Archive | April, 2011

Pollen Street Social

28 Apr

Living in London has changed my attitude to dining out. Going out for dinner in my hometown of Nottingham was a real treat – partly because there just isn’t the choice but also because the good restaurants are extremely expensive so dining out wasn’t quite so frequent. It is a lot more casual for me now. There is a plethora of fantastic quality, good value restaurants in London and sometimes it just makes sense to grab a bite to eat when I’m in town. I love it. Most of my usual haunts are based in Soho and it’s these restaurants that I would call ‘easily accessible’ – you can walk in off the street and be seated either immediately or not long after.

Every now and again I do like to re-live the excitement of dining out that I used to get when I was a kid but I choose my restaurants wisely. There’s nothing I hate more than paying through the teeth for average food and a mediocre experience.

I have been keeping a close eye on the progress of Jason Atherton’s new venture, Pollen Street Social for months and on the day of my booking was walking around with that excited feeling in my stomach. Jason has a string of achievements under his belt but is probably best known for his stint as head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, which spanned from 2005 to 2010 when he decided to leave to work on his new venture.

Having read lots of press surrounding the opening, I was intrigued by the concept and to be honest I wasn’t sure if it was going to work or not. The current trend for ‘small plates’ seems to be growing rapidly and I didn’t know if Jason could take fine dining and make it sociable – i.e… create fine dining sharing plates.

Pollen Street is a tiny side street off Regent Street. The restaurant from outside looks sleek – step inside and it is even sleeker. Greeted by the hostesses, I handed over my coat and was supplied with a small key with a number on it. “When you have finished, come back to collect a little gift from us before you leave”, the hostess said to us as she pointed to small treasure type lockers behind her. What the gift was will be revealed at the end.

We were walked through the crisp cocktail bar and shown to our table. The interior of the restaurant is very lustrous indeed with black cushioned bonquettes, delicious looking Karl Hansen chairs and Scandinavian tables. Carbon filament light bulbs shone above our heads. The sociable fine dining concept is certainly true of the food but the waiting staff push further towards the fine dining end – there seemed to be a never ending supply of friendly waiters, ready to attend to your every need. Definitely more formal than I’m used to but I enjoyed having a bit of friendly banter.

Our first waiter started by explaining the menu. The eight dishes on the left hand side of the menu could be ordered as starters or as part of your very own bespoke tasting menu. The dishes on the right (except for the beef) could be ordered as a main for full price (ranging from £20-35) or you could order as a tasting dish for half the price. Since the tasting dish is in between the size of a starter and a main, it made sense to go for this.

A few months ago I was a guest on Market Kitchen and Jason was the guest chef. He made an unforgettable steamed butternut squash with goats curd and chestnuts dish so when I saw the Innes Farm goat’s curd, beetroot and pine nut dish (£8.50) on the menu, I had to go for this. We also ordered the cauliflower & squid with clear roasted squid juice (£10.50). They arrived and both looked fantastic – delicate, light and stunning. The goat’s curd was creamy, the purple and yellow beetroot tender and sweet.

My boyfriend slid a spoonful of the cauliflower and squid dish into his mouth and his eyes lit up – we swapped plates and my face had a similar reaction. The squid was in the form of little pearly sized balls and had a delicious melt in mouth texture. It went so well with the squid ink turnip discs.

We opted for two of the mains as tasting dishes and I thought that we might have made a mistake because I was certain that the portions would be small. However, I was pleasantly surprised when they came along to the table. The Scottish halibut, Catalan paella, sprouting broccoli, pork-ham fat and mussel stock (£11.50) was delicious. The paella arrived in a separate copper pan and was served by our waiter and contained chicken wings, rabbit, prawns and squid. It packed a punch and was exceptionally tasty. The halibut went fairly unnoticed under a foam, tender asparagus tips and broccoli but the paella was the star of the show for me.

We also ordered the Cotswold lamb sirloin, braised belly, pea salad and sheep’s milk curd (£11.75), which was also a delight. A beautiful dish, the lamb tender, the braised belly melt in mouth. It came with a side of pomme puree, which was creamy but maybe a little too salty. I’m glad that we opted for the tasting menu because it left enough room for both of us to have a dessert.

This is the part of the dining experience that I was most excited about. As soon as I heard the words ‘dessert bar’, I was hooked. I’m a dessert lover and the idea of watching it assembled in front of you whilst being able to fire questions was the best news I’d heard in years! The only snag is that there are a limited number of seats, 6 to be exact. At the end of your savoury dishes, if you wish to move up to the bar, the waiter will need to go and check availability. If there are seats available, you can move right on up. If not, you may have to eat the dessert at your table. We were lucky and moved straight up. The dessert bar is situated next to the gorgeous looking open plan kitchen so it is an extra bonus to see the chefs hard at work.

We were welcomed by one of the pâtissiers who told us that she would be on hand to answer any questions that we had. Good! She also brought over a scoop each of two of the sorbets on offer – lime and cream cheese and mango. Both delicious but the lime and cream cheese will leave a lasting memory.

We perused the menu and quickly chose our dishes. There was also a ‘micro menu’, which consisted of three tasting size puddings. Unfortunately I mistook the ‘ham and cheese’ for actual ham and cheese so didn’t opt for this. It was only upon closer inspection that I realised that I was wrong so I asked the pâtissier and was told that the ham was in fact watermelon and the cheese was goats curd mixed with marscapone and vanilla. Oh well, maybe next time.

We ordered the rhubarb & ginger, vanilla cheesecake, rhubarb sorbet & nut crumble (£7.50) and traditional English rise pudding, hay ice cream & lime jelly (£7.50) and watched them being assembled in front of us.

The rhubarb dish looked fantastic and had a lot of different elements. “The idea is that each mouthful tastes different”, explained the pâtissier. The desserts are all prepped in the downstairs kitchen and assembled in front of you upstairs. I watched the chef roll the vanilla cheesecake strip in the nut crumble, pipe the plate with rhubarb gel, drizzle with vanilla syrup and carefully place candied rose petals, crystalised ginger and the rhubarb batons on the plate. It was finally topped off with tiny mint leaves and placed in front of me. The cheesecake flavour didn’t cut through and I didn’t get much vanilla flavour. I didn’t get any taste of the candied rose petals but the flavours that aspects of the dish that shone out were the rhubarb batons and rhubarb sorbet. Delicious.

The rice pudding was utterly creamy and decadent. The lime jelly was one of the sourest things that I had ever tasted but worked really well. The tarragon that was added to the dish was also a welcome addition – really shining out at the end of the mouthful. The hay ice cream was interesting but I wasn’t sold. It is made by flavouring milk with hay, yes, what horses eat and making a custard, which is then churned into ice cream. It really did taste like the smell of hay but it wasn’t as sweet as I would have hoped.

We ended the meal at the dessert bar and went to pick up our coats and gift. The hostess opened our little door and handed us a tiny Pollen Street Social bag, which contained two ginger friands and a tea bag, along with a card that said ‘Thank you. Breakfast on us.’ Nice touch. I’m not sure if it is totally necessary but it certainly added to the experience and I walked out as happy as larry., whoever he is.

A meal for two with four tasting plates and two desserts costs around £65 (service included, drinks not). Pollen Street Social definitely won’t become one of my regulars but it will be at the forefront of my mind when I’m wanting that extra something special.

Pollen Street Social
8-10 Pollen Street
London
W1S 1NQ

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon

My new Silkie hen

27 Apr

I went to Chichester over the weekend to stay at my boyfriends parents house. They have a few hens happily roaming around their garden but wanted more so we took a trip to the farm. What I didn’t realise was that we would end up buying three and bringing them back to London with us. My boyfriend spent all of Saturday fashioning a pen for them so that we can keep them on our roof. They’re a cute little trio but my favourite is Silkie. She is a young’n at the moment but in three or so months we can expect her to lay delicious Bantam eggs. I’m in love.

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Spuntino

26 Apr

I went to the Spuntino for a quick lunch bite last week. I promised myself that I wouldn’t read any reviews before I visited and I don’t know how I did it but i managed not too.

I am a huge fan of Russell Norman’s other Soho establishments, Polpo and Polpetto so have been very excited about visiting.

My worries about dining alone were shattered as I walked in and saw four other lone diners dotted along the bar. It is probably because of the bar that dining alone seems fine – you have the waiting staff to keep you company. Spuntino only has 25 covers but feels larger due to high ceilings.

The beautiful rustic tiles were apparently uncovered when the place was being designed. What a lucky, lucky man Russell is. They are a perfect fit in his new and very (pardon the word) cool establishment.

I glanced at the menu and the spicy sausage, lentil and radiccio dish caught my eye. After the waiter took my order, he retreated to the popcorn machine where he scooped up a cup full, placed it in a cocktail shaker and drizzled with chilli oil infused with rosemary and salt. He slammed the cup back on top and shook it ferociously. He placed the cup in front of me and I was happy as a kid in a sweetie shop. Had I read reviews I might have known this was coming but it was a brilliant surprise. You get the salt first, then rosemary and the chilli kick comes in at the end. Utterly delicious.

The spicy sausage and lentil dish came on a small enamel plate. This alone wouldn’t have been enough but the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the dessert menu was calling me for afters. I didn’t really get any spice from the dish but perhaps this was because I had only just finished the spicy popcorn but it was a great, steamy hot almost creamy delight with a nice crunch from the al dente lentils. It turned out to be the perfect size.

Halfway through my lunch, another lone diner walked through the door and sat a couple of seats down from me. One of the first things he said when he walked in was ‘It smells like rich sugary based nice things’ – he was right. The lone diner told the waiting staff how he had been following Spuntino on Twitter since it opened and had been looking for the restaurant for a couple of weeks… but didn’t find it due to the lack of signage outside. The lack of signage being deliberate – you have to be super confident to do this and judging by the success of Polpo and Polpetto, Russell clearly is. Lone diner engaged in conversation with one waiter throughout his visit and to me this summed up the restaurant – sociable, relaxed and friendly.

Spuntino is set in down town New York in the prohibition era and as soon as you step through the door, you feel like you’ve just stepped into a scene from Boardwalk Empire. Russell has made a lot of effort and there has been a lot of thought go into every single last little detail – particularly the lightbulbs that hang over you as you eat, the glowing red exit sign on the door, the gum ball machines on the way to the loo and even the old fuse box that sits on the wall above the only table at the back.

As I only had two dishes for lunch, I went back a few days later with three friends. We were lucky enough to snag the back table and set about ordering a range of dishes. We each ordered a slider and some dishes to share – mac & cheese, spicy sausage, lentil and radicchio (it was that good last time), courgette pizzetta, soft shell crab, plus sides of string fries, greens and cheesy grits. All of the dishes were delights but the mac & cheese outshone the rest. Cheesy, creamy, crispy on the top and a large portion, it was just what the doctor ordered.

This time I also ordered a cocktail – the name escapes me now but it was a sweet and subtle mixture of gin, raspberry and lemon. I loved the glass that it was served in.

The cheesy grits were also a delight. Before Spuntino arrived, I had never heard of this dish before but I am told that it is a staple of the American diet. I am also told that this dish is is basically cheesy hominy, which is the dried kernel of corn, after the hull and germ have been removed. A simple yet utterly satisfying dish.

I went for the peanut butter & jelly sandwich again for dessert. The burnt sugar cheesecake was also ordered along with the Nutella pizzetta. The cheese cake was delicious but the pizzetta was disappointing – not nearly enough Nutella was smothered on the top!

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not what you’d expect (not that I’d actually expect a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in it’s original state). It comes in the form of peanut butter ice cream with raspberry compote. The ‘sandwich’ is then sprinkled with peanuts and caramelised sugar. How can I recreate this at home?! Bloody amazing. The peanut butter in the ice cream is quite subtle but the sprinkling of peanuts really lifts the peanutty flavour. It was a great portion size for one greedy girl and I scraped the plate as much as possible. I went as far as the spoon would let me before having to pick up the plate and lick it, which I obviously did not do!

The same waiter that was chatting to lone diner on my last visit was serving us for our evening meal and his knowledge is fantastic. It really adds to the experience when the waiting staff can answer any questions and really go into detail with the answers!

I’d recommend Spuntino for a romantic meal for two or a small group of friends wanting something a bit different.

Spuntino
61 Rupert Street
London
W1D 7PW
(no telephone, of course)

Spuntino on Urbanspoon

The most AMAZING fudgey chocolate brownies

24 Apr

About three and a half years ago, I found myself at a loose end so decided to try something that I had never really done before. That something was baking – chocolate brownies to be precise.

Since the moment I took that gooey, chocolatey tray of naughtiness out of the oven and slid a spoonful into my mouth, I became hooked. Absolutely, totally and utterly hooked. I can’t remember ever being a massive cake fan but that was the turning point in my life.

There’s only one regret I have about that batch of brownies and that is not remembering what recipe I used. Really, I am THAT stupid.

Since then I have made countless trays of brownies with a different recipe each time, trying my hardest to either recreate the first batch or better them. I came close the bettering them with a pecan and caramel version but I have to say that this recipe probably tops it.

The brownie debate can often get heated and seemingly everyone likes them a different way. I used to think that the gooeyer the brownie, the better. I don’t like them too cakey but fudgey is always a winner. So how about chewy, sweet, slightly gooey and crunchy on top. Doesn’t that sound like heaven?

I went to the Drapers Invasion last week and saw chocolate brownies on the dessert menu. I was happy about this but didn’t realise how happy until I popped one of Lizzie’s creations into my mouth. The brownie was chewy, sweet, slightly gooey, fudgey and crunchy on top. A couple of diners around me said that they weren’t chocolatey enough but to me that didn’t matter so much. This brownie is the rebirth of my brownie obsession and so I had to get the recipe to try them myself.

I baked them when I was down at my boyfriends parents house – his dad and little brother are chocolate brownie fiends so I knew that this was a good audience to try them out on. His brother has a nut allergy and requested white chocolate chips so I obliged and threw in some chopped Milky Bar. I also added in another tablespoon of cocoa powder for that extra chocolatey hit. I tried to leave them to cool when they came out of the oven but, as I expected, half of the tray was demolished pretty quickly.

I thank Lizzie and a BBC message board user called Sue_L for potentially supplying me with my brownie recipe for life.


Ingredients

200g salted butter
600g golden caster sugar
200g dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)
250g strong white flour
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp cocoa
1 large Milky Bar, chopped into chunks

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 180degrees

1. Chop the butter into cubes and break up the chocolate. Place into a bowl and place over a pan of simmering water to melt – make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water

2. Take the bowl off the hot water once melted and set aside for 10 minutes. Add the sugar and stir (it will look VERY grainy but do not be deterred). Add the eggs one by one and beat as you go

3. Seive in the flour and cocoa powder and stir until smooth. Add in the Milky Bar chunks

4. Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out almost clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before cutting into squares

Enjoy!

Pearl barley summer salad

23 Apr

Pearl barley is simply barley with all of the bran removed. Similar to wheat in terms of nutritional value, this chewy grain is perfect in stews and soups. I have just started using it in salads as it gives a great texture and fills you up! It’s also extremely cheap (around 50p for 500g) so provides a delicious meal without breaking the bank.

This recipe was inspired by my recent trip to Petersham Nurseries. The delicious salad that I had there was made with faro but I substituted for pearl barley as it is more widely available.

I’m also substituting my usual olive oil for a lighter and less fruity oil, rapeseed. This adds a light nutty and earthy flavour, which I think works better in a salad. It also contains 50% less saturated fat than olive oil so better all round really.

Ingredients (serves 4)

150g pearl barley
6 vine ripened tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 small butternut squash, cubed
6 flat mushrooms, sliced
Rapeseed or olive oil for roasting/dressing – I use Hillfarm
Balsamic glaze
9 garlic cloves (8 for roasting and 1 chopped for frying the mushrooms)
1 red chilli, chopped
6 sprigs of rosemary
70g bag of rocket
200g asparagus
salt and pepper to season

Method - Pre heat oven to 200degrees

1. Place the tomatoes and squash in two separate roasting dishes. Add the garlic cloves and rosemary. Drizzle with rapeseed oil and balsamic glaze and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes or until soft

2. Wash the pearl barley well in a colander and place in a pan with cold water (so that the pearl barley is well covered – you may need to add more water during cooking time, if it reduces right down). Add a pinch of salt and bring the water to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 45-50 minutes or until soft

3. Place the sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a hot pan and fry until lightly toasted (the pumpkin seeds will puff up and the sunflower seeds will brown slightly). Set aside once toasted

4. Remove the tomatoes and squash from the oven and leave to cool slightly

5. Add a tsp of rapeseed oil to a frying pan and heat. Add the chilli and fry for 1 minute. Add the garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the chopped mushrooms and fry until soft and they have shrunk in size (they will also turn a darker colour)

6. Drain the pearl barley and rinse with cold water. Once drained, mix with the tomatoes and squash in a large salad bowl. Add the seeds and rocket. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and mix well

7. Heat a large griddle pan and remove the woody ends of the asparagus before placing them in the hot pan. Drizzle with rapeseed oil and sprinkle with salt. Fry until soft and charred

8. Serve the salad on individual plates and place the char grilled asparagus in a separate glass to place on the table for sharing. Enjoy!

The Fox & Anchor dinner and hotel stay

18 Apr

I was invited to stay at The Fox & Anchor pub/hotel in Clerkenwell recently so on Friday, my boyfriend and I packed our bags and headed to this city boozer come boutique hotel for a meal, followed by an overnight stay.

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We arrived at the pub at 6.30pm and leaned over the bar to let the staff know that we had a room booked. They grabbed the key and told us how to get to our room. We wrestled past the Friday night city punters enjoying their end of the working week drinks and unlocked the door to walk upstairs.

Our key told us that we were staying in ‘St. Bart’s’, which actually stands for St Bartholomew’s – one of London’s oldest churches. All six rooms above the Fox & Anchor pub have a name, rather than a number and we had the pleasure of being surrounded by Smithfield, Charterhouse, St Paul’s, Barbican and The Market Suite.

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I believe that all rooms are pretty similar, each comes with a king sized bed (with a picture relating to the room name as the headboard), a plasma screen TV and state of the art Bose sound system with a comfortable sofa to watch it on, a fabulous bathroom with a stand alone bath, copper sink and drench shower.

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It was the bathroom that I found most impressive. Beautiful floor tiles, a stand alone bath I could only wish for, a marvelous copper sink and THAT shower. But vegetarians should watch out – there are images of butchers holding carcasses looking out at you whilst you enjoy a relaxing bath.

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The attention to detail in the room is great – an anchor toilet chain and door knocker. A sign on the back of the door saying ‘gone to the pub’ amused me and it’s nice to see the effort that has gone into making a comfortable stay but with gentle reminders that you’re really above an extremely busy old London pub. In fact, The Fox & Anchor has been trading since the Victorian era and despite being renovated in 2008, the pub has retained the cozy, English pub atmosphere with dark wood paneling and open fire place.

We went downstairs for dinner at 7pm and were seated in our own little booth towards the back of the pub, which was romantic. The tag line on the menu ‘Hops, Chops, Cuvees & Duvees’ immediately put a smile on my face, as did the range of food options below it. Of course, being in a pub, there is also a range of beers and ales on offer so my boyfriend sampled a couple of these and I loved the metal tankard that they came in.

I wouldn’t go to The Fox & Anchor for a fine dining experience. The menu is a range of simple fuss free classics but cooked well. I wouldn’t say it is the best meal I’ve ever had but maybe that’s because I am spoiled for choice in London. Saying that, it was very good as far as pub grub goes.

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I was intrigued to see Oysters on the menu. There are two types available, molden rock and native so I ordered one of each. The native was absolutely delicious – I’d even go so far as saying that it might be one of the best oysters I’ve ever had!

To start I opted for the maldon smoked fish board & 100% rye bread. There were three types of smoked fish on the wooden board that arrived at the table – smoked salmon, smoked poached flaky salmon and smoked oysters. I particularly enjoyed the metal gravy boat of pickled cucumber to accompany the fish. The rye bread was delicious and very thinly sliced, which was a good thing because had it have been thicker, it may have spoiled the next course.

My boyfriend opted for the Welsh rarebit to start. We share our dishes the majority of the time but I was a bit anxious about this as I am not a huge fan of mustard and last time I had this dish, I was sadly disappointed. However, the Fox & Anchor version is a creamy, cheesy, sour (from the Worscester sauce) delight.

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I cast my eye down the menu to see the mains and in hindsight should have gone for either sausage & mash or one of the foxs’ pies, we were in a pub after all. I opted for the burger, which was in no way a bad choice but slightly full on. I could only just get my chops around it, it was that big! I asked for the burger medium rare and that is how it came. I was also happy to see a big slice of bacon on the top, plus a layer of melted cheese. Delicious. The only part of the burger that I wasn’t so keen on was the slightly ‘dusty’ bun.

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My boyfriend went for the salmon & cod fishcake, spinach, poached egg & hollandaise. It was the latter part of the dish that enticed him – his words were ‘I’m a sucker for a poached egg’. It was good, although slightly under seasoned. The poached egg was cooked perfectly and the yolk quickly ran down the fishcake once cut open.

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The burger came with goose fat chips and my boyfriend ordered a side of them as well. We didn’t realise that the portions would be so large, otherwise we wouldn’t have ordered the extra portion. Sadly, we weren’t able to finish them but they were nice and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

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We both felt extremely full following our main course but I did not let that deter me. I perused the dessert menu and opted for the apple & blackberry crumble with Fox & Anchor homemade vanilla ice cream. My boyfriend was too full so went for one scoop of the homemade chocolate ice cream.

I was happy to see that the portion wasn’t too large and I ate it quickly. The apple and blackberry was a puree at the bottom, topped with crunchy crumble topping and a scoop of silky vanilla ice cream.

The service throughout the evening was faultless, the waitress that served us was an absolute delight and despite the meal being complimentary, we still left a tip.

We had a couple of drinks each during the meal and then topped it off with a strong and delicious espresso. We were finished by 9pm so decided to venture out for another few drinks in the area. We stepped inside Smith’s of Smithfield but were quickly deterred by the drunken men in suits dancing to Nelly and Justin Timberlake. So we walked around the corner to Hix Oyster & Chop House where we enjoyed a couple of delicious cocktails at the bar.

We arrived back at the hotel at midnight and fell into the huge luxurious king sized bed. Now this is the only negative part of the stay – the music from the bar across the road was so loud that we could hear everything, words and all until 4am. We awoke at 8.30am and it’s a good job because 15 minutes later, the two men in high vis jackets across the road started up their drills and started digging! The noise was not at all the fault of the Fox & Anchor and I have been assured that the management will be looking into it.

I was happy to hear that breakfast was served from 7 – 11am, which is perfect for those who aren’t keen on getting up early at the weekend. I enjoyed a quick bubble bath before heading down to the breakfast table. It was slightly surreal sitting in an almost empty pub that was so busy, boozy and bustling the night before. I still felt full from the enormous dinner so went for a bacon butty. There were more substantial options including full English, grilled kippers and eggs benedict. There was also a whopping city boy breakfast option for the hungry, which includes… wait for it… sweet cured bacon, pork and leek sausage, eggs, grilled tomato, white & black pudding, hash browns, minute steak, lambs kidneys, baked beans, fried bread, chicken liver, mushrooms PLUS a pint of stout. I’d like to know how many of these get ordered (and finished!)

Breakfasts polished, we handed the key back to the barman and strolled out into the London sunshine. I would be very happy to stay somewhere like this, especially as a tourist visiting London. It gives you the perfect taste of ye olde London – with an extra added bit of luxury.

Fox & Anchor
115 Charterhouse St
City of London
EC1M 6AA
020 7250 1300

Fox & Anchor on Urbanspoon

London Coffee Festival

15 Apr

It seems it wasn’t just me that got totally and utterly confused by the location of the London Coffee Festival over the weekend. I was sent an email by La Cimbali, one of the main sponsors and the email mentioned that the stand would be in Hyde Park. What I didn’t realise was that this meant the Hyde Park ‘Zone’ in the Truman Brewery, East London.

It was a bloomin good job that I phoned to ask which entrance of Hyde Park I should use before I got on the tube, otherwise I wouldn’t have been going at all! I’m sure the lady on the other end of the phone had a right giggle when she got off the phone to me. Then I found out that a few of my fellow Tweeters had had the same confusion. The website didn’t exactly make it much better!

Confusion aside, we arrived on Saturday morning for the brunch session. I felt a bit cheated as we were greeted to an empty stage – despite seeing a whole host of faces shining out from us on the leaflet that we were handed outside the venue. Never mind, we didn’t go for the music, we went for the coffee.

The Truman Brewery, for anyone who hasn’t been, is a large warehouse in East London that is quite often used for events. The various stands were set out in three rooms, or ‘zones’ as they were called. The leaflet also promised food samples and as we headed to the brunch session, we expected some brunch style foods to be available. After one lap around the festival, we were sadly disappointed. Hog roast, chicken in ciabatta and cakes a plenty but nothing that we wanted to eat for breakfast.

So we decided to visit the La Ciambali stand and then go to Albion for a more substantial breakfast. When we arrived at the stand, we were greeted and treated to a demonstration of their beast of a coffee machine, the M39HD. We learned a few technicalities of the machine – how it can be programmed to change pressure throughout the brewing to create a fantastic espresso and it was really very interesting.

The machine is part of a new wave of technology that allows the barista to programme the machine to brew a more intense and flavoursome espresso. The trick is the pressure. Most machines brew the coffee for 25 seconds at 9 bar of pressure. The beast changes the pressure throughout brewing time in order to get the most flavour out of the coffee. The cycle runs like so – 1 bar for 3 seconds, 12 bar for 10 seconds, 8 bar for 7 seconds and 4 bar for 5 seconds. Sweetness falls at the middle point of the brewing time and is the hardest part (albeit most delicious) to extract, therefore needs a much higher pressure to do so. The last part of the brewing process tends to be the bitter tasting part, therefore the pressure is reduced to keep the bitterness out.

The man who was demonstrating the machine for us showed us the difference between an espresso brewed at 9 bar throughout and the changing pressures througout. The result was quite fascinating. The first was watery and pretty bitter – the second was very strong but sweet and intense, much more delicious.

The coffee that they used was from Nude Espresso across the road on Hanbury Street, a cafe that has become a hit in it’s own right from roasting their own delicious coffee beans.

We were then treated to a coffee of our choice (I went for a Flat White) and it was delicious. I was intrigued to hear how much the machine cost (just shy of £10k) but it was interesting to hear that you can get a smaller version for your home for around £2k. That might sound expensive to some but just think about having that amazing coffee whenever you want it! The coffee machine that I have at home may look good but it doesn’t make a good cup, therefore it gets neglected.

I purchased the The London Coffee Guide before leaving to enjoy my day in the warm London sunshine.

Rhubarb cinnamon polenta cake

14 Apr

Ok, it’s official. I’m now in LOVE with polenta cakes. My recent visit to Petersham Nurseries and an impulse rhubarb purchase from the supermarket spurred me on to try Nigel Slater’s rhubarb cinnamon polenta cake recipe, which I got from The Guardian online. I normally play around with recipes but wanted this to be the same, even keeping in the orange zest that I might have omitted before.

The cake was a bit of a nightmare – the batter is very sticky and I used the wrong size cake tin at first. So definitely make sure you use a 20cm tin, no bigger. I also worried because I didn’t drain the rhubarb in a colander after taking it out of the roasting dish but it didn’t matter. I ended up with a delicious, moist, crunchy, course, sweet delight.

Ingredients

For the filling:

500g rhubarb
50g golden caster sugar
4 tbsp water

For the crust:
125g coarse polenta
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of ground cinnamon
150g golden caster sugar
grated zest of a small orange
150g butter
1 large egg
2-4 tbsp milk
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar

Method

Preheat oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

1. Cut each rhubarb stem into two or three pieces and put them in a baking dish
2. Scatter over the sugar and water, and bake for 30-40 minutes until the rhubarb is soft but still retains its shape
3. Put the polenta, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and caster sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Add the grated zest and the butter, cut into smallish pieces, then blitz for a few seconds till you have something that resembles breadcrumbs
4. Beat egg and milk in a small bowl and add to the crumb mixture. Blitz until just combined
5. Press about two-thirds of the mixture into the cake tin, pushing it a couple of centimeters up the sides with a floured spoon
6. Place the rhubarb on top, leaving a small rim around the edge uncovered and cover with the remaining batter
7. Scatter over the light muscovado sugar
8. Bake on the hot baking sheet for 45 minutes
9. Leave to cool before removing from tin and serve with the juice left over from the rhubarb
10. ENJOY!!!

Bistro du Vin

13 Apr

Last week I was invited to the opening of the first stand alone restaurant by the Hotel du Vin group, Bistro du Vin in Clerkenwell. The event was superb and the great food left a lasting memory. All around the open plan kitchen were plates of oysters, scallops, lobster, crab, razor clams, asparagus, steak… the list goes on. Not to mention the private dining room that was turned into a cheese room for the evening. They’re still trying to get rid of the smell, apparently.

So I was delighted to be invited to dine at the restaurant with a few fellow bloggers on Monday evening, Ms Gourmet Chick and Rocket & Squash.

I arrived and was greeted with a Bistro du Vin signature Marmalade Martini (£10). The vodka, produced by Chase Distillery was done so exclusively for the restaurant launch. Sixty bottles were provided for the opening and I hear that they have nearly all gone!

After a quick get to know you chat, we walked past the impressive meat aging room and were shown to our candlelit table, which set the relaxed mood for the evening. The restaurant is very impressive. Low lighting, candlelit tables spaced nicely apart so you’re not dining on top of the guests on the tables next to you. There is also a fantastic open plan kitchen, armed with clever induction hobs, a Josper grill and a range of impressive gadgets. During service, all cooking takes place in this very kitchen and even though I wasn’t sat too far away from the chefs, I didn’t notice any uncouth behaviour (or swearing) and it looked like a very organised operation.

The Hotel du Vin group sources the best quality local and seasonal produce wherever possible, except for ingredients such as the Siscilian lemon (of course). The food is then cooked simply without fuss, leaving the flavours of the good quality produce to shine. The back of the menu even acts as a fact sheet for the producers and is aptly titled ‘think homegrown & local.’

I ordered the English asparagus with sauce ravigote (£7.95) to start, partly because I love asparagus so much and it has just come into season but also because I knew that I had fillet steak, chips, pudding and cheese to come. As I expected, the asparagus was tender and delicious. One of my fellow diners, Rocket & Squash hit it on the nose when he guessed it was from Evesham, his home town. I’m afraid I didn’t start taking pictures until the main arrived – the lighting was dim but I spied Ms Gourmet Chick running her plate over to the kitchen light to get a quick snap so I followed suit when my main arrived.

The Hot Roasted Shells came recommended, but as I had eaten my body weight in shellfish at the launch, I opted for the Bone in fillet 300g Belton Galloway steak with pepperorn sauce (£35) and pomme frites (£3.50). I asked for the steak medium-rare but the edges of the steak were closer to medium. But, as I got nearer the bone the meat became incredibly juicy and tender. If I wasn’t in such lovely surroundings I might have even picked the bone up at the end and attempted to get every last shred of meat off it, if you know what I mean. The portion of pomme frites was larger than expected. This is definitely not a complaint, just an observation. I ate the whole cone but it would easily have been enough to share between two.

Bistro du Vin also operates a ‘by the glass’ dispensing system where customers are able to top up a swipe card and try a range of rare and vintage wines. A great way to try before committing to a bottle.

The dessert menu arrived and it was refreshing to see that there were a few reworked classics on there such as rice pudding and profiteroles. I opted for the latter as I love them and haven’t had them in years. I was overjoyed when the plate was placed in front of me. It contained three scoops of vanilla ice cream with a slice of choux pastry on the top and bottom of each one. A little pot of Valhrona chocolate was poured on top and I was in my element. The plate was scraped.

I also couldn’t resist getting a picture of Ms Gourmet Chick’s delicious looking Rice Pudding.

One part of the evening that I thought was really great was the service. The Hotel du Vin group are known for their high staff retention rate and for hiring staff with skill and fantastic personalities. This really showed. The delightful chap that served us a fantastic range of cheese at the end of the meal was very knowledgeable and I learned that all of the waiting staff are given the opportunity to pursue an area that they are interested in. The cheese chap (his name escapes me but he was from Switzerland) had shown an interest in cheese so the management sent him on a cheese course and he now provides diners with the cheese trolley at the end of the evening. I was in awe of his enthusiasm and he was incredibly excited about an orange goats cheese that we had on our board. His excitement rubbed off and I’m happy to be able to tell people that I’ve eaten orange goats cheese – his words, not mine!

I can imagine dining at Bistro du Vin for any occasion. A romantic dinner for two, a family Sunday lunch, a birthday or even a celebration dinner with friends. I love the location, I love the food, I love the atmosphere. Thumbs up from me.

Bistro du Vin
40 St John Street
London
EC1 4DL
020 7490 9230

Bistro du Vin on Urbanspoon

Isarn

11 Apr

I love discovering great restaurants when I’m least expecting it. Today was one of those days. I was ambling around Islington in need of refuelling, and while I wouldn’t normally pop into a Thai restaurant, Isarn had been recommended to me about 10 minutes before I entered.

The restaurant is long, black and very sleek. Each table is set perfectly with gorgeous Asian crockery and possibly the first thing to catch my eye were the cow skin seats. Cow skin isn’t usually to my taste but i have to say, they work very well. Lights dangle down to create an intimate atmosphere.

I dined outside in the small terrace area as it was a hot day and I wanted all the fresh air that I could get. Despite next door being a building site, it was very calming and a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Upper Street on a busy Monday lunchtime.

I couldn’t decide which of the set menu lunch meals to have – there are a wide range of options so when the waitress came to take my order I panicked and opted for Chicken Pad Thai. Not a problem as it is always a winner. I usually have Pad Thai Chicken and it seems to be different everywhere I go. Isarn was no exception and it delighted the tastebuds.

At first, the portion looked small but the plates were deceiving, as well as being incredibly gorgeous. The chopsticks were not of the wood kind (what you get at most Thai restaurants) and I felt more and more elegant each mouthful I took. The portion size turned out to be just perfect and I was very satisfied as soon as I had mopped up the last noodle and crunched the last beansprout.

Service at Isarn comes with a smile and the two waiting staff were very attentive and polite.

I was very interested to learn that the restaurant is owned by non other than Alan Yau’s sister, Tina Juengsoongneun (she is married to a Thai man). Interested because Busaba is one of my favourite London eateries. They certainly know how to please a customer. Isarn is the more traditional of the two but if I had to choose, Busaba would still get my vote.

I walked out feeling very calm but maybe this was due to the fact that there were only a handful of fellow diners. I’d like to go back at dinner time and see if I feel the same then.

Isarn
119 Upper Street
London
N1 1QP
020 7424 5153

Isarn on Urbanspoon

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