When I went to Japan earlier this year I missed the cherry blossom season which is happening now. But it's fine, because Sake no Hana have brought the blossom to London. From now til the 18th of June their Mayfair based Japanese bar and restaurant has been transformed into a cherry blossom garden. You can sit under the intertwining cherry blossom branches, which are lit up by thousands of lights at night, and sample the specially created, limited edition Sakura menu. For £34 you can have a feast of really tasty Japanese food. The fixed menu consists of a welcome cocktail, bento box of soup, sushi and sashimi, main bento and pudding.

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Restaurant reviews are like buses for me (kind of, bear with me....!) They all seem to come at once. Autumn last year through to late winter seemed to be an influx of invites to review Japanese, or Japanese inspired restaurants, culminating in a food and sake trip to Japan in January. In November last year I went to Tuscany for all things olive oil, and the last couple of months have been filled with invites to Italian restaurants in London. It just so happens that I love both Japanese and Italian food (in fact, I love pretty much all food) so I'm certainly not complaining, I just think it's odd that they all come at once!

So a couple of Sundays ago I took Polly with me to bask in Spring sunshine at Made of Dough in Goldhawk Road, the pizza pop up that's happening on the We Feast site, next to the railway line. As 2015 London Pizza Festival champions I had high hopes for Made of Dough, who'll be moving a permanent site in south London once their residency at Market Yard is up on 15th May.

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I love it when a good new restaurant opens in West London. Although there are some great places already, we're not as saturated with good eateries as Soho, or further East. And when that new restaurant (though it's not that new anymore as I'm a bit slow with my write up) is from one of my favourite chefs, then it's even better. Theo Randall's newest venture is Theo's Simple Italian, a casual dining restaurant at boutique hotel, Hotel Indigo, which is a couple of minutes walk from Earl's Court tube station. The restaurant is relaxed, yet chic, and has a deli that sells all of the produce used in their kitchens, plus homemade pastries in the morning and cakes, charcuterie and cheeses in the afternoon, so you can go home and (try to) recreate the delicious dinner you've had there. Theo's new book 'My Simple Italian' might help too! 
The food at Theo's Simple Italian focuses on using seasonal ingredients to create dishes that are vibrant and full of flavour. Everything is cooked "simply" - there are no twiddly bits or buffons of foam - just good, tasty plates of food that you'll want to go back for time and again. There's a lovely choice of Italian wines and lots of different craft beers to enjoy with as much or as little food as you fancy. The menu is divided up in to sections of plate size so you can pop in for a quick snack, or go all out and try a bit of everything, like we did! We started small (cicchetti) then worked our way through most of the rest of the menu. Cicchetti plates we tried included the totally addictive polenta chips with anchovy dressing; veal, beef and pork meatballs; calamari fritti; and the olive oil focaccia that's ridiculously good, and of course made on site.
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I think it's a sign that a restaurant is really good when Meryl Streep is sitting at the table next to you at dinner.... I went to Fera at Claridges to try out their amazing Bookatable deal, where you can get a glass of champagne and three courses for £39 per person at lunch Monday to Friday, or dinner starting before 7pm Sunday to Thursday, with Tara recently. No sooner had our starters been served, than Meryl Streep was shown to the table next to us. I don't really get star struck (I don't think I watch enough TV to even know "who" anyone is) but when it's one of the most famous actresses in the world it's a different story! Anyway, we remained cool, calm and collected, tried to ignore Mrs Hollywood next to us, and enjoyed one of the best meals I've had in a long time.

The menu for the Bookatable deal is a reduced version of the main Fera menu, with one veggie, one fish and one meat option per course. After our glass of perfectly cold bubbles we ordered our food. Starters were confit egg yolk, caramelised cabbage, oyster mushroom and wild garlic cream for pescetarian Tara. And hake and parsley mousse, radishes and pickled mushrooms for me. Not a dish that reads like something I would normally pick off a menu, but it was an absolute delight. The mousse was light and creamy, with a hint of fish and herbs rather than a big smack of them - which is what Simon Rogan's cooking is about - gentle, subtle flavours (if I could pickle vegetables the way Simon does I would be a very happy chef), and absolutely beautiful plates. Both the crockery itself and the food that was on it was stunning.

Tara's egg dish was also light as a feather but so full of flavour. The egg was perfectly confited and the wild garlic a wonderful background note that brought the dish together.

For mains I/the waiter convinced pescetarian Tara to go for the steamed cod with Fowey mussels, calcot onions and broccoli (rather than the caramelised cauliflower, Pablo beetroots, chicory and marigold veggie option) and I had Cotswold white chicken, buttered kale, salsify, fennel, jus and vinaigrette. Again, the ingredients were all so expertly cooked - my chicken had a slightly salty, golden skin with juicy white meat underneath. Tara's cod gently flaked with the touch of a fork while her mussels were plump and bright orange. Every element of every dish was faultless. And heavenly. So good in fact, that at points I totally forgot about our very famous neighbour!

The food at Fera is light yet still manages to fill you up. The plates are beautiful but you don't compromise size for flavour. Despite feeling full we absolutely had to sample some pudding. We shared the buttermilk custard with blood orange, and a cheese board which were the perfect end to a perfect meal. I very rarely say that somewhere is 10/10 but Fera really ticked all the food boxes. The only thing missing was a bit of music. The restaurant was eerily quiet at times, but then I guess that meant there was nothing to distract from the food. Except Meryl....!! 

Fera - Claridge's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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The Thursday before Easter I headed to Merchant House in the City to join Lucy, a few lovely bloggers and rum expert Jon Lister to learn all about my favourite rum - Diplomatico. Having already spent a wonderful evening with the Diplomatico family, I knew I was in for a rum fuelled treat.

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A couple of weekends ago I had the most lovely Sunday. I'd spent Friday night and Saturday cooking for a pop up for 36 people on the Saturday night, so despite being knackered, I really wanted to get out of the flat, stretch my legs and eat some good food (that I hadn't cooked!) Bron came to mine in South West London and we then walked the four miles from there to Gastrovino, where I'd been invited to review, stopping a few times on the way for coffee, juice and to pet a donkey we passed(?!)

Gastrovino is a new Italian bar and restaurant located on the Kings Road, which is somewhere I so rarely go. We took our seats at the bench bar in the window where we people watched, chatted and ate an absolute feast of incredibly good Italian food. Gastrovino's marketing is being done by the lady who introduced me to VII Hills gin last year, so I started with a VII Hills gin and tonic, whilst Bron went for the Aper8 - aperol, St Germain, rhubarb bitters and prosecco. Both were perfectly refreshing aperitifs that kept us occupied til the food started to come out. If you go to Gastrovino and you're not fussy about what you can/can't eat then I really recommend letting the chef choose for you - he'll send out his best dishes of the day, made with the freshest seasonal produce he's had flown in from Italy and you'll be in for a treat. And as all the dishes range from £5-8 you're safe in the knowledge that you're not going to be stung price wise.

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I've been very lucky recently and have spent two evenings eating very delicious food cooked by one of the loveliest chefs I've met. A couple of Tuesdays ago was my Theo Randall experience part 1 at The Intercontinental in Mayfair where I was invited for drinks, a cooking demo by Theo and a sit down four course dinner. This was followed by a very different evening the next Tuesday at his new restaurant, Theo's Simple Italian in Earl's Court, which I'll write about in a separate post.

So back to Theo part 1. A group of lots of lovely bloggers and I were invited to the newly refurbished Theo Randall at the Intercontinental. We started with drinks in the stunning bar area which has undergone a significant redesign to incorporate a sommelier’s table, where all the garnishes, bitters and mixers for the cocktails are kept. There's a revised bar menu which offers authentic and innovative Italian cocktails, including my absolute favourite, the Negroni. And the InterContinental's Negroni is one of the best I've tried. The perfect balance of bitter, citrus and punchy, I could drink far too many of these! If you want to go for drinks at the bar there's also a few small dishes and antipasti so you can go just for drinks and nibbles. But that would be silly with all the delicious main food on offer!

We headed through to the smaller of two private rooms where Theo demonstrated how to cook the perfect risotto - don't use butter to start with (it'll burn), you don't need wine if you have good stock, be generous with the stock and use the freshest of vegetables that have been pre cooked so they don't bring the cooking temperature down in the pan. Whilst he was showing us this we nibbled on deep fried polenta with chilli and anchovy, which may well be my new favourite snack, and battered courgette slices.

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Last Thursday I had all the fun with some of my favourite people at The Art of Dining's 80s Office Party pop up dinner/party. Taking place in The Rose Lipman building on De Beauvoir Road, the place had been transformed into an actual 80s office space. Desks made up the tables, and projectors, photocopiers and filing cabinets were strewn around the room along with all the office supplies, all of which had been designed by Alice Hodge, one half of The Art of Dining team. It was the most dramatized pop up I've been to and they pulled it off so well. The night was led by Amanda Bellingham - "The Margaret Thatcher of Condiments" - a fictional female powerhouse and boss of The Pickle Company Ltd, who led us through tasks such as naming her new pickle company and drawing portraits of her that were then projected on to the wall. Her antics were great as in between course fillers and kept us occupied and very entertained.

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When I was sent some Lavolio nutty Easter eggs recently I was asked to bake cupcakes using them, but had another idea. So I've got two recipes for you today - the cupcakes I should've made, and the other naughty Easter treat that I came up with. You should really try both recipes - the cupcake recipe is from the wonderful Bake with Maria - a baking lab where you can book private group classes (perfect for birthdays, hen parties, office outings etc) to learn how to make the most delicious cakes, bread, pizzas, macarons and all sorts of baked goods. I've been on a chocolate workshop there and learnt so much, as well coming away with lots of goodies.  

Lavolio are the perfect brand to pair with Maria's recipe. All of the Lavolio chocolates are lovingly handmade, and take up to five days to make starting with the heart - toasted almonds, which are then coated in dark chocolate, hazelnut gianduia chocolate or white amaretto chocolate, one layer at a time before being delicately spun to form a crunchy sugar shell that preserves the chocolate coated nut inside. These are their Easter special Nutty Easter Eggs, but other products in the range include Fruit Garden - a collection of decadent confectionery inspired by the classical Roman spice routes using cinnamon, saffron, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios and a selection of other fine flavours from East and West; and Arabian Nights -  roses, violets, lemons, almonds and pine-nuts wrapped in a delicate sweet shell.

The recipe I've made is for a nutty, peanut fudge which I've jazzed up by adding the Lavolio Nutty Easter Eggs to create the perfect post Easter indulgence which is super simple to make.

Makes 24 squares

200g coconut butter
150g smooth peanut (or almond) butter
4 tbsp. maple syrup
Lavolio Nutty Easter Eggs

Melt the coconut butter, nut butter and maple syrup in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it's completely melted and combined. Grease a small square Tupperware with coconut oil and pour the melted mixture into it. Once it's started to cool poke a few eggs into the mixture, then refrigerate for 2 hours or more. Turn the Tupperware upside down to tip the block of fudge out, then using a sharp knife cut into small squares. Keep the squares in the fridge until you're ready to eat/gift them.

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I can always rely on Lucy to get us booked in to the most recently opened, hyped restaurants in London. We were there when the now almost impossible to get into Hoppers opened, and last week we went to check out Pharmacy 2, the reinvention of Damien Hirst's first restaurant (Pharmacy) that closed in 2003. Pharmacy 2 is near Vauxhall, located within Hirst's Newport Street Gallery. The food side of the restaurant is run by Mark Hix and you can see his influence all over the menu. The food is very Hix (I've heard people moan that it's just like any other Hix restaurant, but a chef is always going to have his own style that's discernible across his restaurants) and we loved all the dishes we tried. One thing that makes it different to other Hix restaurants is not the amount of art in the space, as all of Hix's place are pretty full of art, but the subject matter. Pharmacy 2 features work from some of the Hirst's most iconic series including the Medicine Cabinets and butterfly Kaleidoscope paintings. There are cabinets stuffed with pills, and the whole place has an almost surgical feel to it whilst still being quirky and relaxed.

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A few weeks ago I headed to Wandsworth with Julie for a Friday night of feasting on delicious Italian food cooked by Masterchef The Professionals finalist, Danilo Cortellini, using quality Italian produce supplied by Riso Gallo (who are one of the oldest rice growing companies in Italy). The event was held at Venturi's Table, a cookery school by day and the perfect spot for an intimate pop up dinner, as we all sat around the large table where the food was being prepped. We were welcomed with a glass of prosecco and a delicious, truffly arancini before taking our seats.

Danilo had prepared a veritable feast for us, starting with a colourful burrata filled tortellini served with raw, sweet and juicy Sicilian red prawns which cooked slightly in the smoked artichoke broth that was poured over them, all of which was washed down with a glass of Albizzia Chardonnay.

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When somewhere in London has been open for nearly 20 years, and is still going strong, that's a pretty good sign. Places come and go so quickly in London and just when you've found your favourite new restaurant/bar/hang out it seems to close or move. However I've got a new favourite bar and it's not going anywhere! Black Dice is the newest addition to the Momo collection on Heddon Street, having opened a year ago and been flourishing ever since under the management of Michael Lucombe (who used to look after the bar when it was the famous Kemia bar). Upstairs is Momo - the main restaurant, and a gorgeous North African inspired tea room with low seats, little tables and beautiful lighting. Downstairs is Black Dice - a late night bar open Wednesday to Saturday from 7pm til late that also serves food and has live music on Wednesday nights. I went along to try out the food with some friends recently and discovered great eats, excellent cocktails and the kind of bar I can see myself hanging out in a lot. It really is my perfect spot for cocktails, yummy eats and dates with friends.

The menu at Black Dice is similar to that at Momo, with a few tweaks and extra dishes (merguez tacos and stuffed baby squid both sound amazing), and is available til 11pm each night. We tried a selection of the cold and hot mezze, which range from £5-12, and were really impressed. Everything was packed with flavour, super fresh and made with great quality ingredients. We shared plates of crab tacos, stuffed with crab meat, avocado, bergamot, coriander, tomatoes, onions and mayo:

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