Archive | October, 2011

Café Direct tasting

24 Oct

Coffee. I love the stuff. Give me a creamy strong Flat White in the morning and I’m happy for the day. But although I love the taste, my knowledge is pretty limited.

So I was glad to be invited to a coffee tasting by Café Direct last week. Despite the event being held at L’Atelier des Chefs, I didn’t realise that we would be donning our aprons and showing off our baking prowess. I was half an hour late and when I arrived to a flurry of bloggers running around the kitchen, cracking eggs, melting chocolate and frantically beating butter and sugar, I was confused.

I then learned that everyone had paired off and each ‘team’ had been given one of three Café Direct coffees and been asked to create a dish using a host of ingredients provided. I was paired with the lovely Kate from What Kate Baked who had decided, after watching a recent Nigel Slater programme, to make chocolate bark using dried fruit, nuts and fair-trade dark chocolate. I was quite happy with this as I had made it before for Msmarmitelover’s underground Christmas Market last year.

We seemed to have an easier job than everyone else – all we did was melt three chocolate bars, pour it onto a baking tray and sprinkle dried fruit and chopped nuts on top before placing to cool in the fridge.

While the chocolate was cooling, we were treated to a tasting session with Thierry Akroman, Café Direct’s tasting expert. Here are a few of the useful nuggets of information I learned:

- Coffee usually grows around the equator
– Café Direct buys coffee direct from their suppliers. That way they know exactly what they’re getting and are able to pass the knowledge onto us, the consumer
– Brazil is the number one coffee producer in the world. Vietnam is the second
– Americans drink the most coffee in the world (no surprise there!)
– The difference between fragrance and aroma – the fragrance comes before you add water and aroma is generated when you add the boiling water, which releases all of the gasses

After the tasting, Thierry and a resident L’atelier chef tasted each creation and decided on a winner – the team that best matched their coffee with the ingredients available. The winners were 21st Century Housewife and Rhubarb & Rose with their spiced vanilla and honey cakes.

We were lucky enough to be given a bag of Café Direct coffee to take home with us. I’ll soon be able to enjoy the vanilla flavours of Mayan Palenque, the smoother chocolatey Machu Pichu and the citrus flavours of Kilamanjaro. What a lovely way to start the day.

Our chocolate bark recipe


200g Chocolate (we used Divine Dark Chocolate)
50g chopped dried apricots
50g hazelnuts, chopped
50g walnuts, chopped
25g raisins
25g sultanas


1. Prepare a baking sheet by greasing and lining the sheet with parchment paper
2. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl suspended over a gently simmering pan of water
3. Once melted, pour the chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet
4. Lightly scatter the fruit and nuts over the chocolate
5. Place the chocolate in the fridge to set

Bill’s Covent Garden

19 Oct

I have wanted to go for breakfast at Bill’s in Covent Garden for a while. Last week I finally made it down and had a delicious breakfast with Helen.

Bill, for those who don’t know, is a man with a true passion for fruit and veg. He started off in a shed donated to him by his father and eventually set up his first café in his hometown of Lewes on the South Coast. There are now five Bill’s cafés dotted around the UK, including the London venue in St Martin’s Courtyard, Covent Garden.

Walk into the deli and be wowed by the vibrant colours. Fresh and seasonal vegetables hang from baskets and carefully sourced deli products span from floor to ceiling and include brands such as Brindisa. Olive oil, Ortiz anchovies, paella rice, cakes, you name it.

The breakfast menu features dishes such as full English, a veggie version along with sweet offerings such as waffles, eggs any way you want them and even bubble and squeak. Yum.

I opted for the full English (£7.95), something that I practically never order but fancied a change that morning. Helen went for the veggie version (£7.95), which included guacamole and hummus. Both were a good size and included two slices of toast. I have to say I think Helen’s had the edge with a delicious looking blob of guacamole!

We also ordered a couple of coffees. Now this is the only part of the breakfast that I wasn’t impressed with. I asked for a soya milk latte first time around and I’m almost certain it was normal milk. I only realised when I sipped my second order, a flat white that wasn’t really a flat white at all, more a milky coffee with a bit of froth on top. It tasted completely different to my ‘soy milk latte’. I probably should have queried at the time but thought it might be more hassle than it was worth.

Despite the disappointing coffee, the experience was enjoyable and I’d definitely go back to try one of the sweet offerings.

Breakfast for two with four coffees cost £22.56 inc service, which I thought was good value for money.

Covent Garden
28 St Martin’s Courtyard
0207 240818

Bill's on Urbanspoon

Caravan Exmouth Market – brunch

18 Oct

If you haven’t been for brunch at Caravan yet, I suggest you do. I have reviewed the coffee at Caravan before but this is the time for brunch, finally!

Based on the corner of Exmouth Market, Caravan produces the finest coffee and excellent brunch dishes. I visited a few weeks ago, when it was still warm enough to sit outside and enjoyed a leisurely brunch before heading to visit a few of the Design Week exhibitions.

Firstly I ordered an orange juice, which I pretty much never do because I don’t trust most places to bring me something freshly squeezed and not five times the price it should be. But I knew Caravan would be different. And it was. The bright orange, bitty, tangy and sweet at the same time was a delight to start with whilst we patiently waited for a table outside.

The table came and we sat down. I ordered a flat white and tried to choose my food order carefully. I had a hard time deciding, everything looked good! I had recently made the Bill Granger coconut loaf and I saw a coconut loaf with fruit and lemon curd cream cheese shining out at me from the menu.

Jack opted for the corn bread French toast with bacon, rocket and avocado, which was to make me envious.

The dishes arrived and I was slightly disappointed by the portion size of my coconut bread. It looked measly in comparison to Jacks mountain of corn bread, luscious tomatoes and handsome leaves. Had I made the wrong choice?

I savoured my dish. The yoghurt was tangy and sweet, a perfect addition to the moist yet fluffy bread. I had definitely not made the wrong choice.

I was nearing the end when Jack caught sight of a hair on his plate. And it wasn’t his. The staff, extremely attentive and very apologeic took the dish back to the kitchen and offered for a new one to be brought out. But Jack kindly refused (I’m not sure why). As compensation, they took all of our drinks off the bill, which worked out to be a better deal than just taking the one dish off.

Yes there was a hair in his dish but that can happen to anyone, at any restaurant, anywhere. I wouldn’t let it put you off and it’s definitely not put me off. When can I next go back to try that corn bread?!

11-13 Exmouth Market
020 7833 8115

Caravan on Urbanspoon

Senkai express lunch menu

17 Oct

I adore Japanese cuisine and I love to spend lots of money on it at restaurants but sadly, due to a lack of Japanese culinary knowledge, I very rarely attempt cooking it at home.

There was a time in my life when I was addicted to and obsessed with salmon sashimi. I’d buy a pack on my way to work and again at lunchtime so that I could satisfy my weird craving. I’d even have dreams about it – should I be admitting that?!

So I jumped at the chance to sample the express menu at the newly opened Senkai on Regent Street. Housed in the old Cocoon, Senkai is a vast space with low ceilings and subtle touches of Japanese influences in the design.

The lunch, with a host of other bloggers / journalists was a lovely and light way to end the working week. And I say light with a reason.

The express menu has four options, SEAFOOD, VEGETARIAN, RAW and RAW AND ROBATA. I opted for the RAW (£25) as it consisted of three pieces of sashimi, edamame beans and a salmon carpacchio. I couldn’t have wished for a fresher and lighter meal on a Friday afternoon.

The edamame beans arrived and were perfectly crunchy and had a crisp layer of sea salt.

The sashimi was next to arrive – the smooth and silky slivers of fish were extraordinarily fresh and as I finished the last mouthful of salmon (I always save the best until last), I wished the portion was twice the size.

Next up was the salmon carpacchio, which had a sprinkling of bright green fish roe and pickles placed neatly on top. The salmon was laced with a wasabi chutney and gave only a hint of the Japanese spice. It was delicious, although again I wished for more after the last mouthful.

Each option on the menu comes with a glass of wine, mine was Riesling J.J. Prum 2009, Mosel, Germany but it got left by the wayside as I am not a fan of Reisling.

Feeling content but not totally full (hence my comment about the lunch being ‘light’ earlier), we were presented with a dessert menu – not something you want to see when a personal trainer told you to cut down on carbs and sugar at 7.30am that morning. Nevertheless I had to go for the chocolate fondant (£8.50), partly because everyone around me did and I know how much food envy I would have had if I didn’t order it!

It arrived on it’s own at first and I was surprised at how small it was. I had forgotten that it came with three scoops of ice cream, which followed shortly after. Three neat scoops of green tea, cheery & sake and vanilla ice cream graced the plate and brought the dessert up to a suitable Food For Think like size. The fondant was almost wobbling when I shook the plate and the runny hot chocolate immediately oozed all over the plate as soon as the spoon was forced through the thin top layer. The green tea ice cream wasn’t to my taste – it had a bitter after taste but then I’ve never really been one for green tea! The cherry & sake had a subtle fruity taste that matched well with the sweet chocolate but the vanilla was my favourite, not too dissimilar to cookies and cream Haagen Dazs. I’d go so far to say that this is the best chocolate dessert I’ve had at a restaurant for a while.

Senkai is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination but I’m already hoping to go back and try the a la carte menu delights on offer.

Food For Think was a guest at Senkai.

65 Regent St
020 7494 7600

Senkai on Urbanspoon

Pearl barley, cavolo nero, beetroot and Goats cheese risotto recipe

13 Oct

I love pearl barley. LOVE it. And if I didn’t love it enough because of how tasty and versatile it is, I love it even more because it is so cheap. It costs roughly 50p for a 500g bag.

I have had pearl barley dishes at some of my favourite London restaurants / cafes – Petersham Nurseries, Polpo and Meatballs to name a few, each dish different. Salads, stews, risottos, you name it. I have cooked it a fair few times myself too, most recently with lamb.

A few weeks ago I was staying with a friend in Stoke Newington and she introduced me to the best green grocers I have ever come across. Situated on Newington Green, the appropriately and simply titled Newington Green Fruit and Vegetetables sells a wide (and when I say wide, I mean wide) range of vegetables, exitoc fruits, herbs and condiments. And the best thing is the prices. I bought a huge bag of veg for a mere £8, something that would have cost double the price in my favourite supermarket!

In my bag of goodies was a bunch of cavolo nero and a couple of fresh beetroot so it was easy to decide what to do with them when I got them home. I also added a crumbling of fresh, tangy goats cheese. Delicious.

Pearl barley, roast beetroot, cavolo nero and goats cheese risotto

Ingredients (serves two)

• 400g pearl barley, rinsed and soaked for 1 hour
• 1 glass white wine
• 800ml vegetable stock
• 3 balls fresh beetroot
• 8 leaves cavolo nero, shredded
• Goat’s cheese to crumble
• salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste
• extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
• 50g butter
• 1 large red onion, finely chopped


1. Preheat the oven to 200degrees and wash the beetroot
2. Chop the beetroot into medium sized cubes. Place in a roasting dish and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes, or until soft
3. Boil the vegetable stock and keep simmering while using
4. Add a glug of olive oil and the butter to a heavy bottomed pan. Season with salt and pepper and add the onions. Fry gently on a medium heat until translucent
5. Drain the pearl barley and add to the pan with the onions. Fry for two minutes, whilst stirring and then add the white wine and fry until the wine has almost all gone
6. Add a ladle of water and stir. When the stock has nearly been absorbed, add another ladle and repeat until you have one ladle of stock left
7. When the pearl barley is nearly ready (it will be soft with a slight crunch), add that last ladle of water along with the cavolo nero, place a lid on the top and steam for 3 minutes, or until the cavolo nero is wilted
8. Take the beetroot out of the oven and stir through the risotto. Season with salt and black pepper if needed and add a squeeze of lemon juice before serving


REALLY GOOEY chocolate chip cookies

11 Oct

Ok so I may already have a few cookie recipes on here, but NONE are as good as this beauty. Seriously, if you like gooey chocolate chip cookies, you’re in for a treat. The addition of golden syrup instead of egg doesn’t just make it sticky and sweet but also soft and utterly moreish.


• 125g unsalted butter, softened
• 100g light muscovado sugar
• 2tbsp golden syrup
• 1 vanilla pod, de seeded
• 160g self-raising flour
• 200g dark / milk or white chocolate, cut into chunks


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C

1. Beat the butter and sugar together for around 5 minutes until pale

2. Mix the golden syrup into the butter and sugar with the seeds from the vanilla pod

3. Stir in the flour and chocolate chunks until just combined

4. Place the cookie dough on a lined baking tray. Roll it into balls and leave a few cm’s between each one, otherwise they will run into each other when baking and you will end up with one big cookie!

5. Place in the pre heated oven and bake for 12 mins until golden brown

6. Place on a cooling rack once out of the oven – or if you’re like me, eat them still warm from the oven

Malmaison Manchester review

10 Oct

It’s back to work today after an extremely eventful weekend and there’s one thing sticking in my mind – the wonderful stay at the Malmaison in Manchester on Friday evening. I was invited to try out the new restaurant and cocktail bar Smoak and Embers, along with an overnight stay. We arrived, threw our bags down and retreated to the buzzing restaurant. We were sat on a table for two right next to another couple who took great pleasure in listening to our conversation more than concentrating on their own. And despite taking pictures of the food themselves on a small compact digital camera, they looked gobsmacked when I got my DSLR out. Luckily they only ordered a main and were gone before our mains arrived.

Malmaison Manchester is situated in the heart of Manchester, literally a stones throw away from Piccadilly station and I get the feeling that Smoak is a destination restaurant in it’s own right, rather than just the usual run of the mill hotel restaurants. Having visited the London Malmaison and enjoyed my meal at the restaurant there, the two differ somewhat. I hate to use the words cool and trendy but that is pretty much a good way to describe Smoak. Old hessian coffee sacks line the windows and old crates line the partitions between the seating areas. There is even a beautiful old gas pump sitting in the entrance. The menu isn’t half bad either. As we had been awake for 17 hours by the time we sat down to eat, we weren’t ravenous so ordered a main each, a side and a salad to share. I opted for the special of slow cooked lamb with cheddar mash and a redcurrant jus (£17). Jack went for the peppercorn seared tuna with bok choi and a butternut squash hash brown (£16.50). We shared a side of tenderstem broccoli with a hazelnut crumb (£3.25) and a caprese salad with heritage tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella (£6).

But that was after a few Cornish oysters (£2.75 each), of course, which were delicious as always. The lamb was very tender and the mash creamy, although I didn’t even get a hint of cheddar. The tender stem broccoli was cooked perfectly with just the right amount of crunch and I loved the addition of the hazelnuts. The tuna was perfectly seared and the sweet butternut squash hash brown contrasted well with the fiery peppercorn crust. I couldn’t help thinking that some kind of dressing would have worked well though, perhaps a honey soy. The caprese salad was a delight – the mozzarella smooth, creamy, gooey and the tomatoes firm, juicy and sweet.

We managed to save a little room for dessert and after a quick glance at the menu decided on the baked New York cheesecake (£6) and the profiteroles with ice cream (£6). When they arrived, we picked up our spoons, delved in and indulged. Unfortunately my cheesecake was a big disappointment – since having one at Pizza East in Portobello, I’ve been ordering cheesecake left, right and centre. Smoak’s version wasn’t a patch – the base soggy and the top underwhelming. The profiteroles were ok but not a huge amount better. I thought that they would be similar to a dessert that I ordered at Bistro du Vin in Clerkenwell, alas no. A slight disappointment after such a lovely meal.

Struggling to keep our eyes open, we were invited to have a cocktail in Embers, a delightful little cocktail bar off the back of Smoak. We arrived to see the barman shaking cocktails for a couple canoodling in a dimly lit corner and another couple also fresh from a dinner table not too far from us. After perusing the most fantastic cocktail menu I think I’ve ever seen, I settled for a fizz with pomegranate and dragonfruit. Being a huge fan of grapefruit, jack ordered one called The Criterion and it was sweet, delicious and almost too easy to drink. At first the bar felt a bit quiet and I was conscious that we could all hear each other’s converstaions but as soon as another group came in and filled the space, we felt that we had a bit more privacy.

After one cocktail, we retired to the most comfortable beds I have ever known in a hotel. The rooms at Malmaison are roomy, and extremely comfortable – each has a chaise lounge, a flat screen TV, a docking system, dressing gowns and slippers. Ok, so it’s not TOTAL luxury but there is air conditioning for those hot nights, feather duvets and pillows for extra comfort and a huge bed fit for a king!

After a 10 hour sleep, we were down for breakfast. Malmaison has a consistent breakfast menu across all of the hotels, which I rather like. We opted for eggs benedict and took advantage of the freshly cooked pastries, fresh fruits and juices before setting off on a tour around Manchester for the day. After having stayed at two Malmaison hotels, each different in their own right, I have got the Malmaison bug and I can’t wait to see what other cities have to offer.

Rooms at Manchester Malmaison start from £119 per night.

Food For Think was a guest of Malmaison Manchester.

Smoak Grill on Urbanspoon


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