A (Very) Insider Guide to London Eating and Drinking

Rachel Felder Food_Oldroyd_Malfatti (1)
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Above image: Oldroyd

There was a time not all too long ago, when eating well in London meant hitting up some unassuming corner dive where they just happened to make a great curry. But the city’s post-Millennial food revolution has gone so far as to cause French culinary god Alain Ducasse to actually call it the best dining city in the world now.

Super trendy hotspots abound: celeb-bedecked Chiltern Firehouse; Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House; The Clove Club in hipsterwhelmed Shoreditch. But what if you just wanted to hit the capital for a few genuinely great meals (or a good pint), with lots of local charm, and without all the glam trimmings (and puffed up prices)?

To that end, we asked New York girl-about-town Rachel Felder, who would admit to London being a sort of spiritual home, for her best under-the-radar picks (from hip Islington to pretty Primrose Hill), which she elaborates on below.All appear in her fabulous new book Insider London (Harper Collins), in which she takes the reader on a whirl through what can be a rather apoplexy-inducing city, whittling it down to the absolute gems of dining, drinking, shopping, hotels and culture. With its striking photography, it is a masterstroke of Englishness: stylish, eccentric and utterly brilliant.

 

Oldroyd

This tiny duplex restaurant, tucked quietly down one of the main thoroughfares in Islington, serves truly wonderful Italian food in a setting that’s relaxed and mellow. It’s an ideal spot for a date, or just a leisurely lunch with friends on a weekend.

Rochelle Canteen

Shoreditch has become intensely hipster-ified over the last several years, but this hidden little spot is marvelously low key, although it’s just a few blocks from the area’s trendy bustle nearby. It’s essentially the extension of a catering business; open just during the day, breakfast is particularly good here, especially the granola, which is made on the premises.

Lemonia

This is a truly neighborhoody restaurant in one of London’s most charming areas, Primrose Hill, a genteel little nook that’s an easy stroll from Camden. The Greek food is authentic and delicious – especially the spanakopita, or flaky spinach pie – and it’s also a great spot for people watching, including, occasionally, a sighting of one of celebs that lives nearby.

 

  • Rochelle Canteen
  • The Duck & Rice
  • Tayyabs
  • 69 Colebrooke Row

 

Tayyabs

It’s not hard to find a good Indian restaurant in London, but this one might well be one of the best. It’s unpretentious and friendly, with truly wonderful (and filling and not overly expensive) food; you’ll rarely see a tourist at this East End spot, but it’s pretty much always crowded with people from the neighborhood and beyond.

Beigel Bake

For decades, this fabulous (and fabulously cheap) bakery has been beloved for its doughy bagels (aka beigels). Unlike almost everything in London, it’s open 24 hours, and pretty much always busy – so the bagels are always fresh (and, frequently, warm too.) There are plenty of fillings offered, but, personally, I love the bagels here just plain, eaten while walking down Brick Lane.

Marksman

There’s something undeniably inviting about a classic pub; this one, quite near the Columbia Road market in East London, makes you feel like a regular even on the first visit. But it has something extra: a seriously excellent restaurant upstairs, especially for traditional British Sunday roast lunch.

69 Colebrooke Row

Although it’s in the heart of Islington, this elegant cocktail bar has a truly insidery feel: it’s in a residential nook, on an unglitzy corner, without big signage or any fanfare. It’s got a real feeling of glamour – more that of an Italian champagne bar circa 1958 than a North London bar today – without being overly fancy or stuffy.

The Duck and Rice

A pub atmosphere and inventive Chinese food might seem like an odd combination, but at The Duck and Rice it somehow works. Downstairs, the focus is on beer and light bites; upstairs, the food is more of a priority. (The specialty is, appropriately enough, Cantonese style roast duck; but the Singapore fried noodles are also fabulous.) It’s in the heart of Soho and lively, even on a weeknight evening, although it’s understandably packed on weekends.

 

  • Marksman
  • Lemonia
  • Tayyabs
  • Beigel Bake

Design Lovers’ Escape: The Brentwood at Saratoga Springs

Brentwood Saratoga
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Need a little relief from the current climate, political and otherwise? If the urban grey of winter and the bad news on CNN have got you down, then look no further to rest your world-weary head than the stylish new Brentwood hotel, just a quick train or Zipcar ride up to Saratoga Springs, NY.

From Brooklyn’s Studio Tack, this revamped 12-room motor lodge is brilliantly situated directly in front of the Saratoga Race Course, making it nirvana for the equestrian obsessed. Every room enjoys a view of the massive, 50,000-seat historic thoroughbred track; yet the cozy-chic accommodations are perfect for a quiet, off-season retreat. (You know, like Valentine’s Day?)

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Avoiding that cookie-cutter soullessness we’ve seen in so many modern makeovers, Studio Tack took a homegrown approach to the design, collaborating with local craftspeople they consider friends and colleagues. Partner Brian Smith says, “Working with talented people helps us grow and learn as a company and always makes for a more compelling product.” The result, a refreshing eclecticism that goes just slightly irreverent.

The lobby, for instance, feels like a classic parlor room, with custom millwork, reclaimed white oak flooring from Hudson & Co., antique gilded mirrors and an intriguing collection of vintage oil paintings. Part check-in, part bar, and tons of welcoming charm.

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In the rooms, the solid clear pine beds with signature octagonal posts were handmade by Dave Cummings, a local woodworker in nearby Bolton Landing. While the custom, hand-dyed French bed linens are from Brooklyn-based textile purveyors Sharktooth. Even the vintage oil paintings hanging above each bed were handpicked from regional collectors, featuring bucolic scenes meant to complement surrounding Saratoga. And with considered amenities like bath products from our favorite, C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries, as well as rain showers, and a refreshment bar stocked with local snacks, the stresses of city living easily melt away.

Smith enthuses, “If you appreciate handsome and classic spaces, you’ll love our design. If you like small-town charm and, of course, horses, you’ll love our location.” And the property is delightfully dog-friendly – so there’s no need to leave Fido behind.

Top Restaurants in Saratoga Springs

Salt & Char, Gray Kunz’ modern American steakhouse; Lake Local for seafood classics and lakeside dining; The Mouzon House for farm-to-table Creole in a striking Victorian setting.

To Do in Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Performing Arts Center; Yaddo Artist Community; Saratoga Automobile Museum; National Museum of Dance; Tang Museum at Skidmore College (pictured below)

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Celeb Fave Sugar Factory Opens Extravagant Flagship in Vegas

Sugar Factory Vegas interior
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From Chicago to Dubai, Miami to NYC’s MePa, Sugar Factory has built a mini-empire on a blunt yet grandiose philosophy: complete and total over-the-top decadence. So it only makes sense that they should build their most extravagant temple of decadence in the city of sin, Las Vegas.

And so it is that a new SF flagship has just opened on The Strip (in the super-fab Fashion Show Mall), with two stories and 22,000 square feet of pure indulgence. What high-octane wonders can you expect to encounter? A floor-to-ceiling candy dot wall; the Sugar Factory Attraction, complete with 14-seat carousel; a signature Brasserie and daiquiri bar for more grown-up treats; and (would we kid you?) the Sugar Factory Chocolate Lounge – which gives a whole new plateau to the phrase “died and went to Heaven.”

 

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On the menu(s)? Chocolate Gold fondue, the Blue Cheese Bacon Burger, BLT crepes, the King Kong Sundae, Tie Dye Milkshakes and cheeky-fun adult bevvies like the Blueberry Bikini Martini and Raspberry Watermelon Mojito (served in a goblet!).

There’s plenty of eye-candy, as well: opulent chandeliers, fiery-red booths, baroque-kitsch detailing. And, of, course, the “other” kind of eye-candy…as Sugar Factory boasts a rather incomparable (and very vocal) following of celebrity devotees, including Katy Perry, Drake, Salma Hayek, Vanessa Hudgens, Rihanna, and assorted Real Housewives. Most of whom can be heard rhapsodizing over SF’s signature, fashion-forward Couture Pops.

In a word? Bonkers.

 

Next Hip City: Düsseldorf

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Berlin is still considered the Euro capital of bleeding edge; but it’s not the only German city with genuine hipster cred. Düsseldorf, set along the Rhine River in the Ruhr region of western Germany, has a storied artistic history. Director Wim Wenders hails from here; Electro gods Kraftwerk formed here; and Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Thomas Struth attended its renowned art school, Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where photographer Andreas Gursky now teaches.

Though the population is relatively small, hovering at around 600,000, Düsseldorf has culture to spare: 26 museums, 100-plus galleries, and a large number of artists’ studios. Its pulsing creative heart is Flingern, a district to the east of the city center. Split into two, Flingern-Nord (North) and Flingern-Süd (South), the area, once home to working-class Germans, is today cool kid central. Its streets are lined with buzzy coffee shops, trendy bars, indie boutiques and the ubiquitous stamp of coolness — a taco stand.

Where Anarchy and Instagram Come Together

The best place to begin your exploration of the neighborhood is on its rough edges, along Kiefernstrasse, in Flingern-Süd. In the 1980s, this street was a haven for squatters; it’s rumored that members of the notorious Baader–Meinhof gang (aka Red Army Faction), an underground German militant group, were arrested here. Those turbulent times have passed, but the subversive streak is alive in the local art. The facades of multi-story buildings (where those former squatters now have leases) are covered with wildly colorful artwork; a long stretch of wall nearby serves as a forum for topical, generally anti-consumerist graffiti (recently spotted: “Look at your Rolex, it’s time for revolt!”).

Flingern

Kunst

The most impressive new addition to the neighborhood is Philara, a contemporary art gallery housed in a stylishly converted former glass factory. The cavernous, 20,000-square-foot space, which opened last June, features pieces from the private collection of businessman Gil Bronner; it includes notable Dusseldorf artists like Thomas Struth and Hans-Peter Feldman, top international works – including a mind-bending immersive environmental installation from Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, “Artichoke Underground” – as well as up-and-coming local talent. A rooftop sculpture garden recently opened; the ground-floor bar is set to open late spring or early summer. On view through March 28 is special exhibition of photographs from Sabine Dusend and Alex Grein, two graduates of the Dusseldorf Art Academy. You can visit with a guided tour (Fridays in English) or individually on Tuesdays.

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 An Antidote to Brats and Beer

While most of Düsseldorf’s historic Altstadt (old town) caters to beer-slugging, sausage-eating tourists, North Flingern offers plenty of trendy eateries, most on or around the district’s main thoroughfare, Ackerstrasse. Noha offers a casual, super-fresh Italian menu – but many come for the cocktails, especially the excellent Moscow Mules and well-crafted gin and tonics. Around the corner at Boeser Chinese the hand-pulled noodles are the stars of the show; be prepared to queue, there are no reservations. For street food, there’s An Banh Mi, which serves up quite good (and super-affordable) banh mi sandwiches in a California-cool environment; while tiny Pablo’s does made-to-order tacos, burritos, quesadillas and even burrito bowls. Café Lotte isn’t a café but rather a cozy little corner pub, complete with comfy sofas that make you feel like you’re drinking in someone’s living room. Café Hüftgold is a sleek spot for coffee and cake (a big thing for locals to do at around 5 pm) that is kind to the gluten-free / vegan set.

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Stay

There are no hotels in Flingern, but you can easily get there in 15 minutes by hopping a tram from The Fritz Hotel in central Karlstadt. The three-star design property has chic, serviceable rooms, but the standout is the restaurant, Frau Franzi, with a selection of lovely, innovative small plates (try the fried artichoke with mashed eggplant and the perfectly grilled roast beef). Don’t skip dessert: the chocolate confection is a clever combination of ice cream and hazelnut parfait crafted to look like miniature mushrooms.

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Paris’ Sur Mesure is Doing a Month of Astronaut Food Dinners

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Last year President Obama, much to the chagrin of so many American dreamers, slashed NASA’s fiscal year 2017 budget to $19 billion. It flew in the face of a pop culture moment which had brought space back into the general consciousness: Astronaut Wives Club was a hit television show for ABC…and Matt Damon was wracking up impressive box office numbers in The Martian.

Even still, our fascination with space travel and our exaltation of the brave men and women who call it a vocation will always be there. And the fashionable gastronomic temple Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx at Paris’ plush Mandarin Oriental hotel has come up with a brilliant way of sharing a bit of their experience.

Every Tuesday this March, the restaurant is hosting a different but out-of-this-world dinner, with a menu based on chef Marx’s culinary creations for French Astronaut Thomas Pesquet – which were designed as “special occasion” meals during his six-month mission aboard the International Space Station.

“The food produced for space does not have the same taste on Earth as it does in orbit, Marx explains. “Weightlessness redirects blood and other fluids to the top of the body obstructing astronauts’ sinuses. Olfactory capacities in particular, and with them the perception of flavors, are altered. To enhance the dishes, space food often has more salt than average. Thomas Pesquet shared my menu the first time with his colleagues for Christmas. And from what I know, they were not disappointed!”

The dishes don’t really sound far out: Lucullus ox tongue, chicken supreme with morel mushrooms, apple gingerbread, and the like. Joining in the intergalactic experience is the hotel’s Bar 8, which will offer exclusive Stardust and Starman cocktails.

Bonus feature? Sur Mesure’s already futurist-minimalist interior will be further done up in spaceship-chic detailing.

At last, Michelin stars get to meet the real thing.

Your New Favorite Chicago Hotel: The Robey

Robey @AdrianGaut courtesy of GRUPO HABITA (37)
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Images by Adrian Gaut

Though Mexico’s Grupo Habita lord over a mini-empire of boutique hotels in their home country, their expansion into the US has been somewhat careful and methodical. Indeed, after opening the art-and-fashion-fave Americano in New York’s Chelsea in 2011, they waited more than five years before debuting in another American city.

And so it is that Chicago’s hip Wicker Park neighborhood is now home to The Robey – recently unveiled in the renowned Northwest Tower building, dating to 1929. The striking Art Deco edifice remains stunningly intact – but inside, the brand’s inimitable sense of style is everywhere you look. The structure’s unique triangular design means the sleek, black-white-and-glass rooms are flooded with light; while the gorgeous public spaces are a combination of Corbusian modernism and warm urban-rustic.

Interestingly, there’s a sister building next door, The Hollander, with long-term-stay spaces.

But what we love most about Habita hotels, of course, is that they are galvanizing forces for the local creative classes. So, expect a particularly artistic scene to coalesce around its ground floor Cafe Robey (great for a lunchtime kale caesar salad or pork belly cassoulet), its 13th floor Up & Up lounge (with impressive terrace), and, coming in spring…a rooftop pool and its attendant Cabana Club party spot, serving Greek specialties and cocktails along with spectacular views.

Best of all, the Robey’s location means you’re near all the cool kid action – especially city’s notably iconoclastic music scene.

 

Canada Turns 150 – Fairmont Hotels + Air Canada Throw a Fabulous Winter Party

Canada Tremblant Apres in the Air
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Image by Stephanie Starjovski

With its hotsy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and its enviable, progressive society, Canada doesn’t look a day over 21. But in truth, she turns a gorgeous 150 this year – and we were recently invited up to celebrate that special birthday with her.

Our hosts? Toronto based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts have actually teamed up with Air Canada Jetz to offer up one of the most fabulous promotions we’ve ever had the pleasure to make acquaintance with: Après in the Air allows you and fifty-odd of your most fun-loving friends / hangers-on to charter a swish private jet – whose interior is sexily done up like a very stylish ski chalet party, complete with plush pillows and blankets, a cheese trolley and copious champagne.

The trip then takes you to the capital, Ottawa, and the dazzling Quebec resorts of Montebello and Tremblant.

Of course, you don’t need four-dozen friends to enjoy an ethereal winter getaway up North – though we highly recommend accumulating them beforehand. Either way, here’s how to do it all in very Canadian style.

Ottawa, Fairmont Chateau Laurier

The country’s capital, it has a homey, rustic feel (think Portland), but with awesomely grandiose architecture perched dramatically above its eponymous river. Check in to the spectacular Fairmont Chateau Laurier, which is, stylistically, an 18th Century French castle right in the middle of downtown.
Hipster sorts will love the city’s Canada Agriculture And Food Museum, or the Canadian Museum of Nature; But the National Gallery, which houses contemporary, Asian, sculpture and photography collections, is perhaps very much on topic with its exhibition, The Advent of Abstraction: Russia, 1914-1923.
Make time to walk the Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River (it takes you all the way to Quebec) for jaw-droppingly awesome views of the city skyline.
If you want to hit Ottawa’s food scene, Riviera, Back Lane Cafe, Navarra by Rene Rodriguez, Play Food & Wine, Pressed, Fraser Cafe and The Urban Pear are amongst the best.
But back at the Chateau Laurier, a must do is the Great Canadian Winter Tea in the hotel’s Zoe’s Lounge – with duck confit sandwiches, maple eclairs and Saskatoon berry tarts. Later, order up a few rounds of their exclusive 150 Canadantini – made with Iceberg Canadian Vodka and Cave Spring Canadian IceWine.

Quebec, Fairmont Le Château Montebello

Simply put, one of the most romantic destinations anywhere. The Chateau itself, built by a Swiss millionaire in the 1920s, is the largest log structure in the world, actually – as if someone had constructed a charming wood cabin and it was subsequently puffed up into a luxurious resort. We took a rather thrilling ride through the woods and over the grounds by means of a husky-propelled sled. But sporting types can also take to one of a pair of curling courts on site (it’s really just as exciting as it looks in The Olympics), enjoy a bit of cross-country skiing, or do some high-speed snowmobiling on an ethereally frozen Ottawa River.
But perhaps the best winter sport of all is cocktails or brandies at the Chateau’s Bar le Foyer, which surrounds a striking six-sided fireplace. Afterwards, dine on locally-sourced dishes (tartare of Quebec smoked duck, Boileau red deer, vegan squash & chickpea cake) at the hotel’s rustic-luxe Aux Chantignoles restaurant.

 

Quebec, Fairmont Tremblant

This is the grooviest ski resort in Quebec Province, hands down. Hit the slopes above a buzzing brightly-painted village of shops, restaurants and cafes, which is part Canadian charm, part Swiss chic.
In between swishes, take a dip in the Chateau’s heated outdoor pool (or if you’ve had a particularly vigorous day of skiing, try the outdoor therapeutic whirlpool bath). Set aside an afternoon for the Spa de Tremblant – indulge in a warm & cold basalt stone massage, a Valmont signature facial treatment or an elixir ice cider body wrap (Seriously, how could you not want an ice cider wrap?). Rooms have a plush, living room vibe – ask for one with views up the slopes.
Even if you don’t ski, take the gondola up to the top of Mont Tremblant, and just stand around in awe for awhile.
End it all with Après–ski at its finest: champagne cocktails on the Chateau’s terrace around a crackling a fire, with a striking nighttime view of the village below.
Happy Birthday, Canada!

A Loupe Art Guide to Bushwick Featuring Austin Phelps

Bushwick Collective
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Above image: Bushwick Collective 

If you were looking to the future of how we will ultimately come to interact with art in this digital century, the exhilarating new app Loupe would be a great place to start. Allowing essentially anyone to live with a thoughtfully curated “virtual gallery” (streaming on your phone, on your laptop, on your television screen…), it eliminates a significant layer of distance between the public and the sometimes “elite” world of art.

It has won celebrity fans – like Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers – but also attracted top artistic talent, including Brooklyn based photographer-painter Austin Phelps. In the first of a BlackBook-Loupe collaboration series, Phelps gives us a guide to the Bushwick neighborhood he calls home, revealing where the local creative community can most likely be found on any given day or night.

 

  • Austin Phelps "Back"
  • Austin Phelps "Drip"
  • Austin Phelps "Muse
  • Austin Phelps

 

“Living in New York City has been so influential to my art,” he enthuses. “From the fashion to the music to the melting pot of people, I am very grateful to have endless amounts of inspiration surround me. I’m a huge fan of color and showcasing a palette that the viewer may have not seen before – and am obsessed with Abstract Expressionism. My paintings are certainly influenced by de Kooning and Picasso.”

Here is his artistic guide to Bushwick.

 

Bushwick Collective

The Bushwick Collective is an outdoor street art gallery showcasing amazing graffiti and murals by artists from around the world. Located in the hub of Bushwick, it’s a great place to wander, see beautiful art and grab a drink.

Bushwick Open Studios

Started in 2006, Bushwick Open Studios is an annual art festival showcasing local artists and has become one of the largest outdoor art events in the world! An amazing experience to wander into the studios of so many talented artists, view film screenings and hear live music. A true celebration of all the arts.

Syndicated

Gorgeous restaurant and bar serving seasonal ingredients, craft beer and great cocktails. This space also has a small theater where they screen $3 movies for all of those film lovers. You can enjoy a delicious meal (smoked lamb ribs, bacon butter meatballs) while watching a classic movie.

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Image courtesy of Bushwick Daily 

Alphaville

Everyone’s favorite dive bar, music venue and restaurant serving great burgers, fried chicken and pumpkin pie. Known for booking amazing local artists, DJs and musicians, it’s a great place to grab a bite and see an awesome show.

Bossa Nova Civic Club

This dark and foggy tropical techno bar is the best place to dance in Bushwick. Come here for the delicious cocktails and to dance your face off to local experimental DJs.

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Image courtesy of Bushwick Daily 

Mandarin Oriental Vegas Offers New ‘Twist’ on ‘Dining in the Dark’

Twist MO Vegas
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Despite the obvious fascination, it’s a genuine commitment to ask someone to dine completely in the dark, as is the case at Berlin’s Unsicht-Bar or Blinde Kuh in Zurich and Basel. But exalted French chef Pierre Gagnaire is offering a culinary journey of the senses without the accompanying blinders.

As his rapturously reviewed Twist restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas this Wednesday, March 8, his “Dining in the Dark,” guests are only in the dark about what’s actually on their plate. A special five-course menu (with wine pairings) will allow epicures to experience the multitude of aromas, tastes and flavors without the preconceived notions of knowing beforehand what they’ve ordered.

“It is a fantastic opportunity for guests to really focus on the complex, yet delicious, flavors provided by each ingredient in every dish,” explains the restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don.

It’s an interesting experiment, revealing the psychological effects of the dining experience. Considering Gaganire’s trio of Michelin stars, it will certainly also just be an unforgettable meal.

Pair it up with the hotel’s “One More Night” promotion, which gets you a fourth night free.

 

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