Balthazar Brunch

Sundays in New York City, even in winter, are always a breath of fresh air. Sundays in London consist of pub lunches, hang overs and really crap television; whenever I find myself in New York City I feel as though Sundays begin to take on new meaning, I end up eating out at beautiful restaurants that serve ridiculously good brunches, having interesting conversations with strangers in coffee shops, or wandering the streets just people watching and passing the time. New York has an energy about it, particularly on a Sunday, which makes everything seem brighter and a little more refined than it might do elsewhere. My favourite brunch spot, and I’m sure it’s a favourite of many, is Balthazar’s on Spring street; located between Crosby street and Broadway in Soho, a stones throw from Bloomingdales. Quite by chance, and very conveniently, located only a few hundred metres from my hotel. Perfect then, for a lazy Sunday afternoon brunch. Sundays are meant to be lazy and I take Sunday relaxation seriously; I find that I relax to the point where the week melts away and I can begin again with a clean slate and a clear head, better prepared and ready to tackle whatever Monday decides to throw my way. So, as part of proper Sunday relaxation one should always, without fail, indulge in fine food and a good movie or book of choice, take a long walk and sleep as much as possible.

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Yesterday’s brunch was definitely a winner, and just in time to be the perfect warm up for a week of Christmas festivities and indulgence. I arrived without a reservation, a silly mistake on my part as Balthazar’s is famously busy on Sundays; to top it off I only managed to squeeze through the door around 1pm, slap-bang in the middle of the Sunday lunch rush. I spoke sweetly to the lovely young gentleman managing the bar area and ‘cafe’ and was seated at the bar within mere moments, he even made a point of ensuring I was properly looked after and came back to check on me after dealing with an impatient couple at the next table. The staff at Balthazar are, and always have been, exceptionally warm and welcoming. I’ve never been to a restaurant that makes me feel so at home; this is perhaps the reason I love it so much. The food is of course another game changing element. I decided quite quickly on the ‘Eggs Bella Donna’ – Poached eggs on Polenta served with pancetta, parmesan, grilled cherry tomato, mushrooms and spinach. It has to be said, as far as brunch menus go this one is yet to be beat in my books. While it looks simple at first glance, the descriptions printed on the menu do not even begin to describe the flavoursome and lovingly prepared meals which eventually end up on the plate. Be prepared to fall in love. The eggs were cooked to perfection, the polenta was soft without being runny, the vegetables were cooked ‘just-so’ and the parmezan cheese gave everything a nice salty but sweet finish. Its nothing fancy, it’s just a properly cooked and well thought out brunch plate that delivers.

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Having settled in nicely with a stomach full of food, now mid way through a deep conversation with the barman about coffee, I decided it was time for my second ‘soup bowl’ of Cafe au Lait. Though latte’s are usually served in longer and taller glasses, the coffee at Balthazars is presented in an actual soup bowl – coffee novelty at it’s best! I wasn’t much in the mood for dessert and I certainly didn’t have the space for it but after careful consideration, coupled with a full-on attack of lethal persuasion tactics from all three bar staff, I finally settled on the highly recommended Banana Tart. I have NEVER seen fruit served in a more decadent dish; I’m talking layers here, all piled high in a perfect circle. The bottom layer was a crisp and crumbly, tightly packed circle of biscuit which gave the dish a firm base. The next layer was made up of sliced banana topped with a layer of thick banana and vanilla ice cream which was then sandwiched closed with a thick, dome shaped burnt-sugar crust – something akin to a thick creme brulee crust. Scattered around my perfect tart were thin slices of banana floating in a sea of what can only be described as one of the best caramel sauces I have ever tasted. This dessert, although probably far too big for one person and definitely too big considering the enormity of the brunch I had devoured only moments before, was one of the best damned desserts I’ve ever had in NYC. It was truly an American-French fusion of delicately prepared over indulgence; I finished the entire dish and I’m not even a little bit ashamed to admit it.

Balthazar | 80 Spring St  New York, NY 10012, United States | +1 212-965-1414 | balthazarny.com

Keeping it Healthy at Christmas

No, I’m not joking, I know it sounds completely absurd to even try to contemplate the idea of having a healthy Christmas, but just imagine it for a moment. If you managed a healthy Christmas holiday, would facing January be easier? I don’t know about you, but for me Christmas has always been the time of year I eat and drink more in a single month than I do across all other months of the year put together. By the time January rolls around I feel lethargic and heavy and the thought of exercise seems a million miles away, not least because January is by far the coldest month of the year and being outside in my running shoes sounds particularly painful in sub-zero temperatures. If I could be healthier at Christmas then perhaps and I could see my way through a super healthy January without the usual pain and discomfort? I suppose I’ll never know unless I try. I’ve decided that instead of setting over-optimistic goals, I will simply make time for exercise at least 3 times a week over December and I will try to limit the Christmas meals and drinking to weekends and special nights out – of which I’m hoping there won’t be too many. I realise it is the silly season and one should therefore plan for the unplanned events and super silly situations one invariable finds oneself in during this particularly silly and over indulgent time of year. One? I’m using silly language and making very little sense…. and so it begins.

Healthy Xmas

I will be travelling a bit over the Christmas period which often makes this more difficult, so I have decided I will make it my mission to try some new and interesting classes at gyms in both New York and London in order to avoid getting stuck in holiday mode. The problem I have at Christmas is that it’s so bloody cold; I love running and I love exercising when I can be outside but I have always had a passionate dislike of gyms and gym goers (sorry to lump you all together but there are some real ego-maniacs in most gyms), but when it gets cold I simply DO NOT want to be outside in the pissing rain trying to keep warm by running harder and faster and being completely exhausted and miserable by the end of the run. It simply destroys my love of running. I was not built for cold climates but it seems I have made the decision to live in one and although London is a wonderful city, it does not make up for the fact that the winters here are quite inhospitable for Africans like me who enjoy the outdoors. I digress; my point is that there seems to be a movement occurring in London at the moment; all of sudden there are lots and lots of interesting and fun classes taking place in all sorts of nondescript locations and non-gym type establishments across the city in a battle to fight the mundane, and positively outdated, views of what exercise and going to the gym are all about. I, for one, absolutely LOVE the fact that this movement is taking place, and I will be making it my mission to try as many of them as humanly possible throughout 2013 in support of all the awesome people making this happen. For now I will just pick a few to get me going over Christmas. Oh, and if you are also looking for new and interesting classes in London, just check out FitnessFreak.com – they have hundreds of listings in all locations of London that cover all possible fitness personalities.

Enlightenment at The Atlas

On Friday the 30th of November 2012 I stepped through the doors of The Atlas Clinic on Harley Street in central London at a little before 12pm, I felt calm and relaxed. I felt quietly confident and thought, quite wrongly, that I knew what to expect from the treatment I was about to receive. Nothing, not even the long hours I had spent scouring the web, researching and reading every possible article on the subject could ever have prepared me for what came next. Back issues affect most of us in one way or another, and mine had been progressively getting worse for quite some time. All I can say is that AtlasPROfilax® is quite simply the best thing to happen to the world of back treatments and therapies since, well, anything. Originally developed as a treatment for back pain and shoulder issues, the AtlasPROfilax® technique has now been shown to have several other healing effects on the body, such as fixing the discrepancy in leg lengths, improving balance, helping to reduce the effects of a slipped disc in the spine, reducing anxiety, depression, headaches and migraines, as well as improving blood pressure and allowing spinal fluid to flow more freely through the spine. These are just the medical benefits; there’s an equally long list of spiritual and energetic benefits for those of you who are interested and the best part about the treatment is that it’s a once-off, meaning it won’t drain your bank balance or take up much of your time. Sounds too good to be true, right? I thought so too. I was first introduced to AtlasPROfilax® through a close friend who swore by it and who went on to explain the process to me at length, as well as the changes he had gone through. I’m the kind of person who will try almost anything once, but the idea of having someone fiddle with such an incredibly sensitive part of the body; a part of the body which, if mistreated, could cause lifelong issues and serious damage, was slightly unnerving. So I did some research. ‘Some’ might be an understatement; that night I read until my brain could no longer process the information in front of me and the dim light of my computer screen flickered as my eyes slowly blurred, my vision eventually diminished and I fell asleep at my desk. The very first thing I did the next morning was book the soonest available appointment I could to try this whole thing out for myself. I was still sceptical.

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As a non-invasive procedure, the AtlasPROfilax® is a very safe and fairly gentle form of spinal realignment, and one which could quite honestly change your life. To explain further; most people, without realising it, live their entire lives with a misaligned Atlas Vertebra (C1 Vertabra); this tiny misalignment causes the rest of the spine to curve unnaturally and is known to be one of the most prolific causes of back problems in adults. AtlasPROfilax® is a simple, but life-changing solution to this problem; it is a non-chiropractic massage which is applied to the short musculature of the neck, safely and permanently returning the Atlas Vertebra to its correct position in line with the rest of the spine. The Atlas Vertebra does not only carry the head, but when in it’s correct position, it allows the energy within the body to flow freely and therefore promotes both physical and mental balance, as well as self-healing through the newly uninterrupted energy signals which pass from the brain to the rest of the body. This quick, easy, safe and completely holistic approach to spinal treatment will not only alleviate lifelong back problems and improve any structural issues, but you will notice your entire system begin to function in a completely new way. The only way I can convey quite how life-altering this treatment has been is to explain it from my own point of view. I’ve been practising yoga for the past two and half years on a very regular basis and completed my first Yoga Teacher training qualification in 2011; as far as life-altering things a person can do for oneself, I rank this pretty highly. I have learnt more about myself than I ever thought possible, I have developed a much higher sense of inner tranquillity and happiness, and have regained a huge amount of my former flexibility and balance; all things which serve me well in every day life. AtlasPROfilax® has had a similar effect, although somehow vastly different.

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The day I left The Atlas Clinic I had planned to cross town to visit a friend before heading home, I didn’t realise, though I’d been warned, what an immediate effect it would have. I felt slightly dizzy when I left the clinic but had hoped the feeling would soon pass. It didn’t; far from it in fact, by the time I’d gotten out the other side a mere 20 minutes later I felt drunk. My head was spinning and I felt confused, it was getting dark and I was a little worried. I met my friend briefly although I desperately wanted to be home in bed. I rushed home and almost fainted as I passed through the doorway; I woke the next morning with no recollection of what happened after I’d arrived home, but I had clearly made it to bed. Apart from being a little unbalanced I felt amazing, I’d had the best night of sleep I could remember for months, I had more energy and my vision had not only retuned to normal but was somehow improved. Colours were brighter and I found focussing on things much easier than I had before. The balance issue was due to the fact that my once misaligned hips were now straight and my body was having to basically learn to walk again. My back on the other hand, had never felt better. I was still sceptical and tried not to get too excited; I’ve waited a week now and far from being back to normal I’m actually in better health than I have been for a very long time. My shoulder no longer hurts when I run, my morning meditation sessions are markedly improved and I have more focus and energy than I thought possible. I know that being in good health is not a one-trick-fix, everyone needs to focus on their diet and nutrition as well as exercise and all round wellbeing in order to be at their best, but if back problems are something you suffer from then it’s always worth checking out alternative treatments such as this, particularly if the problem is affecting your ability to exercise. It may not work for everyone, but it’s definitely done me a world of good.

The Atlas Clinic | http://www.theatlasclinic.com/ | The London Medical Centre, 142-146 Harley Street, London, W1G 7LD | +44(0) 2071600073 | info@theatlasclinic.com

Winter Warmers at Pollen Street Social

A recent ‘girls day out’ in London with mum forced me back into foodie mode; I had promised I’d take her somewhere new, and with a growing list of still-to-try restaurants and a host of lunch offers from chefs around town, the decision making process had become more than a little confusing. After much deliberation and some rather heated discussions with myself (no, I’m not crazy) I finally decided on Pollen Street Social, the brainchild and recent venture of top chef Jason Atherton; previously of the Gordon Ramsay Group and El Bulli. I’d heard some fantastic reviews of Pollen Street and had been meaning to go for a long time; however, living in Africa over the past year and a half has made this quite a challenge, as you might imagine. It feels good to be back in London, and although I miss the African sunshine, there is something to be said for the energy in London and the amazing food culture and vast array of wonderful restaurants in this city. Jason Atherton has been making some serious noise over the past few years and has had food critics and food lovers singing his praises more and more; in accordance with his growing popularity his flagship restaurant is still packed to the rafters after more than 18 months since it first opened its doors in April 2011. The interior is calming, clean, traditionally laid out and smart without being stuffy; the lunchtime clientèle consists mostly of business lunch groups, older couples, a few ladies lunches and several out-of-towners, which lends a nice buzz and an air of sophistication to the place – although I’m sure this is largely due to it’s fabulous central London location, mere metres from the hustle and bustle of Regent Street.

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The food itself is simple, understated and yet fabulously indulgent; the subtlety of the flavours and clean, uncomplicated presentation make for an altogether pleasurable experience. The staff at Pollen Street are exceptionally knowledgeable, and even the unusual wine list is well presented and thoroughly explained. To start I ordered the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup served with braised roast duck leg, sautéed mushrooms and truffle oil (I find it hard to turn down anything with ‘mushrooms’ and ‘truffle’ in the description); the contrasting lightness of the soup and richness of the roast duck and truffle were surprising and delightful at the same time, as were the contrasting textures of the crunchy artichoke and soft mushrooms. The dish was portioned perfectly and the entire experience left me wanting more; my mothers starter however, left something to be desired. Not quite what I was expecting, the oily mackerel itself was lovely but the accompanying flavours were lacking a certain sharpness, and the ‘smoked’ cucumber was a little too subtle. It seems there is a fine line between subtle flavouring and blandness, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bland, I do think it could use a little more consideration.

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Following this fantastic start to the meal, I ordered the Roast Hake with lemon conserve; I felt in need of some something light and refreshing to counter the rich flavouring of the artichoke soup I had just devoured. The fish was beautifully cooked and although the citrus flavouring was not a sharp as I had been expecting, the tiny capers served with the dish managed to balance the whole thing rather nicely. My only complaint is that the potato purée the fish was served on was completely unnecessary and had clearly been over-puréed as it was thick and sticky from the release of the starch.  The Beef fillet dish my mother ordered was melt-in-mouth, orgasm-inducingly tender and flavoursome, the deeply rich sauce it was served with was silky-smooth and perfectly balanced, and the carrots were cooked exactly as they should be; again, the only complaint was the potato purée side which let the dish down just a little, although being served on the side made it easier to avoid and it really is a small price to pay considering the high standard of the rest of the meal. Following lunch I caught up with the charming  Jason Atherton and thanked him for the fabulous meal; it’s always nice to see the Head Chef in his place of work, and so rare these days among the ‘celebrity’ chefs as so many of them seem to be more preoccupied with stardom than keeping an eye on their kitchens. The experience was altogether an enjoyable one and we will definitely be back; the restaurant is reasonably priced and the staff here make the entire experience extremely relaxing. I hear the tasting menu they serve in the evening is really what the place is all about, so if you are going to go then perhaps that would be the better choice.

Pollen Street Social | http://www.pollenstreetsocial.com | 8 Pollen Street  London, Greater London W1S 1NQ | 020 7290 7600