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 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!

Essential mummy reading: Parenting, money and sex

Hello folks,

It’s chronically pissing it down in London and tube strikes are causing all sorts of chaos; mainly that I’m on bed-time duty most of the week, whilst hubby battles/runs his way home. In a moment of respite, I’ve glued my intrigued eyes to my twitter feed where I came across these two gems, from what is fast becoming my favourite newspaper – The Telegraph.

And well, because this is also really a mummy blog too, or will eventually become one when I’m saddled with two spit up/rice cake/snot covered sprogs, I thought it essential to share with you. If you are without child, then this’ll be just as fun to read, if not more so. You can laugh at the traumatising self analysis we parents undertake, as well as the OCD levels at which we manage our lives and diaries.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/10211090/Successful-parenting-without-spending-money-a-mothers-story.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/10604780/Who-says-romance-is-dead-Workaholic-couples-resort-to-putting-sex-in-the-diary.html

Read them? What did you think? Intrigued by the first article and amused by the second? Seriously though, having become a parent of a 17 month old and living in the thick of it all in the buzzing city of London, with an eclectic collection of friends and family, I can safely say that as trivial or bizarre as the notions in these articles sound, I can sympathise with them.

As a new mum the goal is always about achieving that harmony we once had and so long for again. Maybe harmony is transitional, subjective or just a myth. In recent months I’ve longed for balance, for life to stop travelling at warp speed, and more dreamily, for us to get to point when the kids are grown and we have ‘time’ again. Then I got my head out of the clouds and realised for me – mum, wife, daughter – harmony is possibly just a rose-tinted dream that’s stopping me from cherishing the now; chaos, crumbs and all.

2014: Warp speed ahead

WARNING: this blog post goes on forever and contains several examples of my photogrid addiction. View at own risk!

It’s February, how the hell is it February?! I only came upon this realisation because retailers don’t waste a second in donning the soppy Valentines paraphernalia that smacks you harder than the cold winter breeze. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a romantic I’m just not a marketeers puppet. Being February, I also can’t really greet you with happy new year anymore (though that gets boring after a week anyway).

Christmas came and went in a flash, I cooked, I ate, I cooked and I ate some more. I also spent umpteen hours waiting at the doctors, doing my best to entertain my snot-infested little one, whilst trying to control a sneaking paranoia that she had somehow contracted measles. Joy!

January burst onto the scene. Instead of endless possibilities it was filled with admin. Yes admin. Dealing with game-playing estate agents and becoming Mrs Landlady – a new pet project my husband thought I would benefit from – now that I’m going to remain a home organiser for the foreseeable future (is that what we are called these days?).

It’s happening, it’s finally happening…I’m turning 30 this year and have a bonafide list of complaints concerning my physicality and health (none of which I’m willing to share of course). I’m getting old and my life is hurtling along at warp speed till it’s just an endless cycle of ocado orders, laundry, playgroups and bleedin’ Postman Pat.

I find myself desperately trying to organise catch ups with friends in order to keep some sort of balance, but who’s got the time these days. Instead of getting the old diaries out or checking our phone calendars, we’re now seeking the aid of insanely named apps like Doodle, in order to finally fit something in the middle of next year! And when we do meet, its over in a flash, you drink too much and get home with a mental list of things you forgot to talk about.

I was beginning to think I was falling into some special category of madness when I thankfully came across an article in the Bible of modern living, also known as the Sunday Times Style magazine. 5:2 living (5 days of hard work and 2 days cramming anything and everything else in) is neither a temporary phase nor an isolated state. We’re all living it. With or without kids. My enlightening moment had come; in the end we’re all just gerbils on a wheel.

So as you can see it’s been a riveting few months. The one true shining light other than wine and my favourite people has been food, glorious food. I’ve had the pleasure of eating several homemade favourites as well as trying new recipes, like the incredibly good Maru’s bhajias (crispy potato tempura) I tried to recreate for my hubby. Not forgetting my cheffy New Year’s Eve offering; Bruno Loubet’s fiddly but divine vegetable crackers as featured in the Harrods magazine (which I adapted into moneybags – much easier).

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There were also a fair few visits to several new restaurants entering the London food scene (including House of Ho and Chotto Matte) which, whilst I have some sort of hold on normality, I think you ought to know about. Or at least know my opinion on them. I’ll try to keep it short but you know that never really works out for me!

First off there was…

Chotto Matte

I liked the part Nobu, part Ping Pong look of the place and that’s not surprising, seeing as it is the latest venture of the man who respectively brought and set up both chains to/in London. The Japanese/Peruvian fusion cuisine (really known as Nikkei cuisine and massively popular in Tokyo) isn’t new to London but CM brings an edgy and fresh approach, without any pretentiousness, and that makes for a good dining experience. Expect suitably tangy ceviches, juicy padron peppers and Yuzu chilli vegetable ensembles, like the vegetales picantes plancha.

My recommendation for you fishy lot out there, is the Bacalao negro aji miso – black cod in yello chilli miso. It beautifully melted in the mouth with a good kick of spice that left me fondly smiling but didn’t blow my head off.

There’s some impressive Aburi Sushi, which is brought to the table and flame grilled in front of your very intrigued eyes. Try the Concha Crema Picante (spicy scallop) and the Nasu Miso Aburi (aubergine).

Unfortunately we didn’t have time or space in our well-filled bellies to check out desserts but what we did have was yum enough. Not sure quite what to make of the in-your-face graffiti murals and the glow in the dark toilets, they seem to take away from rather than add to the sincerity of the food but that’s my personal opinion. I’m more Dali than street art.

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Berners Tavern

Hugely anticipated and thankfully not at all over-inflated. Mr Atherton has done well and the space will blow you away upon entry. It’s vast, banking hall huge, ornate and very hip at the same time – an eclectic balance to pull off. You are in London but you feel like you are in New York, said my fellow diner and she’d know.

You are almost full just breathing in the busyness of it all and then comes the stand-out food. Scallop ceviche came with an unusual twist of jalapeño and baby gem lettuce but worked well. Our only complaint was of too little dressing but otherwise it provided fresh clean flavours. Crispy Romney Marsh lamb breast with pumpkin and pecorino fregola melted in the mouth releasing beautiful juices and a nice crunch from the marrow crumble. And that was just for starters.

Pan braised Atlantic halibut, accompanied by squid ink risotto, crispy baby squid and rainbow chard worked fabulously well. I’m not a huge fan of fish/pasta combinations, which usually belong on a kids menu in my opinion but here the creamy almost liquorice squid ink risotto provided a refreshing contrast from which the fish stood out. Both friends were drawn in by the highland venison which came with picked cabbage, carrot and fondant potato. Again, well executed and visually enticing.

Mouthwatering starters and mains, together with a deep fruity Malbec – I was in food heaven but I couldn’t stop there. Though near bursting, I had to sample the desserts, as did my friends and we opted for the warm cinnamon doughnut (70% chocolate ganache and almond sorbet), toasted coconut creme brûlée (pineapple, coconut and Malibu sorbet) and a caramel apple and calvados eclair (Devon cream and salted caramel ice cream). All three hit the spot and were almost perfection, except that we all found the marzipan-like almond sorbet a little cloying. Nit-picking I know.

The night didn’t end there and after a jubilant meal there was further merriment to be had in the exclusive punch room (which if you get past the admittedly arduous email-only guest list/invitation process) is really worth a visit. As drinking den’s go it’s fabulously kitted out, has an exciting drinks menu (those punch bowls seem endless!) and comes with attentive service.

Go…go now before I have to fight you for a reservation!

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Bill’s Cafe

So there we were, hubby and I plodding along our usual local walk along the river with bubba in tow, towards Borough market when we saw this new cafe opening up and holding a soft launch weekend with FREE food. It didn’t take us long to sign up and back we went the next day for our Sunday brunch. Apparently Bill’s cafe is a chain but I’d never heard of it (being loyal to my beloved Pret a Manger). Both the staff and atmosphere were warm and welcoming and the menu has several brunch favourites and some heart warming all day dishes too.

We tested out the eggs florentine, veggie breakfast, and the blueberry pancakes from the kids menu and all three were delish! Hollandaise could have been a little sharper but otherwise pretty good weekend grub and they love kids, so if you’ve got em’, take em’. Definitely worth a try especially if you are bored of the usual visits to Browns or All Bar One. The fresh juices will also wake up your sleepy head.

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Amaya

Every year, since I started working in the big smoke, I take it upon myself to show my lovely mother a good time with a night out in London during Christmas time. We’ve covered a fair bit of ground over seven years and peaked too soon I think with Le Gavroche but nevertheless we continue. This December (gone) I decided to try something new and give the MW Eat Group a go, the owners of the long established Indian eateries Chutney Mary, Veeraswamy and now Amaya (they also own the Masala Zone chain).

I opted for Amaya, the most recent fine dining venue in the collection, it’s also one of few Michelin starred Indian restaurants. This caught my attention. I also liked the idea of the open-kitchen/tandoor concept, which was just as well because we were seated right next to it – perfect on a chilly winters night.

Dishes are mainly cooked on the tandoor/open grill and the menu is based on small dishes to be shared. I know this often puts people off and some get in a muddle on how many plates to order but I love the small plate phenomenon. It allows our insatiable selves to try as much as possible in one sitting and I’d never found anything wrong with sharing, until of course I came across the dishes at Amaya. Succulent rose and pepper infused chicken tikka, tender nalli lamb chops, beautifully sweet crab meat presented in the shell …I could go on. Unfortunately the tasty morsels didn’t. I had to fight off my own mother for another bite of monkfish tikka lightly slathered in refreshing minty green chutney.

To summarise – it was good. Almost too good to share.

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House of Ho

Last but not by any means least, this latest venture by international chef (and comedian too it seems) Bobby Chin opened its doors to Londoners with a soft launch in December. With a limited menu and 50% off the bill (way to go!) hubby and I hotfooted it down to see what all the fuss was about.

Although the set up looks less authentic Vietnamese and more like it’s been freshly delivered from IKEA that day, the food was in part sincere to its homeland. Though foodie bloggers and critics opinions on this seem to vary greatly. For me though, there were certainly elements of authenticity in the sticky sweet monkfish in caramel and lemongrass, and the execution of the mangosteen ceviche, served with half a coconut shell (coconut flesh included).

However, I have to agree that with desserts like lemon creme brûlée and molten chocolate cake (yummy as they were!), it strikes that Bobby may have lost a nerve in his first UK venture and dumbed it down for us a little. The vegetarian selection was also quite disappointing as hubby ended up having the same tofu starter thrown into a main.

Now that it’s fully open, I’d like to go back and see if some of what we had whilst out in Vietnam features on the menu, including surprisingly real-looking and tasting mock meat (serving the large Buddhist population) and the tightly wrapped and crunchy uncooked vegetable spring rolls we had at almost every stop.

Though it didn’t hit the nail on all fronts, I’d say its still worth a visit for clean and fresh flavours. If anything, you are guaranteed a giggle or two if Bobby decides to be your waiter for the night, as he did for us (though you may need to help him out with the drinks orders as he can be a little forgetful!).

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Diwali down, Christmas to go…

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So here we are, November. The hustle and bustle of Diwali already feels like a distant memory but thankfully I still have rather vivid visions of all the food.

This year, like no other, I decided that it was time to tackle the one area of cookery that every Indian woman (yes, I’m sure even the mothers, aunts and grandmothers quivered at the thought once upon a time) secretly fears but hopefully conquers – mithai. Whether it’s sweet gulab jamun, nutty barfi, chewy halwa, these often sticky morsels of mithai are a pure delight and a welcome indulgence, which makes every Indian meal, occasion and festival complete.

My decision to tackle the mighty mithai this Diwali was spurred by the fact that my next birthday will be the big 3-0 and my mental list of ‘things to do before 30′ includes amongst other foodie conquests, being able to make and not just buy the sweet stuff. I couldn’t have done it alone though, as I went to battle in the kitchen, I was safely armed with none other than Devnaa’s Indian Inspired Sweets recipes.

Devnaa is a brand I recently came across when searching for an ideal present for my in-laws wedding anniversary. I came across the chocolate mithai and then the book, which gave me a great idea. My father-in-law has a very sweet tooth and so I bought both the chocolate mithai box – a hybrid of soft barfi’s coated in a case of smooth velvety chocolate – and the recipe book for both me, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to cook dishes from. And we’ve made good use of the book too. For the anniversary we made delectable pistachio biscuits and delicious rose & coconut barfi. For my father-in-law’s birthday I made the ever so yummy mohanthal – served ‘garam’ (hot) as per his instructions! Diwali saw a trio of sweet treats being made and gifted to family and friends; nutty shahi barfi, hazelnut and chocolate ladoo and white chocolate, coconut and pineapple sandesh – which required me to make my own home made paneer (something I’ve never tried before!).

The result…

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With a little patience (something I’m working on and handy for tackling my adorable yet demanding little girl) and Devnaa’s knowledgable, simple to follow recipes I’d say making Indian sweets at home is a piece of mithai!

Whilst I was on a roll I also tried an unusual halwa dish – apple halwa – from a new website I’ve stumbled on and am enjoying scouring through www.vegrecipesindia.com. Talented Dassana shares a wide range of recipes spanning the Indian continent and beyond, including this simplistic dish of set stewed apple with warming flavours of cinnamon and saffron (the latter ingredient was my own addition). I also cooked our family main meal from one of the recipes on the site – butter Paneer Masala. In one word; yum!

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Now with delicious Diwali down, there’s just Christmas to go. I’m back on the recipe hunt for our annual family Christmas meal. It’ll be a vegetarian affair as always and though I will try to stray away from over use of puff pastry, I will inevitably find another tart recipe…That is unless you have ideas otherwise??

If you do think of anything other than nut roast (yuck!) I’d love to hear from you – mitziesbubble@gmail.com

Gymkhana: No ordinary curry night

Well hello again folks! I think these monthly round ups are going to be more of a regular thing, in order to fit around my lively toddler and the fact that as I’m now officially a stay at home mum – I’d better get to grips with everything that goes along with it.

This hadn’t initially crossed my mind when I first decided to take a longer break from the dizzying world of financial PR than originally planned but some weeks into it, it struck me that waiting for the hubby to come home and put on a load of washing after pulling an 11 hour shift (as he had done before) was really no longer acceptable or necessary, no matter how far we’ve come from the 1950′s stereotype.

Now hubby’s no chauvinistic monster and I’m no raging feminist either, and as I’ve had a pretty good deal in this marriage so far (cooking is my thing, laundry is his, and the cleaner does everything else) I’d say its only fair to pull my weight…especially as the sweet dear is investing in my somewhat expensive hobby of eating out, so that I can tell you all about it later.

Speaking of which, here’s my latest outing, a curry night with the hubby at the much hyped and talked about Gymkhana. A restaurant that pays homage to the good old days of the British Raj, particularly the trend of the Gymkhana – ye olde gentlemans club.

Now you know my feelings about hyped up restaurants. They tend to make me more nervous than those that are hardly reported because they have a greater tendency to disappoint. However I just couldn’t resist this time because the man behind this latest venture is Karam Sethi, whose successful endeavours include the London branch of Mumbai seafood favourite, Trishna and Charlotte Street’s gourmet hotdog and champagne joint, Bubbledogs. So disappointment at Gymkhana shouldn’t be on the menu.

But it did rear it’s ugly head every so often I’m afraid. And despite a perfectly generous meal accompanied by a rare form of attentive service, there was a certain wow factor missing. Call me hard to please but when there’s this amount of hype; five stars from Evening Standard’s Grand Dame of eating out, Faye Maschler and five visits in one week from Bloomberg’s Richard Vines, it’s got to blow my socks off. And it didn’t.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I didn’t say it was particularly bad either. Having recently returned to the Cinnamon Club after a good few years and having eaten at both Vineet Bhatia’s Rasoi and Atul Kocchar’s Benares, I’m glad to report that food at Gymkhana is certainly on par with these established Indian institutions. The difference is that unlike them, Gymkhana has turned down the pretentiousness notch a peg or two. Though this is a good thing, it puts Gymkhana in a strange middle ground between the top end of high street Indians and its Michelin contemporaries. You don’t quite know what to make of it because you don’t quite understand where it sits in the hierarchy. Which for me at least, made it very difficult to judge.

What I can tell you is that they’ve done an excellent job in pulling of the ‘Days of the Raj’ theme across the ground floor dining room, filling it with a multitude of framed black and white portraits and sepia photographs of various sporting and military types. The sort of thing you’d expect to see in a box tightly clutched by an ageing war veteran at their local antiques roadshow. There’s dark lacquered wood and chocolate leather everywhere you look, giving it an old public school dining room feel and even the cut crystalware and steel serving bowls are spot on. It’s almost like you’ve walked on to the set of a historical film. And then there’s the whirring ceiling fans and waistcoat clad Nehru-collared waiters, who you imagine are ready to swat a mosquito at first sight.

Hubby and I found this all rather amusing as we sat sipping our Quinine sours, taking it all in. This by the way is a drink you must have when/if you visit. It’s a fantastically tart cocktail served in a martini glass, topped with ginger and curry leaf for extra pizazz. I/you/anyone could easily sink a few of these before dinner.

Gymkhana - Quinine Sour

As for the food. Overall it was good. There was a touch of something homely about it – and this is where I mean they’ve turned down the pretentiousness by a factor or two – without affecting the overall taste or experience too much. Nicely done. We both opted for the vegetarian tasting menus although mine was tailored to include my fishy passion. In this case; wild lasooni prawns and butter crab, which I was salivating over all day.

We started off with Gol Guppas, Jaljeera, Potato, Sprouting Moong (also known as pani puri). In other words a flaky sphere of thin and crispy pastry filled with a concoction of cumin water, finely diced potato and moong beans, all made to eat in one quick gobble, producing a burst of flavours. Not quite the same flavours as many of the pain puris’ I’ve had in India but close.

After this there was a rather spicy Potato and Chickpea Chaat, I liked the special touch of roasting the potatoes (skin on) and thereby adding a nice twist on this national favorite. It’s also, I imagine, a nod to the British influence. What with it being a staple Sunday roast accompaniment and all.

Then came a rather intriguing bowl of Tandoori Broccoli in yoghurt. Though it didn’t lack in taste, it was the least exciting of all the dishes. The Wild Lasooni Prawn however, was a complete excitement for the taste buds, and as the name suggests (lasooni referring to garlic) was rather garlicky, succulent and juicy too. Now that was a real treat. Even if it did have me sipping through my water faster than you can say ‘there’s a fire in my mouth!

Gymkhana - Prawn

There was a so-so dish of Mushroom Tikki and fancy Girolle Raita. An earthy baked disc of woody flavours, nice but again like the broccoli, not earth-shattering. Then came the mains. Now this is where hubby and I were left rather confused. As if we’d been meandering through our nicely portioned tasting menu then suddenly hit with a lead anvil of an a la carte main dish.

The finale to the tasting menu consisted of hubby’s Mushroom Pilau (a little dry), my Butter Pepper Garlic Crab (unfortunately the tomatoey sauce overpowered the sweet flavour of the crab), Palak Paneer (spinach and cottage cheese), Aloo (potato curry), plain rice and two naan. As you can imagine we didn’t have a hope in hell of finishing it but the very kind FOH very quickly packaged it up for us without hesitation (almost as if this is a regular occurrence). I don’t think I’ve ever asked for food to be packed up in a Mayfair restaurant. It’s an amusing first. It certainly served us well the next night where it went down as well as our local takeaway.

Desserts were far from our mind at this point, what with our stomachs set to burst but that said we attempted a few bites of the Mango Kheer and Saffron Pistachio Kulfi Falooda. The former was rather forgettable and the latter was a confusing concoction of ice cream, milkshake and sweet vermicelli (I think). As if it was three desserts in one. A little too much for me and I’m familiar with the warming flavours of cardamom, nutmeg and saffron. I dread to think what the plump white man next to me would make of it.

All in all not a bad night as far as the tangible elements: food, service and atmosphere are concerned. In fact service was commendable at this Mayfair dining room, if anything, it’s the hype that’s doing it a disservice. Worth trying in a few months time when the wavering critics are raving about the next big thing and you can see Gymkhana for what it really is and should be; all the joy of your favourite local, in a rather swish setting.

Tip: if you do book, ask to be seated downstairs to avoid the rather cold draft from the front door and also sit in a more intimate buzzy atmosphere. I’m told the full menu is served downstairs.

Square Meal

September round-up: The good, the bad and the disastrous

Firstly, apologies for the looooong delay between posts, it’s irresponsible and unfair to you the reader…but then you knew the risks involved, reading a blog by a full-time mum didn’t you?

The toddler is now in full walking mode so eating out has been kerbed (well sort of) in order to further child proof the house – this means making it into a giant playroom and getting rid of furniture we painstakingly chose, as well as safe guarding our beloved fine bone china.

There was also a trip to Puglia, Italy. It was both beautiful and fun, except the easyJet bit (bastards!). To summarise, the sun shone brightly, plenty of wine and gin fizz was consumed and the Puglian cuisine was a delight. This is what it looked like in a nutshell…

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Mummy lunching at Acciuga

Before I took off for Puglia, a good friend and I, together with our little ones, made a well-timed visit to a rather refreshing restaurant nestled in the middle of Kensington / Earls Court, called Acciuga. Well-timed, because in the weeks prior we’d read glowing reviews from the Evening Standard and Independent and were sure we were in for a treat.

The name, which I’ve heard pronounced at least half a dozen ways, means anchovy. Unsurprisingly these are included on the menu, such as a dish of wonderfully made Paccheri with salted anchovies. A pretty plate of food which thankfully blended the salty little beings into a beautifully creamy and yet tangy tomato sauce.

The chef, Guglielmo Arnulfo, apparently only 24 years old and an ex lawyer and rugby player, has brought the Ligurian cuisine of North Italy to life in this little Kensington eaterie. Everything is fresh and simply done, from the linen on the tables to the dishes that sit on it, like the crispy courgette flowers filled with smoky cheese and the garlic pesto tagliolini.

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Despite a slow start where we were left for some time without our menus, our waiter made every effort to ensure our comfort (in spite of the language barrier that so vividly reminded me of Manuel from Fawlty towers), and that of my feisty little toddler*, who insisted on adding colour to our ice white linen with her sweetcorn painted fingers.

Frankly, as mummy lunching goes, it was one of the most enjoyable outings I’ve had, oddly relaxing too thanks to the friendly service. And if it’s good enough for the goddess of food critique, Fay Maschler, it’s good enough for me. A great place to sip on a nice sparkling dry rose and tuck into some simple, fresh and uncomplicated cooking.

*Speaking of the toddler. My only gripe was that whilst they thankfully they had plenty of highchairs and made plenty of space for our buggies, there was no baby changing facility. Grr…a topic definitely up for further exploration soon.

Square Meal

 

Seafood tasting menu at Cinnamon Club

I also met up with another good friend for a much needed girlie catch up over dinner. The venue - Cinnamon Club. I’d been here a few times but it had been years since my last visit. And with chef Vivek Singh’s continual high praise, it seemed a no brainer when my friend suggested it. This is not one of those restaurants you walk in and never quite know how the night will end. This is a restaurant that delivers. You know it as soon as you walk in and see all the waiters doing their finely tuned dance around the tables.

It was at that moment I remembered what I liked so much about Cinnamon Club. It’s professional, refined and a world away from your high st Indian. Food is beautifully balanced, fragranced and skillfully cooked.

We decided to go with the seafood tasting menu, a nod to the home region of one of the sous chefs in the kitchen. We were not disappointed I can tell you that. An amuse bouche lending itself to the street food of India (chaat) was neatly followed by the first course: crab salad with pineapple rasam. Delicate, just the right amount of sweetness and balanced with tangy tomato and pineapple.

Skate wing served with sautéed onion and pickled veg was divine. Succulent fish, sweet onions and creamy cauliflower. We were only on dish number two and already the taste receptors on my tongue were having a ball with all the different flavour sensations. Then came cod with a spiced lentil crust. I’m not just talking a flimsy coating of batter, this was a full on crispy crunch crust, crumbling away to reveal a perfectly cooked, melt-in-the-mouth fish.

The main dish of Madras king prawns with rice and shrimp pickle was a masterpiece. Though it teetered on the edge of my personal spice scale, (as an Indian I’m a bit weak with spice, go figure!) the juicy prawns were delicious.

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The night also restored my faith in the existence of good service after a few restaurant flops in August. Looking at the unforgiving clientele though, I imagine CC has to be at the top of its game at every service. Stepping in to the vast library room that houses this great restaurant, you get a great glimpse of how the other half live. I mean the really posh half. The women in their twin sets and pearls and the off duty politicians in their ‘casual attire’ of tweed and corduroy jackets discussing Syria with their Oxbridge teenagers. It’s adorably quaint.

We ended the night on a sweet note of desserts from the a la carte menu (thank you kind waiter for that discretion). The poached pear on the set many just wasn’t going to do. However, spiced carrot cake with sorbet and a pistachio foam (which strangely all worked together well) and a chocolate pecan pudding did do us both nicely. Generous portions and sweet sticky flavours. A beautiful end to a wonderful dining experience.

What are you waiting for, go!

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Babylon at Kensington Roof Gardens

I’ve always found the concept of Babylon a bit 90′s. The flamingoes in the garden with a club and restaurant built in one…and frankly I’m surprised it’s still enjoying such success but I now see that’s because of its largely out of town clientele and the sky high prices for what I think is not bad nosh but not particularly refined either. I’d managed to spend seven contented years in London without feeling the need to visit but on my mothers request I finally ‘dragged my heels’ (purely an expression, I was in pumps of course) down to High St Ken.

Surprisingly, service isn’t stand off-ish despite such a setting and instead rather nice. The venue itself is a bit like a hotel dining-room but then what else can it be. There’s even a few fish tanks to boot (very 90′s…again). The menu however is not a surprise, it is quintessential ‘modern British’ a definition that is so vague it serves its purpose. But its not the dishes that I’m distracted by, its the the £ for it all.

In contrast, the wine list is a little more reasonable and contains some more daring choices like a bottle of Tokaji, Hungary at £37. Delicious, ripe and very quaffable.

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I felt a little more relaxed about the price after the first dishes; tandoori scallops and seabass ceviche came out. I’d psyched myself up for a fall but it wasn’t so bad after all, well cooked and tasty too. However, a second course of seabass with chorizo (all of four pieces) and aioli (way too garlicky), and (over-dry) lamb turned out to be less interesting but at least edible. What can I say really… It was what it was always going to be…an ok meal in an ok place but thankfully with good wine. That’s as much as I can say about Babylon really. What did you expect?!

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Sake No Hana with the girlfriends

‘Don’t go, you’ll be disappointed’, ‘overpriced and under serviced’. The husband said it, our friend (one half of the Sloane rangers) said it. The plentiful negative reviews said it. But I went along with my girlfriends for a night out anyway. I wasn’t being foolish. In the back of my mind, I knew there must be a valid reason why I hadn’t made the effort to visit a restaurant that’s been on my list for over half a decade. But I had a strong urge to finally close the case on this first world problem and cross Sake No Hana off my list for good. And now I have.

It all started off swish, escalators up to our table, menu with all the usual fancy ingredients, me salivating over Champagne Yuzu seabass. But it didn’t take long for the well-renounced bad service to start sticking out like a sore thumb.

It took 20 mins before our wine came to the table ( and that too after mentioning it) but our first dish had been delivered.

A long wait for our last dish meant that we’d filled up on almost everything else.

A strict two hour turnover – this I can forgive as it’s not like we weren’t told on the phone, email confirmation and again when I sat down at the table (oh so welcoming!), but it’s been a while since I’ve actually experienced it in force, so still a little grating.

Then the move to no-mans-land; desserts in the bar (if you’ve read my Joel Rubouchon review on the restaurant reviews page, you’ll know this can only end one way!). Where it’s rather unclear whether its waiter service or order at the bar. This means that the couple who came after you, annoyingly get served first.

They forget you ordered water for the table, twice.

A hot beverage is forgotten so that my girlfriend is left without her drink while we knock back ours.

A further 20 mins to flag a waiter down for the bill and then another wait for the card machine.

I think you’re getting the picture. The fact that it’s owned by Hakkasan, a place where I have dined at on several occasions without complaint, makes this all rather more puzzling. Of course we decide not to include the 13% service they’ve the gall to add but I decide we let the waiter figure that out for himself. He didn’t, at least not until we were almost out the door at which point he came running and we told him it was an embarrassment and reeled off our list of woes. To which he immediately backed off, a little too quickly. As if this happens often.

In between this shambles, Sake No Hana did get something right. The food. It was as we had expected. Pretty good but severely overpriced. No real complaints on quality, except for a little too much fat on the Sumiyaki beef. My Champagne Yuzu seabass was just as I had imagined (having had a similar dish at Hakkasan) sweet sticky and oh so rich. Lobster tempura was succulent and juicy with a crisp coating and the seabass ceviche with chilli ponzu dressing was lip-smackingly tangy. It is a shame then that a poor show from front of house let the kitchen down in such a dramatically unnecessary way.

So in conclusion, if you are thinking about going to Sake No Hana, don’t. Go to Hakkasan instead. Case closed.

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Sake No Hana photos courtesy of the ever helpful and camera savvy, foodie frappy.

August round-up: Chinese food and Gin cocktails

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How did we get to September already? It felt like August, my birthday month and therefore my favourite month of the year, just slipped by in a food and wine indulgent daze. I’ve been at it again, eating, mostly out, a lot. The poor husband didn’t know whether I was coming or going and baby, who is no longer a baby but now a toddler, has got comfy in all sorts of restaurant high chairs.

There were highs and lows this month, most of which I’ll gabble on about below but first *drum roll* here’s a little something I put together on my trip to Chelsea stalwart, Hunan for London’s leading concierge service – Bon Vivant. Have a peek and see what happens when a planner-holic decides to traipse across to Pimlico, to a restaurant with no menu. Also, I must add, if you are wondering why the quality of images has suddenly shot up, it’s not because I finally upgraded my phone but instead chose to call on the far better technology and expertise of my dining companion, aka foodie frappy (Thank you dear!).

And that’s just the start of the month. To save your patience and my time, I’ve assembled the rest of my musings on my dining expeditions into an easy what’s hot/what’s not barometer. You know the kind you’re used to seeing in all manner of lifestyle mags. Hope you like it!

What’s Hot

*Sundowner drinks at Aqua Shard

Try the skilfully concocted Battenburg martini in place of a dessert. It’s like drinking cake! Beware though, there’s a reason for the slightly longer than usual wait for your drink and you’ll soon feel it!

*Bermondsey Street Gin crawl

Rediscovering local surroundings is always fun and last month I had the pleasure of going on a bit of a pre-dinner gin crawl, as you do. First stop was the new Rose Pub on the corner of Snowfields and Weston Street, from the people behind the popular Woolpack on Bermondsey Street. A stones throw away from London Bridge station, this understated pub has been completely gutted and beautifully refitted with reclaimed wood and copper bar/table tops. You’ve got your trendy craft beers, a good selection of wines by the glass too, but its the cocktails that are worth shouting about. With spirits aged in oak barrels for at least four weeks, cocktails like the Snowsfields come with a real punch.

Next stop was Bar 214 underneath Antico at the bottom of Bermondsey Street. This cosy little gin den oozes a buzzy atmosphere within a darkly lit room. I wondered how the bartenders managed to see what they were making but one sip of my elderflower martini suggested I stop wondering and start drinking! 214 boasts one of London’s largest gin collections and there are even a range of gin flights to choose from. As an avid gin fan, I’ll certainly be back for more…

*The Blonde recommends Sushi Tetsu

You may recall my fellow mummy friend, the blonde, from my mummy lunching reviews. Well, the other week she sent me a text raving on about some sushi place that is the bomb. Apparently I’d have “died and gone to heaven in this restaurant”. As she knows me well (and I suspect you too are slowly getting to know how I tick), I can only think it really must be something amazing and therefore worth a mention here.

The place in question is called Sushi Tetsu, rated highly in the Observer recently. Getting a table might be a bit tricky though, with only seven seats and two sittings a day. There’s no menu. Chef will decide what you will eat. Expect a succession of small dishes. Oh and if you do manage to get a seat, the blonde reliably informs me that the fatty tuna was the standout dish and not to be alarmed when chef brings out the blowtorch (unless you’ve left some food on your plate or said something untoward).

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What’s Not

*Inconsistent service Grr…

I almost don’t want to admit it by saying it out loud but you have a right to know. Our third visit to our lovely local Italian, Zucca, left us feeling rather disappointed and disillusioned. A restaurant we had so much respect for, both for its food and service, unfortunately let us down on both accounts. Overcooked turbot and undercooked lemon tart pastry were my main cause for a grumble. Whilst lack of service towards the second half of our meal meant having to pour our own wine twice. To top that, the husband saw our waiter being berated for this but no apology was made to us. This blow was rather ill-timed too, as we were celebrating the seventh anniversary of our first date. Soppy I know, but I can assure you Busaba Eathai did a much better job of keeping us happy back then.

Having also had a disappointing re-visit to Hutong at the Shard (again, I had to pour wine for the table, endured a long wait for mains, seated in a no-mans-land section adjacent to rather loud private dining rooms…), I am contemplating sticking to a no-revisit rule, tough as it maybe.

*The Pearson Room, Canary Wharf

From the creators of Marlyebone favourite, Trishna and the ever popular Bubbledogs, The Pearson Room has burst onto the scene along with several new restaurants hoping to strike it lucky in the wharf. Two visits and I’m afraid I’m not convinced. I was an ardent fan of the Reebok restaurant, it’s predecessor, from my not so long ago working days in the wharf. When I heard it had been replaced and with what, I just had to make a trip back and drag a few equally curious ex-colleagues with me too. However, shoddy service, forgotten drinks orders and a surprisingly under seasoned and over tomatoey Smoked Mozzarella & Purple Aubergine Parmigiana made it clear as day for me. I don’t want the Pearson Room. I want the Reebok back. I’d like my trio of fish with spicy pearl barley cous cous back and I’d like the ever helpful manager Jon Flower back. Old habits die hard I guess, but I won’t let this put me off checking out the group’s latest venture; Gymkhana. A tribute to the old gentlemens clubs in colonial India. The bar is already touted to be a real find.

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My first guest post: uncorking the world of wine

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Good morning folks! Am sitting here in a rather excited state like a teenybopper at her first boyband concert, bursting with news of my first ever guest post!

Having juggled between blog and baby for the past few months, I thought it was time to take this thing one step further to see if I really could and wanted to do the unthinkable; poacher turned gamekeeper, flack turned hack *gasp*

So I put myself out there and was asked by trendy Asian women’s lifestyle site, Estylista, to write about something I was passionate or expert on. In my mind two topics sprung up. One is my daughter, the other is wine. Babies are cute but best left a mystery for everyone’s sanity, so I chose the latter and off I went.

I got to thinking how much I’d learnt about the wonderful world of wine since those early university days, drinking what I then thought to be quite sophisticated, Chardonnay! Most recently when out for lunch or dinner, I noticed a pattern forming amongst my friends when it came to ordering the wine – “I’ll have whatever she’s having” or “you choose a bottle”. At first I thought this to be a quick carefree option, a detail hurried out of the way to make way for long overdue chatter but I soon wondered. Is it because I actually happen to know a thing or two about the subject?!

Now only those who know me can answer that one and if it is the case I’m certainly flattered. But as a glass is half empty kind of person, there’s plenty more room to learn and I fully intend to. With that, I hope you enjoy the link below to my feature whether your a wine novice or know it all…

http://www.estylista.com/2013/08/always-pick-the-same-wine-how-to-order/

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / Carlos Porto

Kadhai Paneer: A Mughal treasure

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In my early adolescence I took to experimenting with dishes that were seemingly more exotic than the staple Gujarati curries my mother cooked for us every day. I remember the time I was first introduced to the springy texture of paneer, an Indian soft cheese. It was at once a curious and satisfying experience and one I had sought to recreate in my own kitchen.

Paneer was to be my new muse. With it, I would create something delicious and exciting. Food to make my father proud and my mother surprised. I did it too. A dish concocted spontaneously with whatever I could lay my hands on from the fridge and cupboard. Back then, it didn’t really have a name. After some further tast-testing amongst family members, I came upon the realisation that what I’d ‘created’ had already existed for several centuries! Originating in Northern India – The Punjab – It was called kadhai paneer and regulary enjoyed by the Mughals.

‘Oh well’ I thought, it may already exist in India but for me it’ll always be my first dabble into Indian cooking beyond my gujarati roots, and one I introduced to my family. And they’re definitely not complaining.

Preparation time

30 mins

Serves

2 persons

Ingredients

1 medium red onion
1 green chilli
2 tbsp oil
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cumin and coriander powder (dhana jeeru)
2″x 2″piece of fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic
4-5 tomatoes or a tin of chopped tomatoes
250g paneer
1-2 medium bell peppers (red/yellow or green)
2 1\2 tsp red chilli powder
1\4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp salt
1\2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 1\2 tbsp honey
1 1\2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1. Finely slice the onion and green chilli.

2. In a wok or large kadhai, add oil and heat. Once hot, add the onion, chilli and bay leaves. Add the cumin coriander powder and stir on medium/low heat so that it is quietly sizzling.

3. In the meantime, peel and chop the ginger and garlic into little pieces and add. Stir.

4. Blend the tomatoes to make a puree. Add to the wok.

5*. Whilst the masala is cooking, chop the block of paneer into little cubes. Slice peppers into strips and add to the wok. Stir.

6. Add the red chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt, cinnamon, honey and lemon. Stir and allow it to cook on medium heat for another 10 minutes until the paneer is soft.

7. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with a flatbread of your choice – Naan, chappatis etc…

*You can add a range of veg beyond peppers if you wish, such as mushrooms, sweetcorn and peas. I’ve even added pineapple slices to it once, to give it a sweet and sour taste. Have a play around. It’ll be delicious all the same.

ENJOY!