Wednesday

LE PATISSON, VILLEMOISSON-SUR-ORGE, FRANCE

A couple of weekends ago the boy and I were invited to France for a night. Deciding that we'd rather stay 3 nights instead of 1 our extremely generous hosts extended their invite to us for 3 nights in their hotel. The hotel is about 30 minutes south of Paris and 15 minutes cab ride (if the cabbie knows where he's going - ours didn't and it cost us 60 euros!) from Orly airport. The owners of the hotel, friends of the boy's ma's, were having a party there to celebrate their 75th birthdays on the Saturday night.

We arrived at Le Relais des Chartreux late on Thursday night and dumped our bags in our newly refurbed room, before gobbling down a very late dinner of lobster then scallops, and wandering the hotel's grounds for an hour or two, whilst being eaten alive by mozzies, before collapsing in bed. We'd made the decision that we weren't going to actually go into Paris while we were there, as having come from London we both wanted to make the most of some chill out time with just the 2 of us in the French countryside. This didn't stop me wanting to find the best possible place for food near the hotel so I spent hours on Tripadvisor, Google, blogs etc before we went trying to narrow down the endless and confusing choices to a place where we'd have dinner on the Friday. It's really weird searching online for somewhere to eat in a place you've never been, that's not the trendiest of areas to start with, but I struck absolute gold and found somewhere with over 95% either good or very good reviews. 

We lazed around on Friday during the day, wandered into the local town to pick up some amazing skincare items from the French pharmacy, that airport security then tried confiscate on our way back, and got ready for our night out in Villemoisson-sur-Orge (!) The hotel kindly arranged a car to pick us up and take us there (not even our driver knew where this mysterious place was until we whipped out the trusty iPhones and found it in the maps). But we got there in the end, and I'm so glad we did. Villemoisson-sur-Orge is beautiful little village/town set on winding hilly roads, with picturesque French houses lining the streets, covered in vines. The light was fading so my photos aren't great, but you get the idea.

 
 
   
Le Patisson is a small restaurant in the middle of Villemoisson-sur-Orge, seating 24 people at a time. It's been going for 4 years, and is run by a guy who used to work in 2 and 3 star Michelin places in Paris. They do one seating for lunch, and one for dinner so there's no rush to get you off your table in time for the next guests to arrive. We had a little table for 2 by the window, and all the other tables were French diners, most of whom seemed to be celebrating birthdays, judging by the number of candles in puddings we saw later. It felt a bit like being at a pop up, due to the limited number of seats and familiar style of service. It also scared me to think that my own pop ups cater for nearly the same number of people that this restaurant with 5 chefs in the kitchen and 2 front of house were serving!

We were brought the drinks we'd requested - a gorgeous cherry and champagne cocktail for me, and a blonde beer for the boy - along with some mini cheese straws to snack on while we looked at the menu (cheese straws are SO much better than bread - incredibly moreish but much less filling). They only have 2 menus in the restaurant, written on blackboards, that are moved round from table to table as guests arrive. I really like this idea - they change their menu regularly so reprinting it daily/weekly would not only be a hassle but really a waste of paper as well. This way they can just write up the courses as and when they change.

 

Everyone eating in the restaurant, and most of the staff, looked on in bemusement as I clambered on the chair to take photos of everything, whilst the boy tried and failed to pretend he wasn't with me! But the more French wine I drank the less I cared!

I don't speak French. I understand a little, but even that's limited, so the maître d' was on hand to help with working out what was on offer. And after changing my mind a few times, food was served. But not before a little amuse bouche of chilled fennel soup which had the perfect balance of creaminess and aniseed, and little lines of paprika, something I can't remember, and dried olive on the side to dip your spoon in before the soup.


I started with something that a lot of people object to, but I find delicious (these are rough translations, not actual translations of what the menu says) - foie gras, with foie gras crème brulee, onion chutney and bread. I'm not lying when I say it was one of the best starters I've ever had. The crème brulee was light and fluffy with a beautiful caramelised top, and the pate so smooth and creamy, both working perfectly with the onion jam. I think I ate it in about 2 minutes flat...


The boy went for the slightly more ethically conscious choice (he wouldn't even try my foie gras) of scallops and avocado with citrus marinade, served with lambs lettuce and orange. The complete opposite of my dish this was light and tangy, with the delicate taste of the scallop still shining through.


The pace of the food was ideal, allowing us time to digest, chat, and drink more wine between each course. We shared a bottle of Chablis after our cocktail/beer welcome drinks, and at 38 euros for the bottle, it was extremely good value for such good wine.

For main course we chose the same. Piece of beef, dauphinoise potatoes, mushrooms and bacon. That sounds so un-glam, but that's the literal translation from their menu, and of course, never how it would be written in English, but that's what it was! Perfectly cooked (we both like it almost still moo-ing), tender, delicious beef with incredible creamy potatoes, cooked in a way that I've never seen before - like it had been cooked in a muffin tin (you can't really see in the photo) - served with crispy bacon lardons, garlicky mushrooms and a creamy mushroom sauce. Simple is SO good sometimes.  

 
The menu at Le Patisson is fixed, so if you go there for dinner it's 3 courses for 38 euros. Therefore we had pudding, although were already pretty full by this point! I had a scrumptious fig tart with sherry and raising ice cream (plus obligatory candle for my birthday)!

 
And the boy had a berry, cream concoction, that despite him declaring his inability to eat anything else that day, got polished off pretty quickly, and left him with a big smile on his face. Note the Chablis induced blurriness of the photos as we got towards the end of the meal....

 
Finally coffee, before trying to get home. Coffee served with delicious little coffee flavoured and coffee bean shaped dark chocolates.


We paid the very reasonable bill and asked for them to call us a cab home.


And then we waited.... and waited. And ordered another drink to pass the time. And then the owner came over to tell us he'd never had to call a cab for guests before (I guess they all just drink and drive in France or no one from outside the village visits this restaurant - I think it's the first!) so was struggling to get one to tiny little Villemoisson-sur-Orge... but finally he did!! We were whisked back to the hotel, with happy tummies and even happier faces after a truly unforgettable meal. I really do recommend going to Le Patisson if you can - I know it's a bit of a random one, but so, so worth it if you're near-ish by.

We struggled through the next day with slightly groggy heads, but perked up again ready for the real party in the evening, for drinks, dinner and dancing. The party was at the hotel, where the food is also really good. I love the French style of serving good food, no fuss, using top ingredients. I could definitely get used to that. Thank you so much Annie and Christian for looking after us! We had a perfect weekend.
 
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Tuesday

A LITTLE LUSCIOSNESS POP UP - 25th OCT

After a little break over August I can't wait to get stuck in to doing pop up restaurants again! My next date, 20th September, has already sold out, but there's good news - I've got another date now booked in for Saturday 25th October. But if you want to come you'll have to be quick, as half of the tickets for the October have already gone (I really can't believe it - thank you SO much to everyone who's booked this and all my other dates).

As normal the event will take place on Saturday evening at our home in Acton Town, where I will feed you 4 courses of homemade, seasonal food. I'm really excited by the menu I've chosen for October's pop up, and for starters I'm serving an old favourite - steak tartare with my secret mix - that has received rave reviews from past pop ups. Main course is a truly decadent game pie, full of meat that's in its prime season. And pudding is a crunchy, nutty crumble made with fruits straight from Somerset hedgerows, and served with my now almost-famous salted caramel crème fraiche. Here's the full menu in all its glory:

Blackberry cocktail, made with bubbles and something stronger
 
Steak tartare, quail's egg yolk, cauliflower puree & pickled cauliflower,
served with homemade bread
 
Rich game pie, creamy potato & celeriac truffle mash, buttered greens,
wild mushroom and shallot game gravy
 
Apple and blackberry nutty crumble with salted caramel crème fraiche
 
Montgomery cheeseboard, apple and quince chutney, seeded crackers
 
Coffee and herbal teas served with homemade chocolates

It’s bring your own booze on the evening so do feel free to bring a bottle (or two!). I provide soft drinks for anyone that prefers them. And you can put any drinks that need chilling in the fridge when you arrive.

And if you want to come along but you're veggie/GF/don't like something on the menu, then you can still come - if you book a ticket and mention in the comments section of the booking what it is you don't like/can't eat, then I can make something that you do like instead!

Tickets for 25th October are available here and cost £30, but do get in quick as they're selling really fast.

At my last pop up in July the food critic from the Chiswick Herald came for the evening and has amazingly given me 10/10 for the evening!! You can read the full review here.

One last thing to mention, if you're interested in all things pop up, is that Grub Club, the wonderful people who not only deal with all the admin and tickets sales for mine and many others' pop ups, but who encouraged me to start doing pop ups in the first place and have guided me all the way, are crowd funding. So if you want to be part of this huge food movement, and own your very own piece of Grub Club then follow this link and read all about what they're doing, where they're going and how your investment can help. So far, over 20,000 people have eaten at a Grub Club pop up and by investing a tiny amount you can help Grub Club grow and spread all over the world - !!

 
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Thursday

THE BOLLO HOUSE REVISITED

I've blogged about The Bollo before - it was one of the first reviews I ever wrote on my blog. Since then we've been more times than I can remember, for food, drinks, Sunday lunches, last minute dinners, meetings, cocktails.... It's our regular so we end up there for many reasons or no reason at all. Then you can imagine my horror when I called to book earlier this Summer only for the phone to ring and ring with no answer. They'd closed! During Summer!! But a bit of further investigation led me to find out that it was only temporary as they were undergoing a full front and back of house refurb, and they'd be open again soon. So the night after they reopened we were there like a shot to try out their new range of drinks and updated food menu.

The Bollo changed hands pre-refurb and is now run the by the same group who own The City Barge in Chiswick, which is another new favourite of ours, so I was excited to see what they'd done to improve this place we call our second home! A lot is the answer!! I'm so happy that all has changed for the better. The inside of the pub has been given a lick of paint, the slightly odd seating arrangements are gone (it used to be a bit of higgledy mix of bench seating, large tables, sofas and various types of chair) replaced with more tables, creating a restaurant feel in the main dining area, but without having lost any of the pub feel in the bar area. And talking of the bar area, their drinks selection is awesome now. There's about 10 different craft beers, a lot of which are brewed in London, on tap - one of which is a new favourite - 3 Weiss Monkeys - a wheat beer brewed in London Fields which is light and refreshing with a delicious lemony taste to it. We sunk 5 of these between us before we'd even ordered  food - oops! If you like wheat beer or are interested in trying it, go for this, it's the best wheat beer I've ever tried.

But the main event for me was the food - we loved the old, seasonally changing menu that had our favourite dishes on it which we ate over and over again. I was nervous about the change, but I needn't have been - it is SO good! The menu has been spruced up - bread to nibble that used to be served with oil and balsamic has been upgraded to delicious slices of a seeded loaf, now served with oil and dukkah. Salt and pepper squid is now calamari with merguez sausage - traditional has been replaced by modern with a twist.


We started our meal with the chargrilled squid, Calabrian spiced sausage and lemon, and goats cheese and tarragon croquettes, beetroot, orange and shoots. Both were excellent. The squid was punchy, soft, melt in the mouth, and the croquettes were gooey flavour bombs complimented so well by their accompaniments.

 

Another thing I love that they've done at The Bollo is use old magazines to encase their new menus.... As a big cat obsessive I thought mine was quite apt!


On to mains and the boy went for the burger. He's had good and bad burgers recently - in fact, he's just had good burgers not necessarily well cooked. He likes it pink, and I think if you are asked how you'd like something cooked then it should come as requested. The Bollo certainly did this, with an oozy, juicy, pink burger in a perfect bun, with a generous slice of smoked cheese on top. I know you can't see the inside in this photo but you'll just have to trust me that it was amazing!


I had the braised rabbit leg with haricot beans, pancetta, summer greens and tarragon which was just as good. The rabbit was still juicy and full of flavour (so often rabbit meat is dry and tough but none of that here) and I love haricot beans so it was the perfect combination for me.


We couldn't manage pudding but will definitely try some of them out in the not so distant future, I really can't wait to go back and eat my way through the entire menu!

The Bollo is definitely new and improved and I'm so glad they're back with a bang - they are definitely still in my top 5 Chiswick food destinations.
 
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Wednesday

OLD EL PASO STAND n STUFF

There's not much we like more for a slap up dinner than a fajita or taco night, especially when we've got friends coming round. It's such a fun way to eat, with everyone grabbing their own ingredients and creating a unique plate made up of their favourite components from everything on the table - it allows the boy to steer clear of spice, but me to load up my plate with jalapenos and hot salsa, so everyone gets what they want. So when I was invited up to the Old El Paso HQ in West London to try their new range I was intrigued to find out more.

Old El Paso have launched their newest product (after 8 years in the making) - the Stand N Stuff soft taco. Think soft flour tortilla made into a flat-bottomed boat shape that you can fill with whatever you fancy without having to worry about it all spilling out. My bug bear with normal tortillas is that lump of folded flour wrap you get at the bottom that's stodgy and excessive, and the messy leakage of delicious juices that normally spill out of the tortilla when you eat it. There's none of this with the Stand n Stuff - just an open sided pouch that I find much easier to fill and eat that the standard tortilla.

We were given a little talk about Old El Paso, who've been trading for nearly 80 years and started life as a tinned tomato distributor before becoming the Old El Paso we all know today. After tasting the new range and then cooking up our own versions in their test kitchens we were sent on our way with goody bags stuffed full of the new products - we got one of each of their Stand n Stuff kits, in each of the 3 flavours - Smokey BBQ, chipotle and honey, and extra mild, which come with the tortilla boats, a spice mix and a salsa pack, as well as some of the tortillas on their own, and a nice big jar of jalapenos.

I was super keen to get in the kitchen at home and rustle up my own version of the tortilla, and so made these really delicious spicy tuna tortilla boats - which you can easily make too.


Serves 2

4 Stand n Stuff tortilla boats
1 large tuna steak
1 avocado, sliced
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 tsp chilli flakes
Coriander
1 small tub sour cream
1 tsp wasabi paste
Handful spinach
Radishes, sliced thinly
Jalapenos
Cucumber, sliced thinly

Preheat the oven to 150C.

Start with your tuna. Rub the fillet of tuna with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and a few chilli flakes. Put a frying pan on to heat up and once hot, cook the tuna steak over a medium-high heat for one and a half minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and put to one side to rest.

In a bowl, mix the sliced avocado, add a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper, chilli flakes, chopped coriander and a dash of olive oil. Mix together.

In another bowl mix the sour cream and wasabi paste, tasting until you have a good balance of sharp and heat.

Put the spinach leaves, radish slices, jalapenos and cucumber slices into individual bowls and put these on the table with the avocado and wasabi sour cream that you've made.

Separate the tortilla boats and put them in the oven to warm through. While they are warming up slice the tuna steak into 1cm thick slices and put in a bowl on the table.

Get the tortillas out of the oven, add them to the spread, and start filling your boats with a mixture of all the above, or whichever combination takes your fancy. I went for everything and it was delicious!


It's Mexican Independence Day on Tuesday 16th September so why not grab yourself some Old El Paso kits and get cooking!
 
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BUSH HALL DINING ROOMS

Last year while we had our house refurbed we stayed with friends just off Uxbridge Road and I found what is now one of my favourite pubs for food. However there was another place on Uxbridge Road that I walked past quite often that looked really good, and that was Bush Hall Dining Rooms which had only opened a couple of months before, and is part of the iconic music venue, Bush Hall, next door. Fast forward nearly a year and I finally got round to going there. Now I've discovered it I've actually booked it for my birthday meal next month as that's how much we liked it.


We went to Bush Hall Dining Rooms on the first day of the football season, on the way to drop the boy off at Loftus Road. The extra 18,000 people in the area meant that Bush Hall was pretty busy, but this didn't detract from quality of food or service.

It was a hot day and we sat right in the window with the sun streaming in, people watching and catching up on Saturday papers until the food arrived. Bush Hall does "all-day modern dining, traditional values and good living", serving wicked cocktails and modernised classic dishes in a relaxed and comfy environment. We kicked things off as all Saturday lunchtimes should with some delicious cocktails. Extra strong Bloody Mary for me, and a secret surprise, whose contents we never did find out, for the boy. It was something with ginger, and lots of booze, and was really good!


More intent on drinking that eating to start off with (to numb the pain that QPR were about to inflict) we shared a starter before a main course each. We went for a favourite starter of ours - calamari, in the form of salt and pepper squid with red pepper sauce. Crunchy, perfectly seasoned outsides and tender squid inside, it worked so well with the red pepper dip.


For mains I had Bloody Mary mussels with chips, which was delicious. The fresh tomato sauce with the kick of the Bloody Mary spices was so good, and the chips excellently cooked, crispy outsides and soft insides.


The boy went for one of his go tos - cheeseburger and chips. He had asked for it medium rare, which it sadly wasn't but it was delicious all the same (you know when you're too hungry to send something back for being not quite right - that!) 


I'm now a huge fan of Bush Hall Dining Rooms and can see us going there for lots of meals in the future - their breakfast and brunch menu also looks pretty tempting. Not only was all the food great, the service was seamless and the atmosphere was so lovely. Relaxed without lacking in quality and really good value - we paid less than £20 each for all the above. They also do great deals for pre-gig menus, and have specials on cocktails at the weekends.

Bush Hall Dining Rooms is a 5 minute walk from Shepherd's Bush and you can find more info about their food on their website here.
 
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Thursday

A BOWL OF CHICKEN WINGS

I've posted a recipe here before (many years ago) for sticky, spicy chicken wings, but I wanted to put a slightly different, even easier, recipe, as the ones I cooked last night were devoured in minutes - even though there were so many of them!

I love easy dinners that can be whipped up when I get home from work and this is one of them. A little forward planning in the morning and they're even better.

Serves as many as you can share them with

800g free-range, organic chicken wings (I always buy free range anyway but when buying chicken wings, organic is essential - non-organic chickens get injected with drugs and hormones throughout their miserable lives. These drugs and hormones are injected into the wing, where they mostly stay. So if you're eating non-organic wings, then they're full of nasties - just don't!)
3 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

In the morning, before you got to work, mix the honey, mustard, Worcester sauce, lemon juice, a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper together in a bowl. Add the chicken wings, mix well so they're all coated, cover the bowl and put in the fridge.

When you're ready to eat, preheat the oven to 200C. Once it's reached this heat spread the wings out on a foil covered baking tray, pour the remaining marinade over them, and put the tray in the oven. After 20 minutes of so take them out and pour off 80% of the liquid. Put them back in the oven for another 20 minutes so they have 40 minutes in total.

We ate ours with olive oil mash, and a watercress and avocado salad, but serve them with whatever takes your fancy, or hide in a corner and eat them all to yourself!

 
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Saturday

MY TOP 10 RESTAURANTS

Over the past 3 and a half years or so of writing my blog I've been to tens if not hundreds of restaurants - some of which end up on here, others that don't. I tend to only write up a review of a restaurant here if it's one that I want to recommend to my readers, as my blog's about that, not ripping into places I haven't enjoyed. However there are also places that I've eaten at that I absolutely love, that for one reason or another haven't ended up on my blog. So as a quick and easy reference I wanted to put this post up to summarise my favourites. Most of these restaurants are in London, a few further afield (although all south of the M4 - I can only write about what I know!), and hopefully they're a good variety of food styles, prices and ideas. I'm going to continue the top 10 series (keep an eye on the new "top 10" button under my blog title), with more specific lists, but this one's my top 10 of all time (so far!)

The list is not in any order of preference - I can't do that as I just couldn't choose between them to pick my favourites in any order!

1. BARRAFINA - my absolute favourite London restaurant
    54 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4SL

I love Barrafina for many reasons. I lived in Spain for a while and got a taste for great tapas. Barrafina bring this to London with each and every dish they produce. Top quality ingredients and excellent cooking mean the food here is second to none. The original restaurant (they've recently opened a 2nd site in Covent Garden) is small and set around a curved bar with 23 seats where you sit to drink and eat. There's no booking here, so although it's my favourite, it's not necessarily reliable for large parties or events where you want to eat at a particular time, but they do now do a private event space in Covent Garden that can be reserved for up to 60 people. Don't let the no booking put you off though, the queue moves pretty fast and the lovely staff keep you topped up with drinks and nibbles until you do get a seat. And a little tip for colder days - there are three or four tables outside the restaurant that don't get snapped up that fast - take one of these and watch the world go by under the powerful heat lamps that will keep you just as warm as if you were inside!

Top dishes - octopus with capers / courgette flower.


2. THE PRINCESS VICTORIA - a really brilliant pub, serving even better food
    217 Uxbridge Road, West London, W12 9DH

The Princess Victoria is one of our stand out local pubs. Ok, so it's not quite walking distance but it's still near enough to class as a local. The PV's not your average pub though - think dark wood interiors, a huge dining room and food that's worthy of a restaurant and you're getting nearer to what's on offer here. They also have an immense wine list, and the chef is more than happy to talk you through his drinks recommendations. A must visit if you find yourself in West London.

Top dishes - Hanger steak, triple cooked chips and watercress / Tamworth pork and green peppercorn pate


3. THE PELHAM ARMS - perfect cosy pub in the heart of Sussex
    High Street, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 1XL

I have such fond memories of this place. We went on a wild and windy night in January and had the most fantastic meal. The Pelham Arms source nearly all of the produce they use in their food from the local area, including salmon from a smokehouse that's actually in Lewes. The freshness and quality of the produce stands out and service is super friendly. So book yourselves in to the lovely Pelham House hotel and spend the evening lounging and feeding the Pelham Arms - I promise you won't be disappointed! And Lewes is such a sweet little town, you can spend the next day wandering the high street and ducking into cute independent book shops, antiques houses and delicatessens.
 
Top dishes - Smokehouse Lewes salmon with pickled beetroot / Pan fried fillet of local cod, tarragon crushed Jersey royals, sweetcorn puree, chorizo veloute


4. THE SHED - a new favourite, with nose-to-tail cooking served as sharing dishes
    122 Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting Hill, London, W8 4RT

I recently wrote about my first visit to The Shed on my blog as I was blown away by their food. The menu here is split into sections - mouthfuls, slow cooking and fast cooking. They recommend you share dishes here (this seems to be a bit of a theme to my top 10!) and I recommend that too, as then you get to try even more of their amazing food. All produce is responsibly sourced and the brothers who run the restaurant have close ties with various suppliers from Sussex, including those who supply wine and sparkling wine. Book ahead if you want to go here as they are hugely popular, so you'll need to be organised if you want to eat here on a Saturday evening.

Top dishes - Wood pigeon, plum, Shed bacon, cobnuts, port / Pan-fried goat's cheese, hazelnuts, honey, thyme


5. THE CHAPEL - Somerset bakery and restaurant with bedrooms
    High Street, Bruton, Somerset, BA10 0AE

The Chapel is a gorgeous restaurant and bakery on the high street of Bruton, in Somerset, set in a stunning building that used to be a 17th century coaching inn. Again the focus is on seasonal, locally sourced food, and they get it so right here. We had a superb birthday meal for my Dad here last year, and I long to go back for a weekend and stay in one of their wonderful rooms, whilst eating my way slowly through their entire menu. The restaurant has a really laid back feel and it acts not only as a restaurant but a café/coffee shop as well, serving breakfast and brunch. You can also pop in to pick a freshly baked loaf of bread and a nice bottle of plonk from their on site wine shop. If you're travelling down the A303 and need a stop off, this is where you should head.

Top dishes - Buttermilk pancakes, Sandridge Farm crispy bacon, maple syrup / Dorset crab, cucumber, fennel, avocado mayonnaise, toasted ciabatta / Wood roasted artichokes, pancetta, fontina, tomato, olives wood-fired pizza


6. 64 DEGREES - best food in Brighton
    53 Meeting House Lane, Brighton, BN1 1HB

It's no secret that 64 Degrees is my new favourite food destination in Brighton - I love it. And the best bit about it, is that they're coming to London! Having only opened at the end of last year in Brighton 64 Degrees' has had astronomical success, so much so that there'll be a new site in Pimlico by the end of the year, serving up the same style food as the original Brighton site. Think small sharing dishes (I know!!) of the best quality food you can get. Innovative combinations like scallops, land cress and lardo make 64 Degrees my kind of place.

Top dishes - Potato knodel, cabbage, smoked butter / Ribeye, kale, mash, shallot


7. CHARLOTTE'S, TURNHAM GREEN - West London' finest
    6 Turnham Green Terrace, Chiswick, London, W4 1QP

Charlotte's in Turnham Green is my favourite local restaurant, which has just been confirmed by them winning Good Food Guide restaurant of the year 2015 - a massive accolade they very much deserve. Their menu reads much like that of others in my favourite lists, although no sharing dishes here - no, they're far too good to share! Formal dining in a relaxed environment with the most knowledgeable staff I've come across in a restaurant. The menu again centres on seasonal, sustainable ingredients to make dishes like the grilled ox heart, slow roast garlic puree and pickled artichoke - yum! Charlotte's also offer oysters, crayfish and langoustines on their own or by the half dozen, as well as an impressive spread of cured meats.

Top dishes - Skate wing, black pudding, parsley butter sauce / Pan fried lamb's liver, tarragon mash, smoked red wine butter AND THIS - Brioche doughnut, apple compote, salted caramel and calvados cream


8. SONG QUE CAFE - cheap and authentic Vietnamese
    134 Kingland Road, London, E2 8DY

This used to be my local, where I was very much a regular. I lived less than 2 minutes walk away so used to stumble in here at all times of day or night for my fix of all things spicy and delicious. In fact, I rarely ate anything else here except their spicy soft shell crab, which they are the best at doing. If you pass Song Que, then pop in and try some. And then order another portion! It is SO good. One thing I did stray for on the menu though was their Pho, beef noodle soup or their crab meat and lemongrass soup (or as one the menus said "crap" meat!) Don't let that put you off. The food is too good. Although I haven't been to Song Que in over a year I've heard it's still as good as ever, and if I still lived as close as I used to, then it wouldn't have been so long since my last visit!

Top dishes - spicy soft shell crab / fresh roll - prawns and herbs wrapped in rice paper


9. ATARI-YA - the best sushi you can get, at the best price
    Various locations - Hendon, Swiss Cottage, Ealing Common and Mayfair

Atari-ya is my go to for good sushi. It helps that we have one so locally to home, but it doesn't matter - I would travel far and wide for fish this good! Don't expect fancy restaurants though, Atari-ya is all about the food. The restaurants are more like little cafes, with only a little bit of bamboo matting as décor - in fact you could quite easily walk straight past with no idea of the delights hidden inside. Atari-ya import fish on behalf of some of the top London sushi restaurants (think Roka, Nobu etc) so you know the quality here is incredible. I particularly love sashimi, and have never had a bad piece from Atari-ya. I'd recommend going with a group so you can order and try as much as possible! I would say to call ahead though if you are planning on going to an Atari-ya as I do sometimes find the Ealing branch is randomly closed for an evening.

Top dishes - sea bass sashimi / scallop sashimi / sea urchin ngiri (if you're brave!)


10. HIX SOHO - a bit of a cheat as it's actually the bar downstairs
      66-70 Brewer Street, Soho, London, W1F 9UP

This is my cheat entry! I really like Hix Soho - the food's wonderful and I love the exposed brick work and art that hangs around the place, but what I really love is downstairs at Mark's Bar - where you have to eat from the Snax menu if you want to drink, so it kind of counts on my top 10 restaurant list! Mark's bar is dark and cool and my go to for a drink and quick bite any evening I'm in Soho. The Snax menu is diverse and delicious - a huge Yorkshire pudding with chicken liver pate, Scotch quail's eggs with caper mayo or Webster's fish fingers with mushy peas. You can also order from the A la carte menu from downstairs so you can go for something more filling while you drinks amazing cocktails.

Top drinks/dishes - Celebration - 3 year rum, gin, Mark's redcurrant syrup and grapefruit juice / Scotch quail's egg with caper mayo / Glenarm Estate porterhouse (to share!)


Where are your top 5 or 10 places to eat out?
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Thursday

A LITTLE LONDON LUSCIOUSNESS - 20th SEP

When I started doing pop up restaurants in November last year, I never once imagined that by August this year I would've done over 18 events already! Although I've stuck to my plan of 1 public pop up a month, I've had so many requests for private catering gigs that I've been cooking most weekends for the last 6 weeks! I absolutely love it - but also have a full time job, so have been exhausting myself a bit recently!! I decided to have a break from public pop ups in August, although ended up catering a hen do and a baby shower last weekend anyway.

So with no more pop ups this month, my next date is Saturday 20th September. I'm teaming up with Urban Food Fortnight to put on a pop up using locally sourced produce. If you follow my pop ups you'll know that they are all about using sustainably produced, seasonal produce, sourced mostly from the West Country, where I grew up. However there's a different challenge with my September date, as all the ingredients I will be using will have been grown in and around London! Now this might not sound so appealing, but what I'm doing is teaming up with various allotment holders to use their lovely home grown fruit and vegetables, all of which are seasonal, and I am souring all of my meat and dairy from farms in Essex and Kent. It's an exciting challenge and one that's made me come up with a menu that I can't wait to cook...

The menu for 20th September is:

Fig and elderflower cocktail - made to order on arrival (non-alcoholic version if requested)
 
Grilled figs with chicory, apple, candied walnut and gorgonzola salad
 
Slow roast pork belly, fennel gratin, mustard creamy mash potato, buttered cabbage & rosemary and crab apple sauce, served with cider gravy
 
Raspberry mousse with shortbread biscuits
 
Cheeseboard with homemade chutney and rosemary and sea salt biscuits
 
Coffee or herbal tea with homemade chocolates
 
As always, dietary requirements can be catered for, so if you'd like to come but there's something  you can't eat or don't like on the menu, then just mention in the comments section when booking and I can email you alternatives to choose from.
 
Tickets for the pop up are £30 and include a welcome drink. It's bring your own booze on the evening so you can bring your preferred drinks with you. I provide soft drinks for those who want them. Tickets are available here - and have already started selling!

The pop up takes place at our lovely house in Acton - which is easily accessible on the Piccadilly line, or via the overground stations South Acton or Kew Bridge, which link to East and South London respectively.

If you're not quite convinced and want to see what other guests have said, you can read all my reviews here. And here's a couple of photos from my last events....

Walnut and cranberry bread for the starter:
 

Pea and broad bean mousse, with walnut, maple and thyme goat's cheese and a pea shoot and pea salad, served on THE most beautiful plates (which sadly aren't mine!):

 
Summer vegetable salad, piled high with everything that's good and ready in August - courgettes, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and lots more, dressed with a tahini and lemon sauce:
 

Guests in my garden and a selection of that evening's food, including a blueberry and summer fruit cake, that went down particularly well, served with salted caramel crème fraiche:


So far, I've met some of my lovely readers/fellow bloggers who've booked to come to my pop ups, and it's been so nice meeting you! I hope more of you can make it to one my events soon :)

On another note, I wanted to mention that my last public pop up was in aid of a really important charity called Hope for Tomorrow. We raised a whopping £250 on the night (!) which is being very generously match funded by my day job at River Island head office, so we can donate a total of £500 to the charity. I know this money will be put to really good use, as being a charity, Hope for Tomorrow need all the support they can get. Thank you to everyone who came and made the evening such a success - and lots of fun too.
 
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Monday

THE APPLE TREE - PATISSERIE IN ACTON!

I live in Acton. It's not the most happening place in the world, and the little strip of shops near where I live used to be made up of a few grotty corner shops, an electrics shop, a funeral parlour (!) and not much else. In the last year however we've had a mini Sainsburys open, as well as a really good fish and chip shop, and most recently a great pizza place that does small pizzas for a very reasonable £4 each. And then a few weeks ago I noticed something else had appeared - a tiny café called The Apple Tree. We popped in for a chat with the owners and to see what they were selling, and I was thrilled to find out that they sell fresh juices and patisserie cakes! I would've never thought we could get such nice cakes right at the top of our road, but now we can. I must've been in nearly 10 times since they opened as they are now my go to for cakes to take to parties, or just for a lazy pudding to have at home on the rare occasions I really crave something sweet.

The Apple Tree is run by a lovely husband and wife team, and the wife's mother makes most of the cakes at her local bakery. They sell a wide range of biscuits, tarts, cream cakes and slices, and also do sandwiches during the week. They've got good, proper coffee, fresh juices, and my favourite, a frozen lemonade which is like a fresh lemon slushy - perfect for the hot weather.

I picked up a few cakes for a friend's baby shower yesterday and they all got eaten, so that can only be a good sign! I snapped a few photos of some of what's on offer, but just with my iPhone so excuse the quality.

Crunchy buttery biscuits - think delicious homemade jammy dodgers:

 
Fruit tarts with crème patisserie - so good with all the summer fruits:

 
Coffee cake - gorgeous coffee flavoured cream, topped with broken biscuits and chocolate:

 
Layers of moist honey cake filled with cream:


And the selection I bought for yesterday's party (just a few!) - the chocolate mousse cups and the apple crumble slice were especially popular:


So if you're ever in Acton Town (!?) do go grab yourself some treats from The Apple Tree - they're right between the 2 tube station entrances. I know it's unlikely that anyone would be hanging out in Acton Town, but it is on the Piccadilly line back from Heathrow so you could always just jump off for cake!! Their opening hours are Mon to Fri 6am - 7pm / Sat 8am - 7pm / Sun 10am - 5pm.
 
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Friday

WOMAD FESTIVAL 2014

Last weekend I spent 3 fun-filled, sunny days in a field in the Cotswolds at WOMAD 2014 festival. I wasn't planning on blogging about it, so didn't pay too much attention to taking nice photos, but I loved it so much I just had to write about it here. I've collected photos off as many of my friends as possible so these are from all of our cameras and phones.

Normally I stick to one camping festival a year - the one I've totally fallen for - Boomtown. But this year it's the boy's mum's 70th that weekend meaning that I can only go for the Sunday. So to make up for it we had a look at other options and Womad seemed really appealing. Womad is a family festival for 40,000 people spread across beautiful Gloucestershire countryside, sprawling either side of the most amazing arboretum, which provided much needed shade over the weekend. We got the boy's brother and his lady to sign up, and my best friend and another friend and her 9 year old came too, as well as the boy's mum, who went with her friends.

We arrived on Thursday night and walked straight in with no queue. We picked a spot close enough to the main arena to camp, set up our canvas homes and cracked open the first of many weekend drinks before a quick wander round site to see what was happening (not much on Thursday night) so headed back to the tents for some rest before it really kicked off on Friday.


Womad was founded over 30 years ago and is all about world music, bringing artists over from Africa, the Far East, South America and closer to home. This meant it was an opportunity to see bands and musicians who I'd only heard through my iPod before. WOMAD means World of Music, Arts and Dance, and that's exactly what it is. Everywhere you looked there was a workshop to get involved in, whether it was laughter yoga, African dance, beatboxing or wooden spoon carving - which we really wanted to do but stupidly left til the last day when we found it was then fully booked.

We started Friday slowly with a bit of Calvin and Hobbs story time....


Then headed into the festival site for halloumi fried breakfast, and then danced and played for 12 hours solid - particular highlights being reggae from Clinton Fearon's and his band, and then later in the night Congo Natty getting everyone bouncing to his amazing set. The boys also squeezed in as many fairground rides as possible before we all collapsed in a heap back at the tents.


Saturday was another scorcher so we took things a little slower in order to cope with the heat! The lovely Lucinda Belle sent shivers down our spines with her jazz set in the afternoon - another artist I was so happy to get to see live for the first time.

Fat Freddy's Drop were one of the headliners on Saturday evening, but I stupidly left the tent they were playing in just before they came on and then couldn't get back in! The photos below were from a much less busy set in the same tent - and as you can see there such a brilliant mix of ages in attendance.



Saturday night was bliss - we wandered round the site at our own pace, catching bits of different music going in all sorts of weird and wonderful tents, and then finished off watching Clinton Fearon do an acoustic set, just him and his guitar at one in the morning - it was the musical equivalent of bedtime stories with David Attenborough!

Sunday was of course a slower day! We only had a couple of acts on our definite list, who weren't on til later so we took the time to take in more of the sights, sounds and tastes of the festival. We had heard that the food at Womad was meant to be amazing, which it was. My particular favourite was a Lebanese stall serving roast beef that had been slow cooked on shelves about hot coals over the festival days.


The beef was served up with delicious, fresh salads, homemade hummus and loads of meze bits, which was just what my slightly hungover body really needed at that point! You could eat your way round the world at Womad, with the food stalls covering pretty much every cuisine you can imagine!

The last 2 acts we saw on Sunday were 2 of my favourites from the whole weekend. First up was Fatoumata Diawara, a singer with the most gorgeous voice from Mali, who has recently paired up with Roberto Fonseca, a mind blowing Cuban pianist, and together their music is extraordinary. I may have shed a few tears during their set! Finally it was on to see Alice Russell, whose music I've loved for years but who I'd never seen live. She was brilliant, and is not only a great singer and performer, but also full of absolutely hilarious anecdotes between her tracks - a must see if you can.

WOMAD completely won me over and I can't wait to go back. I was worried I wouldn't like as much as other festivals as I'm so used to going to festivals where I know most people on the line up, but this was just brilliant all round. Thanks for having us WOMAD, and roll on 2015!!!!




 
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