Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gourmet Doughnuts in London (and the UAE)

Dum Dum Donutterie

If you love your desserts and baked goods like me, you might have possibly noticed that the popularity of doughnuts has been steadily on the rise (pun intended) in the past year or so. I don't just mean any doughnuts of course, but more specifically gourmet doughnuts.

Sure Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts may just be the thing when you're looking for a sugary sprinkle topped treat for a few dirhams, but visit a special artisanal bakery and you'll find the humble doughnut made with honest, preservative free ingredients, and filled and topped with all kinds of imaginative combinations and creative ingredients that will make you wonder why doughnuts were never made like this before.

And why you ask did I decide to write about the current popularity of the dough baked good? Well, last year when I visited London in October (yes this post is pretty late in the making), I made it a mission of mine to visit all the gourmet doughnut hot spots in the city. I've also been fortunate to handle the social media of the UAE's very own gourmet doughnut spot, Love Doughnuts in Abu Dhabi, for over a year now. In fact if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you'll have probably noticed I post a lot about them already. Regardless, with the addition of a few more high-end doughnut offerings already on the UAE scene its clear that the region is catching onto the bug too.

When it comes to gourmet doughnuts expect to pay a little bit more than your average doughnut and if you haven't actually tried a one yet you're definitely going to want to after this post!

Crosstown Doughnuts

Although Crosstown Doughnuts now has a stand alone store in Soho, at the time I visited they had a concession in Selfridges and sold through weekly markets. I'd heard a lot of brilliant things about Crosstown and couldn't wait to try their offerings. I first visited them at the food hall in Selfridges (as this is also where St John's Bakery has a doughnut concession). It was the end of the day so a lot of their produce had already sold leaving me to only give their Vanilla Bean Glazed doughnut a go. This is their gourmet take on the classic sugar glazed doughnut and despite it being the end of the day, the sourdough bread was still soft, the glaze was still intact (how annoying is it when doughnut glazes melt away) and it proved to be a satisfying doughnut. 
However I was keen to try their more creative flavours and after a couple of days I visited their stall at Leather Lane Market in Holborn, where I managed to catch them early whilst a lot of flavours were available. I picked the Sea Salt Caramel & Banana Cream, and Spiced Apple and Pear Crumble doughnuts, and proceeded to a nearby park to enjoy my treats on a bench. Both flavours couldn't have been more further from each other and yet both deserve a mention. In fact even a year on I can still remember how good they were. 

The Sea Salt Caramel & Banana Cream is an ingenious combination of chocolate sourdough, fresh banana cream filling, and topped with sea salt caramel and chocolate 'soil'. Three words - I loved it. It's a doughnut I still dream about to this day. Ooey gooey banana cream, a lightly chocolate dough and that delightful hint of caramel sweetness.

I'm not usually one for warm fruity British desserts but I couldn't help but choose the Spiced Apple and Pear Crumble doughnut because of the time of year and for nostalgic reasons. I'm glad I did as the flavours pleasantly surprised me - the spices in the filling really came through and it tasted exactly like an apple and pear crumble actually does. 

The doughnuts from Crosstown Doughnuts were definitely memorable. The flavours were sharp, the dough was soft and bouncy, and the fillings were generous (something I enjoyed with these flavours). Looking through their website they have some incredible drool-worthy combinations which I can't wait to try more of in the future. 

Dum Dum Donutterie

I made Dum Dum Donutterie my first doughnut pit-stop upon arriving in the city. I visited their concession at Harrod's and opted for their Zebra Baked Doughnuts - a butter croissant dough, filled with chocolate buttercream, topped with chocolate and sprinkled with more chocolate. Essentially a 'cronut', it was quite frankly everything you could imagine and want in a croissant-doughnut hybrid. Crispy and soft layers infused with ample buttery chocolate cream which oozed out with every bite. I thoroughly loved it.

I didn't have space to try their actual doughnuts so decided to leave it for a few days later when I visited their branch at Box Park in Shoreditch. Unfortunately it was an unexpectedly cold and rainy walk from Liverpool Street station to get there and by the time I reached I already wasn't in the best of moods and craved a refuge spot. This time I ordered their Creme Brulee and White Chocolate & Pistachio doughnuts. In stark contrast to their cronuts I really didn't enjoy these. The Creme Brulee doughnut had barely any custard cream filling at all and was simply topped with crunchy caramelised sugar. Similarly the White Chocolate Pistachio had no filling and both doughnuts left much to be desired. I was pretty annoyed from my experience of these doughnuts, and although my mood wasn't great already I'm still not convinced this would have made a difference to my experience of them.

I should note what makes Dum Dum Doughnuts different to the other gourmet doughnuts reviewed here is that they are baked, not fried. Still they've managed to take the London doughnut scene by storm and I'm hoping the next time I try them it will be much better. 

Recently Dum Dum Donutterie announced they will be opening a branch right here in Dubai soon on Jumeirah Beach Road. 

Bread Ahead Bakery

Bread Ahead Bakery is another gourmet doughnut offering I had heard a lot of good things about prior to visiting. Although primarily bread-makers, they've garnered a lot of attention for their doughnuts at their stall in Borough Market, just around the corner from their oven baking headquarters. When I visited the market on a Saturday there was definitely a lot of buzz around their booth. All you have to do is take a look at their doughnuts to know there must be something good about them. My friend and I decided on a Creme Caramel & Salted Honeycomb, and Hazelnut & Almond Praline doughnut. 

Although they are not topped with anything on the outside, there is no scrimping on the filling which purposely oozes out and forms the base for crumbled toppings. In fact similarly to Crosstown Doughnuts, the dough is literally just enough to encase whats within. The doughnuts are rolled in sugar and have a rustic, old-school baked look to them. Sticky chins are inevitable! What you're getting here is really dessert, and for that I personally couldn't complain. 
Just like Crosstown, I've been dreaming about these doughnuts ever since. 

Bread Ahead have since opened an eatery offering an array of bites in Old Street.

St John's Bakery

Conveniently next to the Crosstown concession in the Selfridges food hall I managed to catch the baker filling fresh doughnut's with vanilla cream when I arrived and I knew I had to try one. I also went for a fruit jam filled doughnut, although I can't remember now if it was peach or apricot filled. These reminded me very much of Bread Ahead's doughnuts, in dough taste, texture and style. 

I would call these gourmet in the sense that they've clearly been made with high quality ingredients and by an artisanal bakery which has earned a reputation for its baked goods. If you're looking for simple sugar-rolled doughnuts with a good dough and classic jam and cream based fillings then these are for you. 

Love Doughnuts

London and the States may be in full swing of the gourmet doughnut craze now, but the Emirates, where new food spots regularly open up with lots of media fanfare, has been surprisingly slow to catch onto the trend.
However one such offering which did catch onto the gap in the UAE market is Love Doughnuts. Based in Abu Dhabi, the family run bakery slash coffee shop and gelateria opened up back in 2013 and was definitely the first to offer creative doughnut flavours using locally sourced and high quality, honest ingredients. 

Handmade everyday Love Doughnuts has a variety of its most popular flavours which it sells on a daily basis, but also introduces two to three new flavours as specials every month. Some of the flavours they've had in the past include Red Velvet White Chocolate & Strawberry, Dark Chocolate Lotus, Date & Tahini, Earl Grey & Passionfruit, and Peach & Green Chilli to name but a few! 

And yes I may be biased, but having tried a countless number of their doughnuts, they naturally come highly recommended. The quality is uncompromised and each doughnut is lovingly made from scratch. One look at their doughnut counter is enough to have your taste buds racing. Personal favourites include the Honeycomb Chocolate and classic Boston Cream, and I'm also partial to their gelato scooped between a warm sliced doughnut and topped with Belgian chocolate!

Jam Bar

Another doughnut offering in the UAE worthy of note is Jam Bar, which opened up about a year ago with a stall in Dubai Mall, and has recently opened a second outlet in Kite Beach. So far I've only managed to try a doughnut ice-cream sandwich, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although I haven't seen them market themselves as 'gourmet' doughnuts they definitely do hand-made doughnuts made with real ingredients. Retro in style, their offerings range from the standard cream and jam filled, to the more playful Princess Jasmine - filled with rosewater cream, and topped with a rosewater glaze and pistachio praline. 

As I also mentioned above, Dum Dum Donutterie are due to open soon in Dubai. Although I didn't enjoy their doughnuts I'll definitely be visiting their branch here to give them another try, if not for their cronuts. 

Have you tried 'gourmet' doughnuts yet? 

Disclaimer: although I work with Love Doughnut's in no way are these opinions obligatory to my service to them. I chose to write this review and all views are my own. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: Hunny Bunny's Cake Factory cupcakes

A couple of months ago I was invited by Hunny Bunny's Cake Factory, a newly opened cake business in Dubai, to try out their homemade cupcakes. As a self-declared dessert connoisseur I always jump at the chance to try out locally based baking businesses, and can understand how much work and effort goes into creating a good cake or cupcake - the base, the right balance of icing to cake, and flavour intensity are all factors which are crucial. Not that it means these factors ever go right for me!

As well as cakes, Hunny Bunny's has an extensive list of cupcake flavours to choose from, whether the more traditional or creative, both in taste and presentation. I decided to opt for their more original creations, going for the Absolute Arabian, Crazy Caramel, Happy Hi-Hat and Bombastic Banana. It had actually been a while since I had eaten any cupcakes at all so I looked forward to tasting them with enthusiasm. The verdict? They definitely did not disappoint! 

Absolute Arabian

With a coconut cake base and orange blossom and rosewater buttercream topped with pistachio slivers, this combination makes for a very pretty cupcake. By now you already know that I'm a sucker for anything rose water, orange blossom and pistachio flavoured. I also really love coconut so I couldn't wait to try this flavour the most and boy was it good. I absolutely loved it! There's something so good about the nuttiness in a coconut cake and together with the floral frosting it lent an amazing combination both in texture and taste! 

Crazy Caramel

This one is for the salty-sweet fans - salted caramel cupcake with salted caramel frosting and a pretzel on top. I had never tried a caramel cupcake before this and was really pleased that it wasn't as super sweet as you might imagine with most caramel flavoured desserts. The cake and frosting both had a pleasant caramel flavour, and the added hint of salt imparted that lovely contrast which makes salted caramel so irresistible! 

Happy Hi-Hat

This is seemingly just a chocolate cupcake, but once bitten into the chocolate dome reveals a fluffy meringue frosting encased inside the crispy exterior shell. So cute, and the meringue frosting was a lovely alternative to buttercream - think marshmallow pillowy-ness on cake! I loved that it was a different way to enjoy a chocolate cupcake and the cake base itself was perfectly chocolatey.

Bombastic Banana

This cupcake is Hunny Bunny Cake Factory's take on a banana split with banana cake, strawberry buttercream,  chocolate ganache, whipped cream style frosting and a cherry on top. It not only looks party perfect but with all the classic layers of a banana split also tastes like a party! The banana cake didn't have any of the artificial banana flavour you often get with banana desserts, and considering the number of toppings added it was indulgent without being overly so. 

Although my favourite's were the Arabian and Crazy Caramel it was hard to find any fault with all of the flavours I tried. They equally tasted how they read and none of the ingredients were crazily overpowering or too jarring. This went for both the cake base and the frosting as well as the toppings. 

How often have you eaten a cupcake only for the buttercream frosting to be far too sweet making it difficult to enjoy more than one cupcake in a sitting? With these cupcakes this wasn't the case - the frosting had just the right amount of sweetness and in addition it didn't overpower the cake bases. Similarly the sweetness of the cake itself too was balanced, with the cake to frosting ratio just right. I easily enjoyed two to three cupcakes in one go (don't judge!). As for the texture and baking quality, the cake base's were all moist, fluffy and neither over nor under-done. I would have happily eaten them even without the added frosting!

I cannot recommend Hunny Bunny's Cake Factory enough - if you're looking for quality cupcakes in both traditional and unique flavours you can't go wrong in choosing them for your special occasion or just as a special treat.

Order straight from their website at or call/whatsapp on +971568460856
Follow them too - 
Instagram: @hunnybunnys_cake_factory
Facebook: @hunnybunnycf
Twitter: @hunnybunnyscake


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Rose & Saffron Cream Kunafa Nests

As soon as the countdown to Eid nears one of the first things we tend to think of in our household is what sweets to prepare. This is especially true when we know it's going to be a long day of welcoming guests and needing to make something that's quick yet still impressive to serve with that first post-Ramadan afternoon tea! And so the idea for these Rose and Saffron Cream Kunafa Nests was born.

One of my absolute favourite Arabic desserts is kunafa (otherwise spelt as knafeh) - typically a dessert made up of two crisp layers of vermicelli, stuffed with a light but sweet cheese, and then soaked or drizzled with a wonderful rose sugar syrup concoction. I love how it cleverly uses cheese for that sweet and savory combo, which personally makes it irresistible.
Hence the idea behind this dessert came from my love of kunafa, whilst being inspired by a mix of those ingredients which are commonly used in Middle-Eastern and Asian sweets - rose petals, pistachio and saffron. All have long been used in a very festive way in both Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. Here instead of the usual akawi cheese, I decided to combine my beloved mascarpone (see previous recipes) with kunafa dough strands to create a dessert that, like the tradtional kunafa, is crunchy, sweet, creamy and aromatic all at the same time. Not to mention, it also looks very pretty once put together.

Using a cupcake tin also has its advantage as it means easy individual sized portions which aren't too filling, yet still worthy of seconds. Both the kunafa nests and mascarpone cream mix can be made ahead, so as to be assembled before serving.

Rose & Saffron Cream Kunafa Nests
Makes 12 nests. Preparation time 45 minutes.

250g kunafa dough, defrosted
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 & half tsp rose water
1 tsp orange blossom water
5-6 strands of saffron
250g tub of mascarpone
40g icing sugar
Pistachio slivers, for decorating
Dried rose petals, for decorating
Persian fairy floss, for decorating

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C, and using a cupcake tray shape and roll the kunafa strands into each mould of the tray. Bake in the oven for about ten minutes, keeping an eye out until they are golden in colour. Remove and leave to cool.
2. Meanwhile make the sugar syrup by boiling the water and sugar together for about three minutes, until the sugar has melted. Leave to cool slightly and then add one teaspoon each of the rose and orange blossom water. Add the saffron strands and mix to get a yellow tint.
3. To make the cream topping, combine together the mascarpone, icing sugar and remaining one and a half teaspoons of rose water.
4. To assemble, drizzle one teaspoon of the sugar syrup over each of the kunafa nests, and leave to soak for five minutes. Now using a teaspoon, dollop the mascarpone cream mix over each nest, and drizzle a little more sugar syrup over. Decorate with Persian fairy floss, pistachio slivers and rose petals before serving.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Smoothie

When it comes to breakfast there are really only one of two things I like to make every morning - a generous yogurt, fruit and granola parfait, or a filling milk-based smoothie loaded with enough ingredients to take me through the till lunch time.

This smoothie right here has pretty much become my go-to smoothie on most mornings. Its so easy to throw together I could probably make it with both my eyes closed, and I love that there are days when I wake up craving it. Oh and if you love the combination of peanut butter and chocolate, the salty with the sweet, then you'll forever want to make this on most mornings like I do. It's exactly like drinking a sort-of-dessert for breakfast, yet with no added sugar and just the right amount of sweetness. (For some odd reason I don't seem to have added enough cacao powder to the smoothies in these images, but it should look and taste chocolatey!)

The best part? It really is 'healthy'.

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Smoothie
Serves 1

1 cup of milk of choice (I use Coconut Dream Unsweetened drinking coconut milk)
1 medium banana
1 level tbsp peanut butter (I use Whole Earth Crunchy Organic)
1-2 tbsp raw cacao powder, depending in how chocolatey you want it (I use Superfoods Organic Raw Peruvian Cacao Powder)
1 level tbsp ground flax seed
Pinch of organic maca powder
Pinch of cinnamon powder (optional)
A few drops of pure coconut oil (optional)

Put all the ingredients together in a blender and blend till smooth. Adjust consistency with more milk if preferred. Pour into a tall glass and enjoy immediately!


Monday, March 16, 2015

Beela Bakes: Guide to Borough Market, London

Continuing on from my London Food Diary series, I knew I had to dedicate a post of its own to wondrous Borough Market. In all my twenty-three years living in the city, plus frequent trips back and forth since moving to Dubai, I had never visited the market before, and it ended up proving to be the most memorable food experience on this particular visit. Be prepared to queue and eat to your hearts content, but if there is at least one place you visit for food in London, I implore you to make it this.

Having done my research, I visited with my best friend on a Saturday afternoon which was deemed the best day to go, as although the market was pretty crowded we found stalls and stalls of food, with everything you can imagine to eat and such great choice. Whether you're looking to have lunch or dessert, Egyptian or Thai, or even artisanal products to take home, you'll be more than spoilt, and whats great is that the majority of stalls happily give out samples to try.

Our first stop was Koshari Street. I was first introduced to koshari, the popular Egyptian street dish through ones of Antony Bourdain's shows and had subsequently heard lots about the London eatery opened by Middle Eastern cookery writer Anissa Helou, so I was super eager to try it. And WOW. What an absolute must try! Completely vegetarian, it consists of a mix of lentils, rice, pasta and vermicelli, topped with a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas and caramelised onions. As random as it sounds it was totally out of this world. If you can't visit them at the market, Koshari Street has their main branch in Covent Garden.

Fresh, hot, batter-fried calamari served with chopped red chilies and sweet chili sauce on the side was a definite highlight. My mind escapes me as to whether this was from a Spanish or Thai food stall (I'm thinking the latter) but nevertheless it was seriously good and still has me dreaming about my next trip to the market.

I dare you to leave Borough Market without trying a sugary treat from at least one of the numerous confectionary and bakery stands. As brownie addicts, my friend bought a brownie from Comptoir Gourmand whilst I tried one from Artisan Foods. In the end we both decided the former had the best one. In addition we bought artisanal doughnuts from Bread Ahead Bakery. If you are sweet-toothed I highly encourage you to try these, but much more on doughnuts in a follow-up post!

Hydration was found in the form of a smoothie from the Natural Smoothie Co. My forest green High Kick was a super blend of kiwi, pineapple, strawberry, banana, spirulina, linseed, apple and orange juice, and although I am weary of too many combinations in one smoothie, this one was faultless. 

To take back home with me I bought granola from Mini Magoo which does 100% organic cereal and granola mixes. Having tried some samples to taste, I settled on a pack each of their Funstuff! Ginger Seeds and Nuts mix, which was gluten, oat and wheat free, and their lovely Christmas granola with white chocolate pieces, cranberries orange peel and dates. They've been a great addition to my morning yogurt parfaits!

If you missed it, see my London Food Diary part 1 and part 2 for more on where to eat and dine when in the capital. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Beela Bakes: London Food Diary: Part 2

The Five Fields, Chelsea

Dinner here was planned by my husband as a surprise to celebrate our three year anniversary, and boy was it good. So good infact that it was easily one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. There is a waiting list for reservations to dine here which alone can take upto three months. Focusing on British cooking, but with a modern and playful twist, each dish at The Five Fields is made with native British artisanal produce and changes seasonally. The dining room itself is a small intimate space which made it feel all the more special and gave an air of what felt like a traditional English gentleman's private club.

I loved that they personalised the menu for our special occasion. I started with the simply named Garden - a playful combination of herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables which tasted just as colourful as it looked. I tried turbot for the first time for my main, and it was served with laver seaweed, razor clams and blackberries. Dessert options looked incredible and we couldn't hold back from ordering two - the lemon brulee with butternut squash ice-cream, and the cucumber basil white chocolate with dill. Even so, we were given a third complimentary dessert - an example of the attention and care taken by the restaurant to ensure a great experience. Every dish was perfection, beautifully presented and the service was stellar. Lots of delicate herbs, pretty colours and artfully combined flavours. At the end of the meal we were given a complimentary box of housemade confectionary. Truly ones of the best meals I've had and it definitely lives up to its reputation - just read its exemplary reviews.

Joe and The Juice, Regent Street

Another spot which I discovered with friends during my last year of uni. The urban-style juice bar which originally hails from Denmark offers a selection of fruit juices and smoothies, as well as snacks and sandwiches. It kind of has a very similar feel to Tom & Serg in Dubai in terms of the decor and ambience, and you can watch your juice being blended up on the open space counter bar. Seating comes in a variety of styles, including window seats, sofas, table and chairs and a more communal space in the upstairs area. It's a lovely spot to catch up with friends, or especially one to retreat to after a busy few hours most likely shopping on nearby Oxford Street (totally guilty)! Infact I also love it for people-watching. They do however have branches in Fitzrovia and Dean Street as well. On this trip I went for 'Joe's Sweet Kiss', a blend of raspberry, apple and ginger. It was fresh, zingy and frankly a better alternative to the usual Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero nearby. Saying that there is coffee on the menu too for those who still need their caffeine fix. I didn't eat anything this time round though I can vouch for their avocado sandwich being very good.

Pret A Manger, all over London

Good 'ol Pret. I simply can't tell you how many times Pret has literally saved my life. From A-Level school days grabbing a quick lunchtime sandwich during private study breaks, to university again where it practically made up for at least one less meal to worry about everyday. And of course this is precisely what makes it so good - its ethos is handmade, natural food without any preservatives or additives, and it truly caters to the everyday person; one looking to refuel with good 'fast-food' in a city where time is unfortunately always of the essence. In fact I don't think there is anything Pret does which could be considered 'bad' - sandwiches, wraps, soups, hot savoury pastries, freshly bottled smoothies and juices, healthy crisps, snack bars, dessert pots, everything it does it does so well. Oh and did I mention how amazing the avocado wrap is? Hand on heart, this is one sandwich I could eat everyday for the rest of my life. You can find a Pret on virtually every street corner in central London now and to be honest, with such good honest food I'm all the more grateful for it. Pret I love you.

P.S. I've now long heard whispers about Pret A Manger coming to Dubai, more specifically to the airport, and I really hope its true!

Box Park, Shoreditch

Box Park is a pop-up mall concept in the hipper east part of London, which sees a mix of independent fashion brands, cafes and restaurants housed in shipping containers. Infact it's a concept very similarly adopted, if not copied (!), by the newly opened Box Park on Al Wasl Road in Dubai. I came here specifically on a hunt for gourmet doughnuts (something which I will be posting about soon) but enjoyed lunch at Thai and Lao Street Food which serves up a variety of South East Asian street food and uses fresh ingredients for meals which are cooked to order. I went for a steaming hot pad thai with prawns, which was just the thing I needed on a dreary damp day, and especially as the open containers don't allow much for keeping out the cold even when seated inside. The husband went instead for a Korean bulgogi beef salad box with kimchi from Korrito. With a rooftop style garden its definitely a great place to check out in the British summer and enjoy al fresco style lunches and dinners.

Roasted Chestnut's, Oxford Street

One of my absolute fondest memories from my childhood is enjoying hot roasted chestnuts from Victorian-style wooden carts in Knightsbridge during the winter months. There is something about the charcoally smell of chestnuts roasting, and the delight in peeling back the hot individual shells which is forever engraved in my mind. It romantically takes me back to trips into central London with my parents on the weekends, when my mum and I would buy a small crispy white paper bag of roast chestnuts each and sit on a side-street bench enjoying their soft rubbery sweet flesh one by one, or in our laps trying not to make a mess in the car ride back home. Today it is impossible for me to pass a street seller without stopping to buy a bag and I especially look forward to seeking them out when I'm in the city for winter. I'm not sure if they are sold in Knightsbridge anymore but I bought from a seller on Oxford Street this time and in the past have seen them sold on The Strand as well. Quintessentially British, to me they are a symbol of a bygone era of street-life still preserved in today's London.

Read Part 1 of my London Food Diary here 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Beela Bakes London Food Diary: Part 1

Its already been few months now since I came back from a short trip to my beloved London. Still I've been meaning to share this post so here it is. Although the winter had already settled in when I was there, I'm glad to say I didn't let it deter me and I honestly had one of the best 'holidays' I have had since moving away from the city four years ago. Is it just me or is the city's food scene thriving more than ever before? Fine dining, cafe's, deli's, bakeries, markets, pop-up stalls - there seemed to be so much to discover everywhere I turned. Like most Londoners, I've always held a special place in my heart for the festive season, and I really think this contributed to my enjoyment of this trip even more. Hot street roasted chestnuts, the Harrod's window displays, and Christmas lights on Oxford Street are traditions which made winter in London what it was for me as a child. As I go back to visit over the years I'm always glad to see they are all traditions which are very much still alive, never failing to add that special atmosphere to this time of the year especially.

Obviously I arrived with a list the length of my arm of places I wanted to try, and even though I didn't get to try them all, there was certainly the odd day where I ended up eating three mini lunches just so I could fit in said places all in one go! Of course, as a self-proclaimed sweet-tooth there were also plenty of days when dessert naturally replaced lunch or dinner - the things we do as a food blogger! I admit, a few of the places I visited were based on other food blogger's recommendations, but I did try to add spots in of my own, and I also tried to visit some of my favourite places having grown up as a Londoner. Since there are too many to fit into one post, look out for a follow up post soon.

GAILS Artisan Bakery, Portobello Road

I made a point to visit Portobello Road and the Notting Hill area as its a part of London I used to frequent often during my school years as a teenager, and hadn't explored in a while. Gails was on my list to visit and I am so happy I did. They have a huge selection of in-house freshly made sandwiches, beautiful baked breads, baked sweets and pastries. I had the mini sesame bun with avocado guacamole and plum tomato, and a mini poppy seed roll with smoked wild salmon and chives (as seen in the first image). Both were out of this world - so so fresh, and I for one am not even a bread person. My only complaint is that I couldn't try more of their selection as this was lunch no.2 for the day. This is somewhere I definitely plan on visiting again and again whenever I am back.

Millies Cookies, Hammersmith Station

Foodies have always claimed Ben's Cookies as being the best, but I have never really understood this - if you ask me, Millie's Cookies is where its really at. As a school girl in Hammersmith, I had to navigate my way through the Broadway Centre everyday to get to the tube station, and buying cookies from the Millie's Cookies stall became a mandatory ritual. Sort of a welcome comforting respite after a long school day. So much so that an employee ended up giving me a special discount card reserved for ...shhh, Millie's Cookies staff. Guess who became the envy of all her friends? Fact.
So naturally when I found myself getting off at Hammersmith this time to change tube lines, I had to make a little stop to the same stall and reminisce over my favourite milk chocolate chip, and salted caramel and pecan. One each, just as when I was a school girl.
They're super soft, buttery, a little chewy but with an ever so slightly crunchy exterior. Whats great is they still taste exactly the same as they did all those years ago, and really, nothing made my tube journey home that much better.

L'Eto Caffe, Knightsbridge

Having heard so much about L'Eto Caffe from friends, family and bloggers this was the first stop on my list. A visit to the Knightsbridge branch for lunch was made to refuel post a gorgeous walk in nearby Holland Park with the husband. I ordered the Pumpkin and Feta Cannelloni with Roasted Butternut Squash Puree & Baby Spinach off their menu. I wasn't expecting the portion to be quite so small, but I genuinely loved it and especially liked the way it was presented. However I was totally in awe of their fantastic platter display and in hindsight it was a mistake to order off the menu. I would definitely go for their seasonal salads next time! For dessert I got their popular Honey Cake which had also been recommended to me by many, and it was definitely the best version I've tried. The dessert display is a real spectacle (even when compared to Dubai brunch dessert displays!) and I lost count at how many passers-by stopped to glare in through the window.

Tinseltown, Ealing Broadway

As a Muslim who only ever eats halal, it naturally became more difficult to find halal-friendly food that wasn't only Asian or Lebanese, once I was living away at university. So you can imagine how amazing it was as a uni student to discover Tinseltown, an American style diner which served halal burgers in the city. Tinseltown ended up becoming a great spot for birthday get together's as well as late night impromptu meals.

It only made sense then to make sure I brought my husband here during our trip. We decided to visit the Ealing branch, as it was closer to where we were staying, although my previous visits were always either to the one in Hampstead or Farringdon. We ordered a garlic chicken burger and a classic beef burger along with a side of fries, but no trip to Tinseltown is complete without a milkshake. They are especially known for these, which you can custom make from literally any popular chocolate bar you can think of. I know what you're thinking - aren't there lots of milkshake places like this now (Shakeism in Barsha, Dubai is my favourite) but back then (2007!) it was one of the only places to have this concept, at least in London. My milkshake of choice this time? The Wunder Kind - a Kinder Bueno and ice-cream milkshake topped with whipped cream, rich toffee sauce, chocolate sprinkles and a wafer. The perfect compliment to an American style diner meal.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate, Liverpool Street

We stumbled upon this beautiful minimalist coffee shop whilst trying to seek refuge from heavy rain. The focus here is on serving a high quality selection of coffee and teas, as well as a variety of sweet treats. We both ordered a hot chocolate made with Koko Deluxe - a hot cocoa brand which uses some of the worlds finest cocoas and all natural ingredients. The result was a rich drink which certainly had a true chocolate taste, and was the perfect respite from the cold weather in the late afternoon.

Novikov, Berkley Street Mayfair

I have to admit I had never heard of Novikov until we were invited out to dine here for my aunt's birthday during this trip, and I was hugely impressed. The Mayfair fine-dining establishment is divided essentially into two restaurants - the front half a pan-Asian mix serving Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian, and the back focused on Italian. We were booked in for the Asian, but what is great again here is that the food served in both rooms is halal. They have a huge market-like display of fresh seafood and vegetables, along with an open plan kitchen, and their waiters were extremely knowledgable in helping us select our fish for the mains. Being used to choosing mocktails off dining menus in the UAE also meant I was happy to see they had a large selection of non-alcoholic drinks to choose from, other than just the usual juices. These were visually beautiful in themselves.

For our starters we ordered a variety of dim sum including spicy prawn moneybags, chicken buns and sashimi. I was especially taken by their grilled asparagus and even the non-veg eaters amongst us were captivated by its seriously delicious marinade. The ginger and soy steamed seabass was the star of our mains, alongside pak choi, sweet and sour chicken wings, Singapore noodles and prawn fried rice. Although this is what we settled on, I honestly would have chosen pretty much anything from the menu as nothing makes me more happy than good Asian food. Everything was so well prepared, cooked and presented.

Yes it is on the expensive side, and it does mostly serve a 'certain' crowd but the food is stellar and its just the kind of place if you're looking to celebrate an occasion with good food. I can't wait to bring my parents here for our next trip to the city.

Jaimie's Italian, Kingston

I'm ashamed to admit here as a foodie that I had never actually been to Jaime's before this visit. Apart from the huge faux pas made when the waiter served me and my friend alcoholic instead of the non-alcoholic drinks we had ordered, the food luckily made up for it. We started with the Italian Nachos - crispy fried ravioli stuffed with three cheeses and served with arrabiata sauce, the type of starter perfect for sharing and every bit as good as it sounds. For mains I had the Vegetable Rotolo Al Forno - seasonal pumpkin, squash and spinach rolled in fresh pasta sheets, baked with tomato and topped with herby parmesan crumbs, and it was perfection. My friend had the Prawn Linguine which she loved, and her young son had the fish fingers with crispy potato wedges from the kids menu, probably the most appetising version of the classic kids meal I've seen. Dessert was a beautiful Chocolate, Pear & Honeycomb Pavlova, one of those combinations you just know you have to try.

Granger & Co., Notting Hill

Australian chef Bill Granger needs no introduction and this was a place I solely visited due to blogger recommendations. I went on a mid-afternoon weekday and yet the casual dining restaurant was packed and bustling with diners, so much so that I had to perch myself on the ample-spaced bar top, albeit quite happily. I ordered their Quinoa, Sunflower Seed, Beetroot, Chili and Feta salad, which was extremely generous, wholesome, filling and full of interesting textures and flavours like any salad should be. As odd as it may sound I had this along with a hot chocolate - the real reason behind why I was compelled to visit, its made with hot milk poured over Callebaut chocolate drops. Though it was definitely good, it probably wasn't the best combo with my salad, and also teaches me to maybe not so blindly always follow other blogger recommendations..! The dessert display here was another feast for the eyes and its a shame I didn't have space to try what was on offer.

Read part 2 of my London Food Diary here
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