Then suddenly it sweeps over me, Florence, Italy

Italy

Hey guys, so it turns out Florence is really fucking beautiful! It’s full of amazing art and lovely bars and surrounded by properly gorgeous rolling countryside that is sort of like quintessentially English countryside but somehow more sun drenched and misty and lovely. I realise this is common knowledge for the thousands of tourists who flock there every year but somehow I missed it. 

As far as commutes into town go, it certainly beats the 55 down Hackney Road

Home for my two day stay was a lovely old house up on a hill about two miles southeast of the city. A real Airbnb gem, this great lil BnB is run by Claire, her son Stefano and their lovely housekeeper Nico. After dropping my bags in my (enormous) room and admiring my lemon yellow 70s bathroom of dreams I set off on the leasurely 45 minute walk into town, down cobbled streets flanked so closely by stone walls I’m amazed a single car fits down them. In my usual way I had done absolutely no research so followed my nose around town, spending a faintly ridiculous amount of money on hand marbled postcards and trying to remember which way I had come from. I paused at the river to get my bearings and generally marvel at quite how photogenic the whole situation was. It was then that I remembered the ever knowledgeable Curious Pear had done a city guide to Florence, and after consulting it decided to head to Gurdulu for dinner to try the ‘sophisticated, seasonal gourmet cooking’. Of course I was unfashionably early and the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so I popped into a tiny wine bar, Langolino, next door to read my book and kill some time. Two hours, various new friends and more than my fair share of Spumante later, I found myself exiting Langolino in the opposite direction, across Piazza Santo Spirito in search of some famously indulgent gnocchi alla tartufi from Osteria Santo Spirito. Sadly they were fully booked, so my new friend Mariano and I instead found ourselves propping up another bar, drinking boulevardiers and eating olives. After a while we had to admit that fun as it was, it really wasn’t dinner so Mariano led me through town to his favourite sandwhich spot –  All’Antico Vinaio. Even at 10.30pm the queue was out the door, but Mariano snuck us to the front and ordered us two ‘sandwiches’. Huge slabs of fresh focaccia with a great smear of truffle paste, fresh soft cheese, lightly sautéed courgette and fresh rocket. Dio mio. Cheesy chips may never suffice again. Refuelled, we wandered back into the night, but only as far as the steps of the Uffizi gallery where one of Mariano’s friends was busking. Another few hours and another few bottles of wine drunk surreptitiously from plastic cups, eventually I made the slightly wobblier walk back to the house, cursing past me for agreeing to an 8am breakfast.

The Ponte Vecchio at sunset. Show off.


The next morning, my headache and I were met with a delicious breakfast of local jams and toast, before getting the bus back into town to do some culture. In a move that, in hindsight, was possibly ambitious considering the scale of my hangover, I decided to tackle the Uffizi. Home to the largest collection of renaissance art in the world, it is worth braving the crowds to see, though I would recommend drinking at last one less bottle of wine than I had to fully enjoy the experience. After two hours of staring at various enormous visualisations of innocents being slaughtered and so so many terrifying ugly baby Jesuses, I gave up and retreated to a cafe for cake and WiFi and sitting. 

When all I could think off whole looking at this picture was ‘pull my finger’, I figured I’d probably had enough art for one day

When my Airbnb host, Stefano, checked in on me that afternoon to see how I was getting on I explained that I had failed to go for dinner the night before and asked if he had any recommendations. It turned out he actually owns Gurdulu and a couple of other spots around town, so he offered to get me a reservation at any of them or, as a wildcard, to come for dinner with him and some friends in a villa on the other side of town. Never one to say to no a free dinner, I agreed and a few hours later Stefano picked me up and drove, at truly terrifying speed, through the winding roads to the west of the city. The evening that followed was a blur. About 20 people, mostly friends since they were kids, all together in this mad huge beautiful villa, chain smoking and feeding me wine and roasted vegetables and bread and shouting at each other in that uniquely Italian way that simultaneously conveys outrage anger and deep rooted love. Obviously I had less than no idea what was being said most of the time but everyone was lovely and engaging and it made me miss my mad friends back home. 

The next morning, I contemplated my time in Florence and thought about how maybe not reading the guidebooks or doing the research is necessarily the worst mistake. Wandering slightly blindly but, crucially, saying yes to the situations we stumble into often produce the most unexpected and positive results. Maybe slightly less wine next time though.

Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

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Play cool as country water, Nashville cats

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Having worked for the gorgeous McKel of Nutrition Stripped (i.e. the best nutrition/lifestyle blog out there) earlier in May while cooking for her cookbook shoot, I was only too excited to check out the vibes in Nashville.  After stopping off en route to see the view in Chattanooga (go on, say it in a Southern accent – amazing huh!?), we rolled into downtown Nashville to kill a couple of hours before meeting McKel for dinner. We immediately headed to ‘juice. Nashville` for some raw, cold-pressed goodness.  I (obviously) opted for one of their low-fruit-high-greens green juices, with Laura going for the special of almond, peach, honey and cinnamon which is definitely the closest raw-vegan, gluten-free thing to peach pie.  We then headed over to Thai Esane to meet McKel, who has lived in Nashville for the past four years, where we caught up over piles of delicious tofu pad thai and raw papaya salad. We spent the night crashing at McKel’s house, which looks and smells so beautiful it literally is like a virtual Pintrest board (see here and here), before heading out early the next day to pick up fellow Anglo-New Yorker, Neil (who pretty much took all our photos from the moment he landed to the moment he left us in New Orleans as he is far more knowledgable and talented than I am). Laura and Neil headed straight to ‘Biscuit Love` in the trendy urban Gulch neighbourhood for Saturday brunch, where Laura feasted on cheesy grits, tomato gravy, fried eggs and buttered kale and Neil traditional biscuits and gravy. I, on the other hand, had the only dairy free item on the menu (black iced coffee) and headed off to Barre3 around the corner for a much needed (and free – thanks McKel) barre workout; NYC has definitely rubbed off on me!

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George’s last photo for a week! Cheesy grits, tomato gravy, fried eggs and buttered kale.

We all reconvened a couple of hours later in a classic downtown country bar, which we soon learned made up huge swathes of the centre of the city, incredibly proud of their musical heritage. The walls were adorned with posters of Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and, obviously, Taylor Swift, and a country rock band played to a totally packed midday crowd of Tennessee-folk, in town for the weekend.  We soon realised that a day spent drinking beer in Nashville’s Broadway bars was THE way to spend your Bachelorette party (sorry, “Hen Do”), especially when it’s you and your 9 closest gal pals on a party bike (which definitely looks less fun in 36ºC heat with American drinking laws). After a beer (I unfortunately couldn’t catch up with Laura and Neil’s brunch mimosas induced head start due to my designated road-trip driver status), we dumped the car and our stuff at our next home for the next two nights (an apartment that a friend of my roommate’s casually has nestled in her basement and let us use with a minute’s notice), and headed out in search of (more) food. We headed over to the hipster neighbourhood of East Nashville (a far cry from honky-tonk Downtown) to The Pharmacy – McKel had recommended it to us for burgers with all the sides that has something for carnivores and vegetarians alike.  Laura and I both opted for the black bean burger; Laura’s obviously came with piles of cheese, as well as the usual burger veggies, whereas I requested jalepeño, avocado and lettuce.  Neil went for something meaty and stuffed with bacon and egg.  He assured us it was delicious.  For sides, we went all-American and split some slaw, regular & sweet potato fries and tater tots (little deep fried cylinders of grated potato, pronounced “tayder taats”).

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The Pharmacy: Burgers!

Beer, burgers and more beer later, we rolled ourselves next door to Holland House Bar & Refuge. We needed a little pick-me-up in the form of happy hour cocktails in a vain attempt to make our heat/beer/food exhausted bodies a little more upbeat in honour of Neil’s first day.  Holland House was so gorgeous, but sadly we left sooner than we hoped, defeated (Laura unable to finish her Fuego Siempre having been force fed my amazing-but-disgusting digestive bitters to aid her poor overworked tummy).  I went for drinks with McKel while the others (over-) napped, then we all ended up at the trendy East Nashville drinking hole Bar 308, where the evening was concluded with (more) cocktails.   A pretty damn good introduction to the BBT way for Neil if you ask me (as well as 3 incredibly sore bank accounts).

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The Post East: Vegetarian Scotch Egg, Kale Salad, Fresh Slaw and Gluten-Free Vegan Biscuit.

The following day we went and grabbed a much needed coffee at Barista Parlor, a vast space jam packed with beautiful 20-somethings dressed all in black and trilbies that made the three of us feel like we had momentarily been transported 900 miles back home to Brooklyn.  Incredibly strong cold-brew down, we drove a few blocks to The Post East to meet McKel for brunch.  Opened for just over a year, this is a cafe that totally resonates with my food ethos; organically sourced ingredients, whole food dishes, community focussed, and accepting of all diets.  Laura and I were sent into dish deciding overload with a menu boasting a whole host of gluten-free and dairy-free options and a fridge crammed with cold-pressed juices.  Over smoothies and juice we feasted on delicious vegetarian scotch eggs, crispy corn cakes with a sweet and crunchy red cabbage salad and salsa, and a gluten-free vegan biscuit with mushroom gravy.  Everything totally delicious and leaving me so happy to FINALLY get to try a true American biscuit.

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The Post East: GF vegan biscuits and gravy; crispy corn cakes with salsa and red cabbage salad.

After a tour and tasting at local Cosair Distillery (think pumpkin spice moonshine and vanilla infused vodka) and a cheeky ice cream/sorbet pit stop at Jeni’s, we head home for a quick turn-around before heading over to Pinewood Social for our last meal in Nashville (oh, why must it end?)  I had met McKel there the previous night and was dying to show the others.  It is honestly one of the most fabulous spaces I’ve hung out in and would die for one near where I end up living.  It is huge: boasting a beautiful bar (with even more beautiful bartenders) centre stage; tables for the restaurant nestled around the perimeter of the room; at the front end a long communal table seats hip young professionals with laptops or a book, huddled over a coffee from the espresso bar (also equipped with pastries).  The back of the space has a glass wall which reveals a 6-lane bowling alley restored from an old Bowl O-Rama, from Indiana (karaoke is also on offer).  And if that isn’t enough then there is an outdoor area where you can lie by the pool and nibble on delicious morsels from the kitchen whilst simultaneously sipping on a cocktail. With a dry rosé for us girls and an old fashioned for Neil slipping down nicely, we set about making our way through the platter of salty oysters (with the most fabulous cucumber/dill mignonette), burrata with peaches (fresh herbs, hot sauce, almonds), fried broccolini with almond-garlic dipping sauce, spring salad with pickled jalepeños, radish, grilled carrots and goats cheese, fried catfish with shrimp fritters and tartare sauce and (breathe) meatloaf with jalepeño mac, wilted kale and tomato sorghum glaze (which I sadly had to give a miss).  All in all, a fucking fabulous last meal.  Holy cow I’m full.


Written by George.

See what I’m eating or what juice I’m drinking HERE

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Oh, Atlanta I hear you calling

Atlanta

By the time we arrived in Atlanta, I had fully crafted a life plan that started with cancelling my flight back to England, moving to Savannah, starting a quaint neighbourhood bistro and never looking back. Suffice to say I hadn’t really thought about what Atlanta would be like at all. Turns out, Atlanta is kind of lovely too.

We were staying with our friend Mary, her lovely parents, and their two miniature schnauzers; Peggy Sue and Bob Dylan. Our first night was a blur of real home comfort. Homemade gluten free sourdough bruschetta inspired by Mary’s recent trip to Italy, deceptively strong thyme infused cocktails and home smoked salmon. It really was a promising start. 

Our first day in Atlanta began with a walk up Stone Mountain. Of course when I say this, I mean George walked while I stumbled and sweated behind her. The view from the top threw me at first in its sheer greenness (is that a word? I’m going with it). If Mary hadn’t insisted that yes, Atlanta was right below us, I wouldn’t have guessed it. Other than the few downtown high-rises in the distance the whole city seemed to be made up of leafy cul-de-sacs and cute suburbs. Having made it off the mountain considerably faster than we climbed it, we decided to reward ourselves with brunch. Side note: Literally any activity completed pre 10am deserves to be rewarded with brunch.

With Mary as our leader, we headed over to DeKalb Avenue and to Radial Cafe. Radial was, in their own words, ‘farm-to-table before farm-to-table was cool’ and their experience shows. They have a huge selection catering to vegans/carnivores and coeliacs/gluten lovers alike. Suitably full of cheese grits, gluten free pancakes and supercharged veggie burgers we passed the afternoon exploring the vintage shops of Peachtree Street and watching more Shark Week than was strictly necessary.

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Sweet potato hash, sunny side egg and ‘more cheese than grits’ grits

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the sharks to check out happy hour at Kimball House and christ am I glad we did. Although it only opened in 2013, Kimball House feels like it has been there forever; helped in no small part by its home in a beautifully restored old railway station. The guys who work there have a positively encyclopaedic knowledge of everything booze which was invaluable to a terminally indecisive yet particular person like myself. I finally settled on a Sunset Boulevard – basically the best boulevardier I have ever had with the addition of rhubarb vermouth, raspberry brandy and citrus bitters. One of the major draws of Kimball House is its raw bar, so I was planning on sitting back and working my way through the cocktail menu while George and Mary ate oysters. After a quick glance over the dinner menu I decided to try their leek hushpuppies while the others sucked on molluscs. Just in the name of research of course. Oh the hushpuppies. Essentially buttery leeky deep fried cornbread, draped with lardo, strips of tart ramps and whipped maple butter. I just had to stop typing for a moment and be sad that I’m not eating it right now. Spurred on by the hushpuppies and (apparently) wonderful oysters, we abandoned plans of leaving, made ourselves comfortable, ordered another round of cocktails and more food.

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Those leek hushpuppies, the Sunset Boulevard and a healthy assortment of oysters

Being in Georgia, of course we had to order the peach salad. Perfectly ripe peaches, arugula (sorry, rocket) pesto, mushroom conserve, pecan oil and lime combined to elevate this simple looking plate of food to extreme levels of deliciousness. The star however was undoubtedly the smoked bass. Nestled on a bed of heirloom tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, charred greens, bamboo, chanterelles and swimming in a pool of smokey corn fumet. It is a testament to the manners of the waiters that they didn’t judge me for licking the plate, because lick the plate I did.

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Smoked striped bass, heirloom tomato, sweet corn, charred greens, bamboo, chanterelles, corn fumet. May I have some more?

Next on the list was Leon’s Full Service. Things start to get a little blurry round the edges at this point but I know we drank delicious Gruner Veltliner and ate devilled eggs (what, thats not what you order when  you’re drunk?) and an actual bucket of fries with smoked tomato aoli. Leon’s is actually owned by the same people at Kimball House and it showed in their immaculate service and attention to detail in the food. Two bottles of wine later it was only a short stagger found the corner to the Brick Store Pub, completing our hatrick of joints owned by the same guys. Upstairs in the Belgian bar Mary and I drank cider while George had a little snooze. It had been a long day after all.

Not wanting to sober up and realise how hungover we were, the next day we went to check out the Old Fourth distillery. The first distillery in Atlanta since before prohibition, the guys at Old Fourth are clearly very passionate about that they do. They run free tours on Thursday afternoons which we gladly jumped on, where you can sample their small batch vodka, whiskey and even their first trial batches of gin. The vodka especially was utterly delicious – so much so that I currently have a bottle of it in the glove compartment of the car to swig when George isn’t entertaining me enough. We actually learned that Kimball House uses their spirits so we knew we were in good hands. The building itself is beautifully designed and clearly a real labour of love, from the copper stills to the salvaged school furniture in the tasting room to the huge collection of pre prohibition stoneware whiskey jugs from previous Atlanta distilleries. Talking to Justin, one of the owners, after the tour it was obvious that they have big plans for the business and really see it as part of the evolving community. I just wish it was round the corner from my house; though my liver is probably glad it isn’t.

It was with real sadness that we left Mary and Atlanta the next morning. Georgia had been an unexpected delight, but Nashville was calling.


Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.