The 10 best foodie habits I’ve learned from my mum

I’ve written about cooking with my yiayias but it’s time to give some credit to the generation I missed – my mum, inspired by today being mother’s day.

The thing is, I don’t have reams of photos of mum’s food because, well, it’s mum’s food. It’s delicious, reassuring and dependable which is precisely why I rarely think mid meal – ooh, better capture this. It’s not exotic, boundary-pushing or haute cuisine. And thank god for that. I love to chase that stuff when I travel around the world but nothing, but nothing beat’s mum’s cooking.

I don’t think I really appreciated how good mum’s cooking was until I was out in the world tasting other people’s cooking. Then the penny dropped. I’ve definitely taken some of my mum’s staple recipes on board but more than that, I think I’ve taken on a lot of her practical ways when it comes to the kitchen. Once I started thinking about her pearls of wisdom I couldn’t stop. For example:

1. When entertaining, estimate how much food you’ll need. Then double it.

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A standard afternoon tea spread at mum’s place

You all know the legend of the Greek hostess who will always ply her guests with food. Well her name is Vicki and she’s my mum. And I have taken on the exact same practice. The upside is a week’s worth of leftovers. Plus when the guests have left, we have a habit of all congregating in the family room, with plates of cake in hand, swapping stories and gossip about what’s happened that day.

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Mum’s prawn and avocado platter – we can never get enough

2. Make it look effortless

I don’t think my mum intentionally tries to make entertaining look effortless but that’s always the end result. The kitchen and dining room will be overflowing with handmade dishes, mezethes are doing the rounds and everyone will have a drink in hand. Oh and the house is spotless of course. Once I started hosting my own parties I realised just how much work is involved in all that. And my parties are small. Mum’s hosted parties for 100+. I think this is where her eagle eye English teacher skills of forward planning and strategising come into play and I always hope that I’m pulling it off half as well as she does.

3. Kids will believe anything

Like the time mum served us ‘crumbed chicken’ which we wolfed down hungrily. Then my brother made a joke about it kinda looking a bit like brains. Unfortunately mum can’t keep a straight face so the cat was out of the bag. I’m pretty sure my brother still doesn’t eat brains to this day. Moral of the story is, kids won’t know any better unless you tell them. And yes, I still eat brains.

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Perfect turkey every year

4. When you’re on a good thing, roll with it.

This is what led to the artichoke and avocado salad era of the 80’s, the tiramisu times of the 90’s, the smoked salmon decade and the more recent mango mousse years. And that stretches into seasonal specialties like perfect roast turkey and ice-cream pudding at Christmas. Mum fine tunes a recipe and sticks with it, which means the requests come through thick and fast for said dish at family and friend gatherings.

5. The lunchbox is the key to a happy childhood

Sometimes I think wistfully about lunchbox days. When the most difficult decision of the day was – should I eat my Tiny Teddies for recess or save them lunch? Mum put a lot of effort into our school lunches and we usually had nice salad sandwiches or if she was super busy, devon and tomato sauce (which was our favourite back then – I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole now). Then there was the poppa that had been frozen from the night before so that by lunchtime it had defrosted to the perfect chilled temperature. Plus a piece of fruit and a miscellaneous snack. Lunchtimes have never been so much fun. Read More

Arty food or foodie art?

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Jelly St Paul’s Cathedral by Bompas & Parr

There has long been a connection between food and art. Post-Impressionist painters would famously pay for their meals in paintings, kicking off the artwork-in-a-restaurant aesthetic.

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Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde cow at Tramshed

Some have taken this to the next step, such as the formaldehyde cow-in-a-restaurant look that Mark Hix has gone for at his London restaurant Tramshed. You can’t miss the giant Damien Hirst ‘artwork’ of a cock and bull which references the chicken and beef dishes on the menu. It’s hard to focus on your whole stuffed upside down chicken with the suspended animals in your line of sight.

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Salvador Dali purposely created art with maximum shock value and has inspired many in the restaurant business. Dali Café & Art in Riga is a culinary temple to the great Surrealist artist which includes plenty of his trademark motifs like eyes, lips, curved lines and draped fabric.

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A ‘melting clock’ style chocolate crepe

Melting clocks come by way of the chocolate crepe, served to look like The Persistence of Memory. There are also plenty of blue and gold tones, Dali’s favorite colors, to highlight the eccentric fit-out.

Glow-in-the-dark gin and tonic jelly

Glow-in-the-dark gin and tonic jellies

The idea of food itself becoming the artwork is growing in popularity. My all-time favourite foodie artists are Bompass & Parr, two English gents who call themselves jellymongers.

The roof of Selfridges becomes an emerald lake

The roof of Selfridges becomes a lake of lolly water

Their CV has the most absurd but fantastical list of projects you could imagine; a chocolate waterfall in the middle of a shopping centre, flooding part of the Selfridges roof to create a lolly water emerald boating lake, glow-in-the-dark gin and tonic jellies… Read More

3 foodie gems on the NSW South Coast

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Cronut & coffee heaven at Orient Point Bakehouse

When I was a wee little thing, mum and dad would bundle my siblings and I into the car (sometimes in our PJ’s – always a little embarrassing when you pop into Macca’s for a late night supper) and we’d head to Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast for weeks of swimming, fishing, prawning, over-eating and building quirky ‘installations’ out of shells.

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Even the local birds eat well on the South Coast

I still try and make it down at least once a year (fully clothed) to recreate those fun times and it’s all the more attractive now that impressive foodie spots have popped up along the coast from Wollongong to Ulladulla and beyond. Here are my three favourites, all worth a detour on your next road trip.

Orient Point Bakehouse, Orient Point

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Orient Point Bakehouse

It’s not unusual for chefs to start their careers in small towns and then move into the city but it doesn’t often happen in reverse. Sydney’s loss is Orient Point’s gain now that Scott Mason has done just that with his wife and chief baker Tobie.

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The ultimate chocolate cronut

Scott formerly headed up the kitchens of prestigious Sydney restaurants including Bistro Moncur and Bambini Trust before he and Tobie decided a sea change was in order and set up the Orient Point Bakehouse in 2013 (a 2 1/2 hour drive from Sydney).

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Yep, just as drool worthy inside and out

It’s unlike any bakehouse you’ve been to, unless your local also offers scrumptious chocolate cronuts filled with mouth-watering chocolate custard or cinnamon and pecan scrolls topped with thick smears of icing. No lamingtons or finger buns in sight.

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Egg & bacon roll with nana’s tomato relish

There’s a full breakie, lunch and dinner menu which sits a notch above your ordinary café menu with items like a braised wagyu beef sambo. It’s not hard to spot Scott’s impressive culinary past and it means that simple items are done exceptionally well, like the egg and bacon roll served with nana’s tomato relish. Coffee is locally roasted by Hyper Hyper Coffee Roasters and is damn good.  

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The bakehouse roadie mural

I’m going back for Big Fisho’s breakie which includes Scotty’s pork and fennel sausage and bubble and squeak and I definitely want to try his freshly caught local blackfish and chips.

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Where else would you want to eat fish and chips?

It’s a whole family affair here with Scott in the kitchen, Tobie on the coffee machine, Tobie’s mum managing the tidal wave of customers and family photos adorning the walls. On a beautiful day you can’t beat sitting outside but inside has drawcards too, like the roadie mural and tabletop shrine to fishing.

Orient Point Bakehouse, 71 Orama Crescent, Orient Point NSW 2540

Jindyandy Mill, Pyree

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Historic and quaint Jindyandy Mill

If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of Nowra, you MUST head for this gem about a twenty minute drive east and 2 1/2 hours from Sydney. My birthday always coincided with our road trips and this was my favourite place to visit for a birthday treat.

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Jindyandy is set on picturesque pastoral lands and the original Jindyandy Mill was built by convicts in 1830, making it one of Australia’s oldest convict buildings. The area is now home to a whimsical range of antique shops, crafts and food stores.

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Who can say no to free, home grown local produce?

You can pick up an assortment of fresh produce that changes with the seasons. On my last visit there was even a help-yourself-box of vegies offered by a generous local.

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Pick up macadamia nuts and a nut cracker

There are plenty of enterprising local producers of jams, honeys and crafts which are on offer, or grab a bag of macadamias and a nut cracker to let out some aggression.

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Restroom for wenches

I haven’t dined at the nearby Butterfactory restaurant but have heard from many that the food is exquisite and it’s a great venue for weddings. Something to think about for all the wenches and their grooms out there.

Jindyandy Mill, 719 Greenwell Point Rd, Pyree NSW 2031

Heritage Bakery, Milton

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The Heritage Bakery, est 1870

Meat pies are (apparently) Australia’s national dish. We take our meat pie consumption very seriously and nowhere is this more apparent than the Heritage Bakery in Milton (3 hours from Sydney) which was established in 1870.

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A nice short queue on this visit

I’ve seen queues at this place which would put Gelato Messina to shame and if you’re not early enough you may well as well kiss goodbye to that traditional mince meat pie you were craving.

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Vegetable stack, curry pie, peppercorn pie, steak & kidney pie

There are 12 pies on offer plus an assortment of sausage rolls, pasties and vegetarian options. Classics like steak and kidney and country chicken sit alongside Thai chicken and Mexican chilli. The only way to navigate this menu is to order a few and share.

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A look inside the curry pie

The curry is always a favourite of mine and reminds me of my dad’s penchant for Keen’s curry powder. The pastry is crispy and there’s a lot of it. This is not a destination for carbophobics.

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Get in early for the best selection of fresh bread

The coffee is decent and can be accompanied by a number of sweet baked goods, from apple pies to old school custard tarts. There’s also plenty of bread available including a delicious fig and cranberry sourdough. The bakery is a few minutes’ drive from the main street of Milton so makes for a good stopover on your way in or out of town.

Heritage Bakery, 197-201 Princes Highway, Milton NSW 2538

Do you have a favourite South Coast foodie gem?

The Singapore sojourn every foodie must make

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Bright purple aubergine

If you only have one day in Singapore (like I did on this occasion) and you want a local foodie experience (as I always do), then hightail it to Tekka Wet Market in Little India, preferably with an empty stomach.

It’s lauded as Singapore’s most culturally rich market for a reason. Ethnic communities from Mandarin and Malay to Hokkien and Tamil come here to preserve their culinary cultures.

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Dragon fruit

A wet market refers to a fresh meat and produce market, differentiating it from a dry market which sells durable goods. With 284 stalls, Tekka Market is the largest wet market in Singapore and I doubt there would be anything on your shopping list that you couldn’t find here. Having been renovated in 2009 it’s also extremely organised and clean. How very Singapore.

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Banana flowers

After a long stint in the northern hemisphere I was ecstatic to be presented with sky high piles of brightly coloured tropical fruits. Jackfruit, rambutans, dragon fruit, guava, starfruit, longans, mangosteens and even (hold your nose) durians.

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Ginger or rojak flowers

Banana flowers and ginger flowers were stacked up next to their fruit offspring. Ginger flowers are called rojak flowers in Singapore because of their use in fruit rojak – a traditional spicy fruit and vegetable salad that also includes cucumber, pineapple, turnip, fried tofu and fritters mixed with a sweet peanut sauce.

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A section of aloe vera plant

I also spotted a thick and fleshy leaf from an aloe vera plant which would have come in handy a few days before as a soothing remedy when I burnt my hand in the kitchen.

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Freshly cut tuna steaks

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Green-lipped mussels

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Whole baby sharks

The fish section was another favourite of mine, the sea creatures seeming a tad more dramatic than what you usually see at fish markets. Giant slabs of tuna sat next to green-lipped mussels, huge Sri Lankan crabs and baby sharks. There was also a massive meat section where butchers were happy to cut and prepare the meat to order.

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Coconut grating machine

I’d never come across a coconut grating machine before and unfortunately it wasn’t in action while I was there. The white floss that comes out of the machine looks like desiccated coconut but is used to create coconut milk by being soaked in warm water and sieved.

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The place for prata

Next to the wet market is a big food court with a mix of Chinese, Indian, Muslim and Western food stalls. As much as I wanted to go crazy and try everything, I knew we had impending lunch plans so I struck a deal with my friend Alex and her son Callum to pick one thing and share.

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Mr Zulkifli is a prata maestro

I think it was Callum who made the call to choose prata from the Prata Saga stall. Winning decision Callum. Owner and chef Mr Zulkifli from Kerala was not only super friendly, he took the time to give me the low down on how he makes his prata, a fried flour-based pancake cooked over a flat grill.

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Prata making, step by step

His secrets are to make the dough the night before and once it’s cooked, to fluff up the finished product with your hands. Considering he has taught at the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of American not the Central Intelligence Agency) I believed every word.

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Plain prata with curry sauce

There were plenty of filling options but we stuck with the classic unadorned prata, accompanied with a delicious curry sauce for dipping. The prata was crispy on the outside and airy in the middle (no doubt a result of the hand fluffing technique). Mr Zulkifli makes 400 prata a day and has been doing this for 30 years. That works out to be something like 3 million pratas!

With a flight that evening I was forced to walk away from the markets empty handed rather than with bags overflowing with fresh produce. So I’ll be back again Singapore, just you wait.

Zurich Christmas Markets

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Christmas market in Zurich old town

At this time of year, most European cities are filled with twinkling lights, roast chestnut stands and the heady scent of cinnamon and mulled wine in the air. It’s a compelling argument for a white Christmas.

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Christkindlimarkt in Zurich Hauptbahnhof

Zurich really gets in on the Christmas cheer with seven markets strewn through the city. The flagship is the Christkindlimarkt in the main station or Hauptbahnhof, one of Europe’s largest indoor Christmas markets.

The cavernous space is filled with over 150 stalls, many with a distinct Germanic feel given Zurich sits in the German speaking part of Switzerland.

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You’re looking at 7,000 Swarovski crystals

The highlight for most visitors is the 15 metre tall Christmas tree decorated with 7,000 sparkling Swarovski crystals. And to be fair, it is rather impressive.

Of course the highlight for me was the amazing range of food on offer, some of which is only available during the festive season.

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Let’s start with the cheese. The Swiss churn out plenty of the stuff and it towered in tempting displays; giant wheels encased in vine leaves or crushed raisins, white rinds stuffed with truffle butter and topped with shaved truffle, even whisky käse. And of course there was plenty of raclette, pimped up with shaved truffle if you fancied.

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One of my favourite festive treats is always the German Christmas cake, stollen. It’s a dense, buttery cake studded with dried fruit and candied citrus peel, occasionally marzipan, and topped with icing sugar.

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The original Dresdner stollen

The recipe originated in Dresden in the 15th Century and remains the most famous version. Dresdner stollen can legally be made by only 150 Dresden-based bakers and is distinguished by a special seal depicting King Augustus II.

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Apple fritters with custard

Before long my local friends, Michael and Karin, steered us towards the Apfelhuis stand for some delicious apple fritters swimming in custard. Having now been to a dozen or so German Christmas markets, I can safely say that you will never find a whiff of fresh produce in one. Fried, battered, pickled and preserved is what it’s all about.

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Grittibaenz are eaten on St. Nicholas Day

Swiss Germans mark St. Nicholas Day on 6 December by eating traditional sweet bread baked into the shape of a man with raisins for eyes and a chocolate ‘stick’. This fella is called Grittibaenz and represents an early form of Santa.

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Lussekatt are eaten on St. Lucia Day

I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a Swedish stand offering lussekatt. These saffron tinged buns are traditionally eaten on St. Lucia Day on 13 December to celebrate the festival of light. I have happy memories of baking them with my Swedish friend Johan and they taste just like brioche with a soft yellow hue from the saffron.

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Pretty lebkuchen for your loved ones

I think the most picturesque stand at any Christmas market is always the one embellished with gingerbread hearts or lebkuchen. Hanging from ribbons and displaying cute phrases, the idea is to give them to loved ones to express your feelings.

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I can usually be found near the glühwein stand

The busiest stand of course, is almost always the glühwein stand. It’s usually my first port of call so I can then wander through the markets sipping a cup of intoxicating wine spiked with the flavours of cinnamon, vanilla, cloves and citrus.

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Red glühwein for me please

I was pleasantly surprised to see red and white wine versions on offer but red inevitably wins my heart every time. In my eyes, the only downside of a hot Southern Hemmisphere Christmas is the impracticality of serving this aromatic concoction. Maybe I’ll look into a chilled version this year…

Do you have a favourite Christmas market find? Please do share!

Christmas eating at Harrods and Harvey Nichols

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Oh how I’d love to eat my way through this hamper

London does Christmas better. Better and bigger than anywhere else in my humble opinion.

Right now it feels like the entire city is illuminated. Streets are decked out with elaborate lights, stores are dressed like pantomime stars, every corner reveals an outdoor ice skating rink selling mulled wine, and the tell-tale smell of cinnamon and cloves wafts through the air.

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Xmas pud yoghurt

Then there’s the food. And this is where London really shines. Even the supermarkets bring out imaginative Christmas ranges, from Heston’s hidden clementine Christmas pudding at Waitrose to xmas pud yoghurt (delicious by the way). The Christmas ad from Sainsbury’s this year stopped the nation.

But the real action is in the department stores that I usually steer clear of because I’m more Primark than Prada. And if London does it best then no one comes close to two of the big names in retail: Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

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You’d think every day was Christmas at Harrods

Harrods is a retail temple that’s lit up from top to toe all year round so you can just imagine how energetically it embraces the festive season. Every inch of the four giant food halls is festified.

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One entire food hall at Harrods is dedicated to chocolate

Little red cards noting special dishes are dotted through each section – a clever technique that subtly screams ‘limited edition’, ‘you need me for Christmas’ and ‘buy me immediately’.

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Your Christmas table centrepiece perhaps?

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Decadent kugelhopf dusted in gold leaf

The bakery section (always my favourite) is full of stunningly decorated cakes, pastries, donuts and breads. You can pick up a Christmas train cake for a cool £150, slices of marbled vanilla chocolate kugelhopf dusted in gold leaf or a gingerbread man ham and cheese puff.

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The prices are, as expected, exorbitant. But when you consider the artistry and precision involved in every single item, they are somewhat justified. And in case I had any doubts about the extremely high standards set here, an exchange I witnessed set my mind (and wallet) at ease.

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What fruit kugelhopf?

A suited manager asked one of the servers what on earth had happened to one of the fruit kugelhopfs on display. Admittedly the pieces looked like they’d been hacked by a five year old. The server hastily explained that it was a very difficult cake to cut and she’d really struggled with it. 

‘So what is it doing on the shop floor?’ asked the manager with an arched eyebrow.  

All evidence of that cake was gone in 30 seconds (I desperately hope not straight into the bin).

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It took every ounce of willpower not to buy one. A whole one.

The dish I found most drool worthy was definitely this sweet potato pie, perhaps a legacy to Thanksgiving as much as Christmas. Almond pastry encloses a heady spiced sweet potato mix which is topped with pumpkin seed tuille and mascarpone. What a stunner.

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Savoury patisserie at its best

And then there is the savoury patisserie. According to The Independent newspaper, “Savoury patisserie is a thing now”. Basically take your favourite pastry and replace the usual sweet flavours with savoury and presto, you have savoury patisserie.

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Will that be foie gras or goats cheese in your éclair?

For Harrods this means traditional choux pastry éclairs stuffed with goats cheese. Or delicate macaroons filled with foie gras.

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That’s my next birthday cake sorted

They sound exquisite but my attention was focused on the smoked salmon gateaux. Layers of smoked salmon, delicate crepes and light smoked salmon mousse are topped with avruga, salmon caviar and cream cheese ‘icing’. My next birthday cake perhaps?

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Harvey Nichols gets festive

Down the road at Harvey Nichols, the food hall on level 5 is slightly more chic (sweetie darling) but equally adorned. Giant silver crackers hang from the ceiling, spilling out beautifully packaged panettones, gingerbread men and mince pies.

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No dodgy paper crowns in these crackers

If those crackers are a little big for your dining table, there are smaller ones designed in black, gold and white that are filled with choice gifts and premium headware. Presumably the jokes are more high brow too.

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You can never have too much glitter on your cheese

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There is an impressive cheese selection and numerous ‘bombs’, including a smoked cheese bomb and whisky cheese bomb, both sheltered in thick wax and sprinkled liberally with glitter. Nothing says festive glam like glitter.

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Cake or turkey?

My favourite find was the large Christmas fruit cake in the shape of a turkey. Even the vegetable accoutrements are made of fruit cake. That’s one way to get the kids to eat their vegies!

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Eggnog for the uninitiated

As much as I would have loved to buy this cake (a steal at £49.95), I settled for some eggnog instead. You rarely see eggnog in Australia, probably because of the 30 degree plus temperatures around Christmas time so I’m curious to give it a whirl.

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Your festive condiment needs are sorted at Harvey Nichols

Christmas is a marketers dream. Create it and they will buy. This is why you need a specific pickle for Christmas Day and then a separate chutney for Boxing Day. Using the same over both days would be uncouth.

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If you only buy one thing, make it this

The alcohol department is also a favourite of mine, stacked high with bottles of Dom and Krug priced higher than a plane ticket to Sydney. My tip for the festive season is the mince pie syrup. Mix it with rum and pressed apple juice to create the perfect mince pie martini.

Between the two stores I could have easily dropped my life savings. But I’d better save a few quid for a trip to Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason…