hidden gem in london town

Step 1:  make your way around to the buzzer entrance of this private, walled school garden in Shorditch and ask to be let in.

Step 2:  make your way across the garden to the small glass building in the back left corner (in the summer, it’s fully open to the courtyard)

Step 3: enoy a wonderfully British meal brought to you by the wife of famed chef Fergus Henderson of St. John (his signature wines are also available here)

Step 4:  Roll on home . . . or better yet, walk off your meal by shopping the back streets in and around the neighborhood.

eating, sleeping & shopping lisbon

This, my friends, is how I prepare for a trip. Pins, maps, lists, more lists, spread sheets. I do my research. Make a plan. And then execute — albeit sometimes completely differently than planned. But for me, researching and planning is half the fun!

For this trip, I pretty much skipped the hotel research and requested bookings at two places I had pinned in my “one day” file figuring whichever could accommodate me would be the right place. That place was Santa Clara 1728, a small, 6 room, boutique hotel beautiful beyond compare  — if minimalism is your thing (it’s mine but I know not for everyone).Pricier than my other option (and indeed pricier than many accommodations in a very affordable city), I was willing to take the plunge. Just look at that view! That bathtub! That dining room! In addition to all that unparalleled beauty here is what you get:

  • An incredibly comfortable bed with a view, made with the most luxurious, crisp white linens. You won’t want to get out from between the sheets each day, but do . . .
  • The best reason to get out of bed in the morning, has got to be the hotel breakfast. Normally I don’t advocate eating in the hotel but here my friends — do not miss breakfast! A multi-course affair served at a 20 foot common table:  yogurt with homemade granola, fresh pressed juice — a different combination each day, fresh baked bread (honestly the best bread ever!) with your choice of cheese, jam, butter, curds or all of the above, a savory egg dish, followed by a fresh fruit course.
  • The most beautiful collection of wares to eat and drink from. I was so taken I immediately researched the brands and ordered a teapot, drinking glasses and dishes for my own home.
  • Free airport transfers in both directions. I love not having to worry about transport when i arrive in a foreign city.
  • Home made cakes and savories each afternoon along with wine, tea or coffee as desired from the help yourself pantry. It can even substitute for a light dinner if need be — and indeed one night, a piece of lasagna followed by a slice of almond cake was just what the doctor ordered instead of a night out.
  • A charming garden to read, chat, eat or just relax in.
  • Kind owners who live upstairs with their family and promote a “my house is your house” type atmosphere.

All that said, there are a few things you should be aware of before you spend the extra money.

  • This is Europe — no AC at the inn. Which should have been OK for a late October visit except it was unseasonably warm with 97% humidity when I arrived. The rooms all have ample french windows for fresh air, but no cross ventilation. Copious amounts of raw wood in the rooms added to the humidity lingering. I would think high summer might be quite challenging.
  • If you want to leave those windows open at night to take advantage of the fresh air, be warned there is an event venue across the street (which amounts to two car widths away) that can be quite loud. Two of five nights had very loud events, including a wedding that went until 4:30 AM. Even closing the sound proof windows and wooden shutters didn’t block out the loud music and booming PA system — and only resulted in a very hot room.
  • Two days a week, the largest flea market in Lisbon sets up on the streets of the neighborhood. Set up starts around 5:30 AM meaning once again, noise. The neighborhood becomes impassible other than by foot on those days until late afternoon.
  • The rooms are natural light filled during the day but artificial lighting is as minimal as the design. Most are narrow spot lights, soft floor lights or otherwise non-existent. You’ll find yourself showering in the dark, struggling to put make up on (luckily I had brought a lighted mirror just by happenstance which turned out to be a godsend). You can bathe by candlelight if you supply your own matches.
  • When I’m paying double the going rate to stay in luxury, I expect impeccable service. For the most part I would say the service was good, the small staff friendly. But something felt off to me in this area. Just little things that struck me again and again but were easy enough to ignore as I’m pretty self-sufficient. However, when at breakfast on my 5th day, I heard the guest relations girl telling new arrivals how they offer a day trip to Sintra with a lunch stop along the beach to guests staying more than 3 days, I was floored. Nobody offered any day trips to me.

Depending upon your budget and preferences, you may wish to check out The Lisboans. Well designed and appointed apartments that are more centrally located and offer a charming breakfast service of their own — a bag of fresh goodies left on your doorknob each morning — soon to be a part of a larger complex including a shop, restaurant and grocery.  But as I said, Lisbon is a very affordable city and there are a plethora of lovely and surprisingly affordable accommodations to choose from all over town.

I tried not to make this vacation all about food for a change. Although a girl has got to eat! With the ample morning meal, I opted for just a small afternoon snack each day instead of lunch — more of that fantastic bread swiped from the breakfast table, a couple of egg tarts (don’t be fooled they are heavy little suckers) and one day, a chocolate sorbetto that might just be one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.Thanks to my research I headed straight to a tiny little coffee/chocolate shop in Principe Real called Bettina & Niccolo (Rua da Escola politécnica 4). A place i easily would have passed by without having read about it first. Research pays!  Imagine my surprise when I saw their chocolate was the same single origin chocolate from a small maker in Africa (turns out a previous Portuguese territory) that I had profiled back in 2013 here. They put that chocolate to good use with an entire chocolate menu. But trust me, order the sorbet. Somehow this made to order frozen concoction was both cool and warm at the same time. Incredibly rich but not overly sweet. For an afternoon treat on my final day it was between here and nearby Nannarella Gelati (another research find, seconded by my hotel staff). But I think I made the right choice!

From sorbet heaven I walked down the street (also downhill — well planned indeed!) towards downtown, stopping and shopping through a series of neighborhoods along the way. A nice stroll, I wouldn’t say the shopping is great but you will definitely find things to look at if not buy. Here’s just a handful of stores I can suggest:

Equador Chcolate Shop
Rue da Misericordia 72 — from their main shop in Porto these chocolate bars are filled with flavorful ganache inspired by local flavors (Port Wine, Cherry Ginja, etc…) and come beautifully wrapped. They were my gift of choice for friends and co-workers. And that white chocolate passion fruit combo is the bomb!



  • Mini by Luna, Rua Dom Pedro V 74 — a sweet clothing, homewares and baby boutique mix with both local and international brands alike. I bought a recycled blanket from Japan (I’m a big advocate – if you see it, like it, buy it regardless of origin)
  • Fabrica Features, Rua Garret 83 — on the 5th floor in the heart of Chiado above  Benetton of all places, is this little design shop with a graphic leaning, specializing in Portuguese goods. It felt akin to a small, museum gift shop.
  • A Vida Portuguesa, Rua da Anchieta 11 — with stores dotted around the city, it’s like a general store of all things Portuguese. Great for gifts and souvenirs from food to baskets to books and more . . .
  • +351 Designed in Lisbon, Rua da Anchieta 7 – a local label of casual t-shirts and beach inspired clothing mostly for men but easily unisex.
  • Teresa Pavao, Rua de São João da Praça 120 — I found out about this artisan from the one fine dining establishment I went to during my stay. Every single diner  inquired about the beautiful tiles and dishes the food was served on. Locally made, wonderfully minimal and modern ceramics with the workshop right in the Alfama district. (Closed Mondays)

The meal served on Teresa’s dishes at a little place called Leopold was phenomenal. An eight course tasting menu (plus a special treat) created in an open kitchen before your eyes from local ingredients. The restaurant is all of 4 tables, including a 10 seat chef’s table — making it easy for singles to partake. Heavily umami leaning thanks to an abundance of seaweed, each course was better than the last. The beef was the most tender I have ever, ever had. The mushroom broth with the fish — you’ll want to lick the plate. We were a collection of Brits, Americans, Italians and one Singaporian all enjoying the meal together. I would say the locals don’t know what they are missing out on. Sublime!

Lastly, what’s a vacation without a little pizza. Just down the hill from the hotel along the river (and often a cruise ship) is a nice little pizza joint with authentic Italian thin crust pizza of the knife and fork variety. The place gets mighty busy so be prepared for a wait. Restaurante Casanova, Av Infante Dom Henrique Loja 








best meal in town — seriously!

Petit Trois, Los Angles
718 Highland Avenue, West Hollywood

No Reservations

Petit Trois_MrsRopersMusingssIt’s been voted the #1 restaurant in LA. That’s because it’s seriously good! I ate there. I dreamt about it. I woke up wanting to go back. Need I say more?  Ok, I will:

  • The drinks:  Fresh and imaginative and curiously strong.
  • The Bread & Butter:  They say a restaurant is judged by its bread offering. This is perfection. Crusty warm baguette served with salty salty French butter.
  • The Moules Frittes:  That broth! And the best part, a piece of broth soaked bread waiting for you at the bottom of the bowl.
  • The French Onion Soup:  Oh so rich and full flavored. Cheese, cheese and more cheese. Quote of the night,  “There’s no going back to Trader Joe’s onion soup now.”
  • The Omelette:  The stuff dreams are made of. This may sound strange but it tastes like buttered popcorn only with the texture of smooth and silky, perfectly cooked eggs filled with creamy cheese. And the bibb lettuce accompaniment — exactly the salad I ate in France every day when I summered there in ’85.
  • The Chocolate Mousse:  Sickeningly rich in a good way. Not too sweet and decadently smooth, topped with copious amounts of freshly whipped cream. My insides were shaking (that’s no lie)

And you wouldn’t guess it being in LA, but the restaurant is wholly unpretentious. It’s all about the food here. Just 20 stools, in a simply decorated, dark space (pictures are hard to achieve but skip that part and just eat) with a bustling open kitchen. You’re greeted with hellos from the bar tender and kitchen staff when you walk in like you’re seeing old friends. The portions are more than ample — actually quite large —  and the prices fair.

See you there because I will definitely be a regular.

farewell to the oc

OutpostKitchenWhy is it you find your new favorite restaurant just before leaving town?  I just couldn’t leave Orange County without sharing this fabulous little spot — a funny little spot really in a semi-residential/industrial part of Costa Mesa run by Aussie expats. Of course!

Nobody does breakfast better than Australians in my book and that is what Outpost Kitchen is dedicated to. I made four trips there in my last few days before moving to Los Angeles. I just couldn’t resist. Everything is as good as it looks. I highly recommend you stop by.

Clockwise from upper left:  Aussie Scrambled Eggs; Granola with fresh fruit & almond milk; Poached Eggs with house smoked Salmon; Avo Toast with Poached Eggs

Outpost Kitchen
1792 Monrovia Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Mon-Fri 7-3
Sat 8-2

flinders fabulous

Flinders Lane MapFlinders Lane, Melbourne. Easily becoming Restaurant Row of the CBD. Start at one end and eat your way down to the other. I even have a great recommendation for an Air BnB at the starting line — and a few shops and cultural finds along the way. Click map to enlarge.

Here are my October 2015 stops:

cumulusCumulus — There is no going to Melbourne without a meal at Cumulus. It is my on the record, favorite restaurant in the city. I love it so much, I’ve been known to dine there multiple times on every trip down under — sometimes multiple times in one day given they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s been such a love affair, I’ve never even ventured past the front door and up the stairs to their evening wine bar Cumulus Up, Next time I swear. Pictured: House made Crumpets with Whipped Ricotta & Honey.

supernormalSuper Normal — The CBD incarnation of the restaurant I declared orgasmic once upon a time (see here) and another hit in chef Andrew McConnell’s (Cumulus) growing empire. The menu is very similar to its St. Kilda predecessor but the vibe is decidedly more urban and Tokyo neon. And there is a long bar perfect for dining solo. Plus you can order half portions of most things on the menu so you don’t miss out on the multiple tastes, shared plate experience larger parties are having. Pictured: Prawn & Chicken Dumplings, Brown Rice, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (complementary), Spicey Cauliflower, Sauteed Greens in XO Sauce. For dessert: Plum & Green Tea Soft Serve — the perfect cool down after a lot of spice that honestly made me sweat.

lanewaygreensLaneway Greens — This is my kinda place. Healthy. Yummy. Perfect for everyday fare and the kind of place I could eat at every day. Why is salad so much better when somebody else makes it?  But don’t stop at salad — although the 6 seasonal menu choices are spectacular — they also have great smoothies and the occasional soup on a cold winters day. I love this place! I even love the stoneware bowls they serve in. While most people opt for take away, do take a seat at one of the 12 stools and enjoy the stoneware. I’ll be back for sure! Pictured: Wombok Chicken Slaw with the most intriguing Flaxseed Cracker.

huxtaburgerHuxtaburger — I’ve been wanting to try a Huxtaburger for years but somehow with the ever growing list of restaurants I bring with me each trip, I’ve made other choices. How stupid of me. These burgers live up to the hype. My dining partner even declared it “the best burger” he’s ever had. Yes, they are that good. The perfect mix of good beef cooked perfectly pink, lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo & ketchup on the most delicious brioche bun. Not too small. Not too big. Just right. I’m not normally a fan of the crinkle cut fry either but theirs are just the right complement — fat, fluffy and hot. Truth be told, Shake Shack has nothing on this place. Pictured: Denise (the hot one) Combo Meal.

new & notable in melbourne

When you haven’t been to a city in over a year and a half, there’s always so much to see & do that’s new. Between visiting my favorite old haunts and trying to hit as many new places as possible, I filled a whole week super easily and still left wanting more. Which means I’ll be back. Here’s the small selection of new to new-ish businesses I found this time around:

Mörk Chocolate Brewhouse, 150 Errol Street, North Melbourne

Mork Chocolate BrewhouseYum!  Handcrafted hot chocolate that’s deep and rich and oh so good. Put that together with a charming space and even more delicious chocolate offerings and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Way at the far end of Errol Street in a barely marked brick building, this tiny two table, chocolate-centric cafe is worth a visit. My treat of choice, a specially made Layered Chocolate (AUS $8) — that’s warm orange custard over rich dark hot chocolate (normally made over chilled dark chocolate) that followed a complementary glass of vanilla infused sparkling water to cleanse the palette. Choose from a menu of special hot or cold chocolate concoctions, chocolate baked treats or 3 levels of dark, darker or darkest hot chocolate. So good!

Bassike, 1-3 Rankins Lane, CBD

bassike melbourne cbdIn true Melbourne fashion, this lovely clothing shop is hidden down a backstreet laneway. With a beachy laid back style mixed with a Scandinavian aesthetic the shop is worth seeking out. Find casual denim and T’s on the ground level then climb the stairs for a peek at the signature line. And as luck should have it, their first Stateside shop has opened in Venice, CA just weeks ago. Lucky me!

Otto & Spike, 324 Victoria Street, Brunswick

Otto & SpikeKnits, knits, everywhere knits. Hats, scarves, gloves, socks and blankets galore. Tons of colors and patterns, the shop stocks their entire line. Sadly, open just 4 days a week (Thur – Sun), the shop was locked up tight when I happened by. But I guarantee I left a window full of nose and finger prints behind trying to take it all in.

Sardi, 111 Church Street, Hawthorne

A bustling little cafe that’s perfect for the healthy set and those looking for something a little more sinful. On a very cold day, i toed the line down the middle with a selection off the all day breakfast menu — Wild Mushroom Ragout with free range poached eggs (pictured, AUS $17.50). A huge serve that was more than this girl could eat but mighty tasty. Get there early or there may not be any available seats. That’s how bustling this place can be.

Hi Petal, Greater Melbourne

Hi Petal PosyI have mixed feelings about this little business. The concept is great! $35 AUS unique daily posies in a mason jar with a cute little tag and a personal message, delivered anywhere in the Melbourne area. I thought I’d liven up my rented apartment with a Friday selection that turned out to be a celebration of pink roses in support of breast cancer. The website, unfortunately, was not mobile friendly so to place my order I had to contact them via email which led the owner to try to stick me with fees by requesting payment via bank transfer or PayPal payment request. With the prospect of losing the order she agreed to take my credit card as if I had placed the order online. Not quite up to handling the demand of a charity driven day, the delivery was more than 2 hours late, far beyond the 2 hour window I was provided causing me to miss a Creative Mornings talk I had been lucky to score a ticket to. But the flowers made me smile — a unique combination of roses & eucalyptus. So yes, I’d give it another shot. If you’ve got a gift to give, it’s an affordable option to spread some cheer. Available in a prickly cactus version too. Hopefully as a business they will mature some in coming days.

Kettle Black, 50 Albert Rd, South Melbourne

This modern and sunny cafe that serves seriously beautiful all day breakfast is in my mind, the ultimate girls day out spot. But to my surprise the restaurant was filled with men, women, young, old and muti-cultural alike. I guess the word is out. Everybody it seems likes pretty. Just look at the flower, seed & maple cream topped Hot Cake — that was seriously like eating a whole cake and if you can get through more than half, my hat’s off to you. It’s the house specialty and I’m glad my waitress talked me into it. But I am excited to go back next time and try some of the more savory options too. Seriously, everything that passed by on the way out of the kitchen was drool worthy. A note: I didn’t so much enjoy sitting at the counter and suggest a seat at a communal table or better yet, go with friends and share not only a table but multiple selections off the menu.

A-Esque, 555B Chapel Street, South Yarra

A-esqueHave you ever walked into a store and wanted to buy every single piece on display? I could easily have done that at this Melbourne based leather goods shop. All the bags are hand made in a local workshop of Italian leather. Refined and sophisticated styles that you can easily wear without the bags wearing you. In fact you won’t find any branding on the outside what so ever. Just my style . . . every single one of them. I chose just one this time around but with free international shipping there may be more in my future.

The Standard Store, 159 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

The Standard store MelbourneOn my list to get to in Sydney years ago, it never happened. Then last year, they opened a branch in my favorite neighborhood in Melbourne. And it is a fantastic little store! The selection of casual men’s and women’s wear is well curated and well, fun. The staff enthusiastic, personable and well trained on all the merchandise and brands. They even carry Ally Capellino bags (someone i once carried in my shop once upon a time, learn more here). And even better, they have an apartment for rent upstairs through AirBnB. Now you can live the same curated design sense for a night or more. How fun is that?


As you can see, I made the rounds neighborhood-wise. But that’s not all there is to see in these neighborhoods, just those places I took note of this time around. Set out to see these stops and wander around nearby to find all sorts of interesting shops, cafes and more. Myki card (public transport pass) in hand and Melbourne is the most amazing playground. Just have fun!

All images (with exception of hot cake and flowers) courtesy of respective business.

when in doubt . . . eat

What to do with visitors to an area you’ve only been in for a few weeks . . . why try out many of the local eats, of course. Here’s a round up of a recent Orange County, CA weekend food crawl:

double doubleThis is California after all so start with a late night trip to In N Out Burger. Double Doubles with grilled onions for everyone (add extra sauce and it’s called Animal Style an off menu favorite). Smiles all round for sure . . .

Taco MariaTaco Maria, recently voted one of the top 10 restaurants not in Orange County but in all of Los Angeles (now that’s impressive) is a new favorite. Homemade corn tortillas with tasty hanger steak and a glass of red sangria are worth going back for again and again. I can’t wait to try their prix fixe dinner menu one of these days.

twenty eightTwenty Eight, by Top Chef contestant Shirley Chung specializing in Chinese food served western plate style is a great choice for a nice dinner.  An impressive looking restaurant that’s spacious and heavy on the black – black wood floors, black wooden tables, black overhead lamps. The entire meal was lovely, with the table agreeing that the plentiful appetizers or “munchies” as they call them, were spectacular. I only wish the room had been more crowded on a Saturday night. Open just a few months it doesn’t seem to have found it’s stride yet. But give it a try. You won’t be sorry.

bagels and cream cheeseNew York bagels they ain’t but Shirley’s Bagels aren’t bad for the West Coast. At least they are boiled like a real bagel should be. And they whip their own cream cheese on sight — a nice touch.

shakesEven a cold rainy-ish day shouldn’t keep you from showing visitors the beach. And what better place to sit and overlook the rocky cliffs and white sand of Crystal Cove Beach than the Shake Shack (aka Ruby’s Diner) where yummy flavored milk shakes rule.

Nancy's Chopped Salad50 Best dishes; Mar'13; John Sedlar, Pizzeria Mozza; portraitYou’ve seen the pizza now meet the salad and dessert. Pizzeria Mozza is simply the best restaurant I know. And I am sooooo happy they have an outpost in Orange County!

best new restaurant

RosesFrontWhen Bon Appetit names a restaurant in your own back yard, the best new restaurant in America one has to brave the line — a line that starts dutifully at 4 PM everyday for a 5:30 PM first seating — and try it.

Is it worth it?

Let me first say that I, who got stuck on a non-moving metro train, did not have the pleasure of waiting in line for an hour and a half. But I understand I missed the camaraderie of the line dwellers. So maybe it is all part of the experience. Next, eating a big dinner at 5:30 PM was a bit disorienting. It felt like midnight when we left yet was only a bit after 8 PM. And I was mighty drunk at that early hour. The cocktails are strong and shall I say, FANTASTIC!

So in short, yes. Rose’s Luxury is damn good and worth it. Here’s their schtick and why the place is so beloved — FREE FOOD!  You order 2-3 small plates per person and add in a large plate (there’s only two on the menu each slightly larger than a typical single entree) and they throw in a few tasting size plates along the way of the stuff you didn’t order. In our case, because we were there drowning our sorrows as a group, not only did we get a free tasting small plate and dessert, our waitress took pity on us and presented a free large plate of brisket to our already gluttonous mix.

What makes the food so good is an interesting mix of ingredients and flavors. Sorry my photos aren’t great — let’s chalk that up to the copious amounts of alcohol that accompanied our meal:

IMG_4575Pork Sausage, habanero & lychee salad (before mixing up)

IMG_4591Martelli spaghetti with tomato, spicy lobster and mint

Caramelized cauliflower, Greek yogurt & some other stuff — whatever that other stuff was, this was the winning dish of the night

Whole grilled quail with fall greens and mulled cider glaze

Sfoglini rigatoni with parmesan cream, breadcrumbs and a blizzard of white truffles — our second favorite.

Classic cacio e pepe (butter & pepper spaghetti)

IMG_4601Lemongrass shellfish stew, fennel salad & garlic bread (for dipping)

And the Freebies:

Charred broccoli with ceasar dressing and white anchovies

IMG_4592Smoked brisket, white bread, horseradish & slaw (the only disappointment of the night — while the smokey flavor was great the meat was a bit dry)

IMG_4602Stracciatella with raspberry sauce and spicy meringue

IMG_4604Oh but that’s not all. We ordered our own full size dessert that while it looks a fright and hardly dessert like, is totally worth going back for. Green Pea sponge cake donned with buttermilk, pea shoots & glazed pistachio nuts.

And if that’s not enough, the bread that starts the meal served with butter and honey is to die for. But so are the sesame brittle bites that come with your bill. And don’t think those freebies aren’t noted on that bill where exclamation points take the place of prices. This is a marketing ploy after all, they want you to know the good will that has been bestowed on you. And you know what, it works.

Rose’s Luxury
717 8th Street SE
Washington, DC, 20003

No reservations, just get on line. Approximately $100 per person including excess alcohol.

the ripper

two rippersWhat do you get when you deep fry a full beef and pork dog, then smother it in spicy mustard and bright yellow cabbage-based house relish? The Ripper. A simply delicious ripped open hot dog (a result of the frying) at Ruff’s Hutt, a strange little place on a back road off Route 3 in Clifton, New Jersey just outside of NYC. Featured on many a television food show including Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Ruff’s Hutt is a stand up counter/take out joint attached to a sit down bar, both with extensive menus of mostly fried specialties. But it’s the dogs people come for. I can’t tell you the last time I ate a hot dog but certain days call for an all out food splurge — and this one was kinda fun at that.