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If I had to nominate an inspirational creative to motivate aspiring British fashion designers, Fred Butler would be at the top of my list. Somewhereto_ saw the magic, too, and chose the colour-loving designer READ MORE...
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NET-A-PORTER has gone sporty with their 7-Day Body Reboot, a daily fitness and healthy diet program presented as a video series. I think this is brilliant for two reasons. First, it's a smart way to promote READ MORE...
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Following the wrap-up of Stockholm Fashion Week is the launch of a new collaboration between two Swedish fashion greats, skate/street brand WeSC and design duo Altewai Saome READ MORE...
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The Design and Craft Fair, MADE LONDON, returns to One Marylebone 24-26 October to present the very best in contemporary craft and design. Showcasing over 120 READ MORE...
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It's called Ripley's Aquarium of Canada (as opposed to Ripley's Aquarium of Toronto which would follow the format for their US locations), which is not helping the general READ MORE...
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I opened the cover of a new landscape photography periodical I had just received called Land/Sea and began browsing the photos and words as I walked into my kitchen READ MORE...
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Yes, this is a men's fashion post. And it feels right. This season's London Collections: Men was my first ever thanks to an invitation from long-term London Fashion Week sponsor Toni & Guy READ MORE...
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November 20, 2013

Create an Avalanche in a Glass

AvalancheThis seems especially apropos today as I'm watching flurries flying about out the window. Too soon! Here's something cold and icy that's much more palatable. Piccadilly Institute have created a special cocktail for the holidays, called The Avalanche. Topped with a Lego man skier, this snowy concoction is like Christmas come early!

Here's the recipe so you can make your own Avalanche at home:


12.5ml Ketel One

12.5ml Crème de banana

12.5ml Amaretto 12.5ml

White cacao

Milk to top

Prep glass with crushed ice; mix all ingredients together in a shaker and pour over. Top with extra crushed ice and garnish with crushed amaretto biscuit. Place Lego skier delicately on top of the avalanche.

With its sweet creaminess I'll bet it makes a nice alternative to the traditional, super rich egg nog. (I had to look into whether Brits even drink egg nog - I've not assertained this in my eight years here. Although it is said to have possibly originated in East Anglia, I'm still not sure!) 

November 18, 2013

Caged Creativity: Dinner as Performance Art

A wonderful film made of our evening captures the magic created by a Taste of Space 

Remember the dinner shrouded in mystery I alluded to previously as part of the Unlock Art series with Le Meridien and Tate? This is it. (It culminated in a completely unpredictable finale which will be revealed at the end.) Promised an 'immersive dinner', created by A Taste of Space, (formerly A Taste Full Space), the evening began with a knock at our door at 6pm in our rooms at Le Meridien Piccadilly. We were each delivered a turquoise wooden puzzle (seen below) which came with a note indicating that the codes we would need to Unlock our dinner experience were inside the puzzle. And that if we struggled to open it (that was me) we could get some help from Franz who was creating molecular cocktails for us in the Terrace Grill & Bar - now that's incentive to admit defeat! 


After we were warmed up with our codes in hand, we were driven to a secret warehouse in Hackney where we walked through a candle-lit entrance:


The doors opened to an expansive, dark space filled with elegantly set tables lit with candelabras in cage enclosures, the scene eerily highlighted with spotlights. The effect was so dramatic and mysterious I swear I thought we were enveloped in fog, but as the photos show we were not! 


We wandered in like wide-eyed children trying to make sense of this magical scene, and unlike children, we were served delicious cocktails:


We were told by our host, Laurie Trainor Buckingham who is the creative behind A Taste of Space, to expect an evening where anything could happen. We were all very excited!


The first row of cages contained three tables which were set for the first course, but first we had to open the locks with our codes. 


We were served organic Scottish salmon cured with beetroot, horseradish and Laphroaig whisky, with a smoked cod roe cracker and stained glass beetroot carpaccio with apple and dill, and hot borscht on the side. Wine was Chablis, Domaine Gilbert Picq et Fils 2009/2010 and complemented the gorgeous starter perfectly. 



While we were eating we noticed that in the next cage was a young woman who was watching us, then she appeared to be trying to slide under the barrier into our cage! We kept eating while watching out of the corner of our eye, expecting her to pop up beside our table at any moment. 

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We played musical cages and moved to the next set for the second course. It began with potatoes baked in a salted parcel and came with a mallet for breaking them out of - or Unlocking? - their hard shell. They were absolutely delicious, and I decided to try a bit of the shell as well - it was super salty - right as someone came by and told us not to eat that part. (I'm still here so it's ok.) Then a platter of the most tender lamb I've ever eaten, along with Jerusalem artichockes, was placed on our table. We'd heard the lamb was roasted for seven hours. 


"Um, they're looking at us - what do we do?" Give them the platter of lamb, of course. I slid it under the barrier (thinking they were hungry) but they didn't devour it, they played with it! It's ok, we had finished, it wasn't wasted. 


While we ate, the dancers - from a performance group called The People Pile - began to do their own thing, moving in all kinds of ways which began to engage and entertain us. This was just the beginning of that!



What, you've never partied with a banana peel and candelabra? We found ourselves in one of the empty cages - how did they get us in there, they didn't speak! - circled around one of the candelabras. One of the performers who was standing amongst us produced a banana peel and whipped it down onto the floor. We had a laugh at the randomness and then she pointed at the group one by one and each person responded by doing something with the banana peel. It felt a bit Dada which is a great exercise in letting go of expectations to go with the flow and let things unfold as they will - as adults, how often do we get to do that? 




Dessert, presented in the third and final set of cages, was molten chocolate cake inside a cage of sugar, served with sea salted ice cream and a coffee-based cocktail that was equally decadent. If that wasn't enough to leave one satisfied, a gorgeous cheese course followed and balanced the sweetness of the dessert. 


Now for that unpredictable final act. After one of the best dinners I've had, and definitely the most unique dinner experience I've ever had, we found ourselves in the very last cage - again, how did they manage to round us up like that? Then the most amazing thing happened. The performers came up to us one by one and hugged us. This wasn't just any hug, it was a very loved-up embrace that really caught me off guard at how powerful it was; this was some serious, good energy they had harnessed. I know what you're thinking: 'Alcohol helps!' Yes, but in this case the experience was what was most intoxicating, and we got caught up in this great thing that unfolded around us. So after I had two of the most heart-felt cuddles ever - from mute strangers no less! - I stood back and took a shot of the scene. 

I think this photo proves it wasn't just me who felt the power of The People Pile:

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Pretty amazing, eh? 

A huge thanks to Le Meridien and Tate for giving us this truly spectacular evening. And to A Taste of Space and The People Pile for creating it.  

Photos by Dave Watts, except photos #2, #9 and last photo, by The Swelle Life

October 30, 2013

Piccadilly Institute Serves up the Ultimate Spooky Cocktails

Piccadilly Institute_Death Do Us Part low res'Death Do Us Part' is a sharer-cocktail served in The Chamber Room. Presented in a 'human heart' with smoking dry ice, it looks like something straight out of a mad scientist’s laboratory. The cocktail is a hearty mixture of Bacardi gold, Lamb’s, apricot brandy, shaken up with orange and pineapple juice. 

I can never get on top of figuring out and executing an awesome Halloween costume in time for the night, so creating my own scary spectacular isn't likely. It's just as well because I find it's more fun to let others host a night of fright for you, and one event that makes me wish I was in London this Halloween is the party at Piccadilly Institute. Serving the ultimate in spooky cocktails, the evening is described as 'like a rave set in a horror film' - how can you not want to go to that? 

Featured here are some of the cocktails you can indulge in with a friend - they're all for sharing - and enjoy a properly eerie and spine-chilling Halloween!

The Piccadilly Institute is located at 1 Piccadilly Circus, London, W1V 9LA.

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Piccadilly Royal, served in The Noir Room.  This cocktail is spooky enough to give you nightmares. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to anyone going dressed as the Grim Reaper in need of a skull. The Piccadilly Royale is the king of Halloween cocktails as it packs a frightfully delicious punch with a mixture of Eristoff vodka, Chambord, raspberry puree, lemonade, and prosecco. Warning: if drunk too quickly it may cause brain freeze!

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Bate’s IV Therapy, served in The Clinic Room. Every Halloween is undoubtedly blood thirsty and if Dracula had a choice in where to party it would be here. That’s because Piccadilly Institute has blood on tap. That’s right, the Bate’s IV Therapy cocktail is quite literally served through an IV bag on wheels, which is handy if you fancy a boogie and a constant supply of a tube-fed cocktail at the same time. A blood curdling mixture of Absolut Raspberry, Chambord, passion and raspberry puree and apple juice - although it looks like blood, it tastes a lot nicer!

October 25, 2013

Artisanal Treats at Le Méridien Piccadilly

DSC_4276Franz works his molecular magic in the Terrace Grill & Bar at Le Méridien Piccadilly. He created many scrumptous drinks for us including his twist on the classic cocktail, the Manhattan. 

One of my favourite things from my visits to Le Méridien Piccadilly is the food and drink. Every opportunity to make a moment special is explored and executed in a way that makes me squeal with glee (literally, I have to muffle it if that moment happens outside of my room). During Le Méridien's recent event in which they hosted the debut film of the Unlock Art series, made in collaboration with Tate, we were spoilt with so many sweet and savoury treats and I was determined to taste them all, whether I had room or not. As others politely declined as the trays came around the umpteenth time, I soldiered on to show my appreciation for the seemingly endless generosity of refreshments. There is no such thing as 'too much' when it comes to special things, and so mine was a display of pure gluttony. It's a rare opportunity to be able to gorge on molecular cocktails, miniscule croque madames and *gasp* candied bacon lollies, and I took full advantage! It was all presented to us by a team of smartly dressed servers in black, bespectacled with cool lensless glasses. (I loved them and went home with a pair - thank you, Laura!)



Sweet, salty and savoury at its indulgent best were the bacon lollipops, candied in a crunchy, sugary shell and served in a pot of baby peppers. 


If food can be adorable, the mini croque madames certainly were. Is that a fried quail egg on top? (I had four. I regret nothing!) 

Previous images © Dave Watts

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The presentation of chocolate-dipped strawberries hanging from colourful tags off umbrellas was pure joy! 


Specially made fortune cookies were my 'greet treat' that welcomed me when I arrived in my room. (See them open here.)

There was an incredibly unusual and wonderful dinner event later that evening which was so special it deserves a post of its own so we'll save that. When I returned to my room I found a little package tied in cord resting on the door handle. It was a map:


And then I saw this set up on the table:

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Hot chocolate! Piping hot, too, and exactly as I like it, semi-sweet. But what was in the treasure chest? I referred to the map and it gave me hints as to where the key was. I found it hanging from the doorknob on the wardrobe and I opened the chest to find a cinnamon stick, nutmeg, chocolate and a grater to top my hot chocolate with fresh spices. I was already so full from the fantastic dinner but you know my philosophy - when at Le Méridien! I settled happily into my big comfy bed with my cups of hot chocolate. (I would love to say I drifted off on cocoa clouds but the truth is I blogged until 2:30am!) 


Afternoon G & T was also a treat I found in my room that day, it's a Le Méridien specialty and the last time I was there we were given a masterclass that introduced us to infusions and how to make their unique and lovely twist on the classic cocktail. You can see that here, and if you want to experience one yourself I highly recommend a visit if you're in London!

October 16, 2013

The #UnlockArt Film Series Experience Begins...

TheSwelleLife_3D (1 of 1)Upon arrival I was given 3D glasses so I could find my room which had my name encoded on the door - a new way of seeing things? This set the tone for what was to follow....

Here I am again at one of my most favourite places, Le Méridien Piccadilly in London, this time for their UNLOCK ART film series experience. It's only mid-afternoon as I'm writing this and already we've had a day packed with all kinds of wonderful delights ('we' is me and six other lucky bloggers), and we've been told there's a surprise to come before our "immersive" five course dinner experience with A Taste Full Space this evening. We've received instructions to be in our rooms at 6pm for the first surprise and I can't wait to find out what they have cooked up - if I know Le Méridien, it will be out of this world. 

Click the image to watch the film at the Le Méridien Unlock Art site

This morning at the hotel we were treated to the Unlock Art debut screening of Bringing Performance Art to Life, the first of a series of eight exclusive films created by Tate in partnership with Le Méridien. It was brilliantly presented by Frank Skinner who delivered the most clever of scripts, written by Jessica Lack (with a bit of improv we've been told). The objective of the films is to make art inclusive and accessible to everyone, taking it from 'high brow to street level', to Unlock Art for those who may not otherwise have paid attention for whatever reason, be it they don't understand the art, or think it's not meant for them. Delivered with the perfect dose of respectful humour, this historical survey of this provocative genre was entertaining, engaging and educational, and I wasn't bothered about whether I understood at that moment exactly what performance art is - yes even as an art student I struggled to get my head around it - I just wanted to keep watching. For me, it opened the mind and bridged the gap between 'us' and 'them', and hopefully it will do the same for many others as well. This afternoon we had the opportunity to chat with Susan Doyan who directed and produced the series, and she was lovely. What a talent. This easily digestible tour of the arts, from Surrealism to Pop Art, will continue to roll out monthly at the Le Méridien Unlock Art site. In addition, The Guardian will also be posting the videos. 

Update: The BBC has also featured the story and video which you can see here

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And what better to follow than actual performance art? Pil & Galia Kollectiv's 'A Guide to Office Clerical Time Standards' is an instructional piece based on a corporate manual from 1960. The pamphlet is focused on the time necessary for the accomplishment of minute labour procedures in the office, from the depressing and releasing of typewriter keys to the opening and closing of file cabinet drawers. In the performance, seven costumed performers represent the different levels of management and employment while performing the actions described in the guide, accompanied by a live musical score. It was a very rhythmic performance that captured and held the attention of the audience throughout its repetitive acts. 

Now let's talk about the food. Jumping back to my arrival, I found a treat in my room after I entered be-spectacled in 3D. A trio of fortune cookies were waiting to be opened, and in them were these messages:


I ate them up and was so excited to see what art was going to be unlocked for us. 

After the performance, a unique array of tiny cocktails and food, both savoury and sweet, were served. Never passing up an opportunity to make a moment special, they presented chocolate covered strawberries hanging from umbrellas which was just so neat!

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After the lovely talk with Susan Doyan I came up to my room and found this:

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Being a three-time (and counting I hope!) veteran of these Le Méridien experiences I knew what was in that teapot: an infused gin, one of the hotel's specialties, and tonic to mix for a totally unique G&T. (See more here.) I was so full after my Caligula-like ravaging of the mini foods (and drinks) but there was no way I was letting that pot sit idle and I poured a delicious cup (and kept going until it was all gone). And I ate more than that one bite missing from the macaron. As you can see, I really had no choice. 

Next up: Our immersive dinner. Hint: Hackney, locked cages, dancing zombie girls...

October 01, 2013

Essential Kitchen Gadget: Umbra's iSpoon


When I first saw the iSPOON from Umbra, the Toronto-based designer and manufacturer of houseware products (I can't help but highlight the Canadian-ness of a great company), I'll admit I paused to get my head around it as I'd never seen anything like it. It's both a stylus and a wooden tasting spoon meant to help out in the kitchen in equal measure. If you've ever tried to follow a recipe on your tablet while cooking, you know that it's impossible to touch your screen without getting it all smeared from your goopy fingers (gross!). I thought maybe that was just me, one who is prone to slovenly ways, but this scenario is exactly what prompted designer Jordan Murphy to create it; he knew he wasn't alone. Our expensive tablets were not meant to be around bolognese sauce, but they sure are handy for recipes, so the iSpoon seemed well worth a try. 

Once I was actually holding it properly - correct is with the fingers gripping the silicone which will activate the screen - it flips pages seamlessly and doesn't drag. I tend to use the Epicurious app which lays out the recipes with the ingredients listed in a tab, so there is always some back and forth between pages while preparing the meal. The stylus proved to be effective in performing its mess-saving function, but I did wonder if I would actually use the spoon end. It turns out that I do. I keep the iSPOON in my utensil jar by the hob and often find the smaller size perfect for stirring up concoctions cooked in small pans, whereas a larger utensil would be awkward and send sauces flying out. And I've grabbed it a few times for tasting which is just nicer than getting a mouthful of metal when you're trying to determine whether your dish is seasoned enough. If you get any food on the stylus you simply wash it off later. Mine got sent through the dishwasher yesterday and it was perfectly fine, though I think it's always better to handwash wood. 

Verdict: I use it regularly, therefore it's a success! 

You can buy the iSPOON for under £10 in the UK at various retailers.

September 07, 2013

Sweet Paul Summer: Gelato, Happy Homes & Sri Lanka


Technically it's still summer, right? Again I'm late, as this is the Sweet Paul summer issue and we're just a couple of weeks away from autumn, but as always there's too much of the (really, really) good stuff not to mention. So let's not waste any more time and get to it with a scrumptiously styled story on Gelato:



Charlotte Gueniau tells us all about her passion for colour, evident in photos of her harmonious, rainbow home, in the story Color Me Happy! I thought I was great at living with colour but Charlotte is giving me serious house envy; I would love to visit and never leave! She sought to create a joyful home and clearly, she's achieved that. Notice how she's cleverly grounded the rooms with white so the colours pop and flow rather than compete for attention and make us cross-eyed: 


Lotta Jansdotter takes us to her native home of Sweden and shares some of the traditional recipes she made for a special Sunday lunch in the garden for her friends and family:


While amenable, I'm not a huge shrimp person (that sounds funny together). But these seafood recipes look so delicious they have me wanting to devour pounds of the meaty little creatures. If you love your fruits de mer you must take a look at Sun, Surfers & Seafood:


 How gorgeous is this deco-styled summer cocktail story? Heaps. 



If that Pancake Cake with Wild Blueberry Jam, from Nordic Summer Cooking, made you salivate (I literally did each time I saw that photo, and by 'literally', I do mean literally) and you need to switch to savoury temptations to save shorting out your keyboard with drool, there's also a gorgeous Sri Lanka curry story, with recipes of course:


You can read the whole issue here, and get ready for fall - I've just seen a preview and it's already got me feeling better about the shorter days and chilly weather. 

Also, there was the loveliest peony story in this issue which I had planned to feature separately for Floral Friday, then I saw the fall issue flower spread (Sweet Paul never forgets the flowers regardless of the season), so it will join the peonies for double gorgeousness when it's out, which is very soon! 

September 06, 2013

Champagne Picnic with Wild Blueberry Pancakes & The US Open

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We've been having such great extended summer weather recently (we really don't hold much hope for warmth and sun in England once August has passed) and I really wanted to take advantage of it, even if it meant not leaving the back garden. So I prepared a picnic with the intention of enjoying it on the grass with my daughter after school. The treats in this lovely spread are out of Fortnum & Mason's Piccadilly hamper which came courtesy of Ladbrokes to promote their Centre Court Slot Game. It's a scrummy selection of lemon curd biscuits, chocolate, handmade preserves, teas, pickles and even a bottle of sparkling. But you know what happened, don't you? We had beautiful weather all day, and then when we got home, it turned dark and gloomy. Not to be deterred (after a few vigorous fist shakes at the sky), we moved the picnic indoors and it was all good because we got to catch up on the US Open tennis (the time zone difference means many of the main matches air live when we're sleeping). I follow the men's tour religiously and pray at the altar of Federer, but it's been a rough week of upsets with 'The Swiss' going out in the 4th round, in straight sets no less, to Tommy Robredo whose Lazurus-like showing has made us feel sheepish for having forgotten about him; he's obviously got a lot left to give. And then poor Andy Murray seemed to suffer from Federeritis last night in the quarter-final; the pressure of defending the title may have proved too much, though Stanislas Wawrinka played what was probably the best match of his life, so it seemed to be an unwinnable day for the Scot who just never was able to get his emotions under control after each frustrating unforced error. But it's the surprises and unpredictable nature of it all that makes it so exciting, right? 

Back to the food. For the picnic I made a recipe that I found in Sweet Paul magazine which was the perfect feature dish for the spread because not only is it easy to make, but the topping it calls for just happend to come in the hamper: Pancake Cake with Wild Blueberry Jam. Wild blueberry jam is not a common cupboard item so this was quite a fortuitous match-up, and it's a nice alternative to the usual maple syrup (usual for this Canadian, anyway). Wimbledon's celebratory companion is strawberries and cream, so maybe this can be our US Open ritual. 

The indoor picnic was such a lovely thing to do that I may just repeat it a few times during the winter to break up the monotony of the hearty crockpot stews and casseroles. I can see an Australian Open living room picnic making January much more bearable come 2014...


August 29, 2013

Snacking Japanese: Miso Soup and Wasabi Glaze Popcorn


Miso soup is not the most photo-friendly subject, but it sure is a tasty dish. It's been one of my cupboard staples for years, so I was happy to receive a few packets of a new instant miso soup from itsu's 'Eat Beautiful' range. It's a paste that you mix with boiling water instead of a powder which is what I had been buying, and although the dry one was a premium brand, it doesn't even come close in terms of flavour and texture. (I recently was invited to dinner by a Japanese friend and she served homemade miso soup, and I couldn't tell the difference between hers and itsu's.) The bonus is you can also use the paste as a flavour enhancer in cooking, and it makes a great on-the-go snack if you can get a cup and boiling water. I tried the Original variety which contains bonito fish, and there's also a Vegetarian option, with each coming in at just 44 and 42 calories, respectively. This is hard to believe considering that one bowl - a good size bowl filled up - can actually satisfy you enough to keep you from immediately scavenging the fridge for something to top you up (and this is coming from a remorseless eating machine). However, Metcalf's Skinny Topcorn makes a great accompaniment if you're allowing yourself a little indulgence. I received a sample of two flavours (made with only natural ingredients), Sea Salt and Wasabi Glaze, and I have to admit that I ate the Wasabi Glaze in one go, dutifully but grudgingly sharing with my husband, until it was gone. It was so tasty with its perfect blend of tangy and sweet that I forgot to save some to photograph and had to buy more! This flavour comes in at 118 calories per 25g bag (popcorn is very light), so if you can practice some restraint (please teach me how you do this) and save half for later, you can have a nice snack for around 60 calories. Stockists include Sainsbury's and Waitrose. 

I have already got myself more of the soup as well, I can't go back to the powder again. You can buy itsu miso soup at Sainsbury's for £2.25 for three pouches and I highly recommend it, served up in a colourful Tayo bowl if you have one.  

August 26, 2013

Treats in Toronto: Chococrêpe!

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Whenever I'm in Paris I eat an Eiffel Tower's worth of crêpes, but I'd never had one in Toronto. This occurred to me when I was walking on Queen St. west of Bathurst and passed by a sandwich board for Chococrêpe. I knew I had to come back with my daughter. She devours them, now. But that wasn't always the case. The first time we visited Paris she was three-years-old and we stayed in Montparnasse which I nicknamed The Crêpe District because our street had at least a dozen crêperies, and it wasn't that long a street. We told her we were taking her for crêpes and she was very excited. So we ordered a sweet one for her and when it arrived we expected her face to light up. Instead she burst into tears and we were perplexed as to why, as was our server. It turned out that she thought we were saying 'grapes' and being the fruit freak she was, and still being pretty much a baby, nothing else would do. Telling her that this was a pancake with fruit on it which was even better only seemed to make her madder because none of those words were "here's some grapes!" But crying children in Paris is great fun so it was all good. 

Anyway, back to August 2013, I was feeling like something savoury so I ordered the Chipotle Chicken crêpe which was really delicious, and it came with an arugula salad on the side. My daughter went full-on and ordered a mango sorbet milkshake - they have lots of ice cream and sorbets flavours to choose from - at the same time as a Happy Apple crêpe which is very large and open and topped with green apple slices, chocolate cinammon bits and dark chocolate drizzled all over. There was no convincing her that this was too much at one time, and hey, if you don't get a few reckless stomach aches as a kid you're not doing it right. (She ate a quarter of the crêpe before admitting defeat, but all of the milkshake. We took the remainders home.) 

Chococrêpe is an intimate and welcoming place, and they played Carla Bruni's Quelqu'un m'a dit and Bebel Gilberto's So Nice, which was perfect for the atmosphere on a hot summer day. You can visit Chococrêpe at 620 Queen St. West, and they do brunch on weekends. 


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Photos © The Swelle Life



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