August roundup: Decadent dining to the downright delicious

Happy 30th birthday to me! And happy September to you all!

Yes the inevitable passing of yet another birthday is now done and dusted. Oysters, caviar, champagne and much cake was consumed – it really was a thoroughly indulgent month. ‘No different to usual then’ I hear you mutter…except it was.

I can’t quite decide if it is purely conscious or because there genuinely is a seed change that happens to coincide with the milestone I have just passed. But I’m noticing subtle differences occurring within and around me. For a start I’m willingly choosing M&S as my primary shopping destination, and have purchased a number of (not so subtle) flowery/patterned items. Furthermore, I don’t seem to frightfully cringe when I see that my mother is wearing the same if not similar item.

I’ve suddenly become a little more conscious of keeping fit and healthy too, which was never really a primary concern. Least not when gorging on all those Michelin tasting menus; plates dripping with butter and cream. This is still a work in progress though. I will always be prone to the odd digestive or three with my afternoon tea and as you are about to see, I didn’t exactly refuse any dessert menus this month. Neither am I about to start living off kale and juice fasts. But I am aware that my body isn’t going to keep itself in shape and a visit to the gym every so often will in fact not kill me but keep me alive longer.

One other thing I notice; I can’t seem to hold my alcohol as well as I used to, although my husband will tell you that this is not a new phenomenon. Thankfully cocktails are still tolerable (gin is my saviour) but when it comes to wine, anything over two glasses and I’m on my way to tipsyland. Once, sharing a bottle was the start of a lively evening, now it seems like a rather daring prospect. Perhaps carafes are the way forward.

Despite these rather trivial revelations, I am quite happy turning yet another year older and am loving the open mindedness and changing perspective it brings with it. The window to my world may be narrowing as I get to know what I like and don’t and what matters and doesn’t, but interestingly my views are more open than ever. And I’ll never say no to trying anything once because where I would have worried about what I had to lose, I’m now curious about what I could gain.

So there you have it. A little self analysis along with the monthly roundup of edible experiences. What more could you want from a blog! Mid life drama aside, it’s been a cracking month and almost a home run of dinning successes, if it weren’t for some rather questionable FOH service at one Gordon Ramsay establishment.

Oh and one last bit of housekeeping. A little personal achievement I’d like to share with you. Mitziesbubble, was included in a shoutout from none other than SquareMeal this week, under their ‘Blogs We Love’ section.

http://click.squaremealemails.co.uk/u/gm.phpUID=CVZQUGXEzp&ID=192372885_877168_5

I have a speech prepared for such occasions but I’m guessing you’d like me to zip it and get on with the reviews…your wish, my command.

Restaurant rave: Aperitivo and Pizzas at the new Pizza Pilgrims

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If you are in the mood for calories, choose French but if you want a proper carb fest, it’s got to be Italian. My trusty motto.

There’s been a lot of noise about Pizza Pilgrims since their first site opened in Soho but I didn’t care to partake in it. Whilst I love pizza, there didn’t seem anything revolutionary about Pizza Pilgrims and the no book policy and prospect of queueing around the corner didn’t appeal either. But then the second and much larger site in Kingly Court created further buzz and having been reassured on twitter that the table wait would be short (even on a Friday night), I ventured forth for a girlie night out. I’d done my homework of course and I’d booked a secondary pizza venue nearby for a half hour later in a case the wait became excruciating (I don’t do spontaneous, you know that!)

Thankfully it didn’t and a mere 15 mins later – much needed aperol spritz in hand – we were seated at a great table on the light and airy ground floor. The menu is short and changes regularly, but covers all the essentials. Mainly anything with carbs in it. There are a few daily specials too, including a guest pizza.

Drinks are strong and mighty but made with skill and by a man who looks strikingly like Shia LaBeouf – the kid from the transformers and the somewhat questionable Indian Jones Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I ordered a toned down Negroni, which could have easily rivalled those made in a Mayfair bar.

Pizzas are thick crusted but with a thin crispy base, adhering to the Neapolitan style. The very premise upon which Pizza Pilgrims is built. I particularly enjoyed my Melanzane parmigiana. Juicy roasted aubergines, gooey melting mozzarella with a kick of sharp tomato and crusty bread to bring it all together. The girls got on swimmingly with their rather in vogue (or probably not by the time I’ve written this) N’duja pizzas too.

All this bready business was nicely washed down with a bottle of Pinot Grigio blush N.B. Whilst you may laugh at the wine of choice. I believe there is one exception for drinking Pinot Grigio Blush and it is, when accompanying pizza.

Next time I’m there, yes there will indeed be a next time, I plan to try some of the pizza fritta (small deep friend calzones), carciofi fritti (fried artichoke hearts with rosemary salt), the arancini and the Nutella pizza ring, to add to the carb count further. What’s life for if not for living!

Mood: A slice of no frills dolce vita. Retro Italia meets London buzz.

Pop up: Pudding Purists look no further than the Pudding Bar

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Every now and then someone introduces a slightly leftfield concept that sticks and thank god for that, because there’d be no pudding bar otherwise. Brought to us by the talented Laura Hallwood (ex Savoy and Gordon Ramsay Group), it features a regularly changing menu of glorious puddings and indulgent wine pairings, as well as bottles of the bubbly stuff. The pop up occupies a five storey townhouse, the top floors of which are reserved for candlelit evening bookings, where friends and I gobbled up dreamy desserts after an already indulgent pizza fest.

Seeing as we were pretty full, we opted to share three desserts off the menu. Strawberry Eton mess was a treat with light as air meringues, ripe fruit and a tart berry coulis bringing it all together. Salted caramel profiteroles were delightful too but the star of the show was the gorgeous s’mores cheesecake with peanut butter ice cream, which I don’t mind admitting I wanted to eat all by myself!

Accompanying plonk is reasonably priced, or you could go the whole hog and order a wine pairing for £15pp when ordering the tasting menu of all five desserts (£28).

Good news for you is that they’ve recently announced an extension to their residency, till the end of the year but it’s proving popular, so get booking! Also worth checking out is the new Basement Sate, also in soho, which offers a similar concept but with paired cocktails.

Perfect for: post theatre night caps for the sweet toothed, First dates and girly giggles and gossiping.

Restaurant rant: Appetising dishes spoilt by slack service at GR’s Union St Cafe

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I won’t spend too much time on this, save to say that it was another case of service letting down what would have been a very nice meal. I often wonder how frustrating it must be for chefs when they read or hear such reviews, to know that their hard work was let down by slack Front of House (FOH) staff.

The cooking is without doubt, really very good. Beautifully cooked courgette flowers, succulent mackerel stuffed with pistachio and beetroot, mussels in a herby tomato sauce and an earthy mushroom gnocchi dish (this last one was a little baffling, seeing as we were still in August and not quite in the throes of autumn). Prices are rather reasonable too.

What’s not reasonable is waiting for your wine to arrive fifteen minutes after you’ve ordered it and then getting your starters on the table first. This, despite enquiring for the wine order several times and being told it’s coming. It’s equally annoying having to ask the waiter twice (the one who took your wine order and clearly forgot about it) to a) get the bill and b) get the card machine so we can pay and leave. Seamless service it was not and it’s a crying shame, as it not only killed any chance of revisiting but also let me down whilst hosting a friend from the US.

Bottom line: Not cool GR.

Restaurant rave: Brunch at the wonderful Wolseley finally ticked off my list

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There are only a handful of places of real, universal prestige left in London and in my mind, the Wolseley is one of them. The Ritz, Claridges and The Connaught also spring to mind of course, but the Wolseley has always stood out for me. It’s certainly been on my wish list since forever and I intended to tick it off in time for my 30th. And who better to go with then dear mother.

As the start of what was to be an indulgent day of birthday celebrations, it seemed only right to start with a glass of Ruinart rosé champagne in the bar. Once our table was ready, we were seated and I proceeded to salivate at the brunch menu. OK, so it’s not ground breaking cuisine but on the menu were some real classics, like the unashamedly rich Arnold Bennett omelette mother ordered and the 1/2 dozen Jersey Rocks oysters accompanied by the in house shallot vinaigrette. The dressed Cornish crab, moist and sweet, and the generous lobster omelette were also exquisite in their execution.

There was also a surprise slice of cake delivered to our table, having overheard I was celebrating a birthday, which really pushed the level of service up a notch or two, for me.

At the end of the day, whilst the food is of course dangerously indulgent and cooked delightfully well, it’s the sheer opulence of the site and the decadent atmosphere; the plush marble, shiny silverware and waitresses/waiters in black and white uniform, that make visiting the Wolseley a real occasion. That, together with near flawless service (only qualm was that our drinks were not carried in for us from the bar to the table) made it a wonderful memory to cherish.

In short: Everyone needs a little decadence in their lives.

Restaurant rave: A taste of Jerusalem. Earthy yet refined cuisine at the Palomar

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There’s few restaurants that really give me a buzz and the Palomar is now firmly in that handful of special places. I’m a huge fan of food from the Middle East and the Levant, and my home cooking bible is of course Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty’ (soon it’ll be ‘Plenty More’, once I get my hands on it). I could happily live off his shakshuka and herby mushroom polenta recipes till the end of my days. So when I heard that a similar polenta dish was warming up the bellies of London’s food critics, I made a beeline for the much talked about kitchen bar.

Let there be no doubt, this really is the only place you should be sitting and not the restaurant at the back. All the atmosphere, the theatre of an open kitchen and the buzz of staff who actually like their jobs, is all happening up front. Reservations are only taken for the first sitting at 5.30pm, so get there early or prepare to wait.

I doubt that you could go wrong with any of the dishes, based on the critics response and my own experience, but I can personally recommend the Jerusalem polenta. The dish has a wonderful truffle rich intensity, with the mushroom ragout providing extra earthy intensity. It’s soul food at its best. If you are sharing, don’t get the mini one, it’ll be gone in seconds. The mackerel fricassée was a refreshing dish with the cutest quail egg I’ve ever seen and crispy golden Tunuisian fried buns for added carbs.

Our mains were equally satisfying. A dish of Labenah tortellini with butternut squash cream went down all too quickly; the creaminess and sweetness nicely balancing each other out, and pasta cooked just right. My favourite savoury dish was my own main of seared scallops in a lemon beurre blanc with Swiss chard and a Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut tuille. Superb piece of cooking and a rich array of ingredients that combined perfectly. Scallops were succulent and their flavour enhanced by the beurre blanc rather than being washed away.

Somehow despite being pretty darn full and having just had a shot of what I think was a cosmopolitan at Chef Tomar’s insistence (he ordered a free shot for all at the kitchen bar on a whim!), I just couldn’t say no to desserts. And I’m glad I didn’t because what was to follow was truly fabulous. A bowl of Malabi; rose scented milk pudding with a raspberry coulis and coconut meringue pistachio crunch was almost too picture perfect to eat but I dug my spoon in and away I went. Creamy milk pudding with a heady hit of rose and a spectacular crunch from the pistachio meringue. It is a generous pudding – most probably designed to share and if it was easily transportable, I’d have asked for a doggy bag, alas I had to admit defeat 3/4 of the way in.

Mother’s Basboussa, a semolina cake with whipped yogurt, orange syrup and ground walnut brittle, was presented with a birthday candle for moi (!) and was just as pleasing. All this washed down with a warming carafe of the red Syrah.

Despite soaking wet feet from traipsing around London on one of the wettest days in August, and feeling the onset of a cold, the satisfaction of that meal made me the happiest 30 year old in London.

Verdict: The bees knees

 

Restaurant rave: Reinventing the tapas wheel at Bravas Tapas

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I was quite excited upon the arrival of Bravas Tapas some months back, having heard good things but then quickly forgot about it in favour of my absolute number one favourite tapas joint – José – which I’ve purposely never reviewed for selfish reasons (!).

On Saturday I visited José as a birthday treat and had yet another soul-nourishing and rather boozy meal. Gooey blue cheese croquettes being the star dish this time around. The next day as payment in kind for babysitting, I took mother for a stroll and a spot of lunch around St Katherine docks, when we stumbled upon Bravas Tapas. Curiosity got the better of me, so in we went. It didn’t matter that I’d just had tapas the day before, because well it’s so damn good, who wouldn’t want more!

And what a treat for the senses it was. I honestly don’t know why this place hasn’t had more exposure. Price points are reasonable despite the hefty rent it must be paying for its prime spot around the dock and the food…where shall I start…

There were the usual suspects. Croquettes were perfectly crispy on the outside with well seasoned mineral rich spinach oozing out. ‘Bravas potatoes’ (aka patatas bravas) had a crispy crunch with soft fluffy potato inside and a healthy kick of smoked paprika. The alioli not too overpowering.

Then there were some rather interesting dishes that showed a little more thought and innovation, without compromising on flavour and authenticity. Salmon roulades filled with shoestring fried sweet potato and a spicy citrus dressing were practicality fought over by my mother and I. Thankfully I got to devour most of the oyster fritura cooked with sherry, wild spinach, toasted almonds and caviar for an extra touch of luxury. You’d have to try them to understand the flavour burst that occurs when you stuff one of these in. Creamy, nutty and earthy with a strong hit of the sea from the oyster. It’s truly spectacular. I don’t believe I’ve had anything like it before.

As you know (or will do by the end of this post!) I’m always inclined to check out a dessert menu and surprisingly despite having gobbled such rich ingredients, found I had both the determination and the appetite for one or two sweet treats. Our waitress recommended the torijja; – a Spanish lemon sponge cake with hard sugar glazing not to dissimilar to a creme brûlée. This was served with passion fruit sorbet. It comes as a sizeable block and seems quite stodgy at first glance but this isn’t so. In fact the light, moist lemony sponge went down all too quickly.

When ordering and seeing that desserts came at the bargain price of £5, we assumed them to be small dishes, so ordered another dish of macerated strawberries in cava and topped with white chocolate. Though, this was not too much of a task to finish, ripe strawberries with the dry aftertaste of cava, with a sweet finish from the white chocolate cream. Mmmmm……

Even now as I recall it, I was so very surprised to find tapas that can be both authentic and innovative, and reasonably good value too. Service was friendly and swift, which is always a happy combo. All this in a venue that looks out to a dock full of million pound yachts. You can’t ask for more really.

Last words: Delicious tapas. Flowing wine. Marina views.

Restaurant rave: Hearty Italian nosh at L’anima Cafe

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Last but not least, after all the birthday revelry, I made a visit to L’anima Cafe for a long overdue catchup with a friend of mine. I was rather curious after the multiple critics reviews that seemed to wax lyrical about it, not least that of Grace Dent. First thing that hit me is the vast space it occupies but despite that, prices are mid-ranged for the city compared to what they could be.

Being a little early as usual, I settled at bar. Cocktails seem very much on trend and I was curious to try the much talked about Kamm and Sons in a cocktail aptly named London Spritz. Half Pimms and half ginseng. Quite refreshing. I was temped to try more but in came my friend and off we popped to the table.

Dishes are very much refined classics and then you have a whole section of the menu dedicated to pizzas. Rustic with a touch of elegance. A starter of grilled calamari was executed with care and balanced with ripe juicy peppers. The artichoke heart special was a tad undercooked and bitter, the only dish I’d have left out on hindsight. Mains comprised of aglio pizza (smoked garlic and sundried tomatoes) and a delightful sea-salt crusted sea bream, cooked on top of a herby dough base to infuse it further.

We were fit to burst but I ploughed on ordering a plate of the pasticcini. A small yet indulgent plate of 6 little pastry treats, which were supposedly from Southern Italy but seemed more like French patisserie to me. It would have been nice to see a canoli or two in there. Either way, the cream filled, fruity, chocolatey little delights finished the meal off nicely.

Overall as a meal out and a taste of Italy, it sufficed but lacked that special element, a USP to define it. Yes there are nice touches here and there like the Vespa on entry but the vast space and something for everyone menu, makes it difficult to get to the essence of the restaurant.

One or two extra points I think worth mentioning. Service at the bar is great. Service in the restaurant is scatty at best. They’re chomping at the bit to serve you and then you can’t find anyone when you need them. Secondly the wine list could be a little more expansive. I get the quaintness of having house wines only by the glass but this is not a trattoria in a small village. We are in the city of London and a little more choice is needed for those not swigging bottle after bottle.

July round up: A hot pot of foodie raves and one vitriolic rant

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Hello folks and welcome back to my summer of food expeditions and adventures. July has been a busy old month with a few interesting jaunts and one rather dull affair.

Along with plates piled full of food, the summer so far has been an adventure and a time of retrospection for me, as I pass the second anniversary of my career break. Two years have flown by pretty quickly. The little one is no longer a baby but a fully fledged toddler, whose getting a good dose of London before we upsticks and leave. This last month alone she’s curiously explored several art galleries, got stuck into messy painting sessions, run around museums and even had her first modelling photo shoot. There’s never an dull moment. And best of all she’s got her mummy’s appetite (at a girl!).

It still surprises me to this day that I’ve happily fallen into the role of stay at home/home organiser (or other undermining title) and though there are increasingly tough days when I’m covered in food and snot desperately considering my return to PR, one cheeky little smile and soppy kiss from the little mite pops that bubble of thought and turns me to mush (you may reach for the bucket now!). This is not something all of you will get though and I know this, because I myself was once a snobby little madam tutting away whenever I saw a remotely audible child in a plane. But if anything can change a human being, it’s age and circumstance.

It’s also a positive time as I edge ever closer to 30 (just a fortnight to go!). For one thing, I’m pretty chirpy about this blog and the outlet it has become for me and my passion, vis a vis all things gastronomical. I set out with limited expectations and a vision to simply record my comings and goings but it seems that somewhere along the line you lot like what you read…THANK YOU for your support and hubby darling for his generous funding! Without further ado, enjoy my July foodie antics!

Country life: The wedding bells ring at Highclere Castle (Aka Downton Abbey)

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A quickie entry here. Hubby and I recently attended a wedding at Highclere castle AKA Downton Abbey, not your usual run of the mill wedding. And certainly a highlight on our calendar – a close second after my forthcoming birthday ;)

Mr and Mrs Sloane Ranger – who you may remember from our charity rosé tasting expedition at the Saatchi Gallery last year – had a beautiful day and the location really was stunning. What was equally admirable was the breakfast we were thankfully nourished with the morning after, at our pub with rooms – the Yew Tree (Highclere).

I had been saved by my savvy pacing and preemptive migraleve popping before bed but hubby was suffering big time. So a full English – veggie style was just the thing for him. Meanwhile I happily savoured my ample rich and buttery scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on muffins. Pot of earl grey was pretty well brewed. The room was surprisingly boutique too. Definitely gets a thumbs up from me and one to consider if you are in that part of the woods for either Highclere castle or for Newbury races.

Restaurant rave: Pescetarian heaven at the Angler restaurant at the South Place Hotel

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South place hotel is by no means new and it’s been on my radar for some time. Having recently received a Michelin star, one of only two (I believe) in the D&D stable of restaurants, and upon hearing a positive experience from a friend, I decided it was time to give this place a go for a grown up meal with friends. And boy was it a good call.

Though it’s surrounded by building works and scaffolding, there’s a zen-like serenity in the air, once you reach the 7th floor of the hotel in the whizzy lift. The light and airy interiors may have something to do with this but there’s also a tone of maturity and that’s where the menu comes in.

There are some seriously enticing and complex dishes on the menu, which also includes the usual D&D signature of fresh Crustacea. But being me I went straight in with my favourites – a mackerel ceviche starter and the much lauded lobster pie.

The mackerel ceviche was beautifully presented with cubes of pink grapefruit and cucumber all tangy and zesty, and offset by a good sprinkle of coriander. And the lobster pie was just the bees knees with a generous serving of lobster in its own rich bisque and meaty button mushrooms. Fellow diners were equally satisfied with their dishes, including a rather generous langoustine and lobster cocktail (starter) and a main of lamb with stuffed courgette flower. The only criticism being a lack of sauce, which was easily rectified.

One pattern that emerged from our meal is the generous portions provided, and though Angler charges city prices not too far of from City Social say, there is no arguing it still retains value for money.

Somehow, two of us managed to persuade ourselves to peruse the desert menu and at an average price of £7, knew full well there was no way we were going to pass this opportunity. So on we trooped with a refreshingly summery elderflower panna cotta (prosecco jelly and blueberry granita) and a hazelnut cake for one of my friends (salted caramel, lime and vanilla sorbet). Both were fabulously executed in their own right. I can safely say this, as we swapped halfway to make this thorough assessment. They had even sussed it was my birthday (though as you know from my twitter account, this is not exactly hard to do) and communicated it across my dessert plate with chocolate writing and a candle. Nice.

Not quite done for the night, despite the gigantic portions and the vast number of dishes we’d polished off, we enquired after the terrace bar and our waiter sought us a table immediately. It’s one of those nicely hidden away terraces that you don’t readily see featured on the umpteen number of Timeout / Londonist / Evening Standard summer dining features etc. And with table service to boot (slow though it can be at times), it made for the perfect hassle-free night cap spot (but would equally serve someone seeking a quieter al-fresco after work drinks).

Square Meal

Restaurant rave: A summery feast at the new Granger and Co, Clerkenwell

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being invited along with a bunch of fabulous food bloggers to the new Granger and Co in Clerkenwell. The charming Sarah Canet, founder of SPoonHQ, was keen to show us the shiny new premises and let us loose on a table laden with promised goodies from the kitchen.

I was sceptical, especially given the location (having lived in South London for half a decade) but nevertheless when food beckons. You don’t question. So I ventured forth to the north, armed with Google maps and was doing pretty well, till I hit a Snag AKA the godforsaken circle line. Thankfully Sarah and her team had a bottle of chilled crisp Rosé at the ready, once I emerged out of Farringdon, which made the sticky underground detour a distant nightmare within minutes.

Pretty soon after that, the table began to fill with an array of delights with plentiful hues of green. Garnishing is big in this place. And why not, “we all need our greens, especially when they are as tasty as the garden mint salad with feta and radishes. A beautifully refreshing and summery dish, which went well with the shrimp tempura. The tempura itself could have done with a few more mins in the fryer but the star on the plate was always going to be the mayonnaise. Often overlooked or taken for granted but not here, where they give it a healthy kick of sriracha chilli sauce and wait for it…espresso!

Korean chicken went down a treat amongst the crowd. A step up from KFC, with spice flecked batter being reinforced by a sweet but fiery chilli sauce. Next came the mains, which included shrimp pizza, bonito (tuna) flakes and tofu pizza and tea smoked salmon with samphire. A world selection of dishes given an Asian twist – no doubt inspired by Mr Granger’s travels. Of these my definite favourite was the Shrimp pizza; crisp base enhanced with a good balance of tomato and those juicy shrimps taking Centre stage.

It’s a wonder we had room for dessert but a quick taste of these; including a delicious elderflower jelly with fresh berry fruits, indicates that this is an efficient all-rounder of a restaurant. It’s a shame then that given the quality of the food and the notoriety of the Notting Hill branch, the Clerkenwell site is relatively quiet. And though I imagine its a lunchtime favourite of the media types that surround the area, am sure it’ll get the attention it deserves soon enough. You for one, should certainly take a look and see…

Restaurant rant: “It’s my first day here”. Five words I hate at Arabica Bar and Kitchen

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Warning: I’ve redrafted this review a fair few times, so please bear with the sheer vitriol contained within it.

Why oh why in the world do wait staff think that by telling a customer that they are new, when faced with a question or query, somehow magically puffs said question into thin air. It’s one of the most inconsequential statements that ever existed on this planet.

Before I have tomatoes hurled at me by a brigade of irate wait staff, this is not a sweeping generalisation. I have many a fond memory of standout service from budget to Michelin starred venues but these are sadly marred and of late outnumbered by ones that are contrary. Memories that feature initiative-devoid, even moronic wait staff.

As you’ve guessed, this was a feature of our night out at Arabica Bar and Kitchen. Pleasant though she was, our waitress failed to answer a simple question about the contents of a dish (then failed to find out), couldn’t verify if there was wifi or not (and again failed to ask someone who does know) and failed to upsell wine at the neighbouring table (when the customer specifically asked for a recommendation), replying “they are all very good”.
Yes it’s all good but that wasn’t the question.

This last failure was teeth-grindingly annoying. It’s a rookie error that new restaurants just can’t afford to make. Up selling isn’t a luxury it is a necessity – especially when the customer is handing you the opportunity on a plate. It’s particularly disheartening because I know of the work and passion that goes into putting together a stellar wine list. Wine consultant Zeren Wilson, who put together the list at Arabica, personally recommended a few of his favourites on twitter days before my visit.

And boy do I wish I had listened to him. Instead in a moment of temporary insanity, probably trying to relieve my 20s, I was seduced by exotic sounding cocktails. This included the Rania spritz, which at the hefty price tag of £9 (for a mid range restaurant) gets you a tumbler half-filled, mainly with ice, and a few other elements to give you what basically tastes like something out of an ocean spray packet with a bit of chilli added. I was so surprised by what was presented I asked the waiter where the rest of it was!

Unfortunately it gets worse. The food wasn’t much better either. Small portions including the didiest (I may have made this word up) average tasting falafels and two large but vacuous spinach fatayer. I wondered whether the chef nodded off whilst filling them, they were that empty. A dish of batata harra was more akin to roast potatoes with a little tomato garnish, nothing authentic about that. The only saving graces were the halloumi, which lets face it needs little work, and the main of chargrilled prawns. These took some effort before I could get to the juicy and succulent flesh but were worth it. The only real highlight on an otherwise dull table. That said, a finger bowl wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Now, quite why or how we bothered with desserts is a wonder, but my friend and I both share a sweet tooth so even with the order of events we couldn’t fathom leaving without a sugary syrupy hit of baklava. More woes unfolded. We had to ask for our table be cleared. We waited. And waited. Then we gave up waiting and flagged a waitress – by this point it was clear there were no dedicated sections covered by any one wait staff. We then ordered dessert. Looking back on it we should have just asked for the bill. There must have been some alcohol in that Rania spritz after all.

Desserts arrived but were underwhelming to say the least. We learnt upon ordering, that baklava are £3 a piece! So we only got two with a view to getting more if they were amazing. They were not, so we didn’t. The Mouhalabieh (milk pudding with mastica – a tree sap syrup, poached rhubarb and toasted hazelnuts), was a sticky white blob that soon turned to a puddle (probably sitting on the pass too long). To the naked eye, if there was any rhubarb it was barely visible.

If it weren’t for the fabulous company of my good friend and the fact that we were so busy discussing the goings on in our lives, the night would have been a stressfully disastrous one. The bill only served to highlight that. I later calculated that the equivilant meal at Comptoir Libanais where I have had much better quality meals, would have been £20 cheaper (including like for like drinks). To reiterate this point, last week I visited a simplistic but decidedly authentic Lebanese restaurant in Holborn, which served a plate of 12 baklava (same size) for the price of two at Arabica. They were delicious and I would have happily eaten the whole lot. To top it off they serve them alongside their yummy mint tea.

At this point I must make an apology to my dear husband, who once again called it right (just like he did with Sake no Hana). Having had their takeaway food before, he warned me it was overpriced and underwhelming. And yet I persisted, getting carried away with the hype – something I usually pride myself on not getting caught up in.

So far, hubby, friend and I are the only ones I can see that aren’t in love with the place. So I wonder if I have the worst luck or have just had the good fortune to experience better elsewhere. It may also be that having not ordered any of the meat dishes, our experience was bound to be different to that I’ve read. But that’s no excuse, a good restaurant should be able to offer diners the same all-round experience no matter what their dietary choice.

If you were to ask me where I’d go instead, I’d suggest you try the likes of Comptoir Libanais, Maroush and Hiba Express for a more authentic and easier on the wallet option. If you do prefer your tables to be linen-clothed, Levant and Haz are more likely to be your cup of (mint) tea.

Mummy lunching: The Saatchi Gallery Mess – THAT Pumpkin tortellini and toddler chaos

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There’s little to add to the photo of perfectly cooked saffron coloured tortellini, sweet pumpkin filling and herby cheese sauce that my friend – the blonde – and I ordered and devoured within minutes. It was without doubt one of the best unexpected dishes I’ve had in recent times and boy was it needed.

We’d spent a morning chasing after our rowdy toddlers around the seemingly endless rooms in the Saatchi gallery, as they sped along within knocking distance of the pricey art work. And the marathon didn’t stop just there. Even at the table we were saving glasses from being knocked over (all but one glass of water, thankfully not wine!). We even got the poor waiter in on it with a bowlful of dropped pomegranate seeds.

It was one of those situations where the toddlers were wilfully relentless and you either laughed through it or gave up and cried. Hardy as we are, the blonde and I chose the former option, ploughing through. But if it weren’t for that tortellini and much needed glasses of rosé, who knows!

Love this: grazing at Feast 2014 at Tobacco Dock, Wapping

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My first foodie festival other than the usual taste festivals around London. Feast 2014 was a refreshing take on the traditional food festivals with some innovative master classes and taster events. I popped along for a little wonder with the toddler on the Friday morning session. They’d had a power cut that morning but within a short space of time all the stalls were up and running.

My faves were surprisingly Union St Cafe where chef Roberto made lip-smacking crispy saffron calamari and courgette flowers with a rather unusual but very zingy lemon curd jam. A nice twist on a dish that has been done time and time over. It also nicely set up my expectations for dish no.2 thyme panna cotta and aperol infused apricots. Sublime. Beautiful balance of booze and the apricots were delicious. Even with my dislike of Ramsay, I’ll have to pop by the southwark site and give some of the other dishes a working over!

Overall, there’s plenty of choice to choose from and although Tobacco dock is out the way, it’s certainly worth a wonder down with friends and children in tow to try a variety of cuisines (disabled lift between floors for buggies). For evening visitors there’s even live music to make a full night of it. Keep an eye out for Feast 2015 http://www.wefeast.co.uk

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Boyds Brasserie: A very British afternoon tea with a twist

It’s nearing the end of July and the summer is in full swing. The sun has got its hat on and us Londoners are feeling rather pleased, as we wind up outside beer gardens, terraces and rooftop bars swigging beer/cider/rosé (delete as appropriate) by the gallons. This is one of the my two most favourite traditions of this great nation. The other is afternoon tea.

Thanks to the 7th Duchess of Bedford’s lightbulb moment in the 1840’s, we now all have the option of an extra meal in the day, to head out and celebrate our many occasions over. I know I’ve indulged in many a lavish afternoon tea across the capital in some of the finest establishments; the Palm court at the Langham, Fortnum and Mason, the Spatisserie at the Dorchester and one of my all time favourites – Prêt à Portea at the Berkeley Hotel.

So I was rather curious when I was invited by the UK’s leading hospitality guide – Square Meal – to a tea at Boyds Brasserie, a relatively unheard of dining venue in the heart of London, and only a few steps from busy Trafalgar Square.

Interestingly, for the Duchess afternoon tea was a matter of sustenance before it became a cause for social occasion. In that spirit, I was keen to see what the “unashamedly British” (Food and Drink Guide 2014) Boyds Brasserie had to offer the everyday Londoner and passing tourist, on its recently launched and modestly priced menu. Certainly at £19.90, it’s one of the most inexpensive afternoon tea prices I’ve seen around the city. A steal, some would say.

On arrival, myself and a handful of  fellow foodie bloggers were swiftly handed a glass of Ruinart rosé champagne. Don’t worry though, regular afternoon tea diners can also upgrade, to include a glass of equally fizzy Veuve Clicquot, for an extra £10.

Thirst quenched, I was able to take in the plush surroundings of the bar and restaurant as we all mingled away. No expense has been spared by owner-manager, Charles Boyd, and guests are afforded a 360 degree vision of opulent marble pillars, silk floor-to-ceiling drapes and kitsch chandeliers aplenty. There’s even a grade II listed cabinet, which has been kept to house the red wine. This really is a venue out to impress.

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On to the menu itself, which on the night was nicely personalised and rolled up into a scroll – a pleasure I could well get used to. There is a great emphasis on Britishness and whilst all the usual suspects are present; salmon and cream cheese sandwiches and freshly baked scones, there are also a few interesting twists paying tribute to Britain and it’s lovely produce.

Butter rich potted shrimps from Morecombe Bay were an unusual starting dish but very much a pleasure to devour. The zingy lemon finish and a pleasing crunch from the accompanying crispy bread almost prompted me to order a second pot but I kept true to my mantra that evening “pace myself, pace myself, I have to get into that teeny tiny dress for the wedding on the weekend.”

Sandwiches arrived next. Forgive me for not getting overly excited by this course. I feel I’ve eaten my whole life’s share during my pack-lunching childhood and having since been exposed to the pleasures of London gastronomy, would happily live in a sandwich free world henceforth. Nevertheless, here we are. The variety includes salt beef (not tasted), an edible egg, cress and mayonnaise and a credible Scottish salmon and cream cheese sandwich selection. My only criticism being that the bread for the latter two sandwiches was slightly on the dry side. I’m assuming this is because we were dining past the usual afternoon tea hour (6 going on 7pm).

The main event, eagerly anticipated by the table, comprised of warm scones which passed the twist and tear ‘this is a good scone’ test. This is something I had previously no idea about (and I’m guessing you don’t either) but will be enforced on every scone I now meet with. Debate ensued amongst our table of bloggers, on the merits of the Cornish and Devonian way to spread cream and jam. For your interest and intrigue, I myself prefer the latter approach on account that it is the ‘normal’ way of spreading condiments onto bread. And yes I’m fully aware this is about to lead to a hellfire of Cornish rage in the comments section below. Knock yourself out.

Light as air chocolate eclairs were gobbled in one go, with an almost Nesquick aftertaste. It took me back to my younger days, when I used to sneak in spoonfuls of the powder whilst no one was looking! The strawberry tart perfumed the air around our table and was indeed a beautiful thing to look at. A light, vanilla-flecked cream held the ripe fruit together, however the pastry case was a little tougher than I’d have liked it to have been. These delights were accompanied by a rich and surprisingly moist fruit cake – something I’ve not seen on a tea menu for some time. And a lemon drizzle cake topped with lemon curd, which was unfortunately on the dry side and in need of a little more drizzle.

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, the menu twisted back again to end on a playful note. A glass holder featuring four mini chocolate-wafer vanilla ice cream cones, topped with a rainbow of hundreds and thousands. A giddy treat for the inner child in us all.

I must say, on the night it seemed that the objective of this afternoon tea was to deliver yet another traditional take on British food heritage at a reasonably affordable price, to appeal to a non specific audience of tourists, business clientele, and passing footfall. But in hindsight and despite some minor kinks,  it did a little more than just that. The small playful twists insisted on by the chef, put together with the lavishly-kitsch ambience, and the venue’s central location, offer a unique experience without breaking the bank. Making it a tea menu to be seriously considered in the capital.

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Square Meal

*As declared, this review has been written up following an invitation from the venue. All views are objectively expressed and have not been previewed or edited by either Boyds Brasserie or Square Meal.

Midsummer feasting and merriment

Hello again,

Im back after a not so long hiatus this time around, with yet more tales of fancy feasting and jolly good drinking. So boil the kettle or grab your glass (by the stem of course, always) and take your seat for an interesting journey.

There’s tales of suburban and sky high dining, lush cocktails, and a rather basic but yummy Vietnamese on Kingsland Road. Yes I did just say Kingsland Rd, no it’s not a typo and no I wasn’t drunk. All will be revealed below.

First up…

Country dining: Singapore Orchid – A delightful find in little old Coulsdon (Surrey)

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Yes we are back in Surrey again and you better get used to it, because around this time next year my life is going to be all about keeping up with the latest gilet fashion, 4×4 nursery runs and well…suburban dining. Next summer we are moving to the sticks (ish) and making the great escape from the big smoke. And as a responsible foodie I’m doing my best to research and prep for date nights at the local Chinese/Italian/pub – you name it.

One day a few weeks ago, hubby and I decided to make use of my lovely in-laws whilst on a weekend stay with our toddler and head out for a Thai, when we came across this this delightful little place called Singapore Orchid. A quick online reviews check gave it the all clear and proved worth a visit and despite the rather plain looking shop front, in we went. And so glad am I that we did, because never mind pad thai and green curry, Singaporean/Malay is where it’s at.

The menu reads on and on and on…and it took me a good while to narrow done our choices from the twenty or so dishes I had originally desired. The vegetarian selection alone is mind blowing. Thank goodness, because the maroon interiors are no oil painting and the furniture; rickety at best. But you soon forget all of that when the glorious food comes piling on to your table, eclipsing everything in sight.

First came a fantastic dish of mock crispy duck DIY pancakes, which I loved assembling with all its accompaniments. Then a mildly spicy yet deeply rich veggie ‘lamb’ curry served in an earthen clay pot. The curry was complemented with a dish of Nasi Lemak Sayur – sticky coconut rice, tangy sambal veggie ‘chicken’ and crispy spiced potato croquettes, called Begedil. I could just picture lapping this style of food up street side in hot humid Singapore, having seen similar produce from the busy hawker stalls in not so far away Hong Kong.

All this gobbled up, I (amazingly) still felt like I could squeeze in a sweet something and opted for the banana pancake with ice cream. Sticky and sweet, this was the ultimate meal finisher. There really is only one message here – if you do find yourself in Coulsdon town and dream of warmer exotic climates, don’t miss out on this local winner.

Restaurant rave: Slick sky high dining reforms a rather tired looking Tower 42. Atherton nails it again…

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I hadn’t realised until I booked City Social on the recommendation of a few good critics, that I’ve become a bit of a Jason Atherton fan, of late. I still remember my pre ‘first ever baby scan’ lunch at the wonderful Pollen St Social, because the pregnancy had given me an unusually sweet tooth, which the dessert bar with its veritable selection of small sweet plates fully satiated (and then some). Good call hubby.

Then there was the Pre Christmas visit to Berners Tavern with my girl friends. Another indulgent and refined meal that put the zing back into British cuisine and produce. So my visit to the nearly new City Social perched at the top of an ageing Tower 42 was filled with rather high expectations (see what I did there!).

Was I worried he couldn’t pull off a hatrick… Hell no. After all this is Jason Atherton. Slick, stylish and suave. The restaurant itself (and the bar more so) ooze his persona right down to the razor sharp bronze clips that hold your hefty bill. No wonder the man won a GQ award.

Having hosted many a round table and event here in my former life as a financial PR, I can safely say the space is happily light years away from the trad, beige interiors of Rhodes 24, it’s predecessor. Out with the old and in with the high gloss ceiling and smooth walnut furniture.

That’s the man himself and the interiors covered…on to the food. The menu is no novel by any means, instead it feels concise and select. From what we chose though, I can vouch that the dishes are executed very well indeed. Being a balmy evening we opted for cold starters; the Tuna Tataki and Tomato Salad went down very well on our table.

Hubby, being vegetarian, ordered a curious truffle and potato terrine which I was doubtful about but turned out to be one of the most innovative veg mains we’ve seen for a while. Whilst I stuck to good old sea bass with deep fried oyster and cauliflowers. There was never any doubt on the cooking of the fish itself but the veg – seemingly simple yet most often overlooked – were just the right side of tender with a pleasing hint of crunch. And the oyster; thankfully still identifiable.

Feeling rather full but eager not to miss out on dessert, we decided to share a white chocolate mousse served with caramel hazelnuts (these I now love since Dabbous) and salted caramel ice cream. Lip-smackingly, plate-lickingly good. Although I still want to pop back before the summer is out to try the strawberry soufflé with macerated strawberry salad, which I was trying to push for as our shared dish. As consolation I got treated to a post-dinner cocktail at the bar and a rather yummy one at that.

Verdict in a word. Go.

Tip: Try and bag a window booth when booking, particularly the one furthest into the restaurant, for neat city views.

Bar buzz: A few of my favourite things at Hackney’s Sagar + Wilde

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Wine and cheese. Two of my favourite things and of late…it shows! So before I start to curtail my intake of these edible vices, I decided to pay a trip to much talked about Sagar + Wilde and what better way than a trip with uni pals to toast to 8 years since graduating and first entering the big smoke.

Thankfully I never quite started off at Lambrusco or god forbid Black Tower but even I remember never ever breaking the £4.99 barrier when it came to wine in my uni days. It was unthinkable. Sauvignon Blanc (SB) was in its hay-day back in the early 00’s, so I went through a fair few (nasty and acceptable) Chilean ones before Marlborough, New Zealand was hailed as the new Miss World of SB.

It is therefore apt after nearly a decade since those lazy uni days, for us to visit a decent wine bar and reminisce. And we did just that on a sunny Tuesday evening, over two bottles of rather nice Sicilian white – ironically the cheapest bottle. Accompanied by a few plates of VERY nice cheese, of which the feta, peach and fennel salad was deliciously refreshing.

Overall it’s a great place, nice buzzy neighbourhood vibe and friendly staff. The sad thing in my opinion is that if you are a wine bar, then the idea is to expose your audience to just that; wine. And lots of it. So the lack of carafes and the limitation of wines in what I call a reasonable price bracket (£25-35) to just 5/22 is a bit naff really. Carafes are more enticing to a wine exploring consumer and therefore purchased more often and easily than a bottle, often at higher profit to the vendor. It’s not rocket science.

That said, the experience itself was still pleasing, so if you are dining out and about in E2, it’s definitely worth popping in first, for a glass.

Restaurant rave: Authentic Vietnamese at Mien Tay (Kingsland Rd)

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This one is a quickie as it’s a no brainer. If you do find yourself in the vicinity of Kingsland Rd (as I did after our drinks at Sagar and Wilde) and your feeling quite peckish, save yourself the bother of searching through the seemingly hundreds of Vietnamese restaurants around you and walk straight into Mien Tay.

You can’t miss it -it’s got a lime green store front with two entrances. It also houses some of the best Vietnamese food that I’ve had the good fortune to taste (and yes I should know, I’ve been). Star starter dishes include the crispy pancake (available in a range of fillings), buttery rich sizzling prawns and a dish of curiously vivid yet thoroughly tasty green mussels in tamarind sauce. For the mains, you must try the whole seabass – bit messy but utterly worth it.

Oh and do most of your drinking prior to popping in here as understandably it’s not the most innovative wine list ever and lacks a much needed Chenin or Gewurtztraminer to stand up to the lovely spices. Though if you do fancy a bottle, there is a decent NZ SB to see you through your meal.

Bar buzz: Cartizze Round 2 and Drew’s smashing brandy cocktail – Gusto Di Vita

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So it’s probably only been a month or just over but the other day I found myself dreaming of Cartizze bar’s memorable cocktails and vintage jazz, and so persuaded hubby who was yet to see its wonder, to make a pre dinner detour. And boy was I glad. This place just gets better and better. I’d already made my way through two of its enticing cocktails and was determind to make more progress on this.

Eric and his team continue to excel in providing top notch service, with the wait staff providing some great recommendations and little tasters for those like me who are a wee big unsure of whether they can handle the strong stuff. Thankfully, I now know that I can’t drink a classic martini or the in-vogue negroni without having to learn the hard (and expensive) way.

Instead what I can drink and very much recommend you to try, are as follows:

Mayfair Elegante (rum, gin, blood orange)
Sicilian gimlet (blood orange gin and lemon cordial)
Olive oil gin fizz (what it says on the tin)
Amor Y Amargo (amaretto, apricot liqueur egg white, prosecco)
Sbagliato (Campari, sweet vermouth, Prosecco)

For those of you wishing to try the nearest thing to a negroni but without as much kick, have a go at the Milano Torino.

One thing I must be clear on about Cartizze Bar is that it serves up good old fashioned cocktails, there’s none of the neon-bright, sugar-saturated, juice-filled, skinny-claiming cocktails that you find in say the refinery or similar. This is premium hard hitting drink at its best. So load up on those carbs. You are going to need it.

One final tip; whilst there, barman Drew created a new masterpeice (captured below), called Gusto Di Vita (meaning flavour/zest for life) and comprising of Remy Martin VSOP, apricot jam, lavender bitters and a concoction of other ingredients including a blood orange sherbet rim, which make it so damn dee-licious.

I’d say it’s a must for anyone who went through their 20s living on peach Bellinis but now can’t drink them for love nor money because they’re made straight out of a saccharine sweet juice packet these days (even at Harry’s Bar in Venice – where it originated from!).

Well done Drew!

 

Love this: Hakkasan’s not so Cantonese but very deliciously summery strawberry mille feuille

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Isn’t this dessert just picture perfect. It’s not exactly Cantonese but just one of the yummiest desserts I have had this month and perfectly summery. Ripe strawberries, smooth vanilla ice cream and crisp puff pastry. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that make us the happiest.

Restaurant rave: Why I love Antico for consistently conforting Italian nosh

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Sometimes I take Italian restaurants for granted because I naturally expect them to be consistent in what they do, after all it’s pasta not rocket science. But after a long break from eating out at one (after a not so great second visit to Zucca), I was very appreciative of my dinner the other weekend at Antico – right at the bottom of our local food haven – Bermondsey St.

The last time I was there I remember feeling like an inflated rubber dingy being eight months preggers. But that didn’t stop me polishing off my seafood linguine – oh no – because it was so damn good. The same could be said of the desserts. And this visit was no different, thanks to the skills in the kitchen and the staff out front.

A braised octopus salad was perfectly cooked if not over-generously plated (especially at only £6) and hubby’s asparagus with Parmesan shavings was pleasing too. These were followed by monkfish tomato and chilli risotto, and a tomato and olive tagliatelle dish. The monkfish beautifully succulent and the risotto itself had a hint of al denté and a hit of punchy flavours; chilli, garlic and ripe tomatoes.

Granted, hubby’s vegetarian dish of tomato, mozzarella and black olive tagliatelle was not going to win any awards for innovation and neither was the incredibly zingy and light lemon tart we shared but it all delivered on flavour all the same.

And that’s what you want guaranteed from a neighbourhood eat, your not looking for contemporary twists and reinventions, you just want classic, clean and simple cooking. And that is what Antico does best. I now just hope it doesn’t do a Zucca on me and change!

The summer so far: Saké tasting, burlesque cabaret, strawberry scallops and a pizza or two…

Welcome back folks,

It’s been a helluva’ busy month or two and my food and drink jaunts are multiplying fast, as the 30th birthday celebrations inch closer to my actual birth month – August.

You might think it somewhat over indulgent to be celebrating one birthday for almost half a year but I certainly don’t. 30 only comes once and I fully intend to see it through with much regalia and plenty of fizz. Even if the second half of the year will be spent in penance i.e. At the gym!

So to make this post mostly bearable and perhaps even intriguing, I’ve decided to show you my month (May/June) in pictures. Hopefully you can make it through the photogrid explosion and filter experimentation, to see that it’s been a ruddy good month of food and drink, bar a few exceptions (meringues are so not the new cupcake, no matter who’s says they are!).

So here’s to an inspiring or just plain curious look at what I’ve been scoffing and glugging this last month. You never know, you just might find something you like.

P.s. In case you are wondering where the much promised New York trilogy is, it’s coming soon. Just a little delayed what with full time toddler duty and a bursting social diary. I’ll make it worth the wait, you know I will but till then hope these crumbs keep you going…

 

Love this: This isn’t just any French toast. Caramelised apples stacked on butter rich brioche with a scoop of cinnamon cream at Toms Kitchen, Canary Wharf.

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 I’m a sucker for a bit of French toast since I first tested it in my student kitchen back at university. I still prefer my version with caramelised peaches but this apple take wasn’t half bad. A little steep at £9.50 but friendly service and the fabulous company of fellow mummy – the blonde – made for a pleasant breakfast pit stop.

Square Meal

 

Experience this: Sushi making and saké tasting at Inamo St James’.

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I’m always sceptical about foodie experiences in London’s restaurants, because by and large you never get what you pay for. That said, Inamo St James’ proved to be a pleasant exception and a great birthday present for my sushi-loving bestie.

The sommelier of this gaff knows his Saké (or Nihonshu as it’s known as Japan) like the back of his hand, making it surprisingly informative as well as fun. Once you’re suitably tipsy (the sparking one made near Fukushima is particularly strong! And yes I did just say Fukushima!),and armed with an arsenal of tips on Japanese drinking etiquette, you are ushered into the kitchen to prepare fresh sushi and nigiri with Chef Jon. A likeable fellow and highly skilled too. Of course none of our dishes came out looking quite like his picture perfect morsels but we had a laugh along the way. And if you’re a fan of the crazy challenges on that old TV gem – generation game – you’ll love it too.

Square Meal

Restaurant rave: An English affair at the Orangery, Kensington Palace.

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 I hardly ever venture to this side of what I still call Hyde park but on a day out with a fellow mummy and our thankfully napping-toddlers we paid this charming establishment a lunchtime visit back in May. The sun was out and the terrace was brimming with full tables, so we sat inside but the view of the park is not obstructed through the large windows and the tall ceilings of this beautifully maintained orangery continue the outdoorsy airy feel.

The house rosé was crisp, dry and elegant, just right for a summers day and given the heat, we decided to go with an unconventional combination of starters and desserts to keep things ‘light’. Of these, the beetroot salad and rhubarb Eton Mess were particularly good. Service is a little slow but quickly forgiven in such a majestic venue.

Square Meal

 

 

Love this: Nutella Pizza at Polpo, Soho. Beats Nutella on toast!

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I spotted a pic of this crazy pizza on twitter recently and with my very recent discovery of Nutella (my mother has a lot to answer for!) – I just knew I had to try it. Crispy thin pizza dough and lashings of the chocolate spread, with a generous sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts. Russell Norman and team are on to a winner here. What are you waiting for?!

Square Meal

Experience this: Burlesque glamour and high jinks at Black Cat Cabaret. Cafe Royal Hotel.

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I can happily tick this off my list of things to do before I turn 30. A fabulous night of decadence and mild debauchery. Not quite the full on naughtiness I was expecting but an entertaining mix of magic, comedy, singing and talent nonetheless. The opulent mirrored surroundings of the grill room (previously the Oscar Wilde bar) added some serious glamour to the event too and given the very reasonable ticket price, it’s a great introduction into the world of burlesque cabaret. I’m now keen to check out Miss Polly Rae of the Soho Burlesque Club for something a little more provocative ;)

Local find: the perfect Earl Grey pit stop at B Street Deli

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 With a shop front of flowers outside you’d be forgiven for thinking this was still a florist but a second glance inside the premises reveals a deli, cafe and gastronomic gift shop of sorts. Stay or take away, there are some delectable dishes and sweet treats to choose from. The Earl Grey even beats that of my preferred vendor – Prét A Manger!

Square Meal

Restaurant rave: Burger and Lobster, City. Bizarrely good value for money.

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 I’m not a fan of this whole gourmet fast food malarkey as you know but I am a sucker for lobster. So it was only a matter of time before I gave this place a go. It’s pretty simple really. The menu contains less dishes than fingers on one hand. You can go all messy with the beast laid out on your table, or wimp out with a cold lobster roll. Though, with half a succulent and juicy lobster, a bowl of pretty decent chips and salad costing just shy of £20, you’d be a fool to choose anything else.

The only other place I know serving decent lobster and chips with change from a pinky/purple note is Plateau in Canary Wharf.

Square Meal

Country life: A summer’s evening at the Ramblers Rest, Coulsdon (including strawberry scallops).

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 Given that hubby, toddler and I are moving to the sticks next year, we thought we’d better acquaint ourselves with the nearest watering holes and feeling particularly adventurous decided to eat out too. This is a favourite of ours, having visited a few times for summer evening drinkies owing to its particularly impressive wine list and range of wines by the glass. There’s even a Chateau Du Sours Sparkling Rosé by the glass. The rolling hills in the background aren’t too bad either.

One dish I have to mention because it is a bizarre concept but one that even more bizarrely worked, were the scallops served with strawberry salsa. A picturesque plate if ever there was one but also just damn tasty. You don’t know whether to laugh at the genius of it or praise the bravery of the chef but either way nom nom nom you will, till it’s all gone. The sharing dessert is a winner too. Something tells me our visits here could be more frequent than anticipated…

Bar buzz: Old school glamour and gorgeous crystal ware at Italian inspired Cartizze Bar.

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Cartizze oozes old school glamour to the hilt and seduces you with a luxurious and innovative cocktail menu. The bar itself, laden with ornate crystal ware, exudes panache and style and between the seriously charming FOH/barmen and the therapeutic yesteryear jazz in the background – you know you’ve found a real gem of a bar.

The olive oil gin fizz is a must and if we didn’t have dinner booked elsewhere, I’d have easily stayed on to sample more and grabbed a pizza from the upstairs Mayfair Pizza Co. Instead, I now have more lush cocktails to try on the next visit…

Square Meal

Pop up: Quaglinos and the Meringue and Bellini pop up bar – that didn’t float my boat 

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There was once a time when the set menu at Quaggies (as I, and probably a dozen ageing 90’s non-celebs like to call it) was a pretty decent steal without any obvious faults. That was unfortunately not the case this time around. Served with severely overcooked, dry pork dish, and a mediocre prawn casserole containing only 4 of the pink blighters, for which I paid a supplement (yes, a supplement for prawns!), the champagne was the only decent item on the table.

Thankfully the manager swooned in and saved the day by offering to mop up the mess with free bellinis and meringues (from the much-lauded Meringue Girls) at their pop up bar. Only the thing we were there for in the first place. Super excited to make up for our meal and now that this experience was about to be free, we curiously wondered up to the very empty bar to try the meringues. However, saccharine sweet bellinis with nearly no fizz whatsoever and bites of mildly flavoured eggy air (honestly, we weren’t even sure what some of the flavours were meant to be) quickly turned that excitement into further disappointment. Rather a flat night, given all the bubbly on offer.

In a sentence – One pop-up you don’t need to visit this summer.

Square Meal

 

Restaurant rave: Absolutely riveting food from Scott Hallsworth and team at Kurobuta London (Marble Arch)

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Much raved about, Kurobuta has been on my wish list for some time now. The pop-up in Chelsea is still running but fellow mummy, ‘the blonde’, and I took our lunatic toddlers on a lunch mission to the recently opened marble arch restaurant (following a morning of musical adventures at nearby Wigmore Hall).

Service is swift and endearingly friendly (Basketball-clad guy was a star), even with a floor full of rice cakes and raisins under our mischievous little ones, they seemed happy to have us, and we where happy to not be shoved in a corner for once.

The food though, that’s where it’s really at. The tuna sashimi pizza – crispy tortilla bread layered with tuna and dressed with truffle ponzu and green chillies (though not too spicy) was ‘the dish’ in my eyes. Closely followed by delicious soft shell crab tempura maki. Fried chicken Kushi-Yaki from the Robata BBQ kept the blonde happy and a yummy Yuzu tart and giant chocolate cookie finished things off nicely, along with a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.

The only drawback is the slightly out of the way location. Can’t say I’ve ever been down the back of Oxford St/Edgware Road before but definitely one to check out. The weekday lunch service seems a particularly chilled time of day to go.

Square Meal

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*Images for Quaglinos Pop up bar and Cartizze supplied by fellow friend, photo genius and food blogger @MyDailyDose8 – check out her new blog at http://www.dailydoseofhappinessblog.com

April round up (part two): Dabbous and Le Pont De La Tour

Hello folks! What a fabulously summery week we are having, there was sun and now there is cloud – just the type of summer we Brits are accustomed to. I just hope the usual rain finale can hold off.

It’s been an interesting start to May, what with an indulgent and celebratory trip to New York (goss on that coming soon) which left me feeling ten years younger in many ways, but also around the fast-approaching third decade, as far as putting life into perspective is concerned. In between the marathon tasting menus and liquid merriment, I figured out a little of what turning 30 means to me.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I had a full-blown epiphany but that little time away has opened my eyes to a lot; how proud I am of my achievements, what value I place on the in/tangible aspects in my life, and how comfortable I now am in my own skin. This last one is also literal – I now boldly leave the house on occasion without my two essentials; earrings (Ahh!!) and a quick slap of lipstick (Eek!)…

I do feel wiser in many ways than I did before the start of this year. Whether this intuition is a result of the ‘baby brain’ hormones finally wearing off (or getting sharper, depending on which study you read), I don’t know. What I do know is that family aside, my love of food and drink is now proving to be more than just a brief fling and that I’m really rather committed to the cause.

And on that note, you hopefully had some fun reading the first half of my April adventures and have dared to come back for more. So without further ado let’s get April done and dusted, so I can tell you all about The New York Trilogy (Per Se, Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern) soon.

Delectable Dabbous

I remember reading the amazing reviews of Dabbous shortly after it first opened in 2012. I especially remember the rare five stars it got from Ms Maschler and that a certain Mr J Rayner managed to write a review lacking any of his usual griping or vitriol. A style I had become rather accustomed to (and still rather enjoy!). So I figured, using my strong powers of deduction, that this place was a winner.

However, fickle as I am, after several failed attempts at booking I turned my attentions elsewhere, continuing my Michelin tour of London. It wasn’t until recently that a friend mentioned it and I suddenly wondered if the craze had finally died down. Not quite ‘died down’ but at least I got a foot in; in December 2013 I was able to make the first available Saturday booking for April this year.

Still, despite all the buzz I was determined not to ramp up my expectations, after all I was now steely and hardy from two years of Michelin dining. Extravagant tasting menus, matching wine flights, sous-vide, hay-smoked, foam-topped, micro-herb- garnished…there wasn’t a technique or a dish I hadn’t tasted. Or so I thought.

And then came the Avocado, basil and almonds in a chilled Osmanthus broth. the third plate of our tasting menu to grace our table at Dabbous. A plate that made me rethink my dislike of the humble avocado, as it took centre stage in a broth garnished with fresh basil (with possibly zesty lemongrass notes), whilst contrasting nicely with the brittle texture of almonds.

That one dish outlined for me, the charm of Dabbous. The thing that makes is so. Simplicity without flavour compromise. Seasonality without extravagance. Texture without complication. These were the values that illustrated our nine course menu.

There were other dishes that astounded, we were lucky enough to try the Coddled egg with mushrooms and smoked butter – a dish the restaurant is famed for and has only just brought back on its menus after a presumably well deserved hiatus. A perfectly charred octopus with moscato grapes certainly hit all the right spots too.

But the menu is not entirely without flaw. And here is where I get a little confused with my experience Vs the Critics. The use of certain ingredients, seasonal though they may be, on more than one dish and often in quick succession too I.e. smoked butter, chestnuts, bitter leaves etc… does impact your excitement in the same way a slow release puncture deflates a birthday balloon. You start off giddy with the first four dishes and then feel a bit flat with the second half of the performance because it all starts to look and taste a bit same-y.

I was hoping the ominous sounding iced lovage served with a shot of a Blooms Gin (the latter of which, you get if you are doing a wine flight – as we did) would raise the menu back to its initial glory but fun as it was, it was really just a glorified palate cleanser.

The only dessert, was a Barley flour sponge soaked in red tea and served with Tahitian vanilla cream. I am afraid this stodgy cake was neither light nor appetising and the vanilla cream wasn’t the right choice to bring the evening to a close (not when you’ve consumed so much butter beforehand). The most interesting aspect of this dessert was the beautiful antique-looking azure-blue sundae glass it was served in. Bit of a crying shame really, as this dish was almost the antithesis to the whole menu.

So there you have it. Confused? So am I. Has the pedestal been raised too high to maintain? Is this strangely inconsistent approach all my opinion or is it the result of a restaurant coming off its initial hit of fame?

Well you’ll just have to go and find out for yourself…and go you should, because despite its flaws (seriously what restaurant is perfect!) it has some wonderful insights to offer your appetite and at £59 for nine courses, it’s of the best value tasting menus to be offered by a Michelin starred restaurant.

A final tip; Do opt for the matching wine flight if you can. Don’t be fooled by the really rather young sommelier, he knows what he’s doing and has put together some enjoyable combinations.

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Pinot Noir tasting and Tom Cook’s ravishing Ravioli at Le Pont De La Tour

I’m something of an old hand when it comes to wine tastings, spending many a tipsy evening with hubby dearest at the charming and dangerously local Le Pont Wine Shop. Their tastings are just the right balance of informative without being formal.

I also love how each tasting varies dramatically depending on the producer/distributor leading the evening, which keeps the programme fresh and intriguing. Though I should note I shan’t be attending another Austrian night. As much as I love my Gruner V, I simply cannot drink wine whilst watching a PowerPoint presentation ‘for fun’!

Since our feisty toddler has entered the scene though, the wine tastings have taken a back seat. Hubby and I didn’t think it fair to go without one another (not when it was ‘our thing’), or that it was worth the astronomical babysitting fees to simply nip down the road for a few.

But when I saw the words Pinot Noir chalked up on the wine shop’s blackboard – I knew it had to be done. I approached the topic gingerly, found hubby enthusiastically felt the same and hey presto, we came to a compromise – we’d each go to a tasting to make it fair. And so we did. He tried the Barolo tasting with the lads from work a week before and I the Pinot Noir, with a fellow oenophile.

And I’m glad I did, as there were some stunning wines on show including the 2009 Pinot Noir, Monterey, California La Crema and the 2011 Julia’s vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, California, Cambria. Pierre-Marie Patteiu, the UK Manager of Jackson Family Wines deftly briefed us on each wine and what to expect before being given some time to sip and conclude thoughts (as well as deciding which wine to spend your redeemable £10 on).

You also learn a good trick or two at these tastings and that all is sometimes not what it seems. I’d long since written off Jackson Family wines because of the Kendall-Jackson tie up, a brand akin to Jacobs Creek and the like. This they know, I’m told on the evening. So instead of branding across these beautiful wines they’ve kept the individual identities of the wineries and estates to create a boutique feel. So that us would-be connoisseurs at home, quick to judge, may be happily drinking a Jackson Family wine without knowing it. Clever. Very clever.

Five tasting glasses and a few cheeky refills later, my friend and I walk a very short distance next door to Le Pont De La Tour – one of my favourite locals. Executive Chef, Tom Cook, has done a fabulous job in keeping the menus fresh and intriguing so that myself and I’m sure fellow locals, make up a good proportion of its returning clientele.

On this night we opted for the less formal Bar and Grill but before I get to the food it’s good to note that you can open wines purchased in the shop (post a tasting session) without corkage charge, in both the bar and grill and the main restaurant. There’s also a nifty 20% off the food bill. Not bad.

The food; both friend and I ordered the moules mariniere for starters and my god, that gigantic bowl would fill you up alone. Thankfully we’d grown quite an appetite and victoriously conquered the moules mountain before moving onto our main.

Now I know there’s nothing wow about ravioli on a normal day but the beautiful pumpkin ravioli in a mushroom sauce – not the exact title but you get my drift – was ravishing. If you can ever describe a dish as ravishing – it’s this one. The sauce was silky, rich and deep in flavour and earthy with flecks of complementary herbs. In fact, it was so good that my friend and I took to mopping up the dish with the remaining contents of the bread basket.

Shortly after that my friend polished off a rather boozy rum baba but my taste buds were still yearning over that ravioli and with all that bread inside me, I opted to finish off with an expertly-made Aperol spritz.

Our sauce mopping actions were obviously noted and conveyed to the kitchen, as Mr Cook himself ventured towards our table and we gushingly praised his culinary efforts before revealing our blogging nature. So here it is Tom, praise indeed. I shall be back yet again!

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April round-up (part one): Casse Croûte, Hutong, One Canada Square, The Sanderson

Back in January of this year, hubby and I decided to do something outrageous and book two tickets to New York for a long weekend break with friends. I’m not quite sure what mind altering drugs we were on (probably a Malbec or mojitos) when we consciously decided to leave our adorable, doting puppy-eyed toddler behind with her grandparents, to party it up in the big apple. And now that the time has come to part, the separation anxiety has begun. Only it’s not her, the poor little thing has no idea. It’s me who’s freaking out!

I know as parents we deserve a little downtime. And with my little munchkin being under two, there’s no time like the present to sneak that getaway in before the abandonment is stored in her long term memories (only to be drudged up in therapy during her adolescent years!). But having never parted from her for more than a day out here and there, this is tougher for me than I had ever imagined.

So, in a bid to fend off my guilt and anxiety, I have turned to my old vice and have been taking refuge in some of London’s latest eateries (as you do). And my what a month it’s been. I’ve managed to find solace in some beautifully rich French bistro grub, irrestible lychee martinis, dreamy passionfruit soufflés, contemporary flavours with weird and wonderful twists, a Mad Hatter’s afternoon tea, a lively American Pinot Noir tasting and to top it off, one of the best pumpkin ravioli dishes of all time.

In fact, the amount of plate polishing I’ve been doing has been so overwhelming that I’m having to split up my April round up in two instalments. Oh aren’t you lucky!

And because I love a little anticipation, part two will follow once I’m back from NY, featuring my take on the modern plates at Dabbous, and the plentiful Pinot noir and aforementioned pumpkin ravioli at one of my fave locals, Le Pont de la Tour.

P.s. If you are at all concerned about my state of mind whilst away, there’s no need honestly. I’ve already planned visits to some great sanctuaries, in the form of the San Pelligrino ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurant winners; Per Sé (11th place)* and Eleven Madison Park (5th place)* More on that when I’m back.

P.p.s. If you really can’t wait till I’m back and would like to peer in to see my daily musings, follow me on twitter @mitzie8cake

*Correct at time of press, though the latest round of awards is taking place tonight!

French fare at Casse Croûte, Bermondsey St

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What a marvellous little gem of a bistro this is. There’s a small yet diverse wine list, of which most are available by glass or carafe. And just as well, because Casse Croûte is the perfect spot for whiling away a lazy Sunday afternoon, starting off with some fizz or rosé before moving on to deep and meaningful reds like the delightful Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The menu changes daily and can be found on the restaurant’s twitter feed, so I won’t go into grave detail about what we had but judging from the consistent happiness our dishes provided, you’ll be equally satisfied. That said, if you do happen to visit on a day when the menu includes:

Zingy daurade tartare
Crispy duck confit in creamy earthy puy lentils
Succulent brill in wilted spinach and silky smooth celeriac puree
Light and buttery vanilla cream mille feuille

Believe me, you will be in no hurry to leave! (Of course it won’t quite be written like that on the chalkboard menu but you get the idea…)

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Cocktails at Hutong, The Shard

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You’d think with the shard practically on my doorstep, I’d be calling it my second home but I’ve been rather disciplined, saving it for when I’m really in the mood for a little luxury. Having gorged on the aforementioned dishes at Casse Croûte, my friend, foodie frappy and I decided to have one last hoorah before calling it a day.

As usual, Aqua was quite busy and I wasn’t in the mood for a long bar wait, so up we went to the Shanghai bar at Hutong. In my opinion the better bar of the two. Though a little smaller, the wraparound bar has more atmosphere, with glossy-black lacquered wood contrasting against floor to ceiling glass. More importantly, it has a lot less people, which meant on our visit we had the rather charming 6ft + chiselled-jaw barman all to ourselves.

Lychee martinis are definitely the order of the day whilst you take in the view (of London not the barman!), so make sure you order one or two…

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Gorgeous comfort food at One Canada Square, Canary Wharf

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Canary Wharf is one destination that seems to divide opinion, and quite strongly too. Well I love it and whenever I’m back in the Wharf, I always get a little sentimental. It’s where I spent five years of my career climbing up the corporate ladder and learnt many a valuable lesson. Work aside, it’s also where my passion for food snowballed and where the seed for this blog was planted.

Since leaving the financial world behind me to grapple with the upbringing of a mini me, the wharf has seen a host of new restaurants like Iberica, Tom’s Kitchen and The Pearson Room. The latest addition is One Canada Square, by the ETM Group. The group is founded by brothers Ed and Tom Martin, who are responsible for a string of bars, brasseries and gastropubs across the capital, including The Botanist, The Gun and The Jugged Hare. With venues like these, I was pretty excited about my lunch with my old boss and friend. I was also interested and happily surprised at their readiness upon seeing a buggy in tow.

Though the wharf itself is vastly accessible by buggy, One Canada Square is one of a handful of baby-friendly restaurants (that isn’t a high street chain) providing highchairs and more refreshingly, staff who are actually welcoming of children. Though we were the only mother and baby in the restaurant at the time, on my pre-lunch walk around the wharf I witnessed an army of mother and baby duos, (visiting working husbands I assume for a spot of lunch?) and so it’s rather clever of the restaurant to tap into that audience.

Baby talk aside, let’s get stuck into the food. It’s an odd concept scoffing away plates of semi-formal food in the middle of a lobby but once you get stuck into the pretty decent fare, that becomes much less of a concern. On perusing the menu, the scallop and shrimp burger with kimchee pickle and jalapeño sauce stood out not only for its wackiness but I was bemused as to why anyone would reduce a beautiful scallop to squished burger meat. It had to be pure genius or certifiably insane, and I had to know.

Thankfully it proved to be the former. Never having visited the USA where I believe this dish is more common, it was for me, unique. The scallop and prawn (shrimp in the US, prawns over this side of the Atlantic. Lets not get carried away, I may have just succumbed to an American dish but I’m not about to start changing British terms of reference too!) married together beautifully with just the right amount of texture to appreciate and distinguish between the two. The mild yet tangy jalapeño sauce and kimchee pickle added a further dimension. And a generous portion of chunky crispy on the outside, soft on the inside chips went down a treat.

Weird yet wonderful burgers aside, One Canada Square also offers a good range of ‘All-Day’ dining including classics, like the generous haddock fish cake in beurre blanc sauce and the not so humbly-portioned apple pie (some American influences are welcome here) my friend enjoyed.

The other standout dish that I must mention is the passionfruit soufflé which simply melted in the mouth releasing all sorts of flavour sensations; sharp, nectar-sweet butter-rich, vanilla smooth and a silky texture that left you pondering if it’d be socially unacceptable to order another!

P.s. The restaurant also serves brunch on Saturdays for a more lazy affair or if you are short on time there is a rather reasonable set menu available in the bar, ensuring it caters for all needs.

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Ssh…don’t tell the dentist! Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson, Fitzrovia

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Most of the contents of this very charming, saccharine-sweet afternoon tea are lost in a hazy sugar-cloud, so I’m grateful for the photo evidence I had the good mind to take.

The Sanderson has been offering a Mad Hatter’s tea for some time now, at least a year or so, but it seems to have retained its popularity judging by the packed tables around us.

Outside is where the hotel believes its prime seating is, but I disagree, on account that it’s almost always cold /grey /windy /rainy in London. Instead, the high tables that my friend and I occupied just on the other side of the glass, were better for that smug ‘almost outside but much warmer inside’ feeling.

Said friend, Mrs S, is starting her milestone birthday celebrations and the afternoon tea, the first of several special events, was followed by a much anticipated visit to Cowshed for some pretty decent pampering and bright-neon nail colouring.

Back to the tea though…it’s a pretty informal affair compared to some of the more established institutions but there are still a few elegant touches; A champagne option (you’d be mad not to, but no need to go crazy and opt for rosé champagne, it really isn’t worth the steep mark up), inventive infusions such as the aromatic mint choc chip brew we sipped, and some very creative patisserie.

White chocolate cheesecake and strawberry vanilla sponge aside, the savoury offering had a few highlights too, such as the rye bread salmon sandwiches, olive scones and the mini veg quiches (the last of which were sadly not refillable like the contents of the rest of the stand, despite there only being two!

On the whole it had all the makings of a superb afternoon tea but there was just something amiss. The trendy camouflage and the colourful and whacky creations (not all of which were a success, such as the rather grainy textured fruit jelly) put a fun spin on this age-old tradition and that was at least refreshing. I think my error is that comparing it to the more ritualised and luxurious teas I’ve been privy to at the Palm Court (Langham Hotel) and the Caramel Room (The Berkeley).

Analysed in isolation, the Sanderson has something different to offer, an alternative tea if you like, perfect for a fun afternoon with friends, just not your mum or your favourite out of town aunt.

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Casse Croûte and Hutong images courtesy of my good friend – @MyDailyDose8 – grateful as always!

Time For Supper at Sabrina Ghayour’s Persian Seafood Feast

Pre-amble

I’m going to break with narrative formula for once. I’m going to conclude before I begin, because there really is only one point to make when it comes to supperclubs. If you’ve never been to one, you must try one. More to the point, you have to try Sabrina Ghayour’s.

Let’s go back a little. I have a list, a wish list to get through before I hit my 30th birthday in a few months time. Supperclubs are on it. Along with a burlesque night (viewing not partaking!), conquering high heels like a proper lady should, visiting another alpha city (New York, Paris, Tokyo), and finally, fitting into a Karen Millen dress (this last one I miraculously managed the other week). Anyway, I digress…

The lowdown

So when I got round to it, I knew it’d have to be one of the best. I’ve been a Sabrina Ghayour twitter follower for some time now, and have seen countless tweet pics of her kitchen creations, most of which have left me feeling rather peckish. I’ve also witnessed her growing fan club and with a new book on the way, I knew it was time to take the plunge.

The online booking process was simple enough but then my imagination started to ponder the world of supperclubs, as the details of the evening were pinged over on email a few days prior. I realised I had no idea about supperclub etiquette and started searching the internet for some advice. I promptly found this in the form of a sound article written by the doyenne of British supperclubs, Kerstin Rodgers (AKA @msmarmitelover). Etiquette noted, home-baked gift in hand (for Sabrina) and a chilled bottle of cloudy bay (for us), my mother and I set off.

Now I don’t know about you but I don’t often walk into a strangers house, expecting a pre-paid meal. Luckily, gifted with an adequate sense of social skills, which meant I just chatted away, both mother and I were charmed by our friendly and equally chatty host. Set in humble surroundings filled with family mementos and cookbooks, I was intrigued about Sabrina and why she decided to open up her home to feed others. It seems such a abstract concept but one that is visibly fulfilling to her, and from first hand experience I can say its greatly appreciated by her diners, some of which are regulars.

The night is kicked off with a minty welcome cocktail, which Sabrina served up in between juggling the many dishes to follow. There are no fancy hired wait staff here, no Masterchef-style blast chillers, sous vide machinery or other culinary gadgetry. It’s just one woman in a trickily small kitchen filled with pots and pans, on a mission to feed, and boy does she deliver. This particular night was focused on Persian seafood from the south of Iran, the Bandari Gulf region. Two notions spring to mind here; Firstly, that I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve considered to be Middle-Eastern food but realise now, that that’s just as vague as saying you love Indian food, without having distinguished the many regional differences and specialties. Secondly, being a pescetarian, I often feel like the meat is the main focus in this cuisine and fish dishes can sometimes be an afterthought, so I was rather curious as to what lay ahead.

For Starters

As the generously-portioned sharing dishes started to arrive one after the other, we dug in. ‘Baked Feta with Pickled Chillies and Preserved Lemons’ was coaxed out of its neat vine leaf wrapping, melting in the mouth instantly with a zingy kick. ‘Bamieh’, okra in spiced tomato sauce, (similar to a Gujarati curry I often make) gave off a lovely warmth but retained the juicy acidity of the tomatoes. A rather wonderfully crunchy ‘Fennel, Blood Orange and Radish salad’ provided yet another texture dimension and the cooling ‘Maast-O-Khiar’ yoghurt worked with almost everything. If nit-picking, the only dish I felt didn’t quite work was the the quince and lime aioli that accompanied the ‘Saffron and Spice Salted Calamari’. It just wasn’t a fit in my mind, the quince was too sweet and tart and the beautifully crisp calamari was just lost in it. Still, with starters like these, I was already thinking of what jewels were to follow.

The Main event

‘Mahi Shekampor’ began the main course event, whole trout stuffed with a citrus herb stuffing. The meat of the fish fell of the bone with the tiniest of tugs and was perfectly pink and succulent with a refreshing aftertaste. ‘Maygoo Polow’ was a great show-stopper of a dish, a vast bowl of crispy brown spiced rice with juicy prawns hidden inside. I loved the versatility of this dish because it could be eaten on its own and also alongside the ‘Ghelyeh Mahi’, my most favourite dish. Slow cooked (yet not at all over-done) cod and mussels in a herby green sauce. It had a depth to it that you usually only get in the richest of dishes but it was so light, that you kept going back for more. And I would have kept going, if my stomach capacity hadn’t held me back!

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Time to go home

Having been spoilt with such wonderful creations, I felt almost insatiable, always thinking about whats coming next. Thankfully, no meal is complete without a little sweet something to round it off. With my limited knowledge of Iranian desserts (which I believe Sabrina mentioned are few and far between), I was picturing something typically Lebanese, Baklawa, sfouf cake, Ashta bil assal (a thick and rich fresh cream drizzled with honey and pistachios). Instead we were presented with a cardamon, orange, pistachio and almond muffin, alongside an orange cream and mint tea. Which, whilst not as mind-alteringly satisfying as the dishes we had just experienced, did the job in providing us with a sweet and refreshing end to our fabulous feast. In fact so full were most of us, that we ended up taking our muffins home in food bags graciously supplied by Sabrina. In hindsight, as much as I would have loved to finish up with a plate full of sticky, sweet and nutty baklava, I now see that experience has guided Sabrina to stick with something a little more wholesome, not to mention travel-friendly.

All in all, it was an enlightening and certainly enjoyable evening. I’m a sucker for a Michelin-starred dinner and checking out the latest arrivals on the restaurant scene. But sometimes there are restaurants that you remember more for the ambience than the food. At Sabrina’s house there were no fancy paintings on the wall, dim mood-lighting or distracting background music to detract from the main event. The food was in the spotlight at all times and with her home-taught talent, it really did shine for me, as well as fellow guests (some of whom went as far as describing it as ‘orgasmic’!).

March round-up: Roast, Sticks N Sushi and a little bar called Augustus Harris

Hi folks!

Well ain’t this a peach, I breezed through my afternoon tasks; baking a chai masala sponge cake that now has my open kitchen/living room smelling like a Starbucks! and making tonight’s dinner (bhaigan bharta aka mashed aubergine curry), so I have an open window to fill you in on my march outings.

This one is going to be brief- ish (I know you’ll believe it when you see it!) Here goes…

Roast, Borough Market

So I finally made it to Roast, above Borough market, despite living in the postcode for nearly five years. I’d previously read bad reviews and never knew anyone who had been, so it fell of my wish list some years back. That was until a friend of mine mentioned it. Said friend and I, we’ll call him blue eyes, were long due a catch up and it meant I had a short distance to hop after a long day with the toddler, so I was game to give it a go.

The evening started off well, with a beautifully made and rather too easily drunk Earl Grey Martini. In the background a live singer added to the chilled ambience of the bar. Blue eyes dashed in after a busy day running his newly created empire, and off we went to our table. Something of note, tables are pretty closely packed to make the most of the dining space, so don’t be surprised to be subconsciously dipping in and out of your neighbours conversations. Usually I don’t mind this, ‘love thy neighbour’ and all that, but as the suits of the city are a stones throw away and with my luck, our neighbour wasn’t exactly loveable!

Loud suits aside and back to the menu, there’s a good selection of land and sea and of course emphasis is on fresh produce. I always picture asparagus when I think of spring and love a bit of protein, so opted for the duck egg and asparagus – a delightful little starter. My only qualm was that the egg was a little hard boiled, a runnier yolk would have served the asparagus better. Blue eyes was happy with his garden salad incorporating red and golden beetroot. It looked a treat.

Mains were equally good, whilst my friend umm’d and aah’d between the chicken and the pork belly, I had my eyes set on the herb crusted pollack. Succulent with a pleasing crunch and a light sauce to accompany. The Pork belly, apple sauce and mash was a winner with blue eyes and it did not last long on his plate, that’s for sure. You’ll be hard pushed to make it to desserts with such generous portions, instead we opted for a fresh mint tea after a few glasses of vino. After all, it was only Monday! I’ll be back soon though, with more info and tips on the wine list :)

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Sticks N Sushi, Covent Garden

There’s somewhat of a buzz about this place, much like every new ‘slightly quirky yet very authentic’ Japanese place opening up these days, the gourmet fast food fad before that, and the European brasserie craze, before that. I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon but the menu, or should I say glossy catalogue of mouthwatering dishes that my eyes fell upon one day, put me in a bit of a trance.

The worry is, with creating this sort of expectation, there’s only one way to go. Downhill. Not so in this case. Not by the food anyway.

Service – hmmm… Could be better, we were kept waiting for our table in a sort of cattle herding area, where some of our fellow livestock were dripfed cocktails to keep them hanging in there. Our initial round of cocktails at the table took some time, so we opted for a bottle of vino for the rest of the night but the delicious Yuzu Zoo cocktail is worth at least one try.

Atmosphere – at best an upmarket Wagamamas, sans benches. Low lighting makes it more clubbier than it really needs to be. This is London not New York. We’d like to see our food. Speaking of which, the food, that was what I thought it would be. A sort of halfway point between Nobu and Itsu (though the price point cheekily veers towards the Nobu end of the spectrum).

I’m not going to bore you with a detailed essay of every dish, I think you are pretty much going to be satisfied with most of what you order, as long as your expectations are in check. And with a brochure like that, you will probably over order, so instead I’ll give you a tip; stick to the rule of 2 dishes per person, 3 if you are a right group of hungry hippos. That way everyone gets something they want to try. If you are looking for some inspiration, the Black miso cod was a winner with me (and believe me I make it my business to try this everywhere), as were the Ebi bites (shrimp) and the Tuna tartare with quails egg.

For dessert, I heavily recommend (this really translates to ‘don’t even think about ordering anything else!’) the lemon yuzu meringue that comes in a martini glass with mini marshmallows and is just so bloody sublime! I can only thank my friends who saw the meringue lust in my eyes and kept well clear, instead sampling the four taster dessert: white chocolate with sweet miso & popped rice, Vanilla crème brûlée, Chocolate fondant with caramel & hazelnut brittle, Matcha green tea ice cream with dark chocolate. This was so-so for me.

Overall, it’s worth a visit but I’d wait a little for the hype to die down (so about two weeks) and you’ll probably have a more comfortable experience.

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Augustus Harris, Covent Garden

Last but by no means least, I have to mention a very quaint little wine bar, a Venetian Bacaro actually, called Augustus Harris. Foodie frappy and I stumbled upon this after our trip to see the rather weird and wonderful works of David Bailey and before our reservation at Sticks N Sushi.

We were in a wine mood and must have walked around half of covent garden before finally being saved by AH. Interiors are fresh; a combination of woody furniture and a beautiful copper bar. I’m not too hot on my Italian wines, and I’m sure there are more grape varietals besides Falanghina and Malvasia but if there was ever a place to learn about them, it’d be here. The rosé I had and the Sangiovese I recommend for foodie frappy went down a treat and if we didn’t have dinner plans, I would have happily explored the wine list further.

There are small plates to boot and a friendly team of staff to guide you through the wines. I hear they are looking into holding tastings too. I’m always in the mood for a little education when it comes in the form of a stemmed glass…

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Square Meal

Sticks N Sushi and Augustus Harris images courtesy of  friend and fellow food lover – foodie frappy, whose photography skills and smartphone are infinitely superior to mine :)

My baby (blog) is one year old!

A year (and and a few weeks ago) I clicked the publish button on a concept I’d been toying around with for quite some time and had no idea how far it’d grow. It was designed as a journal for my love of food and dining out. A record of what I liked, loved and hated and somewhere in that, if you the audience got something out of it, then that was a bloody good bonus!

So here we are in 2014, 2381 hits, 175 followers and 26 posts later. Not the biggest figures in the world and I openly accept there are far better bloggers out there than I but nevertheless I created something and as hoped, some of you seem to like it.

I must admit it’s been tough trying to fit in any time for the blog recently, in between nursery applications for my growing toddler and playing the dutiful wife and daughter/in law (aka lots of cooking and baking!). Then there’s all that time spent stretching my daughter’s mind as much as possible with a cacophony of activities from salsa classes to sandpits. Not to mention frequent trips to the white cube where even I’m wondering what in the world the thing I’m staring at is supposed to be!

Blog aside, when I decided to take a career break and focus on my first born I did so with the conviction that I’d give it my all and give her a truly enriched experience of life in London. And even though some days are just full of rice cake crumbs, teary tantrums and snot filled muslin cloths, I do love it.

But I also wanted to do something for me, have my own project, my own outlet of creativity. My second baby – my blog – has been just as much a source of pride and enjoyment for me, and if it’s even remotely entertained you then that makes me doubly cheery. So in that spirit, long may it continue and thank you for your support!

That’s all the soppy stuff out the way, more importantly you are probably wondering where the hell I ate this last month or two. Well I’m going to do things a little differently so that you get more of a regular read, instead of waiting for ages and getting a post akin to a novel. Today you’ve got Horrible Hispania to read, and in the next week I’ll be adding to it with descriptions of my other recent jaunts:

Roast, Borough Market
Sticks n Sushi, Covent Garden
Augustus Harris, Covent Garden
Sabrina Ghayour’s Persian seafood feast supperclub
Cassé Croute, London Bridge
One Canada Square, Canary Wharf

Got that cuppa ready (and a few biccies), good, well here’s your first instalment…

Horrible Hispania

I’ve decided the phrase third time lucky is not always accurate. In future, if I ever have to cancel a restaurant, for reasons beyond my control, twice, then I shall take it as fate giving me a more fair chance to save my night out.

A few reasons why Hispania was just so awful:

Tortoise speed service from staff, who also clearly see you calling but walk off in the other direction to avoid you

Mediocre and over-priced tapas dishes (see below) lacking any authenticity despite claiming to show ‘the best in Spain’. It is Bank and I get that suits are prone to cash-flashing but surely they have taste buds too! The Padron peppers lacked any juice, the Jamon croquettes were more potato, less Jamon and the Patatas bravas was overpowered by acidic tomato without a hint of paprika.

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Hiring fluent Spanish staff is great if your restaurant is in Spain but not so, if you are in the heart of London. Our waitress hadn’t a clue what dessert wines were, or how to explain some of the ingredients listed in Spanish on the menu.

Finally, to commiserate our less than successful night out my friend and I ordered two glasses of champagne in lieu of desserts (none on the menu took our fancy, which is a first for the Blonde and I). Ten minutes pass by and our waitress barks ‘its coming’ when I managed to catch her attention with a curious face. Ten more minutes pass by, by which time we are dying of thirst because they’ve also forgotten to top up our water. We are finally given a very insincere and rather pathetic rant, one that we are just about able to make out from her thick Spanish accent, about the fact they’ve run out of the champagne they serve by the glass, and she’d have to visit the cellar, which she doesn’t have time for!

NEVER in my entire life have I been denied champagne or made to feel like I’m a character in a plot worthy of an episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’. I almost expected Basil to jump out at any point berating Manuel for not stocking up on champagne, or worse, for being slumped in the cellar with empty bottles around him.

Needless to say, I told our waitress to get our bill ASAP and deduct the service because it had been so pathetic all night long. I also noticed that the table next to us had a complaint and another nearby didn’t look particularly content either, so it certainly wasn’t a one off.

If you are after the best of Spain I’d head over to Jose, Salt Yard or Opera Tavern. Hell, even your local branch of La Tasca will give you a better night than one you are likely to have at Hispania!

Square Meal