Friday, 26 May 2017

Mum's Birthday: Aqua Kyoto and Aline of Lebanon

Last week was my Mum's birthday and, since she was away in sunny Spain on the day, I took her off for dinner over the weekend.

 We met out the front of Liberty before going for a bit of a wander in the Spring sunshine (which translate 'sunshine with the occasional flurry/downpour of rain), popping into shops and galleries along the way.

 The Mayfair Flower Show was kicking off at Sketch so we paused for a moment to snap a photo in their doorway...

 ...Before popping into Aline of Lebanon for a quick drink. The place settings at Aline of Lebanon were just so beautiful I had to grab a snap before any beverages had even made an appearance!

 I had a banana and ginger smoothie which was just delicious (and two flavours I wouldn't have thought to put together) whilst mum had a rosewater lemonade.

 Shortly however, it was time to head to the 'main event' - dinner at the Japanese restaurant Aqua Kyoto. Located on Argyll Street, to access the restaurant we were whisked up in a lift to the 5th floor, before finding ourselves in a large space with an open sushi kitchen.

 We took our seats at the bar where we could watch the chefs slice and shape all the tasty food on offer. Before long, our cocktails arrived - a delicious 'mojito', although I can't say I've ever had a mojito quite like it - it had sherry and passion fruit in it!

 Starters swiftly followed - a beautifully presented sashimi selection and an octopus salad. Mum and I quickly established that we would share all of our vibrant food in an attempt to try as much as possible!

 Mains arrived just as well presented - wagu beef with a yuzu dressing for me and mackerel with a ginger miso sauce for Mum. The mackerel was finished with a blowtorch at table which was a fun theatrical touch. We also had rather a interesting time trying to split up the filet with just our chopsticks - I think perhaps, we may need a little more practice....

 The beef however stole the show. Deliciously tender and rare whilst the yuzu sauce was sublime - I was practically licking my plate clean by the time I had finished!

 Pudding took on the form of a Japanese cheese cake. Not usually a cheesecake fan, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed this one. For starters, the presentation was simply delightful, but I especially loved how the cheesecake topping almost had a 'mellow-y' texture, whilst the accompanying ice cream of sakura and strawberry cut through all the flavours deliciously.

 Dinner at Aqua Kyoto was a very enjoyable experience. The waitstaff were attentive, the food wonderful to look at as well as eat and the setting was vibrant. My only niggle would be that the bar was rather noisy. However, this wasn't the end of the world and we had a very enjoyable evening!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Extended Birthdays and Unicorn Cake

My little sister seems to have a rule. This rule is that birthdays, (well, her birthday to be precise,) can go on for as long as you jolly well feel like. Therefore this weekend I found myself trekking down to the edge of Essex with a 3kg unicorn cake. Complete with horn, ears and enough sparkle for it to blind you in bright sunshine.

Lets take a moment here to consider this monstrosity of a cake. Like many of you I'm sure, in recent months I have been blown away by the beautiful creations of companies such as Kek & Co. and thought I'd give it a go.

Just for reference, this is what a unicorn cake is supposed to look like:

A post shared by KEK & Co. (@kekandco) on

An effortlessly smooth tower of coloured icing.

However, as a distinctly amateur baker, the reality was far from effortless. This cake was much trickier to create than maybe you'd expect. My version took me a week. Yes, you read that correctly, A WEEK.

In light of this, I will outline some of my mistakes below in an effort to help you not make the same!

Firstly, there's the baking. Well, here I perhaps started off slightly on the wrong foot by using tins which were far far too large. It took ten eggs and two nights of baking to create the four layers I needed to get my cake to a reasonable height! However, one useful little trick was freezing my layers to make them easier to work with later. To do this, once baked, wait for them to fully cool before double wrapping them in cling film. Then, simply pop in the freezer. This kept my layers fresh for the duration of the week and also made icing them later easier as they stayed together better.

Icing the cake however is a whole other saga. You need two layers - a crumb layer (to lock down all those pesky crumbs) and a smooth outer layer. My tip here - definitely use a cake turntable  and an icing smoother (I borrowed both of these) and do not make your icing too thick! I found that my second layer of icing was just sticking to the layer below and peeling it up as I tried to smooth. This introduced more crumbs and for a moment, cake-y hell broke loose (quite literally). In the end, I didn't quite have the super smooth finish of the professional bakers, but hey, this had rustic charm!

The decoration wasn't too hard, although I was glad I had bought some official 'icing glue' and not just gone with my instinct that 'oh, using icing to glue should just work'. (I may have also cheated and used cocktail sticks...) The horn however did have a tendency to crack a little and was difficult to get straight... This is an issue I didn't really overcome but just did the best I could - if anyone has any advice on how to do it better, do tell me!

Finally, there was nothing left to do but transport the cake. This was a challenge in its self and unfortunately Mr Unicorn didn't make it to his destination without a couple of dents, scrapes and rough patches... Ah well, I tried.

Thankfully, despite the slightly battered decoration, the cake actually tasted delicious! I was a little surprised as I wasn't sure how well the whole freezing process would work, but it was a success! Maybe it was worth all that effort after all...!

Anyway, cake saga aside, back to the extended birthday.

We spent the first day down at the sailing club where Lulu bullied her boyfriend Alex into a wet suit and out on to the water, despite the poor boy never having sailed before.

I took refuge in the safety of the clubhouse, armed with a ginger beer and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps...

...before moving on to a 99 flake from the ice cream van parked next to the sea front.

The next day was spent on the beach and saying hello to the horses and other various animals, before getting ready for Lulu's birthday dinner.

The theme was 'multicoloured' and so all the food matched this theme, right down to the different flavoured cream cheeses on offer as part of the starters.

A musician came to play, spinning out indie classics ('Naive' by the Kooks, anyone?) followed by some more recent chart toppers.

The evening was finished off by slowly demolishing the cake and playing The Hat Game (a fun mix between Articulate and Charades) which my team proceeded to win, making it a good evening all round!