Category Archive for Food + Theme Restaurants
I’m very excited to share my latest travel video with you — about the vibrant culture of Brussels, Belgium!
In my view, Brussels is one of the best places in Europe to be a young creative. The city’s relatively low rents and large number of galleries have shaped a vibrant community for artists.
My team and I captured Belgian food, fashion, and festivals in this new travel show episode, published on Business Insider. Please take a few moments to watch it here and above. Did my “chocolate dress dance’ make you smile?
(Produced by Borderless Media, and all these photos are by them too).
Let’s take a deeper look at the travel attractions we featured in our episode, including two top restaurants, and museums dedicated to Rene Magritte (Surrealist master) and comic books.
(Above, I’m relaxing at Charles Home apartments. Loved staying in this hip abode, right in the historic district.)
Perhaps Belgium is most famous for its “chocolat.” To my delight, I got to learn how to make these delicacies by hand.
My film team and I went to visit one of the best chocolatiers in the city – Laurent Gerbaud — for a sweet cooking lesson. (Address: 2 D rue Ravenstein, Brussels 1000, Belgium)
I was thrilled to be the apprentice of this local master. He surprised me by asking: “Would you like to put on a chocolate dress?” Oui, naturellement!
Laurent had made this design for the Salon de Chocolat, which had a runway show with models in edible haute couture. This corset and bell skirt are made of brown fabric — and entirely covered in chocolate creations.
In our Brussels travel video, you can see me sashaying down the streets, and letting passersby eat chocolates from my skirt. Each of these edible disks is attached with string.
Back inside, it was time to learn how to make Belgian chocolates. Laurent a true artisan who creates everything by hand. He taught me the process from start to finish (with many tastings along the way).
First, I ran a chocolate mold under a stream of liquid chocolate. Then, I had to quickly press toppings into my squares before they set. As you can see, I had many high quality ingredients to choose from: pistachios, berries, ginger and more.
Laurent Gerbaud’s chocolates are melt in your mouth magnificent. This is as fresh and gourmet as it gets — and we got to take home several bags of our own creations.
His chocolaterie is open to anyone who would like a chocolate making and tasting experience. I hope you seek him out.
Now that our chocolate cravings were satisfied, it was time to step into the Rene Magritte Museum. I knew I was in for a surreal experience: this is the world’s largest collection of the Belgian artist’s works.
The Magritte Museum is dedicated to the work of the Belgian surrealist artist, René Magritte. (Address: Rue de la Régence 3, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium). It’s located next to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, as well as other sights in the City Center, so you can easily spend a day wandering around this area.
Hats off to René Magritte, whose surrealist visions were ahead of his time. I’m sure you have seen his famous works featuring pipes, clouds, bowler hats, apples and other “regular” objects — but in dreamy and bizarre contexts.
In addition to his Surrealist masterworks, there are rare collections of his early Impressionist paintings, photography, and experimental films. The museum displays about 200 original Magritte works from the early to mid 20th century.
I admire his thought-provoking surrealism. This seeming simple painting (of two coffins, bent and seated as if they were having a conversation) is imbued with wit and meaning.
I also enjoyed seeing Magritte’s lesser-known works in different styles, such as this pig in a suit.
“Ceci n’est pas une pipe” is one of his most recognised images. If you’re intrigued by this artist and Surrealism, I encourage you to check out this book about Rene Magritte.
Design is everywhere in Brussels. We loved the old world architecture of the city center.
(My leggings are Black Milk.)
And how cool is the modern interior decor of Charles Home apartments, where we stayed during our Brussels trip.
The location couldn’t be beat — the apartment was right by Central Station. Our Montagne two-bedroom had a huge kitchen and dining area, where we could make coffee and share late-night feasts of waffles and French fries.
Everything was provided in the apartment, including free Wifi, high end TV and speakers, and all amenities. Each room was done in tasteful, contemporary design: wood floors, a cozy fireplace, geometric lights.
Audrey Hepburn smiled at us near the entrance, and Bridget Bardot lounged over my bed.
I encourage you to stay at an apartment rental instead of a hotel, for a more local and spacious experience. If you’re coming to Brussels, check out the fabulous Charles Home apartments.
As you can tell, there’s so much art to see in Brussels. I posed with the Smurfs at the Belgian Comics Art Museum, which is housed in an Art Nouveau building. The exhibits celebrate both international and local comic book characters, such as Tintin..
Maori culture tour of New Zealand with Contiki! Rotorua hot springs, haka dance, Atticus Finch restaurant.
Kia ora! When I embarked on my Contiki tour of New Zealand, I was especially excited to see the native Maori culture. Their Sun and Steam journey covers the entire North Island, with an emphasis on cultural experiences.
On this stop of the tour, I’ll take you around the town of Rotorua, a historical home for the indigenous people of Aotearoa.
I even got to see a Haka war dance, where the Maori men stomped their feet and made intimidating faces, with tongues thrust out!
From the glowworm caves of Waitomo, the Contiki bus took less than two hours to reach Rotorua. This charming little city is located on the shores of Lake Rotorua, home to black swans (yes, these creatures really exist).
The Maori settled here centuries ago, due to the unique geothermal landscape. Rotorua’s hot, bubbling springs provided natural heat. The thermal mud pools were also an easy way to cook food (in the hangi style) — and today, they lend themselves to natural spa treatments.
The lake itself is not sulphuric. Rotorua has charming parks and gardens, and it’s a pleasure to stroll around the pier.
I couldn’t take my eyes off these black swans with red beaks. They were hunted to extinction in New Zealand, but later reintroduced from Australia.
My Contiki bus drove to the Te Puia cultural centre, in the Whakarewarewa valley, for a group activity. This is the home of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, and a famous erupting geyser.
Contiki tours have a number of included activities, which let you bond with others on the bus. (They also offer plentiful “me-time” on the itinerary, so you can explore whatever you want, at your own pace.)
We split into teams for an “Amazing Race” around Te Puia. We had to complete funny tasks and piece together clues, before time ran out.
The Amazing Race took us to a hut, where local artisans showed us how to do Maori weaving and wood carving. At the Kiwi house, we saw the cute little flightless birds who are the national symbol of New Zealanders.
At the center of the park is Pohutu Geyser, which means “Big Splash.” This is the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley for a reason: the geyser spurts up to twenty times per day, and can reach 30 meters in height.
The bubbling mud flats created an otherworldly landscape.
Some of the friends on my Contiki tour took part in Ogo, which you might know as “Zorb.” Essentially, you climb into a giant plastic ball with water in it, and roll down the hill! Zorbing isn’t for me, but I enjoyed watching others take part in this amusing activity.
Back at Sudima Hotel, the group congregated for a special dinner: a hangi feast. All of the food was cooked underground, using the natural geothermal steam. My favorite items from the buffet were the kumara (a type of sweet potato only found here), fish, and a gooey bread pudding type of dessert.
Then, a group of Māori dancers took the stage to perform the Haka, or ancestral war cry. They stamped their feet, bulged out their eyes, and extended their tongues while making big, frightening expressions. The haka serves to intimidate opponents, but also to make the performer feel powerful, and commemorate special occasions. The dancers later invited the men in the audience to try out the movements for themselves!
Some of the performances were women-only. In this “poi dance,” the ladies swung around a ball on a string, creating patterns and rhythms in the air. I tried to do this on stage, and ended up hitting myself in the face…
Everyone took part in the Ti Rakau or Tititorea, also known as the Māori Stick Game. This involves the rhythmic throwing and catching of sticks, from one person to another.
I had another delightful meal at Zippy Cafe in Rotorua. Still dreaming of their New Zealand flat white (microfoam steamed milk over espresso) and Moroccan salad.
Zippy is a cute mascot from a local kid’s show. At the back of the cafe, he stands in a Super Mario themed mural.
New Zealand wines are much-coveted these days. I suggest trying local varietals while you’re here, since many are not expoted out. I quite liked The Ned Pinot Gris, which has a rose-like tint.
Rotorua has an “Eat Street” district, filled with international restaurants. This area uses a geothermal heating underlay to keep the outdoor patios warm all year round.
On the way over, we passed a food trucks fair. Rotorua truly is a foodie city.
One of the highest-rated restaurants in town is Atticus Finch. (Address: 1106 Tutanekai St, Eat Streat, Rotorua)
Local sisters Cherry and Kay strove to make Atticus Finch a lively dining experience for groups of friends, with an open kitchen and huge heated patio. The bird cage, filled with candles, hints at the literary inspiration.
Atticus Finch’s cocktails are standouts, made from fresh fruits and herbs. The dinner menu is designed for sharing; everything is made from scratch, with carefully selected ingredients.
Quite a few items are vegetarian and gluten free. I loved the handmade gnocchi, seasoned with date puree, spinach and almonds.
One of the walls displays a quote by Atticus Finch, from the book. He’s known for his words of wisdom and tolerance, such as: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
All of the dishes were clean, yet tasty — often with an Asian fusion influence. I recommend the unique haloumi cheese salad with broccoli, rocket, sunflower seeds and cranberries. You can’t leave without ordering the Chargrilled Kumara (local sweet potato), seasoned with smoked cashew orange chili.
As for dessert, the photos speak for themselves. Lemon and almond cake, with red wine poached pears, mint and citrus accents. The perfect way to end my time in Rotorua.
And this photo sums up the fun I had on my Contiki tour of New Zealand! It was fantastic to meet 18-35 year olds from all walks of life, and living in different countries.
We gathered for a Contiki tour group photo, at this viewpoint near Auckland.
(Photos by Salima Remtulla and La Carmina)
I confess that at first, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy a group bus tour. Contiki, however, is not your typical travel company.
The tours are tailored to millennials, and give plenty of free time. I wouldn’t have been able to see so much of New Zealand’s North Island in a week, if it weren’t for them.
If you’re planning on traveling somewhere, especially alone, I encourage you to check out Contiki. They have tours for all types of interests and budgets, in destinations worldwide.
PS: if you’d like more New Zealand travel tips, check out all my NZ posts here.
PPS: I’m currently in six countries all around Europe — check my social media @lacarmina (linked on the right sidebar) to see the latest updates!
Los Angeles Vampire Ball at Bar Sinister! Custom Fangs by Father Sebastiaan, Vampire Wine tasting lounge.
Vampires, everywhere! On my last trip to Los Angeles, I partook in a number of blood-thirsty activities that paid tribute to Nosferatu.
In Part 1, you saw me rolling around with Trevor on Bela Lugosi’s gravestone. Now, I’ll take you to a Vampire wine bar and Bar Sinister’s Endless Night ball. I’ll also show you how I got custom-made vampire fangs, which look like the real deal!
I was excited to meet Father Sebastiaan, master Fangsmith, during his stop in LA. He’s world-renown for his ability to craft vampire fangs, which fit right over your canines and look indistinguishable from the rest of your teeth.
I felt like the journalist from Interview with a Vampire, meeting Lestat. After all, Father Sebastiaan is the founding father of the Sanguinarium, the largest vampire community in the world.
He travels the world, crafting fangs for fellow creatures of the night. While in Los Angeles, he set up shop in this spooky Beverly Hills abode.
The space felt like a coven gathering. I admired this vampire couture, made by hand with decadent materials.
Kent Kaliber introduced me to Father Sebastiaan, who created my very first set of fangs! The process took about 40 minutes, with theatrical rituals in between.
The professional fang master comes from a long line of dentists. He measured and fit the pointy Lilith prosthetics over my canines, then shaped them to fit perfectly over my teeth. No need for glue or any adhesives. Once they’re in, these fangs stay snug, and feel like they’re part of you.
Father Sebastiaan walked me through several initiation rites, including flipping through this book and choosing a vampiric name. He gave me a special ankh necklace to wear, and a case to store my new fangs. (You can wear them for most of the day, and only need to remove them when you eat and sleep.)
Now, I was ready to party at the Endless Night vampire salon, at Bar Sinister. This legendary club remains one of the best Gothic venues in LA, and has parties every weekend. (Address: 1652 N Cherokee Ave, Hollywood, CA)
I co-hosted the event with Kent Kaliber; we went on stage to introduce the performers. There was a dark roster of entertainers that night…
… including belly dancers, go-go girls and DJs. Father Sebastiaan also set up a booth for fang-making.
Bar Sinister has multiple rooms to explore. Vendors set up booths for bondage wear, headdresses and other alt fashion.
As dawn crept closer, the dance floor got wild. These two took “the monster mash” to a whole new level!
Fear the creeping dead! Everyone dressed up for the Endless Night vampire theme, but this latex mask took the cake.
(Not pictured: the S&M fetish stations upstairs, where you could whip or be whipped, on a cross and other equipment.)
A devilish thank you to host Kent, and owner Kelly, for welcoming me back to Bar Sinister. They throw a fabulous Gothic club every weekend, with birthday specials, so check out Bar Sinister’s Faceebook for upcoming events.
After all that decadence, Trevor and I needed to replenish our veins with blood. Believe it or not, there’s an LA bar that serves this exact purpose: the Vampire Lounge & Tasting Room. (Address: 9865 S Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 9021)
The moment you walk in, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into Dracula’s lair. There is an upper floor, giant mirrors and chandeliers — a setting made for the King and Queen of the Damned.
Opened in 2011, the Vampire Lounge and Tasting Room is the first of its kind. Vampire aficionados can come here to sample “bites” of food and sample wines, while watching Nosferatu on the screen.
All of the wines come from Vampire Vineyards, a California-based winery. You simply must try their flights of wines (several reds and whites), each with enticing names like Dracula and True Blood.
I was delighted by Vampire’s rich, full bodied victuals. What a pleasure to sip bloody wines in this elegant space, accomanpanied by quality cheese and charchuterie.
Don’t leave without a bar of Vampire Dark Chocolate. Trevor and I couldn’t resist eating the entire package.
The bar also sells bottles of Vampire Wine; my favorite is the True Blood Cabernet Sauvignon. What a marvellous occasion for sipping “the blood of the vine”!
I’ll end with some more alternative adventures in Los Angeles. I went to downtown LA one evening with Lauren. In recent years, this area is becoming known for its bar scene.
We hung out at The Lash, an alt venue that usually has no cover charge. This is my type of venue: “ginger bear” craft cocktails, an indie crowd, and live DJs that spin dark electro and Italo Disco.
Finally, Trevor and stopped by Melrose Avenue for a shopping session. We ducked into a classic store, Maya Hollywood (7360 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA).
The colorful walls are packed with tribal masks from all over the world. I browsed Tibetan jewelry, Mayan earrings and other spiritual accessories.
We paid a visit to Necromance (7222 Melrose Ave): a spooky store filled with oddities from the natural world. You’ll find strange shells, preserved insects, and taxidermy such as a giant stuffed white peacock.
It’s always a wild time, being in Los Angeles! Here are more of my Goth / alternative LA travel tips, including club nights and shops, from my trips over the years.
Did this post inspire you to plan a Dracula-themed day in Los Angeles? (More of this photoshoot in my story about Bela Lugosi’s cemetery).
PS – I’m off to six countries this summer, announcement coming soon! Be sure to get your orders in from my Goth fashion sale, before I head off. All the listings are here; let me know what you’d like and shoot me an email, before everything is gone!
New Zealand local fashion boutiques: Britomart, Auckland! Cassia modern Indian restaurant & cocktails.
Kia ora… from Auckland, NZ!
If you’ve been following my social media (@lacarmina), you’ll already know that I’ve been travelling with Contiki — a tour company for 18-35 year olds — in New Zealand.
I joined about 30 young travellers on their Sun and Steam tour, and it felt like a big road trip with friends. We went all around the North Island, stopping to take in the spectacular nature, nightlife, and a daredevil activity or two.
My Contiki trip started and ended in Auckland, NZ. In this first post, I’ll take you to a hip fashion district, and one of the city’s top restaurants: Cassia!
It was my first trip “down under” and I flew 14 hours to get here (direct from Vancouver to Auckland). I was rewarded with the perfect sunny weather and a pristine view of the harbour, with the Sky Tower hovering over the central business district.
Why was I was excited to travel around New Zealand with Contiki? Let me count the ways…
– The tours are for millennial travellers. Everyone was my age, and the itinerary was tailored to our interests.
– There’s lots of “Me Time” and optional events, so you can explore at your own pace.
– Contiki takes care of all the logistics: transportation, hotels, activity bookings, most of the meals and entrance fees. I could just relax and pose in front of the bus!
I’ll introduce you to my Contiki crew in the next posts — but let’s begin in Auckland, where we had a free day to spend however we wished.
– I’m wearing a witchy dress and hosiery from Black Milk. They also make this dress in a Game of Thrones map print!
– My bag is from Japan, but you can get this similar blue faux fur purse here. Or this blue handbag, which also looks it has a face on it.
– My jacket is from Hong Kong. It’s very similar to this blue cropped leather jacket, or less expensive Elie Tahari one.
First stop: Britomart, the best area of Auckland to browse local, indie fashion.
Britomart, a former industrial area, underwent a transformation in the 1980s and 90s. Today, it’s a hip shopping district that mixes old (heritage buildings, Maori art) and new (mod green spaces).
You can find international clothing brands in Britomart, but I went straight to the local designers. New Zealand’s Karen Walker has been making a splash worldwide, particularly for her fabulous eyewear and bags. (I own a pair of her round sunglasses.)
Below are my favorite Karen Walker designs (click photos for more info.)
A local friend encouraged me to visit Taylor Boutique. Everything here is 100% designed and made in New Zealand.
Taylor uses leading-edge fabrics to make experimental, yet wearable garments. Love their oversized sleeves and peek-a-boo layers.
These NZ stores were advertising winter fashions, since the seasons are reversed down under!
Local designer Juliette Hogan is another must-visit. Her contemporary fashions are notable for their cut and craftsmanship.
(You’re probably noticing that Britomart is eco-design heaven… gorgeous greenery everywhere.)
For fabulous dressers, World is your destination. I could have spent an hour in this store, a treasure-trove of peacock taxidermy, exotic perfumes, dapper hats and other oddities.
In addition to Britomart, it’s well worth taking a stroll in Auckland’s Posonby district. You’ll find many of the same local designer stores here, as well as shops dedicated to home decor, coffee, raw food and more.
(Photography by Salima Remtulla and me.)
All this shopping worked up my appetite. I walked over to Cassia, a modern Indian restaurant that is racking up all the top dining awards in Auckland. (Address: No 5 Fort Lane, Auckland, NZ)
Inside, there’s a mural of the Hindu festival Holi — a perfect summary of how Cassia’s menu mixes creativity and tradition.
Chef Sid Sahrawat (famous for his fine dining establishment SidArt) wanted to break away from the stereotype of an Indian restaurant. At Cassia, he fuses the authentic flavors from his childhood with the seasonal, local produce of New Zealand.
Before we talk about the food… let’s start with a drink! Cassia has an exceptional gin and tonic menu that made me re-think the possibilities of this “basic” cocktail. Mixologist Prateek Arora made me a Tanqueray Tan with grapefruit and East Imperial Burma tonic — fine ingredients that elevated the flavors. On the right, he prepared The Herbalist, a perfect balance of Domaine Canton French ginger liquer, kaffir lime, cucumber, Angostura white rum and Benedictine.
I encourage you to chat with the friendly Prateek; I enjoyed hearing him talk about the inspiration for these drinks.
I’m a fan of anything ginger, and adored the Ginger Monkey (an infused whisky sour with egg white foam). The Kashmiri Dragon above is exceptional: a hit of chili powder, vodka, fresh lime, and Six Barrels feijoa syrup.
A quick aside… if you’re in New Zealand, you can’t leave without trying feijoa. This green fruit tastes a bit like guava, and is found only in NZ and parts of South America.
Cassia’s exposed bricks and lightbulbs create a hip dining space. The industrial design once again breaks away from one’s expectations of an Indian eatery.
Head chef Lesley Chandra prepared a selection of dishes designed for sharing. I recommend the starter of roasted carrot, cashew, leek, cavolo nero (kale) — the rich colors point to the careful choice of ingredients.
Next up: venison tartar, beetroot, cabbage. Once again, he prepared a vivid dish infused with authentic spices. I confess that I scraped up every morsel of the sauce!
One of the most popular main courses is the free-range pork with vindaloo, apple and ginger. Tender layers, perfectly cooked, in a spectacular balance of sweetness and heat.
Dessert was this deconstructed beauty: blackcurrent sorbet, raspberry and hazelnut. I was blown away the intensity of the berry flavors, which unfolded on your tongue. An outstanding, clean finish.
Cassia deserves its reputation as one of the best restaurants in Auckland. I encourage you to come by for an innovative meal and cocktails, which will change your perceptions of Indian cuisine.
I leave you with this night-time scene from Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, a reclaimed area by the waterfront with over a dozen international restaurants.
Coming up, I’ll show you more of Auckland and the North Island, on my Contiki journey. Their motto, #NoRegrets, is in line with my approach to travel: challenge yourself, see new places, meet people, and never look back.
On that note… Would you like to go on a Contiki trip to New Zealand, like mine? They’re offering my readers a discount code for 10% off all NZ trips, if you book with Contiki Asia by May 30! All details of the voucher are here; just be sure to reserve your place before it’s too late.