Midsummer feasting and merriment

Hello again,

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

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

First up…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict in a word. Go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done Drew!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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