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

Go Visit: V&A – Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams

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When it comes to fashion exhibitions, living in Scotland often leaves me feeling a little out of the loop. Each year I devour the news and images of each Met Gala and following exhibition, often ordering the accompanying books so I feel like I’ve managed to enjoy at least a sliver of what’s on offer, and usually London’s fabulous V&A exhibition is the closest thing I can get to the hallowed halls of Fifth Avenue.

When they announced the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition, I couldn’t resist booking a trip down to see it. Dior has long been a favourite designer of mine – I grew up idolising the dreamy creations of John Galliano, and his couture collections plastered my walls at school.

Obviously, he left the house in disgrace, but I can’t help adoring his whimsical gowns which fall somewhere between dreams and costumes. Bold, brash and full of colour, seeing them in person was an absolute thrill, but it wasn’t the only highlight of the exhibition – which kicked off with the original New Look Bar Suit from 1947.

The exhibition followed the house’s fashion pretty much chronologically, and some of the first rooms, filled with coats and jackets from the 50s and 60s were absolute favourites. Displayed in stunning neon-lit black boxes, the focus was entirely on the clothes, and the sleek lines echoed those in the clothes.

Getting to see iconic gowns like Princess Margaret’s 1951 gown was a real treat. I just adore seeing pieces like this in the flesh, so getting to examine every inch of it was incredible. I just adored the attention to detail – like the star motif in the beading which you can still see in bags and accessories today.

Rooms like the one inspired by Versaille and the wardrobe of Marie Antoinette were an absolute dream to linger in. Dresses from the original Dior archive mixed with those by Galliano and Chiuri. I’m not going to lie – I spent an inordinate amount of time in the room, examining each ruffle and pleat in minute detail.

In addition to the influence of the court of Louis XVI, the global influence on Dior was examined. From Ancient Egypt to the plains of Latin America – all have a place here. Colours are vibrant and jewel-like, worn with abandon by mannequins.

Photos don’t do justice to the room inspired by flowers and blossoms. Again, original Dior designs sat side by side with more modern creations, and I absolutely adored seeing the same motifs appear on dresses decades apart, and the hand-crafted quality of many of the original Diors was absolutely darling.With blossoms cascading from the ceiling, this was the ultimate in whimsy.

 

The later galleries were a celebration of all things glamour and celebrity. With dresses worn by Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence, lights and music changed to create theatrics worthy of the Oscars themselves. It was glorious to linger in, letting the crowds whizz past as I enjoy the sheer beauty of my surroundings.

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It is important to note how popular the exhibition has been. When we visited it was verging on uncomfortably full, with a slow-moving wave of visitors methodically pausing at the alter of each gown. Honestly though, it was worth any hustle and bustle to enjoy, and I’m already planning a return trip. The exhibition runs until September 1st, and tickets are now completely sold out – but there is still a couple of ways to get in! Extra tickets will be released on the 15th July, whilst very limited tickets are available to purchase daily at 10am from the Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis; these tickets are for times throughout the day on that day only. If you don’t fancy trying your luck, you can also do what we opted for, and just buy a V&A membership. They’re £79 per person a year, and you can get in to any exhibition without booking or paying additional fees. You can also enjoy a discount at the gift shop, and have access to exclusive events. Not only this, but you’re also supporting one of the world’s finest museums, and really, who wouldn’t want to do that?!

Check In: The Strozzi Palace Boutique Suites by Mansley*

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When we were down south last month, we were so lucky to be invited to stay in two of by Mansley’s stunning apartment suites – 44 Curzon Street (full review here) and The Strozzi Palace Boutique Suites in Cheltenham. We had opted to stay in London first, and had planned to drive from the city through to Cheltenham early-ish on in the afternoon so we could fully enjoy what the town has to offer. Enterprise, however, had other ideas, so we actually ended up leaving London at 7pm, reaching the fabulous Strozzi Palace close to 10pm. Not ideal since we wanted to soak up every second of the place!

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Located right in the heart of Cheltenham, the Strozzi Palace Suites are a collection of six stunning residences only minute or so from the centre of town. With a fabulous Italianate Palazzo facade, the residences feel wonderfully opulent from the offset. The suites are also completely up-to-date, offering a virtual doorman meaning that even when we arrived later on in the evening, our check-in process was seamless.

A day or two before your stay, by Mansley text you your entrance code which acts as a key for both the exterior door and your room. This means that, if like us, you’re delayed or arriving later on in the evening, you don’t need to worry about letting anyone know – you just pop in your code, and you’re good to go!

We were staying in the stunning Milano suite. Located on the first floor, it was gloriously chic space, with large living space, fully equipped kitchen and cosy bedroom. We loved the slick ensuite, which was wonderfully modern, and kitted out with Gilchrist & Soames goodies.

We got to explore our suite further the next morning, and we were absolutely delighted with what we found. The living room, complete with beautiful cast iron fireplace was absolutely beautiful. With large television, comfy sofa, and enough room to spread out and relax.

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There was even a beautiful desk area which was perfect for setting up my laptop and powering through a few emails in the morning. What we loved, was how well thought out the apartment was – from the keyless entry (no cards to lose or break) through to little extras like a shopping bag left out for any groceries, to the continental breakfast in the fridge, by Mansley have created an apartment truly tailored to the modern traveller.

Whether you’re in Cheltenham for work or for leisure, make sure to check out the Strozzi Palace Suites – you’re going to love them!

Thank you so much to by Mansley for our stay – you can find out more about the Strozzi Palace Suites, and book your own stay here.

 

Go Visit: Pat McGrath Labs Mothership lands at Selfridges

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If you have even a fleeting interest in beauty, chances are Pat McGrath’s makeup line will be high on your Wishlist. I’ve been dying to try out the products since the iconic Face Kits launched back in 2015, but considering there hasn’t been a UK way to try before you buy, I’ve been hesitant to purchase, just in case I’ve picked the wrong shades.

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So, when I was down in London last month, I made my pilgrimage to Selfridges, where the Pat McGrath Mothership has landed. The installation will be in place until June, and even if you’re not a makeup junkie, it’s worth a visit. From the space-age window displays to the golden installation, it’s truly a sight to behold!

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The Mothership contains everything from makeup to lifestyle bits as well as some seriously luxurious fashion picks. When I popped in their were Tom Ford shoes for sale alongside specially commissioned chocolate coins, and you can even enjoy beauty treatments like manicures and makeovers.

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Obviously, I was there for the makeup. After playing around with some bits and pieces, I couldn’t resist picking up a selection of products – the Eyedols shadow in Celestial (£23 available here) which I reviewed here, as well as the Lust Lip Glass in Future Femme (£25 here) and Love Potion (£25 here). The whole experience was so fun – from getting to play with the makeup (I’m still dreaming about the Mothership Palettes and Skin Fetish highlighters) to experiencing the whole display – it’s a real must visit!

Checking In: by Mansley’s 44 Curzon Street*

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It had been literally years since I’d been in London. Considering I used to visit at least once a year, it felt long overdue, so when 44 Curzon Street got in touch to see if I’d like to visit, I absolutely jumped at the opportunity. Situated right in the heart of Mayfair, it is one of the most centrally located residences possible. It’s on the same street at the Saudi Arabian Embassy, so you know it’s incredibly safe too – a bonus if you’re travelling alone.

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The location also made it perfect if you’re after a base for a longer stay. When we were checking in, a fellow guest was actually extending their stay for a few weeks (which is always a good sign!) so we knew we were good hands! The building is divided into studio and one bedroom apartments, and there is an adorable vintage lift to use if you have mobility issues, or if you’re staying on a higher floor.

We were in apartment 4, which had been divided into twin beds, and offered prime people-watching views to the front of the street. Cleverly designed so that the bedroom overlooked the rear of the building, it meant nights were quiet, whilst the hustle of bustle was contained to the front of the property.

Having an additional sitting room was such a bonus during our stay. Not only was it beautifully decorated, but it was the perfect spot to relax, unwind and even catch up with a little work in. I loved starting the day with a coffee (the kitchen comes fully equipped with Nespresso machines and some capsules to start you off) and we enjoyed sitting in here in the evenings to unwind before heading out to supper.

Even if we hadn’t had supper plans, it wouldn’t have been an issue thanks to the apartment’s fully equipped kitchen which had everything from microwave to grill oven. We only had the time to enjoy some cheese and biscuits as a bit of an evening snack, but having cutlery, crockery and space to enjoy it in really did make all the difference.

What we absolutely loved about 44 Curzon Street was how homey the whole place was. Staying there felt like visiting a friend or relation – super cosy and very convenient. The concierge is available throughout the day, and can help with recommendations for where to go and what to visit during your stay, whilst the space and freedom of staying in an apartment was a real treat.

Since 44 Curzon Street is so well-located, getting out and about each morning was incredibly easy. The street directly outside of the apartments is pedestrianised, but we just headed up to Half Moon Street and always managed to grab one within a minute or so. It’s location in the heart of Mayfair is perfect if you’ve got some shopping planned – it’s under a mile away from Harrods and I strolled up to Selfridges within 15 minutes or so.

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As you can probably tell, we had an absolute ball staying at 44 Curzon Street, and have already recommended it to everyone who will listen. From it’s wonderful location, to the cosy interiors, it’s the perfect choice if you’re looking for where to stay in London – in fact, we’ve already discussed our return!

You can find out more about by Mansley’s 44 Curzon Street here.

 

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