Monday, 30 November 2015

BEYOND PHO: Vietnam's regional noodle soups [for Great British Chefs]

serving up bun ca sua noodle soup

Every few feet in Vietnam you'll come across a cluster of locals crouched over steaming bowls of something good, perched on diminutive plastic stools that would barely accommodate one cheek of the average-sized western behind, and are a challenge to negotiate for anyone over five foot nine. These bowls usually contain noodle soup.

The Vietnamese like to be outdoors no matter what time of year – people will occupy the pavements, gathered in groups close to the ground. If it’s cold, they’ll be wrapped up in coats, the rising steam from their dinner warming their faces. 

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much rice as I did during my five weeks travelling the length of Vietnam. Much of that was in the form of rice noodles, and they were usually in a broth. I had pho just a handful of times; most of the rest of my eating saw me getting acquainted with all the other regional noodle soups found throughout the country. 

Read the full Beyond pho: Vietnam's regional noodles soups over on Great British Chefs to learn more about my favourites.

bowls of very lovely mi quang noodle soup
Related links
Week 8: VIETNAM - Sapa → Hanoi → Ha Long Bay → Hanoi
Week 9: VIETNAM - Hue → Hoi An
Week 10: VIETNAM - 6 day / 5 night motorbike tour from Hoi An to Da Lat
Week 11: VIETNAM - Da Lat → Nha Trang
Week 12: VIETNAM - HCMC → Mekong Delta → HCMC

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

SILVERSEA: Review of cruise ship Silver Spirit

view from my cabin aboard Silversea's Silver Spirit ship

In a nutshell

The newest and largest cruise ship from Silversea's fleet of eight, the exclusive Silver Spirit accommodates an intimate 540 guests, 376 crew, and some of the most spacious lodgings at sea. 

All suites have an ocean-view, with most having private verandas you can step out onto to take a deep breath of that salty sea air, and they all come with a butler. Yep.

I spent seven days on it; it was an excellent week.

Silversea's Silver Spirit
Silversea's Silver Spirit

Where is it?

Well, it really could be anywhere. 

The fleet of eight, as a collective, sail to over 800 destinations on all seven continents, more than any other cruise line. These ultra-luxury vessels are small and nimble, meaning they can slip up narrow waterways into the heart of a city, or tie up right at the pier while others need to anchor off shore. And that is very cool indeed.

Think of cruising on up into the centre of St. Petersburg, around the tip of Cape Town, along the oil-rich sheikdoms of the Middle East, across bustling Sydney Harbour, or through breathtaking Chilean fjords. 

The Silversea Cruises destination guide is split into Africa and the Indian Ocean; Alaska; Asia; Australia and New Zealand; Canada and New England; Caribbean and Central America; Mediterranean; Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia; Northern Europe and the British Isles; South America; and Transoceanic.

But this particular week-long trip was the last Mediterranean voyage of the year. We set sail from Livorno in Italy, visiting Monte Carlo, Marseille, Porto Mahon (Menorca) and Palma de Mallorca, before disembarking in Barcelona.

Silversea's Silver Spirit

Style and character

The Veranda Suite. I was really impressed with it. Mostly because it was a good deal larger than a lot of fancy hotel rooms I've stayed in.

Incredibly generous in its proportions, with enough space for a bath tub (apparently very rare - verging on unheard of - in cruise cabins), separate walk in wardrobe, a huge bed, more storage space than my own bedroom, a living room area with a sofa and armchair that can be partitioned off with a curtain, and floor-to-ceiling glass doors, opening onto a private teak veranda, with patio furniture. 

And they're not even the biggest suites; they're second from bottom from an option of six. The bottom entry - the Vista Suite - has the exact same proportions, just without the veranda.

They weren't kidding when they said they had some of the most spacious accommodation on the seas.

cabin aboard Silversea's Silver Spirit

I'm told this is a small vessel, in the grand scheme of cruise ships. Some of the real monsters can hold thousands of guests; I assume just like like massive, hellish resorts with too many screaming kids, but in the middle of the ocean. So good luck escaping that.

But it's weird, because Silver Spirit felt huge to me (so who knows what those towns-at-sea must feel like). It took me a good few days to figure out where everything was, and to stop getting lost. And actually, for the number of guests it holds (540, so lets half that to get the number of rooms), it is big. 

The amount of space per head is so generous, that sometimes you'll be in a part of the ship and not spot another soul. Apart from the exemplary staff who'll know you're there, then sidle on over to see if you'd like a drink with that spectacular bruising sunset you're enjoying. Go on then.

Then there's all 8,300 square feet of the on board spa, with nine treatment rooms, indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, an outdoor whirlpool, and the ceramic-tiled Thermal Suite - an exclusive spa area with heated lounge chairs. They've even got a connecting private Hammam (Turkish bath) Chamber, one of several treatments unique to this particular ship. I wouldn't even know where to get a Hammam in London.

public spaces on Silversea's Silver Spirit
Should you be itching to spend some money - easier said than done considering all food and drink on the ship is included (you heard, see What's unique below) - there are plenty of opportunities. You can while away late night hours trying your luck at roulette, blackjack or slot machines in the onboard casino, get spendy in the strip of high-end boutiques selling the likes of Bulgari, Gucci and Swarovski, or opt for some pampering in the beauty salon.

The pool deck is furnished with chaise lounges arranged in the sun and shade, bubbling whirlpools and a pool that's heated when in cooler climates. Staff are dotted about at the ready with an oversized towel and your favourite tipple as you emerge from it.

The well equipped fitness centre is very necessary evil to work off the inevitable over-indulgence, and the Show Lounge theatre hosts a load of entertainment, from full-scale production shows and classical soloists, to cultural entertainment and feature films. It's also the place you'll find people doing lectures on stuff they know a lot about. During my stay, there was a talk by Alexandre Renoir, the great-grandson of the great French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and himself a successful artist.

Silversea's Silver Spirit

What's unique?

All inclusive. This truly is an all-in offering. Apart from shore excursion tours, the casino, beauty salon and spa services, and a minimal surcharge at a couple of on-board restaurants, everything on the ship is included in the fee. 

From room service, to your minibar being stocked with the premium wine or spirit of your choice (a whole litre-bottle's worth, by the way), all food and alcohol across the ship, shuttle buses into town at the docked ports (where applicable), even gratuities. Gratuities! There are few things more awkward in life than a loitering bell boy making endless small talk until you slip him a note. Not here - joy.

Butler for everyone. What is luxury living if it doesn't involve a butler. Not luxury enough, darling. Which is why on Silversea ships, every guest has a supremely smart tuxedo'd butler at their beck and call, in all suites, in every category. And they're the only cruise line in the world to do that.

Family-run. In a world of multi-national conglomerates, Silversea is owned and operated by one family — the Lefebvres of Rome. This means genuine pride in ownership, that uniquely Italian passion for embracing la dolce vita, and a personal commitment to maintaining the high standards of cruise excellence that have been the cornerstone of the company from the very beginning.

Fine art for sale. Silver Spirit doubles up as the Andrew Weiss art gallery. Every corridor on every deck is lined with exquisite pieces of fine art. There were so many, we were convinced they couldn't be genuine. There also seemed to be no security around them. "Where are the motion-detector laser beams, guards, alarm systems?" I asked a member of staff in earnest. "What if someone steals them!". The response, "Where will they hide? There's only one way off this ship, and no one is getting past with a Picasso." Good point.

Not to mention the price tags seemed pretty reasonable - $35,000 for a genuine Picasso? Bargain (if you have that sort of money)! But real they were, and for sale they were too. 

Art Curator Rami Ron was available for walks and talks through the collection, and special guest Alexandre Renoir (mentioned above), was also on board to chat all things creative. It's not every day you walk past pieces by Dali, Rembrandt, Warhol and Renoir, on the short saunter from your bedroom to breakfast.

fine art for sale in the Andrew Weiss gallery aboard Silversea's Silver Spirit

Who goes?

Cruise ships: for the newly wed, the nearly dead, and the very well fed. Such was the well-worn sea-faring phrase my shipmate Karen from Lavender and Lovage shared with me, in an exercise to point out that second category didn't seem to apply on Silver Spirit. "This ship has a far lower average age than any other I've been on," she divulged. 

Whilst the majority are 50+, there were many considerably younger couples, and two or three generations of families enjoying a holiday together. We spotted only one very elderly person confined to a wheelchair (a much more common sight on other ships, Karen told me); everyone else was sprightly and ready to party, whatever their age.

It was quite apparent that some had been on this ship many times before. I spotted a few guests at check-in embracing staff members like an old friend, with arms flung open wide. 

Taking that to the extreme, we shared a cocktail with a couple who have spent the best part of the past three years aboard this ship, travelling the whole world in what they call their 'second home'. They keep the same suite, and they will even keep their luggage on board despite an upcoming three week hiatus ashore before it sets sail on a new venture. 

Endless days of azure ocean views, being waited on hand and foot, and all the booze and food you can handle. That's no bad way to spend a few bob.

Silversea's Silver Spirit


Your choice where you have it - gazing out over serene waters from your cabin veranda, an al fresco buffet whilst enjoying the port views of wherever you've docked that morning at La Terrazza, or an a la carte offering from The Restaurant.

The spread is an impressive one. Expect the likes of a daily fruit or vegetable Vitamix blend, freshly baked bagels, muffins, rye crisp breads, pumpernickel, cold cuts, assorted cheeses, smoked salmon, juice-sweetened muffins, pastries, pancakes, waffles. 

There's fresh fruit including grilled peaches with acacia honey, cereals and granola with fresh berries, breakfast couscous with honey and dates, an egg station, a choice of English, Canadian or American bacon (get the American!), hash browns (rejoice - these are hardly ever at breakfast buffets), cumin-scented egg-white omelette florentine, bacon and spinach souffle, and a whole load more.

breakfast aboard Silversea's Silver Spirit

breakfast at La Terrazza aboard Silversea's Silver Spirit, docked in Monaco


With Italian culture orbiting around the epicentre that is food, you would expect dining to be a high priority at Silversea. And, it is. For starters, they have a partnership with the prestigious Grands Chefs Relais & Châteaux.

La Terrazza is also the only restaurant at sea to be approved by the very well-respected international movement that is Slow Food.

Then there's the sparkling crystal, shining silver and sweeping ocean views in the ship's main dining room, The Restaurant, with impeccable continental and regional dishes. Or there are the hot rocks that take centre stage in the evenings at The Grill - DIY table-top lava-stone cooking at its most theatrical. Throw on a cut of Sterling Silver Premium rib-eye, watch it sizzle, and give your compliments to the chef (that's you).

Seishin showcases regional dishes from Japan, as well as China, Thailand, Vietnam and India, from Kobe beef to spider lobster, sake pairings, and a buffet sushi and sashimi bar for lunch.

There's a lot more to say about food and dining and all the amazing eating had on this particular trip, as it was one of Silversea's gourmet cruises. So I'm going to stop here, and save the rest for another post. Stay tuned.
Silversea dining sneak peak - lobster and steak


There's a really key point to Silversea when it comes to staff; all gratuities are included in your fare. This means all that commendable service you receive on their ships - and trust me, there will be a lot of that - is motivated solely by the desire to execute great hospitality. And that makes a big difference. 

From the point of check-in, guests are greeted with an outstretched, white-gloved hand presenting a flute of champagne from a silver tray. There's a staff-to-guest ratio of nearly one to one, and they're all trained by the prestigious The Leading Hotels of the World. Not to mention the butlers receive their training from The Guild of Professional English Butlers.

They're not only very good at what they do, they clearly enjoy it. In fewer hospitality venues have I seen such great comradery amongst staff, and between staff and guests. Everyone, including those at work, seem to be having a bloody great time. They're very, very good at making the ship feel like an exclusive club, and you a preferred member of it.

A special thank you must be given to our butler, Albert. As every other member of staff seemed to do on this ship, he went out of his way to outdo expectations when it came to service. One night, we asked Albert if he could arrange a few drinks for us in one of our cabins, for a little pre-dinner in-room party. We were expecting a few glasses laid out, some ice, and perhaps him there to pour. 

What we actually got were balloons, flashing disco lights and a music playlist, and an impressive glowing table centrepiece, adorned with nibbles and a specially made chocolate-mousse birthday cake (superb) Albert managed to coax from a very busy galley. He stayed with us until we were ready to go down to dinner, topping up our glasses with fizz, mixing up gin and tonics, and slicing up the Menorcan salami we'd purchased earlier on in town that day.

Bravo and thank you, Albert.

the in-cabin pre-dinner party our fabulous butler, Albert, arranged for us

Liked lots & liked less

Liked lots 

All of it. Truly, I liked all of it, a lot. 

Particularly the morning we docked in Monaco. I woke up, pulled back the curtains bleary-eyed, and was greeted with this magnificent view, right in front of me. One of those cities that looks best from the water. Good morning indeed!

Docked up in Monaco - yacht central. View from my cabin's veranda

Also, standing on my private veranda in my pj's before bed as the ship glided elegantly through inky waters, which became a nightly ritual. Looking up at a dark starry sky, the fresh sea air, the cathartic sound of gently swishing waters. Glorious.

I didn't really want to leave. 

Liked less

The cabin was crying out for a kettle. And an iron and ironing board. You have to go to the laundry room - one on each deck - if you what to get the creases out of your shirt. When I popped in, there was someone already using the iron, so I had to wait for them to finish, awkwardly standing behind them in a very cramped space. 

I think it's a safety reason. But to counteract that, in that room there's a self-serve washing machine and dryer. Which means if you're at sea for a lengthy amount of time, you can get your clothes clean without having to pay for a laundry service. So that's good.

Price point

There are lots of variables that affect this. But taking a look at the website now, today, a similar 7-day cruise around the Med (slightly different stops), aboard Silver Spirit in April 2016, starts from £1950 per person.

And remember, that's all-inclusive. Best to give them a call on the number below for an accurate quote.

my fantastic shipmates - Hermione Olivia, Lavender and Lovage (Karen's write-up here) and The Travel Hack - taken when we first boarded, at the start of our week on the seas

Tel | +44 844 251 0837


Note: Silversea kindly hosted this trip as part of a media package - thank you to everyone involved for a truly wonderful and unique experience. 

A special note also goes out to
Addison Lee Cabs who whisked me to the airport when it was too early for public transport, and also met me on arrival when I returned to London. Their free in-car wifi and charging stations are particularly handy when you forget to do all those important things before running out of the house.

Their loyalty service is also worth reading up on if you're a regular cab user - ClubLee gives some worthy discounts and exclusive offers.

Friday, 13 November 2015

GIVEAWAY: Win a signed copy of Jamie Oliver's Super Food

some of my own concoctions from Super Food

I am delighted to offer you all the chance to win a signed copy of Jamie Oliver's latest cookbook, Everyday Super Food

Signed by Jamie you understand, not me. No one wants that.

This is, hands down, one of the books I have cooked from the most out of my whole collection. And I've only had it a few weeks. There's a lot of comfort knowing every recipe in it is a good choice; they're nutritious, achievable, and so far, they've all tasted great.

I'll be cooking a dish a day myself for the duration of the competition; you can follow these ventures on my Instagram account. 

Here's how to enter this giveaway:

1. Cook up a recipe from Jamie Oliver's Everyday Super Food. You can find some of them online here.

2. Now show off your photography skills - make the dish look great, and take a picture of it.

3. Share the picture on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and let us know what it is you cooked. 

Be sure to include the correct tags, depending on what platform you use, and be sure to follow or like them:

Facebook | tag The Cutlery Chronicles and Jamie Oliver
Twitter | tag @LeyLaLaa and @JamieOliver
Instagram | tag @thecutlerychronicles and @JamieOliver

Also be sure to include this hashtag in your submission, whichever platform it's on: #LKxJOSuperFood

4. Closing date: midnight Friday 20th November (GMT)

5. The winner will be announced on Saturday 21st November. They will be contacted via email and a signed copy of the book will be posted to their address.

This competition is open internationally, all countries are welcome to enter!


more things I've rustled up from Super Food


Thank you to everyone who took part in this competition, and for all your wonderful cooking efforts.

A big congratulations to George Campbell & Sons (@GCSFish on Twitter), who sent in this very tasty looking plate of sesame seared salmon, tahini avocado and shred salad from Jamie Oliver's Everyday Super Food.

A copy of the book signed by the man himself is on it's way to you!

George Campbell & Sons entry

Terms and Conditions
  • You must be over 18 years old to enter
  • There is just one winner, with one signed book up for grabs
  • The winner will be selected from all entries received, based on the cooking, food styling, and photography skills portrayed through the image, and this decision is final 
  • The winner will be notified within 7 days of the closing date 
  • If the winner does not respond to the notification within 7 days, the prize will be passed on to someone else
  • The prize is as stated: no cash alternatives are available
  • I am not responsible for providing the prize or sending it out. This will be done by Jamie Oliver HQ

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Céleste at The Lanesborough, Knightsbridge - Review

Celeste at The Lanesborough

It's been a whole ten months since I last penned some thoughts about a London restaurant; last year's ambitiously-priced Christmas menu at Quattro Passi, and gamey delights from The Hyde Bar in Knightsbridge, were the last two.

Regular readers will know I sodded off galavanting shortly after those write-ups, mostly to eat my way around the rest of the world. I did quite well with that, but I've been back for a couple of months now, and through catching up with friends, peers and contacts, I was invited to pop over to The Lanesborough near Hyde Park, to check out the recently refurbished, rebranded and let me tell you, resplendent, Céleste.

I've dined in this space before, under its former guise of Michelin-starred Apsleys. I spent the best part of a frigid December afternoon warming the cockles with a giddying concotion of champagne, Early Grey and mulled wine, whilst getting hopped up on finger sandwiches, toasted teacakes and homemade scones. And a very pleasant - if not somewhat squiffy - visit it was too. It was their Christmas-time champagne afternoon tea, in case you hadn't already figured that out.

Celeste at The Lanesborough
In December 2013, about a year after my first visit, the whole property closed. The hotel was stripped back to its shell, then each corner meticulously refurbished and transformed by world renowned interior design studio, Alberto Pinto. Eighteen months and truck loads of money later, it reopened it's doors. The Lanesborough never did comment on how much the refurbishment cost; a telling sign in itself. The official line on the matter was “no expense has been spared,” - quite apparent once you're in it.

I'm a sucker for a pretty room, and this space lays it on thick. Richly decorated with 250 bas-relief mouldings surrounding the frise under the glass domed roof - through which light floods in - there are fluted columns, powder-blue walls, and English crystal chandeliers, the largest of which weighs in at 200kg. It might be over the top, but that's the point. And I love it. It's still a very easy place to relax, despite everything going on on the walls around you. Which is key.

Executive chef at The Lanesborough is Florian Favario, formerly head chef at Epicure in Paris. He was chosen by chef patron Eric Frechon - Paris' most esteemed three Michelin-starred chef and a leading figure at Oetker Collection's Le Bristol since 1999 - as the person to lead one of London's most celebrated addresses into a new gastronomic chapter.

The Lanesborough is often referred to by it's unofficial name, 'the most expensive hotel in London'. With doubles coming in from £720 per night and the lavish Royal Suite at an incogitable £26,000 per night, the whole property is likely dismissed as entirely unattainable by most.

Except, that this doesn't necessarily apply in Céleste. Mere mortals can bask in a slice of this lavish grandeur for an altogether more accessible £44 for a set three-course lunch menu, £48 for a traditional afternoon tea, or £55 / £95 for a five-course / seven-course dinner menu.

Celeste at The Lanesborough
There was a terrific posh scotch egg - a Burford Brown encased in mince of chicken and rosemary-spiked lardo from Colonatta, crispy, with a rich and golden runny yolk and earthy truffle mayonnaise (£14 a la carte, also on set lunch menu). My brother had a cold starter with lobster - good chunks of meat presented as a sort of salad, with tagliatelle-style ribbons of a vegetable we couldn't identify and forgot to ask about. 

A somewhat better result than what the must-have fad gadget of the moment - the spiraliser - would produce, I suspect. But it's annoying this irritating trend of making vegetables look like pasta has reached beyond the blogs and cookbooks of the skinny / affluent / female bone-broth elite of West London, and into restaurants. My brother would have preferred actual pasta. The creamy dressing was bland, and the dish was altogether a bit uninspiring - the weakest plate from both our meals (can't locate on website for price). 

I had lobster in my main, with conchiglioni pasta and it's own light and frothy bisque. I enjoyed it, but I suspect I would have done so much more with the absence of peppers, the flavour from which I felt had no place on the plate. The capers though, definitely (£34 on a la carte).

My brother nailed his choice - roast Norfolk black chicken, confit crispy leg, and girolles mushrooms. As good as it reads - savoury, umami, like the chickeny essence had been extracted from 50 fine birds and concentrated into one plate's worth of food (£24 a la carte, also on set lunch menu).

Laudable desserts came in the form of a vibrant mango eton mess, shards of meringue sticking out like ship sails in the wind (£12.50 a la carte, also on set lunch menu), and a gloriously seductive Guanaja chocolate mousse with streusel crumble, demonstrating some impressive paint brush skills (£12.50 a la carte).

I had a glass of good, light red with my meal, and there were champagne cocktails with a clump of golden British honey on the end of a fork to stir in, so potent in its nectar we could smell it before the waitress had turned the corner with them from the bar. Heady and delightful.

Liked lots: the unashamed opulence of it all, their scotch egg and chicken, desserts and service

Liked less: the lobster salad starter

Good for: basking in magnificent surroundings; impressing a date; pretending you have a room 

Note: This meal was kindly hosted by the restaurant. All views remain my own.

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Saturday Brunch at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, Mayfair - Review
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Scarfes Bar at The Rosewood Hotel, Holborn - Review

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