A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

The Wildflower Cafe, Westbourne Grove

The Wildflower Cafe is the perfect spot for a first date.
Boys take note: if you want to appeal to her romantic side, this quirky little place will show how thoughtful and off the grid, you are.
If the lady likes to see and be seen in poshy-woshy surroundings, stop reading now.
But if she openly admits that she likes good food (as she should), make a reservation! 


As the name reveals, the Café looks more of a flower shop on the outside, with buckets full of colourful flowers covering the purple façade. I had to look twice to make sure we were at the right place before going in.
Inside it's cosy, with mis-matched furniture and little cute details; flowers in teapots and vases, pots and plates all stacked next to each other - good conversation starters.
The lights are soft and little candles give that extra glow to each table, so you'll soon find yourselves leaning in to talk to each other.
 
We were not on a first date off course, we were there with friends, but this place made us all feel very comfortable and relaxed on a Saturday evening.


The best feature is the new evening menu. I proclaimed that I could have absolutely everything on there, it all sounded so great, kind of what your friends would cook if they invited you around for a dinner party! And although I am not a dessert person, I was very keen to try the Wildflower meringue with passion & lime curd.
 
In the end I had the pan-fried sea bass with baby carrots, cauliflower pure and new potatoes. It was cooked to perfection, with lovely buttery aftertaste. Oh, and get the twice cooked fries as a side, they are really fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside, simple, yummy & effective!
My chatty husband had the saddle of lamb, stuffed with apricots and pinenuts and when he went quite for a while, we knew he was really enjoying his food!
 
This is not going to be a long post, because I do not have much more to say other than... the food at the Wildflower Café is fresh and delicious, with the attention to detail that you would get in a big restaurant but with no-fuss surroundings that will allow you to actually enjoy your food!


All mains are around £12-£15, which is very reasonably priced, considering the area and the actual quality of the ingredients.
So our next mission is to go try their brunch menu on a weekend, if you beat us to the punch let us know!
 

Roadtrip to Champagne : Hautvillers, Epernay & The Grand Crus villages

Finally sunshine!
The weather hadn't been very kind to us this time around, throughout our drive  from Paris. On rainy days you head to the Champagne House caves off course, they're underground and come with bubbles at the end of each visit.
But on sunny days get on the road and enjoy the rolling hills around the South of Reims!


Hautvillers is on the top of a hill, covered with vineyards. Make it your one village to visit, it's such a feel-good place.
Driving up the hills, go slow so you can spot little white stones marking each Champagne House's territory. We spotted Moet & Taittinger around here.
 

The village itself is the cutest thing.
Traditional houses, flowers and colourful shutters make up a doll-like environment. Houses have iron signs hanging above the front doors, to show what the residents used to do...a baker, an ironmonger, look around there are great little details to reveal the history of this place.
Here you'll also have the chance to visit some smaller producers, some of whom have the same ratings for their Campaigns as the big famous houses do. Pop into the Tourist Office for info, right opposite the central square.
There is a car-park right at the bottom of the village, so on summer days you'd better park there and walk your way through the village.
 
Look around for Champagne tasting places, there is Le Café d'Hautvillers, on the main square with a local pub-like environment and massive courtyard to  sit and enjoy the sunshine at. Down rue Dom Perignon there is Au 36, a tiny modern champagne tasting place, where you can also try local delicacies if you call them in advance and make a booking. Their little courtyard is adorable and always packed, so you want to make that call!


Prime destination: Abbey St Pierre, where Dom Perignon is buried.
Did you kow he was a monk?
A cellerar-bursar actually (that's just fancy talk for "chief of wines" really). He is said to have invented the fermentation-in-the-bottle process simply by using beeswax to make bottles watertight. But what is wonderful is that he started blending different grape varieties, sourced from different locations around Champagne to produce a cuvee according to his taste. Now that's a fun job!


The Abbey is surrounded by flowers and trees, hence walking up to it was like a little parcel of surprises with the sun twinkling in-between the tree leaves and the Abbey revealing itself with every step.
The interior of the Abbey is so peaceful. Nothing fancy, whitewashed walls and reddish mosaic floors make it very earthy and approachable.
It was Easter Sunday so we lit a candle and sat there for a minute. How often do you have absolute quite in your life? Usually religious places are sombre and dark, this Abbey though was full of sunshine, thanks to the massive arched windows behind the altar, bare walls and rustic old chairs, made you feel at ease.


On to Epernay! How cool is this: Avenue de Champagne, a spit-spot, tree-lined boulevard with impressive Champagne Houses one next to the other! Moet & Chandon is closed until October 2015 so again pop into the tourism office for a quick roundup of what's available. Right at the end of the boulevard you'll find the impressive tower of Champagne de Castellane. Maybe not the most famous out of the lot, but a very impressive place to visit nevertheless, with old-world charm interiors, art deco staircases and famous chalk caves.
 
Hand on heart, after Hautvillerss we didn't find Epernay that exciting, we wanted to get out in the countryside again. You have two choices: You can either board on the river boat for a 4 hour sail to Chateau Thierry & back, or you can drive through the scenic route of the Grand Crus villages to the lighthouse of Verzenay. No it's not on the seaside, or on the river for that matter, you'll see...
Even without navigation, the route is signposted the whole way, so you won't get lost.


What are the Grand Crus villages?
Well, picking up from my Dom Perignon story, every champagne is still a mixture of chardonnay and pinot noire grapes, from different plots around the region. The best quality grapes come from certain village vineyards, these villages have the "Grand Crus" status and are the priciest vines to purchase. The area is hillier than you think, so prepare for a good two hour drive through tiny little villages and a sea of vineyards.
Bouzy (I know, what are the chances for such an "appropriate" name?) is a stronghold of the Vranken-Pommery House, you'll see a lot of the field marked by the little white stones with the Pommery name on them.  In Tours-sur-Marne you'll find the Laurent Perrier House which is quite special place to visit on your champagne quest, because they have switched from the classic chalk underground caves to stainless steel tanks, still underground, very sleek and futuristic though.


Verzenay is the end of the route with its' lighthouse guarding over hectares of vineyards.  It also has a Grand Crus status so make sure you get some bottles from local producers, you won't regret it! We bought 3 bottles of rose champagne for a whooping 50 euros in total! Not bad going hey?
 
Stretch your legs with a brief walk to the lighthouse, the views over the area are amazing and entrance is free. The vines hadn't blossomed yet, hence you want to wait and visit the region from May to September, when they are in full swing, a sea of green and earthy reddish-brown!
A note on driving around the villages: no petrol stations, be prepared!
 

The prize of driving around for so long is an early evening visit to the Perching Bar. This is brilliant: a bar in a treehouse, in the forest, where you can taste champagne, off course!
 

Roadtrip to Champagne, Pitstop: Saint Germain des Prés, Paris

We decided to take a detour from our Easter weekend drive through the Champagne Region and stop in Paris for the first night. 

Since we've been to Paris so many times before, we didn't really want to see anything in particular, so I picked for us to stay in St Germain des Prés, the area just off Musee d'Orsay on the left bank. 
The good thing about this place is that once you park your car (car park in Boulevard St Germain, 34 euros for the day) you can walk everywhere and you don't even have to go anywhere else for a good 24 hours. Everything you need is within arm's reach.

Pont Neuf from the left bank

Our hotel, Hotel Verneuil on Rue Verneuil was a great little base. (check availability)
Tucked away in one of the smaller streets, it's a dimly lit townhouse with panelled walls and chic furnishings. 
It's great for a night or two, but remember as a true boutique hotel it's so petit that the only common area is the lounge, with grey-panelled walls, a fireplace and lush velvet sofas. 
The rooms are very cute too, with exposed beams throughout, even in the bathrooms. They are all painted and decorated in shades of grey with art deco touches here and there - heaven. 
Make sure you know your partner well before choosing this hotel though, or at least expect to get to know him or her very well after spending time in such an intimate space!
You do get free local calls with your room and free calls to all European landlines believe it or not; it comes in handy when you are trying to make reservations for dinner etc. Wi-Fi is free too, off course. The strong point of Hotel Verneuil is location, how so? read on...

http://bit.ly/1ndg6WT
http://bit.ly/1ndg6WT

We left home early in the morning, caught the 7:30 ferry to Calais and arrived in Paris around 1 o'clock,  just in time for lunch! 

We opted for the ever so popular Les Deux Magots for lunch.  It was the easy choice in the rain, just two blocks from the hotel and with famous patrons like Sartre, Picasso & Hemingway you just have to try it, right? 

Well, it's certainly got that old charm inside with wooden panelling, high ceilings and waiters still dressed in their black and white suits, seemingly running around in a constant hurry. And if people-watching is your favourite sport then pick an outside spot. But we shortly after regretted it, having taken a walk through the neighbourhood. 



If you absolutely must sit and watch people go by at Les Deux Magots, or Cafe de Flore for that matter, just grab a coffee or a quick drink. Don't bother with the food. It's not bad, but it's not anything special either, especially at these prices. 
Do bother with desserts. We ordered three between the two of us, hey hey no judging please, I told you we had been driving since 5 in the morning! Try the deuxmille-millefeuille, sourced by the famous Pierre Herme boutique down the road, hazelnut cream in-between two thousand - apparently - layers of sweet and crunchy pastry. 

Yes, off course I needed a Cognac grog along with my coffee to keep my arteries moving after that;  it seemed to have worked!  
 

Just behind the Deux Maggot you'll find Zinc, a Belle Époque brasserie that serves seafood and oysters. Alternatively, on Rue du Bac there is L'Ancienne, a classy brassiere that locals frequent, where you get the occasional cigar smoker sitting outside, in a much quieter setting and no hyped up tourists. 

For a drinkie pop into the Bar at Hotel Bel Ami on Rue St Benoit. Snuggle in one of those transparent baubles swaying from the lobby ceiling and let the world go by...

Left: Early morning walk down Ile de la Cité. Right: Art Deco street setting at Zinc.

The next morning, just around the corner from Hotel Verneuil - literally - just a left outside the hotel and then a right on Rue des Peres, we found ourselves at a "secret Paris" spot, for brunch, thanks to my new Paris blogger-crush "Messy Nessy". 
 
In-between a Tobacco shop and an Antiques shop opens a doorway...step in: it leads to a courtyard, then another doorway opens that leads to a second courtyard, where you'll see the whimsical entrance of "13, A Baker's Dozen"
 
It's a hole in the wall, decorated in kitsch chic style and everybody (E-VE-RY-BO-DY) is greeted with "heeey, how are you doing?" as soon as the door opens. The owner is a chirpy American from Charlotte Carolina, who makes sure that everybody gets properly fed and happily stuffed, while they're there. 


The best thing is the menu: you can have French Toast with Southern non-fried fried chicken and gravy! Sounds a bit much for breakfast? 

Well, go for the "Fancy Brunch" deal then...at 21 euros you get a coffee, a fresh juice concoction of oranges, apples, carrots, ginger and red peppers and a main of your choice. I went for the eggs with mushrooms and ham alongside buttermilk southern biscuits. What a revelation! Those biscuits are fluffy, savoury scones, essentially. Sooo good alongside runny eggs and thickly sliced ham. 

My husband went for the omelette option, which looked great and puffy, almost like a soufflé but unfortunately was a bit dry, so we swapped plates. The omelette came with this little green salad though, dressed in sweet honey and was bejewelled with gojie berries and apple pieces. I'll be trying that at home! 

It's a small, intimate place and I was lucky to get there just after 10 o'clock, so it was empty. The owner said to me, "I know it doesn't look like it, but we are really busy" she wasn't lying, in 15 minutes there wasn't a single empty seat in the house! 
It's one of those places guaranteed to make you happy, there's chit chat all around and unusual food choices that will cheer you up! 

If you must get your shopping fix on, across from Les Deux Magots you'll find yourself on the top of Rue Bonaparte and Rue de Rennes. Anything from Zara to Max Mara, to the Pierre Hermé boutique and local jewellery shops is right there.
And don't forget to pop into one of the Parisian Pharmacies to stock up on cosmetics. See, I usually opt for Avène products, because they are perfect for sensitive skin but this place on the corner of Rue Bonaparte & Rue du Four was full of options from similar laboratories, at a fraction of the price you get in the UK. 
And you've had enough of shopping pop into Ralph's for a spot of lunch. Ralph Lauren's magic little Parisian garden, for sunny days in the city.
 

Just before we left for Reims, we popped into Boutique Acide Macaron, a super sleek showcase of macaroons in Rue du Bac.
A box of 13 will set you back 24 euros but you get to pick between salted caramel, coconut milk and poppy seeds, Sicilian citron, green tea & mint and bubblegum, amongst others.
 
We saved them for later, not knowing when would be a good time to taste these precious little gems. We ended up cracking the box open at the Pommery Champaigne House, after our champagne tasting because we were starving, it was meant to be!  


Favourite moment: early Saturday morning walk on the left bank of the Seine, with nobody around. Just a block away from the hotel lies Pont des Arts with all of its lovers' locks and a passage straight to the Louvre. 
 
But I carried on, I wanted to walk the streets of Ile de la Cité, it reminds me of a 17th century postcard... until you get closer to Notre Dame, where even at 9:30 in the morning crowds of tourists were gathering... I turned right and went to meet my husband for breakfast at our whimsical "secret Paris" spot instead...

The arches around the magnificent square & buildings of Place des Vosges. 

ps: A note on the driving from Calais business; the tolls have become rather hefty, 32 euros to be precise, so make sure you have some money with you or be prepared to put it on the card.

The Restaurant at Tate Modern

There is a certain "je ne sais quoi" that comes with trying to obtain reservations in fancy-shmancy restaurants, with long waiting lists.
In London, places with a view like Oblix or Sushi Samba always come on top of the list. 
Although they are not my first choice for a night out any more,  truth is that occasionally, they make you feel a bit special. Like you have gained access to a private club.

Well, I'll let you into a little secret: the restaurant at Tate Modern offers that special feeling too, minus the waiting list kerfuffle.
In other words, once you come out of the lift on Level 6, turn right and stop. Breath and take the landscape in: uninterrupted  views of St Paul's dome, framed by the river and the Millennium Bridge.
 


I'll repeat, it's free and there is no waiting list.
I took a girlfriend of mine there on a Sunday for lunch, taking our chances to find a spot in the restaurant. The bar was rammed, it's the cheap and easy choice to enjoy the view over a quick espresso. Well, maybe a glass of wine too...

We were actually really lucky to spot a table right by the windows, so we camped there for the next two and a half hours. It gets full at lunchtime but if you are prepared to wait for a bit, the turnaround is usually quick because a lot of visitors opt for a short spot of lunch and move on with their sightseeing. Not us!

The menu is simple, don't expect crazy choices, but it does the job. One main, fries to share, a couple of glasses of wine and a cheese board to share total £40 each. And the view...priceless! I had the duck, good stuff!
We talked endlessly, then we stopped to admire the view, then sipped wine, then stopped to admit how lucky we were to get this table then ate some more...two and a half hours later they started serving afternoon tea around us, so we thought it was time to move on. 

Instead of running into St Paul's tube though, we walked slowly to Chancery Lane, why?
We were fascinated by the architecture, the City is full of contrasts:  modern macho buildings competing with 17th century masterpieces like St Pauls Cathedral, the City's emblem - a red rose adorning every bridge and Dickensian Cheapside, one of London's shopping districts that developed after the Great Fire  ...oh and we wanted to chat some more too!

PS: The City of London has some very informative self-guided walk tours around the City, find them here.
 
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