Monthly Archives: July 2009


One of my best birthday presents from the boyfriend was a surprise 2 night stay at Andaz, formerly the Great Eastern, next to London’s Liverpool St Station.

The red brick Victorian facade speaks of traditional railway hotel glamour, but inside, Andaz is a vast, modern space dedicated to contemporary art and minimalist luxury. 


There is no reception desk as such, so staff seat you in the ‘living room’ and check you in on a cool portable computer (no, not exactly a laptop) while you get comfortable.  After coming out of the lifts, you enter an other-worldly ‘atrium’ – an eerily clinical beehive meets mini Guggenheim.  Rooms on the new side of the building have windows overlooking this unusual little ‘village’, but it’s a welcome retreat from the Shoreditch sirens (those of the police, not the gentlemens clubs). 

The rooms are exceptionally large and are kitted out with the most sumptuously soft bed, Frette linen, REN toiletries, fluffy bathrobes and an fully-loaded iPod (ask concierge).  The oversized furniture and burnt ochre touches fill the space and give the room a more homely feel.

Andaz guestroom

The bathrooms are also massive and have that clinical but sexy thing going on, adding to the oddness of the hotel. During our visit, it poured down for 2 days solid, so the furthest we ventured out was to Spitalfields. Instead of sightseeing, we checked out the hotel’s art collection and snooped around the hotel like mischievous boarding school kids.  Andaz is like Wonderland, with concealed messages and hidden staircases and to make it even more mystical, there is a Masonic Temple.

Andaz bathroom

One night, after the London rain treat us so badly, we ordered cocktails from room service – some of the best-mixed concoctions I’ve ever tasted, served by a zen-like model-waitress in a black

267 rooms


Miyaki, George pub, 1901, Catch oyster bar and Eastway.

We ordered cocktails from the room




A life in mono

Glasgow is vegan cafe central, but mono is the only one that can keep my sworn carnivore friends happy with their exceptionally delicious veggie burgers and homebrewed pink lemonade.


Mono is the kind of place where you can waste away an afternoon drinking organic beer on the sofas, swapping a book at their library exchange or getting crafty at one of their regular Stitch and Bitch events.  It’s in a quiet, rogueish part of town, down by the Clyde and just far enough from trendy Merchant City and Argyll Street’s uninspiring shops.

The soundtrack is provided by in-house record store Monorail, which has an amazing mix of records and CDs from every Scottish indie album you could ever want to antifolk, glitchy electro and obscure film scores.  At night, mono turns into a gig venue with a tiny stage that has seen all the greats like Arab Strap and Belle and Sebastian and now plays host to the kind of bands on Domino and ATP Recordings, oh and their own jazz night.


But more about the amazing, wholesome vegan food!  If Stella McCartney has got you into Meat Free Monday, then you’re in for a treat – 3 delectable course for £10, all day Monday.

On the menu are Indian or Greek platters and thai stirfrys, a variety of tapas and snacks like crostini with aubergine and chilli.  My longtime hangover cure was a veggie burger with spicy chips and garlic mayo, but if you’re after total obliteration, go for the Big Mono (£7.50) – it’s a burger with the full works, chips and a side salad.

Mono home-brewed beer

Mono is lucky to have some pretty good neighbours, with treasure trove vintage shop Mr Ben just two doors down and 13th Note across the road. The only problem is, it’s kind of hard to tear yourself away!

Mono, 12 Kings Court, Glasgow, G1 5RB

Lock me up, baby!

Backpacking around Eastern Europe with 3 of my uni friends was one long blur of pivo, art galleries, Becherovka and oddly enough, churches.  I have my friend Maeve to thank for booking us into a prison (bear with me here) rather than another terrifying hostel with ghosts, crying babies and complementary pills between the sheets.

Hostel Celica in Ljubljana’s defiant Metelkova district used to be a military prison until 1991, but has been transformed by artists, architects and local university students into a technicolour artistic hub.

Hostel Celica

The hostel features 20 cells (they still have the original bars) individually designed by artists and 8 more traditional rooms, just in case the barred windows bring back all too familiar memories for travellers – hey, who am I to judge?

Our favourite area was the oriental cafe, a moroccan den with hookahs and giant pillows, but there is also a cyber cafe and Slovenian ‘gostilna’ to have drinks with your new prison mates before heading into town (a walk of about 700m).

Hostel Celica

But Hostel Celica’s unusual location is equally intriguing and has a pretty complex political history. Metelkova Mesto is an independent commune in the centre of Ljubljana that incorporates 7 buildings within a former military barracks. Since forming in 1993, the self-described ‘Autonomous Culture Zone’ has fiercely fought against modernisation and the city’s commercial aspirations through creative and physical resistance, but still its future existence relies on keeping the developers and authorities at bay.

Metelkova Mesto

The surreal mini city is now home to clubs, art galleries, live music spaces and artist studios and there’s always some kind of party going on.

Keeping with Metelkova’s inclusive spirit, Hostel Celica has a Point of Peace, a room for prayer, meditation and reflection for all religions, which could be useful after a sinful night of partying.  It has even been blessed by influential spiritual leaders in Slovenia.

There are a handful of creative communes still standing in Europe, the most well-known being Copenhagen’s long-standing ‘freetown’ Christiania, but their survival is always hanging on a shoestring.  Staying at Hostel Celica is the best way to experience and culture and parties but still have a comfy bed to go back to – quick though, before it’s too late.

Hostel Celica Metelkova 8, SI – 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

Marquis de Sade lives on in Prague

Prague seems to have been reclaimed by stag and hen parties (or so the Daily Mail would have us believe), so visiting a bar named after the most famous purveyor of filth for a cold glass of Pilsner Urquell could be deemed cultural suicide.  Not so, as Marquis de Sade has the louche feel of a downtown bar, despite being a few streets off the old square, and faded decadence

used to be a brothel. underneath is an early 20th century ballroom. ten metre ceiling, now in ruins.
decadent, debauched,
sex on the beach cocktails, absinthe or pivo
off the Old Town Square

Marquis de Sade

Marquis de Sade

Open 11am – 2am daily.
Happy Hour: Monday through Friday, 4pm-6pm
Metro: Námestí Republiky

London’s best cupcakes?

London is literally flooded with cupcakes and the flavours of the month are becoming more and more elaborate, but Hummingbird Bakery is the original and, in my opinion, the best.

Hummingbird Bakery is more of a cupcake boutique than a mere bakery, bringing American home-baked goodness to Portobello Road and South Kensington.  Cupcakes are kept simple in either vanilla or chocolate with a variety of frosting and sprinkles and of course, the famous Red Velvet – a deep red vanilla sponge with cream cheese frosting.

Hummingbird Bakery

If you’re after an even bigger sugar high, go for a slice of  devil’s food cake, a frosted brownie or order a mississippi mud pie to take home.

You can be assured of the Hummingbird’s amazingness by the permanent queue outside of the Notting Hill store.  My most memorable visit was arriving at 5.15pm, being honoured as ‘the last customer’, which almost caused a riot behind me, and then having my box filled with a few extra complimentary cupcakes – magic or what!

Hummingbird cakes

I was recently given the Hummingbird Bakery cook book and while my first attempt at cupcakes resembled oversized sugary rocks, my mum’s efforts were pretty close to the mark. So, the recipies are admittedly spot on and my rather bohemian disregard of measurements needs to be reconsidered!  Note to self: become a master baker by the end of the year.

Hummingbird Bakery, 47 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 3JP
133 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 2DY

Raval resto

Eating in Barcelona tends to centre around ‘mini meals’  – a selection of delicious tapas or informal pincho (generously-sized canapes on cocktail sticks) at the bar with a glass of wine or beer.  There aren’t many authentic pincho bars in London that I’m aware of, so my holiday diet tends to consist of moreish croquettes, tortilla, chorizo and serano ham on pieces of toasted bread, and that usually suits me fine for about 2 meals.

However, the amazingly rich mixture of flavours can become a little overwhelming and the anti-social side of me eventually finds sharing slightly irksome. Craving something simple and filling, le mec and I came across Pizza Ravalo, a small restaurant on a quiet square in, you guessed it, Upper Raval.

Pizza Ravalo has the unhurried feel of a neighbourhood restaurant and it’s a bit romantic
The pizzas are superthin and like all the best pizzerias, the flour (and indeed the chef) has been imported from Naples.

Pizza Ravalo

Pizza Ravalo, Plaça Emili Vendrell 1, 08001 Barcelona
Metro: Sant Antoni

Mama knows best…

After years of searching for that perfect Paris hotel, I never thought the answer to my prayers would be found way out in the 20th arrondissement! Le quartier Saint-Blaise may not have the elegant appeal of Hausmann’s linear boulevards, but it is a charmingly untouched and arty area that is sure to be heralded as ‘the new Belleville’.

I am a huge fan of Marie-Antoinette decadence and usually seek out hotels decked out in the most elaborate toile de jouy, but the Hackney girl in me screamed out for more postmodern adventures…

Mama Shelter reception

A ‘luxury industrial refuge’ seems like a rather abrasive contradiction in terms that, but Mama Shelter does have a sense of humour and a surprisingly warm and vibrant atmosphere – no snooty model/receptionists peering down their noses at you.

After getting used to the exposed concrete walls and dangerous-looking giant power switch, the Phillippe Starck-designed rooms feel like a home away from home (albeit a très stylish abode). They feature a multi-purpose Apple iMac, kitchenette with a microwave, more-than-travel-sized Kiehls shower gel and shampoo and those dreamy beds that make you sleep in and miss your alarm!

Mama Shelter room

Mama Shelter is all about affordable luxury and has clearly been tailor-made for design-conscious folk who don’t want the cultural experience to end when they head back to the room for the night. It’s a real labour of love created in pain-staking detail by French hotel powerhouse the TRIGANO family (co-founder of Club Med) and philosopher Cyril Aouizerate, whose intellectual presence is very much sewn into the fabric of the hotel.

Mama Shelter restaurant

But the real jewel in Mama Shelter’s crown is the buzzing but cosy restaurant and terrace. Hotel guests seem to get priority, but you still need to book ahead as it gets pretty busy. The bar staff are painfully good looking but friendly and a little bit flirty (well, why not), oh and the food is rather fantastic too, but more about that later.

There is now a guide to all the coolspots in Saint-Blaise that you can download from the Mama Shelter website and they’ve recently opened the rooftop terrace for lazy, summer BBQs – what more can you want? Well, maybe a spa, but I’m not going to push my luck!

Stroll along to:
Gambetta, Belleville, Ménilmontant, Cimetière Père Lachaise, Rue Oberkampf.
Drink in: La Fleche D’Or, Le Gambetta, La Bellevilleoise
Put on your iPod: Friendly Fires ft. Au Revoir Simone, Paris (Aeroplanes remix)

Mama Shelter, 109 Rue de Bagnolet, 75020, Paris.
Rooms start at €79 a night and the best deals are on their website.