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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.