My Two Weeks with HelloFresh

Posted by Krista on March 2, 2015

If you live in London, chances are, you’ve been handed a voucher for HelloFresh outside some tube station or another within the last few months. (I understand HelloFresh operates in the U.S. too.) HelloFresh is a meal-delivery service that packs up everything you need to make at least three nice meals during the week and delivers it to your door on a Monday or Tuesday morning. One of my friends has been raving about the experience so as I’ve tried to get more seriously about cooking for myself instead of eating out, I thought I would give it a try.

I am lucky that I live in a building with a porter because he was able to take delivery of my HelloFresh box and keep it in a safe place for me while I was at work. I’m not sure how people who work during the day and live in buildings without porters would take delivery. In my old building, for example, my neighbors and I had more than a few parcels stolen.

That being said, the box is light enough so perhaps you could have it delivered to work and the schlep it home on the tube or bus.

My first box came with three recipe cards and all the ingredients for three meals. My recipes during the first week were chicken with dijon mushroom sauce, smoky burritos and then pan-fried salmon with new potatoes. During my second week, my recipes were chicken paella, fish and chips, and lamb koftas with tzatziki and rice.

Here’s a high-level overview of what I liked about HelloFresh as well as some of the challenges I experienced:

Pros…

  • Generally healthy recipes.
  • Fairly easy to prepare. For someone who doesn’t cook much like me, this was reassuring.
  • Fresh herbs with each delivery. I really liked this. They sent nice packages of rosemary, dill, parsley, etc. Fresh herbs really do make a difference.
  • Very large portions. You could call this a pro or a con. I got three or four meals out of what was meant to be a meal for two.
  • Decently priced. With the discount I received because I purchased on a friend’s recommendation, I spent £19 on my box the first week. That’s £3.16 a meal if you assume two meals per recipe. (But remember I got three if not four servings out of each recipe.) During the second week, my box was £39, or £6.50 a meal, which may seem pricey but remember I normally go out to eat. Just to be clear…I paid for these boxes myself.
  • They use Zendesk for customer support, which is an excellent platform that prevents customer emails from getting lost and gives companies all sorts of good stats on their support levels. I am a dork about things like this. I was glad to see they have a system in place.

Cons…

  • Clean-up. The paella, in particular, was a bitch to clean up. Lots of pots and pans. After a long day at the office, the last thing I wanted to do was dishes.
  • Vague instructions at times. For example, for my first recipe — the chicken with dijon mushroom sauce — I ended up with a ton of watery sauce, even though I feel like I followed the recipe pretty closely. I ended up siphoning off a lot of the water, which unfortunately took the dijon with it because there was only one tiny take-away packet of dijon. Another recipe told me to boil a large pot of water, but didn’t say how large.
  • Related to the above, poorly edited recipes. One recipe told me to turn on the oven, but yet nothing ever went into the oven. (Imagine my existential crisis!) The paella recipe told me to throw in one-half of the rice, but never told me to put in the other half of the rice and I knew I had to. I pointed out the oven thing to them and they were aware of it…which begs the question…why not email your customers who received that recipe and let them know of the error before they attempt the recipe?
  • They forgot to send me the chorizo for the paella but by the time I realized it, it was too late. (I was mid-recipe.) The paella turned out okay, but I know it would have been better with the chorizo.
  • OK, call me Judgey McJudgerson but they used basmati rice for the paella and cheddar for the burrito. (When I complained — with love — about the cheddar for the burrito, they suggested I try feta instead. BLASPHEMY.)
  • Customer support: I think this changed during my subscription but while I was making my first recipe, I wanted to call and speak to someone about the dijon mushroom sauce but their phone lines were already closed. So I had to write them an email instead and didn’t hear back from them for 23.5 hours. Personally, for something time-sensitive like cooking, 24 hour response times are kinda high.
  • Too much food for one person. This is one of the main reasons why I am not continuing my subscription. I just couldn’t keep up. To be fair to HelloFresh, this is not really a meal service for one. It’s meant to be for two. I just thought that I could stretch out the six meals over the course of a week.

The Verdict: My two weeks with HelloFresh made me a better person, I swear! It helped me conquer my fear of the oven, although I still wouldn’t say I am entirely comfortable. It also made me think a lot about why I don’t like to cook and I think what I’ve come up with is a different explanation than the explanations I’ve used before (laziness, not knowing how).

See…I have always been a hard worker. I tend to work long hours and I am always thinking about work. This is a bad thing about me, but probably not something that will change overnight although I am always trying and I do think I’ve gotten better over the years. For example, in the old days, I would always go into the office for a few hours on a Sunday and prep myself for the week ahead. I don’t do that anymore and I really try to maximize my weekend and relaxation time because I know I need it for my brain to function well.

What I am trying to say is that after a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is come home and chop up vegetables and meat. I am tired of working at that point. I want it to be easy. And I think what didn’t work for me with HelloFresh is the amount of chopping pre-meal and the amount of cleaning post-meal. I want to maximize my relaxation time and while cooking is relaxing for many people, it’s not relaxing for me. It’s work. I am not sure that feeling will change anytime soon for me. So I think what I need to do is find super-quick and super-easy recipes that I can make in like 10 to 15 minutes that require minimum clean-up. (I think this explains why I like making quesadillas so much. So easy! And just one pan!) If you have any recipe suggestions along these lines, please let me know because much like I know I really shouldn’t go into the office on a weekend, I also know I should probably stop dining out so much.

Krak des Chevaliers, Syria

Posted by Krista on February 25, 2015

I am not a filmographer. I am not a director or anyone good at these film things. But I was running through some old video files and I saw this and the “oh wow” moment in the last few moments and so here we are. (Rewind, pause, stop during the last four seconds. Please.)

Because Krak de Chevaliers in Syria is one of the most beautiful of places. People come from all over the world to study it’s architecture. There’s a hotel — the hotel I stayed in — right across the valley from the fortress. The hotel buys its cheese from the guys down the road, along with the chicken they roast to perfection every night and everything else they need. It is a simple hotel, but I was dumb for not taking more photos. I remember trying to connect to the Internet there. “You will not connect here,” they said. “Only email sometimes. When the wind is blowing.”

If I were better at the film stuff, I would do something all pause-y-like at the end of the video I made. Also, I would spend less time filming the loo.

WHAT? Long-time readers will know that in 2010, I decided to visit Petra. And, well, as long as you’re in Jordan, why not visit Syria? It’s just right across the border. I spent a week in Syria and I had an amazing time. Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, PALMYRA. Everyone was so lovely to me. I worried about how I should dress and how I should act but what I found during my time in Damascus is that no one really cared. They were just happy to see me and happy to have me visiting their country. What I thought about their roast chicken and their falafel seemed to be of primary concern. Oh, and would I consider selling my iPhone because there are no Apple products in Syria.

Key interactions…I decided we needed some wine in Damascus one evening. I was directed to a wine shop in the Christian quarter. It was May in Damascus so I asked for some Syrian rose…The very perfectly-speaking-English proprietor looked at me funny. “But why??? Why would you want to buy Syrian wine?? Why when the Lebanese wine is so nice??” I bought some Lebanese rose and left. Later, we had some deeply lovely Syrian rose at the delicious Naranj in Damascus, while the UN SUVs idled outside.

Then…there was that moment on the bus ride back from Palmyra to Damascus. I got sick. Bad sick. I was staying in a backpackers’ hotel. But I was so sick, so very very sick. I couldn’t eat or drink or anything. What I decided then is that if you are going to be sick in Syria, you should stay in a nice hotel. So I moved into the Four Seasons Damascus and it was so lovely and beautiful and the staff was the most wonderful of the wonderful in the world. And this is what I wonder about all these years later…I wonder if a company like Four Seasons transferred their beautiful staff and their families out of a place of disorder. I wonder.

BUT….I have skipped the important point. The point where I asked the backpackers’ hotel what I should do…that I was so sick…that everything was coming out of all the places…and they sent me to this pharmacy where the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen who spoke the most perfect English I’ve ever heard gave me some pills and some instructions on fluids and all was right with the world. Thank you, lovely pharmacist in the Damascus pharmacy, for helping me. I will not forget you. I hope you and your family are all together and all safe. I will never forget you.

Sometimes we forget that there are real people living in real places, don’t we?

Adventures in Manchester…

Posted by Krista on February 22, 2015

My friend Aaron was in the UK for work the other weekend and was flying out of Manchester. Aaron and I went to university together, many many years ago. His mother was the lumpia provider to many a tailgate and college party. Me, I’ve been to Manchester a few times for work over the years, but I have really only ever seen two things: the Malmaison hotel and the conference center. So rather than having Aaron come down to London for the weekend, I told him I would come to him and we could spend a day exploring Manchester.

I booked my train ticket on Virgin Trains for bright and early Saturday morning. It was only £10 quid extra for an upgrade, so I did it and was rewarded with a perfectly empty train car and a little box of snacks for breakfast. Prior to boarding, I spent a few minutes in the first-class lounge at Euston, where I stole some sugar cookies for my ride.

In Manchester, I stayed at the DoubleTree Manchester Piccadilly, right across from the station. The DoubleTree is bright and modern AND they gave me a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie when I checked in. On the downside, they charged me £20 quid for checking in before 3 pm. Frankly, that’s bullshit. And I told them so. But the rooms did have iMacs and free wifi was in abundance so there’s that.

We were short on time during our visit so in between tours (more about that in a second), we had a quick lunch of burgers and Manchester beer in the hotel bar. I remember the two of us looking at each other after biting into our burgers and saying “Hey, this is really good.” I also enjoyed my Lagonda IPA, one of many Manchester beers on the hotel beer list. So the DoubleTree did fairly well on food and drink, in my opinion. On the Sunday morning before I checked out, there was even free coffee and croissants outside the breakfast room.

If I were to visit Manchester again, I would stay at the DoubleTree again. Great location, very good amenities, good food, nice staff. I used Hilton Hhonors points for my stay so I really cannot complain about the value I received. (Except for that £20 quid for early check-in.)

Because Aaron and I had never really visited Manchester before, I looked for some tours to show us around. I found a Smiths/Morrissey tour that sounded fun and booked that for the Saturday morning. I guess I thought I was a Smiths/Morrissey fan, but truly, I had no idea. This was a very niche tour. Very niche.  One woman broke down in tears as we stood on top a bridge that was important in some way or another to the Smiths/Morrissey timeline. We spent ages wandering around the Salford Lads’ Club and I was really not quite sure why were there. Maybe our tour guide told us that the club featured on the INSIDE album cover of The Queen is Dead, but I think I must have missed that part. I just assumed that Morrissey played football here as a kid or something. There were also an awkward few minutes where we stood outside the house Morrissey once lived in. Let me emphasize…we were the Americans, and we felt awkward. (Standing outside a celebrity’s former home feels like a very American thing to do, doesn’t it?) The coolest part though?? Our tour guide was the drummer of the INSPIRAL CARPETS!! Now that was cool.  Super cool.

After our lunch of burgers and beers back at the hotel, we met up with our afternoon tour guide, John from Manchester Taxi Tours. I asked John to show us a few pubs and tell us the history of Manchester. John has the gift of the gab and showed us all the key places in town, including Manchester United stadium. He also filled in some of the blanks from our Smiths/Morrissey tour, like telling us about The Hacienda and its importance to the Manchester music scene. One of the highlights from our tour was a visit to a pub filled with singing octogenarians, where my hand was kissed a few too many times. We had a fun time with John and I would recommend his tours if you find yourself in town. We did a 2.5 hour tour which probably ended up being closer to three hours. In hindsight, I would have asked for a stop for food and another pub stop because we were hungry and not very serious after all.

For dinner on Saturday night, I tried to get into all of Manchester’s posh places. No dice. So I fell back on my old trick…if you can’t get into the places with great food, go for the ones with atmosphere. We booked a table at Mr. Thomas’ Chop House and LOVED the old Victorian tile-work and design and could have sat there for ages, admiring it all. Our Temperanillo was an excellent value (£19?) and the food was generous, hearty and good. (But not great.) On a cold day, I appreciated these things. The service was a little missing but the tile-work made up for this. I am not kidding. I tried to take photos but there were too many people around so you’ll have to do with just the one above.

So we had fun in Manchester. It was hard work to research and organize and not cheap fun, by any means, but it was still fun. And a nice way to connect with an old friend. You should pay a visit to Manchester someday, if you haven’t already.

Things I Want to Do in London in 2015

Posted by Krista on February 5, 2015

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I moved back to London because I am in love with this city, but all I’ve been doing is working, working, working. All work and no play makes Krista a dull girl. This needs to change!! I’ve started working on a list of things I really want to do in London this year. Here they are, in no particular order.

The Fat Duck. I still haven’t done this. I really need to do it. Who wants to join me? Better yet, who wants to invite me along to their table?

Ride The Emirates Air Line. I’m a sucker for things like this.

Visit The London Zoo. I’ve never been to the zoo!! Honestly, I really don’t want to go to the zoo. I hear it’s expensive. But I just want to cross it off  my list and then maybe hang around Camden or Little Venice afterwards.

Visit Ronnie Scott’s. It’s been a while since I’ve seen any live music. I miss live music. I’m probably less a jazz person than I am a blues and swing person but I am sure I can find something.

Go to Wimbledon, even if it’s just the lawn or one of the early matches. In all these years, I’ve yet to go.

Visit The Shard. What is wrong with me? I go by The Shard all the time but I’ve yet to go UP THE SHARD. I’ve yet to eat at The Shard either. This must be rectified.

See something at The Globe. I generally get bored at the theatre so I am not obligating myself to stay for an entire performance. But I would like to visit for an hour or so just to say I’ve been.

Abbey Road Beatles Crossing! Never been. And oh my God but the live cam on this site is hysterical.

Spend a weekend in Edinburgh. I haven’t been to Edinburgh since I was 19. That one time I was there for work for eight hours in 2005 doesn’t count. I realize this isn’t something to do in London, but it’s something I often think about. “I should go to Edinburgh…”

Do a tour of London distillery Sipsmith. I don’t really like gin, but I still feel like I should visit the first copper-pot distillery in London in nearly two centuries.

There are probably other things I should be doing. I’ve done a lot since my initial arrival in 2004 but what have I forgotten?

20 London Restaurant Bloggers by Social Media Presence

Posted by Krista on February 1, 2015
BlogTwitter
Urbanspoon PostsFacebookInstagramReach
Cheese & Biscuits24169372148033125980
Andy Hayler87496065029251
Samphire & Salsify398225229432087484
Wrap Your Lips Around This386923610362995204
The Foodaholic34271673427
Passportdelicious31842631935083885
Matt The List2810721525763538
Food Connoisseur229123012878304408
Maybe It's Because18145574643626922
Boo in Montreal11392621681307
Grumbling Gourmet10992431571256
London Chow1032268811113
Picky Glutton855374855
Out for Lunch51811172690
Blog about Nothing in London402303123316841
Rate My Bistro34419576420
Vi Vivian's27966287289855
I Live to Eat and Eat to Live244
Ivy Eats Again9122333424
Hungry Bee Maija6429164

I’m an analyst. I always have been. I like tables, data and lists. New favorite WordPress plugin? TablePress!

Frequently, some PR or another will ask me for my follower stats. Now, I am out there on the Internet. I am not hard to find. You can find me on Twitter and on Instagram and on Facebook. And yes, you can find me on Pinterest and Vine too. It’s really not that hard. I would argue that any PR worth their salt should know these things before extending invitations.

With a little time on my hands this morning, I decided to make life easy for everyone. I created my own collated data table. I took at look at 20 London restaurant bloggers on Urbanspoon and put together stats on their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers. I also included the number of restaurants they’d reviewed with an Urbanspoon tag, just to provide a rough order a magnitude. I read a lot of snotty things on the Internet that suggest that bloggers don’t know what they’re talking about. Well, if you’ve been to 200+ restaurants in London, I dunno…I think you probably know restaurants more than most people.

(I used very unscientific methodology with Urbanspoon to pick my 20. I just used the Top 10 London restaurant bloggers of all time, plus 9 listed on the “most recent list.” There was overlap between the two lists so I just kept going until I hit 19. And then I, uh, added myself. Hey, why not? It’s my table!! This actually underscores a point…I’m not in the Top 10 on Urbanspoon, but I still have a lot more reach than most.)

All of this data is as-of around 8:30 am on Sunday, February 1st 2015. Social media data changes frequently, so please consider this all a snapshot and not gospel truth. It will be interesting though for me to rerun this at some future date and see if anything’s changed.

In some instances, it was hard to find people on all of the platforms. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. I tried to check each website for clear links to Facebook and Instagram, in particular But I wasn’t always successful. Please drop me a note if I’ve missed something.

Other flaws in my methodology…to calculate “Reach,” I just added together Twitter + Facebook + Instagram. Obviously, there is usually overlap between the three platforms. (For example, I follow the preeminent Chris Pople now via all his platforms.) I don’t have the magic social media tools to determine the actual unique intersection, so we’ll have to make do with this sum for now. (Although I am open to suggestions on how to get some sort of figure on total unique followers.)

Big flaw…you could have a lot of followers any platform, and they could be of the “make money online” variety. A number doesn’t provide any indication of quality.

Biggest flaws: Some people on this list have stopped blogging. And some people choose not to use Urbanspoon. (Example, Kang over at London Eater.)

Sad that you didn’t make my list? Don’t be sad. Like I said, this was highly unscientific. If you blog about restaurants in London, I’m happy to add you. Just comment below and I will do some reconnaissance and add more rows to my table.

As I put this data together, I had some natural questions. I’d appreciate your thoughts on these, along with any questions you yourself might have. Let me know.

  • Why are some popular Tweeters not popular on Instagram?
  • Why are some popular Instagrammers not popular on Twitter?
  • Why don’t most bloggers permeate all the platforms? Speaking for myself, I use my blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram regularly. Why don’t others do the same?  Andy Hayler, for example, you seem like the perfect candidate for a Facebook fan page! (I am talking to Andy directly here because I know him personally!)
  • Does anyone else think that Wrap Your Lips Around This sounds dirty?? LOL.

 

I Am Grateful for Japan and All the Japanese Barbecue

Posted by Krista on January 30, 2015

IMG_3543I’ve only been to Japan once. It was 2008 and I was going through some tough times. I decided the best way to deal with my problems was to fly from London to California and go to BlogHer (before it was overtaken by mommy bloggers) and then to keep flying and flying and flying and fly to Japan. I spent a week in Tokyo and I fell in love with everything. On the way back, I flew 12 hours from Tokyo to London. In a two-week period, I had flown all the way around the world. Me, in a silver tube in the sky. All the sky.

Now, all these years later, I can’t even remember what those tough times in 2008 were. But I remember that Tokyo was the answer. Tokyo and sushi and sake and patterns and wrapping paper and basements of department stores and French pastries. Many French pastries.

And it was the answer. I stayed at The Prince Park Tokyo and it was amazing. The toilet in my hotel room!! It was my first experience with Japanese toilets and my life has never been the same since. I had a good time at The Prince Park.

On my last night in Japan, I spent all of the remainder of my money on a slightly worn room at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Yes, I was all very “Lost in Translation.” (It was a nice hotel, but it really didn’t compare to the lightness of the Prince Park.) That night, I had drinks with an old British friend from my Munich ex-pat days at the bar all the way up at the top of the Park Hyatt. In the twinkling darkness of the bar, we talked about our magical Munich expat time. I am grateful to that summer.

So what I’m saying is…It doesn’t take a lot to get me emotional about anything Japan and Tokyo. I am easy when it comes to Japan and Tokyo. Very, very easy.

I just bbq’d all this and more for lunch at Kintan and now I am going out for dinner. :(

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

It doesn’t take much to get me excited about Japanese barbecue either. So when the very kind people at Kintan on High Holborn got in touch and asked me if I wanted to drop by with a friend, I was grateful. Because you see, I already owed my friend Natasa. So this was a way of paying her back. I said yes. But in hindsight, I didn’t really know what I was saying yes to. It sounded like a drink and a snack and I was happy for that. But no. It was a monster of a Japanese barbecue. Filet mignon, rib eye, short rib, skirt steak…plus prawns and scallops and halloumi cheese. All on the barbecue. Plus hot oiled seared salmon and tuna tartar on cubes of rice, fried, on the side. And edamame and noodles and salad and miso soup and did I mention the rib eye??? Oh yes, and mochi ice cream. MOCHI ICE CREAM. Stick a fork in me. I’m done. 

Soo full. As stuffed as one these guys. A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

Natasa and I did the best we could to clear our plates. We finished nearly everything but the noodles (low light of the meal) and some of the skirt steak. We made room for a sweet, sweet extra dessert from the sweet sweet proprietor, whom we can only wish we had met earlier. Because the only real downside to all this gratefulness and sweetness that I have for Kintan is that when we really needed service, staff were curiously absent. Empty dishes languished for ages. Water glasses went unfilled. I lost my napkin and there was no alcohol so I became cranky.  But yet…Kintan is the type of place I want to go back to. On a Sunday afternoon, even on a desolate stretch of High Holborn, Kintan was full of Japanese families and their children. I love that sort of thing and I can only hope that next time Natasa and I return, we are with a group of eight or ten or twelve and can share the Japanese love. And be grateful for it. 

The Verdict; Delicious fun for the entire family! But don’t over-order! Take your time! And book that trip to Japan with your family before it’s too late.

Big Bad Disclosure: I was a grateful guest of Kintan, along with my friend Natasa. I estimate our tab at about £110, before service. We tipped on the full amount, as you should. 

Kintan on Urbanspoon

Don’t Worry, This Gratefulness Thing Will Be Over Tomorrow

Posted by Krista on January 29, 2015

Day #4! I’ve survived. So have you!!! Don’t worry…by the weekend, I’ll be back to my easily-annoyed self, especially when it comes to London restaurants. Maybe I’ll write about that next week. Easily Annoyed Week! (Maybe you can convince me otherwise.) But for now, let me tell you what else I’m grateful for while I’m still concentrating on this gratefulness thing.

This Article about Snapchat in The New York Times: I thought Snapchat was for kids! I like reading something that inspires me to do something different. So I’ve downloaded Snapchat as a first step. We’ll see what happens next. I’m scared! Please don’t send me any naked photos.

Law & Order: When I have nothing to do, I seriously ask myself “I wonder if Law & Order is on?” I love Law & Order. I hate to bow down to the god of television, but I can always guarantee that I will watch ALL of a Law & Order episode, no matter how old it is. Ice T!

Spotify Premium: I am seriously grateful for Spotify Premium. I love it. I listen to Spotify all day long. They are probably losing money on me. But I love the random playlists! (Go to Browse/Genres & Moods and poke around.) Music for every mood!

My flat. I love my flat. I want to buy my flat. It is very small and compact and the bathroom really needs to be re-tiled and the toilet seat is wonky but it is perfect. I need to make millions on the Internet in order to buy my flat though. Help.

Tweaking.com Windows Repair: Sometime around December, I started having problems with my wireless card and no one could help me. Do you know what it’s like to have your laptop refuse to connect to the wifi every three hours?? My other devices were fine. It was just my laptop. I restarted everything — laptop and router — twenty million times to no avail. And then I saw a few mentions of Windows Repair on a few forums and I ran it AND IT WORKED.  After nearly two months of my wifi dropping every hour or two, it hasn’t dropped since. Not sure what the mysterious culprit was, but thank you Tweaking.com.

St. John. I love St. John. I stop in to the bar every so often and have some soup and their delicious green salad. I didn’t know it was possible for green salad to be this delicious. Whoever makes their dressing knows what they’re doing. (Although it’s been less mustard-y as of late.) Sometimes, when I’m walking around the neighborhood, I see Fergus in the street. Hello, Fergus! The other day, I sat next to Chris Gillard in the bar as he ate a sandwich. A few months ago, I sat a table over from both Fergus and Chris as someone tried to convince them to make posh turkey twizzlers. I really didn’t understand where that was going but my salad dressing was so delicious, it didn’t really matter.

The Smart Passive Income Podcast: I stumbled across Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income Podcast and now I am kinda hooked. I just need an idea to get me started. Someone has already invented wine stoppers with dates on them. And someone else is already making fashionable compression socks. What else is there that’s left to invent?? I need something.

Writing about Gratefulness: My poor blog has gotten more traffic in the last few days with me writing about gratefulness than it’s gotten in a long time. Now what does that say?? Maybe I’m in the wrong line of hobby. Hmmmm.

What will Friday bring?? I don’t know either. Gotta keep some mysteries in life, my friends. Be grateful for mysteries.

I am Grateful that Bonapeti Sent Me a Box of Food When I was Hungry…

Posted by Krista on January 28, 2015

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Gratefulness week, Day #3! I’m still feeling it, people.

I get a lot of random emails via this blog, some more random than others. (No, I am not interested in advertising your online casino.) But every so often, the right pitch arrives on the right day.

Here is the situation. Every so often, I work from home. And working from home is weird for me from a food standpoint. What do I do? Do I cook something? What if the phone rings? Do I go out for lunch? What if someone wants to talk to me on Lync (instant messenger). For a while, I was really into Waitrose and Marks & Spencer’s meals, but I’ve been thinking a lot about preservatives and fillers and sodium lately so I’m trying not to do that. Then I went on an Itsu and Pret binge — Itsu has nice discounts in the evenings — but that got a little monotonous.

So timing-wise, Bonapeti got me at the perfect moment. I was debating the perfect “working from home” lunch when their email dropped into my  box. The e-mail was short and sweet, which I appreciated. And it started with a bang…

I’d like to get a delicious lunch/dinner delivered to you next week.  We’re really keen for you to try the new Bonapeti with our compliments.

Thank you, knowledgeable PR, for knowing how to write a pitch and getting my attention from the get-go.  You got me! I responded immediately!

And while I was working from home the other day, the Bonapeti box arrived.

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And I opened it immediately…because I was HUNGRY. I was also very fascinated by the recyclable, biodegradable sheep’s wool everything was packed in.

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After perusing the contents of the box, I, uh,  promptly proceeded to eat the spiced poach pear cake first. Forget the rest of the box. I wanted dessert. And it was really good. I wasn’t a huge fan of the coconut yogurt — too tart for me in that yogurt-like way — but the cake was great.

Hunger abated, I waited. (Rhyming intended.)

And waited.

And waited some more, the contents of the box calling to me, softly, from the refrigerator.

And then finally, when it was time for dinner, I helped myself to the “vine ripened tomatoes stuffed with butterbeans and feta, served with mixed quinoa and roasted cauliflower.” I don’t even like tomatoes, but apparently, if you stuff them with butterbeans and feta, I am totally okay with tomatoes! Because these were really good, and as a dinner option, the dish was much better than the Waitrose mushroom risottos and Itsu  Omega 3 Salmon Supremes I’ve been surviving on lately. I wasn’t expecting the chili in the Bonapeti dish — I should have read the menu card — so I had a bit of a coughing fit, but otherwise, I was very pleased with my healthy, veggie lunch.

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Fast forward to the next morning. Breakfast. What to do? I have always been an unorthodox breakfast eater. I am not a huge fan of pancakes, waffles, cereals or eggs. (Who are these people that line up outside The Breakfast Club by the way???) I like the occasional omelette, but that’s about it. Lately, I’ve been eating jamon and grits for breakfast. Sometimes, with some random cheese. on the side. So I had the next meal — baked kohlrabi with a spiced tomato preserve and pumpkin seed gremolata — for breakfast. Although I realized afterwards that I forgot to use the tomato preserve and the pumpkin seed gremolata.

This was a nice and filling, dense and spicy breakfast dish. (I need to have baked kohlrabi for breakfast more often!) I felt virtuous too because there was a side of kale.  Given the relatively large size of the portion, I ended up saving half of it for my dinner. (Hoping to remember to use the tomato preserve and the pumpkin seed gremolata.) My other plan is to polish off the salad that Bonapeti also included in the box, a salad of quinori, mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes and celery with sunflower seed pesto. (Given my celery allergy, I requested no celery.)

So all in all, I am enjoying my Bonapeti box. I am grateful for it! In sum, here are my pros and cons:

Pros

  • Bonapeti were really good about my carrot and celery allergies. The salad has a specific sign on it that says “without celery,” which is reassuring.
  • I like the  handy cards for each dish in the box. The cards outline the ingredients and the nutritional information.
  • I like that these are meat-free options. I’m trying to eat less meat and eat more plants in 2015. (According to the Bonapeti website, there are some meat and fish options.)
  • For me, the price is about right. I work a lot and have rationalized £10 a meal for a healthy dinner that I don’t have to do much about when I get home. Call me lazy. I call me a single professional woman who works a lot and doesn’t want to eat Chinese food all the time.

Cons

  • They don’t really deliver east of West London just yet. I am in Clerkenwell, so I am still fairly central but not in the delivery zone. They delivered to me anyhow, but you should check their delivery zones before you get too excited.
  • The “enjoy by” dates were pretty quick. Mine said I should enjoy on the day of delivery or the next day. The problem with my life right now is that I don’t know where I will be at any given moment. I would be afraid to order a box on Monday to be delivered on Tuesday only to find out I wasn’t going to be home on Wednesday. Thank God for freezers, I guess.
  • My microwave is much stronger than their instructions. For example, the Baked Kohlrabi required five minutes in the microwave. I knew that was going to be too long. I got away with two minutes. (My microwave goes up to 1000 watts.)

The Verdict: Would I order from Bonapeti again? If I knew that I was going to be in town during the week and working long hours, I definitely would. Unfortunately, my schedule is not that predictable so it’s hard to say when I will next order a box. It’s good to know the option exists though if I need it.

Here’s the Bonapeti spiel from their press release…

Bonapeti specializes in creating impressive restaurant quality, plant-based dishes, which are delivered super-fresh and chilled to your door. There are meat and fish options on the menu too. Look out for some of London’s brightest new chef names, guesting at Bonapeti. Nutritious mains are priced around £10 and desserts from £3.50, plus just £5 per delivery. They are freshly made on the day in the Bonapeti kitchen and require just a few minutes for you to heat up. Orders can be taken for same-day delivery at no extra cost.

Big Bad Disclosure: Bonapeti provided me with this gorgeous box of healthy food at no cost. My estimate based on the prices on the Bonapeti website is that the contents of the box would retail for roughly £30 quid plus delivery. I am grateful to Bonapeti for feeding me. 

Bonapeti is offering 40% off first orders (plus free delivery) to anyone who uses the code BON201502. 

It’s Gratefulness Week Here at PassportDelicious…

Posted by Krista on January 27, 2015

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Yes, I’m on a gratefulness kick these days. Let’s see how long it lasts. It’s Day 2! I’m optimistic. Today I would like to take the time to thank the London restaurant bloggers and other websites that have provided me with traffic over the last 12 months. Without you, well, I’d have no traffic. I’m grateful for you. I wish there were more people like you, especially these days when no one cares about blogs and sidebar links anymore. (We live in a “Twitter is the New RSS” world, my friends.) Thank you, those in this list, for being a friend. I appreciate it. (Although given that a few of these sites are no longer blogging, maybe I should find some new friends??)

1. Tehbus. EUWEN! Where are you?? Because although you haven’t blogged about London restaurants in a while, your site still serves as a powerhouse of referral traffic. I’m sorry I haven’t seen you since that night in Camberwell.  Let’s have an adventure, soon. But not the type with crazy taxi drivers like that one time.

2. AllWomensTalk: Proving that SEO does still exist, this post about the best Chicago Food Blogs still is bringing them in, even though I don’t live there anymore. Thank you, AllWomensTalk. Even though your ranked me LAST. I am grateful to you.

3. LondonChow:  One of the old school London restaurant blog crowd! Hello, LondonChow! Thank you for sending me traffic. I am not sure we have ever met though?? That is weird. We should remedy that soon. (Although we’ll have to agree to disagree on BBL in your Top 10. They just don’t do it for me.)

4. The Happiness Project London: I watched two people that I’ve never met before fall in love via the Internet! That was awesome!! Although Sasha hasn’t blogged in a while, you can follow the adventures of her very entertaining other half, Luke, on Twitter and also visit his London shop, Brompton Food Market. I love when the Internet becomes REAL.

5. Gourmet Chick. I miss my friend Cara. I moved to Chicago, she moved to Melbourne. I’ve moved back to London but she is still in Australia, far far away. But the magic of Twitter and Facebook brings us together now and then and for that, I am — you guessed it — grateful.

6. Mmm-Yoso. I don’t even remember how I discovered these guys, but it was ages and ages and ages ago. (I vaguely remember a work trip to San Diego back in 2007?) And they’ve been sending me a nice amount of traffic ever since. Thank you, people of California!

7. 3 Guys on A London Bus: I don’t know who these guys are, but I remember at the time when they posted this piece, I was hit with a huge avalanche of traffic. Proving again the power of search engine optimization, this one little blog post is still delivering hits all these years later. Powerful stuff. Thanks guys!

8. Roam & Home: My Chicago partners-in-crime. We met via our blogs and have had many adventures since. Chicago! London! Bogota! Paris! Karen and Bob are the best!! And I miss them since moving to London. :(

9. Not from Around Here:  This expat blog has been sending traffic my way for a long time. 2009? Sadly…no blog posts since 2012 and she has also gone quiet on Twitter. Where are you, old expat blog friend?

10. The Blog about Nothing in London: I got to meet fellow London restaurant blogger Odo when he came to visit Chicago the other year. (Don’t let his blog’s title fool you.) We had crazy cocktails at The Aviary and then he ate the biggest hamburger I’ve ever seen in my life at Little Goat in the West Loop. That’s skillz. Since I have been back in London, we have yet to reconnect! Must remedy this soon!

So…that’s it from me for now. Gotta get back to this other gratefulness stuff…and find some new Internet friends. Ciao.

Kouzu, London

Posted by Krista on January 26, 2015

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I am feeling grateful a lot these days. Lest I become one of those self-help blogs (not that there is anything wrong with them), I will leave that there and refrain from writing a post entitled “10 Reasons Why You Should Be Grateful Too.” Instead I will simply reflect, positively so, on the mindshifts I’ve been experiencing lately. Guys, I think I’m going to become a Buddhist.

Who am I kidding? I don’t even know what being a Buddhist means means. I just know I like this guy, whom my friend Aileen introduced me to a couple of months ago. (She didn’t introduce him to me in person of course. Just via the interwebs. He’s very ill at the moment, actually.)

Let’s go back to being grateful. It was this spirit of gratefulness that led me to say “yes” when the extremely, extremely kind people at Kouzu, — a new Japanese restaurant catty-corner from the Middleton’s favorite hotel, The Goring — got in touch and invited me and a friend to visit. I have already written a lot on the subject of blogger freebies. So have a lot of other people. And you know what? I’m tired. And I don’t care anymore. Life is yours to live. Live it. Be grateful for the doors that open in life, especially the doors that let you close those others you’ve been holding open for too long.

Cocktail hour with @leeturnerconn thank you @kouzu_london @jprmediagroup

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

Be grateful for delicious pear-y cocktails at Kouzu made by the particularly competent and endearing barman. I was very pleasantly surprised by the seriousness of the cocktails at Kouzu. I wish we had had more cocktails. Especially after my friend broke her glass of wine all over our table and the floor, drastically cutting into our alcohol consumption. 

Still thinking about the delish yellowtail with truffle at @kouzu_london last night. Thanks again @jprmediagroup A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

Be grateful for the soft and lovely yellowtail with truffles that starts your night off just right.

And then be grateful that a girl that you don’t know can lean across a restaurant table during dinner to kiss her boyfriend and set her hair on fire and survive to tell the tale. (Wish away the smell of burnt hair in the moments afterwards…wish it away.)

See, this is why no one should ever invite me for an “invite to review.” Because when you invite strangers into your space,  you can’t control what will happen, what people will see, what people will feel. And I, unfortunately, will write about the things that do happen and the things that I see and the things that I feel. As long as everyone is cool with that, we’re cool. We’re grateful!

Loved the spicy tuna rolls at @kouzu_london @jprmediagroup

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

Hey, the spicy — crunchy — tuna rolls happened and they were fab. I could happily survive on these forever. Also happening…the aburi. All the aburi! We delighted in the aburi. My friend hasn’t stopped talking about the aburi since. It’s getting a little annoying, actually. (Aburi is nigri, partially grilled.)

Less happening: the lamb chops. But then again, after eating lamb chops at Tayyabs all these years, I don’t think I can eat anyone else’s lamb chops again. I wanted the lamb chops at Kouzu to be more smoky, more barbecued.

Most happening: Aromatherapy Associates in the loos! I love Aromatherapy Associates!! I am grateful for Aromatherapy Associates. You should be too.

Also most happening: Beautiful chairs. I am a sucker for beautiful restaurant chairs.

In sum, everything at Kouzu is very beautifully presented. And our server, a wonderfully lovely marine biologist from Poland, was absolutely perfect and fantastic. It was refreshing to have a server who knew something about fish!! (Discussion topic of the night: bottom feeders, literally and figuratively.) Idea…all marine biologists should intern in Japanese restaurants!

Not so perfect and fantastic…there was only one other table of two seated in the entire restaurant when we arrived. Where did Kouzu try to seat us?? Right next to the only other people in the restaurant.

Me to everyone: “Uh, this is weird.”

Couple mainly to the hostess: “You must be joking. Look at all those empty tables!”

Me: “Seriously, can’t you seat us somewhere else? This is so weird.”

I know there is an order of things and there are reservations and logistics and operations to figure out but…this was just weird.

Also weird… after the hair incident, having to point out the large, burnt hunk of sad blond hair lying on the floor outside the handicapped loo.

See…this is why no one should never invite me anywhere. Danger! Danger!

The Verdict: I like Kouzu. I will gladly return and eat all their yellowtail with truffle and drink all their Japanese pear margaritas. You should come with me so we can eat all their spicy tuna rolls together. Let’s just not set anything on fire.

Big Bad Disclosure: My friend and I were guests of Kouzu. Our meal was roughly valued at £140 or so. This was extremely generous of Kouzu. Extremely. I am very grateful to them because it meant I got to spend a night out with my friend who has 3-year-old twins and is limited in her social cavorting. It was nice to be able to treat her. I was grateful for that opportunity. 

Kouzu on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Where I’ve Been Eating in London Lately, Winter Edition

Posted by Krista on January 17, 2015

#London from above

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on


Ah, how I admire the passion, enthusiasm and commitment of any new London restaurant blogger. “MUST GET TO NEW RESTAURANT IMMEDIATELY!!!” Me, I’m sitting in front of Netflix on a Friday night with a bottle of wine. Go out to eat on a Friday night? No thanks. Hummus and pretzels for dinner for me! (Penn State pretzels, sour cream and chive. My favorite.) Every so often, I do leave the house. And you know what? I’m feeling particularly generous in 2015. Life is good! Restaurants are good! Someone, quick, serve me something terrible or else I won’t have anything to talk about. Here’s where I’ve been eating lately.

Ember Yard: They don’t know what to do with a solo diner. I am given a seat at the bar overlooking the kitchen. Bad idea. I smell like smoke for days on end. (There’s a reason why they call it “Ember Yard.”) But the burrata with chargrilled aubergine is delicious as is the lamb slider. But then…I spend a lot of time waving my hands in the air for the bill. The Verdict: Go, but don’t sit at the bar.

Ember Yard on Urbanspoon

The Square: My friend Jen had a baby in October and of course I got the baby presents but I wanted to get Jen a present too. So I took her to The Square, where the service was supremely lovely. The lighting was a bit too bright, but the loos were delightfully chilly. We loved the slow cooked duck egg and the surprisingly large portions for a lunch tasting menu. Also nice, the butter. But we had to practically beg for more. Afterwards, we went to Claridge’s and drank ridiculously expensive champagne by the glass and tried to guess if anyone was a hooker. (Apparently, hookers prefer the Blue Bar at The Berkeley.)

The Square on Urbanspoon

Hakkasan Mayfair: I had naively booked a couple of tables for lunch over New Year’s thinking…who doesn’t want to go out to lunch over New Year’s? Well apparently, I am the only one who wants to go out to lunch on New Year’s Eve. Because not only would no one come with me, but the restaurant was empty too. Watch your wine glass here. They will take it away from you before you are done. And when you’ve had the dainty set lunch and really, really really want more venison puffs, they will judge you. They will suggest that rather than eating the macarons that come as part of your set lunch, you take them to go. (There are five macarons, so you will be okay with this, really. But still…it’s the principle of the thing. Why can’t you eat both the venison puffs AND the macarons in the restaurant at your table?) Best bit not related to Hakkasan: I took money out of the cash machine next door and it gave me fifty pound notes!! Fifty pound notes!! Ah, Mayfair. The Verdict: Good.

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

Berners Tavern: It’s beautiful but TOO BRIGHT for lunch. They need to turn the lights down. (They do so, later, at the end of our meal. Lending a rosy glow to the mostly male patrons. Where are all the women??) The service is lovely and the food is good. We particularly enjoyed our lobster and prawn cocktail to start. The venison, perfectly pink, was also nice. This is the type of place to take out-of-town visitors. Atmosphere, you know. The Verdict: Take that special someone here. In the evening, when the lights are low. Pretend you are George and Amal!

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon

Mint Leaf: I cause problems with my friends. They think I have expensive tastes. “Going out to dinner with you is expensive,” they say. They don’t know how much I love Pret a Manger and Itsu. And they never consider that maybe it’s not me that’s the problem, but maybe our other friend who does not stick to the “better value” end of the wine list and prefers bottled water to tap. (But we still love him.) Hmmm…availability bias? Not sure what to call it. Because I made the booking and I sent the e-mail, the bill is my fault. Hey, dinner anywhere can be a good value if you stay away from the 2005 Bordeauxs. Me, I prefer Portugal. Lots of good values in Portugal. Do you know what’s a good value at Mint Leaf? Wines by the glass at the bar! Although when I asked for a glass of Viognier and they brought me a Cabernet, I laughed and they didn’t. You know what else? The food was good! I liked it! 17 quid for what amounts to chicken tikka masala is a bit steep though. Next time I’ll stick to Cobras. The Verdict: Good for a scene-y, vibe-y group dinner. Try the smoked cocktails at the bar too. Fun for the entire family!

Mint Leaf Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Royal China Baker Street: Dim sum, I love you above most things. We stuffed our faces with order after order of prawn dumplings and it was only 17 quid a person. 17 quid!!! (Note friend who prefers 2005 Bordeauxs not present!) The loos are clean and nice and the service is prompt and efficient. I could eat here every day and be very very happy. Maybe I will! Dim sum coma everyday in 2015?? Fierce. The Verdict: Go!

Royal China on Urbanspoon

So that’s it. I think. I am all caught up now. Maybe…

The Manor, Clapham

Posted by Krista on January 12, 2015

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My friends Natasa and Olly invited me out to lunch over the weekend. This means they paid, which they shouldn’t have. It was too nice of them. Very nice of them. I know Natasa from my old job. Amongst other things, we’ve hit Prague, Budapest and Moscow together, revolutionizing investing all the way. We make a good team. Her husband, Olly, is a man with many lives. (Next time you see a dangling participle, send it his way.) Maybe I can convince Olly to edit my autobiography.

I make the long journey down to Clapham to have lunch with them. Oddly, I have an entire tube car to myself. If you’ve been reading the press lately, you know that London’s population is at an all-time high. So this is kind of amazing. Also, frightening.

Ah, Clapham. I haven’t been this far south on purpose in a long time. 2008? 2009? I am not kidding. (But before you get all offended, new visitors should know that I was absent from this fair city for a few years and am only recently returned. So don’t be hatin’.)

I get to The Manor and because I am a few minutes early, I ask to use the loo and am shown the way. The loo is crazy. Someone is having a laugh. After all the peacefulness and beauty and light and air and softness upstairs, I am no less than shocked and appalled downstairs. I cannot forget these loos for the rest of my meal. We talk about them throughout. “Have you been to the loo yet? You should go to the loo. So you’ve been to the loo! What did you think of the loo?”

And while the small plates of chicken skin at The Manor are pretty damn fantastic and I actually ate the better part of not one but two kale salads — so good were they — I cannot forget the loos. I really can’t. (Cue a discussion of the American “can’t” vs the British “can’t.” Can’t for me rhymes with ant or pant. Can’t for the British rhymes with want or font. Remember I have been blessed with the vowels of a New Yorker though so this could all be in my head.)

After polishing off a respectable number of starters between the three of us, I opt the The Manor’s pork belly and try to concentrate. It’s very good.

But I still can’t forget the loos.

I have some sort of lovely-doubly chocolate ganache-y thing for dessert — pudding, right Olly? — and I can’t forget the loos.

I try to blind myself with alcohol and order a sweet wine with my dessert and…I can’t forget the loos.

Let me make this clear. What I can’t get over, what I can’t stop thinking about, is that they really don’t have the money for a nice paint job and some soft lighting. A lot can be forgiven with soft lighting. Are candles legal in loos? Candles. How about candles? OK, maybe the tile work isn’t the greatest — they are flowered tiles from the 70s or 80s. But a little high-pressure water hose, a lick of paint and some nice art on the walls and maybe some fresh flowers and you’d be done. I promise.  I know they’ve tried to tie it all together with the graffiti behind the bar but…meh.

Now, 27 hours after my meal at The Manor, what I remember more than the wonderfully nice food is, unfortunately, the loos.

The Verdict: Go. And hope that they’ve done something with the loos by the time you get there.

P.S. Yo, I’ve got a bit of a backlog from the holidays. More to come, soon I hope.

Manor on Urbanspoon

Square Meal