31.8.15

COCKTAIL MASTERCLASS AT THE CONNAUGHT

If you're a fan of top class cocktails, or know someone who is, there's a masterclass this Autumn where you can learn how to make the best cocktails at the bar that's just recently been voted Best Bar in the UK by GQ Magazine, and has also been named as World's Best Hotel Bar - the Connaught Bar, in the stunning Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. Award winning Director of Mixology Agostino Perrone (who's won the prestigious World’s Best Bartender Award at Tales of the Cocktails) is hosting a series of mixology masterclasses at the Connaught Bar, taking place throughout Autumn where you can learn to make the perfect Connaught cocktails. Each date focuses on a different drink, with masterclasses in Champagne, cognac, vodka and gin, and whisky. Full details of all the classes are below.

I went along to a little preview of what lies in store, and if you book this you're in a for an absolute treat. You'll be welcomed with delicious canapés - ours were rabbit and ham, salmon and caviar and beetroot on a cheese crisp - which were all as delicious as they were pretty. You'll also have a welcome drink - ours was a Champagne, Aperol, bergamot, orange and ginseng creation and was the perfect balance of bitter, herbal and fruity.

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24.8.15

THE REAL GREEK, ST MARTINS LANE

As much as I love discovering the newest, top-rated restaurants in London, sometimes you just want to pop in somewhere, knowing that you can get good food, served quickly, that's not going to cost a vast amount of money. When I lived in Hoxton (a long, long time ago!) The Real Greek on Hoxton Square was one of those places. I'd go there with mates for pre-party feeding sessions, and at other times for a quick, good value snack. I hadn't been to any of their other branches in London (there are now 8 across London) but when I was invited to their new site on St Martin's Lane I was interested to see if they're still serving that same food we enjoyed way back when.

I'm pleased to say that nothing's changed! I ordered a few small dishes to sample - to start with I had a taster plate of some of the dips, from the top - taramasalata (deliciously smooth and none of that bright pink supermarket stuff which isn't real taramasalata at all); a pea dip which I can't find the name for, but was really good and summery; melitzanosalata - smoked aubergine, garlic and lemon - which was light and very tasty; tzatziki - Greek yoghurt with cucumber, garlic, dill and fresh mint; and the red one, which was htipiti - Greek cheese blended with roasted peppers and chilli, which had just the right amount of spice to add a nice kick. What I really like about the dips at The Real Greek is they all taste so fresh and light. Often shop bought, and some restaurant, dips can be heavy, and lacking in their own distinct flavours but this wasn't the case at all here. If I could buy pots of their taramasalata my diet would be in a lot of trouble!! The flatbreads served with the dips were perfectly toasted with herbs and oil, and warm when they were served.  

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19.8.15

PARADISE GARAGE, BETHNAL GREEN

Sometimes I don't understand how my brain works. I've had two Clapham restaurants - The Dairy and The Manor - on my "must visit" list pretty much since they opened, which was reiterated when I interviewed Michel Roux Jr last year who said his favourite restaurant was The Dairy, yet I still haven't been to either despite the fact that they're kind of on my side of London. Yet when their third site, Paradise Garage, opened not so long ago, I was calling them straight away to book a table, in Bethnal Green, which is definitely not my side of London!! Anyway.... that's how my brain works! Or doesn't....

We went to Paradise Garage on a Wednesday and had an early table booked for 7pm. It was already pretty busy then, and was absolutely heaving half an hour later. If you want to go to Paradise Garage, which I suspect you will once you've read the rest of this post, then make sure you book. Well in advance.

I was there with three mates, none of whom I could convince to share the rabbit picnic (a whole rabbit that serves 2-4 and comprises roast saddle, confit leg, rabbit pastry, offal and scratchings with sautéed chicory, capers, radishes and artichoke piccalilli). Instead we ordered most of the snacks section (slightly smaller than a starter) and various dishes from the garden, sea and land sections (slightly larger than a starter), all to share.

Things got off to an excellent start. A pot of light green, fluffy pea mousse was brought to the table with radishes and their leaves (which I adore) and the thinnest potato crisps I've ever seen. This was quickly followed with bread served up with smoked whisky butter, which we devoured in seconds. The bread and butter had a hint of whisky, smelt like bonfires and tasted utterly divine.



Snacks are served as they're ready, so start with the cold dishes. We had the beef, beer and horseradish salumi; and the pork, black pepper and apple salumi, both of which are made on site. They had great flavours and a really nice texture that wasn't at all greasy or gristly, and I think my favourite was the beef, beer and horseradish.


Also from the snacks menu we had Cornish crab, kohlrabi, apple and grilled lemon - our least favourite due to a lack of strong flavour, it just didn't quite work for us.


Grilled sweetcorn, hemp seed and creamy sauce, which was incredible - the crunchy seeds glued to the charred corn with the creamy sauce were a fabulous combination of flavour and texture.


Venison tartare, preserved egg yolk and watercress - which I ate nearly all of myself and loved the fact that the venison shone through without having to fight against a strong sauce or pickle flavour as with so many tartares.


And finally the salt cod brandade (salt cod emulsified with olive oil to give a pate type consistency), squid ink, olives and shellfish crisp, which was an all round winner - the salty cod was given depth by the squid ink and the delicate flavour of olive. 


From the 'garden' we had the globe artichoke, padron peppers, fresh curd and lemon jelly. I really liked the artichoke, curd and lemon jelly together, and though I'm a fan of padron peppers I'm not sure they worked on this dish.


A dish that definitely did work from the 'garden' section was the egg, charred grelot onions, spinach puree and lardo. What a fantastic dish - the spinach puree was so good, mixed with the runny egg yolk and lardo, I could eat this for breakfast every day!


'Sea' wise we chose the monkfish, clams, courgettes and herb oil which was fresh and zingy, with all the elements cooked perfectly.


And charred Cornish sardine, cod roe, pickles and rice crackers, which I loved. The fish skin was, as it said it would be, charred, and the fish inside so delicious - the oiliness lifted by the pickles and smear of cod roe on the plate.


Finally (and I didn't remember eating all that food until I was writing this and realised I had soooo many photos) we were on to the 'meat' section, from which we had one of each. I think these plates were my absolute favourites - each one with its own highlight. First was the white park beef, mushrooms, chard, miso and hazelnuts. The beef perfectly pink, and complemented by everything on the plate. The meat had a depth of flavour that tasted like it had been aged for well over 30 days.


The Iberico Presa, slow cooked pig head, coco beans, anchovy and lettuce was a winner with the whole table. Again, the quality of meat was amazing. Places like Paradise Garage are examples of why we should only eat the best quality meat we can get - it makes such a difference to a dish when the meat is that flavoursome.


Last but by no means least was Welsh lamb rump, lamb's fry, cabbage, peas and preserved lemon. By this point I have no more words to explain how good it all was! The lamb's fry (offal) coated in oats and deep fried, with the cabbage and pink rump is worth going back for alone.



Now that I've tried Paradise Garage, I really can't wait to try The Dairy and The Manor, and will make sure I do very soon! For more on Paradise Garage, check out their website here. Dishes range from £5-7.50 for snacks, and £7.50-12 for the other dishes, so if you go with a group, and order a bit of everything, with wine I reckon you'll spend £45-60 a head. I think that's incredibly good value for the food you're getting. And the service, which was so relaxed, but not in a sloppy way - we didn't feel pressured and hassled at all, but there was always someone there when you needed them (normally to clear empty plates and make way for more food!) It's not often a restaurant this good comes along, so go, eat everything, and then go again!!Click to add a blog post for Paradise Garage on Zomato
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18.8.15

THE CRAB SHACK, BRYHER

Last week I told you about excellent Tresco restaurant, The Ruin Beach Café. Well, this week I want to tell you about The Crab Shack - owned by the same people as The Ruin, but found on Bryher, which is the island next door to Tresco.

The Crab Shack opened a few years ago, serving locally caught crab, and mussels and scallops two nights a week, in what is pretty much a shed next to The Hell Bay Hotel. Demand was so high that you had to book months in advance, so they soon started opening four nights a week, Monday to Thursday. The menu is as simple, and incredible, as it sounds. You can order mussels or scallops for starter or main, and/or crab for main, which comes in three sizes - medium (£20 - feeds 1-2 people), large (£30 - feeds 2-3) and monster (£40 - feeds 3-4). They do now also do lobster, which wasn't available when we were there (as they hadn't caught them that day) so I'm not sure how much it costs, but it's very good value; and spider crab (again, only if they've caught some that day).

All the food is served in cataplanas and is messy, fun and cooked to perfection. The scallops were doused in delicious butters, and the mussels cooked in wine and garlic.


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14.8.15

THE GATE, HAMMERSMITH

I'm an omnivore. I eat almost anything so am lucky enough to be able to eat wherever I want. Most restaurants have a choice of dishes, so those  who don't or can't eat something can choose a dish that they can eat, but the selection's normally limited, so for vegetarians to have a restaurant serving a full vegetarian menu must be a relief. Especially when it's as good as The Gate. I'd heard about The Gate as it's in my local-ish area but hadn't been until I was invited to try it out recently. The Gate Restaurant is just behind Hammersmith Appollo and is in a beautifully light room with massive windows.

Not only do they have a great veggie menu but I really liked the drinks options too. Liv and I started with a really refreshing elderflower and cucumber fizz, made with elderflower syrup, cucumbers and soda water (funnily enough!). I've had versions of this before and this was a brilliant one. Other soft drink options were a palauxma - pink grapefruit, limes, honey, mint and soda; carrot, beetroot, ginger and celery juice; or fresh mint tea. After our elderflower fizzes we shared a carafe of white wine.

For starters we shared a courgette flower filled with sweet potato, goats cheese, pine nuts and basil, coated in crisp batter, served with puy lentil salsa and a garlic & lemon aioli...
 

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12.8.15

BBQ PLATTER RECIPE

Who says BBQs have to be all meat? This platter is a mix of BBQ'd vegetables, halloumi and a bit of lovely British salami.
 
 
Serves 4
 
2 baby gem lettuces
1 orange pepper, 1 yellow pepper
Olive oil
Thyme
Honey
Salt + pepper
8 spring onions
1 block of halloumi cheese
50g blue cheese
1 avocado
100g plain yoghurt
Chopped herbs
1 tsp capers
Garlic bread
Hummus.
 
Light the BBQ - we used a little disposable one as had run out of gas for the big BBQ. Chop the salami into 1cm disks. Chop the halloumi into 1cm slices, slice the peppers into eighths, and top and tail the spring onions.  Lay the spring onions, peppers and halloumi in a flat dish and drizzle with olive oil, thyme, a little honey and pepper. Put the salami and halloumi/veg to one side for cooking later. Chop the baby gem lettuce in quarters.
 
 
Mash the blue cheese into the yoghurt and sprinkle with chopped herbs (I used chives and parsley). Chop the avocado into small chunks and mix through the yoghurt and blue cheese sauce - this will be used to dress your baby gems later.
 
Once the flames on the BBQ have died down, put the spring onions, peppers, halloumi and salami onto the BBQ and cook for 4-6 minutes on each side, or until charred/sizzling. Move them to the side of the BBQ to keep warm and place the baby gem quarters onto the BBQ and cook for 2 minutes each side.
 
To plate up, arrange the halloumi slices and spring onions on a chopping board. Put the peppers on the board and sprinkle with capers. Put the hummus in a little bowl and add to the board with the garlic bread. Add the salami slices to the board. In a separate bowl, arrange the quartered baby gem lettuces and spread the yoghurt/avocado/blue cheese sauce over the top. You can vote for this recipe here.
 
 


I used a game salami for our BBQ which was delicious, though you can use any salami or chorizo, as long as it's a bit fatty, and this melts on the BBQ and let's the meat take on the delicious smoky BBQ taste. My salami was from The Carnivore Club - a delivery service that you can sign up to for a monthly subscription, and they'll send you a box of UK produced, artisan cured meats once a month. The subscription costs £29 but you can sign up using code "luscious20" for 20% off your order. You can have a look at some of their past boxes here - I really love the idea, and imagine it would be a great present for any meat lovers you know, or for yourself! I really like that Carnivore Club are championing UK produce and meats.
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10.8.15

CAKEOLOGY - by JULIET SEAR

Sometimes I get invites to events that I don't have to think twice about attending - like the recent launch party for cake maker and decorator extraordinaire, Juliet Sear's new book, Cakeology. Sadly though my plans changed and I wasn't actually able to make the party, though saw photos of mini burger cakes, and a whole tree made out of cake that she'd created for the event. And though I'd missed out on the actual party I was sent a copy of her beautiful book to review instead.


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7.8.15

RUIN BEACH CAFE, TRESCO

This time last week, I was sitting with friends and family, barefoot, at The Ruin Beach Café on Tresco - a tiny island which is part of the Isles of Scilly, off the end of Cornwall. Life was good, the sun shone, there was a light refreshing breeze and laughter filled the air. My gorgeous nephew and my cousin's baby were playing on the table and we'd just ordered enough food to keep us going for the journey home. We'd spent a magical week on Tresco and though sad to leave, we finished it with a wonderful meal. I've written about the food on Tresco before but want to write a couple of posts after this holiday about the two best places to eat there, starting with The Ruin. The Ruin is where the hotel on Tresco used to be. A few years ago the hotel was replaced by holiday cottages, each with stunning views out across the rocks, towards the lighthouse, and The Ruin is now one of 3 places to eat on the island - the others being the pub and the Flying Boat Club, and in my opinion, The Ruin is the best of the 3.

We made The Ruin our home for the day and friends and family gathered. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. I'd already tried the scallop starter earlier in the week and it was heavenly - 3 plump scallops, wood roasted in their shell, each with a different flavoured butter to go with them, and bread for dipping. These weren't for me this time, as I wanted to try something different, but I did still make sure I got a taste (we all ordered different dishes and shared a taste of each with each other).
 


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6.8.15

FOOD YARD FRIDAY, ELEPHANT & CASTLE

There's a new street food market in town and having been to check it out for you, I can now report back to tell you that you have to go too! Food Yard Friday has opened in Elephant & Castle just off the top of Elephant Road, heading towards Camberwell. The market is built from shipping containers, each of which houses a different food pop up, with a seating area and DJ in the middle. There's a bar for cocktails, an award winning juice bar, and loads of different food offerings. The market isn't just open on Fridays though - you can get food throughout the week from traders including Love Fresh Vietnamese, Elephant Shack, The Frenchie, Black Acorn and Marcel & Sons.

We started with cocktails in the Longwave bar - I went for an elderflower Collins which packed a serious punch but was also lovely and refreshing.


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3.8.15

UNI, VICTORIA

I'm a big fan of both Japanese and Peruvian cuisine so put the two together and I'm a very happy blogger. Nikkei cuisine - a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cooking - seems to have become really popular in London in recently, and UNI in Victoria is a fine example of where it's done well. I was invited to review the restaurant so took the boy along with me to eat all the food!

But before food comes drinks. Such pretty drinks. For me it was the sake with pineapple juice and passion fruit - I can't remember the actual name of the cocktail, but it was deliciously fruity, not too sweet and served perfectly cold on a warm day. The boy had the raspberry daiquiri, which was so cold he got brain freeze!! But left it for a few minutes to de ice, and really enjoyed the rest of the drink.



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27.7.15

KRICKET, POP BRIXTON

I've got such a great restaurant to tell you about today. Last week I popped down to the new-ish (I hadn't been yet, so new to me) food market in Brixton - Pop Brixton. It's nestled in behind Brixton Village and is made up of shipping containers that have been converted into very cool bars, shops and restaurants. Arriving, I was distracted by some beautiful jewellery from a brand called John and Pearl, but the real reason I was there was to try out a restaurant called Kricket. Kricket serves small plates of Indian food and cocktails made using Indian spices and herbs. The kitchen there is run by my godmother's very talented son, and having seen photo after photo of the amazing dishes at Kricket on my Instagram feed it was time for me to taste it first hand. I can't believe I'd waited so long to go (only a couple of months but in hindsight that's a long time) - as the food was utterly divine and I'm already planning a couple of return visits as soon as I'm back from my holiday.

I met caterer extraordinaire, Milli (highly recommended if you need food for weddings or large parties) at the restaurant and we ordered 5 dishes to share between us - they recommend 4 or 5 between 2 people - we obviously went for 5....

Smoked aubergine, labneh, peanut crumble and papdi - a wonderful dish - the aubergine was perfectly smoky and was great with the labneh and papdi crackers. The little pomegranate seeds added a lovely juiciness and extra texture.


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25.7.15

INTERVIEW WITH NEIL RANKIN

It's been a little while since my last chef interview post, but I'm back with a great one today (and I have a few more crackers lined up for the next couple of months).

Today's interview is with chef Neil Rankin of the Smokehouse and Bad Egg. Neil's worked across the culinary board - from top end restaurants with Michelin star chefs, to cooking at Nuno Mendes's infamous loft supper clubs but it was working with BBQ chef Adam Perry Lang that really set Neil on the path that's brought him to where he is now - taking the reins at Pitt Cue in 2011 and then heading up John Salt in Islington. Neil then opened his own restaurant, Smokehouse, in Islington, which now has a second site in Chiswick, and just so happens to be my current favourite restaurant.... because somewhere that serves Somerset goat tacos with chipotle aioli and green sauce, as well as deep fried rock oyster, beef dripping toast and smoked bone marrow, and has a child-free whisky room, and reindeer furs on the back of the restaurant benches, and sources the best quality produce you could want, just can't not be my favourite! Neil's food is about slow cooking and smoking, but also there's a huge Korean influence in a lot of his dishes - think slow cooked smoked lamb shoulder served with a sambal (chilli and prawn) sauce.

Neil is a busy man (especially during BBQ season!) but I managed to get my interview questions to him, and here's what he had to say....

1. Who has inspired you the most in your career?

Adam Perry Lang. He’s who taught me to cook meat and it set me on my path away from fine dining to what I do now.

2. What is the first thing you remember cooking?

I think it was omelettes when I was 13 or 14. I used to cook them when my mum was late back from work.

3. What is your favourite restaurant in London?

Quality chop house. Its pretty much flawless these days. 

4. What is your can't live without kitchen gadget?

A thermopen thermometer. I carry it with me everywhere

5. What your top 3, can't live without, ingredients?

Salt, cracked black pepper and an abundance of herbs.

6. What's your newest ingredient discovery?

Tahini. Its not a new discovery but I’m using it a lot more than I used to and in different ways. 

7. What is the most difficult food intorlerance to cook for?

Generally I’d say dairy but they are all pretty easy given enough notice. 

8. What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to start a career as a chef?

Cook as many cuisines as possible and be creative with your career choices. Don’t just hit the well known kitchens otherwise its harder to stand out and gain an individual style (I love this piece of advice and couldn't agree more with Neil - and you can see the influence all the cuisines that he's cooked in his food at the Smokehouse).

9. What do you make of supper clubs? Have you ever been to one?

Been to them and done them. They’re fun and a great way to get your name out there. 

10. And finally - what's the plan for you in 2015, and beyond? Where are you currently working, and do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline (that you don't mind my readers knowing about!)

Lots of stuff I can’t tell you about but I’ve got a book coming out early next year and doing lots of new stuff in the next 6 months (so exciting, I'll be first in the line to get Neil's book when it comes out!)

A huge thank you to Neil for taking part in my interview series, fascinating answers from a man who cooks some of the best food in London!
 

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