Archive | January, 2012

Burns Night at Vinopolis

27 Jan

Phil, please stop, you’re too funny – whoever the heck Phil is. You see, I know Phil because his name was written on his placemat at the Burns Night celebrations at Vinopolis last week. But the thing is, Phil scuppered me somewhat by not turning up. I was sat on a round table of 10 with my guest to my left, but on my right was a big gaping space where Phil and his friend were meant to sit. Naughty Phil.

Room1

But enough of him, let’s talk about the people that did turn up and more importantly the food and drink we consumed on the evening. A champagne reception was followed by a cocktail of Chivas 12 year old with apple juice and monin cinnamon. We were ushered into the joining room to enjoy a short bagpipe parade before being seated at our table for the evening in the vast function room set in the arches of an old Victorian railway viaduct. Sound impressive? It was.

Cock a leekie

We snaked past the tables full of suited and booted gents and elegant ladies to our table. Shortly after, we were presented with a glass of Scapa 16 year old and a starter of Cock-a-Leekie, a deliciously creamy soup with tender chicken and bacon chunks. The Scapa slipped down easily and the light black pepper tones complimented the soup perdfectly.

Shortly before the mains arrived at the table, the bag pipers paraded around the tables, a man clad in a kilt holding a tray of haggis high in the air following close behind. After a quick straw poll on our table, I realised that my guest (brother) and I were the only ones that had never tried haggis. One guy made a very valid point that a lot of people are scared of what it contains, but the chances are that they have had a lot worse in sausages!

Haggis

Now, haggis isn’t the prettiest of foods but our main of haggis with neeps and tatties was actually presented quite well. I couldn’t distinguish what the ‘neeps’ was – one person suggested apple, another onion. There’s an interesting account of what on earth neeps are here. There wasn’t nearly enough gravy on my plate but perhaps because the idea is to tip your glass of whisky all over the haggis. I thought the two gents sat next to my brother were secretly laughing at him after he did what they told him and poured a whole glass of whiskey on his plate. After some investigation, I’m happy to say, for my brothers sake, that this is indeed a tradition. I couldn’t face it so stuck to my plain haggis.

dumpling

The order in which we tried the remainder of the whiskeys has escaped me, so I’ll simply list them here. We were treated to Jura 16 year old, Glenfiddich 14 year old, Talisker Distiller’s Edition 2000, Glenlivet 18 year old and Chivas 18 year old. By the second course I was finding it hard to consume any more but my brother more than made up for it by drinking my share. His favourite was the Glenlivet 18 year old, which I am told had great depth and tones of honey, spices and citrus.

I am always amazed by large scale dining events and I enjoyed sitting back to watch how everything ran – and very smoothly too. An efficient looking lady with a clipboard blended in effortlessly whilst directing hoards of waiters and waitresses to the different tables. Between each course we were treated to Robert Burns poetry, which was read by true Scots in kilts – difficult to understand, of course, for someone not used to the Scottish dialect.

By the time dessert arrived, we were almost full to the brim from generous starters and mains but we accepted our clootie dumplings gracefully. The dumpling, garnished with ginger snap and berries sat in a pool of custard, which was ever slightly too watery for my liking. I tucked into the dumpling and was pleasantly surprised considering I’m not usually a fan of suet based puddings. In case you don’t know, a clootie dumpling is made from flour, breadcrumbs, sultanas and currants, suet, sugar, spice and milk. It is cakey and not too sweet but quite heavy. Still, that didn’t stop me from polishing it off.

After the dessert plates were cleared away, we had to scuttle off but on the way out spied a stage that had been constructed in the room next door while we were eating. I wish I could have stayed for the entertainment and I’m pretty sure that a good night was had by all – especially if they continued to ply all guests with whiskey!

If you missed out on the Burns Night celebrations and you’re a bit of a wine buff, don’t miss the intimate Valentines wine tastings with Olly Smith. Click here for information.

Food For Think was a guest at Burns Night at Vinopolis.

Vinopolis
1 Bank End
London
SE1 9BU
020 7940 3000

Endellion, Watergate Bay

24 Jan

“Turn next left and you have reached your destination.” Thank god, I was getting ready to rip the sat nav off the dashboard. The soft and huskey tones of the woman giving us directions was starting to grate on me. If only I could have changed the voice to, say, David Hasslehoff or David Attenborough, everything would have been ok. But no, we were stuck with the extremely irritating generic option. Don’t get me wrong, I think sat nav is incredible in the way that it (mostly) gets you from A to B with minimal effort, but after a few hours, I was glad to turn it off.

Our destination, by the way, was the picturesque Watergate Bay in Newquay, Cornwall. I say picturesque but I didn’t actually know this until the following morning when I woke up. For when we arrived, it was dark, cold, windy and exceptionally rainy.

We were due to eat out in Newquay that evening but as soon as we stepped inside Endellion, one of the luxurious eco pads nestled in Watergate Bay’s cliff top, all we wanted to do was put our slippers on and watch TV in front of the fire. But not before donning our aprons to cook a delicious spaghetti carbonara using food items that were left for us by food4myholiday, of course.

Each of the beautiful holiday homes at Watergate Bay are fully equipped, with luxuries such as Cornishware crockery, a large bathroom with drench shower and freestanding bath and a bed so comfortable that I slept right through until the morning, something that I almost never do. And these beautiful and comfortable homes have a conscience too – energy efficient lighting, sedum grass roofs and a water pump that heats the water by extracting heat from the ventilator system.

The fire that I was talking about earlier was, unfortunately, not a real log fire and I wasn’t too sure about the material that was blown to resemble flames but it kept us toasty for the evening and was well needed whilst relaxing to watch Christmas films all evening. It was mid December after all.

After an incredible sleep, I woke up to yet more rain but fantastic views from the living room window. I couldn’t help wishing that it was warm and sunny as the sunbeds that sat on the large balcony looked very welcoming. We enjoyed a small breakfast before a short walk on the hill tops and a lovely lunch at Fifteen Cornwall before heading back to London.

I was sad to leave Endellion because I felt that I hadn’t stayed long enough to fully relax and enjoy my surroundings., I wanted to rip it out of the ground and transport it back to London with me. Perhaps I’ll build my own Endellion one day. Until then, the memory of total comfort lingers.

Food For Think was a guest at Endellion, Watergate Bay.

Watergate Bay
Cornwall
TR8 4AA

Tamarai, Drury Lane

23 Jan

When War Horse first opened at the New London theatre, I was desperate to go. But for some reason or other I never made it. Fast forward almost three years and I had almost forgotten that the production was still running. That was until last week when I visited a Tamarai restaurant a few doors down on Drury Lane. Feeling slightly envious as I walked past the crowd of theatre goers, I walked into Tamarai and down the stairs into the dimly lit restaurant where my friend was waiting for me at the table, fanning herself manically. For a mid January evening, it was mild outside and rather hot inside.

I was at Tamarai to try out the £15 for three courses set menu. Usually when I see such an offer, I recoil and attempt to avoid at all costs but after some hardcore investigation (ten minutes on google), I was convinced to try it. So I did. And it was really rather good.

The waiters are the shy but efficient and extremely pleasant kind and were over straight away to take our orders. First thing was first, a cocktail. We both chose the Citrus Fling (£9), a fruity and sweet muddle of lemongrass vodka, lime, green tea cordial and cherry liquor. To our delight, they arrived ice cold and very alcoholic, whilst being almost too easy to sip back. You know, the kind that makes your ears feel hot after a couple of sips.

IMG_0106

For starter, I chose the Chettinad fish 65 with tomato pickle mayo and my friend the steamed chicken dim sum. I was very tempted by the Duke of Berkshire pork belly for main but was slightly sceptical as it wasn’t the most authentic sounding dish, considering we were dining in a pan Asian restaurant, so instead I chose the Thai green chicken curry. My friend went for the black tiger prawns, a dish that I avoid like the plague after seeing my boyfriend with food poisoning after eating tiger prawns a few years ago.

The starters were small but very enjoyable. My South Indian Chettinad style fish had a subtle spice, the batter crispy and not too oily. My friends dumplings were also delicious and upon first bite, I was transported straight back to Hong Kong where I had fresh delicious Dim Sum a plenty back in October.

IMG_0108

IMG_0111

The mains arrived, each with a small bowl of steamed Jasmine rice. The Thai green curry was very creamy with just the right amount of spice. The chicken was tender and I polished the whole lot off pretty quickly. The prawns, I am told, were very good. The portion was small but I was glad. The amount of times I have left a restaurant after eating three large courses and feeling ill for the rest of the evening are countless.

IMG_0110

For dessert, both of us ordered sticky toffee pudding with galangal glaze and banana ice cream. Again, the portion was small but it was just enough to satisfy my post dinner sweet tooth. I couldn’t detect any banana in the ice cream, which was a shame, but the pudding itself was sticky and sweet – just perfect.

IMG_0112

Tamarai is an interesting establishment. The décor is dark and glitzy and we both agreed that we felt like we had been transported back to a the 90s, or that we were extras in an episode of Sex and the City. I was half expecting to see young girls with sky scraper heels and impossibly short skirts grinding to 50 Cent on the roped off dancefloor in the corner. But instead what I saw were couples of similar ages and a couple of large groups, all quietly enjoying their dinner. Perhaps the short skirts make an appearance late night.

I’m not saying that this was the best pan Asian food that I have ever eaten, because it wasn’t. And I probably wouldn’t go back for a full priced meal, but I’ll say it again, the three course meal for £15 is very good value.

Food For Think was a guest at Tamarai.

167 Drury Lane
London
WC2B 5PG
020 7831 9399
Tamarai on Urbanspoon

Penks Queens Park

20 Jan

Looking to buy a flat has been a long and very laborious task. London is a big city and over the last year we have found it exceptionally hard to pin down one area where we really want to set our roots. But I’m pleased to say that after what seems like a lifetime, we have found it. The area in question? The lovely leafy Queens Park.

We have spent the last couple of weekends walking around and sampling what the area has to offer. Of course the first test was brunch. And having seen Penks made it into the top brunches in London list on Time Out recently, it was only fair to pay them a visit.

IMG_0052

As we walked through the door at 10am, we were greeted by two staff and an empty dining room. I was slightly confused as the Salusbury café across the road was considerably busier and I had found nothing online about this place. Still, we persevered with Penks and enjoyed a leisurely brunch. The menu consists of the usual cooked breakfasts, a veggie option, and healthy options such as muesli. We both opted for pancakes – one with mixed berries, crème fraiche and maple syrup and the other with hot chocolate sauce and crème fraiche.

I have to say that presentation wasn’t a strong point but the pancakes were light and fluffy and there was just the right ratio of sauce to pancake. My boyfriend polished off the chocolate sauce smothered pancakes and confessed that maybe chocolate sauce and crème fraiche was slightly too much for breakfast.

IMG_0051

I agree with Time Out that the breakfast options are good but I was sadly disappointed with the coffee. We both ordered lattes, which resembled a glass of warm milk more than a coffee. I have become custom to good coffee being served at all good brunch establishments so I’m hoping they can improve on that. After all, a morning coffee is so important!

I’m not sure I’d hurry back to Penks in the morning, especially not before trying the other brunch offerings in the area (and there are a few) but I will be heading back to check out the dinner menu as the restaurant has a lovely local bistro feel to it and I’m sure there is a great atmosphere when busy. I can imagine cosying up in Penks on a crisp evening with a nice glass of red and good company.

Penks
79 Salusbury Road
London
NW6 6NH
020 7604 4484

Penk's on Urbanspoon

Coffee at Dock Kitchen

19 Jan

If you were lucky enough to be in London over the weekend, you may have noticed how utterly stonkingly good the weather was. It was cold but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as the sun beamed down and brightened up my days.

We decided to make the most of it on Sunday by hopping on our bikes and cycling down the Regents canal to Dock Kitchen where we enjoyed a cup of coffee on the deck before heading home via Lisboa Patisserie on Golbourne Road to pick up a couple of Portuguese tarts for dessert that evening. I could get used to life around here.

IMG_0087

Dock Kitchen is a fantastic space situated across from Innocent Towers on the Regents canal. Home to designer Tom Dixon and chef Stevie Parle, Dock Kitchen serves a range of seasonal dishes that have been inspired by the chefs travels. I have never been for dinner or lunch but after seeing a number of plates over the weekend, we’re now planning a date to go back and enjoy the grub.

IMG_0091

Although Dock Kitchen doesn’t serve as a café as such, we were able to sit out on the deck to enjoy a coffee, something that definitely would not have been as pleasurable had it not have been such a sunny day. Our flat whites were strong and creamy with hints of caramel. We sipped as the sun shone on our faces and both agreed that we can’t wait to return in the warmer months to make the most of the huge decking area outside the restaurant.

I’m looking forward to testing out the food offering at Dock Kitchen, but for now, memories of good coffee and extreme sunshine last.

Dock Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Konditor & Cook hot chocolate

18 Jan

There are some things in life I just can’t explain – the fact that I’ve never done a post about the hot chocolate from Konditor & Cook is just one of those things.

I first came across this hot chocolate when I worked at the Grays Inn Road store four years ago. I worked as a sales assitant for a month between jobs and had a great time. Not least because part of the training meant that I was able to spend 1/2 day in the kitchen at The Gherkin with the head chef. I was put in the savoury kitchen, rather than helping the bakers but I was able to see the effort and precision that is put into baking and decorting the large range of cakes that are on sale across all stores. Each store has it’s own kitchen where the cakes are baked freshly daily. It’s a big operation and you can sure tell.

hot choc

But back to the hot chocolate. It’s thick and creamy without being too rich and chocolatey without being too sweet. I know how it is made and believe me it’s not for the calorie conscious out there. Perhaps that’s the reason I put on a few pounds while I was working there, or could it have been the curley whirly cake, or the pecan pie perhaps. The list of Konditor & Cook goodies is endless. But if I could only recommend one thing, it would be the hot chocolate. Seriously, try it and let me know what you think.

Click here for a list of locations around London.

Konditor & Cook on Urbanspoon

Gospel Brunch at Altitude 360

17 Jan

The weather last Sunday may have been cloudy and overcast but the views from the 28th floor of the Millbank Tower were astounding. We arrived at 12pm and were shown to our table for brunch. But this was no ordinary brunch; this was Gospel at Altitude 360.

As I stared out at the London skyline, picking out recognisable buildings and areas, we were taken by surprise as three gospel singers clad in long red gowns approached our table and started singing. Not normally one for audience participation (I’d rather be invisible); I was silently panicking as I saw them approach, having just watched two tables nearby enjoying a soulful rendition of Happy Birthday. But worries of embarrassment soon diminished and I felt very welcomed by the soft and joyful tones. We were asked if we had any requests. Sister Act immediately popped into my head as I had spent a lazy evening over the Christmas period watching it and I sent them away with a request to sing a song from the film (as I’m sure had many others around me).

But back to the menu. I wouldn’t so much call it a brunch as a full on lunch. Starters consist of a huge bread basket featuring brown sugar cornbread, pumpkin bread, brioche and rosemary and raisin bread and there are a wide range of mains to choose from, including French toast, grilled aubergines and portobello mushroom with mozzarella, spatchcock chicken, all of which are followed by a choice of five puddings. We opted for the layered grilled tuna and avocado with courgette, roasted tomato and onion rings and BBQ chicken with black beans, yellow rice and Napa slaw. After we had placed our order, the BBQ ribs with chilli and rosemary parmentier potatoes were highly recommended to us. I would never normally choose ribs off any menu, partly because a huge slab of meat on a plate can make me feel slightly uneasy but as they had been highly recommended, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

The first dishes that we ordered arrived first, a mere ten minutes after we had placed the order. The tuna steak was thin and more overcooked than I would have liked – I usually pan fry mine for a matter of seconds. I have learned the hard way in the past that even when you take a tuna steak off the heat, it continues to cook for a few seconds longer. It was served with grilled tomatoes and courgette, which were wise additions. My boyfriend and I always adopt a 50/50 approach to dining out – we order different dishes and share. I usually clock fellow diners rolling their eyes as we swap plates mid way through but this is just the way we do it. And why not? We get to taste much more of the menu this way. And I was especially glad of our approach at the gospel brunch because I much preferred the BBQ Chicken dish. The chicken was tender and sticky and the creamy pot of Napa slaw was a delight. Delicious.

A few bites in, the most gigantic plate of ribs arrived at the table. The overflowing bread board had to be moved onto the table next to us to allow space for the monster. Mouth watering, I took my knife and fork and pulled the most tender meat away from the bone at ease, which was covered in a rich, sticky sauce. As I bit into it, I cursed myself for never ordering ribs. Having already devoured one main meal each, we hastily kept going back to the plate full of ribs in the middle of the table until all that remained was a pile of bones. Wow. They were seriously good.

Not deterred by the amount of food already consumed, we chose two desserts off the bottom of the menu. And for once every single one appealed to me. Was I to go for the New York Cheesecake, or the Mississippi mud pie perhaps? Or maybe it was to be the key lime pie. But no, my sweet tooth was begging me to go for the peanut butter brownie, whilst my boyfriend chose the waffle as he thought it would be the lightest option. He was probably right.

They arrived and in front of my sat a dense, fudgy, sweet, nutty square of brownie, topped with vanilla ice cream and a smoothing of chocolate sauce. In front of my boyfriend sat a large, round waffle doused in fruit puree, crushed nuts and berries, again with a dollop of ice cream on top. I would have preferred the waffle to have come without the puree or berries, or the menu to have at least mentioned the accompaniments as I would have perhaps ordered something different but I could not fault the chocolate brownie. A layer of thick, dense sweet brownie was topped by light brown layer of peanut butter and crushed peanuts. Definitely one to recreate at home!

As we ate, we enjoyed the fantastic tones of the London Community Gospel Choir who stood to the side of the room. As the singing was in full swing, diners were seen singing along, swaying in their seats and a couple even went up to participate in one particular song. We left Altitude 360 that afternoon full of comforting food, the soulful tones ringing in our ears and beaming smiles on our faces.

Gospel Brunch at Altitude 360 costs £45 per person.

Food For Think was a guest at Gospel Brunch.

Altitude 360 on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,079 other followers

%d bloggers like this: