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Vanderpump (does) rule

Vanderpump Rules

I’ve been in a funk since the election and with the inauguration and this hot mess of the past week in the news, only one show cheers me up: Vanderpump Rules.

I discovered it on Hulu last fall and after a couple of episodes, I was hooked. Somehow the over-the-top antics of this twenty-something restaurant staff at Lisa Vanderpump’s Sur restaurant in West Hollywood was just what I needed. It’s soapy and silly and reality TV at its best when you just need a light mental break from the heaviness of life. It’s the visual equivalent of a sweet, bubbly, decidedly pink cocktail.

If you don’t know Lisa Vanderpump, she is the very British owner of three L.A. hot spots – Villa Blanca, Sur and Pump. She is grounded and funny and smart, despite her millions, a wonderfully accomplished restaurant head, a confidant and voice of reason with her young staff, and she is so delightedly British and likable.

This past weekend, I finally finished Season 4! If you haven’t watched it, give Vanderpump Rules a try!

Paddington Station

Heathrow Express

So where were we? Ah yes, just landing at London Heathrow! We took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, which remains part of my favorite ritual of returning back to London. There is just a certain peace in that travel – something about the homes whizzing past, the calming British accents on the overhead speaker, the quick news roundup — the 15 minute trip is one of my faves!

And then it’s Paddington Station, which still feels familiar from when I used to live here – the soup cart, Delice de France and Burger King is still there, you still have to pay to use the toilets, but there’s more construction going on! More retail and food stores in the works! It’s enough new and old to make me feel that I have returned!

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The British love affair with Cheesecake Factory

When we first moved back to California from the U.K. more than a decade ago, we had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory in Union Square in San Francisco. It kind of epitomized everything that was American – unapologetic, calorie-laden decadence detailed in a really long, laminated menu. It felt like a world-is-your-oyster kind of place. You want pasta? Steak? Omelette? Pizza? Burger? Sandwich? Seafood? Salad? You can get it here. Oh yeah, and of course, there’s over two dozen different types of cheesecake. There is simply nothing like it in the U.K.

Fresh Strawberry CheesecakeBut for me, the Cheesecake Factory ship has sailed. I have nothing against the Cheesecake Factory, but it no longer holds the appeal that it once had. We had no official falling out. It’s just become this kind of American dining experience (like TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s, Sizzler, Outback Steakhouse) that I avoid (not because I am snob, although if the shoe fits …), but because there are so many amazing independently owned restaurants in San Francisco, I couldn’t imagine eschewing them all in favor of a stop at a chain restaurant like the Cheesecake Factory.

And yet, everytime we have friends visiting from the U.K., without fail, they suggest dining there. These are friends that don’t know each other. Relatives that don’t know the friends. No common connection except for their Britishness. But they’re all on the same British Cheesecake Factory bandwagon. They don’t ask about any of the other chains, mind you. They save their love for Cheesecake Factory.

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Top 10 romantic London restaurants

Clos Maggiore

V-Day is now days away and if you are still on the search for a romantic London restaurant for your valentine, look no further than Great Little Place’s romantic London restaurant list. Their picks include a conservatory dripping in blossom, a Georgian mansion and a shed serving British tapas! Something for everyone!

The best places to visit in the U.K.

Last month, MSN Travel asked site visitors to send in their photos of their favourite places in Britain – be it hotels, restaurants, beaches, castles or views.

Check out their top 30 photos that made them say, “I want to go to there.”

Sunday lunch + creche

Julie's Restaurant Sunday creche

I’ve been trying to track down some good family-friendly eats in London (and when I say family-friendly, I’m not talking about the British alternative to Applebee’s, Chili’s or TGIF’s, thank you very much).

I want to simply go to an independently owned place with good food, little fussiness, no surly looks from fellow customers or waitstaff when my kids drop a fork or eschew the fork altogether in favor of taking fistfuls of pasta into their mouths. Is that too much to ask? This is what I’m investigating.

What I’ve found so far is Julie’s Restaurant, a Holland Park institution (darling) that provides a Sunday lunch as well as a creche for kids ages 2-12 run by fully qualified and vetted creche staff. Genius! I want to go to there.

The Culinary London 10

Despite Britain’s undeserved reputation for terrible cuisine, London is truly a culinary mecca. Following my blog post a few weeks back about top 10 London destinations, I submit my top 10 in the food and drink department.

The Cow specializes in oysters and Guinness, as well as sausage and mash.

1.       The Cow. Charming gastropub that is good for celebrity spotting, too. 89 Westbourne Park Road, Notting Hill, London. W2 5QH. 020 7221 0021.

2.       The Tiroler Hut. This tiny hole in the wall combines Austrian food with live cow bell music and complimentary peppermint schnapps. A lethal combination. 27 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London. W2. 020 7727 3981.

3.       Le Relais de Venise. They serve only one dish: green salad with a mustard vinaigrette and steak frites (translation: steak and thin cut French fries) and do it very well. There is always a line out the door but it’s worth the wait. 120 Marylebone Lane, London. W1U 2QG. 020 7486 0878.

4.       St. Pancras Grand Champagne Bar. Europe’s longest champagne bar is at St. Pancras train station of all places and it’s open from 8 a.m. (don’t judge) to 11 p.m. I haven’t been there yet but friends report that it is every bit as great as it sounds. St. Pancras Station, Upper Concourse, Euston Road, London. N1C 4QL. 020 7870 9900.

St. Pancras Grand Champagne Bar is the longest champagne bar in Europe.

5.       Pitcher and Piano, All Bar One and Slug and Lettuce. They’re all chain pubs but they do decent food and drinks and there’s always one just around the corner. A good place to stop in during a rain storm. Locations throughout London.

6.       Afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel. They do those dainty little crustless finger sandwiches and pretty desserts with your choice of tea. So very British. 150 Piccadilly. London. W1J 9BR. 020 7493 8181.

7.       Hush. Co-founded by the son of 007’s Roger Moore, this Mayfair restaurant/bar has a formal dining room, a more casual brasserie and a cocktail bar. You can’t help but feel cool here. No. 8 Lancashire Court, Brook Street, London. W1S 1EY. 020 7659 1500.

8.       Yo Sushi. Sushi delivered on color coded plates via conveyor belt. There are over two dozen locations dotted throughout London.

Get your sushi fast, fun and fresh at Yo Sushi.

9.       Belgo. Belgian beer and moule frites (translation: mussels and thin cut French fries). A match made in heaven. There are locations in Bromley, Clapham, Kingsway and Chalk Farm Road. I’ve only been to the “Centraal” location at 50 Earlham Street, London. WC2H 9LJ. 020 7813 2233.

10.   Beach Blanket Babylon. Not sure where the name came from, as this is more Marilyn Manson than Gidget in decor. But the gothic style is accompanied by a very tasty cocktail menu. There are two locations: 45 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill. W11 2AA. 020 7229 2907 and 19-23 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London. E1 6LA. 020 7749 3540.

A final note: avoid Angus Steakhouses and Garfunkel’s restaurants. They always attract Americans because they resemble an alluring cross between Applebee’s and TGI Friday’s but don’t be fooled.

What are your favorite places to eat and drink when you’re in London? I’d love to hear from you!