My head is buzzing with wedding stuff at the moment. We’re three weeks away from the big day and I honestly feel like it’s taken over my life. But this weekend Andrew and I decided to take a break from wedding chores, and went out and about in London, have a stroll and do the things we used to enjoy before Weddinggedon took hold of our lives.
I judge people who eat their steaks well done. Even medium actually. For me a steak should be served medium rare at the most, and nice and pink in the middle. Let’s not be squeamish sissies about this, a cow has given its life so you can eat it, so get the job done properly.
Sometimes – OK, all of the time – it’s good to test your preconceptions to see if they’re true. What I’ve discovered over the years that basically all of my preconceptions are unfounded: honey on baked beans is delicious (don’t mock ’til you try it); wedding dress shopping can be fun; and not all whiskey tastes like soil mixed with petrol.
I had another preconception tested this week in the shape of dinner at Southern Joe’s Kitchen in Kentish Town.
A lot of dining out is about theatre and spectacle. Cloches, dry ice, immersive sensory experiences and beautiful dining rooms are all there to heighten the diner’s experience.
And you’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic venue for a meal than where I ate on Saturday night: in the aisle of a Grade II* listed church, with Christ on a cross hoisted above the aisle-long table, overseeing matters as he’s eternally crucified.
I’ve always longed to belong somewhere, but it’s never happened. I don’t mean having friends and family – I have those, I’m not a freak. But I’ve never really had that feeling that you can walk in somewhere – a bar or restaurant – and the staff will wave to you and know what you want. In my fictionalised version of my own Central Perk, friends (I have friends, remember? I protest too much, right?) will come along and stay. We’ll laugh, we’ll chat. We’ll stay all day and drink cocktails.
One of the perks of food blogging in London is meeting lots of lovely new people. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some wonderful bloggers and PRs since I started The Z Factor. And the other night a few of us got together to sample the delights of 64 Degrees in Pimlico.
I’ve spoken a little bit on my blog about my experiences of flatsharing in London. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I met some of the best people ever and well, not some of the worst per se but definitely some of the messiest. Now I live with just Andrew I often think back to flatsharing and wonder how I did it for so long (four years in a house of eight people!). All the passive-aggressive (or sometimes just plain aggressive) emails and notes, the sticky floors after parties, people smoking in the house, every single god-damn piece of crockery being chipped. Argh! But it was fun a lot of the time too.
This week heralds a very important time in the British foodie diary: National Chip Week. Us Brits love chips, right? Fish and chips is a national dish, chip butties invoke memories of childhoods, order a sharing bowl of chips in the pub and it’ll wolfed down by your friends before you can say, “Greedy rats!” To celebrate, Andrew & I decided to head to a lovely fish and chip shop in Stoke Newington.
So a lot of you got on the Nutribullet bus over Christmas. Father Christmas really wanted to make sure you guys are getting your five a day. Good for him (and good for you!).
Since then I’ve been receiving a steady trickle of messages asking how to make smoothies so they don’t taste “green”, “gross” or “make me actually almost vomit”. Fear not fitness pups, I am here to help. I’ve whacked together my top five tips on how to make a smoothie that doesn’t seem so bad.
This week has marked not just the advent of Christmas, but also winter. Remember a few weeks ago when we were smugly talking about how we haven’t even had to turn the heating on yet because it’s just so warm?
Those days are gone, my friends. Winter has come.
So I’ve been doing what ever self-respecting Brit does when it gets cold: hide and hope spring hurrys the fuck up. Part of the ritual British hibernation (there are probably other countries that need to hide too – huge swathes of Scandinavia for example) is to eat shed loads of comfort food in an almost compulsive fashion so come the end of February you’re depressed not just cos you’ve spent four months indoors (hiding) but also you’re now fat because you’ve carb loaded like a marathon runner.
This summer my family and I went to Italy. Tuscany to be exact. One of my brothers lives in LA with his wife and two sons, so seeing him and his family is an extremely rare treat. This year to celebrate various things the whole family decided to sack off the UK in favour of Tuscany. My family now numbers 12 members, which is astounding to me when I think we started out as just five Hedgeses.
One of the things I’ve come to realise as a ~food blogger~ (bleurgh!) is that people start thinking you know things about food. You silly fools! I get texts on a semi-regular basis from friends asking where they should take their girlfriend for dinner/granny for afternoon tea/friend for excellent cocktails. It’s nice that people think to ask me, but very sadly I haven’t been to all the best places in London. So what I do more often than not is I recommend places I want to go – places I’ve heard good things about and are on my list. I imagine the people asking don’t actually think I’ve been everywhere anyway, so are just asking if I’ve heard what’s good lately.
As part of my maintaining blood sugar recipe series (sounds so glamorous when written like that, right?!) I decided to find something suitable for lunch.
When I am meal planning I find planning mid-week lunches the hardest – it has to be portable to take to work, satisfying and not a massive faff to eat. But I think this recipe is perfect. You can make a batch of hummus ahead of time (Sunday arvo, say) and then just chop up some veg (and pitta bread if you’re being naughty) in the morning, whack it all in tupperware and you’re good to go.
So I’ve been working out. I go to this amazing bootcamp class (I am not on commission, I swear). However, if I am doing burpees at 7am in the pouring rain, I want to be getting the maximum out of my work out. Together with Sybille, my bootcamp instructor, I’ve been looking at modifications to my diet to make sure I am getting all the nutrients necessary to maximise the results from my workouts.
I’ve been craving sushi and seared tuna recently. It got to the point where I was a bit worried, and Andrew told me to stop eating so much sushi because of ~Mercury poisoning~.
My favourite way to eat seared tuna is on a Nicoise salad. I am deeply perturbed by tinned tuna (aka cat food), and won’t touch the stuff, so it always has to be a proper loin steak (I know, get me!). But I’ve found it surprisingly hard to find a decent recipe for it. There’s either whole anchovy fillets in it, which I cannot stomach, or the recipe called for frying the potatoes, which is just plain bad for you.
You know your neighbourhood is “up and coming” when the railway arches stop looking like a Mitchell brother might be fixing a car/killing someone in one, and starts looking like a hipster eatery. Sadly, the railway arches near my flat are part-Mitchell, part-hipster. The unrelenting wave of gentrification is yet to hit my endz (dodgy match-day car parks jostle for space next to organic cafes), but it
has hit Haggerston – natch.
I’ve been feeling ill recently. Nothing serious, don’t worry (I can sense you were worried) – just a cold. But it’s pretty crap when you have a cold, isn’t it? You feel shocking and you can’t breathe properly and apparently you snore at night (according to Andrew, anyway).
As soon as I feel myself getting a cold I start craving this chicken noodle soup. The recipe is from BBC Good Food, and is really simple and packed full of cold-combating ingredients. It’s also such a comfort food, and has long be believed to cure what ails you by various cultures from European Jewish communities to Korea.
Fresh garlic in this recipe has immune-boosting properties, as well as being an antibacterial and antiviral agent. Fresh ginger helps stimulate perspiration (sexy) which helps cleanse the system and bring down a temperature. The raw spring onion contains organic sulphur compounds and can help combat coughs and phlegm (again, sexy). The red chilli garnish is packed with vitamin C, too. Red chillis actually have more vitamin C than citrus fruits. YEAH! They also unblocked stuffy noses and trigger endorphins to be released into your system, which are the body’s natural pain killer. What’re you waiting for, Fluey Al? Get making this soup now.
Chicken Noodle Soup
- 900ml good-quality chicken stock
– 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
– a thumb-sized amount of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
– 2 garlic cloves, crushed
– 50g rice noodles
– a small tin of sweetcorn, drained
– 4 mushrooms, thinly sliced
– 2 spring onions, shredded (sliced very thinly lengthways)
– 2 tsp soy sauce (go low-sodium, folks)
– handful of basil leaves
– 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1. Put the chicken stock in a pan and add in the chicken breast, ginger and garlic. Heat up ’til it boils and then turn the heat down, partly cover and leave to simmer for 20 mins.
2. Remove the chicken from the pan and put on a chopping board. Using two forks, pull the chicken apart so it’s all shredded and nice.
3. Return the chicken to the pan, and add in the noodles, sweetcorn, mushrooms, half the spring onions and soy sauce. Simmer until the noodles are soft and slippy – normally takes about 4 minutes.
4. Divide the soup between two bowls and then scatter with the remaining spring onion, basil and chilli. Eat and feel instantly revitalised.
Sometimes when you push yourself to go out of your comfort zone you’re rewarded with new discoveries, a broader horizon and, if you’re lucky, even a boosted confidence. My comfort zone is most definitely North London. I’m talking a comfort zone within London here. Obviously I am happy to travel out of North London to leave London, but when I’m in London my heart is always north. It is my home and I love pretty much everything about it, with the exception of Morrisons on Holloway Road, which is the third circle of Hell.
But last night I ventured to South London. I was on a promise. A promise of burgers and hardshakes at Honky Tonk. Honky Tonk is one of those seemingly ubiquitous places that are attempting to be a slice of Americana in London. Burgers, wings, pulled pork. And bourbon. Always with the bourbon. Honky Tonk have one branch in Chelsea and another in Clapham. Due to all of this, my hackles were raised from the offset.
I went with Andrew and our friends, Martin and Laura. Martin is big fan of burgers. BIG (ironic really, because he’s a really tiny person). He complained that my blog hadn’t featured burgers in a while. Seemed only fair he came along for this one.
We arrived and were seated quickly. It was pretty quiet, but the joint started to fill quickly after 8pm. Weird really, because Honky Tonk’s happy hour ends at 8pm. Whatevs.
The restaurant is kind of a hybrid of anything the interior designer thought was “trendy”. Exposed brickwork, mirrors with quotes written on them lining the stairway (to the grim loos), a wardrobe in the corner that claims to lead to Narnia. I didn’t get involved in that hijinx. Overall the decor was at best tedious and at worst anger inducing (in my opinion, because I hate that stuff).
The boys and I decided to have hardshakes, while Laura sensibly went for an OJ. Then we waited 20 minutes for them to arrive. Did I mention the restaurant was pretty empty? Yeah, I did, didn’t I? The shakes came served in large milk bottles, with the shot of liquor on the side in one of those jam jars your get marmalade in at hotel breakfasts. All highly whimsical. What absolute larks.
The milkshakes were actually pretty good. I started to relax. I even said to the others that, “I thought I was going to hate this place, but I actually quite like it”. See, I open-minded and willing to cast my net wide (to Clapham, burgers are obviously in my proverbial net).
Martin and I ordered starters because we’re massive pig-rats. I had buffalo wings with peri peri marinade and blue cheese sauce, Martin had crab cakes. My buffalo wings were fine, but they weren’t the best I’ve ever had (MEATLiquor, people). The portion wasn’t exactly generous. How very un-American of them. Martin said his crab cakes were good. I didn’t try them because they were tiny and there were only two.
Then we waited for another 30 mins or so for our main course to come. Oh but don’t worry, they left those empty, finished plates in front of us for about 15 of those minutes. In for a penny in for a pound with the lacklustre service.
The food did come. Andrew had gone for some greedy heart attack in a metal tray, which was meant for two people (two pieces of their famous ‘Not’ fried chicken, half a rack of pork ribs smothered with either our BBQ or bourbon sauce, a generous helping of pulled pork and buffalo chicken wings coated in a choice of sauce – buffalo, BBQ or peri peri, served with rosemary fries). This is a blurry shot taken by my fiancé:
I had a Honky Tonk burger (cheese, bacon, caramelised onion, guacamole, salsa, gem lettuce, tomato and their “very own and very delicious” burger sauce), Martin had a Fire in the Hole burger (topped with red jalapenos, baby gem lettuce, tomato, chilli cheese & honky hot sauce) and Laura had a Halloumi burger.
My burger was OK. The brioche bun was good, but the burger sauce was, I think, wholegrain mustard mixed with mayonaise (this is distinctly not burger sauce as I know it), and the patty was overcooked and very dry). The chips were magnificent.
Martin’s burger was also overcooked and apparently not that hot. Blah. Andrew’s tray was actually just two of each item and a pretty small bowl of pulled pork, but SHEDLOADS of chips. As he pointed out, if he was sharing he’d be pretty annoyed. Laura said her burger was good.
Now we waited about 30 minutes for our plates to be cleared. The wait staff did clear them in their own sweet time, but they left mine and walked off to talk to someone behind the bar. Eventually I had to go over and ask them to take my plate and to bring us the bill.
The bill came. It was significantly incorrect to make us irritated. In the end, our meal cost £120. This is pretty bloody steep, I think. Especially when everything about the meal was pretty lazily done.
Sadly this adventure did nothing that made me change my mind about North London being distinctly better than South. I wouldn’t even go to Honky again if it was next door to my house, though.
Honky Tonk, 16a Clapham Common South Side, London SW4 7AB
Nearest tube: Clapham Common (1 min walk)
I was invited to review Honky Tonk. Yes, you read that right.
After vowing to try to eat more food raw, I was kind of struggling to think what to eat apart from smoothies (which technically you drink anyway). So I did what any self-respecting independent person does and turned to Google to find out what everyone else is doing. Turns out they’re not eating raw chicken, which is Good News.
One of the first recipes I found that sounded vaguely un-mental was raw courgette noodles. Hey, wait, don’t click away! There’s cheese in this and loads of garlic. It tastes good.
Sybille told me to stay away from processed foods. “If it doesn’t grow or need to be killed to eat it, don’t eat it,” she told me as I sweated my way through one of her unbelievably tough (but good) yoga sessions. “Err, so does that mean no pasta?!” I asked, faintly hysterical at the thought of not eating platefuls of spag bol. Everyone at the yoga class looked at me and then firmly said no. Seems Sybille had got to them too.
I love pasta, but have found these courgette noodles are a perfect substitute. They’re just like al dente spaghetti. I make my noodles using this sprial-maker thing. It’s great fun. When I make them it’s one of the rare opportunities to see Andrew offer to help in the kitchen. It’s basically like those Play-doh machines but it makes something tastier.
Why’re these good for you? Well courgettes are a good source of fibre and they’re low calorie too. They won’t leave you feeling bloated like pasta often does, and they’re really filling and satisfying. Plus the pesto sauce has raw garlic in it, which contains lots of good stuff to help prevent colds and keep your heart healthy. The lemon juice contains pectin, which is proven to aid weight loss. And you know about vitamin C, which is also in those cherry tomatoes. Right, let’s hit the recipe shall we?
Raw courgette noodles with homemade pesto
Serves 2 generously
For the noodles:
– 4 medium-sized courgettes, washed
For the pesto:
– A large handful of basil (I use a whole bag of those ones you get from the supermarket)
– 1 garlic clove, peeled
– Juice of 1 lemon
– A handful of pine nuts
– A large handful of freshly grated parmesan
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the topping:
– Ball of burrata cheese
– Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1. Make your noodles by spinning the courgettes round in a spiral-thinger. There’s instructions on the box of the thing, ok? Set them aside in a bowl.
2. Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a frying pan (with no oil). Put them on a high heat and keep an eye on them. Keep shuffling them around until they start looking golden. Don’t let them go black.
3. Put all the pesto ingredients in a blender (or NutriBullet!) and blend until it’s a paste-sauce consistency.
4. Pour the pesto over the noodles and toss until the noodles are all coated in sauce. Then divide the noodles between two plates.
5. Rip apart your burrata and scatter over the noodles along with the cherry tomatoes. Eat and enjoy.
P.S. Thanks so much for the AWESOME support in response to my last post. It has blown me away. I’m excited a few of you are joining me on this journey. Let’s kick health in the head. Or something. Kicking it in the head sounds bad.
Recipe adapted from Skinny Taste.
When I first heard about Mission, a new restaurant in Bethnal Green, I knew it was going to be a good ‘un. Owned by the husband and wife team behind Sager & Wilde and the head chef, James De Jong, joined from one of my favourite Islington pubs, The Drapers Arms (where Andrew and I had our engagement party, factfans) it had all the trappings of a first-class establishment.
So I was pretty happy to score a soft opening reservation, and last week we popped along with our newly married friends, Simon and George.
The restaurant is a stone’s throw from Bethnal Green tube station, under the railway arches on Paradise Row. The restaurant occupies one of these arches, but it’s like the Tardis inside and feels nothing like a railway arch, overhead train rumblings aside.
There’s a lovely wooden bar in the middle of the restaurant, with bistro-style wooden chairs and tables surrounding it. The brickworks is exposed overhead, but wood panelling on the walls makes it more romantic (and less echo-y). The whole of the arch is glass fronted and although we went on an autumnal evening, I am sure in summer with the glass wall retracted it’d be spectacular (there is an al fresco dining area out front for such occasions, too).
Right, on to the food.
I kickstarted my meal with ‘Nduja arancini (that’s deep-fried risotto rice balls, incase you’ve never heard of them. I had because I am cultured and I also like deep-fried carbs. Mmm.)
My phone wigged out at this point and put lines all over my photos, so I will spare you my photography, bar this one of the fried carbs:
Don’t get shit like this on The Londoner, do you?
Anyway, the arancini were good – nice and crisp on the outside and gooey inside. The ‘nduja added a spicy kick.
Andrew went for the crispy pig’s head, which I don’t have a photo of. However, it was insanely good. They were little squares of pork confit, deep fried. They were so meaty and good. Vegetarian Simon and George didn’t even judge us for eating a pig’s head.
The veggies went for…
Datterini tomatoes, mozzarella and samphire. It looked insanely good. The cheese was all gooey and fresh. Simon and George said it was great.
They also had courgettes, ricotta and mint.
I am a bit confused by this, as there are definitely artichokes in this dish. Anyway, they said this wasn’t as good. Probably because artichokes are RANK.
For main course Andrew and I decided to share the lamb chops. We’re both MASSIVE lamb fans (I originally typed friends there, which, yes, we are also friends of lambs). Looking at this photo makes me weep with lust. BEHOLD:
So much lamb. Phwoar. Here’s another photo too. Andrew took this one:
It’s a less good image, isn’t it? Sorry, Pea.
Anyway, they were perfectly cooked and came with this yummy herby, garlicky garnish. I dream about these lamb chops in my darker moments.
Simon and George went for Aubergine Parmigina. Here’s a photo:
I think it was nice, but to be honest I was too busy crying with happiness over my lamb to really take in how much Simon and George liked their main course. I am a bad friend, sorry guys.
I was so full by this point. So much meat. So good. Zoe happy. But then Andrew went and ordered a dulce de leche cheesecake and I had a bit (or three).
Look at all that delicious honeycomb. YUM! It was such an amazing cheesecake. On par with the best I’ve ever had. Sweet yet sour, and very very rich. WELL DONE, Mission.
The service at Mission was great. I basically can’t fault this place. The menu I guess is on the pricer side, so I feel quite lucky we got to try it during the soft launch offer. I can’t rave about this place highly enough.
Mission, 250 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green E2 9LE
Nearest tube: Bethnal Green (2 min walk)
I sometimes get cravings for waffles. Not the Bird’s Eye potato ones (although they are waffle-y versatile), but the sweet, terribly unhealthy kind. But do you know what? Not a lot of places in London serve waffles. There are more places serving American pancakes than you can shake a stick at, but there’s a waffle drought in our city.
So, when I saw Q Grill‘s revamped brunch menu had waffles on it, I knew I had to pay them a little visit. I’d been meaning to go to Q for ages anyway. So this weekend Andrew and I trotted off to Camden, weaving our way against the flow of Gooners and Man City fans that were flocking towards N5 – seemingly to our flat!
We arrived at Q and it was empty, save for another couple. The venue is pretty huge, with one side flanked by an impressive bar and the back wall is home to an open kitchen. We took one of their comfy, massive circular booths, which was probably too large for just two of us (it could’ve easily sat six) but we enjoyed it.
There was a small table laid out with fresh pastries, muffins, breads, cured meats and yoghurt, fruits and granola so you can help yourself to a Continental-style breakfast if you want. Our waitress explained we should just go up and dig in. I was on the hangry* side of my mood spectrum, so I helped myself to a slice of focaccia and some cured meats (and, err, a pain au chocolate. Don’t judge me, you massive judger).
The focaccia was great. I love me some herby, salty bread. The cured meats was actually just Parma ham, but I was onboard with that – Parma ham is my number one favourite in the world of cured meats. My pain au chocolate was HUGE. But it was also cold, which seems so sad. I feel pastries are best enjoyed warm, but maybe that’s just me? (Deep down I think it can’t just be me.)
It was around this point that the waitress came over and asked what I was doing. “Err, I’m having some of the Continental stuff?” I answered. “But are you having something from the menu too? Are you having two Continentals or one?” I was massively unhelpful here I think and said I wasn’t sure, but could we just see how we got on with what we were eating. She kind of seemed annoyed/confused but let it go. Andrew was actually too scared to go up and help himself after this, but I think this is more a reflection on how easily Andrew is intimidated that anything else.
Guess what? We did end up ordering from the menu. Our waitress was pretty pissed off. But I came for waffles, remember? And I’m a nightmare customer, right? Right!
We got a smoothie each (me: banana, strawberry and pineapple; him: kale, avocado and apple). They were both nice but really really sweet. They came in those jam jar with handles thingies, so big hipster points there.
I ordered waffles and Andrew ordered Q baked beans on toast with a fried hen’s egg on top.
My waffles arrived with a generous serving of bacon and maple syrup. They were good, but also slightly lacklustre. I mean it was what it said it was, but it was missing something to elevate it from standard to interesting. It could’ve done with some caramelised bananas or something. A dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar? I realise this makes me sound greedy, but that’s really not it. I’m just trying to be constructive here.
Andrew said his beans were, “OK. They’re baked beans and eggs, aren’t they?” I didn’t have any of his because I loathe fried eggs. Sorry. (Also, as an aside – obvz, we’re in brackets here – aren’t most eggs “hen’s eggs”? Is that worth stating on the menu?)
I did enjoy Q. The restaurant is really nice. The staff (except the one who acted like a spurned lover) were all delightful. The decor is interesting and comfy. But I think the fact it was empty made me feel sad. But at least I sated my waffle lust for a bit. And hopefully as word spreads people will fill the place up. They also have a mix your own Bloody Mary bar. I mean that sounds fun, right?
I will however be going back to Q to try their barbecue food. Their regular non-brunch food sounded delicious!
Q-Grill, 29-33 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AJ
Nearest tube: Chalk Farm (5 min walk)
* hangry, adj.
The state of being so hungry you feel irritated by everything and become completely unreasonable.
Example of a sentence using ‘hangry’
By lunchtime I was so hangry I almost screamed at my colleague for humming the theme tune to Black Beauty over and over.
I was invited to review Q-Grill and as such received a complimentary meal. However, this by no means guarantees a favourable review.
Some images © Andrew Phillimore. Do not reproduce without explicit permission.
Lunchtime is like running the gauntlet at the moment. I work just off Thayer Street in Marylebone, and the street is lined with interesting places to eat. They make having a sad Covent Garden Soup feel like a personal failure. So err, sometimes I fall off the wagon and have a burger.
Having exhausted the menu at Patty & Bun down the road, I went for Tommi’s. They’re pretty no-frills, which is standard in London’s now ubiquitous line of burger restaurants. I was getting take out so I went up to the desk to order.
I went for a cheeseburger and fries. I also got some cocktail sauce, which turned out to be a regrettable decision. I waited for a bit – 10 mins? – and then my burger arrived in a bag. You then have to go up to the counter and help yourself to pickles. This annoyed me because I am a massively petty person. Pickles shouldn’t have to be added to a burger – they’re either in there (good) or not (bad). I don’t want to have to add them myself. Christ. This is 2014.
I took my brown bag back to work and probably stank the office out with fast food smell. Sorry guys. You’re nice and you deserve better.
Here’s what the burger looked like:
Here’s the bite through shot:
It’s blurred. GO ME!
Anyway, as you can see I added load of pickles. There was also lettuce, tomato and raw red onion in there. The patty was cooked medium (good) but was pretty gosh darn dry (bad). And also a bit chewy (oh so bad). The bun was sweet and basically guys it tasted like a McDonalds burger. Which is great if you like McDonalds. I’m not fundamentally opposed to them myself, especially not while drunk and roaming the Holloway Road at 1am, but meh – the best part of £10 for a knock-off McDonalds? That I am opposed to.
P.S. The cocktail sauce tasted of nothing. It was like eating warm, clammy nothing. I love me my condiments, but this one was in desperate need of some flavour.
Tommi’s Burger Joint, 30 Thayer St, Marylebone, London W1U 2QP
Nearest tube: Bond Street (6 min walk)
Well, following up from my excited post about National Burger Day, I thought I better update about how it all went down. As a quick overview, it was burger-y and tequila-y.
I got to Battersea Power Station, where it was being held, by way of Kensington and Chelsea. I really really hate west London – especially Chelsea/Kensington and Fulham (sorry Dugs). The slow-moving bus didn’t help my rage towards the area.
Anyway, got there I did and the smell of burgers was wafting through the air. As soon as we arrived I saw Jamie, who had had a massive hand in organising the event – and it was her birthday. Amazing party or what? She gave me a quick overview of what was what and I went on my merry way.
Andrew was keen to try out Club Gascon‘s foie gras and summer truffle burger. Service was quick, as was the eating as the burger was pretty tiny. I found it almost headache inducingly rich – the foie gras melted in the mouth though and I loved the salad dressed with truffle. One tiny fella was enough though!
Then it was off to my favourite: Bleecker St Burger. It’s well recognised that Bleecker does the best burger in London. It’s very exciting that they’re now opening a shop in Old Spitalfields Market to complement their food truck. Bleecker staff are always fab too – so friendly and passionate. Bleecker were doing a pizza/burger hybrid. This was 50-day dry-aged beef patty, melted mozzarella, marinana sauce, grated parmesan, chilli flakes and basil mayo. HIYA!
Then it was on to get our pints of Meantime Lager, which came with the tickets.
Next up we went to find Duggers, where we sat on the world’s tiniest table and caught up over our beers. Duggers had the thing sussed and we soon got our respective “other halves” (ugh) getting us burgers while we sat and drank.
Andrew went to get a slider from Slider Bar.
It was really good, although all the burgers were tiny across the board at the event. As Andrew and I were splitting them there just wasn’t enough of any of them to get really into them. However, this guy was spicy and meaty and good. It was aged beef patty, 10-hour roast chipotle beef short rib, bone marrow, habanero salsa, American cheese and chipotle ketchup.
Next up was Andrew’s favourite burger from last year: Disco Burger. Andrew loves a bit of fruit in savoury food, so this was his dream burger: dry-aged Dexter beef, bun sauce, mature cheese, pickled onions, pineapple bacon jam. FIT.
This was the burger of the night. It was so beautifully balanced. Meaty, sweet, juicy. I don’t know what that “bun sauce” is, but I want to bathe in it.
We then queued for an hour for Dip & Flip burgers. However, five people from the front a lady appeared and said, “We’ve run out of roast beef so we’re putting bacon on instead”. Discontent spread like wildfire. The man behind me lost the plot, but summarised most people’s feelings: “Roast beef is YOUR THING. I COULD GO ANYWHERE FOR A BACON BURGER”. The lady from Dip & Flip laughed at him and walked off. We also left the queue.
Suffering from extreme queue rage, we then hit up the chilliback shots. This is a shot of tequila with a shot of brine from pickled chillies as a chaser. Firey.
Eat your heart out, The Londoner.
I now felt full and a bit sick, but Andrew was determined for one last burger. I was unable to face another queue, so we went to where the shortest queue was: Byron.
He didn’t get an adequate shot of the burger, but he wasn’t impressive. I think it was a bit lack lustre compared to the others, and he said it had a bad after taste. I took one bite and conceded that it wasn’t very exciting. Sorry Byron – normally I love you!
The night was drawing in, so after a quick tour and a few slushie cocktails we bid a retreat.
All images © Andrew Phillimore. Please seek permission before reproducing.
So National Burger Day is upon us once more, and I for one am very excited indeed.
National Burger Day was set up last year by the lovely people (and huge burger fans) at the lifestyle newsletter Mr Hyde. It was a rip roaring success. You can read all about it here.
This year looks sure to be bigger and better than last, with loads more participants and events going on around the country.
The key event for me will be the evening event in Battersea. Mr Hyde has teamed up with the good folk at Tweat Up to create an event that is surely every burger lover’s dream. All the best London burger creators (and fans!) will be at the event, with loads of them serving up new twists on their already insanely good patty delights.
Here’s the menu if you don’t believe me:
In the words of Proudlock: YEAH BOI!
Some of the burger purveyors have been giving sneaky peeks at their burgers. Here’s a little selection:
OK, I’ll stop. But I am exciting to see the grand unveiling of Byron’s latest special at the event.
Sadly for some of you suckers, the tickets for the event have now sold out. However, loads of restaurants nationwide are participating, offering customers 20% off their bills.
To find somewhere local to you, just visit www.nationalburgerday.co.uk and get your voucher.
I’m on a wedding diet at the moment, but last night I went out to see my amazingly talented friend, Lucy Garrioch, do a one-woman show. Apart from being incredible to watch my friend up on stage, I also saw a lot of very old and dear friends and got a bit too carried away on the wine. The result? A horrific hangover today – I have also lots my voice from whooping so much.
So I fell spectacularly off the wagon when I remembered Dirty Burger have got a kind of secret food truck nestled within the building I work (but anyone can visit). I headed down there this lunch time to find a salve for my sorry state.
It’s located in a sort of archway/alley/back entrance to our building. It sounds glamorous, right?! But actually they’ve made it lovely with some festoon lighting and tables and chairs.
I went for a cheeseburger and crinckle fries [sic] (back on the diet now though – whoops!).
I took my guilty parcel back to my desk…
The burger contains pickles, cheese, bacon, patty (natch), iceberg lettuce and tomato in a brioche bun. It was pretty sloppy, as the picture tells, but also the burger was well-done. I prefer medium/medium rare. And it suffered for it – it wasn’t as juicy or satisfying. It was fine, sure, but in what is the competitive market of gourmet junk food it was disappointing.
The fries were crinkle-cut, perhaps in homage to Shake Shack (bleurgh). They were a unseasoned though and a bit “mum’s gone to Iceland”.
So perhaps not amazing but it has cured my hangover. Although I feel very guilty.
Dirty Burger food truck, Zetland House, 32 Paul Street, London EC2A 4HJ
Nearest tube: Old Street (5 min walk)
Straight after getting engaged, Andrew whisked me off to eat at Beast. Beast is the new-ish venture by the team behind Burger & Lobster. The restaurant has a set menu with two main dishes: crab and steak. But boy what crab and steak they are…
We arrived and were zipped down to the subterranean banqueting hall and were met with a huge wall of cow carcasses and live crab tanks housing huge Norwegian king crabs.
At the bar we were served a complimentary glass of champagne (wish I could get engaged every day!) and there were HUGE wheels of parmesan to help ourselves to. Love a salty snack with my pre-dinner fizz!
We were seated on huge banqueting tables, which were romantically lit with soft candle light and were brought our starters. As I said, there’s a set menu at Beast with no options. We were presented with a quarter-wheel of parmesan, some pickled onions, marinated olives and artichokes – all absolutely delicious and fun to share! The emphasis is definitely on sharing your meal at Beast, which is fun as long as you know your fellow diners well and you’re not Joey from Friends.
We then ordered more champagne and one glass of red and one white from the very helpful sommelier. They arrived together along with the steak…
This was prime Nebraskan ribeye on the bone, and it was absolutely delicious: meaty, perfectly seasoned, full of flavour and tender. It came with sides of heritage tomatoes, green salad, baked apples, candied beetroot. It was all to share and was more than enough for two…
Just as we were about a third of our way through the steak our crab arrived:
I absolutely love crab, and this was the best crab I’d ever had. It was soft, sweet and plentiful. The crab had been properly dismantled so it didn’t cause too many problems, and we were provided with all the normal medieval tools to get in. This was served with a delicious lemon butter sauce and further sides of asparagus and um, some other bits and bobs. I’ve forgotten! Whoops!
Luckily we were decked out in cotton bibs (not the plastic fellas from B&L) and had finger bowls in abundance. There are also sinks along the sides of the room incase you need to properly hose yourself down after battling a crab the size of your head (no exaggeration). Look, we’re not here to judge.
The final course was a light and refreshing lemon mousse, which was the perfect palate cleanser after some extremely rich food.
Beast is very spendy – I am lucky in that the bill was taken care of as part of project proposal – the set menu is £75 per person and wine on top isn’t cheap I believe from other diners. However, it was such a special night: the service was incredible, the atmosphere was the perfect mix of fun and romantic and the food was perfect.
Beast, 3 Chapel Pl, Marylebone, London W1G 0BG
Nearest tube: Bond Street (5 min walk), Oxford Street (5 min walk)
One of mine and my brother’s favourite stories about our dad is the time he complained about the service in the Tunbridge Wells branch of McDonalds. Patience isn’t the Hedges’ strong suit, and my dad took issue with the fact that he had to queue for “fast” food. I have inherited this trait. Andrew’s most worn-out phrase to me is, “Zos, just chill out” because I am so impatient in that awful muttery under breath kind of way. And you know who else I’ve discovered isn’t patient? City bankers.
More often than not I work in Shoreditch, and sometimes I have cause to go into the City – the Square Mile where apparently all bankers congregate to get bonuses and screw over Iceland (hazy on the details). The cause this week was to pay in a cheque like it was 1995. I don’t like going into the City much because I hate sharing space with bankers or whoever they are (lawyers? other people who still wear suits to work – who are they?!). City-dwellers are, on the whole, consistently incredibly rude and arrogant – constantly ploughing into people on the pavement with a kind of “I’m more important than you” attitude and sighing when shop assistants don’t give them special treatment and bump them up the queue just because they’re wearing a suit from T. M. Lewin. Basically The City is like Berkmageddon and I hate it.
When I was down there yesterday on my lunch break I decided to cheer myself up with a trip to Patty & Bun’s new branch on Liverpool Street. It’s more of a takeaway feel than their site in Fitzrovia, but the menu is the same – burgers and chips. The place pulled me in like it had a tractor beam.
It’s set up sort of like a rustic version of McDonalds. You go to a counter, order your food and then you’re given a receipt (novel!). If you’re eating in then you can sit at one of the little tables around the sides of the restaurant but if you’re taking out you’re told to go outside and wait by a window for your food to be passed to you. I am not sure what they will do when it’s raining, or have really considered that people might want to wait in the “10-15 minute” wait for their food – I’m sure it’s a stumbling block they’ll overcome.
As I waited for my food (which took 5 minutes max), a steady stream of suits strode up to the window and demanded to know where their food was. One suit turned to me and I gave him a sympathetic smile and he said “Don’t think they’ve figured this thing out yet, huh!” to me. I just raised my eyebrows (I don’t like talking to strangers – I am not friendly). He had come directly out of the restaurant to the window and complained. What a… banker.
My food arrived in double-quick time. I picked it up from a girl who looked so deeply sad and panicked at the same time – like someone facing the firing line. Who can blame her when dealing with tosspots all day? Anyway, I took my food – in a massive MASSIVE bag – and dashed back to the safety of Shoreditch.
I went for an Ari Gold, which is a hamburger basically. It was delicious. Medium-rare tasty patty, lots of lovely pickles and a sturdy brioche bun to keep it all together. My desk buddy, Kat, was very annoyed that I had such a delicious lunch. She had Covent Garden soup. Haha.
The chips were, well, they were chips – neither outstanding nor terrible. They didn’t have enough rosemary on them to really constitute being called “rosemary fries”, but this is a minor quibble.
And as for those impatient bankers? Well, I didn’t have a problem waiting five minutes for my lunch so I don’t see the problem. I can imagine even my dad would wait that long… and he’s a retired banker.
Patty & Bun, 22/23 Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7PD
I don’t really trust west London – I never have. I once worked for the BBC, who at the time were based in White City (aka Shepherd’s Bush – or “SheBu” if you’re a twit/Cressida Bonas). That’s a grim little corner of London best forgot. For me, all of west London is this same uninterrupted sea of grey dual carriageways and enclaves of Aussies talking about TimTams like crack addicts talk about, well, crack. They have the same look in their eyes. I imagine, anyway – I don’t know any crack addicts personally.
I digress. Oh yeah, I hate west London. Sorry – I mean I “don’t trust it”. Anyway, I had cause to go there recently on a fact-finding mission. Specifically I went to St John’s Wood (shh, it IS west London) and Maida Vale. As I clearly don’t know west London from Manley Beach, I asked some Twitter buds about where was good to go – and I was inundated with recommendations, as if all of west London had just been waiting to be asked and I had opened the flood gates.
Most people recommended The Truscott Arms, and one person in particular – Sam – told me about a thing they sold called beef shin chips. Beef – good, chips – good, shin… um, good…? So I went to The Truscott to see what the heck all the hype was about.
I got there alone and had to wait for my companion (because he is always. running. late.) so ordered a nice, healthy (massive) glass of red. I instantly regretted this after Andrew arrived (late) and ordered some kind of macho cocktail called a Lady Truscott. It was bloody yummy and I was jealous.
We ordered from the bar menu – I went for a wagyu beef burger and the tardy one went for a pulled pork sandwich with a side of beef shin chips. I forwent the extra foie gras topping on the burger because, well, it was lunch and I am not Rockefeller.
The burger was OK, but the patty was slightly dry and uninspiring. It was meant to be wagyu beef, and while I have no doubt it was, I’m not sure the burger did the beef proud. A cow drank beer and had it’s tummy massaged and all it turned into was a dry burger.
The best part of it was the onion relish, which was sweet and sour and really sung out among the rest of the slightly insipid burger.
The beef shin chips on the other hand were sublime. They’re made by slow-cooking beef shin (win), pulling the beef apart and then making it into a terrine (I’m on board), which is then sliced into chunks, coated in polenta (ohhh yeah) and deep-fried (POW!). FEEL THE HEALTH. They were served with a hot, meaty gravy. They pulled apart deliciously and were crunchy on the outside and beautifully succulent on the inside. A marvel. (Sorry for the crappy photo that follows…)
The pulled pork looked like this. When I asked Andrew how it was, he said “yeah, good”. High praise, indeed.
When pressed further he gave the startling admission that there was an apple relish inside, which was really good. I had a bite and can confirm it was pretty good – meaty yet light somehow.
The Truscott Arms was a really nice venue – the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the bar was bright and airy. The cocktail list is something that I am still mulling over even now, plotting a time I can sneak back to west London and sample the whole list. It seems The Truscott has changed my philosophy on west London entirely…
The Truscott Arms, 55 Shirland Rd, London W9 2JD
Nearest tube: Warwick Avenue (10 min walk)
I have acquired a Korean food expert in my family. She is an expert because she’s Korean. Well, she’s American but her parents are from Korea. I have acquired her because my brother had the good fortune of her agreeing to marry him. The first time I ever had Korean food, my sister-in-law (let’s call her Irene, as that’s her name), Irene’s mum ordered it for about 20 people at a Korean restaurant in LA. It looked like this:
Korean food in LA is good, but I had no point of comparison apart from Irene’s Mom’s cooking, which is excellent. If, like me pre-2005, you don’t know what Korean food is like it’s a lot of barbecued marinated meats, pickled vegetables, noodles, spicy sauces – that kind of thing.
In recent times, I’ve tried Bibimbap in Soho, which is alright for a quick meal. And then last week I went to On the Bab, a Korean place in Shoreditch that had been recommended to me by the great and good of Twitter. I don’t really feel that optimistic about Korean food in London as it’s not like there’s a booming Korean community here. Not that you need a massive community but it does seem to help, like the amazing Chinese food in San Fran or the Jewish food in New York. ANYWAY, on to On the Bab…
I went for a takeaway option, ‘cos I gotta work yeah? On the smaller-than-eat-in take out menu they do a range of dishes including bibimbap with bulgogi (a barbecued marinated beef), which I got. It took a pretty long time to arrive, but that means it’s fresh right? As I waited I was asked to go outside with all the other takeout gang. There’s no waiting area and the restaurant is pretty small, so kind of understandable and I was amiable about this because it was sunny. UNLIKE the huddle of ladies at the counter who muttered “Go outside? Us? He can’t mean us! Let’s just stay here,” because apparently they were too good for the pavement unlike me – pavement troll extraordinaire.
I eventually got my plastic bowl and scuttled back to the office. Here’s what it looked like:
My work buddy Kat looked over in disgust. “What IS that?” she said. “Um, barbecued meat, pickled vegetables, rice and a fried egg,” I replied trying to sound casual and like it was a nice lunch she should be jealous of. “Sounds RANK!” she said, turning back to her screen.
It wasn’t rank, but it wasn’t amazing either. The egg was ok – the runny yolk leaked pleasingly into the disk, the beef wasn’t without flavour but also I can’t really remember it being standout which says something. The rest was just vegetables so really, what skill is there? They were… nicely chopped?
Maybe I went for the wrong thing, maybe I am being a dullard snob, but I should be able to pick the national dish and expect it to be done with some flair. Especially as it cost me £10. It was just lacking… lustre. I think what London needs is a decent Korean restaurant, but I am yet to find it…
On the Bab, 305 Old Street, EC1V 9LA
Nearest tube: Old Street (5min walk)
It was Friday lunchtime. I didn’t want to leave the warmth of my lofty publishing office to go out for lunch, but I had to. 1. I needed to buy a birthday card for my friend (spec: must have a cat on, must say “happy birthday”. Paperchasiér came up trumps, FYI) and 2. I needed food.
My plight saw me stride down the Strand and I found myself on the ever-claustrophobic Villiers Street. This was my first mistake. No good lunch could come out of a street that always makes me feel a bit ill – it’s a combination of the smell, the damp and the fact sunlight hasn’t touched its pavements in over 200 years.
I went for Herman Ze German – this was my second and most costly mistake. There was a queue to order. “This must be a good sign,” I reassured myself, stepping inside among a horde of German teenager tourists queuing eagerly – hey, when in Rome!
For those not in the know – as I wasn’t, and information is power, guys – Herman Ze German was set up by a photographer and a hairdresser. What could go wrong? This carries all the hallmarks of excellent food. Guys, the hairdresser and photographer-combo toured their German wurst around festivals such as Oxygen Festival Kildare. Such heady heights could only be reached by someone who sold amazing food, right?
When I stepped inside it smelt a bit like a kennel, made worse by the man in front of me having a flatulence problem so bad he should probably seek medical help. Either that or the smell was emanating from the kitchen. I did not solve this mystery. I don’t know which option I would prefer.
The decor was pretty makeshift. Rustic is perhaps what they were going for. Everything had “quirky” signs, where to German-ify them they had put “ze” in front of them. The, sorry, ze drinks cabinet was stocked with what I assume was their own soda. I didn’t select any of them. Tap water felt safer.
Eventually I was served at a McDonalds-style till by a man so softly spoken I had to ask him to repeat everything twice. I annoyed him. But perhaps it was a two-way problem as when I asked for my Bratwurst to be topped with mustard and ketchup he replied “mayo and ketchup, OK”. What? Who has mayo on a hot dog, German or otherwise?! I said, “No, not mayo – MUSTARD!” He waved in my face, so I assume this meant, “I know, I am sorry, I said the wrong thing.” In hindsight what it meant was, “Whatever”.
I waited for my hot dog and with every passing second my feeling of regret and sense of foreboding increased. Everyone in the place was miserable – staff and patrons alike. Only the German teenagers seemed happy, and I imagine that’s because they had managed to throw off their boring English teacher who had been droning on about Christopher Wren for the last 24 hours.
My hot dog arrived already packaged up, but I’d been watching them like a suspicious hawk, and knew that the sausage in my cardboard box had mayo and not mustard on it. I said this to the lady who handed it to me. She offered to cook me another one, but I just wanted to get out of the place so I just asked her to add mustard. I took my hotdog and chips – £7 lighter! – and scuttled back to the office feeling truly ashamed of what I was carrying.
I ate my hot dog at my desk like a mongrel guiltily eating something it had stolen off the kitchen work surface. It was disgusting and I hated myself, but I wasn’t sodding buying another lunch having paid £7 for this hot dog.
The inside, which I didn’t get a picture of due to my wurst shame, was the colour of cardboard – grey and dry. It tasted like cardboard too. It was the worst lunch of my life. THE WURST LUNCH OF MY LIFE. At least I can laugh, right?
It’s a testament to the stupidity of tourists and myself that in London with all it’s amazing food – from fast food to fine dining – that a place like Herman Ze German continues to exist. At least the tourists have the excuse of not knowing the area. Me? I’ve got no excuse.
19 Villiers Street, WC2N 6NE
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross (1min walk)
Andrew and I started “going out” (for want of a better phrase) nine years ago last Sunday. It seems bonkers that I was 21 and he was 22 when we got together. Although I feel like I can barely remember a life before him, those nine years have gone fast. Probably because we’ve crammed a lot in.
After dating for five months we decided to go travelling together for eight months. We booked our tickets, packed our backpacks and boarded a plane to Singapore without a second thought. In hindsight, this was a rash decision as we essentially barely knew each other. But in a make/break situation, it made us.
Since then we’ve returned home (obviously) and been through various rites of passage such as starting careers, having quarter-life crisises, watched all of our siblings get married (apart from his brother, who is getting married this summer – big up Willophie) seen the births (not literally) of our niece and nephews (who totally consider me “Uncle Furry Face’s” less-entertaining sidekick), moved to London, watched lots of our friends get married, bought a flat together.
To celebrate the passing of nine years of being together we decided to stuff our chubby little faces, and headed to the Classic Car Boot Sale, which had set up shop on Southbank. It was graced by a beautiful Spring day and I had several food trucks I wanted to visit…
Yeah, yeah. Cars and loads of vintage tatt. You get the picture. Now for the food…
First stop was to these guys…
Spit and Roast specialise is finger lickin’ chicken that sends KFC right back to where it came from (hell?). They serve rotisserie chicken and buttermilk fried chicken. I went for the latter, with hot sauce and slaw in a bun. CUE PICTURE:
The chicken was succulent and juicy and fell apart (rather embarrassingly) when I bit into it. The sauce was piquant without dominating the chicken too much and the batter was absolutely to die for. It was a total mess to eat, but I loved every minute and Andrew was extremely jealous.
So he paid a visit to Engine Hotdogs.
He went for a Beef Richard because, hey, when in
New York a carpark in Southwark you need to stay true.
The small bite he allowed me was delicious. Those pickles! Ooof. Definitely on-par with Big Apple hotdogs.
We got a Bleecker single cheeseburger, which was bloody amazing. Bleecker is totally my favourite food truck in London. And they’re on Southbank every day of the week at the moment by the skate park. GO!
There were loads of food trucks that looked amazing, which we didn’t get to try. But it was a brilliant day out and a lovely way to round off a relaxing and sunny anniversary weekend.
I think I fall into a trap a lot of people do when you’re busy and feeling uninspired: I cook a lot of the same meals with semi-regularity. I mean I am a self-confessed foodie, as this blog shows, but I do have a few fall-back meals that I cook over and over because they’re easy and after a hard day at work, plus a commute and maybe a gym session: I just can’t find the energy to whip something new up.
My favourite fall-backs are chicken zorba (a really easy Greek-style meal that I’ll post up here some time), extra spicy fajitas and good ol’ spag bol. But I do plan meals a bit better now thanks to my goal of being more organised in 2014. And I’m really enjoying trying new things and adding them to my repertoire along with the old stalwarts.
And I’m a sucker for a recipe book. I pour over the pages, oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the photography and getting all excited about the new food I’m going to cook. Quite often I read them late at night, when I have no intention of starting to cook. I just love feeling excited by possibilities. Having said that, I much prefer a functional recipe book to one that’s style over substance. I want the recipe to be clear, the ingredients to not involve getting a rocket to the moon to source some space dust and also written in a friendly yet informative way.
So I thought I’d share my top 5 go-to recipe books at the moment (they’re liable to change as I’m always buying new ones to add to our already-overflowing bookcase)…
I wouldn’t be an Islingtonite if I didn’t bow to the foodie might that is Ottolenghi. Israeli-born Yottam Ottolenghi owns a small chain of self-titled restaurants in London, as well as NOPI. His style of cooking is a wonderful fusion of anything that captures his attention, but mainly lies in North African, Lebanese and Italian cuisine. The result is lots of delicious salads, perfectly marinated and cooked meats and veggies done in lots of surprising and delicious ways. His cookbook reflect this, as one would hope, and have lots of Ottolenghi favourites that you can make from home.
This 70s beauty is iconic within my family. For us, it’s one of those recipe books you hear people mention sometimes: it’s got all our the meals of my childhood inside it and just hearing the spine crack as I open my copy takes me back to helping my Mum make brownies when I was little. And I am sure it can’t just be a nostalgic hit for my family (me and my siblings all have our own copies now) – there’s so many delightful and forgotten gems in there. And also the best flapjack recipe there its.
I bought this book relatively recently, but I already know it’s going to be a much-used and often-turned to book in my library. It has a wonderful section at the front that goes through a lot of different foods (fruit, veggies, pulses, meats etc) and lists why they’re good and healthy for you, what they do to your insides and all that good hippy stuff. The back section is crammed with recipes and even has a day’s menu of meals for targeting particular aliments. Although I am a self-confessed “foodie”, I have to admit that I don’t know enough about nutrition, and it’s something I am really enjoying learning about from this bible.
Err, yeah, it’s a Weight Watchers book but WAIT! Bear with me! I only bought this book after my lovely sister-in-law cooked something for me out of it – and she wasn’t on WW either, she just liked the recipes. And most recipes are a winner. So much so, my Mum also bought the book after I cooked her a few meals out of it. My copy has the hallmarks of a well-loved cookbook: split spine (ugh, I know), splashes of food all over it, warped pages from being propped up in a steamy kitchen. Even though I am not on WW and pay no attention to the Points values, the recipes are WINNER. I love the maple chicken traybake and the citrus-crusted salmon. Seriously, none of the recipes I’ve made from it have tasted like “diet food”.
This is Delia’s comprehensive guide to, well, how to cook. From boiled eggs, rice, making a white sauce and how you should be cooking fish, this book is surely a fixture in every keen cook’s kitchen. Sure it has the basics of how to make things, and then it gives you recipes where you can apply the skill and maybe take it up a notch to the next level. It has loads of my meal staples in here, but the out and out winner for me is the Toad in the Hole recipe (renamed Huskies in the Drift by Andrew’s Scandinavian side of the family) with caramelised onion gravy. It’s a winner every single Goddamn time.
When we first moved to London we lived in a huge houseshare. People used to say to me, “Do you still live in that crazy house with 15 Australians?” I used to always have stories for people about the pass agg notes, the arguments over what the communal funds were being spent on and we always had incredible houseparties.
There were actually eight of us in total, in a huge Victorian terrace in Highbury, and not everyone was Aussie. I can safely say it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
When we lived there – for Andrew and I lived there together and became the reluctant “parents” of the house, until the “kids” became too unruly and we flew the nest – we couldn’t have friends over for dinner really. Not without either feeling like you were denying six other people use of the dining table, or having to cook for your guests plus whoever was about so they didn’t feel excluded. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault – it was just the situation. If you live in an eight-person houseshare you can’t really live an adult life.
Since we’ve moved to our own place we’ve enjoyed having people over. Gone are the 200-person fancy dress houseparties (much to most people’s disappointment) and here are more intimate gatherings. This doesn’t so much reflect the fact that we’re too old for houseparties, but more the fact our flat is sadly not a five-storey Victorian terrace and also we have new cream carpet that isn’t conducive to people slopping snakebite everywhere.
However, now we can have gatherings without feeling guilty, and I’ve been really enjoying cooking for people and having them over for drinks. And one thing I made recently, which went down a treat with Andrew’s siblings (one of whom is the devil pictured above!) is my chocolate and amaretto mouse. So I thought I’d share the recipe with you…
Chocolate and Amaretto Mouse
Serves 8 | Time: 30mins plus chilling time (1 hr minimum)
You will need…
6 eggs, separated
200ml double cream
100g caster sugar
2 shots of amaretto
200g dark chocolate (at least 70% dark cocoa solids)
16 small amaretti biscuits
3 tbsp Nutella spread
How to make…
1. Break the chocolate up and melt in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. You don’t need to watch this happening – just check every now and then that it’s not burning. It should take about 10 mins max.
2. With the egg whites in a very clean and fairly large bowl, whip them until they form stiff peaks. This is to say that when you lift the beaters out of the mix, the mix will have stiff trails that you have left behind. This is what will make the mousse light and fluffy, so make sure you get them eggs nice ‘n’ whipped.
3. In another bowl, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and amaretto so it’s all combined.
4. In yet another bowl, whip the cream until it’s thick but not as thick as the egg whites. Soft peaks it’s called.
5. In whichever bowl in the largest, mix in the egg yolk mixture with the chocolate and the cream, so it’s all combined.
6. Then really gently fold in the egg whites. Take your time with this as you don’t want to knock out the air you just spent all your time getting in there by whisking them so well. Fold until it’s all combined.
7. Spoon into whatever receptacle you liked. I used tea cups, but ramekins would work just as well.
8. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to chill for at least 1hr.
9. Before serving, use Nutella to sandwich together two ameretti biscuits together, then pop them at the side of the desert. Enjoy!
On Valentine’s Day we decided to spurn the cheesy restaurants, champagne and roses and go to Hawker House with our pals.
Hawker House is run by the Street Feast folks, who run night markets in London that bring together food trucks, booze vendors and the hungry hordes throughout the year.
As it’s cold right now, they’ve retreated indoors to a warehouse in Bethnal Green. Hawker House was inspired by Singaporean-style night (hawker) markets where people grab what they want from different vendors and then sit on communal, canteen-style benches and eat together.
It would be hard to ignore the food truck scene that’s exploded in London over the last few years, and the beauty of Hawker House is that it allows you to sample lots of different trucks all in one place. This is ideal for someone like me who wants to try everything. Right. Now.
Having tried Bleecker St Burgers before at #NationalBurgerDay and deciding them to make the best burgers in London, I made a bee-line right away. Zan, who started up Bleecker and was serving at Hawker House when I was there, is totally focused on creating NYC-style burgers. Look, I haven’t been to New York (I know, right?!) so I can’t speak to how they compare to New York burgers… But I have eaten a burger before and mine was amazing. They’re SO meaty and rare and juicy and just, ugh, totally perfect. Zan whipped me up a triple cheeseburger off-menu, which I shared with Andrew. We also had sweet potato fries, which were so crunchy, fluffy, sweet and moorish that it was pretty hare to share them.
I then went for a Grilling Greek chicken souvlaki. While I was there I caught up with some long-time Twitter friends I’d bumped into. Everyone was so friendly at the event. It was so great to put some faces to some Twitter avatars! Anyway, the souvlaki was OK but I think I’ve been rather spoilt by living in North London close to some of the best Greek and Turkish restaurants in the UK – and my Grilling Greek didn’t totally match up. Noa and Petek, you still have my heart.
After this I took a massive breather, and focused on drinking wine from plastic glasses and chatting to my friends. The rest of the crew indulged in Roti Chai (not amazing, apaz), Breddos Tacos (really good – I was sad I couldn’t fit these in) and Yum Bun (the all-round favourite of the night).
One last push saw me heading for a sweet treat, and to the You Doughnut stand!
I went for cinnamon sugar doughnuts with warm salted caramel sauce and marshmallows. Ooof, they were ruddy amazing. Fried to order, they were little nuggets of sweet cinnamonny clouds with a delicious warm caramel sauce. I feel a bit jealous of myself right now for having eaten them.
Hawker House was a really fun night. It was a bit cold inside there, so wrap up warm and get there early-ish as the tables fill up.
Hawker House is running every Friday and Saturday evening until the 22nd March. For more information visit Hawker House’s website.
Growing up, my family were obsessed with Sunday lunch. That is to say a roast. Some of my strongest “home” memories is of The Archers being on in the kitchen as my Mum created the most delicious roasts known to man, the windows all steamed up, my two teenage brothers raiding the larder and my Dad outside in the garden doing whatever it is gardeners do… on one of those damp, grey Sundays that seem to be a permanent fixture in autumn.
My Mum makes the best roasts. People other than me have said this. And no, I don’t mean my Dad. As I grew up I enjoyed helping her out in the kitchen here and there – she’s really where my love of cooking stems from. So over the years she has shared some tips and tricks with me, which is sometime in time – if I’m lucky – I hope to pass on to my children.
The other day I made Andrew and I roast chicken. I find this an excellent economical choice for a Sunday meal – leftover roast chicken is surely one of the perks of Mondays? Indeed, the leftover meat is perfect for packed lunch sandwiches, stir fries, curries or even making some kind of special fried rice for the Monday evening. I often end up getting not just one delicious meal out of my chicken, but maybe two or three more.
So, without further ado, here is how I make my standard roast chicken, which is stuffed with lemon, garlic and herbs. It’s super easy.
Perfect lemon, garlic and herb roast chicken
You will need:
For the chicken
1 medium-sized chicken. If your budget stretches, go for free-range. Happy meat tastes better!
1 brown onion
2 sticks of celery
2 cloves of garlic
1 large knob of slightly salted butter at room temp
A handful of woody herbs – I used rosemary and thyme
For the gravy
1-2 tbsp plain flour
250ml of good-quality chicken stock
1 large glass of white wine
1. Wash the celery and carrots under cold running water, then chop them into chunks – 5cm lengths is perfect. Pop them in the bottom of a large roasting tray.
2. Peel your onion and then slice from top to bottom through the middle. Cut into chunky wedges. Pop this into your roasting tray and mix with the celery and carrots. You’re going to use the veg as the trivet to keep the chicken off the bottom of the roasting tray, so that’s why you want to make it chunky. They will also help make your gravy corking.
3. Take the chicken out of the packet, but before you throw it away reading the cooking instructions. It tends to calculate as 45mins per kg (so look at the weight of the bird, which will be printed on the packaging) plus 20mins. So for a 1kg bird you’d cook it for 65mins.
4. Some people wash their chicken under running water. I don’t bother and I haven’t died yet. Pop your chicken on a clean chopping board.
5. In a small bowl, zest your lemon. You can do this with a zester, or by using a regular vegetable peeler and then chopping the peel up into thin strips. Then add your garlic cloves (crushed) and some chopped up herbs. Add the butter and use the back of a fork to mash all this up, so it’s combined.
6. Back to the chicken. Use one finger to gently poke a pocket between the skin and the breast meat. You just want to create a gap there so you can stuff in the buttery mixture between the skin and the meat. It sounds ickier and harder than it is. Be brave.
7. Chop the lemon into quarters and then push it into the cavity. Pop the chicken onto the veg in the roasting tray and cover with tin foil. Put the whole lot in the middle of a 190C oven. Check it at regular intervals, and use a spoon to scoop up any liquid in the pan and pour it over the chicken to keep it moist. About 20 mins before it’s due to come out, take the tin foil off to crisp up the skin.
For the gravy
1. Once the chicken is out, take it out of the roasting tin and pop on a warmed plate. Cover it in tin foil and then cover that with a clean tea towel and leave it to rest.
2. Put the roasting tray with the veg on the hob and turn the heat on. Sprinkle over the plain flour and then mix it with the veg until it creates a paste.
3. After you’ve made the paste (this is actually called a roux, factfans), slowly add the stock bit by bit, stirring the veg and roux until the liquid is absorbed. Gradually the paste with loosen until it turns into fairly thick gravy. Splash in the wine and leave to warm for a while – the alcohol will steam off fairly quickly, but it will make a nice, sharp-flavoured gravy that goes well with the lemons.
4. At this point I strain off the veg, leaving a few onion bits in there as Andrew likes those. But you can leave the veg in if you like – they’re completely cooked, but this does make for a rather “unrefined” and chunky gravy.
When I was 22 I went travelling around the world and was lucky enough to spend four months in Asia. What I wasn’t ready for when I got to Asia was the culture shock. I got incredibly homesick at times for people but also things. I was a typical western brat who missed the familiarity of things I knew. Everything in Asia seemed so alien.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a great time, but by the time we reached Vietnam, three months into our tour, we were craving a taste of home. And boy were we excited when we discovered banh mi. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich – a sandwich! I hadn’t had one in three months! – and it came in a French baguette-style loaf – again, bread! Amazing! Banh Mi is sold from lots of little stalls and carts on the road in Vietnam, along with the other Vietnamese favourite, pho.
So anyway, banh mi is more to me than a sandwich – it brings back to me all these lovely feelings of comfort while away from home, when I was feeling a bit scared and afraid (I know, I was a wimp!).
So recently I went to sample on of Great Eastern Street’s many banh mai offerings at Banh Mi 11. Accompanying me was the lovely Abby (Wanderlust & Bake).
There was a queue out of the door – both a good and bad sign – but it was moving steadily. Amazingly this place is just around the corner from one of my clients’ office, but I’d never heard of it before. And I was missing a gem!
There was a lot to tempt me, not least the yummy looking summer rolls. But I kept focused and went for a pork belly banh mi, which came with crackling and lots of yummy Vietnamese-style pickles and herbs.
The bread was lovely and fresh – the outside crust was crunchy but yielded under a bit, just like the ones from my memories of lunches in Vietnam. Inside the pork belly was soft and sweet with a generous portion of headily savoury crackling. The pickles and herbs gave it that lovely fresh and sweet kick that is so much part of Vietnamese food.
And all for under a £5. It was brilliant and I will certainly be going back. Wonderfully, Banhmi11 do take out for those who need lunch in a hurry.
Banh Mi 11, 101 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3JD
My parents have been a great lesson in how to maintain a relationship. They’ve been happily married for over 41 years, and with the advent of SatNav now barely ever have a cross word. I find it incredible that they still can make each other laugh, can genuinely surprise one another and that they get such pleasure out of being in each other’s company. I know it’s rare to have a love like they do, and it’s made me determined in my relationships to not settle while also realising relationships need a certain amount of effort, compromise and patience. And if you’re very, very lucky – then relationships just might last like my parents’ has.
And they are still kind to each other, still want to go out of their way for each other. So when my Mum’s birthday came around my Dad booked to take her to one of their favourite restaurants – Otto’s. For some reason, apparently because they like our company, my parents also invited Andrew and I. We snatched their hands off…
Otto’s is a traditional and classic French restaurant in the midst of Bloomsbury, Holborn and Russell Square. Modest in its facade, with curtained windows, you’d easily miss it on the often grey and bleak Gray’s Inn Road. However, step inside and it’s like being whisked to an upmarket bistro in Paris.
Rich, ox blood red banquettes line the walls as French waiters and waitresses bustle, providing much theatre by carving huge sides of smoked salmon and mixing steak tartare at the table side. You’re welcomed in and sat with a drink in front of you before you really have time to consider much.
The restaurant’s speciality is canard a la presse, which is whole rare roast duck prepared and served at the table in quite an elaborate way. We didn’t go for this, as you need to order in advance. However, the rest of the menu has many exciting options.
For starter, I went for a light option of saumon fumé coupé à la minute with traditional garnishes. A whole side of smoked salmon was brought to our table and lovingly sliced into wafer thin cuts, then whisked away again. I was brought various garnishes to complement my salmon, and I went for soured cream, shallots and capers. The salmon was absolutely delicious – soft, fresh and beautifully smokey.
We also went for terrine de Foie Gras marbrée aux figues, gelée au verjus with crème de dattes. This is basically fois gras terrine with figs, grape jus and dates.
Brique de brochet aux ecrevisses, etuvée de fenouil aux algues (shelled fresh crayfish on pike mousse with crayfish bisque, steamed fennel and seaweed).
And a scallop carpaccio with a rocket salad, grilled hazelnuts, beetroot petals and a parmesan marshmallow.
For main course, I indulged in Tournedos Rossini, which is beef fillet topped with foie gras. It also came with a rich truffle sauce and potato mousseline. It was probably the best steak I’ve ever had, and I make somewhat a study of eating steak. It was also incredibly rich thanks to the pate and truffles – but so, so delicious.
We also had…
Pan-roasted hen pheasant breast, onion and Port wine simmered leg with girolle mushrooms:
And roast fillet of wild boar, a gingerbread crust, baked pear and celery mousseline with a grand veneur sauce:
After all this we were absolutely stuffed, and couldn’t really manage space for pudding. We left full and content, with memories of a lovely evening. With starters north of £10 and mains averaging about £25, this isn’t really a place I’d normally visit. The regulars seemed to be solicitor/law types who have finished work and need to wine and dine clients – not my normal scene AT ALL, but great people watching for a change.
182 Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X 8EW
Nearest Tube: Russell Square (15min walk), Holborn (15min walk)
At the moment, one of my favourite things to do at the weekend – after a long lie-in, of course – is make a lazy brunch. After rushing around in the morning every week day (early starts aren’t my talent in this life), it feels like a real treat to shuffle around the kitchen, rustling up something more decadent than bran flakes. I think it makes the perfect start to a weekend day.
In the run up to Christmas, my lazy weekends seemed to get jam-packed with weddings, present-buying missions and birthdays. Lazy brunches were out of the window in favour of manically trying to wrap presents while directing Andrew in where to put up pictures in our new flat. It was hectic and I felt strung out. I missed our lazy lie-ins and brunches.
As part of my aims for 2014, I’m trying to not let my schedule get so out of control. And this has meant I have been able to get back some time for brunchtime pottering. To celebrate I made buttermilk pancakes, which were so crazily light and fluffy I just had to share them with you. They are quite a lot of faff, but well worth it.
Buttermilk pancakes with caramelised apple, pecan and maple syrup sauce
Serves 4 | 50 mins
– 3 eating apples
– 25g butter
– 85g pecans, cut in half lengthways
– 175ml maple syrup
– 100g plain flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
– 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
– 2 large eggs, separated
– 284ml buttermilk (if you can’t find buttermilk, plain natural yogurt with a squeeze of lemon juice in will do)
– 25g butter, melted
How to make these chaps:
1. Peel, core and cut the apples into quarters. Now slice the quarters into four (that’s eighths, if you please).
2. Pop the butter in a large frying pan and heat until melted. Tip in your apple slices and fry them until they start going golden (or slightly black if you leave Andrew in charge). Don’t let them get to the stage where they get crumbly and broken down. You want them to hold their shape. Stir in the pecans and maple syrup and let it heat through and combine. Remove this frying pan from the direct heat, but keep the apple mixture warm (put foil over it, essentially).
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarb into a large bowl.
4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. They will look white and glossy, and when you lift the whisk out of the eggs they’ll retain a stiff peak in the surface.
5. In yet another bowl, mix the yolks, butter and buttermilk together. Then tip this into the bowl with the flour in and mix until combine.
6. Gently add the egg whites to the mixture, folding in slowly until it’s all combined and you have a nice airy batter. Go slow – you don’t want to knock out the air, this is what gives the pancakes their fluffiness.
7. Heat a large frying pan and melt some butter in the pan – just a bit. Then drop puddles of batter into the pan using a large spoon. Wait until the puddles loose their glossy look and bubbles start to form in the top, then get a spatula or whatevs and flip them over. This can be messy, but do NOT panic. They will taste the same (so long as you don’t burn them) and will look nicely homemade. Or that’s what I told myself.
8. Remove pancakes from pan after a minute or so after you’ve flipped them. Create a stack of them on a plate, then spoon over some of that apple mixture you made.
Adapted from BBC Good Food
My lovely friend, Lucy, is returning to her homeland of New Zealand. I am Very Sad about this, for selfish reasons revolving around the fact that I like her and don’t want to not be able to see her on a bi-weekly basis.
The upside of her getting ready to leave is that she’s finished work and is footloose and fancy free, so she has been meeting me for lunch. We have made Salvation Jane our lunchtime hangout. It’s very close to my work and serves lovely food. That’s pretty much our criteria met!
SJ, as none of the cool kids are calling it, is the little sister of the brilliant Aussie cafe, Lantana. It was set up by an Aussie and very much celebrates the Aussie love of decent brunches and amazing coffee, as well as a friendly, informal atmosphere.
The lunch menu at Salvation Jane is quite brunchy, with antipodean-style corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach and slow roast tomatoes served with a avocado chilli lime salsa and crème fraiche a sure-fire favourite.
Luce and I always go for their tart of the day with two side salads. They’re ever-changing and always bright, innovative and full of healthy flavour.
This was some kind of pesto and tomato tart, I think. It came with a potato salad with lots of fresh greens mixed in, and a giant-cous cous salad with roasted root veg. It was as delicious as it looks.
This tart is some foxy courgette number, served with a red cabbage salad and a butternut squash salad.
I’ve also had those pancakes, and they were a winner.
So not only now will I desperately miss Lucy when she goes home, but I will miss an excuse to pop to Salvation Jane for lunch every week. Luce: DON’T GO! Me ‘n’ the tarts need you!
Service: 2 (they always bring us something we didn’t order and then always add it to the bill!)
Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Rd EC1Y 1HQ
Nearest Tube: Old Street (30 second walk)
Clockwise from pink doughnut: raspberry and chocolate, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate, lemon drizzle, lemon curd, rhubarb
We’re on deadline at work at the moment. It’s a pretty stressful time in the office when the quarterly magazine I co-edit starts going through the final stages. There’s a lot of diplomacy, patience and accuracy needed. What’s also needed is a heady sugar hit, and yesterday my office was treated to doughnuts from Glazed & Confused.
They absolutely hit the spot. I went for a cheeky raspberry and chocolate number. I was assured by the nice G&C people that there are no artificial colourings in the glazes – just lots of fruit to give it it’s gem-like pink hue.
It was delicious, and not too sweet. The doughnut was quite cake like, but the glazed complimented it perfectly. It was a ring doughnut though, and I prefer filled doughnuts, so um, I shared another doughnut with a sub-editor here. Ooops.
All the doughnuts received good reviews from our office and were gobbled up with enthusiasm.
Glazed & Confused supply doughnuts for events, and various cafes and restaurants around the capital. You can tweet them at @GlazedLondon for more info.
Glazed & Confused sent me complimentary doughnuts, but free baked goods by no means guarantees a favourable review!
Pizza East has been kicking around for a while, so I am not really sure why it’s only now I’ve paid it a visit. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I got myself down there eventually as I really enjoyed my food there.
Pizza East is mostly a pizza place that does a few other dishes. They are focused around rustic simplicity and sourcing good ingredients… but who isn’t these days? I know that’s my life’s manifesto. So far I am very simple and fairly rustic…
Corporate doublespeak aside, Pizza East is a decent, reasonably priced restaurant chain with branches in Shoreditch, Kentish Town and Portobello. I visited the Shoreditch High Street one.
We were greeted – and I use that word lightly – but hipster hosts who kind of ignored us/served us/chatted among themselves while they allocated tables. Most of the tables in the place were empty, but they still insisted on sitting everyone at the huge communal tables. Fascinating policy. Whatever though, I don’t care very much apart from the fact Andrew’s elbow was lodged in my rib for much of the night as we were so tightly packed.
I’ll move on from the service in just a sec, but first let me tell you a thing that happened…
Waitress: Do you want to order some drinks?
Andrew: Oh, we’re actually just waiting for our friend who… [he was going to say, “is just hanging up his coat”]
Waitress: I CAN SEE THAT! What do you want to drink?
[We all order our drinks, feeling told off but also trying not to giggle at being told off]
Anyway, on with the food…
We got some starter bits to share, which were San Daniele and puzzone croquettes; burrata, fig and honeycomb bruschetta; fritto misto and a platter of speck ham.
The bruschetta was totally delicious – sweet and light and creamy. I totally love a fig and cheese combo anyway, but this was simply dreamy.
“There’s no way to make those look good, Zoe, I don’t know why you’re bothering!” said one of my dining companions. He was right. Anyway, these were really tasty too – full of rich béchamel sauce that oozed out studded with ham. Definitely could only manage a few at best.
Who doesn’t love cured ham? Crazy folk. This was wafer thin and salty-ly good.
That looks like a massive slice of lemon, doesn’t it? Anyway, the fritto misto was probably my favourite starter. It was light and delicious, with a good range of seafood from prawns to squid and whitebait. The tartare was a let down as it was really mayonnaise – totally not enough capers it in.
For main course, feeling stuffed, I plumped for the most rich dish I could find: veal meatballs, prosciutto and cream pizza. Andrew went for a prosciutto cotto, tomato, mozzarella and artichoke pizza, so we went halvies on each and created this beast:
God, it’s like Frankenstein’s monster. Anyway, it was delicious. The veal meatball pizza was INCREDIBLY rich but absolutely delicious – really meaty. However, it had truck loads of oil oozing from the meatballs which made it slightly too… well, oily.
Andrew’s side was much lighter – and between you and I, a much more sensible option given that we’d eaten starters – and had truck loads of delicious ham on it.
The service left a lot to be desired at Pizza East, but the food was good. I would go back, if not in a tearing hurry.
56 Shoreditch High St, London, E1 6JJ
Nearest Tube: Old Street (10 min walk) – Shoreditch High St overground is right next door, though.
As I have said before, rather recently, I love cosy pubs at this time of year. I love nothing more than heading to a warm pub, settling into a nook and drinking wine, chatting with good friends and watching people come and go.
I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 pubs to do this in, incase you want to do similar.
1. The Swimmer at the Grafton Arms
This pub is pretty close to where I live, and very much makes up part of my regular pub list. It’s tucked away behind the grim Seven Sister’s road, and is an absolute gem. It has board games, generous and yummy food, a good wine list, an open fire and even a sort-of adopted pub cat called Tallulah.
It lacks any pretension and is just a good, honest boozer without being stinky or too local. I absolutely love it here and will no-doubt be having Christmas sessions in here before long.
13 Eburne Road, N7 6AR
A few of us have a traditional walk on Hampstead Heath on New Year’s Day. Nothing blows the cobwebs away like climbing Parliament Hill to enjoy the view!
After a chilly walk, we normally head to The Flask in Hampstead for a mulled wine and a chat about our resolutions. It’s a small pub, but always has a lovely warm welcome. Again, it’s nothing fancy but I love that about it.
14 Flask Walk, NW3 1HE
You can read a more extensive review here, but this pub is the epitome of cosy. A friendly welcome, lots of people have a good time, and again, an open fire. It helps that the beer and wine list could have you busy for several days of non-stop drinking and the food is amazing – all conspiring to make you say, “I’ll just have one more, then I really must go…”
63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG
Low lighting, fun decor and a warm, bustling atmosphere help this pub feel super-cosy. The taxidermy animals dotted about and the various different seating layouts make it quirky without staying into tedious hipster territory. The food is also great, with everything made fresh in-house every day and a wide and interesting menu.
194 Southgate Rd, N1 3HT
I’ve spent many an evening here, growing foggy while enjoying the wine list. However, The Dove’s forte is Belgium beers, and their list is probably one of the most impressive in London. The pub itself is cosy and constantly busy, with the tables set close together and the unisex loos – everything is very intimate.
24/28 Broadway Market, E8 4QJ
I am a bit of a grumpy lady about people celebrating Christmas too early. Christmas adverts in September, the festive music in the shops in October and special offers on mince pies in the supermarkets in November. NO! December is the month of Christmas. Even then, putting up a tree in the first week of advent seems a bit premature to me. I fear suffering from Christmas burn-out, so by the time Christmas Eve (REAL Christmas) rolls around nothing feels special any more.
Having said that, I love Christmas a lot. And now we’re past my Christmas embargo date, I am feeling well excited about all the Christmas things I have planned. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of my favourite things to do over Christmas in London.
1. Ice Skating
Every year Andrew and I go ice skating just before Christmas. It seems so romantic. But in actual fact, ice skates seem to have been designed by a sadistic cobbler, and I feel queazy at the thought of putting my foot in a cold, damp boot that’s been on loads of other people. That’s before you get on the ice, and realise you’re more Bambi than Torvill. “We hate ice skating,” Andrew and I say to each other, “why have we come? We suck at it and it’s beyond painful!”
However, we always go out of duty. It’s now a horrible Christmas tradition, but I kind of love it.
Afterwards I prescribe a strong mulled wine to rid yourself of the aches, pains and cold that you will have acquired.
2. Choosing a Christmas Decoration
My Mum and I have a festive tradition where we go out together with the sole purpose of choosing one new decoration for our – well, my parents’ now I suppose – tree. We’ve done this together ever since I can remember. We spend a long time oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over all the pretty (and hideous) sparkly thing, before selecting one and scampering off for a cup of tea.
Last year we went to Heal’s, which has the most amazing array of festive decorations (and homewares – man, I love Heal’s). It feels and smells so festive in there, and Paul A. Young has also just opened a cafe next door – ideal for our victory afternoon tea.
3. Christmas Markets
Winter Wonderland and Southbank Christmas Markets are my favourites, but there are all kinds of festive outdoor adventures to be had in London. I love wrapping up warm, linking arms with a buddy and carefully choosing where to buy a festive feast from. And it’s all the better when it’s washed down with a heady mulled wine before getting on a fairground ride of dubious safety standards.
4. Getting Cosy in Pubs
I love pubs anyway. They’re such a uniquely British thing, I think. Sure, everywhere has bars, but the British pub is something that just can’t be replicated anywhere else.
And in December they really come into their own. Walk in out of the cold into a blast of buzz, warmth and the scent of mulled wine. Huddle into a booth with friends and watch the sky grow dark by 4pm while knocking back festive drinks, all while you’re being warmed by an open fire. Extra great points if there’s a pub dog in the mix.
This year I’m going to the Draper’s Arms for a Christmas carol sing-a-long with friends. I cannot think of anything more festive.
5. The Nutcracker
Every year my Mum and I go to the Nutcracker, either by the English National Ballet at the Coliseum or at the Royal Opera House. I love getting swept away in the Christmassy story and gasping at the amazing costumes.
I also love seeing all the other families who have come to watch for a Christmas treat. It feels so magical and special. I cannot wait to go this year.
Last night I headed off to the soft launch, or even pre-soft launch, at Jackson & Rye, a new bar/restaurant in the middle of Soho. With the influence of the owner of Grillshack, Jackson & Rye is a New York-style venue with a 1920s flavour.
It was very much still in its training stages last night. However, if last night was anything to go by (and I hope it was) and they manage to maintain the excellent standards on display when they open fully, Jackson & Rye will be a contender for my favourite Soho haunt.
The menu is very reasonable for the quality of the food, and is obviously focused around modern American cuisine. Think fried chicken, whipped potatoes, steak, chowder. All that good stuff. They also have an extensive selection of rye to drink, with bourbon cocktails being their forte. One of my dining companions claimed they mixed the best Old Fashioned they’d ever had (and between me and you, they’ve had their fair share).
I went for a prime fillet steak, which was served with fries and a béarnaise sauce. I asked for the steak medium rare, which was cooked perfectly for me – pink juices a go-go. The steak was however a little chewy, which I found a bit of a shame. The sauce on the other hand was perfect – rich with a sharp tang, perfectly wobbly. And praise where praise is due: the fries were as good as any I have tasted.
Also on our table was a fillet of seabass, which was soft and perfectly cooked, with a gentle fishy flavour and was served with a caper sauce. A much lighter choice!
The HUGE rosemary and lemon chicken was sublime, and was juicy and incredibly flavoursome. However, it came with shoestring fries that were ever-so slightly undercooked and chewy.
Lastly, the buttermilk fried chicken had our table in raptures. The batter was light, fluffy and crispy and the chicken wonderfully juicy. The portion was generous too, with two large pieces of breast served up.
Although feeling stuffed, we moved on to dessert. I chose a melting chocolate sundae. I think it was probably the best pudding I’ve had in my life. Served solid, when warm caramel is poured over a decadent dark chocolate dome, the chocolate melts revealing fluffy, rich ice cream underneath. The caramel then half-sets, creating kind of delicious dime bar-style nuggets in the ice cream. Oh my God, I want to eat it all over again.
We also ordered a frozen souffle, which was fruity and light but didn’t really going anywhere and wasn’t varied in texture or flavour. If it had some fruit or sauce with it, it would have made the dish much more well-rounded.
The blueberry and apple cobbler was great – the apples had been perfectly cooked so they held together and gave a lovely munchable texture, while the blueberry flavour came through strongly. I normally find blueberries a bit insipid, so I was pleasantly surprised. However, the pudding was brought down slightly by the custard that was the consistency of whole milk, meaning it all sort of disappeared as soon as it was poured over.
Rounding off the puddings was a pecan pie – which was just as it should be. I don’t know if it was anything spectacular, but it was fine.
As I said, Jackson & Rye was in the training stage, so it will hopefully work on these very minor issues and bring everything up to match the spectacular level of the buttermilk chicken, Old Fashioneds and chocolate sundae. I will definitely be back again. The atmosphere was delightful and buzzy, the staff friendly and eager to help and the food varied and fun.
Jackson & Rye, 56 Wardour Street, W1D 4JD
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Square (5 min walk)
Jackson & Rye opens fully on December 11th.
Ape & Bird opened last week to much fan fare. In a huge old Victorian pub in Covent Garden, the team behind Polpo, Mishkins and Spuntino have brought something to the area that was desperately needed: a decent, large pub. Soho and Covent Garden aren’t exactly famous for their decent pubs with great customer service. It’s more of a “drink on the pavement, try not to get run over and fight your way to the bar” type vibe in the rest of the area. Ape & Bird is an oasis of calm in comparison.
Last night I went along with two of my favourite people to see whether the place lived up to the hype. On entering the pub, it was totally empty. “Err, hello?” I said to the three front of house staff who were eagerly waiting to greet people. The place was dead, but it was 5.45pm on a Monday evening. I was swiftly taken through the main pub/more formal dining room to a back “public bar”.
The lighting was soft, the decor was tasteful and the wine was expensive. They only had three red and three whites on in the bar out of a longer list, which was a slight shame. Later in the night the beers also dwindled as we were told our choice beer was “off” now. Teething problems, I am sure, as the pub is only just out of its soft launch phase.
We decided to have food, so were ushered into the main pub bit, which was adorned by fairy lights, candle lights and gentle music. We decided it was a perfect date venue, and, being terribly boring, the music wasn’t too loud so we were able to hear each other. There’s nothing worse than having to nod along to someone’s story but not really getting a word of it.
The menu is modern British cuisine: chestnut and mushroom shepherd’s pie, steak and chips, trout with shrimp and tarragon butter. I went for a cheeseburger with a side of cheese and truffle fries. Andrew also got a burger but with rosemary and salt potato skins, and Amy got the veggie shepherd’s pie.
The portions were modest, but on reflection I think this is because I have become used to places overloading the plates. I admit these photos aren’t great but this is 65% because of the “date lighting” there and only 35% because I am terrible at taking photos.
The burger was really decent – plenty of sauce, nice and meaty and a good ratio of sharp pickles. The fries were really rich, but provided an excellent salt and fat hit. Andrew’s potato skins were crunchy and deliciously herby, but I think the fries were best.
The service at Ape & Bird was a bit hit and miss, and slightly on the cold side from some staff members, but for this you have to be forgiving in the opening days of the place. Despite this, Ape & Bird is a warm and relaxed venue, and with many other bars within the venue (including an amazing-looking subterranean cocktail bar), I am already planning my next visit.
The bill came to about £60 for three, with service and drinks.
Ape & Bird Public House, 142 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HJ
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square (5 min walk)
Before we moved, Andrew and I promised ourselves we’d go out for a really lovely celebration meal together once we completed on the sale. However, as ever with us, we were optimistic about how much free time we’d have after completing.
Since we became homeowners our lives have been a heady whirlwind of filling walls, buying sanders (I am now the co-owner of multiple sanders! Try not to feel too jealous, guyssss), painting and shouting, “Have you seen my red jumper anywhere?” across the house as we live in a semi-unpacked dystopian nightmare. So we haven’t had time to go for dinner, and we hadn’t unpacked any nice clothes to go out for dinner in. I’m pretty sure any maître d’ would turn his nose up at my paint-covered hoodie. I mean, I turn my nose up at it and I’m a slob.
But the clouds lifted on Saturday. We finished our decorating, I found my nice shoes (one pair, natch) – it was time for our celebration meal. We wanted to go somewhere local, that wasn’t stuffy but served good quality and interesting food. There’s quite a lot of that on offer in Islington, but eventually we plumped for the Smokehouse.
Smokehouse is owned by the guys behind The Pig & Butcher and has Neil Rankin, of John Salt and Pitt Cue fame, as the chef. Smokehouse specialises in all things smokey and firey and has a smoker on site. As well as this, the emphasis is on the quality and provenance of their ingredients. As well as the best possible produce, Smokehouse also has a startling array of ales and beers and a stellar wine list, for it is a cosy pub as well and not at all ‘just a restaurant’.
We got a great table in the restaurant (needed to book ahead), and had an amazing waitress who was just the right level of attentive. She was battling on even though she’d sliced open her hand on a bread knife too. That’s the commitment I like! She was also really knowledgable about the menu and seemed to be passionate about the food she was delivering to us. Full marks to her!
I opted for a starter of foie gras, apple pie and duck egg. It was so delicious I stopped on my first mouthful and sighed! The foie gras was lovely and rich, with the duck egg perfectly cooked (so much so I asked Andrew in a frustrated tone, “but how do they get it this perfect?” – side note, I am rubbish at cooking eggs). The apple pie was perfect for cutting through the richness and adding a lovely tang to the plate.
Andrew went for a chopped brisket roll & gochujang. Gochujang is a Korean condiment that’s essentially like a chilli mayo. The chopped brisket was perfect: smokey and headily meaty, while the gochujang added a beautiful chilli kick.
We followed these up with a shortrib bourguignon (me) and peppered ox cheek (him). We also got a side of roast potatoes, but the stew came with mash anyway.
The bourguignon had a real depth of flavour and a melt in mouth texture. It had some chillies on the plate, which added a lovely firey hum in the undertones. It was incredibly rich and decadent, and absolutely superb.
The ox cheek came with cauliflower cheese, which was just insane. The cauliflower, which is an easy vegetable to overcook and ruin, was so sweet and nutty, and the cheese sauce covered the cauliflower but didn’t overpower it.
Feeling rather full of rich meaty food, we weren’t to be beaten by pudding. I went for a Double D pie, which is inspired by a Double Decker chocolate bar. A layer of coco pops, a layer of nougat, a layer of peanut butter, a layer of the richest chocolate known to man. Kapow! It was amazingly nutty and chocolatey. The pistachio ice cream it came with wasn’t quite powerful enough to beat those flavours. Bums, as I love pistachio ice cream – it’s a firm family favourite in my crew.
Andrew asked for an affagato, which wasn’t actually on the menu, but they knocked it up for him.
Smokehouse was everything I hoped it’d be: cosy, without pretension and serving excellent, exciting food. It’s the ideal place to snuggle down in, eat until you’re full to bursting and then relax in front of the open fire. A new favourite for me!
Sorry this photography is a bit Martha Stewart!
The Smokehouse, 63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG
Nearest Tube: Highbury & Islington (10 min walk). The 271 goes right past it though!
This week was Thanksgiving in America. In the UK, this tends to mean that everyone turns to each other and says, “What is Thanksgiving anyway? Is it just a dinner?” I don’t think any conversations I had drew any conclusions further than: dinner, watch football (not the UK version, obvz), don’t work. Apart from the football aspect, I’m on board.
Now, more about that dinner… On Thursday I headed to Joe Allen in Covent Garden to have a Thanksgiving feast with some other delightful food bloggers.
Joe Allen is an American bistro deep in the heart of London’s theatreland. Having opened in 1977, Joe Allen has recently come under new management and has benefitted from some subtle and sensitive tweaks that breathe new life into the London institution.
Delightfully tucked away down a side street, not much marks out Joe Allen from the road. It’s like a private members club for Americans. And the Americans in London had made a pilgrimage to the place to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner away from home.
The place was bustling, to put it lightly, but had a wonderful buzz about it. It certainly felt like the place had history and soul to it, and I thought it’d be the ideal location for a big, hearty and jovial group dinner.
Speaking of dinner, I went for a starter of roasted vegetables with creamed goats cheese and truffle. It was my ideal starter for a large meal – fresh, light but still packed with lots of different and complementary flavours. The earthy beetroot was delicious with the sharp, salty goats cheese.
I then went crazy and didn’t order turkey for my main course. Why? Cos I hate turkey. Judge me all you want, but we all know turkey is a paltry (GEDDIT?!) version of chicken. Anyway, I went for honey roast ham, which came with plenty of fresh veggies. It was perfectly cooked, lovely and rich with a salty and sweet flavour. I love me some roasted ham.
I finished up with a traditional Thanksgiving dish that I’d never tried: pumpkin pie. As my first pumpkin pie, I obviously have no reference point from which to compare it, but it was tasty – full of warming winter spices but yet sweet.
Joe Allen’s regular a la carte features ribs, wings and all that good American stuff. However, it’s classier and more refined – and dare I say it, slightly more traditional and old school – than Bodeans, The Big Easy etc. This place is more white table cloths and strong Old Fashioneds than plastic bibs and wet wipes.
I would definitely go back again, if nothing else than to try their famous off-menu burger. There has been much hype about it! And also their cocktails are wonderfully sophisticated and pack quite the punch. It’d be a great place for dates too – sipping cocktails, listening to the pianist do his stuff (I’m a sucker for live piano music)…
Joe Allen, 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT
Nearest Tube: Covent Garden (7 min walk), Charing Cross (7 min walk)
I was invited to review Joe Allen, and given a complimentary meal. However, this in no way means I offered them a favourable review in return.
I often find myself searching for places to eat in Covent Garden. This is because it is the most convenient place for me and my closest group of friends from school to meet up. We essentially have a semi-regular non-booking at Wahaca, but even I, life-long crazed Mexican food fan, can grow tired of their “healthy pork scratchings” (that’s a lie, and it hurts me even to type it; I will never stop loving you, my porky pals).
Erm, anyway, for a change we decided to head to Flesh & Buns, which is a subterranean restaurant a hop, skip and jump away from Seven Dials. Set up by the Bone Daddies crew, Flesh & Buns is a Izakaya -style joint (that, between you and I, is a Japanese eating and drinking establishment – a pub, I like to call them but this is probably quite far from what a Izakaya is, but I don’t know – never been to Japan, innit).
Inside, there are loooong high tables, and more exclusive-looking booths. I was on the high table with the rabble, obvz. It’s worth noting that I walked in at about 7pm and got a table no problem. It was probably mid-week, so hardly crazy-town busy time but still, not to be glossed over.
F&B, as no one is calling it, serves “raw” food – mainly sushi and sashmi – which we skipped over because I was dining with my pregnant pal, Is, or MEAT. We went straight for the meat and ordered some flesh and buns.
Basically, it’s like you construct your own sandwich – they bring the meat and veg, along with some steamed buns and you whack it all in a steamed bun and enjoy. I got Flat Iron Steak with BBQ sauce, and Is got crispy duck leg with sour plum sauce. I asked for my steak medium-rare, and it came on the edge of medium. I prefer to err on the rare side, but Is said she thought it was slightly too rare. Prone to agree.
Annoyingly, the steak was suuuper chewy and therefore not conducive to being put in a sandwich to take bites out of. One bite and the whole steak slice came out and you were left with an empty bun (and a full, unattractive gob – Isabel felt realllly happy to be seen out with me, I am sure).
The duck, however, was a dream. It brought back lots of fond memories of duck pancakes at Chinese restaurants, as the taste was pretty much exactly that.
We had to order more buns because there was way more meat than there were buns – sneaky sneaky. But out of the two I suppose better to have more meat than bread. Rules to live by, right there.
After our bun feast, we went for a Bone Daddies Sundae, and I felt in love with green tea ice cream. I HATE green tea as a drink (reminds me of being ill in Vietnam, weirdly), so have avoided all its incarnations so far. Until that night, when I realised in ice cream form, me and green tea were actually alright.
The atmosphere was nice and buzzy, without being loud or irritating, and the service was allllright. Wouldn’t go higher than that though, as I had to ask about a billion times for the bill.
Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX
Nearest tube: Covent Garden (5 min walk), Leicester Square (8 min walk)
Andrew was getting stressed about his birthday (he doesn’t like his birthday), so I asked him what he really wanted to do. His response? He just wanted to go to brunch with me (n’awww). So I decided to go to a nice (but not fancy – we’re not fancy types) brunch. I did some research and whittled it down between Duck & Waffle and The Modern Pantry. After glancing at both menus, I picked The Modern Pantry (still want to go to D&W though) as it had more things on the menu I knew Andrew would like. He loves fusion food that are packed full of lots of flavours, and head chef, Anna’s menu certainly seemed to cover a lot of those bases.
So we trotted off with our hangovers (we’d completed on our flat the day before, so celebrated hard the night before!) to Clerkenwell. We ordered our drinks, which came with speed, and started analysing the menu.
There was loads to choose from, and Andrew started looking a bit panicky that he wanted everything.
In the end we went for, ahem, three dishes to share.
This is grilled cornbread, chorizo, a fried egg, charred sweetcorn, avocado and red pepper salsa. It was pretty dry, but the egg broke open to reveal a soft and silky yolk which helped the whole dish massively. There was a gentle hum to the dish, but it was really surprisingly light.
We also ordered the sweetcorn, feta,green chilli & curry leaf waffles, smoked streaky bacon with maple syrup, which sounds INSANE, and it was – but in an amazing way! It was so packed full of different flavours and everything was balanced perfectly, so in a bit you’d get fluffy waffle, sharp cheese and then sweet maple syrup, plus a faint after taste of curry – it was extraordinary but an absolute triumph. Anna is obviously a master at flavour combinations.
The last thing we ordered takes 20 mins to cook, so it was perfect timing for us to take a break and compare hungover notes (results: we were both hungover).
Then it arrived: raspberry and ricotta pancakes with berry and liquorice compote, crème fraiche. Oh sweet lord. The pancakes were fluffy and light and the compote cut beautiful through the creme fraiche and rich pancakes. They were extremely filling, so I started to feel quite sick by this point, but boy was it worth it.
The Modern Pantry is something a little bit special. There were lots of people in there celebrating stuff (a groom’s party who were suited and booted, drinking champagne pre-ceremony, a couple who had just got engaged and were celebrating with their excited friends), so it created this lovely atmosphere, yet it was relaxed and informal, with perfect service.
Andrew claimed it to be the best brunch he’d ever had, so it was a birthday winner!
The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St Johns Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 4JJ
Nearest tube: Farringdon (10 min walk)