A Taste of New Orleans with the US Consulate*

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It’s not every day that an email from the US Consulate pops into your inbox. Even rarer is one inviting you to brunch. Not quite sure what to expect, I headed over to the stunning Principal Officer’s Residence in the heart of leafy Edinburgh for a taste of New Orleans in the heart of Scotland.

As part of the Taste of America initiative, top US chef, Tory McPhail had travelled to the UK to introduce us to a true taste of New Orleans. Executive Chef at the iconic Commander’s Palace, and winner of 2013 James Beard Award Best Chef South, I don’t think that we could have been in better hands for the afternoon!

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After kicking things off by getting to learn about the Consulate’s role in US-Scotland relations, as well as a taster of Southern cuisine, we were treated to some milk punch. Called an ‘eye-opener’ when you’re brunching in ‘Nola’ and made up of bourbon, half and half (single cream in the UK) a splash of milk and grating of nutmeg, it was a delicious start to the proceedings.

Soon it was time to tuck-in, so we headed through to the dining room to try some of Tory’s signature dishes. As with all great chefs, Tory is a real champion of what’s fresh, what’s local and what’s in season, so rather incredibly, The Commander’s Palace menu changes daily, with even the recipes being tweaked each time! We were treated to a seafood starter, with a trio of seafood – salmon, lobster and caviar. Served on a warm blini with a grated duck egg, it was incredible – fresh, surprisingly light, and full of flavour, it paired perfectly with our champagne!

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With a beautiful open kitchen, we were able to snoop on proceedings – wondering what was coming next. It was absolutely mesmerising to watch Tory and Executive Chef Meg Bickford at work as they whipped, plated and served up at record speed.

Our main course was the stuff of dreams – the most tender pork had been rubbed with Creole spice, which gave it the perfect amount of peppery heat, and it was served alongside toast, melted brie, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, mushrooms and an absinthe vinaigrette. Indulgent doesn’t even begin to cover this dish – the rich hollandaise was the perfect foil to the heat from the pork, and the sharpness from the vinaigrette absolutely shone. Truly, I don’t think I’ve ever had a dish quite like it – and I’ve already attempted to replicate the pork at home. As we tucked in, we were able to discuss what life and eating is like in New Orleans with Tory and Meg, and it was so inspiring to hear about how they keep an iconic restaurant like the Commander’s Palace at the top of it’s game. Opened in 1880, it’s a landmark for the city and is regularly ranked as New Orleans top spot. It was fascinating to learn about dishes which are a real part of the Louisiana culture, like Turtle Soup and Jambalaya.

All too soon it was time for dessert, and honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an exciting preparation of pudding! The iconic Bananas Foster was on the menu, so the entire table headed through to the kitchen to see Meg and Tory at work!

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If you’ve never tried the dish (stop everything and try a classic recipe like this one), it’s an absolute riot. Bananas are sautéd in butter and brown sugar, and just when they reach a soft, pudding-y consistency, they’re flambéed with rum then served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can see how it all went down here.

The result is pretty much everything you want from comfort food – soft, sweet and deliciously rich – it really is the ultimate pudding!

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The afternoon finished with strong black coffees brought over from New Orleans – and they were the perfect pick-me-up after such an indulgent few hours. It was such a delight to meet Tory, Meg, Chief Officer Ellen Wong as well as everyone who attended. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that New Orleans is now topping the (rather long) list of holiday spots!

Thank you so much to the US Consulate in Edinburgh, Chief Officer Ellen Wong, Tory McPhail and Meg Bickford for having me, and educating me in all things New Orleans. You can find out more about the Commander’s Palace here

Try Out: Enjoying Wimbledon with M&S*

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When it comes to excuses to hold a party or a gathering, I don’t need a big one. I love prepping for friends to come round, and even though I’ve been super busy recently, M&S have made enjoying Wimbledon an absolute breeze with their summer goodies.

Obviously, when it comes to summer gatherings, especially those centred around tennis, it’s fun to keep a bit of a British theme going – so I’m loving their Victoria sponge and their Strawberry & Cornish Clotted Cream Cake.

With a rich, buttery, homemade taste, and a generous jam and buttercream filling, the Victoria sponge is perfect for summer purists. Served with a cup of tea – it’s the perfect accompaniment to an exciting match, or even as a dessert. I love is served alongside sliced berries and a dollop of Cornish Clotted cream.

The Strawberry & Cornish Clotted Cream Cake is an absolute show-stopper too! Affordable at only £3.50 for the entire thing, this cake is a glorious update on a classic.  Indulgent buttercream icing is swirled with strawberry jam on top of the Victoria sponge, meaning it looks as good as it tastes, and we’ve already earmarked this one to enjoy on Friday during the men’s final.

If you’re after something a little lighter – you can’t go wrong with the iconic strawberries and cream. This year, you can pick up M&S exclusive Red Diamond™ Strawberries which are their sweetest British strawberries. They’re absolutely delicious paired with the new pink gin cream (which has a rather delightful boozy kick) or with simple pouring cream.

As if a range of seasonal treats wasn’t enough – M&S have a bar-full of tinned cocktails, which are a snip at only £2 each. From Blackberry Gin Brambles, to classic G&Ts and Pina Coladas, you can indulge in a cocktail or two straight from the fridge. I’ve been loving the Think Pink Gin and Tonic and Raspberry Mojito for a refreshing summer drink!

Thank you so much to M&S for helping me to enjoy Wimbledon!

Eteaket Limited Edition Nettle & Petal Tea*

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When it comes to day-to-day living, for the past year or so, I’ve been pretty non-stop. From work, blogging and regular admin, it can feel like I don’t really have any time to switch off. Over the past few weeks I’ve really been trying to incorporate a little more self-care into my schedule.

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One of the easiest (and certainly most delicious) changes to my regime has been enjoying a cup of Eteaket’s new Limited Edition Nettle & Petal Loose Leaf Tea. If you’re from Edinburgh, you’ll know that Eteaket is one of the city’s icons – producing high quality teas which range from Matchas to your regular morning brew. They also work on customer feedback, producing limited editions, which is exactly where Nettle & Petal comes in.

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A mix of the brand’s much loved Chillaxin’ Chamomile with Nettle – this loose leaf tea is a perfect choice for evening sipping – and I’ve been enjoying a cup before bed most nights. Packaged in a gorgeous and sturdy cardboard tube, this would make a gorgeous addition to any gift hampers you might be planning, and it looks stunning in the kitchen cabinet too!

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As you can see – the tea couldn’t be purer. Unlike some supermarket brands, Eteaket’s offerings don’t bother with dusty fillers – instead this one if full of vibrant chamomile flowers and leafy nettles. From the moment you unwrap the leaves, you can smell the sweet, almost musky scent, and you only need a generous heaped teaspoon per cup.

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Eteaket very kindly popped a packet of their plastic-free, unbleached tea bags which you can fill yourself, and I’m kind of obsessed. Each night, I pop a teaspoon of the leaves in one of the bags, knot them, and then fill up with just-boiled water, and leave to steep for around five minutes. The resulting cup is wonderfully comforting – it’s a gentle flavour which doesn’t lean too floral or green. I love how it relaxing it feels to enjoy before heading to bed – chamomile promotes a better night’s sleep, whilst nettle has anti-inflammatory properties, so it leaves you feeling as good as it tastes!

Eteaket Nettle and Petal Tea is priced at £7.95 and is available here.

Book In: Jazz Nights at New Chapter*

Over the past couple of years, it feels like the standard of restaurants opening in Edinburgh has skyrocketed. It feels like there are new spots popping up all over the place, so obviously, my supper wish-list grows pretty much on a weekly basis. The New Chapter had been pretty high on the list – sister restaurant of Otro (event review here) I had heard great things about the spot, so when I was invited to enjoy one of their weekly Jazz Nights, I couldn’t resist!

Tucked into a quiet New Town street, the New Chapter restaurant feels like a real institution. Tables are clustered around an intimate dining room, with chandeliers twinkling and conversation bubbling up. Jazz nights are held each Wednesday evening, and when we visited, the clientele were a mix of couples enjoying date nights and families chatting away as Robert Pettigrew and Kenny Ellis performed some truly wonderful jazz.

The live music was absolutely glorious – and we heard pretty much every other diner remark at how lovely it was to enjoy such talent. We were no different – I’m not usually the biggest jazz aficionado, but the two gentlemen’s talent was so wonderful to enjoy! Since I wasn’t driving, I got to enjoy a cocktail, and opted for the New Chapter take on an espresso martini. Smooth and gloriously boozy, it was the perfect accompaniment to sip alongside the great music and delicious food.

New Chapter pride themselves on the seasonal produce championed by their menus, so we couldn’t resist ordering the Hand-dived Orkney scallops, warm pork belly & black pudding terrine, bacon broth & crushed celeriac (£14). The presentation of the dish was absolutely glorious, and the mix of sweet scallop, and salty pork belly was incredible.

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I was thrilled to see octopus on the menu, so opted for the Grilled Octopus, brandade mouse, chorizo with wild garlic emulsion and Amalfi Lemon Dressing (£9.50).

An absolute love song to summer produce, I absolutely loved this dish. The octopus was perfectly charred and almost buttery in texture. It worked well with the spicy chorizo, and the brandade mouse brought a light savoury note to the dish. As beautiful as it was tasty, this dish really highlighted the talent on offer at New Chapter.

We couldn’t resist the sound of 35 days dry-aged Ribeye steak from the Borders, lamb’s lettuce & peppercorn sauce (£23). Served medium-rare, the steak was perfection – both incredibly tender and flavourful. The peppery lambs lettuce and peppercorn sauce were a great match with the rich meat.

The steak also gave us the perfect opportunity to add a side – parmesan and truffle chips (£5) which were out of this world good. Super thick cut, the chips were crisp on the outside and deliciously fluffy on the inside. The truffle oil was delicately scented, and paired perfectly with the salty parmesan. I’m not going to lie, I probably enjoyed more than my fair share, but they were beyond tasty!

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Even though I’m not the biggest seafood person, I couldn’t resist the sound of Halibut, crispy confit potato, mussels, charred leeks, mussels & olive oil sauce (£25), and I’m so glad I chose something a little different from my usual, because honestly, I’m still dreaming of this dish.

The chefs at New Chapter really know their way around seafood, and this dish was perfection. The halibut was a perfect anchor for the dish. It sat on top of a mussel and olive oil sauce which I could have eaten like a soup, and the mussels were perched on top like little tasty jewels. The charred leeks gave a delicious hit of flavour and colour, whilst the confit potato was absolute perfection – all crisp exterior and clouds of potato on the inside.

Even though we were more than full after enjoying such glorious dishes, we couldn’t resist a little dessert to round off the evening. We settled on the Caramelised apple terrine, calvados creme & apple sorbet (£7) first. Something between an apple pie, mille fuille and crumble, it was absolutely divine. The calvados creme was boozy enough to give the dish a kick, whilst the apple was fresh and zesty.

I opted for the rather indulgent Chocolate cremeux, mango, sea buckthorn curd, mango & yoghurt sorbet (£7.95) since I can’t pass by the mention of sea buckthorn without trying a little. It was a glorious end to the evening – the rich chocolate cremeux was silky smooth, and the mango and sea buckthorn gave the dish a lightness which stopped it from all feeling like a bit too much.

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As you can probably tell, we had an absolutely wonderful time at the New Chapter Jazz Night, and have been recommending it to pretty much every person I come into contact with. The music of Robert Pettigrew on piano and Kenny Ellis on bass was an absolute treat to enjoy, and the service we received was truly second to none.

Thank you so much to New Chapter for having us – you can find out more about the restaurant here.

Dinner at Royal China Club London*

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When you’re visiting a place it can be hard to decide where to go eat. Do you go and visit old faithfuls and hope they are as good as the last time, try out somewhere recommended by friends, or go somewhere completely new? We opted for the latter, and when the Royal China Club got in touch to see if we’re like to enjoy supper with them, we absolutely jumped at the chance!

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One of six locations dotted throughout the capital, we headed to the Baker Street restaurant for supper on a rainy Monday, and we were absolutely blown away. The restaurant is an absolute Tardis, with the rear opening out to reveal a huge dining room, decorated with chic lacquered walls. It’s known for some of London’s best dim sum (we found this out after visiting) and although it was probably half-full when we arrived at 7pm, it was soon absolutely packed with a mix of tourists and locals, business men, families and couples, all enjoying some seriously impressive food.

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To start, we opted to share a 1/2 Crispy Duck (£28.80) which came served with hoisin sauce, pancakes, shredded spring onion and cucumber. Truly, it set the tone for the evening – coming to the table steaming, it was shredded in front of us, and we tucked in with gusto.

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Full of flavour, with tender meat and crisp skin, we both agreed. it was the best duck we’d tried in a very long time.  The portion was generous, and could have easily been a main for the both of us. Since we’d been up since 3am that morning, happily, we were ravenous, so polished off the whole thing.

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When it came to choosing our main courses, we were truly spoiled for choice. From traditional dishes to the Uber-luxurious (think abalone and king prawns) it’s a menu which will please everyone – we were even impressed by how many vegetarian options there were. The first of the main courses we settled on with the Sautéed Beef with Oyster Sauce (£15.80) which came sizzling to the table.

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Slices of tender beef were marinated in oyster sauce, and the accompanying mushrooms were absolutely divine. Super savoury in flavour, and absolutely delicious served alongside a generous bowl of fluffy rice. We definitely over-ordered on the rice front – although absolute perfection, two or three people could easily have enjoyed a portion.

I couldn’t resist opting for the Lemon Chicken (£12.80) and I’m so glad I did. It was absolutely incredible – the chick was perfection: moist in the middle with a crisp coating, it was covered in an absolutely divine lemon sauce with was equal parts sweet and sour. This was serious comfort food, and I pretty much polished the plate off single-handedly.

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From the restaurant itself, to the staff and the food, our evening was absolutely flawless, and we’re already plotting a return trip!

Thank you so much the Royal China Club for having us, you can see the whole menu here.

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