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This weekend I finally escaped London to stay at The Mash Inn, a recently opened modern age inn created by clever restaurateur Nick Mash. He grew up in this area and has proven his worth in the big smoke but in coming back home has created something that really is showing others how it should be done. As a child, I always dreamed of having my own small exclusive place which was truly individual and felt like a unique home from home experience and in all my travels this place has ticked the same boxes that were in my imagination.

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Mr Mash totally renovated what was the Three Horseshoes gutting it all and re-designing it to get it just right. It has the most wonderful tone with cosy nooks in the bar, original old ceilings and contemporary Scandinavian inspired decor.

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He has collaborated with so many hand picked innovative people: Another Country, London Terrariums, L:A Brucket, Rare Tea Company, Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses and soon to expand with bespoke cabins from that clever team at Out of the Valley. In addition he has designed pieces like chairs himself and worked with local craftsmen to bring his designs to life.

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Add in a dose of reclaimed, upcycled treasure and you have everything you could possible need. Clearly this man has exquisite taste, has done his research and knows his mind. It all adds up to a great customer experience.

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What takes this place into an even better realm for me is the way he has connected that concept with the local land and the food. Looking out of my snowy window you can see the beginnings of the veg patch which will be abundant with goodies as Spring comes. For now, there are pickles and preserves from last season to play with and certainly a desire by the whole team to embrace all that nature is delivering here. Head Chef Jon Parry trained with Tom Aikens and has gone on to great places since then but you can just sense his excitement at getting his hands on this kitchen and a place that supports him to create something really unique and special.

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The kitchen is at the end of the dining room, just as it would be at home and you are positively encouraged to go and chat and enjoy the space. Clearly Mr Mash has brought inspiration from the likes of Ekstedt and Extebarri (see my entry about that here) insisting on open fires and a unique ‘hob’ again designed by him. The logs and flames add to the feeling of the kitchen at the heart and soul of the whole operation.

Chef Jon has boundless energy and bounces from one idea to the next with the quality of produce he has at his fingertips. He is trying everything from viennoiserie to cheese making, preserving to foraging. And his tasting menu, which is very reasonably priced, is a journey through his experiments. Deep fried beef tendon is like a beef version of pork scratching and pops as he brings it to the table. Seasonal purple sprouting broccoli is charred on the griddle and then laced with home made curd cheese. The meal ends with his version of a chocolate bar. Some items are more of a hit than others and I think I would actually opt for a la carte next time, or ideally Sunday lunch, but you can’t knock the enthusiasm.

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My favourite was actually breakfast in bed, brought up to your room by the lovely girls who clearly run everything with charm and professionalism. Each with our own white tray of chosen elements, there is loads to indulge in before getting out and discovering the local area. This morning the car had an inch of snow and driving out of the car park was like driving away from a perfect cocoon. Dragging ourselves away down the M40 and getting closer to the big smoke, you could see the snow melt away and that magical halo disappear with it. By the time we came onto the North Circular, there was no sign of the snow, just the crazy thoughtless London drivers. But they couldn’t take away the atmosphere inside and that was one which I will certainly treasure for a long time.

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I finally got to Mercato Metropolitano today.

This relatively new Italian marketplace opened last September by Italian businessman Andrea Rasca who has two matching spaces in Italy. He espouses the same principles as one of the other concepts he is involved in: Eataly, supporting small producers, showcasing the best of Italy and creating a good eating experience within an old industrial space in an interesting part of the city.

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Given all the talk about Eataly opening in London, or not, it seems he just got up and opened this in the meantime. It is hip and trendy making the most of an old paper factory just around the corner from Elephant and Castle which is a developing area in its own right. It sort of reminds me of so many of these concepts in New York with all that grunge factor, graffiti styling, brash colours and the obligatory coffee vehicle.

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This is a high open industrial space, with uncomfortable bright yellow seating, lots of street food-esque stalls in pop up wood chip surroundings and an outdoor garden area. Signage is classic black and white. Staff are all young. There is a retro cinema and if you read more on their website lots of community things going on. In time it will settle into itself and I am sure in the Summer it is packed. It was certainly full of lots of young Italians today.

Perhaps I am just getting too old for this trendy happening vibe, or I have seen too many things repeated again and again, but the food stalls were a little bit dull for me…the industrial vibe a bit contrived… and the seats a little bit too thin and hard. I think Eataly has so much more elegance and style which for me is a better mouthpiece for all things Italian. After all style is one of their strengths.

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The best part of the whole thing was the Sicilian market which is a fab shop for all things authentically Italian. The brands there are truly Italian and not seen in any other places around. The shopping experience embraces the whole family with fun baskets and comfy seating areas interspersed between the produce. Everything is fresh and colourful, simply prepared and packed and served by Italians who know their stuff.

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The counter is packed full of wonderful meats and an impressive array of specialist cheeses. The pastas, beans and rice all better than anything you get anywhere else. The antipasti simple and tasty. And it doesn’t seem to be too pricey either. If you want to buy Italian then it is definitely worth the trip. Just take it home to savour in the comfort and warmth of your own home.

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I am not a great believer in new year resolutions. Just because we get past the 1st of Jan doesn’t connect with me thinking I have to make radical changes. I was once told that if you say DON’T do something then you are programmed to ignore the “don’t”. It is probably some management rubbish but I prefer to stay positive and think about doing rather than not doing.

But the first week of January is a great time to take stock of what is working in my life and doing more of that. For me turning fifty seemed a bigger milestone than new year and I persevere with my 50 things at 50 resolve. My friend pointed out that if I do one thing a week then I will get there but somehow that seems too regimented for me so I am going with spontaneity at the moment and not panicking just yet that I might not get to fifty. I don’t think doing more cooking is actually on the list as it is old news but I started this year wanting to continue making good foods for my body.

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I was telling my nephew and niece all about Donna Hay today as I am finding her posts and books a great day to day approach at the moment. She seems to bring sanity into the healthy arena and has such a breezy sunny way which must be partly down to her Aussie roots. My Christmas angel added her latest book to the parcels and it is already getting my cookery going. Her approach is clean, simple, tasty food with a short ingredients list and everything is pretty quick to make. It is perfect for me.

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Whilst I try to keep a healthy and balanced diet there is no doubt that I do have a sweet tooth and this is a challenge. At the end of a meal I desire a little sweet something and it seems that good ol’ Donna’s bliss balls are the perfect thing. I have tried her recipe before but didn’t like the combo of coconut oil with cacao so today I just adapted my own recipe inspired by hers. I substituted almond butter for the coconut oil and just chucked that, some soaked skin on almonds, cacao and the 4 remaining dates going soggy on my fruit bowl into a magi mix and hey presto….a professional looking treat ready in my fridge for those cravings. It’s amazing how so few ingredients can go such a long way. No wonder Donna calls them bliss. I take one to work for that 3pm lull which is especially dangerous since I sit above a kitchen full of pastry chefs making indulgent treats every day. So this way I can control my intake without feeling deprived.

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Pleased with my efforts I went off to meet a friend for her 50th birthday. She wanted tea and cake and all the usual hotel high tea events were not going to be right. So I took the opportunity to add to my 50 things at 50 and try the recently opened Dominique Ansel in London. From the getgo he was getting huge queues and has been quite the publicity monkey since being here in London but I thought the first week of Jan may be less crazy than usual.

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And yes, I get the irony! after my resolve to continue healthy eating, but in my defence I did walk there so felt I deserved a treat at the end of that. I went to his place in New York some years ago and the queues just keep on coming so when he opened in London it was just a matter of biding my time to find the right opportunity to go there. Today is a post Christmas/New Year blow out bank holiday Monday and I was right in thinking we didn’t need to queue. Still, there were none of his famous signature cronuts available at 2.30pm which was a shame. I had one at a wedding in New York a year or so ago so have had that experience but my friend hadn’t and had to opt for the DKA. Personally I think that a much nicer pastry.

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As part of his launch here, he posted on instagram some incredible creations that nodded to London and the UK, exclusives for his site here. So I went for the Paris-London: a twist on the Paris-Brest with earl grey mousse and lemon curd and can only report to be underwhelmed. In fact, I left most of it which tells you a lot. I noticed that most others were going with his made-to-order items like the cookie shot and the frozen s’mores and all taking pictures for their instagram pages.

We walked away with the feeling of the Emperor’s New Clothes. What is a down and dirty start up shop in New York which has a pace, a passion and of course actual Cronuts has been polished to within an inch of its life here in London. The designers have taken over and in the grandeur lost the experience for the customer. Fundamentally the operation does not flow. To say the service was slow is being kind. Not only was the one girl on a till impossibly slow, but we had to re-queue for another cup of tea and this took 20 minutes to order before we even stood a chance of getting it. Everything goes through one queue with one poor member of staff. My experience in New York’s tiny Soho shop just out shone this new upmarket jazzy London version. Such a shame that this talented chef has been a victim of his own success. I think I will stick to the bliss balls!

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How do you celebrate a significant birthday? Having just turned fifty, this was something I had to consider recently.

And with friends and family spread out across the world, I was not able to get them all together in one place at one time and honestly I didn’t think that was a good idea anyway. You just read about my big treat at Henne Kirkeby Kro which will be an experience that stays with me forever and reminds me of this time of my life but I also wanted to find a way to celebrate the actual day with those that I love.

I came up with two solutions to my dilemma.

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Firstly a beautiful weekend in The Cotswolds surrounded by a select group of close friends: my oldest, my newest and many in between coming together just to be and enjoy our time together. What could be better? We stayed in the Burford Brewery, ate at The Kingham Plough, walked the Autumnal Cotswold countryside, put the world to right, shared stories, played games and cooked wonderful meals together. My fabulous birthday cake was thanks to Rachel who is a dab hand at baking. All in all it was just a great weekend together.

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Secondly a promise to myself to celebrate 50 things at 50. I just want this year to be one that pushes me to say yes more, engage with different things and to take a leap into the second half of my life. There is also the added benefit of having 52 weeks to celebrate as opposed to one day.

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Thanks to Mr M&M, I quickly notched up something new: attending The School of Life talk from Innocent founder Richard Reed. He has written a book called “If I Could Tell You Just One Thing” pulling together pearls of advice from an array of significant people who have made it in the worlds of business, technology, politics, the arts and much more. The evening sat Martha Lane Fox, Katie Piper, Jo Malone and Heston Blumenthal with Mr Reed in front of us sharing their experiences and their wisdom. “Be generous” was the pearl that most captured my attention. What a lovely way to move forward with my own life by finding generosity in whatever I do.

To those who I was unable to see in The Cotswolds, I am looking forward to sharing significant time with you in the coming year and to doing things for my list #50thingsat50. And for those who may have some interesting things to recommend, let me know.

Finally: to those who were with me this year, thank you for making it so special…I have a thought about what we can do in a year’s time so book the weekend now. It will mark number 50 on my list. Looking forward to it already.