27.4.15

SMOKEHOUSE, CHISWICK

Chiswick's got a new star!

It seems West London is finally coming into its own as far as good food is concerned. Slowly, restaurants are starting to open that aren't part of a huge high street chain and it's all very exciting. Neil Rankin is the latest chef to take anchor in W4 with his 2nd Smokehouse restaurant - the original is in Islington, and was the UK's first real wood BBQ restaurant. Smokehouse Chiswick has taken residency in the old pub, The Hole in the Wall, which has been transformed into a gorgeous restaurant, with dark walls, benches and cosy seats, whilst retaining a true pub feel with a long bar stretching round into the whisky room.

 
We visited a couple of weeks after they opened and the place was really busy. The menu centres around BBQ-d food, with a hint of spice in most dishes. We started the evening with the Smokehouse Summer Cup - a fruity punch cocktail - for me, and a Camden Pils lager for the boy. The beer offering at Smokehouse is plentiful and varied and will be something that tempts us back there time and time again.
 
For food I started with Somerset goat tacos, served with chipotle and green salsa. I had high expectations having read wondrous things about these, and my expectations were met. Soft, falling-apart goat meat on a picante, red-with-chilli chipotle mayo topped with a tangy green salsa. A starter portion is 2 of these tacos but I honestly could've eaten many more. They're juicy and so full of flavour.

 
The boy had the burnt leeks, Portobello, truffle oil, parmesan and Cackleberry Farm egg - a dish of pure decadence. Rich and heady it was a delight to eat, with the runny yolk providing a sauce to bring the whole dish together. Rankin is extremely proud of the produce he uses in the restaurant and you can really taste the quality of each element.
 
 
Other starters include foie gras apple pie with egg; deep fried rock oyster, beef dripping toast and smoked bone marrow, and many more mouth watering dishes that I had a lot of trouble choosing between.
 
For our main course I had the delicious smoked Elwy Valley lamb shoulder, polenta, raclette and sambal. An excellent combination of tender, flavoursome meat, melted cheese, and spicy sambal. Again, I can't fault this dish, and am still dreaming about it now.
 
 
The boy had the Smokehouse burger made with Highland beef and topped with cheese. A really good burger, though I feel that other dishes on the mains menu may trump this - think ham hock and pigs cheek "sphere" with squid romesco or shortrib bourguignon, creamy mash, bacon and Essex Portobello mushrooms - but the boy's chilli allergy did limit his choices somewhat. The restaurant have assured us that they'll work around his chilli allergy next time we're back so he can try some of the more exciting choices.
 
We went to the Smokehouse mid week and it was busy. Every table in the restaurant was full while the bar was buzzing - a mixture of locals with their dogs, chaps drinking beer and couples cuddled up on the smaller tables.
 
Smokehouse is exactly what Chiswick needed, and is sure to be a huge success. It's an affordable, excellent pub serving top notch food. With starters ranging from £6-10 and mains £13 upwards it's not going to break the bank, even if I do go weekly! I'm already looking forward to many evenings, weekends and late mornings (they serve brunch) spent there, slowly working my way through the menu.
 
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24.4.15

CHELONE WOLF @ HOUSE OF VANS

I love it when we get the chance to marvel at our friends' creativity. We've got a lot of really talented friends - DJs, actors, musicians, chefs, artists and photographers, so when we get an invite to see their work we're there like a shot. Last night it was Chelone's photography exhibition - The View - that we went to, which is on all weekend at one of the coolest spaces I've come across in London, House of Vans, near Waterloo.

House of Vans is a huge space run by the Vans brand. As they say on their website, they're "always embracing and fuelling creative expression through art, music, skateboarding, BMX, street culture and fashion; the space offers a solid platform for the local communities to experience and engage with Vans’ ‘Off The Wall’ spirit. With creative expression at the forefront; The House of Vans London is showcasing an art gallery, a VansLab artist incubator space, cinema, live music venue, premium cafĂ© and bars, gifting suite and skater built and designed concrete bowl, mini ramp and street course". It really is the most incredible space and one you should definitely check out. They're open until 10pm this evening, then from 10am - 10pm tomorrow (Saturday) and 12pm - 6pm on Sunday.
  

 


Chelone was exhibiting photographs he's taken of musicians and people - portraits that completely capture the mood of the subject, creating images that you can't tear your eyes away from. Primarily shot in black and white his images have so much depth to them. I don't think I can really say it better than the man himself, who says he takes photographs to provide "lasting, emotional memories in our increasingly disposable world".





Most of the photographs in the exhibition are available for purchase - contact Chelone direct for further details, or if you're interested in booking him as a photographer.
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23.4.15

INTERVIEW with OLLY BIRD

I met chef Olly Bird a couple of months ago when I popped in to try out Rex and Mariano - the newest restaurant from the Goodman Group, and in my opinion, the best place to get fish and seafood in London at the moment. Olly is Executive Chef of the Goodman Group (Goodman steakhouses, Burger and Lobster, Rex and Mariano, Beast) and was working closely with their latest venture to make sure everything was running smoothly - which it was! I was sitting on my own up at the oyster bar and Olly patiently answered all my many questions (not the ones below) as he shucked massive, fresh oysters for me and the other diners. Cool, calm and collected Olly was in complete control of the hectic looking, open kitchens at the restaurant. He kindly gave me his card so I could get in touch with my "proper" interview questions, and came back with the below answers.

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

This is a hard question as every head chef I have worked under has always inspired me to push on more in my career, but the main two have to be Mark Sargent for the way he makes cooking look so smooth and easy and John Cadieux for his depth in knowledge and passion - I can still remember rocking up to Goodman Maddox Street and being blown away by what he knew about beef. 

2. What is the first thing you remember cooking?


Apart from baking on Sundays with my mum, I remember cooking pears poached in red wine, as well as cooking on the vegetable section. But after progressing off the side section I remember being allowed to cook salmon with a beurre blanc sauce which at the time was a massive achievement for me.

3. What is your favourite restaurant in London (excluding any you work for!)?


The Ledbury. 

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


Food mixer, as I love making desserts and bread (I love my food mixer too - it saves so much time in my kitchen and I use it for desserts and bread, but also chopping, grating, sauces...)

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


Nutella as I have an addiction to it. But that aside it’s salt, foie gras and butter. (Such an expected answer!! Nutella...!?)

6. What's your newest ingredient discovery?


Fermented yellow beans, not so much a new discovery but I have been recently cooking some Asian style dishes so have been working with this product for the first time.

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

I would probably say gluten is the hardest as you have it in so many products around you in the kitchen.

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

To remember that when you walk into the kitchen you won't be a superstar like the chefs you see on television, and that it's not as easy as it looks, so if it's something that you really want to do as a career then get ready for the long hours, heat and hard work. Keep your head down and learn as much as you can. And never answer back!! (This is something that most chefs I've interviewed have said - it is hard, hard work - even from my infrequent and small pop ups I know how much hard work it is!)

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

I think supper clubs are great fun and a good opportunity to meet new people, I have been to Burger Monday and we cooked the Goodman burger there a few years back.

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!)
I’m executive chef for Goodman, Beast and Rex and Mariano so I end up floating around all the sites, but most of my time at the moment is spent between Beast and Rex and Mariano as these are our newest openings so far. As soon as we have any exciting news I will let you all know! 


Again, such fascinating answers, thank you so Olly. I'm really enjoying running this series of chef interviews, and I hope you are too. You can check out previous editions with Michel Roux Jr, Carl Clarke, and Matt Burgess.
 
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21.4.15

SPANISH PORK TASTING w INTERPORC

I'm a fan of foods from all over the world. I love Japanese food, French influenced food finds its way in to lots of my cooking, I adore the flavours of North Africa and I definitely couldn't go without Italian food... but one of my absolute favourites is Spanish food. I was lucky enough to live in Seville for a while where they have, in my opinion, some of the best tapas in Spain. So when Interporc, Spain's biggest white pork exporter, invited me to a night of tasting and teaching at La Iberica in Marylebone I couldn't refuse.

The evening started with drinks. We were offered red or white sangria - I chose white, which is made with cava instead of red wine and is a revelation - fruity and strong but not heavy from red wine, I'll be drinking a lot of this this Summer. In fact, we sought some out in Portugal last week and enjoyed it in the blazing sunshine on the beach in between body boarding dips in the sea - bliss!!
 

  
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16.4.15

PURE TASTE, WESTBOURNE GROVE

Pure Taste restaurant in Westbourne Grove in one of a kind. Opened at the end of last year Pure Taste is the first restaurant that serves food in line with the Palaeolithic diet - a diet that follows the ideals of our hunter-gatherer ancestors' eating habits, focusing on "real" foods such as meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, eggs and vegetables rather than grains, dairy and artificial, refined and processed food. Pure Taste serves food that nearly everyone can eat and covers not only the Paleo based diet, but gluten free, dairy free, low FODMAP, Weston A Price Foundation Diet (WAP), Advanced SCD/GAPS Diets, low carbohydrate diets, and vegetarian and vegan diets. Each dish on the menu at Pure Taste is marked in accordance with the diet it suits, so whatever your food intolerance you can find lots of dishes you can eat there.

I visited Pure Taste for a press night where we were served various dishes from their menu to try, and was really impressed with how tasty and interesting the dishes were, even though I don't have any food intolerances myself. I'll talk you through the dishes we sampled.

We started the meal with a parsley and wild garlic soup served with a chicken heart. Funnily enough I'd served chicken hearts at my pop up the weekend before, and was already a fan of this offal, but the lady sitting next to me had never tried them. Though hesitant at first, she braved it out and really enjoyed the heart. The soup was full of the flavours of spring and tasted like health in a shot glass!


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15.4.15

VITA COCO CAFE #LESSBREWINGMOREDOING

Lots of people think I'm strange - for as long as I can remember I've drunk my coffee cold. Double espresso either left on my desk for half an hour until it's chilled down, or even better, poured over a glass of ice after adding a little sugar and sometimes a splash of cream. I don't like hot drinks - I don't even drink tea, which again, is something people can't get their heads round! Another of my favourite drinks is coconut water. I love it.... Not only is it delicious, it's an excellent hangover cure (especially followed by a cold coffee!) as it contains natural versions of the healing and hydrating electrolytes calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and more potassium than a banana - all of which are found in their unnatural form in many "hangover cure" drinks, such as Gatorade and Lucozade - it doesn't contain refined sugars or additives, and it has lots of vitamin C - all of which also contribute to its excellent health benefits. I love making smoothies with coconut water as the liquid base - my current favourite being a handful of spinach, a teaspoon of moringa powder, a few frozen berries, quarter of a cucumber and coconut water to top up. Coconut water really is an amazing drink.

Vita Coco make millions of litres of coconut water every year. The young coconuts are picked and cracked at source, in South America, then cleaned and the "water" taken out of them and flash pasteurised. From tree to carton is less than 3 days.

Vita Coco make various flavoured coconut waters, where natural fruit pulp (lemon, orange, pineapple or peach and mango) is added to the water and they also do coffee versions of my favourite coconut drink, where coconut water is mixed with espresso, a little reduced fat milk and evaporated cane juice for a little added sweetness. Served cold over ice, this is the most refreshing drink and one I can't get enough of. It's sweet enough but strong with coffee, and there's also a mocha flavour that's got a touch of cocoa added and tastes exactly like chocolate milkshake!

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10.4.15

WIN FOOD & DRINKS AT MABEL'S

I'm spoiling you guys - I've got another competition for you - this time to win food and drinks for 4 people at the lovely, brand new Mabel's in Covent Garden. Open less than a week, I popped down to check it out and make sure I liked it enough to give away this amazing prize. And how could I resist anyway - my Mum's old dog was called Mabel - it was meant to be!!

Mabel's is on Maiden Lane, just south of the Covent Garden piazza. It's away from the crowds, and a is huge space incorporating 2 bars, a massive restaurant area and a dance floor and more seating downstairs. They serve wonderful cocktails; brunches - think avocado on toast, granola, eggs benedict or a full English washed down with a Bloody Mabel - their take on the Bloody Mary using their own spice mix; all day food including mouth-watering sounding sandwiches - Ogleshield cheese, roasted mushroom and salami tartufo sourdough grilled toastie; summery salads such as butter lettuce, almond, pear, cherry tomato and oxford blue cheese; and a full menu of starters, mains and puddings.

We had a wonderful meal there and I'm so happy that one of you can win a meal there too. Despite going to Mabel's on a Tuesday post-bank holiday it was busy and lively, filled with cocktail drinks and eaters. We sat towards the back of the restaurant area so had the full view over the venue and out on to Maiden Lane. We started with cocktails - a mojito for the boy which was punchy and not too sweet (I hate mojitos that are mainly sugar) and The Mabel for me (because how could I not!) The Mabel is a champagne cocktail made with St Germain elderflower liqueur shaken with mint & peach bitters before being topped with Heidsieck Monopole Champagne. So easy to drink and super refreshing.


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6.4.15

A LITTLE LUSCIOUSNESS - SAT 25th APRIL

My next pop up supper club is on Saturday 25th April and tickets are selling fast so I wanted to let you know about it before it sells out, in case any of you want to come! As usual, my pop up on Saturday 25th April will take place at our house in Acton Town where I'll be serving up a Spring-inspired 4 course feast for up to 20 people. I've got some lovely sponsors on board as well, so if you do come, you're in for a treat. Here's the menu I'm serving on the night - I am SO excited about the wonderful seasonal ingredients that are becoming available round this time of year.
 
Sparkly welcome cocktail made using The Duppy Share rum
 
Crab, pea and asparagus risotto bon bon; asparagus; pickled cucumber; homemade mayonnaise; crusty white bread
 
Lamb chump chop; chargrilled spring onions; butternut squash & goat's curd; Jersey royals; wild garlic & lovage salsa verde
 
Whisky chocolate slice with rhubarb semifreddo
 
Cheeseboard, salted crackers, tomato chutney
 
Jasmine or chamomile flower teapigs teas, coffee & homemade chocolates
 
As always, the menu is flexible. If you want to come along but don't like something there's a comments section when booking, so just let me know what it is you can't/don't eat and I will cook an alternative for you. It's bring your own booze on the evening and tickets cost £35.
 
I was lucky enough to have a professional photographer come and take some snaps of my last event, so wanted to share these with you too.

Chicken and duck live pate, madeira jelly and raisin glazed chicken hearts:

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4.4.15

ZOE'S GHANA KITCHEN @ THE KING & CO

I recently popped down to Clapham to try out some food I’ve never eaten before. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen is what it says – Ghanaian food served in sharing style platters. Though I’ve eaten lots of different African food before I was yet to try any from Ghana, so arrived hungry and excited.

Tuesday’s dinner was at 409 – a small restaurant situated above The Clapham North pub. The dinner was a test run for Zoe’s residency at The King and Co in Clapham from 1st April to 31st May this year.
We started with the turmeric and thyme cassava patties and chilli and ginger okra tempura. Both were scrumptious. I love okra so that was always going to be a winner for me, and in its light batter it was delicious. But what really won me over was the chilli prawn sauce. Dark red and fiery looking it tasted so good, and was the perfect accompaniment to both the patties and the okra.

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2.4.15

PEAR, GINGER & THYME TARTE TATIN

Good baking requires 2 things - patience and precision. If you patiently follow the recipe, step by step, and measure and time with precision, you can't go wrong. Which is why Heston Blumenthal's latest cooking range with Salter is all about precision. He's developed a range of gadgets including dual platform scales, spatulas, an adjustable rolling pin, balloon whisk and measuring spoons. They're all great kitchen utensils and each has a USP of its own. The spatulas are double ended, the whisk is steadfast, the measuring spoons are super useful, the rolling pin has guides at each end so you can roll to specific thicknesses and the scales measure from 0.1g to 10kg! My brother and his wife bought me a beautiful baking cookbook called Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller that requires measurements of weight in decimal places so I can see the scales being very useful for making those recipes.


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31.3.15

THE GALLERY, FORTNUM & MASON

A few weeks ago I met up with the community manager of food review site Zomato to talk all things food, pop ups and blogs. This was followed with them sending me a voucher for food at Fortnum and Mason, and having never actually eaten at the restaurant there, I took them up on the offer.

The Gallery is situated at the back of the ground floor of Fortnum and Mason. I booked for Mother's Day and invited a girlfriend to join me. We both love Fortnums so were interested to find out more about their food. Fortnum and Mason has the most wonderful food hall serving all sorts of sweet, savoury and alcoholic treats, so expectations for lunch were high.

Being Mother's Day it was super busy in the restaurant but despite a small queue of waiting diners forming, they whisked me through to the table while I waited for Julie to peel herself away from the shopping delights of another floor of the department store and join me, which she did very soon after I was seated. The restaurant was serving the normal menu, plus a fixed Mother's Day menu that was £25.50 for 2 courses, or £29.50 for 3. This menu was made up of 3 options per course and included the dishes we already had our eye on, so we went for that. We both chose the same for starter and main.

For starters we couldn't resist the Fortnum and Mason smoked salmon, served with homemade soda bread and a herby sauce. The salmon was some of the best I've tried - delicious without being too oily and cut to a perfect thickness - I find smoked salmon can be cut too thin sometimes and you can barely taste it. The herbs complimented the smoked fish wonderfully and our glass of Chablis was ideal to drink with the starter.

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26.3.15

WIN DINNER & DRINKS AT BURY COURT

I've got a real treat for you today.... Earlier this week I popped down to the newly refurbished Balls Brothers venue - Bury Court, next to Liverpool Street, to sample their new food and cocktail menu, and they've very kindly given me a meal and drinks for 4 people to win on my blog - just enter below using the Rafflecopter widget. You can gain up to 3 entries by following the instructions below. Let me tempt you by telling you about our visit there and the delicious cocktails and food we tried.

Bury Court is right at the foot of The Gherkin building in The City. Despite its location there was quite a mix of people in there when we went on a Tuesday evening - not just the suits you'd expect, but groups of girls drinking cocktails, couples and mates out for a bite to eat. Bury Court has a great cocktail menu so we were convinced to try a few of these. I didn't know until now that Balls Brothers was born in the 19th century and started life as the Old George Public House on Bethnal Green Road, not far from the Bury Court site. They became renowned for the quality of port, brandy and sherry they served and the business grew into speciality booze shops that were known for their top quality produce. It's with this in mind that the new cocktail menu was created. If you really want, you can have a mojito or a Bloody Mary at Bury Court, but it was these old fashioned cocktails inspired by the spirits that The Balls Brothers built their empire on that had me interested.

We started with Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew, made from Beefeater gin, London Pride, lemon and gingery syrup. I think this was my favourite of the 3 we tried - it was light but fiery from the ginger, and I don't think I've tried a cocktail made with ale before, though I definitely would again. Next up was a Sherry Cobler, made with Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleon (a fino sherry), Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year Bourbon, Cointreau, gomme and orange bitters. It's an old drink that was said to be the most popular mixed drink of the 19th century and is apparently the reason the straw was invented, as previous mixed drinks had all been served in short glasses, whereas this is served in a long glass. It's strong and boozy, and not one for the faint hearted. While I enjoyed it, it was my least preferred of the 3 we tried. Both drinks look similar in colour, but tasted very different - Shaky Pete on the left; Sherry Cobler on the right.
 
 
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