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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Square Meal

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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Square Meal

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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Square Meal

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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Square Meal

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