15.9.17

CLIMBING KILIMANJARO

If you follow my blog then you may be aware there hasn't been much to follow recently.... starting a new job, getting a dog, lots of summer pop ups and catering gigs and deciding to climb the highest free standing mountain in the world are all excuses I can throw into the mix. But I'm back. With a big one! And lots more to follow so keep reading over the next few weeks for new restaurant reviews, trips to Italy with Riso Gallo, Cotes du Rhone fueled evenings and more. But today's post is all about the mountain...

In August last year Lucy and I volunteered to help some friends with a pop up they were doing to raise money for a small charity called Trekstock, who support people in their 20s and 30s who have or have had cancer. Off we headed to Palm 2 in Clapton to spend the day cooking and making cocktails for 60 guests. On the night of the event we met the CEO of Trekstock, and after a couple of glasses of wine (the beginnings of all good decisions) we'd signed up to the 2017 Kilimanjaro challenge. And that was that. A year later, after a mega fundraising effort which included 5am car boot sales, our own huge Hot X BBQ pop up we put on with Hardeep Singh Kohli and Neil Rankin for 60 people on Easter Friday (which we raised £3.5k from alone), and donations from many generous family and friends, the departure date rolled around and off to Tanzania we went. The trip was organized by Trekstock through 360 Expeditions who ran the actual trek itself and arranged everything from the minute we landed at Kilimanjaro airport. Before we left we'd had all the information we needed with regards equipment, training prep and medical requirements. Everything was covered and all our questions answered. So we were good to go.



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17.8.17

FREAK SCENE, FARRINGDON

I've been a fan of Scott Hallsworth for a while. The Marble Arch branch of Kurobuta, where he used to be in charge, isn't far from my flat and I've been there to enjoy their wacky take on fusion food several times. So I was very happy to hear that his new venture, Freak Scene, was due to open less than five minutes walk from my office. I popped in last week for a quick lunch to try a couple of dishes and will definitely be going back while it's there. Freak Scene is just behind Fabric in Farringdon for the next couple of months, serving up "curious Asian plates" like the chilli crab and avocado wonton bombs I started off with. Clean, fresh, punchy flavours of soft crab and avocado in a crispy deep fried wonton wrapper. 


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8.8.17

CHICK'N, BAKER STREET

Chick n Sours, in Covent Garden (and originally Stoke Newington) is hands down my favourite place to go for fried chicken in London. Top quality meat from free range, happy chickens is juicy and crunchy and doused in spicy, tangy vinegar based sauces, and served with pickles and watermelon and smacked cucumbers. Heaven. So imagine my joy to find out that the geniuses behind Chick n Sours, Carl and David, had a new trick up their a sleeves. A fast food joint, serving burgers, wings, chips doused in melty cheese, spicy slaws, lettuce covered in blue cheese and all the other delicious bits and bobs, a mere 10 minutes bus ride from my flat..... uh oh! 

Chik'n is just as I said - fast food, but the very best version of fast food you can possibly imagine. Higher welfare chicken is fried in rapeseed oil (no trans fat and lots of Omega 3 = as healthy as you can get when it comes to deep frying), which is all recycled after being used for frying. In fact, the whole restaurant is run super responsibly, with staff on proper wages, care of duty when sourcing ingredients and getting rid of rubbish, and prices start at £4.95 for the straight up chicken burger (which comes with lettuce, buttermilk and herb mayo, and pickles). And I can't be the only one who thinks these are all good things - there's been a queue pouring out the door every time I've gone past, but the queue moves quickly, so don't let that put you off!

Over a couple of visits I've now worked my way through the majority of the menu. The Chik'n Tiki Sandwich, with hot sauce, buttermilk mayo, pineapple, bacon and cheese is amazing. It's all the things a chicken burger should be - so juicy and zingy, with good crunch and all held together by a burger that stands up to its contents. Then there are the burger options with some or various of the components of the Tiki, plus extras, my favourite being the Chik'n Hot - Sriracha sour cream, lettuce and spicy slaw.


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24.7.17

NIFE IS LIFE

Nife is Life got in touch with me recently and asked if they could send me some produce from their online Italian deli. After a quick peruse of their site I was keen to try out some of their goodies so when a big box of meats, cheeses, fresh Italian tomatoes and other delicacies arrived the next day I got stuck straight in.

Having raided my mum's veg patch that weekend, the first thing I made was a huge bag of spinach, walnut and pecorino "pesto". Using this as my base I did a "pesto" pasta topped with a huge creamy burrata on night one, then a spelt base pizza with "pesto", fresh mozzarella and Italian tomatoes on night two. Recipes below....

SPINACH PESTO
Large bag of spinach leaves - I used the long leaf spinach from mum's garden but any spinach will do!
Small handful of walnuts
Small handful of grated pecorino
Big glug of really good olive oil
Pepper

Put all the ingredients in a blender and whizz together. Taste and add more pecorino and pepper as needed, and add enough oil so that you get a good pesto like consistency. When it's to your liking pop into a jar, add a layer of oil and it will keep for a week or so in the fridge.

For the pasta, I cooked up some penne, stirred it in with the pesto and a bit of the cooking water, then topped it with torn up, creamy as you get burrata.


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29.6.17

WESTERNS LAUNDRY, HIGHBURY

I'm pretty spoilt when it comes to eating out. I get invited to review lots of lovely, and some not so lovely places, and I book myself in to the newest openings to check them out as soon as I can get into them. So, it takes a lot to impress me. There are restaurants I like and appreciate and am glad I've been to but probably wouldn't go to again, and then there are places like Westerns Laundry, where before I've even left on my first visit I'm plotting my next one and lamenting the fact that it's not in West London where I live.

Westerns Laundry also snuck up on me. I hadn't heard of it, I hadn't heard anything about it until I read Grace Dent's review of it in ES Magazine two weeks ago. I booked a table for the first evening that Lucy and I were free and headed there last night for a feast of epic proportions. The only problem we really had being what to choose from the menu! The menu changes daily and features sharing plates of seasonal goodies - lots of shellfish, but also delicate fish dishes and more hearty meat ones. We gave it a pretty good go!


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28.6.17

AEG MASTERY RANGE

Having been running pop ups in venues all over London and further afield, for over three years, I like to think I've got the hang of ovens - I've used many, many different brands, types and styles of oven and however good they are and well they work I didn't think I could be truly impressed by a new oven. Until I went to see AEG's new Mastery Range at Grand Designs Live, and again at Taste of London. The new ovens that AEG have designed are like a new a sports car - one that's meant for F1 but has slipped through into the commercial market and is ready to be used in your kitchen today. They are SO exciting!

I've now had the chance to see the ovens in action twice. First off was under the guide of Jozef Youssef at Grand DesignsLive where I learnt all about the sous vide function of the ProCombi Plus steam ovens. AEG have created an oven where you can cook meat, fish and vegetables in vacuum sealed bags to give a perfect cooking result every time, whilst retaining all the flavor of the food. With to the 0.5 degree accurate temperature, you can vacuum seal your food with whatever herbs, sauce or flavours you want, pop it in the oven and it will come out exactly the same every time - delicious! Not only great for cooking, the vacuum drawer, which is part of the Mastery Range, is also brilliant for preserving foods. By vacu-packing fresh food, you can majorly extend the fridge life of herbs, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy, as by removing the oxygen it takes longer for food to go bad. Jozef rustled up some super tasty and zesty octopus salads, having cooked the tentacles sous vide, followed by bao buns (cooked with the steam function) stuffed with rich, melt in the mouth pork that had also been cooked sous vide. You really can cook anything sous vide, meaning you can create restaurant worthy dishes at home - look out for lots of sous vide cooked foods on my pop up menus soon! And did I mention they do a self cleaning range?! Yup, no more harsh chemicals, overnight soaking and scrubbing.  

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30.5.17

DEAD DOLL'S HOUSE, ISLINGTON


Summer seems to be finally eeking its way to London and what better way to celebrate than with a Bacchanalian feast. According to Google Bacchanalian means characterized or given to drunken revelry which seems an apt way to celebrate this heatwave/the summer. So The Dead Dolls House on Upper Street are putting on a Bacchanalian Feast every first Thursday of the month. And drunken revelry or not, it's definitely worth a visit for the food alone. The venue is beautiful too - black and white chevron tablecloths made stunning by the simple yet plentiful strings of fairy lights.

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11.5.17

SISU ROOFTOP, MARBLE ARCH

The so called start of summer sees rooftop venues spring up across London. And typically, the same week they all open, British weather decides it's not playing ball and what feels like winter returns. But anyone who's lived here for longer than about a week knows that's how it goes, and is/should be prepared for all eventualities! And luckily, the people behind the best rooftops are prepared too, especially at Sisu on Oxford Street, where I headed on a wild and windy night last week. Perched on top of the rooftops near Marble Arch, Sisu is a gorgeous space, complete with its own hut, and a marquee tent to keep the bad weather out. 

Another reason Sisu are winning at the rooftop game is their cocktail offering. There are fruity, punchy, jam jar cocktail options galore, including my favourite, the Super Size Ohio - made with Bulldog gin, maraschino, grapefruit juice and bitter lemon. Oh, and they have a coin operated Negroni and Old Fashioned machine....!


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9.5.17

BRUNCH at ROUX AT THE LANDAU

Sunday brunch is the epitome of a happy, lazy weekend. Because I work full time and run pop up restaurants, it's often the case that I work 6+ days a week, so Sunday becomes my only day off. Therefore, what I do on and who I spend my Sunday with is even more important. So a late brunch (basically a late lunch) with my man, at one of my favourite chefs' restaurants is a pretty good way to celebrate Sunday. On the hottest day of the year so far we headed over to Roux at the Landau to sample their "Farmhouse Sunday Brunch" - a feast of epic proportions that is as delicious as it is generous. The whole restaurant is transformed, with huge buffets of colourful starters and puddings, and a guitarist playing and singing throughout the meal.

After being shown to our seats by the ever so attentive, and plentiful, staff, and being offered a choice of bubbles or Bloody Mary (both choosing the latter), we were invited to help ourselves to starters. These included beetroot "remoulade" with egg mimosa and watercress, Cornish oysters "mignonette", whisky cured salmon, pate en croute, charcuterie, Jersey Royal potato salad, green bean and smoked duck salad, black quinoa and caper salad, and octopus carpaccio. We picked our favourites from the selection and devoured plates stacked high with salads, meats and salmon. My personal favourite was the beetroot, and the French bean and smoked duck, though it was all excellent. 



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5.5.17

SUMMERS, KILBURN

It's hard not to sound biased sometimes when I write about restaurants, cos a lot of the ones I go to and love, are run by friends of mine. But that's never what sways me. What makes me love any restaurant is the food. That's why I go. To eat good food. Sure, the service and ambiance and drinks list all add to it, but ultimately, for me, it is always about the food. Which is why I've totally fallen for Summers. Yes, it's run by a mate, and yes, I got invited to try the food for free, but do you know what, I'll be going back and paying my hard earned money to eat there over and over again.

Summers is a dining room above the Sir Colin Campbell pub on Kilburn High Road. It's not the most glamorous location, and possibly not the easiest to get to, depending on where you're coming from, but you should make the journey and go. The "shabby, not quite chic, in the best possible way" dining room holds 20 covers. The menu of small to large plates changes daily, showcasing the best of the British produce available, and the wine list offers easily priced bottles at £25, £35, £45 and £55. And they make a mean negroni.

We picked a few bits off the menu, but could've worked our way through the whole thing had we been there with another couple to help share the load! Ox tongue, chicory and watercress was mustardy and rich and tangy. I know so many would steer clear of tongue but done as well as it is at Summers, it's absolutely worth ordering.



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26.4.17

LONG LISBON WEEKEND

Every year I try and visit at least one new European city/country, as well as others I've already been to and fallen in love with. Last year was my first time in Menorca, and earlier in Spring Lucy and I headed to Lisbon for a wonderful long weekend. I totally fell for the beautiful, friendly, warm and happy capital city of Portugal. We ate like queens, saw the sights, got to the beach and came back full of happy memories. As normal, lots of research happened before and during our trip to seek out the best places to eat, drink and party so I wanted to share some of the gems we found here. 

After landing late on Thursday evening and heading straight to the hotel, we were up bright and early on Friday for a morning of walking and exploring. Lisbon is called the city of seven hills and I think we tackled most of those that morning before our well earned lunch at Taberna da Rua das Flores. I'd heard lots of good things and we weren't disappointed. This cute little restaurant is in the centre of Lisbon and has a "basic", daily changing lunch menu that's chalked up on a blackboard in Portuguese, and a longer tasting menu in the evenings. After a run down of what the menu consisted of we kicked things off with queso fresco and a salty, spicy pepper sauce. The lovely proprietress had gone through all the dishes in detail and had given very accurate descriptions of what was on that day's menu. We mopped up the soft, sharp cheese and actually really salty but very delicious pepper sauce with typical Portuguese dense bread that the restaurant bought in from the village where the bread originates. 




Lucy had a salt fish and chickpea salad for mains while I went for thinly sliced and lightly fried fillets of fish (not sure which - it's one that comes to breed in the waters near the city in spring) with a side of breadcrumbs, garlic, white wine, more garlic and a raw egg yolk. Unlike anything I'd tried before or would normally order, but SO good. We loved the relaxed and local vibe at Taberna da Rua das Flores and our bill was ridiculously cheap, at around 18 euros each, including wine.


At the other end of the spectrum is Mini Bar which is one of several restaurants in Lisbon from Jose Allivez, who is ex El Bulli and known as one of the city's top chefs. Mini Bar has a tapas type menu and we went for the set menu at 39euros a head. We had the same El Bulli "olives" we'd had in Barcelona at Bodega 1900, "Ferrero Rocher" made with pate and gold leaf, oxtail with parmesan and truffles and a whole host of other nibbles and delights. Mini Bar is fun and lively and serves excellent food. Definitely book and go if you can!





Another place we loved was A Cevicheria. We were told to head there for pisco sours and ceviche, so didn't take much convincing. It's a light, bright restaurant, with a curved sit up bar and a huge octopus sculpture dominating the room. You can go for pisco sours al fresco that they serve straight out of the front of the restaurant so you don't need to go in for your fix! We nabbed one of the last available tables so we could sample their ceviches as well as their pisco sours. Both are worth going for, though if you're not a tapioca fan (neither of us are, but we'd missed it on the menu when we ordered) then maybe avoid the green gazpacho with TAPIOCA and mackerel! Such a shame as the soup it was in was delicious, but it was all a bit too frogspawny. 




What was enjoyable were the ceviches. We had "ceviche puro" - white fish, sweet potato puree, onion, tiger's milk and seaweed, that was probably the best ceviche I've ever had. Perfectly balanced flavours and quantities, we were practically licking the bowl clean. 




And tuna ceviche, with grated foie gras, beetroot tiger's milk, lychee and hazelnuts. Such an odd sounding combination on paper, but it worked so well. The foie gras got a little lost but the juicy lychee and earthiness from the beetroot were really good with the meaty tuna and tangy tiger's milk.





From modern back to traditional and a day at the beach. We jumped on a train to Cascais (four euros and forty minutes) and followed our noses (instagram searches) to a little restaurant at the top of the town called Restaurante Apeadeiro where, before we could even sit down, we were led over to the fresh fish selection and asked to choose our lunch. Having pointed at a large sea bass and ordered a starter of "prawns" to share we settled down with a carafe of 4 euro light pink wine and had the kind of Sunday lunch I wish I could eat every Sunday, especially when it's followed by a nap on the beach and a (very brief) dip in the sea.







EVERYONE we spoke to told us about the Time Out Market so we gave that a go too. About 40 different food stalls line the walls of a huge old warehouse down by the riverfront. It was buzzing in there both times we went so was a fun place to hang out. We had the obligatory custard tarts from there on day one - though if you want the real deal go to Pasteis de Belem, wait out the queue and get rewarded with the flakiest, custardy bites of deliciousness you can imagine. Returning to the Time Out Market after a failed attempt at eating at Pistolas y Corazon (apparently you need to get there at 7pm, but we were busy having dinner number one at A Cevicheria then) we had a couple of dishes - a very good pork belly and pak choi dish, and a less good, slightly bland and rubbery squid dish - probably the only dud of our whole trip. There's so much choice there though, so follow your nose, and the biggest queues.








Our last meal in Lisbon was utterly bizarre and wonderful all at the same time. I'd googled "best fish restaurant Lisbon" and had come across somewhere called Ultimo Porto. We were heading back into town from the Belem custard tart mission and this recommendation seemed to be en route back to our hotel, so we decided to give it a whirl. After a terrifying uber ride to the port from Belem, which involved mounting a curb and several u-turns, the driver dropped us off in the middle of a shipping yard, shrugged at us and drove off. Slightly hesitantly we followed the map, turned the corner of a big industrial building and saw several plastic chairs and tables caged in by huge metal fences topped with barbed wire spirals. Hungry and with no local alternatives for lunch we chose a table and waited to be served, while we watched trays of raw meat and fish being brought out to the huge BBQ next to us. We were the only tourists there, surrounded by Portuguese men in suits having business meetings.... We ended up with a swordfish steak, and another fish steak - no idea what! But both were divine. Smokey from the BBQ and cooked to perfection we couldn't really believe how good the food was and how random the location! It's only open during the week for lunch, but definitely worth going to, especially if you're heading back in from/out to Belem.





Lisbon stole my heart and I can't wait to go back - it's so affordable, easy to get to and to get around, and has everything I ever want from a European city break.


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20.4.17

GOODE AND WRIGHT, PORTOBELLO

As a fan of eating out, there's nothing better than finding a gem of a restaurant on your doorstep. I've passed Goode and Wright so many times, thinking that I should check it out, and finally did with Emily a couple of weeks ago when she invited to review it, much to our delight. G&W is a French inspired bistro/wine bar serving excellent food, and really good, great value cocktails (starting at £6.50). The room is wood paneled and narrow, and perfect for whiling away the hours over sharing plates of delicious food and drinks with friends.

The food menu at Goode and Wright is pretty much my idea of heaven. Split into nibbles, veg, fish and meat we chose a couple of dishes from each section, starting with ceviche, tiger's milk and grapefruit. I don't think I'll ever get bored of ceviche, especially when it's this good. I've tried so many different combinations, but it's the citrus that always comes out on top for me. 


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