Following on from my interview with Michel Roux Jr at the end of the last year I've decided to start a series of chef interview posts.

Today's chef is Carl Clarke, who was named one of London's most influential people by The Evening Standard. Carl has popped up all over London with ventures including Rock Lobsta, English Laundrette, God Save the Clam and Disco Bistro EC4 & N1C - two of which I went to when they were open. Now he's back with his first permanent restaurant, Chick n Sours, which opens in Dalston on the 17th of April. Here's what he had to say when I asked him a few questions...

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

I've met so many brilliant people, from chefs to artists to amazing producers, and just being able to work and learn from them on various  projects has been inspiring in itself. (Carl used to DJ at Turnmills before turning his hand to cooking - one of my old hangouts...!!)

2. What is the first thing you remember cooking?

I never used to cook or be interested in food as kid. I was from a working class Irish family and food was just sustenance rather than pleasure. I became a chef really out of the necessity of eating. The love came later.  I guess it was cooking toast on a fork in the dark with my sister on an electric fire. Quite a risky way of cooking toast!!

3. What is your favorite restaurant in London?

I've got so many for so many different reasons so its hard to say. My favorite Indian is called The Regency Curry Club in Queensbury. An old boozer that does next level Bengali grills and has their own larger brewed for them. (I'd never heard of the Regency Club but definitely want to try it now).

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


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

- Gochujang (a savoury and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chilli, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt).
- Smoked beef dripping.
- Ssamjang (a thick, spicy paste used with food wrapped in a leaf in Korean cuisine. The sauce is made of doenjang, gochujang, sesame oil, onion, garlic, green onions, and optionally brown sugar).

6. What's your newest ingredient discovery?

Toban Djan (a fermented paste that combines hot chillies with broad beans) & yam bean (white flesh of the root can be eaten cooked or raw. Crisp, moist, and slightly sweet, the flesh draws comparison with that of the apple).

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

I'm not quite sure really. I can't keep up with all the new intolerances!!

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

Learn to love the amazing produce that we have in this country, its an important part of becoming a great chef. Have respect for the producers and their produce and the rest will follow. (THIS is why I cook and what my own cooking is all about - absolutely 100% agree with Carl here).

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

I've done quite a few pop ups in my time, but the idea of sitting in someone's front room having dinner weirds me out a bit so no, not really. (Carl - you should come and try my one - I think I'd change your mind...!)

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?

I'm currently just about to open my first full time restaurant called Chick n Sours. It's basically built on my obsession with fried chicken and we are going to do awesome sours cocktails. So that's going to keep me busy for most of next year but I can't wait!! It will be open in April.

Thanks so much for your honest and interesting answers Carl.

To try Carl's cooking, do check out Chick n Sours once it opens - I've had fantastic food at both of Carl's pop ups that I've been to, and am really looking forward to trying the new menu of  free-range, herb-fed fried chicken; mouth-watering sides such as pickled watermelon and peanut salad, and grilled kimchi with Japanese mayo and crispy chicken skin; sour cocktails made exclusively for the restaurant by Sam Dunne, formerly of The Rotary and Milk & Honey; locally brewed beers and Willys Cider from Chase Farm; and Weetabix or white chocolate and miso soft-serve ice-cream creations.

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I'm a huge fan of 64 Degrees - both the Brighton one, which I discovered early last year, and now the Pimlico branch which opened late last year on the back of the Brighton restaurant's success. I suggested it as a venue for a dinner with Angie, Emily and Zoe a couple of weeks ago, and despite my love for the place, it's always a bit nerve wracking inviting others along who've never been there before, though I needn't have worried as everyone loved it.
It was my 3rd visit to 64 Degrees London and we did what I've done on previous visits and order 1 of everything from the menu to share. This may sound extravagant, but the menu is based on small, sharing plates and consists of 4 vegetable, 4 meat and 4 fish dishes, so it wasn't too over the top between 4 of us. They did bring out a couple of extra dishes for us though, including the first thing we ate which was deep fried scallop roes served with a herb puree. They were really delicious with just the right amount of batter on them and enough of a zing from the herby sauce. 
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I love a good salad. It doesn't matter if it's on the beach in the Mediterranean or at home in London in the middle of the winter. Sometimes the freshness of a good salad is all I really crave. Salads are so versatile - they can be warm or cold and can include pretty much whichever ingredients you choose to put in them. Harry Eastwood came to our tv screens about 8 years ago with Cook Yourself Thin and now she's back with her new book A Salad For All Seasons. I got sent a copy to have a look at and I really like it - it's a great book full of delicious sounding salad recipes to follow, but it's also a really good source of inspiration if you've got some salad leaves at home and want to make something with whatever you've got in the fridge. Particular salad recipes that I'm looking forward to making from the book are hot smoked salmon, edamame and cucumber with a wasabi cream dressing; iceberg wedge with blue cheese and bacon (which I think will be even better if I griddle the iceberg wedge); southern salad with root beer brisket; and pan fried bananas with rum butterscotch.

Today though it was Harry's Squash salad with pomegranate and prosciutto that really caught my eye. I didn't follow the recipe as it was, so here's what I did, and to see Harry's version get her book here.

Serves 2

1 butternut squash
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp nigella seeds
100g prosciutto (I used pata negra iberica, which is pricey buy truly wonderful)
1 avocado
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Handful of lamb's lettuce - you can use the Florette duo of lamb's lettuce and wild rocket
1 tbsp capers
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Peel the butternut squash and chop into 1.5cm chunks. Toss is the olive oil and sprinkle with nigella seeds and a little salt. Lay the chunks of butternut squash in one layer on a baking tray and roast for around 30 minutes, turning once during cooking.

Puree the avocado, lemon juice and olive oil in with the magi mix or in the blender, until a smooth paste. Swipe some of the avocado on the plate, and top with the washed lamb's lettuce. Put the butternut squash chunks on the plate and add curls of the prosciutto. Sprinkle with capers.

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As I'm sure all of my regular readers know, I do pop up restaurants. I started doing them in November 2013 and have done public events monthly since then (I also get booked to do private catering events which I do about once a month as well). When I started doing my pop up supper clubs, I had no idea that they'd go so well. It absolutely astounds me that I'm currently the top reviewed chef on the Grub Club website - which has actually just been revamped, and is looking amazing, so do check it out!

My next pop up date is Saturday 14th March and is in conjunction with Head to Tail week - a week long food event that's dedicated to highlighting the importance of eating all cuts of meat, not just the regular ones you find pre-packed in supermarket aisles. With that in mind I've put together a menu that includes liver, tail and cheek and offers something a bit different. Whilst sticking to the brief I've chosen accessible cuts of meat that I think most people will enjoy eating. I only ever serve food that I love so that's what I've based my menu on though I've also taken into account that a lot of potential customers are not necessarily as much as an omnivore as me! Having said that, if you'd like to come to this pop up and don't fancy or can't eat something on my menu please don't let that put you off - when you book via Grub Club there's a comments section where you can mention which course(s) you don't like/can't eat, and I can make an alternative menu for you. I make everything on the menu myself, including the bread, biscuits and all the sauces, using the best quality, British (where possible) ingredients that I can find.

Welcome cocktail
Chicken & duck liver pate topped with madeira jelly, scorched duck hearts, raisin puree & homemade bread
Oxtail and ox cheek, leeks, wild garlic & flageolet beans, purple sprouting broccoli, parsnip puree
Lemon posset with rhubarb jam and shortbread biscuits
Montgomery cheeseboard, homemade chutney, seeded crackers
COFFEE and HERBAL TEAS: Served with homemade chocolates
My pop up supper clubs and fun and food filled evenings that attract guests from all over London and all walks of life. They are bring your own booze so you can pick up a nice of bottle of wine, or whatever you fancy and bring it with you to drink on the night. I provide a welcome cocktail and soft drinks for those who want them. The pop ups take place at our house in Acton Town and everyone sits round 1 big table in our living room, where we also have a juke box to keep you entertained!

Tickets for the Saturday 14th March are £35 each and available to book here. If you can't make this date but want to keep up with what I'm doing and future dates then you can follow me on Grub Club to receive updates on new events.  

Hope to see some of you at my next pop up, and here's some photos from my last event to wet your appetite - the bottom 3 photos are nicked from the lovely Miranda's Notebook blog, who very sweetly wrote about my pop up after attending.

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A couple of weeks ago I published this post, which was a list of restaurants I hope to visit in London this year. Some are new, some less so. The evening that post went live I was in Soho for a meeting which finished earlier than I'd expected, so I decided to pop into Rex and Mariano, one of the restaurants on my list, for a quick bite of dinner on my own. I don't eat out alone often, but actually kind of enjoy it when I do, especially when I end up sitting at the oyster bar where the executive chef of this particular restaurant group is working, and is happy to chat to me and answer my incessant questions!

Rex and Mariano is all about food from the sea. The kitchen areas are divided, as is the menu, into 3 sections - raw, grill and oyster bar, as well as a bread station, where the fresh bread made on site is sliced and served up for eager diners. The kitchens are open and sit at the back of the dining area, and you can either sit at tables in the restaurant or right up at bars along the front of each "cooking" station. The restaurant is the newest offering from the Goodman Group (Burger & Lobster, Beast and the Goodman steak houses), and was well reviewed by Jay Rayner a few days before I visited meaning it was absolutely heaving early on a Thursday evening at the beginning of February.

I was seated at the oyster bar, much to my delight, and a very chirpy waiter talked me through how to order my drinks and food. Everything is done via iPad here, which I initially thought would be a long winded, annoying process, but actually was lovely as it allowed me to pick and choose dishes at my own pace, and add on extras as the evening went on.  I started with an oyster, and some tuna tartare that I'd seen a photo of on Instagram and have been craving ever since. I only had my iPhone with me as I didn't even know I'd be eating out, so the photos may be a bit grainy, but I will be back and will take my proper camera then. I've never seen or eaten oysters as big as the ones here, they were gigantic. I ordered a rock oyster, but was convinced to try a native too, and it was bigger than my palm! All oysters are shucked to order and served on ice with lemon and red wine shallot vinegar, just at they should be. You also get a bottle of tabasco for your table.

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There's so much hype around Valentine's Day nowadays. I think a lot of it is commercial nonsense, with companies looking for an excuse to make an extra buck in a quiet time of year (errr... mine included?!?! I'm doing a pop up on Valentine's though it won't be any different to my normal pop ups, so no pink heart balloons or tacky decorations in sight!) But it is also a nice day to spend with your loved one, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune to have a good time. So rather than go out to a restaurant where you'll be packed in with tons of other cosy couples whispering sweet nothings into each others ears, why not stay home, cook each other some delicious food, and whip up some fancy cocktails? I've got a few of my favourite recipes for you here, one of which I'm serving at my pop up, as I like to welcome guests with something boozy when they arrive.

First up is a cocktail that uses 2 new drinks ingredients I've recently discovered. I call it the Wild Honey Ginger Apple.....

50ml The Wild Geese Irish Honey Liqueur - a delicious, sweet spirit made using Irish Whiskey and Irish honey - delicious in this mix, but also so good on it's own or on ice
50ml James White Bramley Apple Juice - a dry, crisp 100% filtered juice made with apples from British orchards
50ml ginger beer
1 lime

In a cocktail shaker mix all the ingredients together, including the juice of 1 lime. Pour into a glass and serve on its own, or over ice. Decorate the glass with some slices of apple, or even better, if you have a heart shaped pastry cutter, stamp out some hearts and put these on the side of the glass. So rom!!

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Tequila and Mexican food make me happy! It's not even that they remind me of Mexico, where I actually never ate a pulled pork burrito nor any of the Mexican food I've found in London restaurants, it's just that I love the flavours of London's version of Mexican food as well as the whole ethos of the street food style it's served in. And as for tequila, I don't think I need to explain that one. So I was curious to find out more about the newest Mexican restaurant bar to arrive in London, El Patron in Fulham. I was invited to the press opening last week to try out some of the tequila cocktails and Mexican food they'll be serving there. Press events are always lots of fun, but you never quite get a true sense of how the restaurant will be day to day so I'm definitely going to be going back to El Patron soon to check it out on a "normal" night! And for more of the Mexican food and cocktails.

El Patron have over 60 different types of tequila behind their bar, and were serving 3 cocktails on the night - a margarita slushy, straight from a slushy machine; the Poncho, made from arĂȘte blanco, coconut kalani liqueur, lime, egg white and peach and orange bitters; and my favourite of the evening, the Scorpion, made with AquaRiva Blanco, Stone's ginger wine, lime, chipotle, Falemum liqueur, ginger beer and bitters - a spicy, strong, long drink served in a jam jar.

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Kintan offers a first of its kind dining experience in London - Yakiniku BBQ - a premium Japanese "cook at your table" meal. I've been to a couple of Korean "cook at your table" restaurants in London so was keen to try out Kintan. I was invited along to try their premium menu which offers a selection of light vegetable and fish starter dishes followed by a plethora of meat and seafood to cook yourself at the table.

Kintan is near Chancery Lane station, on High Holborn, which is somewhere I don't frequent at the weekends (unless I'm at a club round the corner, when I don't think Kintan is open!!). So we headed into Central a couple of Sundays ago and finally found the restaurant after overcoming my rubbish navigation skills. The restaurant is dark wood interiors, with lots of tables for 4, each with their own barbecue in the middle of the table. It's a slick looking restaurant and despite the number of open barbecues cooking meat at tables it wasn't at all smoky.
We started with drinks, in the form of sparkling sake. To my surprise, this was both low in alcohol (5%) and quite sweet, unlike other regular sakes I've tried which are much stronger and drier. It was quite nice, but I couldn't drink more than one glass of it, so moved on to Asahi beer soon after.

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Just a quick one from me today, and apologies, this post is more for me than you (kinda...). I have a mild panic rise inside me when my restaurant list gets too long - places I want to try that I haven't been to yet. I'm going to Bubbledogs chef's table next weekend (so excited!), which has long been on the list.

Here's my current list - do let me know if you've been to any of the below and what you thought. And please leave a comment if you've got any other places you think should be on there!

In no particular order....

Le Chateaubriand - not open yet but will be later this year
The Dairy - recommended by Michel Roux Jr
Duck & Waffle - may be impossible due to my fear of heights...
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A few weeks ago I received an invite to a sleepover in Brentford, West London for a night at a new hotel called Urban Villa. The invite promised cocktails from Soulshakers, dinner from The Beefy Boys, (recent winners of 'Best Burger' at the World Food Awards) live music and DJing. I was sold.... nearly. I had the small matter of a pop up the next night at my house for 19 people so after looking through my menu and cooking schedule I decided that I would be able to sneak away from the house for the Friday night to spend it at Urban Villa, but I would have to be on my best behaviour and be out and back home by 8am the next morning - one of which I achieved.... One thing that helped this plan was the fact that Urban Villa is less than a mile from our house. I was all booked in, and looking forward to a night away from home with the boy (partners were also invited, luckily, as it would've been a bit weird filling hotel rooms with solo guests!)

Friday night suddenly arrived and I whizzed home after work to do a little bit of cooking and prep for the pop up, pack a bag and head down to Urban Villa. The minute we left the house I felt like I'd left a small child at home on its own (my pop up) but when we arrived at the hotel and a glass of bubbly was put in my hand, all thoughts of my impending pop up seemed to get further and further away....!

Urban Villa is a unique concept - it is a hotel cross with a BnB. Each room is in fact a mini apartment - ours had a spacious entrance hallway, double bedroom, large living area with a fully functional kitchen (which includes the all important Nespresso machine), bathroom with 2 different shower heads and a large bath, and a wraparound enclosed balcony that covered the full perimeter of the flat, with the ability to open the sides to the elements - not much of a view looking straight onto the M4 but nice to get some 'fresh' air all the same. Rather than having the costs of running a concierge, spa and restaurant onsite, Urban Villa offer more of a self service option. You can cook what you like in the kitchen in the rooms, you can book a spa therapist for in-room treatments and if you want to venture out for food, Urban Villa have a long list of local, rated, recommended restaurants and bars (Ealing Park Tavern is a 5 minute walk away).

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I'm not a massive cinema-goer. I absolutely love watching movies, but there's something about going to the cinema that I find a bit restrictive - you can't stop and pause the film, the seats can be uncomfy and you can end up sitting in front of someone who kicks your chair for 2 straight hours, and I often feel the price you pay is unjustified for the experience you get. That was until we went to the Olympic Cinema in Barnes. There were many things that appealed to me about the Olympic, from their on site restaurant's menu, to the fact I could book a sofa seat for 2 of us for the same price as 2 standard seat tickets, so we booked to see A Most Violent Year on Friday evening. To start with tickets are £15 which seems to be cheaper than other local cinemas - we went to Westfield to see Birdman recently (which I really didn't enjoy/get) and that was £44 for 2 of us. The £30 we paid for 2 at the Olympic got a us a double seat/sofa so we didn't have to wrestle an arm rest between us, and each chair comes with its own table for your drinks. As the film wasn't showing until 9pm we booked for dinner first at The Dining Room, which is in the same building as the cinema.

The Dining Room at Olympic Studios is bigger than I'd imagined, with about 50 covers, on a mix of individual and longer sharing tables, and is headed up by a chef who's previously worked at Noma and Racine. We had our own table, and decided to go all out, as we were both pretty hungry and had time to kill. Sadly the first thing to pass my lips was the least favourite part of my evening. The Dining Room have an interesting cocktail list, and I chose one that I can't remember the name of... maybe the Basiltini (I'm pretty sure that wasn't what it was called but was something similar) and was made using basil and way too much ginger for my liking. It was also very sweet, and I prefer my cocktails sharper, but I drank it anyway while we ordered our food. We chose the steak tartare and calamari for starters to share. Both were delicious, though we'd forgotten to check if the tartare was already seasoned, which it was, with tabasco, so none of that for the boy! Which was fine by me as I got to eat all of it! It was perfectly seasoned to my liking and the steak wasn't cut too fine - I really don't enjoy the minced version of steak tartare. The calamari were really good too with a crunchy but light batter and soft squid inside, served with very moreish homemade mayo.

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