A festival of food during a gastronomical-inspired London staycation in Marylebone Village
Food, glorious food! That was the name of the game for our springtime gastronomical-inspired weekend trip to the big smoke.
London's restaurant scene is arguably the finest known to man, a rich tapestry of cuisines celebrating flavours enjoyed across the globe, with places like Marylebone Village playing a huge part in helping to secure our capital city's status as one of the world's top food destinations.
And with Marylebone's annual Food Festival looming, it only seemed right that self-confessed 'foodies' like my wife and I should sample some of the area's finest culinary offerings.
Cost of living: Price of home heating oil falls for seventh consecutive week, petrol and diesel also continue to drop in cost
Inspirational NI couple in farm business focused on healthy food
NI beef a tasty blend with flavours of Southern Africa
Musgrave NI has invested £3.2m to revamp four NI SuperValu stores
Green light for £150m metal packaging facility
Feeling hungry, we began our 'food safari' with a sumptuous lunch at Caldesi, Marylebone's very own 'Little Corner of Italy' which also has its own cookery school.
Founded by celebrity chef and restaurateur Giancarlo Caldesi, they pride themselves on using the finest Italian produce while also boasting an extensive range of wines, handcrafted cocktails and 'birra'.
Hopping straight off the train for our noon booking, it didn't seem too early to go for the full Caldesi experience as we started as we meant to go on, enjoying wine pairings with three of their finest dishes.
An amuse bouche of quinoa on Melba toast prepared the palate for our first course, a signature pasta dish of Ravioli stuffed with seabass in lemon butter. Fresh, zesty and downright delicious, it went perfectly with the accompanying Fiani di Avelino white.
Next up were two sharing plates of Linguine, with burrata and prawns, which were accompanied by a glass of Bardolino Chiaretto red, although the star of the show for me was Giancarlo's Tuscan Lasagne, which was so mouthwatering and rich in flavour it could only be complemented by a more full-bodied red - the Chianti Colli Senesi.
After rounding off lunch with Giancarlo's famous tiramisu, there wasn't room for much else food-wise, but an opportunity to visit to one of the best chocolate shops in London - Rococo - could not be missed.
With a rich British heritage and over 35 years of chocolate expertise, Rococo pride themselves on bringing 'first-time' tastes and experiences to customers, and despite full stomachs, it would have been wrong not to sample a few sweet treats.
The shop has a beautiful interior, engulfed by beautiful displays of their huge range of 'choccy' bars, bags and boxes, leaving customers 'literally' feeling like a kid in a sweet shop.
THE COACHMAKERS ARMS
Despite all the exciting new businesses popping up, a long-standing feature of Marylebone is its mix of traditional British pubs, like The Marylebone on the High Street where we enjoyed a lunchtime cocktail, but for dinner our chosen port of call was the popular Coach Makers Arms on Marylebone Lane.
Built 140 years ago on the banks of the now-buried River Tyburn, the historic Coach Makers occupies three levels split into a bustling pub on the ground floor, an atmospheric restaurant upstairs and its hidden gem, a relaxing 'basement' cocktail bar for a more sedate experience.
In keeping with tradition, the cuisine is British gastropub and after a feast of hearty delights including cheddar souffle, half-shell scallops, fish pie and a 300g fillet steak, we headed downstairs and slumped into comfortable chairs as the barman prepared us a couple of specially-tailored cocktails.
During the festival The Coach Makers will be offering a set menu of three courses from £50 per person while also teaming up with East London Liquor on its drinks offerings.
If you're a cheese lover, you can't visit Marylebone Village without a trip to La Fromagerie, which has a dedicated walk-in cheese room where an affineur (cheese specialist) is on hand to help customers.
There isn't a cheese they don't have and with cool bag in hand, we stocked up on a small selection to take home. It's worth having a wander around the shop which also sells artisan breads, charcuterie, fine wines and a variety of dry store ingredients.
Rounding off the food tour was lunch at 28-50, a stylish wine workshop and kitchen designed to bring the traditional wine bar experience to new levels.
Festival-goers will be able to sample an exclusive tasting menu with wine pairings so it only seemed right that we followed suit, leaving our drinks choices in the hands of the restaurant's friendly sommelier who took our taste buds on a European journey from Portugal to Italy.
Starting with oysters and an Alberino white, each wine accompanied immaculately presented dishes from the 'bar bites' menu, including selections of cheese, olives and charcuterie, before things were rounded off with a sweet Vin Santo dessert wine and delicious apple strudel.
THE MANDEVILLE HOTEL
Accommodation for our stay was the four-star Mandeville Hotel on Mandeville Place, which is perfectly located just a stone's throw away from all the food festival offerings.
The hotel is luxury boutique and has a quirky, yet elegant and relaxed feel, with rooms and suites celebrating chic design and old world comfort designed to provide a home away from home. Meals can be offered at the hotel throughout the day in the Reform Social & Grill which also has its own 'Mandeville Patio' for al fresco diners.
Staff are super friendly, always saving a pleasant 'hello' for guests who not only have Marylebone on their doorstep, but also the shopping meccas of Oxford Street and Bond Street. Rooms start at £121 a night.
If you fancy a spot of retail therapy in between food stops, Marylebone also boasts an impressive collection of shops and independent businesses.
Pop into Daunt Books which is one of London's most beautiful book shops, Isabel Manns and WYSE London for women's fashion items and for men there's quality Italian menswear designer Luca Faloni. There's also a great range of jams, marmalades and condiments for sale at popular local deli Paul Rothe & Sons.
The Marylebone Food Festival takes place from 26th April- 1st May, which will be followed by the Marylebone Summer Festival being held on 18th and 19th June. For more information on Marylebone Village visit www.marylebonevillage.com