About Alan Philippe

Describing himself as an extraordinary guy doing ordinary things, Alan Philippe is the epitome of a people's person and it's no suprise that this perfect host is a typical ESFJ. Before starting his publishing career, Alan graduated with Joint Honours from University College London having read Physiology & Pharmacology. He worked for many years in Learning & Development, although his experience spans much more than this. Indeed, he was even once a recruitment consultant although Alan says he left the Dark Side relatively unscathed! Alan Philippe has a passion for fashion, interior design and all things vintage. When he's not busy in his role as Creative Editor of City Connect, you'll find him in either socialising in his favourite hotspots, getting a culture fix in the world of Art & Theatre, following the latest fashion and design trends or simply enjoying the best that life has to offer at home and abroad. Follow him on Twitter @A1Philippe

Hot Furnishings in Cool Pastels

Pastels are making a comeback this season, so buying new home furnishings or decoration in these cool colours will add some hot style to your home and update the look of your favourite rooms.

The latest interior design trend is an explosion of ice-cream shades that look simply delicious whether they’re on walls, furniture or home accessories. This uplifting colour palette is perfect for the start of the new season and is very versatile as you can choose from a whole spectrum of colours from the palest of pastels to soft sorbet colours and bright fruity shades that are so juicy that you’ll want to squeeze them!

Rooms can look chic and sophisticated when you use these subtle hues to enhance the appearance of furnishings. Choose colours that suit your personal style or taste – if pastel pink is not your thing, why not try a dusky darker shade. Soft citrus colours will make a bolder statement if you want to go for design with more of an edge.

This colour trend isn’t just for walls and furniture. Add instant retro style to any room in the house by choosing fabrics and accessories in neopolitan shades of pale pinks, yellows and creams. Marks and Spencer sells a gorgeous 50s-inspired range called Country Pastels which adds a touch of retro charm to your home. Injecting this season’s cool gelato colours around the home will make your interiors look fabulous and this palette works very well in the living room or bedroom. Pastel bedlinen adds a fresh crisp touch to the bedroom and is a calm and spirit-lifting colour.

Cool pastel colours are ideal for smaller rooms in the house as they make interiors look bigger by creating the illusion of more space. Pastels are also great way of adding a crisp and clean look to the home for people who like to keep things clutter-free and simple.

Psychologically, the on-trend pastel palette is good for your wellbeing as well as making your home stylish. Think back to the last time you lay on soft green grass on a sunny day with a cloudless blue sky above you. Or try and remember when you watched the turquoise ocean from a sandy golden beach. How did that make you feel? Research has shown that cool light colours like blues and greens are more calming than darker strong colours like red and black. The most calming colors for interior design schemes are light blue, green, pink, yellow, lilac, lavender and – not surprisingly - white and beige.

So if you want to brighten up your home and your mood this Spring, choose cool pastels and gelato colours for new purchases and bring a little sunshine into your interiors.

Image courtesy of modmani.com

Gardening on a Budget

Gardening has become a low priority in the current tough economic climate. Recent research shows that a staggering 47% of us spent nothing at all on our outdoor areas in 2010. Some people have saved money by going from green to grey – covering their gardens in concrete or decking to cut down on the expense of planting. However, there are plenty of ways to cut the cost of gardening and still have a beautiful garden you can enjoy. Here are our top tips to help you keep digging your garden without digging into your pockets.

10 Top Tips To Save Money When Gardening
1. Plan where you want to put things in your garden
2. Make a list before shopping at the garden centre
3. Plant permanents rather than annuals that need replacing each year
4. Take cuttings
5. Buy plants after they’ve flowered when they’re cheaper
6. Buy younger plants as they are cheaper than more mature specimens
7. Sow from seed which requires patience but is less expensive than buying trays of seedlings
8. Buy seeds from discount stores like Lidl, Poundland, Wilkinson
9. Car boot sales are great for cheap plants and tools
10. Make your own compost

Finally, a good way to cut costs when gardening is to make a friend of a fellow gardener. That way, you can swap your unwanted seeds and plants for those you like and profit from bulk buy discounts when purchasing supplies and plants for both your gardens.

If you have any hints or tips on saving money when gardening, please add a comment below and share your ideas with our readers.

Image courtesy of ehow.com

To Snood or Not to Snood?

Summer is just around the corner but the vagaries of British weather mean that you should ensure you can quickly lay your hands on something to wrap around you on cooler days. One way to be warm AND fashionable this season is to wear a lightweight scarf. Summer scarves are on-trend accessories that may sound unusual but then isn’t fashion meant to be fun and different?

Buying a summer scarf will definitely be a wise addition to your Spring/Summer 2011 wardrobe if you want to keep up with the latest fashion trends whilst not sacrificing functionality. As long as you go for lightweight fabrics rather than heavy knits, you’ll find that a summer scarf keeps you looking super trendy without making you hot under the collar… literally!

There are four ways to wear a Summer Scarf.

  • Parisian Knot – looks great on short jackets with notch collars kept down
  • Once-Around Knot – excellent for everyday casual outfits or with a fitted blazer in the evening
  • Loose Once-Around Knot – go for a rakish look with a duffle coat or any hooded snorkel jacket
  • Twice-Around Knot – perfect for crew necks and short jackets with Mandarin-style collars

Snoods are also a huge trend this season. The snood is basically a cross between a scarf and a hood but it is only worn around the neck and shoulders. The snood was first seen in the Autumn/Winter 2010 collections as a statement piece which added softness to the harder fabric of the winter coat. This look was slow to take off on the high street but was seen on male celebrities such as Andrew Stone. It’s a very different look to what you’d normally see other men wearing out and about – but if you want to stand out from the crowd and stay on top of the latest trends, then you should invest in a snood (or two) for Spring/Summer 2011.

The fashionable snood is not right for everyone and you need to watch your styling to make sure you wear it in the most flattering way for your size and build. Below are some top tips to help you look trendy, not terrible!

  • Shorter men should go for thinner styles to avoid being overpowered by lots of fabric. The most flatterring style is to keep the fall of the snood just below the collar bone – this will elongate the neck.
  • Taller men can wear the snood in more ways. It is best worn in a chunky way. Avoid thinner snoods to steer clear of the unflatterring lanky look. To maintain the focus upwards, twist it more than once to create volume around the neck – just don’t make it too thick.
  • Muscular men need to keep the snood thin to highlight the chest. Why hide those perfect abs you’ve spent months working on in the gym?

There are plenty of options for this hot new trend currently available on the high street. If you prefer online shopping, try Asos as they sell a wide range of summer scarves and snoods to suit all styles and budgets.

Images reproduced from Asos

Buyers Guide: Bodum

Over the last 60 years, Bodum has continued to be at the forefront of  innovative tabletop products and have now perfected a double wall thermo-glass design to keep coffee hot right until you pour the last cup. Their BEAN French Press is a new cafetière that combines classic design and modern materials to allow you to make great coffee safely and easily at home.

The borosilicate double wall glass of the BEAN French Press is encased in colourful silicone plastic which protects the glass and is heat resistant so won’t lose its shape. The handle stays cool to the touch and the lid has some clever handy features. Coffee is kept hot for longer thanks to the silicone gasket connecting the lid and the glass which increases the insulating effect of the double wall glass. A simple thumb lever operates a self-closing spout which allows you to pour coffee without drips and also seals off the lid to maintain the temperature of the contents. The innovative design of this Bodum cafetière also makes it completely spill-proof if ever knocked over on the table. As always, Bodum continue to wow the customer by including a handy 7g scoop to help measure out the perfect amount of ground coffee for each cup.

Bodum’s use of modern materials does not detract from the stylish design of the BEAN French Press so you can be proud to have this classic yet modern cafetière sitting on your table as you entertain guests or just relax over a cup of coffee. The BEAN is available in a range of colours but my personal favourite is the stylish and sophisticated red model. The cafetière was a pleasure to use and kept my coffee hot for much longer than I’ve been used to in the past. I particularly like the fact that the lid lock and lever mechanism means you can pour coffee safely and easily using only one hand.

The French Press, or cafetière, was invented in France during the late 19th century and has been a popular choice ever since with consumers due to the simplicity of the brewing process and the stylish design characterized by leading manufacturers such as Bodum. Cafetières are also more portable and easier to use compared to other coffee makers. It is said that using a cafetière captures more of the coffee’s flavour and essential oils as the coffee grounds remain in direct contact with the water and the filtering is done via a mesh filter.  Another advantage of cafetière coffee is that it can be brewed to any strength by adjusting the amount of ground coffee which is brewed. Bodum recommend that coffee is brewed for exactly four minutes.

If you are interested in the Bodum BEAN French Press and would like to buy one, please go to Amazon.

Image courtesy of mon-cafe.fr

Bipolar Disorder Hits the Headlines

Catherine Zeta-Jones is the latest celebrity to hit the headlines as a sufferer of Bipolar Disorder. Earlier this month, her publicist announced that the Oscar winning actress made the decision to check in to a mental health facility for a brief stay to treat Ms Zeta-Jones’ Bipolar II Disorder after dealing with the stress of the past year.

Catherine Zeta-Jones has been praised by mental health charities for the bravery of her openness about suffering from Bipolar Disorder – especially as there is unfortunately still stigma and misunderstanding about the condition and mental illness in general. One only needs to look at the derogatory comments on Twitter and Facebook in reaction to this news for an example of the way mental illness is treated by some members of the public.

Mental health professionals have a much better understanding of Bipolar Disorder these days than 20 years ago. This is reflected by the fact that Manic Depression, the old name for Bipolar Disorder, is no longer used by psychiatrists because every sufferer of this condition does not necessarily experience manic AND depressive episodes. Catherine Zeta-Jones for example has a diagnosis which means she would mainly suffer from periods of depression and may only have rare or occasional mild manic episodes. In fact, there is now discussion about a Bipolar Spectrum which covers every variation of this condition from its mildest forms to the most extreme cases. You can find out more information about Bipolar Disorder, its symptoms and treatment on the NHS Choices website.

Approximately 1 in every 100 people will suffer from symptoms of Bipolar Disorder at some point in their life. The condition has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In recent times, more and more people in the public eye have talked about their diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and there are also historical figures who are believed to have been affected by the condition. Below are the names of some famous Bipolar sufferers from the past and present:

  • Adam Ant – singer
  • Russell Brand – comedian & actor
  • Frank Bruno – boxer
  • Stephen Fry – actor, comedian & writer
  • Mel Gibson – actor & director
  • Macy Gray – singer
  • Ernest Hemingway – writer
  • Nina Simone – singer
  • Vincent Van Gogh – artist
  • Virginia Woolf – writer

As you can see from the list of names, many Bipolar sufferers are creative individuals who have had successful careers or been blessed by incredible talent. As these famous names demonstrate, although Bipolar Disorder can make individuals vunerable and fragile, it is not always the case that someone who is affected by the condition cannot achieve their ambitions and dreams.

There are a number of charities out there that raise awareness about Bipolar Disorder and support those affected by the condition. Most notable are MDF, Equilibrium and Rethink. Other mental health charities include Mind and SANE. Check out their websites for more information and how to make a donation, if you so wish.

Image reproduced from The Guardian: Chris Pizzello/AP

Marriott Hotel – Manhattan Grill

As my last meeting of the day was in Canary Wharf I decided to take a short walk towards the quayside and sample the menu at Manhattan Grill. Friday night was a beautiful Summer’s evening and other workers had congregated outside all the bars on the way to Manhattan Grill. Although the hustle and bustle added a beautiful lively feel to the evening I was looking forward to leaving the Millenials behind and enjoying a refined dinner for two where I did not have to elevate my voice just to be heard.

As I approached Manhattan Grill you could already tell it is a cut above the majority of its neighbours. We were welcomed by Imran who showed us to our table with a beautiful view of the quayside. The Manhattan Grill has floor to ceiling windows covering a large stretch of its position on the quayside. Natural light fills the room. The décor is crisp, clean, comfortable and fresh with just the right amount of air conditioning to remind you it’s Summer but be thankfully you are indoors. Quiet acoustic music piped gently through the speakers creating a background ambience without interfering with conversation.


The menu is short, clear and concise however we ordered a strawberry mojito and hazelnut martini to start while contemplating what to choose. The strawberry mojito was absolutely fresh and it showed. The puree base is made in-house and is so fruity that you could trick yourself into believing that this cocktail is as healthy as a fruit juice, which unfortunately it is not. They do other flavours including passionfruit however I was directed to the raspberry mojito which is supposedly as fresh and delectable as the strawberry. I have made a note to try it next time.

Manhattan Grill Cocktails

The hazelnut martini was a completely different style of cocktail garnished with star anise and a hint of cinnamon, which was served in an elegant and unusual martini glass which was a cut above the standard. Manhattan Grill was already exceeding expectations and raising the bar with their attention to detail.


Having gone for a mixed starter we were able to try five of their appetisers. I started with the Seared Black Pearl Scallops which again were beautifully fresh, perfectly soft, slightly less cooked than other restaurants which for me is perfection. The chorizo was crispy adding a tantalising contrast to the delectable softness of the scallop. The pea puree was a beautiful garnish but to me didn’t detract from the flavour which was already perfectly balanced. The King Prawns confirmed that this restaurant knows how to do seafood. Fresh, succulent, garlic king prawns with other flavours bursting through garnished the plate and were gone in record time. Wipes were provided however the sauce did not make too much mess to warrant a finger bowl.

The Devonshire Pork Belly complemented by a delicious apple sauce is a dish which can be hard to get right, so often the belly flesh has to be compromised to get the right crisp on the cracking. Manhattan Grill, as with much of their cooking, served a juicy soft pork belly however in doing so the crackling was slightly undercooked and therefore the fat slightly more noticeable. Although I prefer this as I cut away the fat anyway, those who enjoy crackling crispy may wish to notify the chefs who are very accommodating or choose another dish.

Manhattan Grill

The penultimate starter was the Clam Chowder. Although authentic and tasty it couldn’t compare to the exquisite competition on the rest of the plate. Saving the best until last, I was delighted when the Baked Blue Swimmer Crab Cake exceeded my expectations by a mile. Full of flavour, extremely authentic with a very high crab content and noticeable long chunks of Blue Swimmer Crab combined with subtle flavours and a not so secret ingredient – Old Bay Spice from Maryland. This was by far my favourite and I highly recommend them.


Everywhere has a unique selling point and if the starters are anything to go by, Manhattan Grill doesn’t need any gimmicks, however they do provide a wine tasting before the main course to help you decide which wine will best complement your meal. Manhattan Grill houses a beautiful selection of wine with a fair proportion from Baron Philippe De Rothschild’s estate which with the help of an enomatic machine they can even serve by the glass. These top end wines are rarely associated with the hangover headaches of much cheaper wines which allows you to partake in more than one glass should you so choose without disruption to your weekend plans. The enomatic machine can be seen in Selfridges but has not yet graced the halls of Harrods and I believe is a state of the art extremely expensive wine pressure system which regulates such pressures so as to not lose the flavours and subtleties in the wine. There is no obligation to buy any of the wines you choose although they are reasonable priced especially given the quality. In the end we chose a Australian Reisling from the Barossa Valley to complement the Roasted Black Cod which again was cooked to perfection. The flavours were subtle and hit you at different times exciting the taste buds. The only criticism was that it was served with too much rice which had been placed rather than shaped on the plate. Such a quantity of rice really needed to be flavoured with the lovely miso-mirin sauce or reduced in quantity.

I chose the Rib Eye Steak although I normally prefer fillet but I wanted to taste the flavours of marbled fat through my steak cooked in a Montague Broiler at 650 degrees I ordered my steak medium rare and although served as ordered the quality of meat definitely allows you to take it down a notch and served more rare. Again attention to detail was carried out in the provision of Laguiole steak knives which added colour to the table and French elegance. The sides of Seared Mushrooms and Asparagus were served with a slight al dente bite. The Sweet Potato Fries were beautifully crispy on the outside with a softness in the middle. The Manhattan Onion Rings were clearly homemade and stood out as such. My favourite side was the Mac ‘N’ Cheese with Lobster which was extremely reasonable for the £8 price tag but I wish it had a little more lobster.


I can honestly say I didn’t have to season any dish not even once and I sent my genuine compliments to the chef at the other end in the show style kitchen. With such generous portions I was hard pushed to find room for dessert however Imran and I had been talking about the Double Chocolate Cake, a chocolate fondant filled with caramel topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and served warm. I couldn’t resist. This is one dessert I would highly recommend for any chocolate lover and is large enough to share.

Manhattan Grill Dessert

My dining companion had the Pecan Pie which although hit the spot did not stop him stealing a bite or two of my delicious chocolate dessert. I complemented my dessert with a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Concha Y Toro dessert wine as recommended and my dining companion opted for a vintage port, Taylor’s of course. For those who do not know their wines or dessert wines, the staff are easily on hand to help point you in the right direction. I found their recommendations to be right on the nose.

My only criticism of Manhattan Grill is that with such attention to detail and high standard of service I would have been pleasantly surprised with a similar attention in pouring the wine. I note the staff aren’t trained to pull chairs out for guests or adorn their lap with napkins which given the standard of this restaurant I think such behaviour would put the finishing touch on the finesse already displayed throughout the evening.

The Bitch and The Brainiac: Celebrity Big Brother 2014

We’ve discovered a new cartoon series on YouTube called The Bitch and The Brainiac.

This witty ascerbic analysis of hot topics and celebrity news launched the pilot episode with the two characters discussing Celebrity Big Brother 2014.

The Bitch is an sharp tongued Guy About Town who says it as he sees it with hilarious commentary about this year’s CBB contestants and their fame-hungry antics.

The Brainiac is an classy psychologist who analyses the celebrities behaviour to deliver expert interpretation and predictions of how the game playing will turn out.

We don’t know who is behind these two unique new social commentators but we can’t wait for the next episode of this hilarious yet thought-provoking new show.

Marriage Equality & the Ice Cream Truck of Love

Here at City Connect, we believe that everyone should have the right to marry the person they love no matter what their sexual orientation. That is why we are proud to support Features Writer Adrian Fernand and his project to raise awareness about marriage equality in Australia.

Many of you know Adrian Fernand as the creator of the blog I Do Believe I Came With A Hat and he is a regular contributor on City Connect sharing his unique etiquette and social protocol advice as the unoffical Agony Uncle of Australia and the World!

We all love ice cream (unless you’re lactose intolerant!). Some people like vanilla. Others like chocolate and some prefer strawberry. If the government were to say that someone wasn’t allowed ice cream just because they prefer strawberry rather than vanilla, that wouldn’t be considered very fair.

When it comes to marriage equality, it’s the same principle. Why should a loving and committed gay or lesbian couple be denied the right to get officially married just because of their sexual orientation?

Adrian Fernand has become a spokesperson for marriage equality in Australia and has come up with the innovative idea of the Ice Cream Truck of Love which will be travelling around Australia handing out free ice cream to demonstrate that people should be treated the same regardless of their personal preference.

The campaign is a non-political and a-religious way to raise awareness about marriage equality across several locations in Australia including Sydney and Brisbane. Adrian says: “For too long now only a certain portion of the community has been able to get hitched to the person they love, and quite frankly we think that stinks. What’s to say that marriage can’t be between two people, no matter their gender or whether they’re purple and covered in yellow polka dots? So we’re doing something about it.”

Soon, the Australian Senate will be discussing same sex marriage and what it means for the country. Adrian believes that the Senate needs to hear the voice of those who believe that same sex marriage should be made legal. At City Connect, we tend to agree with him. Watch the video below for more information about this worthwhile cause.

City Connect is supporting Adrian’s worthy cause to get the Ice Cream Truck of Love on the road and spread the word about marriage equality. Adrian is raising money through crowd funding for the project which is estimated to cost $30,000 AUD. Your donations will help give Australians not just free ice cream but hopefully the ability to marry the person they love regardless of gender when the Senate votes on marriage equality.

If you would like to support this worthwhile project, please click here to donate. No matter how big or small your donation, you will be supporting the important issue of marriage equality and helping to change the lives of same sex couples all over Australia who want to get married. In the UK, City Connect also supports marriage equality for same sex couples and we will be responding to the UK Government’s consultation in support of this key issue.

To keep updated on what’s happening with the Ice Cream Truck of Love project, follow all the latest developments on Twitter or Facebook.

X Factor 2013: The Public Have Got This Wrong

Week 4 of the X Factor 2013 live shows and there was total shock as two talented acts ended up in the Sing Off. Kingsland Road and Tamera Foster got the least public votes and had to face each other in a fight to stay in the competition.

x-factor-sam-callahanBut why was Sam Callahan not in the Sing Off? The handsome boy with the ugly voice. All the judges – except of course his mentor Louis Walsh – thought that Sam’s performance on Saturday had the weakest vocals… and when they say weak, they mean WEAK! I call him McPitchy. Sam managed to charm the tone-deaf girls of Britain and they voted in their hundreds to save their favourite pretty boy. It might not be The Voice but The X Factor is still a signing competition, not a modelling shoot. Sam Callahan looks good. Hell, he probably smells good too. But the boy does NOT sound good!!!

x-factor-abiAnd what about Abi Alton? Why was she not in the Sing Off? Maybe she was hiding behind a piano as this is the only place she feels comfortable! Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice that she can play the piano AND the guitar but the girl has absolutely no X factor and appears to have had a charisma bypass. Her daisy chain hair accessories are cute… for about 5 minutes. But for how many more weeks can we endure this one trick pony making every musical genre “her own” by using breathy vocals, big glasses and boring the audience to sleep?!

x-factor-kingsland-roadBack to the Sing Off. Kingsland Road sang first with their rendition of James Morrison’s “I Won’t Let You Go”. You could see the panic in their eyes. Their performance reeked of desperation as their vocals faltered and tuning took a nose dive as the boys struggled to keep it together at the end of the song as the tears flowed and voices trembled.

Tamera Foster then took to the stage and she was sensational. Her note perfect performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” blew us away like any good power ballad should. Tamera gave it her all and then some. She was pushing all the right buttons and kept her emotions in check right until the end. Tamera Foster might only be 16 but she is a ready made pop star who would sit very comfortably next to Beyoncé, Rihanna and Leona Lewis.

No surprises then that when it came to the judges verdict Nicole, Sharon and Louis all voted to send Kingsland Road home.

But I have to agree with Gary Barlow when he said that the “public have got this wrong”. Kingsland Road were not as good as Tamera but they were head and shoulders above the likes of Sam Callahan.

I hope that by next week the Great British Public realise that The X Factor is about finding the next big singing sensation and they stop voting for McPitchy Pretty Boy Callahan and Breathy Big Glasses Boring Abi!

Images reproduced from itv.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / TheXFactorUK

Chocolate: Drink of the Gods

chocolate melted

The history of chocolate, that rich and sensuous (and to some, addictive) substance, begins in the ancient and mysterious realm of the Maya civilisation who lived in Central America around 4th century AD. The cacao tree from which chocolate is derived was first cultivated by these early Mesoamerican people and not the Aztecs as is commonly believed.

The Maya called the cacao tree cacahuaquchtl which literally means “tree”, so important was the cacao tree to their spiritual and everyday lives that there was no other tree worth naming. Mayans believed the cacao tree belonged to the gods and the pods were used in various religious rituals. Cacao was referred to as food of the gods in ancient Mayan writings. The Maya were the first to make a bitter beverage from cacao beans which was a luxury drink only enjoyed by kings and nobles. The drink was flavoured with various spices, the most popular being chilli.

Aztec figure holding cacao pod

Aztec figure holding cacao pod

After the unexplained fall of the Mayan empire around 900 AD, the gifted and extremely civilised Toltecs followed by the Aztecs from Mexico settled in former Mayan territory. The Toltec king Quetzalcoatl was believed to be a god whose mission was to teach mortals how to cultivate cacao. Following political uprising and ill health, Quetzalcoatl went mad and sailed out to sea on a raft, leaving his kingdom but promising to return one day. The story of Quetzalcoatl’s exile entered Aztec mythology and ancient astrologers predicted that in 1519 a white-faced king would return to recover his kingdom.

The Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes is generally considered to be the first European to recognise the potential of Aztec chocolate. When his expedition arrived in the New World in 1519, the Aztec emperor Montezuma II believed Cortes was the reincarnation of the god-king Quetzalcoatl whose return had been predicted to occur in the same year. The confusion was used by Cortes to his advantage and he overthrew Montezuma and after only three years he brought about the downfall of the entire Aztec empire. Cortes was quick to realise the economic value the cacao bean which by this point was used as currency as well as a highly prized drink. The Spanish Jesuits called the beans “pecuniary almonds” and noted that a slave could be bought for 100 beans. Cortes set up cacao plantations all over the Caribbean and literally grew money on trees making the Spanish colonists very rich and very powerful.

Hernán Cortés

Hernán Cortés

The 18th century Swedish botanist Linnaeus, who invented the binomial classification system for all living things, later named this amazing tree Theobroma cacao, meaning “drink of the gods”, from the Greek theos (god) and broma (beverage). He thought it deserved a name which reflected the Mayan belief that the tree belonged to the gods.

The Spanish couldn’t keep the secret of cacao cultivation and preparation to themselves for long and soon chocolate became popular in other European countries who in turn established their own plantations, trade routes and processing facilities. The Dutch, French, British and Portuguese all settled in equatorial regions where the weather favoured the cultivation of transplanted cacao trees.

Check back next Saturday for the next instalment in my Chocolate Series.

Chocolate: From Beverage to Confectionery

In its early days chocolate was an extremely rich beverage. It contained a fatty substance known as cacao butter which tended to rise to the top, where it would float in unappetising greasy pools. Manufacturers overcame this to some extent by adding starchy substances to absorb the fat – a process similar to the Aztec tradition of adding ground maize.

Coenraad Van Houten

Coenraad Van Houten

Manufacturers also tried unsuccessfully for years to devise a way of separating out the greasy cacao butter. Breakthrough came in 1828 when, after years of trial and error, a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Van Houten patented a new and extremely efficient hydraulic press. His machine was able to extract about 50% of the butter present in the “liquor” (the paste produced after grinding the beans brackets), leaving behind a refined, brittle, cake–like residue that could then be pulverised to a fine powder.

Not satisfied, Van Houten went one step further. He treated the powder with alkaline salts in order to improve the ease with which it could be mixed with water. The process, which came to be known as  “Dutching”, also darkened the colour of the chocolate and lightened the flavour – a curious anomaly since plain chocolate is usually assumed to have a stronger flavour. Today many people believe they prefer Dutch chocolate because of its strong flavour, but it may simply be the colour that attracts them.Van_Houten's_Chocolade

Van Houten’s inexhaustible patience revolutionised the chocolate industry, leading to the manufacture of what we know now as cocoa powder, which in Van Houten’s time was called “cocoa essence”. His work also led to a complete improvement within the industry. Van Houten sold his rights to his machine 10 years after he took out the patent, bringing it into general use.


Among the first customers were the Frys and the Cadburys, every eager to outdo each other. Both firms were quick to enter the cocoa essence market, actively promoting the product’s purity and ease of preparation. The oldest style starch–based products were classified as adulterated, resulting in several fears legal battles between rival firms. Van Houten’s press also initiated the industry’s next step in gearing up – the large-scale production of chocolate as confectionery.

Having separated out the butter from the bean, the industry was left with the question of what to do with it – it was certainly too good to waste. What happened was that somehow one of the cocoa manufacturers hit upon the idea of melting the cacao butter and combining it with a blend of ground cacao beans and sugar. The resulting mixture was a smooth and malleable paste that tolerated the added sugar without becoming gritty; the fat helped to dissolve it. The paste was also thin enough to be poured into a mould and cast, and it is from this concept that “eating chocolate” was developed.


The Fry family claimed to have been the first to market the new product. Reflecting the current popularity of French style products, they named the bars “Chocolat Délicieux à Manger” and exhibited them at a trade fair in Birmingham in 1849. The bars were an overnight success, and eating chocolate became very popular.

As a result of the new craze the price of cocoa butter rocketed and eating chocolate became an expensive luxury product popular with the elite of society. Meanwhile cocoa was relegated to the lower classes.

Images reproduced from exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu, nl.wikipedia.org and cadbury.com

Franka De Mille Q&A

Franka De Mille is a London singer, songwriter and composer. Her debut album ‘Bridge The Roads’  has already received critical acclaim and extensive airplay all over the world. Emotionally raw, original with sophisticated arrangements, Franka De Mille’s music has an elegant blend of Americana, chamber music and alternative folk. Franka’s focus on strong melodies underline the powerful emotional charge of her unique voice and deeply personal lyrics. She is the only independent artist to be selected for the British Phonographic Industry’s ‘Why Music Matters’ campaign.

Franka de Mille

Franka De Mille

Franka De Mille answered our questions ahead of her forthcoming Acoustic Routes performance in Cambridge at CB2.

Q: How would you describe your music?

A blend of Americana and Chamber music.

Q: What is your earliest memory related to music?

Being given a toy Telecaster Guitar for my 4th birthday. There is a picture on my website of me holding it, looking very proud, stood in front of the Xmas tree.

Q: What or who inspired you to become a singer?

I have always sung. Singing and making up songs has always came naturally to me. My parents were very busy and the need to be heard as a child was a major driving force. Music has played a vital role in my life as a protective force, a place of inspiration and solace.

Q: What are your musical influences?

I have a wide range of influences from world music to rock, pop, folk and classical music.
I listen to everything. Artists that have had the strongest influences are Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Rickie Lee Jones, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Joe Jackson, Nick Cave, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Rene Aubry, Tori Amos, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, The Smith, The Cure, Dusty Springfield, The Police, Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, Hildegaard Von Bingen, Satie, Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Philip Glass to name quite a few from a much longer list.

Q: Describe the process you took when writing your debut album “Bridge The Roads”.

The songs came pretty much fully formed which was magical. I then went into the studio and made demos with all the different arrangements on midi with a keyboard and sampler and got the musicians to record the parts I laid out.

Bridge The Roads CDQ: Who would you most like to do a duet with and why?

My God!…there are so many artists! It is so difficult to choose one…I would say Sting, Kate Bush, Antony Hegarty, Dave Gilmour, Rickie Lee Jones, Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks…any one of them would be a dream come true. Why? because they are all such incredible songwriters and sensitive, truthful artists.

Q: Name your top three favourite songs?

Another hard choice…there are so many songs I adore: Tom Petty – Won’t back down; Rickie Lee Jones – Coolsville; Patti Smith – Dancing Barefoot.

Q: What did it mean to you being selected as the only independent artist for the “Why Music Matters” campaign by the British Phonographic Industry?

I felt privileged to be up there with so many fabulous artists. I feel very strongly about music piracy so it was important for me be part of the campaign. I feel a sense of duty to spread the message that the best way to support artists is by buying their music and not downloading it for free. It does damage to the music industry as a whole but I feel that independent artists suffer the most. It is very important that independent musicians are represented in this campaign.

Q: What is your biggest fear?

In general? To go blind or deaf or impeded physically in any way. On stage: To lose my voice

Q: What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Releasing my album, getting many beautiful reviews and lots of airplay all over the world.

Q: What is your most treasured possession?

Apart from my cats and the ring my dad gave me before he died…my sanity.

Q: What can the audience expect from your forthcoming gig at CB2/Acoustic Routes in Cambridge later this month?

An intimate emotional ride, embroidered in an intricate fabric of musical textures, with violin, cello, harmonica…I might even bring a piano.

Franka De Mille and Band will be performing on 28 September 2013 at CB2 – Acoustic Routes, 5 Norfolk St, Cambridge, CB1 2LD. Ticket price:£6.00. For more information go to www.acousticroutes.co.uk/program.html. For more on Franka, check out her website – www.frankademille.com

Chocolate: Italy’s Founding Fathers

Bacio-PeruginaThere are conflicting series as to how and when chocolate reached Italy. Some historians believe it was around the middle of
the 16th century when the exiled duke Emmanuel-Philibert returned to power, having experienced the delights of chocolate in Spain.

The popular theory is that chocolate was imported by a Florentine merchant, Antonio Carletti, who discovered it while travelling the world in search of new products to sell. The most likely theory is that chocolate was brought in as a medicine through the convents and monasteries.

By the 17th century a growing number of chocolate companies have become established in northern Italy, particularly
around the towns of Perugia and Turin. These companies in turn began to export the newly developed products to other European countries.

A collection of recipes by an 18th-century Italian priest shows the imagination of the Italians in the use of chocolate compared with other countries. Recipes included such dishes as: liver dipped in chocolate and fried, chocolate soup, chocolate pudding with veal, marrow and candied fruit, and chocolate polenta.

The Italians have always been accomplished confectionery and dessert makers. They started using chocolate as an ingredient very early on and thus established themselves as leading experts in the art of making fine chocolates. In 1884, when the Russian Tsar commissioned from the jeweller Fabergé his first golden egg with it surprise feeling of precious stones, Italian producers introduced what may have been the first chocolate Easter eggs containing a surprise gift.

The Italian chocolate industry is centred around Turin in Piedmont and Perugia in Umbria. Production on a commercial level developed in the early 19th century when Bozelli, an engineer from Genoa, designed a machine capable of producing over 300kg of chocolate per day. By the end of the century the industry was booming.

Turin is recognised as Italy’s chocolate capital. Every year during the last week of March there is a huge chocolate festival when you are surrounded by the rich scent of chocolate on every street corner. For the past 300 years, Turin has produced its world famous gianduja – a mixture of chocolate and hazelnuts. Turin is also known for bicerin, a beverage of coffee, chocolate and fresh whipped cream that originated in a coffee shop bearing the same name back in the 1800s. Another delicacy is chocolate filled with grappa, an Italian digestive which is made from grape seeds leftover from wine making.

There are several long-established firms in northern Italy. These include Caffarel, from whom the Italians learned to make chocolate, and Baratti & Milano, from the Turin area; Perugina (now owned by Nestlé) from Perugia, makers of the famous “Baci” (kisses) chocolate with the memorable packaging; and Majani in Bologna who now produce the ultimate in designer chocolates.

Image reproduced from bambini.eu

Chocolate: The British Founding Fathers

When chocolate arrived in Britain it did so more or less simultaneously with two other stimulants, tea from Asia and coffee from Africa. Coffee was the first to catch on in British society as it was relatively cheaper but chocolate soon followed.

Documentary evidence of the first chocolate house in London appeared in 1657. The most famous chocolate house was White’s Chocolate House near St James’s Palace. A rival establishment was The Cocoa Tree in St James’s Street. By chance rather than design the two establishments catered to different political loyalties – The Cocoa Tree was the favourite haunt of members of the Tory party while the Whig aristocrats and the literary set frequented White’s. White’s was the inspiration for some of the scenes from William Hogarth’s famous series of paintings The Rake’s Progress.

White's Chocolate House c.1708

White’s Chocolate House c.1708

For the wealthy upper classes, both the coffee and chocolate houses were the places to be seen. They were hotbeds of vicious gossip and political intrigue as well as popular gambling venues where vast fortunes were won and lost.

The diarist Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) was an ardent fan of chocolate or “jocolatte” and a regular frequenter of the chocolate houses.

In 1675 Charles II tried in vain to have the coffee and chocolate houses closed down on the grounds that politicians and businessmen were frequenting them too often and were in danger of neglecting their families. It is also possible that he was trying to suppress the kind of talk that could potentially lead to a rebellion similar to the one that caused his father’s execution in 1649.

The manufacture of drinking chocolate in Britain was transformed by the Industrial Revolution and the cultural, social and economic changes that followed in its wake.

During the 18th century the pioneering chocolate manufacturers was still using primitive manufacturing methods, similar to those used by the Aztecs. Technology gradually entered the scene with two key developments: a hydraulic grinding press, invented in 1728 by Walter Churchmen, and in 1765, James Watt’s steam engine which changed the food industry overnight. Another crucial development in chocolate manufacture was a revolutionary type of chocolate press invented in 1828 by a Dutch chemist, Coenraad Van Houten.

Van Houten's Cocoa Press

Van Houten’s Cocoa Press

In 1853 the taxes on drinking chocolate were reduced because the volume of imports had grown enormously. By then the new railways had made transport easier and power-driven machinery had largely replaced the old slow method of making chocolate by hand. These changes radically brought down the price of chocolate meaning that drinking chocolate could potentially be enjoyed by all.

It was during this era that several eminent Quaker families – the Frys, the Cadburys, the Rowntrees and the Terrys – became involved in chocolate manufacturing. These families established themselves as the main producers in Britain and succeeded in transforming chocolate from the drink of the aristocracy to the drink of the people.

John Cadbury

John Cadbury

It was undoubtedly the Quakers evangelical outlook which was behind the decision to choose chocolate as a commercial venture. As the beverage was so wholesome, the Quakers hoped it would provide a means of weaning the poor off beer and gin which were their favourites tipples, and improving the quality of their life in general.

The Quakers will also concerned for their employees’ welfare. They created exemplary working conditions and built model villages where education, healthcare and community services were provided for the workers, both active and retired, without charge. Cadbury’s Bournville Village near Birmingham and Rowntree in York are famous examples.


The Frys were the sole suppliers of chocolate to the Navy, making them the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world. However the rival Cadbury family gained the Royal seal of approval by gaining the privileged title of purveyors of chocolate to Queen Victoria.

Images reproduced from cadbury.co.uk, worldstandards.eu and thestoryofchocolate.com

Chocolate as Medicine

Chocolate was used therapeutically as long ago as the fourth century, when the Maya first started cultivating the cacao tree. Mayan sorcerers, who were the predecessors of priests and doctors, prescribed cacao both as a stimulant and as a soothing balm. Warriors took it as an energy boosting drink, and cocoa butter was used as a dressing for words.

Later on, the Aztecs prescribed a potion of cacao mixed with the ground exhumed bones of their ancestors as a cure for diarrhoea. The Spanish colonists also were aware of cacao’s healing properties making it into a “paste which they say is good for the stomacke and against the catarre.”

However chocolate was given a mixed reception by the early scientific and medical community who debated the rights and wrongs of this mysterious new substance. In the 16th century, when medicine was in its infancy, many of the theories were based on the principle of “hot” and “cold” humours, or body energies, which if not kept in balance would cause illness. The Spanish classified chocolate as “cold” and tried to neutralise its effect by drinking it hot and flavouring it with “hot” spices. They found it hard to understand why the Aztecs drank unheated chocolate when it was already a “cold” food.

By the 17th century, chocolate had been given the seal of approval by several botanists and medics, who discovered that it contained all kinds of beneficial substances. Henry Stubbe (1632-76), the English physician and scholar, during his appointment as His Majesty’s Physician for Jamaica, investigated the physical effects of chocolate. In 1662 he published “The Indian nectar, or, A discourse concerning chocolate“, in which he was full of praise for the chocolate beverage and criticised those who refused it on puritanical grounds.

Henry Stubbe's book "The Indian Nectar"

Henry Stubbe’s book “The Indian Nectar”

Among many others who sang the praises of chocolate was the Italian physician Stephani Blancardi (1650-1702) who said “chocolate is not only pleasant of taste but it is also a veritable balm of the mouth for the maintaining of all glands and humours in a good state of health. Thus it is, that all who drink it possess a sweet breath.”

The French faculty of medicine officially approved chocolate use in 1661. The magistrate and gastronome Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), summed up in his physiologie du gout: “chocolate when carefully prepared is a wholesome and agreeable form of food, it is very suitable for persons of great mental exertion, preachers, lawyers, and above all travellers as it agrees with the feeblest stomachs, has proved beneficial in cases of chronic illness and remains the last resource in the diseases of the pylorus.” Some of his contemporaries claimed that chocolate cured tuberculosis. A French doctor who probably sensed chocolate’s ability to lift the spirits was convinced of its merits as an antidote to a broken heart. He wrote: “those who love, and are unfortunate enough to suffer from the most universal of all gallant illnesses, will find in chocolate the most enlightening consolation.”

"La tasse de chocolat" by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier

“La tasse de chocolat” by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier

Praise wasn’t universal though. An 18th century physician to the Tuscan court disagreed with the general consensus by declaring that chocolate was “hot” and that it was madness to add “hot drugs” to it. The physician must have noticed the effects of caffeine in chocolate for he lists as ill effects incessant chatter, insomnia, irritability and hyperactivity in children.

In general however the medicinal and nutritional benefits of chocolate were well accepted. An early English writer described it as “incomparable as a family drink for breakfast or supper, when both tea and coffee are really out of place unless the latter is nearly all milk”. Brillat-Savarin also commented on digestion saying: “when you have breakfasted well and copiously, if you swallow a generous cup of good chocolate at the end of the meal you will have digested everything perfectly three hours later.”

By the end of the 19th century good quality chocolate was approved of by many hospitals and sanatoria as well as by the Navy, the Army and various public institutions.

Images reproduced from brown.edu and similart.fr

Chocolate: From Bean to Beverage

The rich and creamy drinking chocolate we enjoy today could not be more different from the original Aztec drink of tchocolatl which was a chocolate liquor that was bitter, greasy and served cold. The sixteenth-century Italian botanist, Giramolo Benzoni, described one of the methods the Aztecs employed to make tchocolatl:

“They take as many fruits as they need and put them in an earthenware pot and dry them over the fire. Then they break them between two stones and reduce them to a flour just as they do when they make bread. They then transfer this flour into vessels made of gourd halves…, moisten the flour gradually with water, often adding their ‘long pepper’ [chilli].”

Regarding other ingredients added to the Aztec tchocolatl other than chilli, the Aztecs also mixed the chocolate liquor with aniseed, allspice, cloves, black pepper, flower petals, nuts, annatto and vanilla. Maize was used to soak up the greasy cacao butter which floated to the top of the tchocolatl and it also helped bind and thicken the drink.

17th century lithograph showing Aztecs preparing chocolate

17th century lithograph showing Aztecs preparing chocolate

Because of the crude manual process of grinding the cacao beans with a metate (grinding stone), all manner of undesirable bits and pieces such as shells, husks and pith were allowed to remain in the resulting liquor. Benzoni thought that the mixture looked “more fit for pigs than like a beverage for human beings”.

Chocolate pot and molinillo whisk

Molinillo and chocolate pot

The Maya poured the liquor from a height to make a frothy brew. The froth was a very important and delicious part of the drink to them. The Aztecs also like to create a frothy head to the drink but did this by using a device that the Spanish called a molinillo – a wooden swizzle stick with specially shaped paddles at one end – which was twirled in the chocolate pot.The 18th century missionary, Father Jean-Baptiste Labat, described this indispensible item as ” a stick about ten inches longger than the chocolate pot, thus enabling it to be freely twirled between the palms of the hand”.

The molinillo is still in use today and can be found in Latin American shops and markets. The design of the original early wooden stick remains little changed from it’s modern counterparts.

Sugar was not added to the early chocolate drink until much later. The story goes that the nuns of an Aztec town occupied by the Spanish developed new recipes to cater for the Spanish sweet tooth. The nuns added sugar and sweet spices such as cinnamon. In this way, the bitter Aztec tchocolatl drink began its transformation to a version more palatable for European tastes.

The Spanish recipe of the chocolate drink was made by first roasting, dehusking and grinding the cacao beans. The resulting cacao mass was then ground for a second time to form a fine paste with plenty of sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, musk and annatto. The chocolate was formed into small blocks similar to modern block chocolate but these were only used to make the beverage and were not eaten as confectionery. This Spanish recipe was used throughout Spain and the rest of Europe until the process was revolutionised in the nineteenth century by the technological achievements of the Dutch chemist, Coenraad Van Houten.

If you enjoyed this second instalment of Alan Philippe’s Chocolate Series, check back next Saturday for Part 3 of the series which looks at how chocolate was developed from a beverage to confectionery.

Images reproduced from gourmetsleuth.com and gardenofeaden.blogspot.com

Dry Mouth Disappears With Biotène

Millions of people suffer the unpleasant and damaging side effect of dry mouth. This condition arises for a number of reasons such as diabetes, Sjögren’s Syndrome, cancer and radiotherapy.

However the most common cause of dry mouth by far is as a side effect of medication – older people are more likely to suffer dry mouth as they tend to take several medications at the same time.

Dry mouth is a condition that reduces the flow of saliva to the mouth which leaves the person’s mouth feeling dry and uncomfortable. The lack of lubrication in the mouth can make talking and eating difficult. Salivary enzymes protect the delicate oral tissues and teeth from bacterial infection and atmospheric chemicals which cause oral damage. People suffering from dry mouth therefore could have an increased risk of infection.

However, many people with dry mouth do not realise that they are only ever a few minutes away from a solution. Most branches of Boots (click here for Store Locator) stock the Biotène range of dental products specifically designed for people with dry mouth. The Biotène range consists of a toothpaste, mouthwash and oral gel which are all specially formulated and clinically proven to provide dry mouth relief. Biotène has been created by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline so you can be reassured that the product is from a name you can trust. The Biotène range can provide relief to those affected by mild, moderate or severe dry mouth.

Biotène toothpaste is a gentle and low foaming fluoride toothpaste which supplements the saliva’s natural defences and also strengthens teeth. It contains a triple enzyme complex which contains lysozyme, lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase – these enzymes are found naturally in saliva. Moisturising polymers contained in the toothpaste also provide additional comfort which gives the confidence to get on with your day and talk, eat and enjoy life without being held back by a dry mouth.

Using Biotène toothpaste not only provides relief from the feeling of dry mouth but also helps people with a dry mouth to maintain good oral hygiene, reduce the risk of cavities and in addition its mint flavoured formula helps prevent bad breath. Biotène toothpaste can be used twice a day like a regular toothpaste but can be used up to four times a day if necessary to combat the feeling of dry mouth. It is recommended that Biotène toothpaste is used in conjunction with Biotène Oralbalance Gel.

Biotène Oralbalance Gel is an easy-to-use saliva replacement gel can be used throughout the day when the mouth begins to feel dry. The gel can be discretely applied to the gums and the special formula gets to work straight away to gently increase the amount of saliva in the mouth resulting in immediate relief from a dry mouth.

Biotène Oralbalance Gel also contains the same triple enzyme complex found in the toothpaste which can supplement your saliva’s natural defences which will help maintain the oral environment and provide protection against dry mouth. The pleasant tasting gel provides long lasting relief from dry mouth and also soothes minor irritations and burning sensations thus providing protection to oral tissues.

The third and final product in the range is Biotène Moisturising Mouthwash. It contains the same triple enzyme system of lysozyme, lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase and so provides the same dry mouth relief offered by both the Biotène toothpaste and Oralbalance Gel. Unlike many alcohol-containing mouthwashes on the market which leave a burning sensation, Biotène Moisturising Mouthwash is alcohol-free meaning that it’s gentle on the delicate oral tissues and makes it pleasant to use.

The best way to combat the damaging and unpleasant effects of dry mouth is to use the above three products throughout the day as recommended below:-

Morning РBrush teeth with Biot̬ne toothpaste before breakfast. After breakfast rinse and gargle with Biot̬ne Moisturising Mouthwash.

Mealtimes РWhen finding it difficult to swallow at mealtimes, apply Biot̬ne Oralbalance Gel to lubricate your mouth before you eat. Having finished your lunch, use Biot̬ne Moisturising Mouthwash to help keep you mouth moist and comfortable.

Bedtime РUsing all three products will help keep your mouth moist during the night. First brush with Biot̬ne toothpaste for 2 minutes. Then use Biot̬ne Moisturising Mouthwash to refresh the mouth. Follow this with an application of Biot̬ne Oralbalance Gel to give you long lasting moisturisation at night by stimulating salivary glands to produce the moisture you are lacking.

There are a number of things you can do to alleviate symptoms if you suffer from dry mouth:-

  • Sip water or sugar-free drinks throughout the day
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks which tend to dry out the mouth
  • Chew sugar-free chewing gum during the day to stimulate saliva flow in the mouth
  • Tobacco has a drying effect so reduce or stop smoking
  • Try using a humidifier at night to keep the air full of moisture

Check out the Boots website or your local branch of Boots to purchase the Biotène range and see your dry mouth disappear!.

Images reproduced from biotene.eu

Rooibos Tea: From Cape to Cup

According to legend, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung accidentally discovered tea over 4,700 years ago when a few leaves blew off a nearby shrub and landed in some water his servant was boiling. Shen Nung drank the resulting infusion and liked it so much that he called it “C’ha”. This appealing story is often told about the discovery of tea but the truth is that no-one knows exactly who first drank tea. It was only thousands of years later that the first record of tea cultivation was documented in 350 AD.

Fast forward to the early 20th century and we find ourselves in South Africa. This is where the red bush plant grows – known more commonly by its Afrikaans name, rooibos. The rooibos plant only grows in the Cedarberg Mountains, a small area of the Western Cape of South Africa. The history of rooibos tea is practically foetal compared to Chinese legend – but it is an interesting one all the same and shares some similarities to the Shen Nung story.

In 1903 Benjamin Ginsberg, the founder of rooibos tea, rode into the remote Cedarberg mountains in South Africa and came across local farmers making a rough brew from a wild plant. Ginsberg became fascinated with this drink and used traditional tea curing techniques to create the delicious rooibos tea which is now enjoyed around the world. Today his family continues their unbroken tradition of rooibos tea production in the Cape.

Tick Tock tea is still made according to Ginsberg’s original specifications and is the most popular redbush tea sold in the UK. To this day, rooibos tea is still lovingly harvested by hand and cured naturally in the clear Cedarberg mountain air. Tick Tock rooibos tea is available from selected stores in Cambridge including Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Waitrose. Recently other versions of rooibos tea have started to appear on the shelves – most notably versions by Tetley – but in my opinion, Tick Tock remains the original and best.

Rooibos tea is gentle and soothing. It has been shown to have many health properties as it is rich in antioxidants which may support the immune system against free radical damage. It is also naturally caffeine free so it can be enjoyed at any time of the day and it’s the ideal bedtime drink as it allows for restful sleep.

To make the perfect cup of rooibos tea – add freshly boiled water and allow to brew for up to 4 minutes. Sugar or honey can be added but this refreshing tea is not bitter at all. Milk is optional as the low tannin content means the tea is delicious without milk. A slice of lemon can be added for flavour or try making an iced tea with mint during the warmer months.

Rooibos is also known to intensify the natural flavours of food when it is used as a meat tenderizer and as a base for meat and chicken marinades. A cookbook has been produced in association with Rooibos Ltd of South Africa which showcases the vast cooking versatility of rooibos. 14 of South Africa’s top chefs have contributed to the book which shows that rooibos is not only a healthy beverage but can also be used as a diverse ingredient in the kitchen. This truly South African cookbook containing over 100 delicious recipes is now available in an English language version from Amazon.

Image reproduced from ticktocktea.co.uk

Gangnam Style: PSY’s K-Pop Phenomenon

What is “Gangnam Style”? You’ve perhaps seen the YouTube “Gangnam Style” music video that went viral within weeks. Or maybe you’ve heard of PSY – the artist behind “Gangnam Style”. You’ve possibly even tried to do the “Gangnam Style” galloping horse dance moves in the privacy of your own home… or in public if you’ve been daring enough!

Gangnam Style” flash mobs have popped up all over the World celebrating the crazy dance music phenomenon of “Gangnam Style”. There have even been some very funny parodies of the “Gangnam Style” music video (more on that a little later). So the question is (for those of you unfamiliar with K-Pop) who is PSY, the chubby South Korean star of “Gangnam Style” and what does Gangnam Style” even mean?

"psy", "gangnam style", "kpop", "south korean rap"

Psy dancing “Gangnam Style”

Gangnam Style” (Korean: 강남스타일) is the hit single by South Korean rapper PSY. The song was released on 15 July 2012, as the lead single of his sixth studio album PSY 6 (Six Rules), Part 1. “Gangnam Style” debuted at number one on the Gaon Chart, the national record chart of South Korea. On 21 August 2012, “Gangnam Style” officially charted #1 on the iTunes Music Video Charts, overtaking Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me” and Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake”; this feat is the first for any South Korean artist. As of 19 October 2012, the music video has been viewed nearly 500 million times on YouTube, and is the site’s fourth most watched video and most watched K-Pop video.

For those of you living under a rock who haven’t seen the “Gangnam Style” music video in the last couple of months, here is the YouTube viral phenomenon that everyone’s been talking about and dancing to “Gangnam Style”:

The music video shows PSY performing a comical horse-riding dance and appearing in unexpected locations around the Gangnam District. He wears several distinctive suits and black sunglasses with a mindset of “dress classy and dance cheesy”. In K-Pop, it is routine to have cameos by celebrities in a music video. Making appearances in the music video are:

  • 4minute member Hyuna playing PSY’s love interest and appearing in the two final dance sequences.
  • Big Bang members Daesung and Seungri appear in the video as two old men playing a board game in the park; they are the two men flying in the background after the explosion.
  • Hwang Min-woo, a 5-year-old boy who appeared on Korea’s Got Talent and is seen dancing at the beginning of the video.
  • Yoo Jae-Suk in a dance duel with PSY. Yoo is one of Korea’s top comedians and is known as Korea’s “MC of the Nation”.
  • Comedian, No Hongchul, dancing in an elevator with his trademark pelvis-thrusting, with PSY rapping underneath him.

PSY has brought the “Gangnam Style” dance to various TV shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Ellen DeGeneres Show (where he taught Britney Spears the dance moves). PSY has gained fans amongst politicians, business leaders, celebrities and sportsmen who either have mentioned “Gangnam Style” on social media networks, television and radio, or even performed the dance moves themselves. For example, here is Nelly Furtado dancing “Gangnam Style” on 16 August 2012 at her concert in the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Manila, Philippines:

Gangnam Style” has been praised for its catchy beat and PSY’s amusing dance moves in the music video and during live performances. On 17 September 2012, the song was nominated for Best Video at the upcoming 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards to be held in Frankfurt, Germany. On 20 September 2012, “Gangnam Style” was recognized by Guinness World Records as the most “liked” video in YouTube history. On 30 September 2012, Gangnam Style reached #1 on the official UK Singles Chart making it the first K-Pop single to do so.

Riding high on the success of “Gangnam Style“, it was announced on 4 September 2012 that PSY had signed by American talent agent Scooter Braun to Braun’s Schoolboy Records, a label distributed by Universal Republic. Scooter Braun is famous for discovering Justin Beiber on YouTube.

The “Gangnam Style” music video has become a source of parodies and reaction videos by many different groups. The latest one – and perhaps the best and funniest so far – was filmed by the boys of the famous English public school, Eton. Here are the UK’s future movers and shakers (and perhaps our next Prime Minister!) doing it Eton Style.

Gangnam Style” is a Korean neologism that refers to a lifestyle associated with the Gangnam district of Seoul, where people are trendy, hip and exude a certain supposed “class”. The term was listed in Time’s weekly vocabulary list as a manner associated with lavish lifestyles in Seoul’s Gangnam district. PSY likened the Gangnam District to Beverly Hills, California, and said in an interview that he intended a twisted sense of humour by claiming himself to be “Gangnam Style” when everything about the song, dance, looks, and the music video is far from being such a high class.

In an interview with CNN in August 2012, PSY explained: “People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are—it’s only the posers and wannabes that put on these airs and say that they are “Gangnam Style” — so this song is actually poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying so hard to be something that they’re not.”

And for any of you who haven’t learnt the dance moves of this K-Pop music phenomenon, here’s Tammy Mejia from the London K-Pop Dance Workshop presenting a masterclass on how to dance “Gangnam Style”:

Image reproduced from news.com.au
Videos reproduced from YouTube / officialpsy, YouTube / NellyFurtado and YouTube / VideoJug, YouTube / Rather Rum
Sections of this article have been reproduced from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Fiona Kirk: So What The F*** Should I Eat?

As soon as I saw the title of the book, I was intrigued.

So What The F*** Should I Eat? It was a question I had asked myself many times over the years as I moved despondently from one fad diet to the next, trying to find an eating plan where I could lose weight but didn’t feel like I was starving myself or denying myself foods I enjoyed.

Fiona Kirk’s Fat Loss Plan detailed in So What The F*** Should I Eat? is radical and rebellious. Primarily because it’s all about you – the individual – rather than a prescribed method of rules that MUST be followed as if your life depended on it. Whether you are a Disciple, Rule Maker or Rule Breaker, her weight loss advice will work for you. I’ll let you guess which category I fell into but let’s just say that chocolate and I have been having a meaningful relationship for many years!

What becomes apparent as soon as you start reading Fiona Kirk’s So What The F*** Should I Eat? is that she knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the struggle most of us will face at one time or another when we’re trying to shed those extra pounds. Most diets are about deprivation, boredom, starvation and dull repetitive regimes. Fiona Kirk is a qualified nutirtionist and has spent years researching what a healthy diet actually looks like. I love her straightforward, no-nonsense approach and how she is able to take the confusion out of dieting to give the reader a clear and confident path to follow and a great deal more understanding about nutrition. Throughout the book, Fiona’s humour and wit ensure that the advice she gives is entertaining, engaging and as fresh as the foods she champions.

Fiona Kirk

The first revolutionary thing about Fiona’s advice in So What The F*** Should I Eat? is that she tells the reader to BIN THE SCALES! She quite rightly states that muscle mass increases while you lose fat if you are following a healthy weight loss regime of diet and exercise. So obssessing about where the needle is wavering on those bathroom scales isn’t the best way to monitor weight loss. Fiona advocates the WAISTBAND METHOD instead. Take your tightest pair of jeans and see how they feel every day as you follow her fat loss plan. As the weeks go by and the waistband feels more comfortable, you know you’re heading in the right direction. Being able to get a thumb or two between you and the waistband of your skinny jeans or skirt is much more satisfying than looking at a number on a dial.

The second revolutionary thing about the book is that there are few rules but lots of suggestions. Fiona knows that following a prescribed way of eating doesn’t work for everybody so instead she takes a Pick ‘n’ Mix approach with her Fat Loss Plan. There is a whole chapter called Lots of Eats which give you countless options you can choose from to eat. Fiona also takes the radical approach of not defining meals as Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. She believes that five or six small meals are better than three large ones and there is no reason not to eat porridge as an evening meal. That’s probably her Scottish roots coming through as any Scot will tell you how filling and nutritious a bowl of porridge is, no matter what time of day you eat it. Eating something healthy from her Lots of Eats suggestions every 2 to 3 hours is one of Fiona’s recommendations to keep your metabolism fired up and lose fat without losing your sanity. Fiona also gives plenty of advice about exercise and clever tactics to increase your levels of fitness.

In addition to the Fat Loss Plan, Fiona has also devised a 14 day diet called 2 Weeks in the Fast Lane which is detailed in this book and is also the title of her second book which promises maximum fat loss with maximum nourishment in minimum time. Quick fix diets always attract bad press but here Fiona “decided to concentrate on the positives and ignore the negatives and find out what the 5-15% of successful dieters do and why they not only reach their goal but maintain fat loss long term”. After extensive research, she discovered that certain quick fix strategies can and do work and devised a diet that combines the revelations of successful dieters with the latest research into foods, eating and lifestyle practices that accelerate fat loss – a unique and exciting recipe.

Fiona also has an even quicker 3 day plan when time is of the essence where you live on fresh fruit, nuts (not peanuts) and water for three days, eating a handful of nuts or a couple of pieces of fruit every 2 hours. I tried her “3 Days in the Super Fast Lane Plan” and must admit the results were amazing.

Moving onto Fiona’s Fat Loss Plan, I continued to lose weight steadily and after 4 weeks I felt very comfortable in my tight skinny cords. In fact I could even get a thumb inbetween me and the waistband! I enjoyed eating a wide range of foods and based my meals around soups and salads, eating fresh fruit or drinking smoothies in the morning, avoiding carbs after 6pm and snacking on nuts or raw veggies. I found that eating every 2-3 hours gave me lots more energy in addition to the fat loss results and I slept better too.

I was so impressed with the results achieved that I shared Fiona’s book So What The F*** Should I Eat? with City Connect’s Editor-in-Chief Sloan Sheridan-Williams. Sloan did the 2 Weeks in the Fast Lane Diet and lost enough weight to go down a dress size and fit into this season’s fashionable skinny flares with no hint of a muffin top! Sloan also reported that she had more energy and clearer skin after following the eating plan.

If you’re looking to shed those extra pounds and want to try a diet that works with you rather than against you, I highly recommend you buy Fiona Kirk’s So What The F*** Should I Eat? or if you’re looking for a quick fix that will still teach you strategies to lose weight after Day 14, then buy Two Weeks in the Fast Lane Diet. Both books are available from www.fionakirkbooks.com.

Fight by Gabriella Ellis now on iTunes

You are probably familiar with Gabriella Ellis from her apperance on the popular E4 structured reality TV show Made in Chelsea which portrayed her relationship and eventual break-up from Ollie Locke.

The very public break-up and alledged extreme editing from producers resulted in Gabriella coming across as bitchy especially in her exchanges to Ollie’s best freind Cheska Hull.

However, away from the cameras, Gabriella is a talented singer and her brand of electro-pop is influenced by Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera. Gabriella Ellis is half-Greek and had a number one is Greece with the song Hit The Road Jack.

Her relationship with Ollie Locke inspired Gabriella to write the song Fight. The music video was released at the end of 2011 and the song is now available to buy on iTunes.

Here at City Connect, we are a big fan of Gabriella and look forward to a successful start to her music career in the UK.

Click here to purchase Fight from iTunes and see the music video below.

Image reproduced from E4.com and insanityartists.co.uk
Video reproduced from YouTube / Gabriellamaria999

Buying the Right Duvet for Summer

June has been colder than usual this year but as the weather hopefully warms up, it will be time to say goodbye to the heavier autumn/winter duvets we’ve been snuggling under and say hello to the light summer duvets that will keep us cool over the next few months. A question I am often asked is why bother with a summer weight duvet at all? Surely a duvet that can see you through the whole year is more cost effective?

While it is true that only owning one duvet will be lighter on your wallet in the short term, in the long term an autumn/winter weight duvet will be heavier on you and make you uncomfortable during the warmer months. If you share your bed with a partner, then a summer weight duvet is even more important. Couples generate a lot of body heat and a heavier duvet will store more of this heat than a summer duvet and you’ll wake up feeling like you’ve both spent the night sleeping in a sauna!

There are many different department stores and bedlinen specialists out there selling a wide range of duvets to suit all budgets. In my personal experience, I can highly recommend John Lewis as a supplier of quality bedding that is value for money. To review the different summer duvets on offer, I recently took a trip to the Grand Arcade in Cambridge to visit the city’s premier department store – John Lewis Cambridge. Here are my recommendations to help you choose the right duvet this summer.

Tog Rating

Tog rating is a measure of how well the duvet traps warm air. It is a measurement that was originally developed during the Korean War by the American Air Force for their flying suits. The higher the Tog number, the warmer the duvet. A good summer weight duvet is between 2.5 Tog and 4.5 Tog. If your home is well-insulated then you should go for a lighter Tog rating.

Synthetic Fillings

The polyester hollowfibre duvets are suitable for those who are allergic to feather and down or who will need to wash their duvet frequently. All John Lewis polyester duvets can be washed in a large capacity washing machine at 60ºC. This is the temperature which is hot enough to kill house dust mites that live in bedding and cause allergies. A good quality synthetic duvet can last up to 10 years.

Polyester duvets are heavier in weight compared to natural filled duvets and are not as breathable so if you do not have allergies it is better to go for a natural filling for better comfort. Saying this John Lewis has now launched a new range of premium synthetic duvets called Breathe which are made from Modal – a breathable material that actually draws moisture away from the body and helps regulate body temperature. John Lewis also sells a reassuringly low priced duvet with a filling made from recycled drinks bottles.

John Lewis Microfibre Light Duvet, 2.5 Tog – £30 to £75
John Lewis Microfibre Light Duvet, 4.5 Tog – £35 to £80
John Lewis Breathe Duvet, 4.5 Tog – £55 to £105

Natural Fillings

Duvets with natural fillings are softer and lighter than synthetic fillings. They will also last longer than a synthetic duvet as they are very hardwearing. The natural fillings and covers also make these duvets breathable and therefore give a better night’s sleep. Natural filled duvets need to be completely dried after washing so I recommend you get them professionally laundered by your local dry cleaner as thorough drying may difficult to achieve using a domestic tumble dryer.

The best quality goose down duvets last as long as 30 years. Lifespan is decreased each time the duvet is laundered so only do this as and when required. Avoid lying or sitting on top of your duvet as this crushes the filling and reduces the fluffiness and warmth of your duvet.

Duck feather and down duvets are great value as they are less expensive than goose down duvets. However, they are heavier than goose down and not as soft. Even so, they are still light and cool and a good choice if your budget can’t stretch to the higher quality goose down.

John Lewis Duck Feather and Down Duvets, 4.5 Tog – £30 to £45
John Lewis Duck Down Duvets, 2.5 Tog – £40 to £75

Goose down duvets are lighter and fluffier than duck down, but still offer the same level of warmth. John Lewis manufacture all their goose down duvets in Herbert Parkinson – their own factory in Lancashire. This means that they can ensure the highest levels of quality control. The Hungarian goose down duvets from John Lewis provide luxurious lightweight feel and are so comfortable that they feel like you’re wrapped up in a fluffy cloud.

John Lewis Goose Down Duvets, 4.5 Tog – £55 – £95
John Lewis Hungarian Goose Down Duvets, 2.5 Tog – £70 to £140
John Lewis Hungarian Goose Down Duvets, 4.5 Tog – £90 to £180

For ultimate luxury, John Lewis exclusively sells a premium goose down duvet made from the down of the Winter Snow Goose that lives in the Altai mountains in Russia. This remote glacial region helps produce large down clusters from the bird’s thickest winter coat which are used by John Lewis to create a fluffy duvet that is almost as light as air and is the best quality money can buy.

John Lewis Winter Snow Goose Down Duvet, 2.5 Tog – £180 to £380
John Lewis Winter Snow Goose Down Duvet, 4.5 Tog – £220 to £440

You can buy any of the above quality summer duvets by going to the John Lewis website or visiting your local John Lewis store.

Image reproduced from alltogduvets.co.uk

Nuts About Coconut Water

In this short series, we’ll be looking at new “Super Food” and trendy tropical export – the coconut. Although people in the Tropics have been happily enjoying them for centuries, the coconut is now making a big name for itself here in the UK.

We kick off the series this week focusing on Coconut Water, just in time to share the news that Rihanna has been named Brand Ambassador for Vita Coco, the biggest selling coconut water drink in the UK. Pop Icon Rihanna will star in Vita Coco’s first UK above the line advertising campaign “Viva Vita” and Rihanna will soon be on billboards across London dressed in a very fruity outfit to promote the brand.

" Rihanna","Coconut Water","Viva Vita","Vita Coco"

Rihanna in the Vita Coco advert

Long gone are the days when UK consumers could only buy dessicated coconut in their local supermarket. Now we have a wide choice of products from coconut milk, coconut cream and coconut water to coconut oil and even coconut milk based frozen desserts now becoming more widely available.

The word coconut is derived from 16th century Portuguese and Spanish word cocos, meaning “grinning face”, from the three small holes on the coconut shell that resemble human facial features. Found across much of the tropic and subtropic area, the coconut is known for its great versatility and is part of the daily diet of many people. As well as the edible coconut flesh, the oil and milk derived from coconuts are commonly used in cooking and frying; coconut oil is also widely used in soaps and cosmetics. The clear liquid Coconut Water within is a refreshing drink. The husks and leaves can be used as material to make a variety of products for furnishing and decorating. The coconut also has cultural and religious significance in many societies that use it.

Coconut Water

Coconut Water is not new to me. As a child I enjoyed drinking fresh Coconut Water from the young coconuts that my father would skillfully pierce open without spilling a drop. My travels around Southeast Asia as a young man also gave me the opportunity to enjoy fresh Coconut Water. Coconut Water is a very popular drink in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Caribbean. In the heat of the Tropics, it is not unusual to see people enjoying the refreshing Coconut Water straight from the green coconuts with the simple aid of just a straw… it’s the tropical equivalent of the tetrapak drinks cartons we are used to in the West!

"coconut water","Bali coconuts"

Enjoying the freshest Coconut Water in Bali

The ethnic communities found in major cities across the UK have always used fresh coconuts bought in Asian and Afro-Caribbean supermarkets as their source of Coconut Water. It is only recently that the major supermarkets and health food shops have now started to sell Coconut Water in the sterile cartons and bottles that Western consumers are familiar with… I can’t imagine many supermarket shoppers being comfortable attacking an unwieldy green coconut with the large knife that my father was so used to handling!

Benefits of Coconut Water

Coconut Water is naturally isotonic and contains 5 naturally occuring electrolytes including high levels of potassium.

It rehydrates three times faster than water and is low calorie.

Coconut Water is a naturally fat free drink containing antioxidants and other minerals.

It is a fantastic natural hangover cure.

There have been cases where Coconut Water has been used as an intravenous hydration fluid in some developing countries where medical saline was unavailable.

Popular Brands of Coconut Water

Vita Coco – the UK’s biggest selling brand of Coconut Water. Available from Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

ZICO – promoted as a sports drink and for those with active lifestyles. Available from Tesco and Waitrose.

Image of Rihanna Vita Coco Advert reproduced from marketingweek.co.uk. All other images are courtesy of the author.

April Fools’ Day & Spaghetti Trees

April Fools’ Day is celebrated in many countries around the world on April 1 every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools’ Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day when many people play all kinds of jokes and foolishness. The day is marked by the commission of good-humoured or otherwise funny jokes, hoaxes, and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members and people known to the prankster.

A typical example is sending the “victim” of the prank on a so-called fools’ errand… my personal favourite was told to me by an old friend whose father sent him to the ironmongors for a “long weight”. The ironmongor (who was in on the joke) told the boy to stand in the corner… after 30 minutes of being stuck in the corner twiddling his thumbs, the ironmongor told the boy he could go back to his father because he’d had his long wait!

Traditionally in the UK the jokes only last until noon. Elsewhere, such as in France, Italy, Germany and America, the jokes last all day. In France children and some jovial adults traditionally stick paper fish on each other’s back as a trick and shout “poisson d’avril!” (translated as April fish).

But where did it all begin? What are the origins of April Fools’ Day?

Precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held in March , and the Medieval Festival of Fools, on 28 December still a day on which pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries.

In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. Modern scholars believe that there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. Thus the passage originally meant 32 days after March, i.e. May 2, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381. Readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean “March 32”, i.e. April 1. In Chaucer’s tale, the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox.

In 1508 French poet Eloy d’Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril (April fool, literally “April fish”), a possible reference to the holiday. In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1. In 1686, John Aubrey referred to the holiday as “Fooles holy day”, the first British reference. On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.

In the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year’s was a week-long holiday ending on April 1. Many writers suggest that April Fools originated because those who celebrated on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates.

One of my all-time favourite April Fools’ Pranks was in 1957 when the BBC fooled the nation with a report on the current affairs programme Panorama about a family in southern Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from the fictitious spaghetti tree.

"April Fools Day", "spaghetti tree", "panorama hoax", "BBC hoax"

Woman harvesting the "spaghetti tree"

The 3 minute clip was broadcast at a time when this Italian dish was not widely eaten in the UK and some people were unaware that spaghetti was in fact a type of pasta. The broadcast of the Swiss Spagetti Tree hoax was described by CNN years later as “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled.” See the clip below that fooled a nation!

Video reproduced from YouTube / aptsarchive
Image reproduced from Wikipedia Commons
Content partly reproduced from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Film Review – Bel Ami

Bel Ami, which was released earlier this month, stars Robert Pattinson as Georges Duroy, a young poverty-stricken ex-soldier who rises to power through the seduction, manipulation and betrayal of a series of mistresses who are the city’s most wealthy and influential women. Guy de Maupassant’s French novel has been brought to the silver screen in an English language version that stays true to the original storyline thanks to the screenplay talents of Rachel Bennette. The film also stars Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas in supporting roles as the women Duroy ruthlessly uses to become one of the most powerful men in Parisian middle class society.

At the start of the film we see Duroy in his cockroach-infested room in Paris and it’s obvious he is down on his luck. While out drinking the beer that his few pennies can afford he bumps into Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), a former comrade who now works for the newspaper La Vie Française. Charles invites him to dinner the following night. Feeling out of place and not even knowing which knife to use at dinner, Duroy can’t help but feel out of his depth. At the dinner, Duroy is introduced to Forestier’s beautiful and intelligent wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman) and the well-connected Virginie Walters (Kristin Scott Thomas) whose influence over her husband means that a good word from her is all one needs to be part of Parisian polite society.

But it is Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci) who captures Duroy’s attention – a woman whose husband is often away and who confesses to Duroy over dinner that her only interest is pleasure and enjoyment. With his smouldering looks, Duroy captures the heart of Clotilde and they begin an illicit affair. For all her money and status, she loves him even though he has nothing.

"Virginie Walters", "Kristin Scott Thomas", "Madeleine Forestier", "Uma Thurman", "Clotilde de Marelle", "Christina Ricci"

Period costumes never looked so good!

After a long illness, Charles Forestier’s dies leaving Madeleine a rich widow and Duroy loses no time proposing. The marriage is an excellent move for Duroy but it loses him Clotilde, which the scheming social climber can’t understand… perhaps this man really doesn’t have a soul.

It is not a happy marriage and Duroy is filled with bitter jealousy towards Madeleine and wanting to get his own back on the newspaper men who constantly ridicule him, Duroy turns his attention to his boss’s wife Virginie Walters, even trying to seduce her in a church – the scene shows the audience just how low his morals are and emphasises his indecency and wickedness. Against all her Catholic morals, Virginie falls head over heels for Duroy. But when the time comes for Duroy to rid himself of this clingy lovesick woman, the scene is probably the only time I actually felt Pattinson portray the bitter cruelty of a man who cares for no-one but himself. Telling Virginie that she disgusts him as he drags her out literally clinging to his ankles is harsh… really harsh!

After seducing three of the most influential and wealthy women in Paris, the time has come for Duroy to climb even further up the social ladder to a height no-one would ever have expected him to reach. Who said crime (of the heart) never pays?

The role of a ruthless cad is a major departure for Robert Pattinson (and somewhat of a risk) after the adoration and fame he achieved playing the vampire heart-throb Edward in the Twilight Saga. Throughout Bel Ami, those same smouldering looks Pattinson perfected in the Twilight Saga come out to play and R-Patz once again captured the hearts of his mistresses and undoubtedly most of the female audience his dark brooding eyes.

"Bel Ami", "Robert Pattinson" "Georges Duroy"

Robert Pattinson and his brooding eyes

Yet all the brooding and smouldering looks can’t prevent Pattinson’s acting from being a somewhat weak attempt to portray the harsh cruelty of the character of Georges Duroy. I felt watching Pattinson on screen that he never consistently managed to capture the deviousness of Duroy’s character. I found it difficult to see why the women of Paris were falling at his feet. But maybe I’m missing something?!

The actresses on the other hand played their roles impeccably and by the end of the film I was certainly moved by the acting of the talented Kristin Scott-Thomas as Duroy’s broken-hearted lover, Virginie. Uma Thurman was perfectly cast as the strong-willed intelligent Madeleine and Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Duroy’s first conquest, Clotilde, was touching and totally believable.

As stories go, the rise of the anti-hero who blatantly uses and abuses the women in his life to get ahead is a refreshing change from the usual Hollywood sugar-coated happy endings that we’ve come to know and occasionally confess to love. The film may not win many awards but it was a perfectly harmless way to pass the time and I admit to getting lost in the visual splendour of this Parisian costume drama… that escapism feeling was made all the more real because I was treated to a very private viewing of Bel Ami… it was just me and my popcorn in Screen 5 of the Vue cinema in Cambridge!

Image reproduced from rpattzkstewtwilightaddict.blogspot.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / trivialtrailers

Top 5 Restaurants in Bali

In her bestselling 2006 book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert found love in Bali. I wasn’t that lucky but I did discover great food! Everyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a real foodie – a vacation for me isn’t complete if I haven’t sampled local delicacies and the best of what the destination has to offer. My recent trip to Bali was no exception.

With so many great restaurants and bars to choose from, it’s difficult to only pick five favourites. But after much deliberation, below are my top five restaurants in Bali which I hope will whet your appetite and inspire you to go to the island soon and experience them for yourself. May to September is the best time to visit this tropical paradise.

My Top 5 Restaurants in Bali

Bali has many excellent international restaurants (some of which are listed below) but a trip to Indonesia would not be complete without sampling the local cuisine. Thankfully the beautiful surroundings of Ketupat means that one does not have to slum it in a local warung to eat authentic Indonesian food. The restaurant gets its name from the little woven parcels made from palm leaves used to cook rice. The famous dishes of Sate Lilit and Nasi Goreng are here on the menu but I recommended trying the Nasi Campur – a small selection of tasty little dishes which are beautifully presented and gives one the chance to try a variety of authentic Indonesian delicacies without getting lost in the extensive menu of Ketupat. Address: Jalan Dewi Sri, Kuta, Bali.

Queen’s Tandoor
This popular Indian restaurant in Seminyak is part of the largest and longest established Indian restaurant chains in Indonesia. You know that the food must be special because of the large number of coach parties of Indian tourists that visit the restaurant every week. The large air-conditioned restaurant is very comfortable and the staff are friendly and will always ask you how spicy you want your food if you don’t appear to be a curry aficionado. My favourite dishes here are Chicken Tandoori, Dhal Sag Chicken and Rogan Josh. As well as the traditional dessert Kulfi, Queen’s Tandoor also offer a decadent chocolate dessert if you can save some room for it. The Sizzling Brownie is presented on a hot plate, drenched in bubbling chocolate sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. Definitely worth the calories! Address: Jalan Raya Seminyak , Kuta, Bali.

Located on the busy Jalan Padma, Mozzarella is an Italian restaurant that has a reputation for serving the best steaks in town and is famous for its two-for-one cocktail deals which makes an evening here nicely lubricated. The staff are forever smiling and friendly and will treat you like a regular even on your first visit. I was referred to as “Mr Alan” by the waitress during the course of the meal – which was very sweet. This hospitality, on top of the great food, will keep you coming back for more. For starters, try the Smoked Mahi Mahi – an interesting twist on a classic starter of traditional Smoked Salmon. My favourite main course here is the Beef Fillet Rossini – succulent, tender and very reasonably priced. Address: Jalan Padma, Legian, Bali.

A trip to Bali is not complete without at least one dinner reservation at Sarong. The décor is sumptuous and luxurious with chandeliers, candles, billowing gold curtains and Chippendale furniture all under a high roofed pavilion. The menu is an eclectic mix of South Asian inspired cuisine with dishes originating from Thailand, India, Vietnam, China and of course Indonesia. With such a diverse choice, it’s difficult to recommend one dish in particular but the Rogan Josh is a favourite of mine. The bar serves interesting and inspired cocktails such as the Jeruk Martini - citron vodka mixed with lemongrass syrup, dry vermouth & lemon juice. When it comes to dessert, the lushious Vietnamese coconut crème caramel is to die for! Address: Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan, Bali.

Métis is without question one of the smartest dining destinations in Bali and a purely sensory experience. A fabulous dinner is guaranteed as you sit on the terrace of a beautiful pavilion overlooking verdant rice paddies. The romantic setting is made more so by candlelight and sophisticated colonial inspired furniture from Scandinavia. The food is mostly French and Mediterranean in influence and the restaurant boasts a special foie gras menu – unusual for Bali. Métis excels in the delivery of the highest quality food which is gorgeously presented and tastes divine. The service from the waiting staff is exceptional and faultless. If the Chateaubriand is on the menu then I’m a happy man. Otherwise, I am more than satisfied with the meltingly tender Beef Tenderloin. Dessert has to be one of their deliciously light and fluffy soufflés – for which Métis is famous for. They’re always worth the 25 minute wait! Address: Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan, Bali.

From top to bottom: images reproduced from sricaitanyadas.multiply.com, ricewisdom.org, queenstandoor.com, thejarkatapost.com, thewanderingpalate.com and travel-logic.se