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!

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