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Restaurant Review – Suttons & Sons, Stoke Newington High Street, N16

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.
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Travel – Why I love it

I’m going to start doing a few travel posts here and there. This is because a) I can do whatever I damn well like with my blog and a) I like to travel. Jeez, who are you, my Mum? (Hi Mum! I’ll phone you tonight, OK?) Mainly it’ll still be a blog about London, but with some travel stuff thrown in for free (it’s all actually for free). Just accept it and move on.
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[Healthy Lifestyle] Top 5… Tips for smoothies that don’t make you vomit

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.

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Wedmin – Bridesmaid Dresses

I am finding it hard to believe that I am getting married this year. People keep saying time is going to fly this year with the planning, and I totally believe them. But also the idea that I will be walking down that aisle, saying those vows, becoming someone’s wife this year – it feels bonkers and amazing at the same time.

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Recipe – Moroccan spatchcock chicken

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?

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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.
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Restaurant review – Four to Eight, Catherine Street, WC2B



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.
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Bar review – The Warwick, Warwick Street, W1B

Gin is ruddy marvellous, isn’t it? Unless you’re one of those people where it transforms you into a sobbing wreck, I guess. It’s my favourite spirit – a nice cool gin on a sunny afternoon is unsurpassable.

Here are some gin facts for you (I like gin, suck it up):
– Gin is made with juniper berries
– London gin doesn’t have to be made in London – it’s a way to make gin
– Gin joints in 18th-century England allowed women to drink alongside men for the first time. It’s thought this led many of them to child neglect and prostitution. So gin became known as ‘Mother’s ruin”
– Gin and tonics were invented in colonial India when they found the quinine in tonic water was effective in preventing malaria. Soldiers added gin to tonic water to make it more palatable

Are we having fun yet or what?!
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Wedmin – Wedding dress shopping

I hate keeping secrets of my own. I can keep other people’s secrets fine – the amount of pregnancies I’ve kept secret in 2014 is testament to that. Oh, that sounds wrong. I mean I’ve known friends are pregnant before they’ve ‘announced’ it and have been sworn to secrecy. I digress.

What I mean is I have trouble keeping secrets of my own, as I just want to blurt things out. I always want to tell people about the presents I’ve bought for them right away, because I am so excited to see their reactions. The month of December is torture for me, guys.

So now I have the ultimate secret: my wedding dress. I’ve ordered it. Eek! And my mum (who patiently accompanied me to the shops in my hunt for The Dress) and bridesmaids are the only people I am going to show. And I now have to keep the secret from nine months – and to have to keep it from Andrew is torture, because I normally tell him everything.
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Restaurant review – Little Social, Pollen Street, W1S

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.
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Healthy lifestyle – hummus with chia seeds recipe

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.
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Healthy lifestyle – Baked salmon with broccoli pesto crust and spinach salad

Following on from yesterday’s post about adjusting my diet to maintain blood sugar levels, I came up with this dish for baked salmon. It’s full of flavour, is massively satisfying and has a low GI index (which means that it has a low impact on blood sugar levels).
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Healthy lifestyle – Blueberry super smoothie

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.
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Wedmin – Save the Dates

A break from food for this post. I thought I’d update you guys on wedding plans (weirdly, these seem to be my most-visited posts – what about burgers, guys?!).

Basically, planning a wedding at a venue that doesn’t normally host events is a mammoth task. I know a lot about the following things: marquee linings, generators, luxury mobile toilets and catering kitchens. I didn’t want to know anything about any of these.

There have been fun parts too. Afternoon tea with my bridesmaids and my mum and mum-in-law-to-be, wedding dress shopping and Pinteresting the hell out of everything to name but a few.
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Healthy lifestyle – Nicoise salad recipe

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.
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Restaurant review – Jones & Sons at Trip Kitchen & Bar, Acton Mews, E8

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.
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Healthy lifestyle – chicken noodle soup recipe

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

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Serves 2

Ingredients

- 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

Method

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.

 

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Restaurant review – Honky Tonk, Clapham Common South Side, SW4

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.

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Service: 0.5
Venue: 2
Value: 0.5
Overall: 2/10

Honky Tonk, 16a Clapham Common South Side, London SW4 7AB

Nearest tube: Clapham Common (1 min walk)

Honky Tonk on Urbanspoon

 

I was invited to review Honky Tonk. Yes, you read that right.

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Healthy lifestyle – Warm oriental chicken & nectarine salad

Ruddy hell, the weather is grim at the moment isn’t it? I will make no secret of the fact that I hate Winter, with the exception of the two weeks before Christmas. I hate the cold, I hate the dark, I hate wearing thick coats and then almost passing out on the tube because my stupid coat has made me too hot. I hate itchy scarves. Just ugh.

And the tendency now is to reach for comfort foods, isn’t it? Mine is at least. Pies, stews, soups, mash. Overcooked, fatty food to coax us into hibernation. And going out in the rain to train? That’s a massive challenge. But luckily I have Sybille sending me emails reminding me to keep active and not let the cold beat me.

But these challenges are sent to try us, and I am determined this winter to combat the blues with action rather than inaction. I won’t shy away.

This salad is perfect for combating winter blues. The nectarines aren’t seasonal, I know – but they taste like pure, unadulterated sunshine. They also contain anti-oxidants and B-complex vitamins, which help to turn food into fuel and keep bodies energised all day long. The warm, poached chicken is an excellent source of high-quality lean protein. Eating the mangetout raw means you get the maximum benefit from them, and they’re packed with Mange Vitamin A and Vitamin C and are a good source of fibre and thiamin (the latter of which aids the body in all its functions).

OK, so it’s basically amazing for you, tastes like sunshine and goodness and will have you karate-chopping the heck out of winter.

Warm oriental chicken & nectarine salad

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Serves 2

Ingredients
– 2 skinless chicken breasts
– 2-3 ripe nectarines
– 100g mange tout, finely sliced
– 3 spring onions, finely sliced
– 2 tbsp chopped coriander (if you hate coriander like I do, leave this out – it’s fine)
– zest and juice of 1 lime
– 1 tbsp runny honey
– Thumb-sized portion of ginger, peeled and grated
– 1 tbsp soy sauce
– 3 tbsp raw oil (I used coconut oil)
– 1 dessert spoon toasted sesame oil
– 200g couscous
– 1 tsp vegetable boullion

1. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Put the chicken breast in the centre of a large square of foil. Sprinkle with good-quality salt and freshly cracked black pepper, plus a tiny drizzle of olive oil). Seal the foil into a loose parcel around the chicken, making sure there are no gaps. Pop the parcel on a baking sheet and put the oven for 25 minutes.
2. Remove the chicken from the oven and take out of the parcel. On a chopping board, cut the chicken into thick strips or chunks. Put in a bowl and put aside, covering with foil to keep warm.
3. Slice the nectarine into juicy wedges. Add to the chicken with the mange tout, spring onions and coriander (if you’re using that disgusting stuff).
4. Whisk the lime juice and zest with the honey, ginger, soy sauce and oils.
5. In a separate bowl, add the couscous and the vegetable boullion. Pour over enough boiling water so the couscous is covered by about 5mm of water. Cover with clingflim and leave for about 5 minutes before fluffing up with the fork.
5. Divide the couscous, chicken and salad between two large bowls (or plates, you can use plates). Drizzle over the dressing and serve.

Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food.

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Healthy lifestyle – raw courgette noodles and homemade pesto recipe

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.

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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?

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Raw courgette noodles with homemade pesto

Serves 2 generously

Ingredients

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.

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Healthy Lifestyle – Introduction & Green Smoothie recipe

A lot of people recently have been saying I’ve gone crazy. For I am normally the girl who tempts people out after work with promises of wine and putting the world to rights, I am the go-to resource among my friends when they’re looking for the best burgers in town and I am also a lazy slug.

But recently a change has happened. I have stopped going to the pub. This is because I am going to interval training instead. I have also stopped eating burgers. I am trying to eat healthily – especially raw foods – instead.
Post-work out self-taken photo (don't make me use that word).
Post-work out self-taken photo (don’t make me use that word).
They’re changes I’ve wanted to make for a while, but haven’t because it’s a lot of effort and old habits die hard. But I’ve got a new incentive: Operation Wedding Dress. I want to downsize. I’m not one of those brides who has gone mental and diets because That’s What Brides Do. I’ve been looking for an incentive to get active for ages – my will power and the thought “you just need to go” isn’t enough. The thought of looking like a massive meringue on my wedding day has turned out to be my incentive.
My mission is led by myself and my personal trainer, Sybille Hazward. Sybille runs Freeform Fitness, where I do yoga, yoga fusion, TRX training, tabata training and bootcamp classes – all in Highbury Fields. I cannot tell you how amazing Sybille is. She is tireless in her encouragement of all her clients and is an absolute fount of knowledge. Freeform Fitness isn’t just Sybille’s job, but her passion too. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone more passionate about what they do.
I was struggling with my diet and how to modify it to be healthier without massively overhauling my whole life or feeling hungry all the time. So I spoke to Sybille, and we’ve decided to team up and do a series of posts about healthy eating, complete with recipes and explanations of why these recipes are good for you. A 360-degree approach to healthy living, in blog form. I’m hoping by writing about this it will help me learn and you guys can keep me motivated and away from crappy processed foods.
We’ll be covering lots of different yummy dishes, and have lots in store for you. But to start off, let’s talk about my favourite breakfast at the moment: The Super Green Smoothie.
Sybille told me I should be trying to eat raw foods as much as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to think of how to eat raw food beyond crudités and sushi, but smoothies are great for getting raw foods into my system and I feel pretty bouncy after drinking them.
The reason raw food is so awesome for you? Well it’s the food in it’s most natural form, so therefore all the nutrients are still in tact. Heating food breaks down the natural goodness in food, so the more you cook it the less of the goodness reaches your system. I’m not saying eat raw chicken, but trying to keep food as close to its natural form as possible is the best way to make sure you’re getting the maximum out of it, e.g. steaming chicken or fish is much better than frying or roasting it.
As for smoothies? OK, a blitzed fruit is pretty different to a solid one, but smoothies have the whole fruit and/or veg in there. Unlike juices, smoothies don’t remove the natural fibre from the fruit. The fibre in smoothies helps the body absorb the nutrients from the veg and fruit, whereas juices normally are packed with fruit sugars with none of the fibre. This will make your blood sugar spike and increase sugar cravings. Boo.
The Super Green Smoothie
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Serves: 1
I make my smoothies with a NutriBullet. These are amazing, but any blender will do; you might just need more patience for it to blend. I recommend a top-loading blender rather than a stick kind. A stick kind won’t work.
Ingredients:
- A large handful of chopped kale
- 3-4 florets of broccoli
- 1/2 pear, cored
- 250ml coconut water (the more liquid you put in the juice, the easier is it to drink and the less lumpy it’ll be)
- 1 tsp baobab powder (you can get this from any health food store or online. Don’t be intimidated – it’s delicious)
How to Make
1. Whack everything into the blender, starting with the kale. Layer them in in order of the ingredients list.
2. Blend until it looks very green and there are no obvious ‘bits’. The NutriBullet takes about 3-5 minutes to do this.
3. Pour into a glass, Instagram the hell out of it and then drink.
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Giveaway – London cocktail week

I love a cocktail, you love a cocktail – why not have some cocktails on me (well, sort of). It’s London Cocktail Week after all.

I’ve teamed up with the good people at Zomato to give away four wristbands to four of my lucky followers on Twitter. Zomato is a fabulous online and mobile directory with reviews by some of the best writers in the business (and also yours truly – distinctly not one of the best writers in the business).

The wristbands will get you the following:

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a wristband is RT a tweet I’m going to be posting on my account today. You must also be following me (the link is above).

I’m kind of jealous of whoever wins these, to be honest. If I won I’ve put a little list of the top five places I’d go:

1. Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street, Islington – this place is basically my local, so it’d be rude not to. Also, I love their decor and I’ve been meaning to go for ages.
2. The Riding House Cafe in Fitzrovia – I walked past this place recently and it looked amazing. I’ve also heard good things. It seems like a classy joint I don’t belong in, so I’d be all up for trying it.
3. Worship Street Whistling Stop in Shoreditch – this is right by where I work, but I’ve only been once. It’s a great speakeasy with some very impressive cocktails. I need to go back.
4. Kettner’s in Soho – a Soho institution. I have spent a number of nights getting slowly tipsy in their Champagne bar (weirdly, mostly with my brother and his wife). I love it in there, so would head back for a dose on nostalgia.
5. Village East in Bermondsey – I love everything on Bermondsey Street. Big fan. Any excuse to go here.

Best of luck to you all with the giveaway. I’ll be announcing the winner on Sunday.

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Restaurant review – Mission, Paradise Row, E2

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.

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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:

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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…

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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.

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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:

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So much lamb. Phwoar. Here’s another photo too. Andrew took this one:

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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:

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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).

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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.

Service: 5
Venue: 5
Value: 4.5
Overall: 10/10

Mission, 250 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green E2 9LE

Nearest tube: Bethnal Green (2 min walk)

Mission on Urbanspoon

View my food journey on Zomato!

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Brunch review – Q Grill, Chalk Farm Road, NW1

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.

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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.

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I ordered waffles and Andrew ordered Q baked beans on toast with a fried hen’s egg on top.

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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.

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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?)

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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?

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I will however be going back to Q to try their barbecue food. Their regular non-brunch food sounded delicious!

Service: 3
Venue: 4.5
Value: 4.5
Overall: 7.5/10

Q-Grill, 29-33 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AJ

Nearest tube: Chalk Farm (5 min walk)

Q Grill on Urbanspoon

View my food journey on Zomato!

* 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.

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Restaurant review – Tommi’s Burger Joint, Thayer Street, W1

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.

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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:

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Here’s the bite through shot:

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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.

Service: 4
Venue: 3
Value: 2
Overall: 6/10

Tommi’s Burger Joint, 30 Thayer St, Marylebone, London W1U 2QP

Nearest tube: Bond Street (6 min walk)

Tommi's Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

View my food journey on Zomato!

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Food Review – Dirty Burger food truck, Paul Street, EC2A

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.

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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.

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I went for a cheeseburger and crinckle fries [sic] (back on the diet now though – whoops!).

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I took my guilty parcel back to my desk…

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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.

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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.

Service: 4
Venue: 3
Value: 2
Overall: 4/10

Dirty Burger food truck, Zetland House, 32 Paul Street, London EC2A 4HJ

Nearest tube: Old Street (5 min walk)

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[WEDMIN] What I talk about when I talk about wedding planning

I got engaged a month ago today to my amazing best friend-boyfriend hybrid, Andrew. Here’s his tiny little face:

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A quick overview: We’ve known each other for 10 years, and have been together for just over nine years now. We met in our home town when we graduated from our respective universities and were left thinking “Now what?” A mutual friend, Jess, introduced us and we quickly became really good friends. Andrew, Jess and I hung out together all summer, almost every day. I have never laughed so much in my life. Then in November Jess moved away with her family and Andrew and I started going out a few months later. About a month after going out we made the mental decision to go travelling together for eight months together. It was a make or break situation for us, and sometimes it was both. Ha! I guess the rest is kind of obvious. Andrew liked it so took eight or so years to put a ring on it. He is not a decisive character.

So now we’re planning a wedding… I have no intentions of turning The Z Factor into a wedding blog, but I will pop up updates as and when I think something is interesting (note: most of wedding planning is really dull).

A month down the line and what have we got locked down? Well, I picked my bridesmaids right away as I’ve known for a good while who I wanted to hold my hand through this process. Here they are:

Amy

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Amy lived with Andrew when we first moved to London, and we quickly all became excellent friends. We went on an amazing trip to visit friends in Berlin once, which must be one of my favourite trips ever. Amy is very organised and she also helped Andrew organise his proposal.

Jo

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Jo (here on the left) is Andrew’s little sister. Although it is customary to ask your future sister-in-laws to be bridesmaids, my decision to have Jo wasn’t governed by this. Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time together at family get-togethers, Christmases and even Glastonbury. She’s already been my pseudo sister for years.

Josie

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Josie and I met when I joined her school in sixth form. We got the train together to and from school every day and had all of our free periods together. Since then we have had many adventures together – and even more nights out. She now lives in Florida with her husband, so will be rocking an amazing tan at the wedding. Pass me the fake tan…

Phoebe

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I actually went to secondary school with Phoebe, but she was a couple of years below her so although I knew her we weren’t really friends. However, when I got together with Andrew he was friends with her and I quickly stole her as my own pal too. As with all the bridesmaids, she’s really important to both Andrew and I, and it felt totally like she should be a key part of our day together.

Immy

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My endlessly entertaining niece, Immy. She’s five at the moment, will be six when we get married. She was one on the most tricky of negotiators who campaigned to Andrew for him to propose, such was her eagerness to be a bridesmaid. Perhaps more excited than me about the wedding, she already has big plans for her dress (big and white, apparently) and is putting in requests for shoes. She’s such a massive character and I know she’ll keep all our guests entertained more than I will on the day!

We’re also having three page boys, my three nephews.

Archie – Head page boy

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He’ll be eight when we get married, and is a really lovely, funny and sensible little guy. We’re going to give him some little responsibilities so he feels really involved in the day. Maybe like giving a speech… Haha. Just kidding A Bear!

Henry & Theo

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My Californian nephews! Henry will be almost two when we get married, and Theo will be four. They might not have any big responsibilities as they’re still very young but wow will they be cute. I can’t wait for them to spend the day with their cousins as part of our bridal team. I hope they have lots of fun. (Theo at the moment thinks he’s going to be an actual page – a knight in training – as he’s obsessed with knights. He’s going to be disappointed)

Chiltern Firehouse

Restaurant review – Chiltern Firehouse, Chiltern Street, W1U


So the morning after we got engaged (yeah, yeah, still going on about it) Andrew and I woke up and had champagne on our epic balcony!

Then he had bought some smart clothes for me to wear the next day and said we’re going somewhere nice for brunch. We strolled through the sunny Sunday Soho streets and jumped on a tube to Baker Street.

Andrew led the way (quelling rumours he has no sense of direction in the process) until we ended up on Chiltern Street (he took me a winding way to throw me off). I looked at him in surprise. Had he booked Chiltern Firehouse? How would he even know about the Chiltern Firehouse (although he is addicted to the Mail’s sidebar of shame).

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As we were whisked into the courtyard of the restaurant by a man in an excellent hat it seemed, yes, Andrew had been doing his research. We had a table for brunch.

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We were seated on some lovely 1920s-style banquettes and the windows of the dining room were wide open as it was a lovely sunny day. The service was really, really slow, but we were happy to take our time and chat about being engaged…

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We ordered champagne cocktails to start. I got a strawberry and hibiscus number while Andrew went for an apricot and peach one. Mine was definitely better.

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We also ordered some freshly made cornbread with smoked salmon crème fraîche, which took its sweet time arrive, but was incredibly good. Such a savoury, fishy and sharp flavour. I could eat those bad boys all day.

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I then went for potato and herb hotcakes with smoked salmon and poached eggs. This was really good. The waitress tried her best to convince me to have toast with it, but I’m glad I didn’t as we totally didn’t need it.

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Andrew went for lobster scrambled eggs, which were ridiculously good. So rich and full of shellfish flavour.

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Ahem. Then we got some buttermilk pancakes to share. That came with fresh blueberries and blueberry compote, which were great (I love pancakes) but I’m glad I got something a bit different as my main choice as pancakes are pancakes are pancakes.

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I have no idea how much the food cost (thanks Pea!) but I imagine it was pretty spendy. But the atmosphere was so lovely and it was such a special meal. Great people watching, slow service but a lot of fun.

Service: 3
Venue: 5
Value: 4
Overall: 8/10

Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA

Nearest tube: Baker Street (10-min walk)

Chiltern Firehouse on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

 

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Restaurant review – Beast, Chapel Pl, W1G

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.

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Ahem.

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…

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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:

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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.

Service: 5
Venue: 5
Value: 5
Overall: 10/10

Beast, 3 Chapel Pl, Marylebone, London W1G 0BG

Nearest tube: Bond Street (5 min walk), Oxford Street (5 min walk)

Beast Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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How I got engaged

So I thought I’d tell you guys a bit of news from my life that doesn’t entail eating burgers the size of my head; I got engaged on Saturday. Yeah, that’s right – someone asked me to be his wife. Shall I tell you the story? Oh alright then.

I thought I was meeting Andrew and our close friend Amy for lunch on Saturday. Andrew was going to the gym so I said I’d meet him there. “How late with you be?” I asked, knowing that he is permanently late. “Not late at all,” he told me.

So I met Amy (pictured below) for lunch. Thirty minutes later Andrew hadn’t appeared. I moaned to Amy.

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As soon as I finished my food Amy said, “So Andrew isn’t coming for lunch but he asked me to give you this” and she produced an envelope with his writing on. “Um, what’s going on?” I said to her, feeling panicked and a bit sick. Amy shrugged as she watched me open the envelope. Inside it said…

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I looked at Amy who was armed with my first clue: find a dog, preferably a sausage dog and text him a photo of it. I flew out onto Upper Street in the search for a dog. The first dog I saw was this guy:

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His baffled owners let me take a photo of him, which I sent to Andrew. The next clue arrived:

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This took me to a beauty salon next to the Breakfast Club in Camden Passage. When I got there (Amy dropped me off and waved goodbye) they told me I was there for a manicure. And some bubbles… Andrew had booked it all for me.

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The ladies who worked in the salon were VERY excited. “He’s going to propose!” they screamed when I told them the story. “I don’t think so,” I said.

I had my nails done – unfortunately one of my nails broke last week (Andrew was so cross and now I know why!) so it looks crap but the rest are lovely.

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I sent this picture to Andrew and then I got another clue:

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He was panicking a bit as my nails took longer than he thought (even if they are stubby guys!). I got to Covent Garden and got this message:

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I got to the blowdry bar and they were ready for me, and gave me a beautiful blowdry. They also were convinced Andrew was getting me ready for a proposal after I told them the story. “I’m not sure,” I said.

I send Andrew a pic of my blowdry:

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And got another clue:

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I got home and a dress was laid out for me with this note on it:

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When I lifted the dress up there was a present under there. It was this book:

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We’ve been listening to the audio book of Wind in the Willows as we fall asleep recently.

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I sent him a photo of the book and then the final clue arrived:

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This took some working out. Kenneth Brannagh is who reads the book on our audio book, where as the author is called Kenneth Grahame. I googled where he lived between 1901 and 1908 and it was Phillimore Place in Kensington. Andrew’s surname is Phillimore. I hopped on a tube across London…

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And trotted through the streets. As I got to the corner of Phillimore Place I saw Andrew, and we smiled at each other but then he ducked down. I rounded the corner and he was down on one knee with a ring in his hand. I immediately started to cry!

He explained he had brought me to Phillimore Place to ask me if I would be a Phillimore and marry him. I said yes, of course!

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The ring fit perfectly and was my absolute dream engagement ring – I couldn’t believe he knew me so well. It turned out Amy had gone ring shopping with him back in Easter when I was at a friend’s hen do. Sneaky sneaky!

Andrew had then booked us a meal at Beast in Marylebone, so we jumped in a black cab there. We called our parents and siblings and drank champagne and ate LOADS of food.

Then he had booked us a hotel room, so we got in another cab to Dean Street in Soho where he’d got us the penthouse suite at Soho Hotel.

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We had cocktails in the bar and then fell asleep in a massive amazing bed. I want that bed!

In the morning I woke up to this:

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We had champagne on the balcony and then he’d booked for us to go to a surprise brunch, which turned out to be at Chiltern Firehouse! The brunch was amazing, but I’ll post that another time.

We then travelled home where Andrew had arranged for some of our friends to come over a celebrate. It was absolutely amazing! I kept telling people “Things like this don’t happen to me!” And I still can’t believe it did – it feels like a wonderful dream.

I can’t wait to marry this amazing man and be Mrs Zoë Phillimore!

This is a terrible photo of us just after he’d proposed! He looks a bit stunned and I look crazed. Haha.

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[Guest post] The Resistable Rise of Nigel Farage

And now for something completely different…

My good friend and ex-colleague Ned Hartley was talking to me the other day about politics. I studied politics at university, but rarely get drawn into arguments over politics. Maybe that’s because I spent one too many Wednesday mornings at uni hungover and arguing about governance or whether the BNP should be allowed the oxygen of publicity (yes they should, btw), or maybe I just don’t talk about politics much because I much prefer to listen to other people’s views. I think a lot can be learned from listening instead of shouting over one another.

Anyway, Ned and I were talking about voting behaviour, and I told Ned it’s my secret geeky interest – I wrote my dissertation about it. So Ned and I reckoned what with the European and local elections happening TOMORROW in the UK, it’d be good time for him to do a guest post about why the top of your to-do list tomorrow should be going a voting. Otherwise: SHAME ON YOU. Over to Ned.

This is Ned.
This is Ned.

“Democracy is the worst form of government”, said Winston Churchill, “apart from all the others”. Look, no one knows better than I do that the next General Election seems like it’s going to be a choice between grotesque villainy and horrifying incompetence. Which is why I can understand the rise of movements advocating spoiling your vote, voting none of the above or not voting at all. Russell Brand summed it up pretty well when he said, “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does.” And maybe he’s right.

Russell Brand: utter prick or voice of the people?
Russell Brand: utter prick or voice of the people?

It’s hard not to see the rise of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) as an extension of this same sentiment. Nigel Farage is the flip side of Russell Brand: he claims that he’s not a politician (even though he is) and he pretends to offer something other than Westminster’s “Politics as normal” (even though he doesn’t). It’s easy to knock Farage and UKIP, but it’s harder to address the source of the problem. This is about the frustration with politics that Farage cynically manipulates, it’s about voter disenfranchisement that allows UKIP to get a hold.

Nigel Farage: utter prick
Nigel Farage: leader of UKIP and an utter prick

Farage and UKIP’s policies are only really coherent when they are presented in opposition to something, and that’s because it’s easier than coming up than an idea on your own, and it would be easy to write them off if they weren’t polling so well. In the last London opinion poll they were only 1% behind the Lib Dems, clearly taking support not just from disillusioned Conservative voters, but also Labour and Lib Dems voters as well. This is a problem that’s bigger than just the right wing throwing a strop at David Cameron, it’s indicative of a much larger trend in British politics.

 

David Cameron: UK premier and also, in the interests of fairness (and factual accuracy), also an utter prick.
David Cameron: UK premier and also, in the interests of fairness (and factual accuracy), also an utter prick.

It isn’t fair to call UKIP the British version of the US Tea Party, but they harness the same vague anti-establishment sentiment to mask their cruel agendas. This problem is massively compounded when the solution offered by people like Russell Brand is “don’t vote”, a simple refusal to participate. This can be a tempting option, to see yourself as standing nobly above the crowd in your refusal to part of a broken system. If enough people do this then surely someone must notice that something is wrong – right?

But this is a basic misreading of what democracy is all about. Democracy doesn’t owe you a perfect candidate; it doesn’t owe you a 2008 Obama complete with “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can”. Democracy doesn’t even owe you a candidate that you or anyone you know can vaguely stand. Democracy owes you a part in the process, it owes you a chance to get involved, it owes you the ability to have your voice heard. Not voting means not having a voice, and I’m certain that there’s absolutely no power and change in that.

But hey, I could be wrong. You can find me on twitter at @nedhartley if you think so.

 

The Towpath Cafe

My London… with Shula Cara

Shu lives in London and always has the best tips of where to go for a fun time. Also, her tweets are always bloody hilarious. So I was very pleased when she said she’d take part in the My London… series.

Name – Shula Cara
Job  – PA & Office Manager
Neighbourhood –  Pinner. The deepest, darkest NW London. Hopefully not for much longer!

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I love London because… There’s something around every corner if only you take the time to notice it. My office used to be the Pink Floyd recording studio! Also, last week I sat on the tube and sat opposite a couple reading. She was engrossed in Fifty Shades of Grey and he was perusing the Bible. I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else.

London is at its best when… You’ll laugh but I’d have to say during the tube strike a few weeks ago! Nobody knew where they were going and were forced to actually talk to each in order to find out how to get to work. How often do you talk to people during your daily commute?  The weather was great, so nobody minded walking AND I discovered a bunch of hidden gems around Angel that I’d never noticed before, despite travelling there every day – albeit underground.

My ideal day off in London would be…  Waking up early, managing to snag a fresh doughnut at 1235 Doughnuts (sadly no more behind the yellow door on a Sunday).  Obviously it would be sunny, so I’d sit outside somewhere like the Towpath Cafe with a good book and a great cup of coffee, watching the world go by. I’d visit somewhere like the Geffrye Museum or Hackney City Farm then head to the nearest Street Feast with friends. After that, it would be time to stop for a spritz on Broadway Market. Cocktails at the Cat and Mutton, and I’d end the night at Hip Hop Karaoke with my oh-so-special rendition of Nasty Girl, some wild dancing. Then sleep.

The Towpath Cafe
The Towpath Cafe

 I absolutely love this little-known place… well, technically not little known, but I love 69 Colebrooke Row, The Blind Pig and the bar at the Zetter Townhouse. Perfect for dates and a drink or two.  Also, the Conservatory at the Barbican, I think it’s only open on Sundays

The Conservatory at the Barbican
The Conservatory at the Barbican

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… A boy once took me to Bourne and Hollingsworth for cocktails and then onto Hip Hop Karaoke at Little Social. An unusual mix but the best fun I’d had in a long time!

My favourite restaurant is… Again, I can’t choose just one. I eat out a lot because I work in hospitality and have had some incredible meals at Morito, Locanda Locatelli, 10 Greek Street and Clove Club. Sharing a pizza at Homeslice is always fun and if I could ever get a table at Sushi Tetsu, I’m sure I’d love that too.

If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… restaurants and bars with my friends. I’d probably buy a pair of shoes at Liberty too, then fall over in them.

Royal College of Surgeons museum, the Hunterian
Royal College of Surgeons museum, the Hunterian

My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… the Hunterian, the contents of which are partly grotesque, but totally amazing. It’s the kind of place that will either fascinate you or make you a little sick. Technically not theatre, but Secret Cinema events are always fun. Anything at the Southbank Centre. I was taken to a Pippilotti Rist exhibition a while ago and that was awesome.

A Secret Cinema event
A Secret Cinema event

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is... I’ve lived here all my life (apart from a brief hiatus in Nottingham that we don’t mention). A thing that other people don’t know is how close all the tube stations are to each other. Walking is infinitely more enjoyable than sitting on a cramped train during rush hour.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… Can I have more than one? People that swing their golf umbrellas and tourists that take photos with iPads, for some reason that really bugs me. Oh, and the obvious one – slow walkers!

I’ll leave London when… I die. I love my city. I’ve lived here 25 years and haven’t discovered even half of it yet.

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The Made in Chelsea drinking game

I’m at the stage where most of my friends are either getting married or already are married. This means I have a comprehensive knowledge of what to expect from hen dos, favours and songs all wedding bands play (My Sharona is a key stage in all nuptial celebrations).

It also means I have watched my friends fall in love and become husbands and wives, and that has doubled my number of friends immediately. Wonderful. And in one particular case it means my best friend from uni, Vinay, has had to start watching his wife’s TV shows, including Made in Chelsea. Every time I see Vin he complains to me about Made in Chelsea, which he should know is idiotic as I am obviously a massive fan.

He’s also taken to texting me about it…

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On receiving this I had two startling realisations:

1. Vinay should give up his career as an accountant and become a reviewer for the Radio Times
2. Maybe Made in Chelsea needs to be made more fun for long-suffering people who have to watch it but don’t have a clue what’s going on

Enter Hedges (that’s me). I’ve devised a little Made in Chelsea drinking game, because if you’re not getting wasted on a Monday night what’s the point of life, really? This is a really novel idea. I’m sure no one has thought of it. You’re welcome, internet.

Every time these events happen, take a classy slurp of your champagne/gin/White Lightning:

- Someone says, “I’ve got to get out of London.” (They’ve got it like, soo tough)

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– Mark Francis hands out some lifestyle tips:

- Jamie Biscuits tells a girl he loves them.

– Alex Mytton’s hair looks ridiculous:article-2599272-1CEADFDF00000578-45_634x357

- Louise cries:
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- Spencer looks smug (you’re gonna be wasted):

- A tiny, ugly dog appears at an inappropriate time. Down your drink if it’s with Binky or Cheska:
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- Sam Peg-Teeth makes you cringe:
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- Lucy Watson shows her disgust with a facial expression:

– Someone doesn’t get invited to something:

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My London… with Rupert Cross

For me, if I like someone I mock them. It’s perhaps not a great trait, but growing up with two older brothers has meant that it’s the way I communicate my friendship. If I feel comfortable around someone and like them, I will tease them and joke around with them.

When I first met Rupert he was wearing heavy-framed glasses, which were without lenses. Like a red rag to a bull (I’m the bull in this scenario), right away I started mocking him, and there started our friendship of me cruelly taunting him and him being generous enough to laugh along (and maybe cry himself to sleep at night). As a firm part of my north London circle, no pub visit is complete without Rupert blustering in an hour late, shouting “Darling! How are you?” while wearing some chunky knitwear.

Here Rupert, ever-tolerant and entertaining, talks football pubs, his karaoke track of choice and trying to illegally board a train bound for Paris…

Name: Rupert Cross
Job: Composer
Neighbourhood: Holloway

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I love London because… it’s a  giant smörgåsbord of everything from architecture to the arts.
London is at its best when… nippy springtime gives way to full blown barbecue summer. The mood of London is epitomised by the 10 people opposite you on the tube, and in summer they look like they may just make eye contact and smile. You can almost forgive the guy wearing his shiny new Ray-Ban sunglasses underground – although seriously: never be that guy.
The Swimmer on Eburne Road
The Swimmer on Eburne Road

My ideal day off in London would be… a Saturday. I dream of this perfect day of waking up not too hungover, opening the windows to sunshine before writing music throughout the morning. Content with a hard day’s work by midday, I head to lunch at the Swimmer at The Grafton Arms pub in Holloway, where Laila and Jon [the staff] greet me and my friends like the opening from Cheers. Sitting outside drinking pints of Brugse Zot, my friends and I discuss where to watch the afternoon’s football – a debate utterly irrelevant as The Tollington Arms on Hornsey Road is excellent and we’ll be going here. As this is a fantasy day, we watch Manchester United not lose horribly and all my Arsenal supporting friends break down in tears, admitting they have been closet Reds all along.

The evening will end with karaoke, probably in the Birdcage in Columbia Road, so the post football journey is all about the most exotic and exciting route to take. Along that route is The Lamb on Holloway Road which has an excellent selection of local beers and the staff are impeccably friendly. By 9pm I’m panicking that it’s getting late and I need to submit my karaoke song choice so we all cab it to Shoreditch. I’m in luck – they always have space for R Kelly’s “Ignition” (Remix).
In this perfect day I probably have a dog, and his name is Marco Fu.

I absolutely love this little-known place… called Shoreditch. I think it’ll catch on.

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… one that ended at 8am at St Pancras International pleading with the ticket office to let us on a train to Paris without our passports. At the time I imagined it looking more Withnail and I than Fear and Loathing. Now I’m not too sure.

L'atelier de Joel Robuchon
L’atelier de Joel Robuchon
My favourite restaurant is… L’atelier de Joel Robuchon in town. I had never eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant before and a deal had arisen on Toptable for this restaurant. Although it was clear to everyone there that our wine-less, shared starter, shared desert, 2-for-1 mains order was designed to absolutely minimise the overall cost of eating at the restaurant, the staff were kind and courteous throughout which left me with a strong desire to return.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Borough Market, and if I’m honest, two thirds of that will be on cheese. Anything left over will be spent in Bang Bang, a vintage clothes shop in Soho where I can safely say that pretty much all of my clothes are purchased from. Not underwear, that would be weird.
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… Oval House theatre in Oval. They very kindly gave me one of my first breaks in theatre, and the team that run it work incredibly hard providing opportunities for youth in South London.
The Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street
The Hoxley & Porter on Upper Street

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… the best espresso martini is made at The Hoxley & Porter in Upper Street.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… when bus drivers don’t wave to each other when they pass one another. There is no excuse for this.

I’ll leave London when… I’ve had the perfect day mentioned above, but luckily my non-Manchester United-supporting friends are so entrenched in denial that this could take years.

You can follow Rupert on Twitter at @Rupertx
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Restaurant Review – Patty & Bun, Liverpool Street, EC2M

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Service: 5
Venue: 3
Value: 3
Overall: 7/10

Patty & Bun, 22/23 Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7PD

Nearest tube: Liverpool Street (30-second walk)
Patty & Bun Liverpool Str. on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Pub Review – The Truscott Arms, Shirland Rd, W9

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…)

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The pulled pork looked like this. When I asked Andrew how it was, he said “yeah, good”. High praise, indeed.

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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…

Service: 5
Venue: 5
Value: 3
Overall: 8/10

The Truscott Arms, 55 Shirland Rd, London W9 2JD

Nearest tube: Warwick Avenue (10 min walk)

The Truscott Arms on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Restaurant Review – On the Bab, Old Street, EC1V

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:

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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…

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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:

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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…

Service: 1
Venue: 4
Value: 1
Overall: 4/10

On the Bab, 305 Old Street, EC1V 9LA

Nearest tube: Old Street (5min walk)

On The Bab on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

CamProf

My London… with Camilla Brown

You know you’ve found a friend for life when you’re running through Vauxhall Station at midnight, both dressed as brides (neither of us were getting married, it might surprise you to learn) shouting “ALAN!” at the tops of your voices. This person to me is Camilla (along with a few other blushing brides). There is NEVER a dull moment with her around, and she has a unique perspective on life (she once tried to compliment one of my friends by telling him, “You’re the exact opposite of Will Smith”). So it’s no surprise to see her go from strength to strength in her career too and become the PR guru she is today. Now running her own agency, I thought she’d know some great London places and she agreed to share some insights into her London. Take it away, Millington…

Name: Camilla Brown
Job: Co-founder of Campbell Brown
Neighbourhood: Technically Oxford but Clerkenwell 4-5 days a week.
CamProf
 
I love London because…
 The underground. I find it fascinating and love how you can be somewhere completely different in minutes. Coming from a small village, this just blows my mind. Oh, and the boozers are ace.

London is at its best when…
It’s summertime and everyone is smiling. You get that buzz around 4pm on a Thursday and you just KNOW that your colleagues are thinking the same thing: pub garden. People are tanned, toned and generally more attractive, which makes the commute SO much better. Also, a bit of al fresco never goes a miss…

My ideal day off in London would be…
Waking up with your man, sun streaming through the curtains, no doubt hungover. We both need bacon and a bloody mary, so we head to our local cafe/bar to do just that.  Once fuelled, we’d head to Borough Market to utilise the free samples and mainline some fizz, before heading back home to get our glad rags on and meet a bunch of friends somewhere East for dinner and more beverages. We’d dance into the night and due to my imagination running wild, we’d end up in a posh hotel and mainline the mini bar until the early hours. As long as it wasn’t a random mid-week day off?

 

Borough Market near London Bridge
Borough Market near London Bridge

I absolutely love this little-known place…
OK it’s not exactly ‘little-known’ but my good friend JJ Goodman owns the London Cocktail Club bars and I absolutely adore them. Best cocktails in London, fact. (You HAVE to try the Bacon & Egg Martini).

The best night I’ve ever had in London was…
My birthday with an ex. My parents very generously got me dinner at The Ritz so we decided to spend the day living like Kings. We dressed up in our finest, ate amazing food, sipped gorgeous champagne and ended the night in the Hoxton Hotel. I like to pretend I’m rich, so it was right up my street.

The Ritz near Green Park
The Ritz near Green Park
My favourite restaurant is…
The Ledbury in Notting Hill. Once a year, my parents and I go for a very special Christmas dinner. I’m working my way through Chris Pople’s list from his blog, and this one was stand out epic.
If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in…
American Apparel
My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is…
I loved Liechtenstein at The Tate. I’m not hugely into art however this really stood out, especially as my client at the time had brewed a beer just for the launch. Not a huge theatre goer, I prefer kooky cinemas like The Prince Charles.

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is…
How many people think it’s such a big deal to visit. I like that, though. It feels special to live here. I was on the train this morning and a load of middle age women were taking selfies because they were visiting for the day, it made me smile.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is…
 Slow walkers. I walk stupidly fast and hate it when people dawdle, or worse, stop abruptly in the middle of the street. I sometimes pretend I’m Yoshi in Mario Kart and slipstreaming by all the tourists just to make things a little more interesting.

I’ll leave London when…
 Well, technically I have actually left. I moved back to Oxford to set up my new PR agency, Campbell Brown. It was only meant to be for a few months however I’ve found the commute absolutely fine, and I feel more in love with London now than I did when I was living here as I get to be a visitor for the day, four days a week. I might come back one day, but I think a 5 year stint has eased the curiosity for now ;)

 

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GUEST POST – The M Factor with Martin [Manners]

You know when you write a poem for someone on Twitter that you’ve found a friend, and this is essentially how Martin and I become friends. I creepily wrote him a poem and he agreed to be my friend. But not just that, he also agreed to be a contributor on the Z Factor writing about all the things that annoy him. So take it away, Martin… Zx

So about me, I’m 31, residing in Manchester and tweet quite often @office_monkey. I followed Zoë through a mutual friend – well, friends – and she’s given me the chance to write about just what gets on my nerves, so without further ado. Here we go!

Commuters

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I encounter these idiots on the train/metrolink every day without fail. I really don’t understand how it can be such a hard task to let people off before you get on the train. It’s common sense and believe it or not, letting people off before you get on will speed things up.

Also, the doors will not open until the train stops. This also seems to be a concept that some cannot cope with, as every single day I see idiots pressing the doors open button and the train/tram hasn’t even stopped. I actually live for the day that it opens and they tumble out – possibly harsh but fair, no?

Another huge annoyance is when commuters will take up a full seat that sits two, or even worse a three. There’s plenty of room for someone else on that seat you selfish swine. Although, I’m not sure what’s worse: the fact that they hog the seat or when they decide to sit next to me they take up pretty much all of my personal space.

Eating on the telephone

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I work in customer service and my biggest annoyance is when I’m talking to someone on the telephone and they are eating at the same time. They make that hideous lip-smacking noise while I’m trying to help them. I fully understand that some people may need to call up when they’re on their dinner (it’s not lunch! [Ed: Err, Martin – you’re wrong here, but continue…]) but please, a bit of decorum and think about the poor sod on the other end of the phone who has to listen to you while you gobble your food like Homer Simpson.

Basic Manners

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If I hold the door open for you then a thank you isn’t too much to ask is it? Manners cost nothing and my biggest bugbear is when someone doesn’t use the words please or thank you. It’s really not tough to say a please or a thank you when someone has done something for you. I have an annoying habit of if someone asks me something without saying please then I’ll say “sorry” until they get the hint and finally say please!

There’s more to come from me, but for now I must say adieu. If you wish to follow me and see my ‘live’ moanings then do follow me @office_monkey.

Betty modelling Betty's Boutique's spotty harness - available for purchase very soon

INTERVIEW – Jo Lewin @ Betty’s Boutique

When you start dating, get together, go steady – however you want to phrase it – with someone, you sort of inherit their family, don’t you? You have a whole new load of people to get drunk on Amaretto on and argue over board games with at Christmas. Luckily for me, I inherited a bloody amazing family when Andrew and I got together. They might be small (trust me, I feel like a giant around them and am contantly banging my head on things at their house, which they fit under easily) but they are mighty.

And this is how I met the subject of this post’s interview – Jo. She’s Andrew’s little sister. Jo set up a dog accessories business a few years ago. I know a lot of dog owners visit The Z Factor, so I thought some of you would like to hear about Jo’s business and her very cute little pug, Betty.

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Hi Jo! Can you tell us a bit about Betty’s boutique – what products do you sell? What’s your style?
Betty’s Boutique was initially a small business selling branded dogwear (collars, leads, harnesses, dog coats) and accessories, such as Puppia, Mutts & Hounds and Danish Dog Designs. However, in 2014, I moved in a new direction and have begun making my own products. Betty’s Boutique offers products to dog owners who wish to show off their dogs’ lifestyle and personality through their dogwear i.e. collars, leads and harnesses. The ranges that I have developed use quite classic fabrics as I am big fan of rustic chic design. I also believe that classic fabrics illustrate the simple beauty of the English countryside – no unnecessary additions – it is just delicate, pretty and simple.
Betty's Boutique's dotty range
Betty’s Boutique’s dotty range
Do you make any of your own products?
We now produce our own range of dog collars, matching leads and harnesses in three different styles – dotty, rustic stripe and retro floral. Collars come in 5 different sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL),  leads come in 2 sizes (M &L) and harnesses come in 3 sizes (XS, S & M). These ranges are slowly expanding. We will also be producing our own range of matching dog coats by winter which is exciting!
Betty's Boutique Turquoise Stripe range
Betty’s Boutique Turquoise Stripe range

Do you have a favourite product? If so, which is it?
My personal favourite product is the dotty harness (see photo below), firstly because it was the first item that I worked hard to produce and therefore took a lot of time and effort to get it right and, secondly, as it is just a simple, pretty material that looks great on our little Betty. It shows off our Country lifestyle with is a ‘pretty, simple and a country chic’ vibe.

Betty modelling Betty's Boutique's spotty harness - available for purchase very soon
Betty modelling Betty’s Boutique’s spotty harness – available for purchase very soon

Why did you set up Betty’s Boutique – did you always want to set up a dogwear company or was it only when you got Betty you thought about it?
I set up Betty’s Boutique as a result of meeting our little puglet, Betty. In April 2012 we met her, only 8 weeks old, and instantly knew that we were meant to be a little family. She had the characteristics that we were looking for – a cheeky, adventurous little soul – a slice of mischief! Through becoming involved in the ‘doggy community’, I was surprised at how many poor quality dog clothes there are in the marketplace. I wanted to find a website which would allow me to buy products which would show off Betty’s little personality but there was nothing quite right. All of the main websites selling doggy clothing were quite generic. So I started Betty’s Boutique. We sourced different brands initially which would allow people to buy products to show off their dog’s personality and lifestyle and, in 2014, I began producing my own range of goods which combined my love of the English countryside and the lifestyle that Betty is part of. The business has now been recognised by the magazine Berkshire Life and we regularly send photos of our dog walks in to show off all our lovely local dog walks.

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What’s the best part of running Betty’s Boutique?
I mainly love the fact that I am constantly coming into contact with people who are bonkers about their dogs – like I am! It’s very comforting to know that there are lots of other people who find their dogs as fascinating as I find Betty. It’s lovely to share each others experiences of doggy behaviour and their personalities.

Where can people buy your products? Are you based in particular shops or online?
The main place to buy to buy Betty’s Boutique products is my website – www.bettysdogwear.co.uk but I will also shortly be selling my products from some local Berkshire boutiques – Pink & Brown in Sunninghill, Ascot, the Groom Room in Windsor and WagsPetBoutique in Eton.

The Orla Kiely range from Betty's Boutique
The Orla Kiely range from Betty’s Boutique

What’s the future for Betty’s Boutique? Will you do clothes for larger dogs or expand into more shops or start doing dog accessories?
My hope and plan for Betty’s Boutique is that firstly, get the production and supply of Betty’s dogwear right. As I only began this thread of the business earlier this year, I want to ensure I can keep my customers and the boutiques happy. Following that, I would like to expand the ranges that we have to offer our customers, including a spring/summer, then autumn/winter range and possibly a bespoke range which would cater for all sizes of dogs.

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Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)

Food Review – Herman Ze German, Villiers Street,

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.

Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)
Herman ze German bratwurst (with mayo)

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.

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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.

Service: 1

Venue: 0

Value: 0

Overall: 0.5/10

19 Villiers Street, WC2N  6NE

Nearest Tube: Charing Cross (1min walk)

Herman ze German on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Classic Car Boot Sale

Andrew and I when we were young and had dubious taste in eyewear.
Andrew and I when we were young and had dubious taste in eyewear.

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.

Travelling wasn't all sunsets and hammocks. I almost killed Andrew on a night dive, once. Lesson: don't let me be your dive buddy.
Travelling wasn’t all sunsets and hammocks. I almost killed Andrew on a night dive, once. Lesson: don’t let me be your dive buddy.

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.

Willophie and Zandrew Unite
Willophie and Zandrew Unite

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…

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Yeah, yeah. Cars and loads of vintage tatt. You get the picture. Now for the food…

First stop was to these guys

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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:

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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.

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He went for a Beef Richard because, hey, when in New York a carpark in Southwark you need to stay true.

There he is!
There he is!

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The small bite he allowed me was delicious. Those pickles! Ooof. Definitely on-par with Big Apple hotdogs.

We also paid a visit to Zan at Bleecker Burger... I told you we stuff our faces
We also paid a visit to Zan at Bleecker Burger… I told you we stuff our faces

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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.

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Top 5… Recipe Books

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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)…

1. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

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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.

2. Hamyln All Colour Cookbook

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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.

3. Neal’s Yard Healing Foods 

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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.

4. Eat, Cook, Enjoy

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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”.

5. Delia’s How To Cook

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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.

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RECIPE – Amaretto and chocolate mousse

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.

 

A handful of people I lived with in the crazy houseshare...
A handful of people I lived with in the crazy houseshare…

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.

I also lived with most of these people...
I also lived with most of these people…

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.

The theme was "Your Worst Fear"
The theme was “Your Worst Fear”
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“Evil People: Fact of Fiction”
Oh God, our poor kitchen...
Oh God, our poor kitchen…

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)

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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)

To serve
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!

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Foodie Event – Hawker House

On Valentine’s Day we decided to spurn the cheesy restaurants, champagne and roses and go to Hawker House with our pals.

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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.

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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.

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I don’t know why our faces are so red… Valentine’s Day-themed selfie?!

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.

The vendors at Hawker House change slightly every week, but when we went there was Bleecker St Burger, the Grilling Greek, Roti Chai, Yum Bun, Breddos Tacos, Street Vin, You Doughnut and a few more.

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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.

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It's McNulty Pup!
It’s McNulty Pup!

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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).

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One last push saw me heading for a sweet treat, and to the You Doughnut stand!

 

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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.

rikke & Elvis

INTERVIEW – Rikke Rosenlund @ BorrowMyDoggy

It doesn’t take long browsing this blog to realise I absolutely love dogs. I am totally obsessed with them. I grew up with dogs as pets, and really think they add an incredible amount of love to owners’ lives.

As you know, I take pictures of dogs when I’m out and about. I also talk to them and stroke them whenever I get a chance (Andrew gets kind of mad when I stroke them!), and often buy homeless people’s dogs treats when I can. I also have quite a lot of dog accessories.

So often people ask me why I don’t have a dog of my own. Trust me, I would love a dog of my own. But my lifestyle would make it completely unfair on the pup. I work long hours and like to go out socialising too, and a dog needs plenty of love, affection, routine and care. So at the moment, I just can’t have one.

But recently a few friends – normally fellow dog lovers – put me on to BorrowMyDoggy. This is where dog owners are matched with dogless people who want to spend time with a dog, so they can take the pup for walkies or even dog-sit when the owner needs an extra pair of hangs.

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I loved the concept and signed up straight away to be a borrower. I’m yet to be matched with my perfect pooch, but live in hope. In the meantime, I’ve been chatting to the lovely Rikke at Borrow My Doggy and she agreed to do an interview for The Z Factor. And here we are.

rikke & ElvisRikke and Elvis

Can you briefly explain the concept of BorrowMyDoggy?
Of course! BorrowMyDoggy is a trusted community of dog lovers, where borrowers help take care of dogs when the owners are busy either for walks, playdays, weekends or happy holidays. Our aim is to leave ‘Pawprints of Happiness’ on the lives of dogs and people.
Why did you set up BorrowMyDoggy?
I came up with the concept for BorrowMyDoggy last year when I was looking after my neighbour’s dog for the day. It worked out great for all of us. I spent the day taking care of Aston (a very cute brown labrador), and my neighbour’s mind was at ease knowing that his dog was being watched by someone who really cared for her instead of being stuck at home alone. Aston spent the day in the park having fun, and looking after her made me so happy.
During the day I thought, “There should be a site where dog owners can have their dogs taken care off by people who absolutely adore dogs and miss having a doggy in their life.”
All owners need to be away from their puppies from time to time. There is no need for a doggy to be home alone or for owners to have pay for a dog walker or kennels when there are lots of people who adore dogs but unfortunately can’t have them (due to work, travel etc), who would love to take care of doggy for free. As an added bonus, BorrowMyDoggy allows owners and doggies to get to know more people locally and spread lots of happiness.
IMG_1844LRikke and BorrowMyDoggy co-founder, Les
Who have you found has signed up to BorrowMyDoggy?
We have a huge variety of members in the BorrowMyDoggy community. Our lovely members are everything from families, to students, older/unwell people, singles and everyone in between. I don’t there’s a demographic unaccounted for!
Is the service used for one-off dog walks or are people building long-lasting relationships by repeatedly seeing the same dog?
The way our members use the site is as varied as the type of people we have signed up. Some dog owners require a stable ongoing arrangement, some need help from time to time and some people have signed up their pooch just to make other people happy.
We’ve found that members are building local relationships with both new people and dogs, and they’re making new friends in the process, which is lovely. We have some wonderful examples of neighbours meeting for the first time, despite living beside each other for years, through BorrowMyDoggy.
Is there anything people can do to increase their chances of getting matched?
Owners generally contact borrowers who are close by and available when their pooch needs looking after. This means that how long it takes to hear from an owner depends on whether there are any pups in your area who need walkies and looking after at the times you’re available. We are also finding that owners prefer to get in touch with fully verified borrowers.
We encourage people to stay at the front of the pack by keeping an eye out for new pooches in their area and favouriting any they think they’d be able to help, as this sends their owner a notification of your interest. We also advise borrowers to make sure that they keep their profile up to date with as much info and availability as possible. We have some handy tips on our blog about how best to do this.
If borrowers only have a few hours a week are their chances slim of finding a dog they can build a relationship with?
There are so many different doggies out there with so many different doggy sitting needs so it is completely dependent on the doggies that are signed up in your local area. We have thousands of new members signing up to BorrowMyDoggy every week and hundreds of messages are being sent all over the country every day.
What kind of feedback are you getting?
Since we started, we have received the most wonderful feedback from our community. Our members are making a difference to each others’ lives every day and we love hearing about the happiness that both people and dogs are spreading.
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RECIPE – Perfect lemon, garlic and herb roast chicken

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.

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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

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You will need:

For the chicken
1 medium-sized chicken. If your budget stretches, go for free-range. Happy meat tastes better!
3 carrots
1 brown onion
2 sticks of celery
1 lemon
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

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Method

Roast chicken…

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.

 

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Restaurant Review – Banh mi 11, Great Eastern Street, EC2A

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A market in Vietnam

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.

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Pho being made and eaten on the curbside in Hanoi.

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). image (7)

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Service: 4

Venue: 3

Value: 5

Overall: 8/10

Banh Mi 11, 101 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3JD

Nearest tube: Old Street (5min walk)
Banhmi11 on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review – Honest Burger, Camden Lock Place, NW1

I met one of my closest friends, Josie, nearly 15 years ago – gulp! – when first started Sixth Form. We had our “frees” together, and spent most of them in the sixth form common room talking about boys and whether we should go to the local shop on a snack run or not.

Jos and I, circa 2005
Jos and I, circa 2005

Fifteen years, countless nights out and a few “boys” later and here we are. Josie is married to the lovely Ash and they’re off to live in America. Although excited for them, I am sad to be saying goodbye to Jos – even if we both know we’ll always be close. So I’m trying to cram in as many meet-ups with her as I can at the moment! When Ash suggested Andrew and I go and see Scroobius Pip with them I was all over it.

So this Monday we headed to Camden, stopping off for a meal first… We decided on Honest Burgers, as going to burger joints has become our go-to choice recently.

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Honest Burger is pretty no-frills, with burgers and fries served in large enamel bowls and the venue having bar-style seating around the edge of the open kitchen. Oh, and the wine is served in tumblers (see above).

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However, what you get for this no-frills venue is reasonably priced and very decent food. I went for the special, which came with red onion rings and pickled green chillies. At £11, it also came with a generous portion of the house signature salt and rosemary fries, which were perfect – crispy, fat and fluffy. The burger itself was delicious, too.

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The patty was hella juicy and perfectly pink, and the other fillings gave the burger a lovely sweet, salty and then spicy undertone. The bun was also perfect – mopping up the massive amount of juice and staying light and fluffy, holding together the burger to the last bite.

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This is the “Honest”, which is red onion relish, beef patty, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce. I was allowed a small bite and can confirm it was spanking good, too.

As for the gig – it was brilliant, with an added surprise of seeing Andrew’s brother and his best mate there. A good night was had and added to the 15 years of brilliant memories I have of Josie and mine’s friendship – here’s to many more.

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Service: 4

Venue: 3

Value: 5

Overall: 8/10

Honest Burger, Unit 34A, 54-56 Camden Lock Pl, NW1 8AF (There are branches throughout London – see the website for more details)

Nearest Tube: Camden Town (13min walk)
Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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Restaurant Review – Otto’s Restaurant, Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X

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.

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My Dad and Mum, living it up in the 80s.

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.

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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.

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Brique de brochet aux ecrevisses, etuvée de fenouil aux algues (shelled fresh crayfish on pike mousse with crayfish bisque, steamed fennel and seaweed).

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And a scallop carpaccio with a rocket salad, grilled hazelnuts, beetroot petals and a parmesan marshmallow.

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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.

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We also had…

Pan-roasted hen pheasant breast, onion and Port wine simmered leg with girolle mushrooms:

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And roast fillet of wild boar, a gingerbread crust, baked pear and celery mousseline with a grand veneur sauce:

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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.

Service: 5

Venue: 3

Value: 4

Overall: 8.5/10

182 Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X 8EW

Nearest Tube: Russell Square (15min walk), Holborn (15min walk)

 

Otto's on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

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