed and elegant, the epitome of English gardens. And because I am accustomed to French gardens, which are notoriously messy, I kind of like myself a haven of pure perfection and serenity - English style. So just plop yourself down on a bench and take in the tranquility of nature, flowers dancing in the wind and birds chirping summer tunes. Take a deep breath and forget about the forsaken diary. It's just paper dictating your life. Now think about where the paper comes from. Trees, nature. That is what you cannot live without. Think about that.

Then, because you've done enough sitting and staring at grass grow, head over to the Orangery for a cuppa tea and scones. Take a seat outside on the terrasse under a parasol and sip slow. Eat slow. Maybe one day, you'll learn to live slow too.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Travel Cookie - the Best Way to Start Your Holiday

I was raised in a home, where cooking and food were a big part of our lives. And we ate meals together. We enjoyed our meals as a family around the dinner table. Much of these food traditions meant that we also were encouraged, growing up, to discuss a topic of a certain level of importance around the dinner table. So that's what we did. We ate and we discussed. And we laughed some. We filled the air with serious and not so serious conversations - about school, politics, philosophy, art. I have fond memories of these family meals. They stuck with me somehow. Sometimes the smell of freshly cooked langoustines dipped in mayonnaise wafts right beneath my nose and I can see myself chatting about De Gaulle and WW2 in my little summer dress ate age 15, my legs propped up on the chair. However, while I truly enjoyed these precious family moments, my favourite moments were spent sitting on top of the kitchen island, baking CCCs with my mother. Chocolate Chip Cookies were the weekend treat for all of us. But baking them was quality time for my mom and me. So yes, I have to admit, my standards for CCC baking are unexpectedly high. When I think CCC, I think Magic.

Moving on slightly from the family topic, but still very much on the cookie topic, I tried a CCC yesterday that would make your little mouths water from jealousy and glutony. I call it the Travel Cookie. They're actually called Millies Cookies and you'll find the bake shop at most train stations.

And while I rarely take the train, there is one time when I do - when I am off to Paddington and Victoria en route to Gatwick and Heathrow. Final destination: ding ding, baby. So, may I introduce to you, one of the best cookies I have bit into and chewed on since my arrival in London. The fantastic, the mouth-watering, the delicious Millies Chocolate Chip Cookie. And for those who are feeling adventurous, the chip flavours vary from lemon meringue and raspberry to caramel and butterscotch. Too much, too good. But a great way to start the holiday.

Millies Cookies
Available at most London Train Stations
Including Victoria, Paddington, Waterloo, London Bridge, Liverpool Street
and also sold nationwide

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

A Little Bit of Paris Zest

Paris is just as amazing as everyone says. After returning from a mini break in the city of Love, I can confidently make the claim that Paris is the most magical city in the world. Don't get me wrong, London is my new home and I have embraced it as the new city of my heart. But Paris oozes class and elegance. It is the hub of all that is fashion, art and food. There is no point in denying it. Paris is simply put, the one and only capital of cool. And the more I return, the more I play around with the idea that I might eventually move there to live. I'm consistently charmed by Paris. Overwhelmed by all of its quirks, weirdnesses and character flaws. And because Paris is so full of flaws, I love it. Because Paris is so full of flaws, and I accept myself as a flawed French American girl, I can't help but daydream about a future life within its beautiful city walls. This is why, after much thought and consideration, I have decided to put a list together that would summarize, in a typically London Zest Top 10 fashion, my favourite zesty activities and spots in the future city of my heart, Paris.

1. For an all around fantastic shopping experience: Le Bon Marche has everything to offer, from cosmetics and menswear, to high end designers and a fantastic selection of ladies pret a porter. Vanessa Bruno, APC, Maje, Sandro and Tsumori Chisato, the racks of this 19th century monument offer an exciting array of contemporary fashion.

Le Bon Marche, Rue de Sevres, 6eme Arrondissement

2. For some fancy food shopping: if you're a bourgeois lady heading to the shops to prepare for a dinner party in your Haussman style palace apartment, then you'll probably love to come to La Grande Epicerie inside Le Bon Marche, for your foie gras and epicerie items. It truly is Alibaba's cave when it comes to the delicacies a gourmet supermarket can offer.

La Grande Epicerie, Rue de Sevres, 6eme Arrondissement

3. For some uber-cool neighborhood boutique shopping: visit le Marais, 3e arrondissement. As usual it started all with the gays. It turns out, it is now the hippest shopping neighborhood in Paris. You'll find the upmarket labels like Isabel Marant (my fave!) and you'll also spot some reasonably priced quirky shoe boutiques like Mellow Yellow.

Isabel Marant, Rue Debelleyme, 3eme Arrondissement

4. For the best rose and people watching: La Palette is the epitome of Parisien bobo (bourgeois boheme) style, elegance and nostalgia, where The APC-clad youngsters and hipsters circle and dot this perfectly sectioned terrasse of the super hip 6eme arrondissement.

 La Palette, Rue de Seine, 6eme Arrondissment

5. For a scrumpscious "burgers and hipsters" combo: also located in Le Marais 3eme arrondissement, Cafe Charlot houses the best burgers in town if you're feeling like being kooky in the homeland of Coq au Vin and Poulet Frites. Order it with a side of freaking good looking people, dressed to impress the crowds of this delightful little cafe.

 Cafe Charlot, Rue de Bretagne, 3eme Arrondissment

6. For the best new hip restaurant to be and be seen: Le Derriere has "Cool New Hot Spot" written all over it. Industrially chic and fantastifally fashionable, this place loosely translated into "The Bottom (or behind)" is not only a fun people-watching venue but it also guarantees an ecclectic variety of fusion French dishes mixed with traditional fare. Un vrai delice is all I can say. Also, while you're there, don't forget to check outt he room behind the closet upstairs. Secrets are coveted in this mysterious little fumoir area.

Le Derriere, Rue des Gravilliers,  3eme Arrondissement

7. For some Paris by night: Le Curio Parlor is reminiscent of New York's Lower East Side Freeman's restaurant and bar. Taxidermy is not the only strange element you'll find in the curious parlour-type venue. Aside from stuffed foxes and pheasants hanging from the walls, you'll relish on some eccentric cocktails recipes and eye-poppingly gorgeous locals.

Curio Parlor, Rue des Bernardins, 5eme Arrondissment

8. For the best cheap eats: Situated smack in the middle of the Jewish quarter of Le Marais, L'As du Falafel has been a go-to favourite cheap-eats location of mine for years and I always recommend it to Paris visitors, looking for a bit of exotic food in their Parisien diet. This is by far the best falafel I've ever tasted. Try the Shwarma as well. While your breath will suffer for hours on end, the moment you bite into this little package of paradise, your mind will draw a blank as to where you even live.

L'As du Falafel, Rue des Rosiers, 3eme Arrondissement

9. For some tea and macaroons Parisien style: La Duree in Saint Germain des Pres, has been on my Top 10 list for a while. I'm a caramel macaroon fan and La Duree is the only answer to my sweet afternoon cravings.

La Duree, Rue Jacob, 6eme Arrondissement

10. For an afternoon nap in the sun: La Places des Vosges is in my mind, the most beautifully quaint slice of Parisien paradise. Lay yourself down with a novel in hand and doze off into a deep sleep under the warm Spring sun.

Place des Vosges, 3eme Arrondissement