A Long Weekend in Lisbon

Lisbon is a city of reinvention – no wonder both Madonna and newly-married Hollywood power couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander have moved here. It survived a devastating 18th century earthquake, a revolution and decades of dictatorship; today, Lisbon is packed full of museums, boutique hotels and bars, and is considered one of the best value city break destinations in Europe.

Lisbon-craving Londoners now have an extra incentive to visit, as TAP (Portugal’s national airline) has started offering direct flights from London City Airport. This means you can finish work in London, hop to the airport, have dinner on the plane and be in Lisbon for evening drinks and a relaxing long weekend ahead. Sounds good to us.

If you’d prefer to tackle two destinations for the price of one (we love a deal!), spend your first night or last in the seaside town of Cascais, where many Lisbon workers live. Check into the Cascais Mirage Hotel, watch the sun rise from your balcony and book a post-breakfast spa treatment to start your long weekend in style. Follow up with a Beetle tour of the area, where you’re driven around in a vintage Beetle car, taking in sights like Cabo da Roca: the most Westerly part of mainland Europe, or Sintra, a hilltop town where the rich have hung out for centuries.

In Lisbon, your hotel choices are equally chic: Alma Lusa, a restored 16th century building in the trendy Baixa/Chiado area, has quirky concierge offerings (a PT session? Yup) and individually designed rooms, including triples that are perfect for breaks with friends. If you’re travelling solo or as a couple, try the adults-only Memmo Alfama hotel, tucked on a side-street in Alfama district, with poolside views of the city and the Tagus river, and super-healthy breakfasts to fuel your sightseeing. You’re also in the right neighbourhood for the Feira da Ladra (Thieves’ Market), a flea market held every Tuesday and Saturday.

Catch one of Lisbon’s iconic elevators from ground level at Baixa towards the steeper Chiado districts and its shops, cafes and sights. The ruined Carmo Convent – left to show the effects of the 1755 earthquake – is just moments from high street stores and Portuguese boutiques, like the must-see A Vida Portuguesa, selling Portuguese-made homeware, cosmetics and food. Around the corner is A Brasileira, the café where literary types like Fernando Pessoa hung out. Grab a typical Portuguese espresso-style coffee, um bica, and raise your cup to him.

As Lisbon has mild to hot weather all year round, you might want to cool off on the water. Try a sunset river cruise, where you can sip wine as you pass underneath the 25 de Abril Bridge, which resembles San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, but also has a newly-opened museum tucked inside. The following day, wind your way back to Belem district, which will have caught your eye as you sailed past – you can either take a cycle tour or simply jump on the tram.

Make a beeline for the Jeronimos Monastery, a vast and elaborately carved 16th century building with an Game of Thrones feel, and a museum full of archaeological finds, including an Egyptian mummy. If you’re after a quicker culture fix, pop along the road to the home of Portugal’s famous pastéis de nata, custard tarts, at neighbouring Pasteis de Belem. This iconic Portuguese patisserie was invented by nuns with spare egg yolks (sorry, vegans) and time on their hands. Skip the long takeaway queues at the shop to enjoy your tarts inside, surrounded by azulejos: the blue and white tiles Portugal is also famous for.

Your next pit-stop is LX Factory: a hipster’s paradise of independent businesses and restaurants tucked inside old graffiti-covered warehouses. The street art is an attraction in itself, even if you’re not looking to buy any souvenirs here. On the way back to the city centre, stop at the shiny new MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) or the trendy TimeOut Food Market, depending on whether you’re craving exhibitions or even more food – who are we to judge?!

Back in town, take a street art walking tour (bookable through Memmo Alfama) and see why there’s so much affection for Lisbon’s older districts, Alfama and Mouraria, which haven’t been hit by gentrification. Quirky independent businesses and community projects lurk round every corner, from the car park that’s an exhibition space, to the world’s smallest bookshop, Livraria do Simão, which holds one customer at a time.

Head to the Bairro Alto neighbourhood for distinctive restaurants and cafes. Bairro do Avillez, one of several restaurants by highly respected chef Jose Avillez, has a pisco bar (for Peruvian pisco sours), a fish restaurant, Páteo (which also caters brilliantly to vegetarians), and a hidden burlesque bar, Beco. Here, food is brought to your table as you watch the show in a former chapel, with cosy booths and a giant mural of Dita von Teese.


End the night down the hill in Pensão do Amor, if you like your evenings full-on (this place is a former brothel, with the decor to match, plus a shop for, erm, ‘souvenirs’), or stay uphill for tiny pubs and bars where locals perform fado music as you sit back with a beer or a glass of ginja – Portuguese sour cherry brandy. The next morning, tick off your remaining sightseeing wish list or just wander the cobbled streets and soak up the atmosphere before your flight home – that’s if you can tear yourself away from this irresistible city.

TAP flies to Lisbon from London City Airport, Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, from £42 one way.

Eating Along The Silk Road

‘The lamb chops are marinated for about 36 hours’, General Manager, Fabien Bazerque, explains nonchalantly as we get to grips with Osh’s adventurous menu, which specialises in Central Asian cuisine. Say Central Asia and your thoughts may snap to China. But those of you who stuck with geography beyond the rudimentary GCSE, (or are just less ignorant than me), will know that this is the land of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan where the food has a full-flavoured, more rugged personality.

Of course there are variations between the edible heritage of these countries (after all we’re talking about a slab of a continent here), but Osh (named after Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city) selects the best and then creatively reimagines the dishes for our intrepid tastes and beleaguered London palate. And it’s timely – given the boom in Persian cuisine, Osh is riding a wave that will take us further east (already led by the likes of restaurant Samarkand – who have just got some serious competition).

No, you will not be bored as you scoop up juicy aubergine tartare topped with crispy kale on top and a basil dressing, served with freshly baked, hand-rolled flatbreads, or wonder why you came when a bowl of fiery chillied tiger prawns, lightly battered and scattered with matchsticks of crispy sweet potato are set before you. With all the trade and interaction wrought by the Silk Road, this is food rich with spices and resonating in tradition – just taste the spiced Tashkent salad of seared beef sirloin and green Uzbek radish, rippled with creamy celeriac purée, or the succulent Shashlik kebabs charred by the fires of the Uzbek grill.

But Osh offers more than gorging your way through a gorgeous menu. Everything about the place is stimulating – be it the bespoke interiors: luxe leather chairs, diamond-cut chandeliers… even a deep, cushion-adorned divan (in the top-floor bar, er, not the restaurant): or the loud pulsating beats of the music. It’s a place that has all the drama of a nightclub without the sweat and the crowds; though watch this space – Osh only opened very recently and it’s a gem waiting to be discovered.

And to drink? What’s on offer is sure to make you weak at the knees and there’s a cocktail to chime with any o’clock be it a punchy and sour lime and lemongrass gimlet garnished with a peppery nasturtium leaf for an aperitif, or the cranberry and redcurrant Red Moon – a most complex and satisfying mocktail for that post-shopping pick me up. For wine, plump for the Grecian Kotsifali 2015 Lyrarakis – hailing from a vineyard on the sheer cliffs of Crete which is buffeted by the sea breeze, this wild red full of minerality stands up to, yet complements everything going on in the food.

Worth dressing up for, Osh is the place where memorable nights will roll out as you sip some of the best cocktails in town and tuck into the food of Central Asia. It’s swish, special and feels like a private members club without the ponce or the prices. A definite must go – see you at the bar.

Dinner for two plus drinks and you’re looking at anything between £65 to £150 (including service) depending on what you go for. Cocktails range from £12 to £16 — a London standard price-wise and anything but ordinary. Dress code is smart and sexy but without the stipulations of hotel chic – no jacket/tie required. For more information and to book, see Osh’s website.

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life

Half a dozen critically-acclaimed books spanning fiction, non-fiction and autobiography. Stints at titles including the Observer, the Telegraph and Vogue. Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country. A Lifetime Achievement Award from British luxury nonprofit, Walpole. Justine Picardie is becoming almost as iconic as the subject of her latest book, Coco Chanel.

The latest? Picardie’s definitive opus on Chanel’s life was first published in 2010, but ever the journalist, the updated version offers an even franker, more intimate view of the French designer. Whether you’ve read Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life V.1, seen the film, or neither, you may be aware that Chanel’s life was an incredible web of half-truths, myths and fables conjured up by none other than Coco herself. Like examining a beautifully-constructed garment, cleverly-sewn to conceal faults and cover up flaws, Picardie unpicks Coco’s stories one by one.

“Sleek. Chic. Notoriously guarded. Welcome to the secret world of Gabrielle Chanel,” – the book’s opener hints at Chanel’s enigmatic existence. Almost 350 pages long, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life is both a read to dip in and out of, or a solid bedside table choice. Packed with family photos, fashion drawings, magazine spreads and letters, it’s a fascinating account of Chanel – the woman and the brand – to keep you enthralled and guessing until the end. And best of all – still wondering just a little more.. We asked Justine Picardie to reveal her own secrets…

Why did you decide to revisit Chanel?

I’ve continued to be fascinated by Coco Chanel, even after the first edition of my biography was published — and new pieces of the puzzle about her life were emerging, particularly when I started looking in the Harper’s Bazaar archive. It felt important to ensure that my book was as complete and definitive as is possible.

Do you think someone like Chanel could exist today?

Definitely — creativity and ambition remains as powerful today as in Chanel’s era. But perhaps a present-day Chanel would be working as an artist, given the ways in which art and fashion have to inhabit a shared landscape in this epoch.

What has made Chanel so iconic?

She never tried to look like anyone else — her expression of personal style was an authentic mirroring of herself, so she introduced a different idea of femininity. At a time when women were still wearing corsets and elaborate hats and floor-length gowns, she introduced trousers and soft tailoring for women, which bestowed upon them a sartorial dignity which had hitherto only been available to men. She was the definitive embodiment of her own brand — in other words, she was entirely true to herself.

Chanel: the consummate entrepreneur?

She was definitely entrepreneurial, but at certain key moments, she also needed the financial investment provided by men — after all, it was the love of her life, Boy Capel, who gave her the money to set up her business in 1910. But she was swift to pay him back, and financial independence was key to her sense of herself as an independent woman.

Chanel: the feminist?

She certainly sought to define herself as her own woman — and to escape the control of men — but she was also conflicted at times, and suffered periods of intense loneliness and grief, when she said that she wished she had married and had a family.

Tell us about 31, Rue Cambon

It’s a magical place — one of those rare spaces where the veil between the living and the dead, the past and the present, seems to become translucent. I wrote some of my book sitting at Chanel’s own desk in her private apartment on Rue Cambon — which was incredibly inspiring. The marks of her pen are still visible on the leather surface of the desk — and late at night, when everyone else had left the building, I occasionally felt as if I might catch a glimpse of her reflection, if I only turned around fast enough, in one of the silvery smoked-glass mirrors that hang on the walls of her apartment.

Do you think Chanel would have been quite so iconic without her comeback?

I think it took her comeback in the early 50s to introduce her to a post-war generation of women — and for her designs of soft tweed jackets and perfect little black dresses to become relevant and desirable all over again.

Do you feel like you ever really got to the bottom of the mysteries of Chanel?

I’ll never stop being intrigued by her mysteries — and that is what makes her so alluring, even now.

Published by Harper Collins, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life is available to buy online here.

Let It Sloe!

It’s been quite the year for gin. Craft distilleries have been popping up in neighbourhoods across the country, making small batches to secret family recipes with quirky names and beautiful packaging. Well-established brands have been breaking out from decades of tradition with interesting new flavours, and all manner of gourmet tonic water now lines the supermarket shelves. It would appears that Mother’s Ruin has become Millennials’ sup du jour.

One particularly delicious case in point is Greenall’s Sloe Gin – a new release from Britain’s ‘first and original London Dry Gin’ – Greenall’s. It’s made using their award-winning London Dry Gin (a recipe so closely guarded, only seven Master Distillers have been au fait to its ingredients in 250 years). This ruby-coloured number is hand-mixed with plump sloe berries and other natural botanicals and ingredients, including almond, cassia bark, liquorice root, coriander seeds and angelica, and left to macerate for eight weeks.

Twist off the cap and you’re hit with the sweet scent of marzipan. A sip reveals brambly sloe berries and cherry, a hint of citrus, and a wonderfully seasonal warmth. A double measure poured over ice is nothing short of delicious. So, quite why sloe gin is considered an ‘old people’s drink’, conjuring up images of Christmas Day with the grandfolks, I’m not too sure. Perhaps we associate it with Christmas because it’s when those homemade batches, created the year before, are finally ready to pull from the back of the cupboard and cracked open. For the last couple of years, I’ve made my own. More for the enjoyment of going out and plucking the berries from spiky hedgerows than anything, and the joy of transforming a plain Jane dry gin into a fruity little people pleaser. I recommend you do the same in prep for next year, for posterity’s sake.

That said, Greenall’s Sloe Gin is so good, perhaps don’t bother… It’s quite a versatile liqueur, as I discovered during a recent tasting event, working well in short and long cocktails. The hot toddy was a highlight; one I’ll be whipping up in a flask for a Boxing Day walk. There’s also a fizz to get the party started; another with thyme, that coincidentally takes seconds to make; and a practically medicinal one with honey and lemon you can use your favourite gin for. And because tee-totallers deserve more than a glass of squash when they come round, there are a couple with twists to make them alcohol-free. Chin-chin to a jolly good winter!

Sloe Thymes

 

50ml Greenall’s Sloe Gin
150ml cloudy lemonade (or lemon tonic)
Sprig thyme       Lemon slice

Fill a tall glass with ice, pour in Greenhall’s sloe gin. Slowly pour in the cloudy lemonade or lemon tonic. Garnish with the thyme and lemon slice. Teetotal twist: skip the gin, up the lemonade, and muddle the thyme with the ice to release more flavour.

1761 Royale

 

25ml Greenall’s Sloe Gin
50ml Prosecco           Sprig of rosemary          Blackberry to garnish

Pour the sparkling wine in a coupe glass. Lightly bruise the rosemary then drop into the glass. Slowly pour the gin so it sinks to the bottom. Pop in the blackberry et voila!

Emperor’s New Cloves

 

50ml of gin (I particularly like Monkey 47 or Gin Mare for this)
Four medium-sized orange wedges
Two tsp golden caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon           Tonic water           Two cloves

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together on a plate. Rub one of the orange wedges around the edge of a tumbler. Rub the edge of the glass into the cinnamon sugar mix so it has an even coat. Put three of the wedges into the glass and muddle. Mix through a few ice cubes. Stud the rind of the remaining orange wedge with the cloves and add to the glass. Add a pinch of the cinnamon sugar and stir through. Pour over the gin. You can add a splash of tonic water to make it a longer drink. Mezcal or Bourbon are very good substitutes for the gin if you fancy something different.

Honey, I Drank the Gin

 

25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp of honey          1 x egg white          50ml gin
Small sprig of lemon thyme
Lemon thyme leaves to garnish
Nutmeg (optional extra)

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour in the egg white and give it a few shakes. Remove the lid, add the lemon juice, honey, thyme and gin. Shake until the outside of the shaker starts getting icy (about 30 seconds). Pour into a martini or coupe glass. Garnish with the thyme leaves and any other edible flora you might have to hand. For a dash of spice, grate over some nutmeg.

Take it Sloe Toddy

 

50ml Greenall’s Sloe Gin          100ml cloudy apple juice
50ml orange juice          Cinnamon stick
Orange slice to garnish          2 cloves

Pour sloe gin into a mug or glass. Warm the juices gently in a pan with the cinnamon and cloves for 5-6 minutes until infused. Pour the liquid into the mug/glass with the gin. Garnish with the orange slice and cinnamon stick. Teetotal twist: skip the gin. Add to the warming liquid, 50 ml of cherry or pomegranate juice and almond essence to taste.

All recipes are for one, so you can easily multiple your ingredients for additional people.

Switzerland: The Insider’s Guide

Finding role models in life can be tricky – in my experience, people just don’t live up to the hype. But Anton Mosimann is truly the real deal. From humble beginnings, grit, talent and hard-graft have seen him earn two Michelin stars, receive an OBE for his contribution to British food and inspire a whole generation of chefs. There’s also little he doesn’t know about the wonders of his home country.

‘Driving through Switzerland is just so special in so many ways’, Mosimann tells me. ‘It’s so versatile. You’ve got routes across mountain ranges and through valleys, roads along expansive mirror-like lakes. It’s a country of four different languages and cultures. A country of hospitality and quality, rustic food’. The renowned chef has also completed many rallies including the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge – which stretches over 8,500 miles.

We start the Grand Tour in the medieval town of Neuchatel, at the elegant Beau Rivage Hotel which sits right on the lake. It’s the ideal base from which to head into the Val-de-Travers valley and visit Fleurier (famous for Swiss watchmaking), Rousseau’s home in Motiers and also Couvet, where the bright green Post-Impressionist fuel – absinthe – was first distilled.

It’s the food from this region too that gets Anton animated: ‘big fillets of perch fresh from the lake’, ‘traditional boulangeries’, ‘local sausages’ and rich, Vacherin Mont d’Or – ‘a very well-respected cheese’. You’ll find a bounty of such local food at Hotel Baren in Twann; at 15, Anton did an apprenticeship here, and ironically it’s where his famously calm style was forged in the heat of the kitchen. ‘My head chef was a real gentleman but his number two was shouting and screaming all the time. I learnt how to do it and how not to do it and was lucky to experience both of them at a very young age’.

We follow the Grand Tour to Gruyere: a picture-perfect town complete with castle on the hill, but not before making a pitstop at Broc, home to the chocolate factory, Maison Cailler. The Swiss invented milk chocolate and Cailler was the first to use condensed milk rather than milk powder for a creamier texture. The quirky museum outlines the history and you can make chocolate bars too with Head Chocolatier, Geraldine Maras, (a world champion and one of Mosimann’s proteges).

Boot loaded with cheese and chocolate, we drive onwards to the Gstaad Palace. Famously popular with celebrities, the five-star hotel sits way above the treetops, with magical views from each romantic balcony. Mosimann worked here as a Commis Pastry Chef, despite having earned the coveted Chef de Cuisine Diploma which qualifies you to run a whole kitchen. ‘People thought I was mad’, he admits. ‘But most head chefs have a weakness and that’s the pastry. I wanted to be fully qualified in each section’.

The epic route snakes north towards Bern, taking in Interlaken, a town between two lakes and presided over by three mighty mountains. It’s a destination for hang gliding where the uninitiated (like me!) can do this in tandem, or simply watch from the terrace of the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel. Mosimann’s wife, Kathryn, was once Head Housekeeper here and he’d drive over to see her in his ‘69 VW Beetle. ‘I’d throw stones at her window, then climb up on a ladder’. ‘Just for a kiss!, laughs Kathryn.

‘I love Bern by the way, so much tradition and history’, says Mosimann as we arrive and settle in for lunch at his choice of restaurant, Schwellenmatteli, by the turquoise Aare river. Switzerland’s capital city is famous for hearty food such as the Berner Platte (pork belly, beef tongue, saukerkraut and potato), and Mandelbarli, almond cakes made in the shape of the city’s emblem, the bear. It’s also known for being laid back; ‘The Swiss have watches but we have time’, the Bernese like to say, and Anton recommends the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town for a wander ‘whatever the weather’, thanks to the covered promenades.

It’s up in the nearby hills of the Emmental region though, where Mosimann once had a home, that your mind settles into a lake-like stillness. ‘It’s wonderful. So calming. So relaxing’, Anton promises, and advises us, ‘don’t drive too fast’, so we take it all in. Even the famous show dairy has a quaint village character, and as we explore the grounds, we’re accompanied by the soothing sound of alp horns, playing in the courtyard. Hotel Ludernalp is the best place to stay in Anton’s book. He’s celebrated many family occasions here and it’s stripped-back style makes you feel even more connected to the panoramic landscape. In the evening, all you hear is the distant chiming of cowbells.

‘In life you go from one extreme to the other very often’ and true to Anton’s words, we leave this hush for the hair-pin bends and rocky heights of the Grimselpass. Breathtaking is an overused word, but I mean it literally – even if you don’t have vertigo, you’ll be holding the steering wheel tight. Everywhere you look mountains rise up to the sky, and at the heart of it all sits the historic Grimsel Hospiz, where we fortify ourselves for the journey down. Mosimann orders Flammekueche, Alsace’s answer to pizza – thin and crisp.

Roads lead south through Leukerbad, where we rejoin the Grand Tour at Sion and drive alongside the sun-kissed, vineyards of the Valais, a region known for wine and Walliser Trockenfleisch, tasty air-dried beef. Switzerland only exports around 2% of its wine – it’s said the Swiss keep it for themselves! – so it’s worth stopping for a glass of cold Fendant and hot fondue, which Anton eats ‘cuisine naturelle’ style with blanched broccoli and mushrooms, rather than bread. Eventually, you’ll come to the shores of Lake Geneva in Bouveret, home to the Cesar Ritz Colleges and The Mosimann Collection.

‘It’s unusual to have a museum dedicated to you while you’re still alive’, Anton jokes, but visiting is strangely moving. It’s the result of a lifetime of work, showcasing menus for the royal family and politicians past, 270 black and white photographs of Mosimann with greats such as Mohammed Ali, even a collection of Swiss art. ‘Ooh la la!’ Anton’s eyes sparkle when I ask him what his highlight is and, modestly, doesn’t pick anything attributed to him. ‘There are some very old books, from the 1400s, 1500s’, he muses. ‘Even a cookbook that belonged to the Pope’s chef from 1570 – things you just don’t see anymore’.

But it’s Montreux where we end our journey, which Mosimann describes as ‘one of the nicest places in the whole world’. Home to the Chateau de Chillon, ‘the floating palace’ that’s inspired Delacroix to Byron, and a vibrant jazz festival each July, it’s the lasting vistas of the vineyards, snow mountains and (amazingly) palm trees that make it unique. Mosimann sums it up simply: ‘Every night the sunset’s different, and seeing that makes you feel good’.

They’ll be no sunset on Mosimann’s career as he continues to tirelessly inspire. And his legacy is more lasting, not only because of the extent of his achievements but also the style in which he’s made them: without bolsh, without swagger, or even a raised voice. I see him in all the landscapes we passed through – his calm exterior belies a monumental love and commitment to his art, like a placid lake against a tremendous mountain-ridged sky. Mosimann may well have shown us a way through Switzerland, but it’s also a fine way through life.

THE GRAND TOUR OF SWITZERLAND links Switzerland’s cultural and scenic highlights over a distance of more than 1,600 kilometres. The route leads over 5 Alpine passes, along 22 lakes and to 12 UNESCO World Heritage properties. The international access points are Basel, Geneva and Lugano; within Switzerland, motorists can begin the tour at any chosen point.

How To Read More

“I wish I had more time to read”. “I should read more”. Either of these sentences sound familiar? With all our productivity apps, domestic gadgets and on-demand service providers, we should have more time than ever for reading, but somehow… And yet there really is nothing better than getting lost in an amazing book – whether it’s a novel that you fall in love with, or perhaps the latest prize-winner that actually challenges you and makes you think. Not to mention the benefits of reading – it’s proven to reduce stress, improve long- and short-term memory and increase focus… So how to read more?

Be Mindful

Sigh. We get it. Everything from dog food to dating seems to involve mindfulness these days. But when it comes to reading more, being mindful really does make sense. You want to read more? Think about WHY you want to read more. To relax? Because you actually enjoy reading even though you’ve been doing it less often? Work out the reason you’d like to read more – and keep reminding yourself of that. You can be mindful anywhere, any time – so keep consciously choosing to make reading a priority in your life.

Join Reading in Heels

A shameless plug, oh yes – for something we’ve just launched. Reading in Heels is a monthly subscription service and digital book club for intelligent, stylish modern women, letting you discover the latest in contemporary literary fiction alongside our Expert Edit of beauty and lifestyle treats.  Each month, our editor handpicks a book we know you’ll love – think modern, literary fiction; fantastic novels you won’t want to put down and the latest books that everyone’s going to be talking about. You’ll receive a beautiful box containing your brand new book, along with a few extra surprises too – think the very best beauty and lifestyle treats to enjoy while you’re reading. And there’s also a digital book club where you can discuss what you’ve been reading with other members. Inspired! Join Reading in Heels here.

Put The Tech Down

Those ten minutes spent getting lost in an Instagram hole? That’s a whole chapter! And that episode of that trashy TV show on Netflix? Not that memorable – and if you’re watching the whole series, that’s probably an entire book. Rather than checking Facebook on your commute or scanning the headlines, get stuck in your book instead. Social media feels like it’s only a minute here or there, but it adds up quickly. And it’s nowhere NEAR as satisfying as reading a good book.

Set A Goal

Choose a goal and make yourself accountable. Perhaps there’s a particular author whose work you’ve always been meaning to read. Or you’d like to get to know French poetry better. Or you’d like to catch up on the prize-winners of the past few years – and curated lists are a good place to start too. Be reasonable – find 5-10 books and commit to working your way through them, one by one. If you’re someone who likes lists, write them down and tick them off! Deciding on a goal and a specific set of books means you’re not going to be wondering what you’re going to read next – and eliminates the possibility to falling off the wagon.

Join A Book Club

Not only is joining a book club a way to read more, it’s often a way to meet some new people too – and that’s never a bad thing. Engaging in debate and talking about writing are probably not part of your professional or personal life either. Regular book club meetings mean that every month or couple of months, you’ll be reading something new – and no one wants to turn up to the meeting without having finished the book. The shame. To avoid disappointment, take a look at some of the titles that the book club has read previously – there’s no point joining with aims of conquering War and Peace, only to find that your chosen book club are mainly reading chick lit.

Ask Your Friends

We’ve all got at least one bookworm friend who has always got about five books on the go. Ask them what they’ve been reading of late and would really recommend. You can even tell them that you’re consciously trying to read more – booky people usually want everyone to love books as much as they do!

CRAVE

London’s must-visit destination for movie buffs? It’s not one of the city’s many historic landmarks and it’s certainly not anywhere remotely connected with Harry Potter-themed experiences. No – the place any real movie lover needs to visit is actually the Shangri-La Hotel. And more specifically GONG: the five-star hotel’s cocktail bar, which you’ll find perched up high – on the 52nd floor of the Shard. But we’re not here for the views – although they are sublime – the real reason for your visit is the Director’s Cut: a cocktail menu paying tribute to the great and the good of the movie world.

And the rationale behind this menu? “Cinema is a unique art that provides direct, instant access to emotions and encounters we might not otherwise experience – opening our minds and making us think afresh. What’s more, it’s a collaborative form that brings together many disparate elements to be fully successful. In this, it resembles a spectacular cocktail, in its fusion of skills, ingredients and imagination…. Each drink is a tale that needs to be told. We provide the outline and the clues; you plot the rest of the whole picture.”

16 cocktails and four non-alcholic sips make up the cinema-themed list. Forget about what type of cocktail you generally drink – this menu flips that idea on its head, dividing the drinks up into genres: Thriller/Drama, Crime/Action, Romantic/Sci-Fi, Adventure/Fantasy and Animation/Superhero. What kind of movie do you fancy this evening? Each cocktail is inspired by an acclaimed director, and there’s lots of names you’ll know: Spielberg and Scorsese, Kubrick and both Ford Coppolas are here, along with Baz, Woody and the inimitable Mr Hitchcock.

More broadly, the Director’s Cut genres correspond to different flavours and styles – whether you prefer something strong (crime, obvs), light & refreshing (fantasy/adventure) or with a sweet-sour finish (thrillers and dramas). Each cocktail is named after one of the director’s celluloid masterpieces, with a list of ingredients giving you clues to what it might be like plus a couple of hints as to the flavour style. “Leather, smoky, punchy, nightcap” or “earthy notes, forest flavours”, for example. The menu also shows images of the glasses the cocktails are served in – as some of them are quite unusual, this is key!

And so, after such an intense, complex, intriguing intro, what are the Director’s Cut cocktails actually like? As varied and exciting as the directors themselves. Baz Luhrmann’s Tea With Daisy is presented in a pretty art deco-inspired illuminated box, lined with velvet, while Francis Ford Coppola’s Bulletproof comes in a glass part-pierced with an actual bullet. So far, so Instagram-worthy. There’s also a Clockwork Orange cocktail which is based on milk – the drink which the movie’s protagonist and his cronies drink before embarking on their vicious attacks. You’re also provided with an iPod (curiously old-fashioned now!) so you can listen to Beethoven’s Symphony 9 – the music which soundtracks the film’s more violent scenes. And the most curious cocktail of all? Feel The Force, which is served in a special Star Wars-themed levitating glass. Men who profess not to like cocktails? Converted.

Visually, it’s an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Flavour-wise? Another win. The menu actually took over a year of preparation, research and careful tasting, and the cocktails include many homemade ingredients, such as a sherbet made with pineapple skin, a yuzu and umeshu cordial, and passion fruit and chai tea foam. Distinctive flavours to delight the palate, and if there was a Michelin star for cocktail making, we’re fairly sure the Shangri La’s Director’s Cut menu would get four of ’em. At £18 a pop, you’re probably not going to be stumbling into the lift at the end of the evening, but with Gong’s breath-taking views and a inspired menu which makes cocktails into a real scene-stealing experience, it’s an adventure you’ll remember until well after the credits have finished rolling.

For more information and to book a table, see GONG at the Shangri-La’s website, or call +(44) 0207 234 8208.

 

RIH Eats

Lope Ariyo. It’s a name you’re going to want to remember. And if you’re even slightly into food, Ariyo’s debut title – Hibiscus – is a book you’re going to want to buy. “Hibiscus may change the way we see African food in Britain,” opine the knowledgeable foodies over at The Observer. And we’re inclined to agree. The UK is a true melting pot when it comes to food; Indian, Turkish, Italian, Chinese have all become part of our culinary vocabulary in a little more than a generation. But African? Sure, you might have tried a tagine or jollof pot, but food from Africa – or even inspired by – the mother continent is surprisingly rare and certainly not mainstream, even in the bigger cities.

And that’s a real shame. A bold, eye-opening take on Nigerian cuisine, Hibiscus shows all the rich colours, flavours and vibrancy that Africa has to offer. Sure, there are some ingredients you might not have encountered regularly – baobab, egusi seeds and efirin probably aren’t on sale in your local supermarket. But if Sainsbury’s are stocking sumac and tahini these days, that’s undoubtedly thanks in part to Mr Ottolenghi. Featuring simple, delicious recipes packed with flavour, Hibiscus is remarkably accessible, with recipes like Nigerian roasted veg, traditional Puff Puff doughnuts, rich meat stews and curries and spicy salads and soups. Read this and you’re going to want to find out more about Nigerian cuisine. To get you started, try your hand at Ariyo’s Hibiscus & Coconut Cake: possibly the perfect summery cake to make (and eat) right now…

Hibiscus is a really flavourful ingredient and is very fragrant when cooked, which makes it great for experimenting with. Rather than using almonds for the base of this cake, I’ve gone for egusi seeds, which are eaten much more regularly in Nigerian culture. Although it doesn’t happen often, when I do have time to make cakes, I try to create a real showstopper to share with friends, and this is no exception. Although hibiscus can be eaten all year round, I do think of this as a summer cake to enjoy in the garden.

180g plain flour  //  60g ground egusi seeds or ground almonds
80g fine-cut dried hibiscus petals  //  1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking powder  //  1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt  //  90g coconut oil, softened
60ml groundnut oil, plus extra for greasing  //  100g caster sugar
80g light brown sugar  //  3 large eggs
½ x 400ml tin coconut milk  //  2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice  //  desiccated coconut, to decorate
hibiscus petals, to decorate

FOR THE COCONUT DRIZZLE

120g icing sugar  //  4 tbsp coconut milk
½ tsp coconut extract  //  ½ tsp vanilla extract

FOR THE COCONUT FROSTING

300g cream cheese  //  2 tbsp coconut milk 
80g icing sugar  // 1 tbsp fine-cut dried hibiscus petals

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4. Grease two round 20cm cake tins then line them with baking paper. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, ground egusi seeds or ground almonds, hibiscus petals, ground cloves, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and salt.

In another large bowl, cream the coconut oil, groundnut oil and sugars together. One by one, add the eggs until well combined. Add half of the dry ingredients to the bowl, followed by half of the coconut milk and mix with an electric hand whisk or stand mixer until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Repeat to add the remaining dry ingredients and coconut milk and mix to thoroughly combine. Finally, add the vanilla extract and lemon juice, folding in gently.

Transfer the batter into a large measuring jug and evenly distribute it between the two cake tins. If you prefer less washing up, then roughly measure by eye. Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes. When they’re ready, a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out of the tins on to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the drizzle, mix the icing sugar with the coconut milk to get a thick drizzle, then add the coconut and vanilla extracts. Trickle over both layers of the cooled hibiscus cake.  For the frosting, whisk all the ingredients together to create a fluffy purple cloud. Make sure the colour is consistent throughout. Spread half the frosting over one of the cakes and place the second on top. Spread what’s left of the frosting over the top layer and sprinkle over the desiccated coconut and hibiscus petals to decorate.

Published by Harper Collins, Lope Ariyo’s Hibiscus is available to buy online here.

The Summer Bodycare Edit

We all have our own definition of what a beach body means (a body, going to the beach, right?!), but summer bodycare is really just about making your skin its very best. Smooth, healthy, toned skin is all we all want, and a radiant, golden glow flatters just about everybody. Here’s our edit of the very best summer bodycare products to be your very best summer body…

Ila Spa Body Scrub for Energising and Detoxifying

For toned summer skin that really glows, the first thing you need is a decent body scrub. We’ve fallen head over heels for Ila Spa’s luxurious Body Scrub for Energising and Detoxifying. It’s luxe, but a little goes a long way with this one, which is designed to boost energy and immune function, as well as leaving skin silky smooth – oh hello, multitasking magic! Mineral-rich Himalayan salt crystals detoxify, stimulate the circulation and banish dry, congested skin, while a rich blend of organic oils moisturise and nourish. For best effect, massage a handful into your skin and then hop into the bath for 20 minutes or so to let the ingredients really get to work. Of course – as with everything else from Ila Spa – the scent of this will make you feel like you’ve spent an hour in a luxury spa. Buy online here.

Legology Sun-Lite Sheer Lingerie For Legs

Once you’ve try Sun-Lite the first time, we’re willing to bet you’ll buy a second tube immediately. Why? Created by legendary beauty journo Kate Shapland, this refreshing tinted gel is designed to “make legs feel as light as air” – as they can tend to feel heavier during summer months. The fast-acting gel-cream works to instantly cool, refresh and energise. Sounds impossible? Totally works. Legs feel lifted and lighter, with a sheer bronze tint delivering a hint of flattering colour to contour and enhance your pins. And Sun Lite’s heady scent of Amalfi lemons is basically summer bottled. Buy online here.

Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Firm & Replenish Body Serum

Aurelia is one of our go-to brands for organic skincare than actually works – and we’re already big fans of their Dry Body Oil and ultra-effective Hand Cream. The luxury brand’s latest treat is the Firm & Replenish Body Serum – we’ve grown to expect pretty packaging and an indulgent scent (lemongrass, bergamot, mandarin and cedarwood) from Aurelia, so we won’t bother to dwell on those. Need to know? This deliciously lightweight serum is intensive, deeply-hydrating and quickly absorbed, leaving skin velvety-smooth and beautifully soft. It also works as an aftersun treatment – buy this one in bulk.

Vita Liberata Ten Minute Tan

One of the things we like least about fake tanning? Streaks and scent aside, it has to be the time involved in the whole process. Exfoliating, application, waiting for things to dry so you can dress – never mind the time to sort out stained bedding. So we were pretty intrigued – albeit skeptical – by Vita Liberata’s latest tanning treat: the Ten Minute Tan. Apply as normal, wait ten minutes and then shower off for a bronzing golden glow? Actually yes – this really does work, with the colour appearing after about four hours, and becoming slightly deeper the next day, with the tan lasting a good three to four days.  Even better, this is 100% organic, with streak-free colour that even suits paler skins. Buy online here.

Aesop Rejuvenate Intensive Body Balm

Sea, sand, sweat and sun – summer takes its toll on your skin. What you need is a really effective moisturiser – and they don’t get more rich and deeply hydrating than Aesop’s Rejuvenate Intensive Body Balm. Enriched with concentrated natural and botanical ingredients, this works wonders on parched dry skin – elbows, hands, feet – and even does double-duty as aftersun. The vanilla-sandalwood scent is how we’d always like our skin to smell of a summer evening… Buy online here.

Prismologie Citrine & Bergamot Energising Shower Gel

Something to bring the summer to your shower? Even when the sunshine isn’t doing its stuff, this is the summeriest shower gel around – if you’re not woken up and cheered up after five minutes in the shower with this, even a double espresso isn’t going to work. It’s also enriched with micro-crystals of Citrine – the stone of confidence, no less – which combines with a refreshing bergamot scent to uplift, energise and rejuvenate. As with all of Prismologie’s products, it’s packed with botanicals to take care of skin from top to toe. Buy online here.

St Tropez Instant Tan Finishing Gloss

Okay, got your tan sorted? The newest St Tropez launch is what you need in your life. The wash-off Instant Tan Finishing Gloss is more gloss, less tan, leaving an elegant hint of shimmer with just a little bronze. Never fear, no glitter is included in this – it’s 100% sheeny, sophisticated gloss, leaving legs, decollete and anywhere else looking HOT. It’s one for summer evenings out, to be worn with your most daring LBD. As a side note – this works on even the palest of complexions, and can be layered up if you’re looking for a super sexy look. Buy online here.

Autograph Pre Tan Primer 

One of the reasons most people (around 92%* apparently) gave for not using fake tan? You guessed it – streaks. Foolproof tanning means exfoliation, but the rather clever new Autograph Pre Tan Primer means you can pretty much skip that time-consuming step. Essentially a moisturiser enriched with glycolic acid, this multi-tasker sweeps away dry skin leaving your bod ready for a golden glow. Even, natural tan? Easy peasy. Buy online here. *we might have made that up

Vichy Ideal Body Extraordinary Oil

Vichy? Summer bodycare? Oh yes. The brand’s Ideal Body 3-Gold Dry Oil might not have the catchiest of names, but it’s one of the best new summer beauty products for 2017. A combination of ten different oils plus gold, copper and bronze particles mean that this might just be the only product you need to take on holiday this year. Easily absorbed, it can be used on dry or damp skin, hair and even as a facial oil, leaving everything smoother, shinier, softer and more radiant. Which is what we all want for summer, right? Buy online here.

Rituals Ritual of Karma Suncare

Suncare? Honestly, we really prefer The Ritual of Karma, darling. Rituals’ suncare range is enriched with antioxidants in the form of white tea and gingko, meaning that it’s skin-loving as well as protecting. Top marks for the SPF 50 Sun Protection Milky Spray which absorbs almost instantly and smells delightfully fresh, while the SPF 30 Sun Protection Body Oil contains a tan booster meaning that you’ll tan more quickly, while protecting your skin. Bonus!

New Summer Books

Whether we have a sun-soaked summer or a disappointing washout to look forward to, those lazy, hazy days call for a pile of new books to fall into. Luckily, we’re spoilt for choice this summer, with mesmerising fiction about musicians, maddening families and much more on the horizon. Here’s the titles to add to your TBR pile…

Novelist Laura Barnett is back with her sophomore book, Greatest Hits (W&N). Her bestselling debut, The Versions of Us, was one of 2015’s biggest literary talking points, but her second novel more than exceeds expectations and has a far less tangled plot to contend with. Cass Wheeler is one of music’s all-time greats – think Carole King, complete with flowing locks and lyrics inspired by heartbreak – but these days she lives alone and tends to shut the door on the world. Encouraged out of retirement to choose the tracks for a special compilation album, she looks back on her youth, her marriage and her career, and at the decisions and dramas that shaped her life. Explorations of the tough side of fame can feel grating and clichéd – the booze! the pills! the regrets! – but Cass is an endearing, sympathetic heroine and her trials are ordinary and real. Barnett is a master storyteller, bringing to life 1950s suburbia, the possibility of the 1960s, and the hedonistic heyday of the music industry so that you simply can’t wait to turn the page.

Another second-timer hoping to match her initial success is Francesca Segal, author of The Innocents and now The Awkward Age (Chatto & Windus), the latter a look at the ups and downs of blended families. In one corner we have Julia and Gwen, inseparable mother-daughter pairing since the untimely death of Gwen’s beloved father. In the other there’s academically brilliant, arrogant Nathan and his dad James; their arrival in Julia’s home sets in motion a chain of dramatic events. If you can get past the melodramatic storyline (I won’t spoil it for you, but at times it felt contrived) this is a warm, funny book dealing with a most modern matter.

Also dealing with generational strife is Nickolas Butler’s meandering, beautiful The Hearts of Men (Picador, 13th July), which takes as its stage an American summer camp for boys in the 1960s. In 1962, lonely outsider Nelson is befriended by the archetypal cool kid Jonathan Quick; their loyalty to each other sealed by a particular gruesome game of capture the flag. Despite their differences, the two remain close, even as Nelson is sent off to war and returns to take over at the camp he attended in his unhappy youth, and as Jonathan marries and becomes father and grandfather. As the decades pass, the two families remain connected, with devastating consequences. If you’ve read Butler’s brilliant Shotgun Lovesongs, you’ll be familiar with his gentle portrayal of rural American life; if you haven’t, start here.

Continuing with the rural setting, but raising the creepy factor is Jennie Melamed’s Gather the Daughters (Tinder Press, 25th July), a dystopian novel about a religiously-motivated, patriarchal society almost entirely cut off from the outside world. On the island, girls and women are chattel, fathers are sinister figures, marriage takes place almost as soon as puberty occurs, and adults are euthanised once they become a burden. The rules are strict, the life brutal and short, save for one thing; every summer the children are cut loose; they roam the island with complete impunity until the weather changes. A chance discovery on one of those heady days calls into question everything the community is built on; as the daughters rise up, the question is whether they will be strong enough to change their fates. There are elements of this novel that call to mind The Handmaid’s Tale, but Melamed is less concerned with politics and more interested in the psychological impact of living a life without choice or hope. Gather the Daughters is gripping, if disturbing.

Lastly, Julie Buntin’s Marlena (Picador), which comes heralded by a flurry of praise from authors such as Jonathan Safran Foer, does not disappoint. Our heroine is Cat: a thirtysomething with an ostensibly well-ordered life, who has been forever changed by a teenage friendship and the tragedy that destroyed it. Arriving in rural, impoverished Michigan with her newly divorced mother and unhappy brother, beautiful, confident Marlena offers the hope and escape that Cat is craving. But Marlena’s life is anything but a fairytale, and as their friendship develops Cat is drawn in to the seedy, insalubrious underside of her world. Beautifully written and insightful in its understanding of the complex relationship between girls on the cusp of adulthood, this is bittersweet and wonderful all at once.

LIVE from Facebook New York

Karah from Belletrist in conversation with May Book Pick author Julie Buntin and author Mira Jacob.

Posted by Karah Preiss on Friday, 2 June 2017