Last weekend I headed West for a little adventure and to see my nephews, take my mum out for lunch and catch up with friends in Bristol. I booked River Station in Bristol for lunch with mum, hoping for summer sunshine and a lovely meal overlooking the river. Sadly British summertime had other plans and it absolutely bucketed it down, but we headed to River Station anyway and had a brilliant meal. I wasn't really planning on writing about it but it was so good that I need to tell you in case you're looking for a very reasonable and tasty lunch in Bristol.

River Station have a fixed price lunch menu where you can get two courses for £13.50, or three for £16.50 (or £14.75/£18.50 if you go in the evening). There are three options per course - one meat, one fish and one veggie. We went for the two course option and had a starter and main each, but not before I snuck in a Negroni and some delicious gordal olives while I waited for mum to arrive.

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Casita Andina is the newest offering from Martin Morales, who already has two Ceviche restaurants in London as well as the original Andina on Redchurch Street. Casita Andina is on Great Windmill Street in Soho and serves up Peruvian inspired sharing plates. I headed there with Lou to check it out and we loved most of what we tried. There's ceviche plates, salads, nibbles and hot food. Being one of the hottest days of the year we bagged a table on the upstairs terrace and got stuck in, starting with excellent pisco sours.

Food wise we ordered a couple of nibbles to munch on while we perused the menu - avocado fritters with panca chilli and anchovy salt were nuggets of deep fried avocado in the lightest of batters, doused in chilli and salt. Absolutely delicious. As were the cruditos - lightly pickled vegetables including baby carrots, asparagus and courgettes, on top of a wonderful broad bean puree. Such a tasty and healthy dish, I would order this just to have with drinks even if I wasn't eating there. 

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Cuisson are back! A sort of semi permanent pop up restaurant who've done various residency stints at venues across London, appearing for a few weeks or months, then disappearing again. You might remember I went to their last pop up at The Vaults in Waterloo and had a lovely meal there with Milly. Well, now they're back, in a building right in the heart of Borough Market, this time with an Asian inspired offering. 

Again, the menu changes regularly so the one I'd read online wasn't the one we had on the night, so do be careful to let them know of dietary requirements when you book if you have any! As it turned out, I actually preferred the menu on the night we went to the one I'd read. Tickets cost £45 and include a welcome cocktail and the five course meal. 

We kicked things off with oyster, wasabi roe and soy gel - a plump, juicy, raw oyster topped with green wasabi pearls for a kick and delicate soy gel that didn't over salt the taste as I worried it might. 

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A few weekends ago I went to Wilderness Festival with two of my favourite girlies. We had the most wonderful weekend - eating all the food, dancing til we couldn't stand up and laughing so much that our cheeks hurt. But four days in a field really took its toll on me! So when we got back it was time to plan some replenishing activities. And what better than a Thai massage and some super spicy, cleansing Thai food?!

We got back to London on Monday and after a quick turnaround at home headed in to Central London to Thai Square Spa near Embankment where we were both booked in for the Himalayan Ritual Massage. I'd been invited down to check it out, so had mine in their new Salt Room, while Bron had hers in one of their other treatment rooms. An hour of being massaged with beautiful essential oils on a bed in a room surrounded by salt, which draws out toxins and has healing and purifying properties, was incredible. I floated out of the room, my skin as soft as it gets, and had a tea lying on their relaxation beds in the beautiful surroundings while I waited for Bron to join me. We could barely string a sentence together to tell each other how much we'd enjoyed our treatment! At £105 for 60 minutes it's in line with most massages in London and was one of the best I've had. 

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Coconut oil has been a buzz word in food and health for a while now. It's good for your hair, teeth, skin, digestion, blood, brain, weight.... Just about everything really! I've been using coconut oil in my cooking for the last couple of years, but am quite selective about when and how I use it. I know lots of people who use it instead of oil or butter in nearly every recipe they make and claim that it doesn't alter the taste of food, but I personally do find it tastes of coconut (!!) so pick and choose what I use it in. Cakes and sweets - mostly yes, a fry up - definitely not. However it is great to use in Asian inspired dishes, and anything with a bit of savoury spice. Lucy came over for dinner on Monday and I wanted to cook us something light and healthy that was still super tasty, so I made a miso and chilli broth and then added chicken to poach, and as many vegetables as I could fit in there, having been vaguely inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe.

Serves 2, with leftovers

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 finely chopped white onion
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 crushed garlic clove
2 tbsp hatcho miso paste
1 tsp sambal
2 tsp sriracha
Mixed rehydrated mushrooms (I got mine from France but you can use any dried mushrooms you like - morels, porcini, shiitake)
1 litre chicken stock (homemade if possible)
2 finely sliced skinless chicken breasts, or raw prawns would work well if you prefer
Half chopped savoy cabbage
Pack of finely sliced chestnut mushrooms
Pack of baby spinach
2 finely sliced spring onions
Pickles or kimchi to serve
Chilli oil to serve

Soak the dry mushrooms in boiling water for 15 minutes. 

Put the onion and coconut oil in a saucepan and fry over a medium heat for around five minutes, stirring to avoid the onion burning. Add the ginger, garlic, miso, sambal, sriracha, rehydrated mushrooms and their liquor and the chicken stock. Stir, cover and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes. Add the chicken, cabbage and mushrooms to the broth and cook for a further 3-5 minutes depending on how thin you've sliced your chicken.

Layer the bottom of each serving bowl with a handful of raw baby spinach leaves then spoon the broth, chicken and vegetables over the top. Finish with a sprinkling of spring onions, a drizzle of chilli oil and anything pickled you have to hand! Kimchi would be excellent, though I had pickled radishes in the fridge so used these. If you want to bulk it out then quinoa, wild rice or noodles would do the job, but it's delicious just as it is.
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Ham Yard Hotel is nestled away in the middle of Soho and is one of my favourite places to pop in to and escape the hustle and bustle of the busy tourist filled streets surrounding it. Up until the end of last year their beautiful roof terrace was only open to hotel guests, but that all changed with their winter Sipsmith rooftop pop up, and their current Vermouth on the Roof pop up that's taking place til Sunday 4th September. 

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Restaurants open so regularly in London that it's hard to get to all the ones I want to try! However there was one that kept on popping up on Instagram accounts I follow, and having checked out the menu I was determined to get to Clipstone, little new sister restaurant of Portland, as soon as possible. Which was last Monday, when I headed there with Rhea to eat all the food! We totally over-ordered as usual, and whilst I really loved a lot of what we chose, if I go back I'll definitely order lighter dishes as I felt everything we had was very rich and heavy.

We started with fried leeks and sauce gribiche. I thought the leeks would be chopped and fried, rather than whole and battered, but the sauce gribiche was good and had a nice tang to it. This was was swiftly followed by one of my favourite dishes of the evening, though hardly a contender for the "light" dishes I referred to earlier - rillettes of rabbit, pork and foie gras were topped with mustard seeds and sat on top of buttery grilled bread. The rillettes were unctuous and very more-ish despite their richness. Perfectly seasoned and absolutely delicious.

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I'm a big gin fan and particularly love brands with a good story behind them, so I've always been intrigued by London distilled Sipsmith gin, especially as their gin is made not far from the part of West London I've lived around for the past five years, and they've also provided gin for previous pop ups I've done, including one I did based solely around their gins and vodkas. If you're a fan of Sipsmith gin, or want to learn more about it there's a couple of events I've checked out recently that you can go to to learn more. 

The first is Sipsmith's Gin Palace Extravaganza, which I did with Georgie in June. We spent the evening with Sipsmith, first at their Chiswick distillery learning all things gin and brand, and then at the Princess Victoria (one of my favourite West London pubs) for a three course, Sipsmith inspired meal. At the distillery we were talked through the history of Sipsmith, who had a long battle to even begin making their sought after gin thanks to an ancient law brought in in 1751 that stipulated the legal minimum production of gin was 1800 litres in order to control the out of hand home brew production of the spirit that was then taking place in one out of four residential properties. This law never got changed until Sipsmith took on the government so they could start a 300 litre per year production. After two and a half years they finally got the law changed and were able to start their business making London dry gin (dry meaning that all botanicals have to be infused during the distillation process and not after). We sampled various gins at the distillery, including the original London Dry Gin, the VJOP (Very Junipery Overproof Gin - made with 75% more juniper and macerated for four times longer than the original gin, making it 57.4% abv and the perfect base for a Negroni), and the London Cup (a sippable punch infused with Earl Grey tea, borage, lemon verbena, Seville orange and other botanicals, and based on the cups/punches of old days). 

We learnt about the actual production of Sipsmith gin. A base of British wheat spirit from East Anglia arrives at the distillery, weighing in at a whopping 96% abv. Water is added to reduce this down to 60% abv to enable the distillation process, then botanicals including Macedonian juniper berries, Bulgarian coriander seed, French angelica root, Spanish liquorice root, Italian orris root, Spanish ground almond, Chinese cassia bark, Madagascan cinnamon, Sevillian orange peel and Spanish lemon peel are all added. This mixture is heated, steeped and then macerated for 12 hours, leaving oily streaks from the botanicals across the liquid's surface. After maceration the liquid is heated to the boiling point of alcohol, which is 78.3 degrees celsius. The spirit turns to vapour which rises up the still. Sipsmith's stills have swan like necks, creating as much copper surface area as possible for the vapour to hit. The copper absorbs the impurities and sulphites, and the cleansed droplets then falls back down into the still. The vapour finally ends up in liquid form in the condenser which is surrounded by cold water pipes, and gin is formed. Very good gin! 

With heads full of information and bellies only full of gin it was definitely time to head to the PV for food. As part of the Gin Palace Extravaganza (which costs £75 per person, and includes the tour, several drinks and a three course meal) Sipsmith arrange taxis from the distillery to the pub - which was a very welcome surprise on the very rainy night we were there!

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Normally I don't review the same restaurant twice unless something drastic has happened, there's been a renovation or a big change. However, I'm bending that rule especially for 108 Brasserie because though nothing drastic has happened there's something I wanted to tell you about that I didn't really cover before. Every month at 108 Brasserie there's a "dish of the month" which is made with seasonal ingredients. I really like the idea, particularly in a hotel restaurant, as I imagine a lot of their diners are regular guests at the hotel, so it's nice to have a distinct, different dish each month, even though the menu does change seasonally anyway. I popped along to try out August's "dish of the month" and also have some inside info for you about September's dish. But let's start with August....

What I really like about 108 Brasserie is that despite being a 'hotel restaurant' it doesn't feel like one. It just feels like a classy, yet not too formal brasserie style restaurant. And it's in a great location in Marylebone. The restaurant is separate from the bar area so if you just want to pop in for a drink and a main course you don't have to sit in the main restaurant area. And I recommend you do pop in for a drink because their cocktails are wonderful. I've tried various drinks there before (and will be back to try out concoctions like Mexican Lane - tapatio tequila, mango juice, lemon juice, homemade chilli syrup and grapefruit bitters) but on my recent visit settled for a basil and cucumber gimlet, made with No 3 gin, fresh basil and cucumber juice. It's a short but very refreshing and clean tasting cocktail. It normally has a sugar syrup in it but I asked for it without, and they were happy to oblige. I accompanied my drink with a couple of oysters. Not the Colchester Natives that were advertised on the menu, but some plump and delicious rock oysters with an excellent red wine shallot vinegar.
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I'm a big fan of Japanese food. I love the diversity of it. So many people think of Japanese food and just think of sushi, but there's so much more too it, including one of my favourites - ramen. And one of my favourite places for ramen in London have just launched a second site, which is great news as it means less queuing! I've reviewed the original Kanada-ya, in Covent Garden, previously, where we had a ramen so good I can still remember all the tastes now. So I was pretty excited to visit their new site on Panton Street, just off Piccadilly.
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As much as I love reviewing restaurants, attending launch parties and being sent new products to test and taste, I think my favourite type of event is when I get to meet producers and creators. Hearing people speak so passionately about something they've dedicated their entire lives to is inspiring and exciting. So I jumped at the chance to spend an evening with the guys from Sturia, France's leading caviar producers, at The Balcon where I've eaten and reviewed previously.

Sturia was set up nearly 20 years ago to produce sturgeon and caviar near Bordeaux, in the Aquitaine region of South West France, where over 90% of France's 25 tonnes of caviar is produced annually. Sturia produces 12 tonnes of this. The eggs are taken from the best spawning fish, after which the producers have to wait 2-3 years to determine the fish's gender. Once the females are identified they are farmed in ponds for up to 8 years until they reach egg producing age. Amazingly, an egg producing female weighs a massive ten kilos, and yields around 1kg of which is eggs/caviar! That's a lot of eggs for a fish to be carrying! The caviar is harvested between September and March each year. The grains are then hand sieved, very carefully washed in water, mixed with salt and tinned in 1kg tins to mature naturally in special temperature controlled rooms - not dissimilar to wine cellars. The great thing about Sturia's (and France's) caviar production method is that it is all farmed. This might not sound preferable to wild caviar but due to over-fishing the sale of caviar from wild sturgeon has been banned for the last eight years.

The caviar produced by Sturia is matured for various amounts of time, resulting in different final products. Each different type of caviar works well with different types of food, which was demonstrated throughout the meal we had at The Balcon that had been specially designed to pair with the caviars.

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