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 This38692362994168
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!

The other day, some PR or another asked me for my follower stats. Personally, I was a little annoyed. 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 hard. Especially if this is your job. If you worked for me, I would make you do this research yourself. Because you should be knowledgeable. You should know. I mean, you really should know. Especially if this is your job. I hope that’s clear now. Let’s move on.

With a little time on my hands this morning, I created my own 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

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

Hotel Review: Le Meridian, Tampa

Posted by Krista on December 29, 2014

Things happen in your life that you don’t expect. Like your father moving to Tampa. The west coast of Florida is full of Harley Davidsons and mustaches and motorcycle cops. My dad is a khaki -and linen shirt kind-of guy who likes to dance the mambo. Hmmmm. But here he is, in Tampa. And British Airways actually flies direct from Tampa to London so here I am too.

Downtown Tampa is a city that time forgot. I try to take a walk around town and it depresses me. Maybe I’m in the wrong part of town. I hear the museums in Tampa are great. But there are a lot of homeless men on bicycles and frankly, I’m not feeling too comfortable. I go to the drugstore, CVS, to stock up on particulars, and a down-on-his-luck-kind-of-guy follows me around and spends a little too long staring at my purse. He hasn’t seen a shower in a long time.

But my hotel, Le Meridian, is lovely. Really really lovely. I’ve booked it on Starwood points, the best points ever, and all is good with the world. It’s a little like Design Within Reach threw up in the lobby of this former courthouse, but hey, I can’t get enough of Herman Miller or Knoll myself so there’s that. Jason at the front desk is the loveliest of chatterers and offers me a free drink voucher at the bar after I check in. My room service breakfast is a little late one morning, and the *gloriously* well-dressed restaurant manager delivers my poached eggs and polenta himself and then tells me it’s all on the house. Life is good.

Tampa is a puzzle. Given how full my returning flight to London is, many people must like it here.  Next time, I’ll stay a little longer and see some more things. Maybe drag my dad to a museum or two. We shall see. But one thing is for sure…I will definitely be returning to Le Meridian. It’s pretty gorgeous.

My Favo(u)rite Things in 2014

Posted by Krista on December 24, 2014

Each Christmas, I am bombarded with photos of my friends’ children. (Sometimes, their dogs and cats too.) So for the last few years — some years, more consistently than others — I’ve decided to bombard people with my own holiday missive. Inspired by my friend Amy, who recently kicked breast cancer’s ass, I give some thought to the websites and amusements and purchases I’ve spent more time with that year than others. Here is this year’s list. Enjoy!

HelloSign (website, Google Chrome plugin). I had to sign a lot of documents in 2014 (Finally sorting out my 2010 UK taxes (oops), moving, new job etc etc) and my home printer was on the fritz. I knew someone must have invented a solution to my problem and I was RIGHT. HelloSign is a very awesome website that lets you upload documents and then insert an image of your signature and create a PDF. It’s amazing. Use my link for a free try (because then I get more free documents): http://bit.ly/kristahellosign

Boden: Returning to London renewed my obsession with Boden, the mostly online clothing retailer. I love their dresses, even though their prints can be a little wacky sometimes. They have online sales so frequently that I barely ever pay list price. (Similar to my recommendation a few years back about Cole Haan online.) You shouldn’t pay list price for Boden either! WAIT FOR THE SALES. Also, check the clearance section. Oh yes, they have clothing for guys too.

Spotify Premium: I went totally digital this year and got rid of the 600+ CDs I’ve been carting around the world these last ten years. Before I did that, of course, I ripped all the CDs to an external hard drive and also uploaded everything to Google Play (which you should also consider). I then subscribed to Spotify Premium. Pretty much every song ever made, available for a small monthly fee. $9.99 a month in the US and £9.95 in the UK. And you can even stream music on your phone! If you need to get the young person in your life a gift this year, get them a Spotify Premium subscription. I particularly enjoy their canned radio stations. Something for every mood.

Hiring Personal Assistants Online: Also related to moving my life to another continent, I spent a decent chunk of change on personal assistants in 2014 and I wouldn’t change anything. My Chicago personal assistant, Shelley, took my cable boxes back to Comcast for me, picked up my dry cleaning, and brought me Chinese food for lunch. In London, my personal assistants unpacked my kitchen, got my bike fixed, and carted away all my old CDs. Services like Task Rabbit offer a plethora of assistants but if you live in a large metro area, try a Google or two to find specialized companies that focus on this sort of personal assisting/organization stuff.

Uniqlo: Another renewed obsession. Uniqlo is a Japanese brand that I love for its simplicity and high quality construction. I loved the cashmere cardigan I bought from Uniqlo so much that I went online and bought one in every color. (Hey, they’re a good value. And I’m trying to be like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs and dress in a uniform every day — black dress, black tights, cashmere cardigan — and simplify the decisions I have to make.) Uniqlo doesn’t have as many 20% sales as Boden so buy it when you want it.

GrubHub (US) and JustEat (UK): I’ve been getting a lot of dinner delivered. Healthy stuff mom, I swear. I love sushi! Well, in the US, I’d use GrubHub to get anything and everything I wanted to eat delivered. No more drawer full of old takeout menus! In the UK, I use JustEat, and while it’s not as good as GrubHub (no GrubTracker, which automagically tells you where your food is), it’s still pretty awesome.

DarkSky (app): A great weather app with a lovely design. Dark sky will tell you when it is about to rain! That’s amazing. The best is when it starts warning you that there will be heavy rain, as I experienced this summer when I was at my friends’ barbecue (Hi Andrew and Vanessa!) and we got the alert and then all had to hide in the garage, away from the rain.

My FitBit Aria Scale: Last year, I told you all about my love of my FitBit (basically, a fancy pedometer). Well this year, let me tell you about my Aria scale. I weigh myself and it logs my weight through the magic of wifi on their site and on my phone. And it also does something crazy with my feet with bioelectricalness to determine my percent body fat. It’s pretty cool. You should get one. Don’t be afraid.

Hotel Sites I Really Love: For many, many years, I’ve been a TripAdvisor user. But after a few years of heavy travel, I’ve decided that TripAdvisor is now a little too much lowest-common-denominator for me. (There are a lot of people on the site who have never stayed in a hotel before, so anything is wonderful to them. Also, I don’t trust anyone who eats breakfast in a hotel restaurant unless they are on a tropical island.) When I’m looking for a place to stay, here are the curated sites that I really use as the base of my decision:

  • Jetsetter.com: Originally known for their flash sales, now I turn to Jetsetter.com when I want to know the best places to stay and where.
  • Tabletotels.com: This is more than just hotels to book. It’s a lifestyle. I really like their newsletters. Particularly good when you don’t really care where you go…you just want to go somewhere and need inspiration. I like the user ratings they do too. If the hotel falls below 15 out of 20, they take it off the site.
  • MrandMrsSmith.com: The original curated list of hotels.

Muji pens! I have loved Muji pens for years (thank you Renee and Julie for introducing me to them) and now I want to share the love with you. Find a Muji and buy all the gel pens. Love them!

Serial (podcast): Last one and then I’ll stop. I have my cousin Robert to thank for this one. A spin off of This American Life, Serial tells the story of a real-life 1999 murder, 15 years later and through a journalist’s perspective. Addictive! And harkens back to the old days of radio.

This is getting a little long so I shall bring this to its natural conclusion! Happy 2015 my friends! Hope to see you soon!

Krista

Why It Pays to Comparison Shop: My Dominican Republic Hotel Search

Posted by Krista on December 22, 2014
 Eden RocTortuga BayZoetry Agua
Expedia.com$880
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$775 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$279 (garden view king)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
Tablethotels.com$880
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$620 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$465 (garden view king)
Inc 10% service
Ex 18% tax
Jetsetter.com$880
Ex taxes and fees of 24.5%
$895 (oceanfront)
Ex taxes and fees of 25.8%
Not listed.
Splendia.com$589
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$620 (oceanview)
Ex 10% service
Ex 18% tax
$635 (garden view king)
Inc 10% service
Inc 18% tax

My step-cousin is getting married in the Dominican Republic in 2015. I am pretty excited about this because I know I will be ready for a beachy holiday soon. I have always said I am not a beach person, but after falling in love with the Bahamas these last few years, I am a convert. I love love love (love) turquoise water. Instantly calming. I don’t need to lie on the beach. I just need to look at it.

We had to book the hotel for the wedding way, way, way in advance. My family is flying in from New York and Florida and my original idea was to fly to either JFK or PBI or FLL (we try to avoid MIA) and meet them there and then fly onwards to the DR with everyone. I didn’t really like this idea though because I knew I would be a jetleggad mess for the entire trip and it would probably mean a lot of waiting around in airports. BUT THEN…I discovered that British Airways flies direct to the Dominican Republic from London! Score. Done. So I’m flying in a few days before everyone to relax and become a normal, non-jetlagged person. I could stay at the hotel for the wedding…but I get bored after more than a few days in one hotel.

So I decided I needed a hotel for a solo stay where I could rest my weary, jet-lagged head before the party began. The tricky thing about a lot of hotels in these sorts of places is that they are really geared towards honeymooning couples, so you need to stay away from the Sandals of the world. I started working on a spreadsheet of all my hotel choices. I love making spreadsheets. Long-term readers know I love math and I love data. I love to make tables to compare things.

Important criteria in selecting my hotel? You will laugh but they were “Design-ness,” “nice beach,” and “nice pool.” I was slightly price agnostic because I wanted a treat. I’m also not a huge fan of all-inclusive (lots and lots of mediocre food), so that wasn’t important either.

I started searching, using the site with the broadest range of hotels: TripAdvisor. Originally, I had 11 hotels on the list. 11! I will spare you the gory details. For the purposes of this piece — to show you the pretty large price differential between booking sites — let’s say my three top choices for a two night stay from May 4th through May 6th are…

  • Eden Roc at Cap Cana
  • Tortuga Bay Hotel Punta Cana
  • Zoetry Agua Punta Cana

In looking at these three properties on different booking sites, I was pretty surprised by what I found.

Firstly, taxes and fees are tricky. You REALLY have to read the fine print to see what’s included. It’s not consistent within a site or across properties. Jetsetter was even more strange because they never clearly write out what the tax rate is and what the service charge is. They just give you a “taxes and fees” line item to look it and I just deduced the overall percentage from there.

So I found myself making two tables. The first included the list price per night along with whether taxes or fees were included. Then I created a new second table. This table included the full price (with taxes and fees) along with any other details I could glean from the site about what was included in the rate.

Also hard…making sure you are comparing the same room type. For example, if you look at the column for the Tortuga Bay hotel, Jetsetter only offered the high-priced ocean-front room, not the cheaper ocean-view room. Sometimes, like with Zoetry Agua, the price gap between booking sites was so huge, I had to assume I was missing something regarding the room type I was comparing.

Not included in my analysis…whether or not the rate was a non-refundable rate, which generally gets you a discount. I am going to the DR come hell or high water, so I didn’t care too much about whether a rate was non-refundable or not. I  just looked for the cheapest rate overall. That’s what’s included in my table above.

Extra amenities were hard to discern on each site. For example, I really had to look hard to determine whether or not breakfast and airport transfers were included . To make this sort of comparison — along with the comparison of the “all in” price I mention above —  here is the second table I created.

 Eden RocTortuga BayZoetry Agua
Expedia.com$1126.40
Breakfast included.
$992 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
$357.12 (garden view king)
All inclusive.
Tablethotels.com$1126.40
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfer included.
Golf-cart included.
$793.60 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfer included.
Golf-cart included.
$548.70 (garden view king)
All inclusive.
Jetsetter.com$1095.60
Breakfast included.
Round-trip transfers included.
$1125.91 (oceanfront)
Breakfast included.
Not listed.
Splendia.com$753.92
Breakfast included.
$793.60 (oceanview)
Breakfast included.
$635 (garden view king)
All inclusive.

Expedia made very little mention of any extras — if they did include round-trip transfers, for example, I couldn’t find mention of them in the fine print. And why did some hotels seem to include golf carts in their rates on some sites but not others? I was confused.

In the end though, what I enjoyed about my analysis is that for each hotel, there was definitely value to my comparison shopping and comparison analysis. If I had booked, for example, Zoetry Agua on Splendia’s site and seen the Expedia rate later, I would have been really ANGRY. Likewise, if I had booked Eden Roc on Expedia and then seen Splendia’s rate, I also would have been angry. A very interesting exercise all around. You’ll have to wait a few months to see if I ended up at any of these properties. But my point is…SHOP AROUND.

Other things that I didn’t do but I should have:

  1. Gone direct to the properties and checked their prices.
  2. Looked at each site’s price guarantee and contacted the site if it made sense. For example, Tablethotels.com says that they will match lower prices on the same room/deal on other sites.
  3. Checked all the prices for each hotel listed on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor has that neat feature where it will show you which sites offer the hotel and what the rate is.

Any other thoughts? What are your favorite booking sites? Travel agents? Tips for getting the best rate?

Important caveat about everything I wrote above: Hotel prices change regularly. I ran my searches the morning of December 21st, US time. If you try to reproduce my results, you may be unsuccessful. Also, although I tried to be really organized in my data collection, it did get a bit confusing at times. If you think I’ve made an error, let me know and I will review. 

Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon, Paris

Posted by Krista on December 21, 2014

This is a bit of a lost post but 2014 is drawing to a close — what a crazy year, my friends — and I have some free time on my hands for the first time since my 30 days of blissful unemployment in June and July. (Oh but to have those 30 days back!) I was in Paris back in August, my first time back in four or five years. My friends Karen and Bob were in town so I hopped on the Eurostar and met them for a lovely weekend of wandering and wine. They had rented a flat in Paris and the original plan was for me to stay with them at the flat. But the flat had a cat. And cats and Krista don’t get along. So Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon it was.

And I had made a nice choice in my hotel selection. My room had pretty views over the Pantheon and was a leisurely stroll from a few different metro stations. (Truth be told though, after a long day of walking on Day 1, I kinda wished the stroll back to the hotel from the metro wasn’t so leisurely.) The room was spotlessly clean and also gorgeously, decadently decorated. Each floor in Hotel Les Dames du Pantheon is decorated after a famous French woman. My room was a Juliette Greco room. Greco, a singer, was also a member of the Resistance. A bohemian freedom fighter. Love it.

When I arrived at the hotel, it was fairly late at night. So I was tired and disorganized when I made this video. It might make you dizzy. But it should give you a feel for the place just the same, and if you don’t mind a leisurely stroll or three, you’ll like it here very much.

The Verdict: Recommended. But bring your walking shoes.