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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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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Here's another interview with a great chef for you today. This time it's Matt Burgess who I met when I went to review Ealing Park Tavern after it reopened following a refurb earlier this year. Matt's taken over the kitchen there and I pop in to say hi whenever I'm eating at EPT. Ealing Park Tavern was always a favourite of mine, but since Matt's taken the reins he's really stepped it up a level on the food front. We've had many fantastic meals there, including their whole joint Sunday roasts which are incredible. Matt also works with DJ BBQ on summer food festivals as well as being the in house and on road chef for Hospital Records - one of my favourite record labels. In fact, the more I found out about Matt, the more I realised we had in common and knew some of the same people - good old Instagram, always connecting the dots!

1. Who has inspired you the most in your career?
I can't pick one exact person that has inspired me the most - as I'm inspired by people every day.  If I had to choose, it would be my son and my mother. Jamie Oliver has also been a big part of my inspiration over the past 3 years and for his work on eating better.  Finally, Stuart Powell (flourish bakery) on being a great mentor, advice giver and friend.
2. What is the first thing you remember cooking?
My mother is a great cook, she was bought up by my nana who  lived in the kitchen, baking cakes.  My mum had a spice rack the size of our family kitchen so from as early as I can remember I would play with her spices making constant variations in cups of water and forcing my mum to taste them.  I vaguely remember making a spaghetti Bolognese with every single spice mum had - I'm sure it didn't taste that great! (Glad you're cooking's improved since then Matt!)

3. What is your favourite restaurant in London? 
Ooof that's a tough one.  I can't live without Meat Liqour but I also love Bluebird on Kings Road and XO in Belsize Park. Arrgggghhhh - such hard questions!
4. What is your can't live without kitchen gadget? 
A blender called margarita madness – it’s really loud, big and bulky but could blend metal to the lightest, finest puree you have ever tasted!
5. What your top 3, can't live without, ingredients?
- Piran sea salt from Slovenia
- Karachi (form of ginger)
- Soy sauce
6. What's your newest ingredient discovery?
Pisco, it's an incredible spirit from Peru – but it’s also very, very dangerous and should come with a warning! (I'm a massive Pisco fan too - might have to use it in cocktails at my summer pop ups)
7. What is the most difficult food intolerance to cook for?
I once had a customer that couldn’t eat off ceramic. That was tough. (Um, ok - what a nightmare!?)
8. What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to start a career as a chef?
It may seem glam on the outside but in reality it's not. It's hard work, long hours in a really hot environment, you will make no money and never sleep!  If you accept these negatives early on, the positives will be a whole lot better!

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

LOVE THEM! Great concepts, anything that promotes better eating is a good thing for me! I’ve never been to one but I'll be coming to yours soon Rosie, to break my supper club virginity! (Correct answer Matt, 10 points for you!!!)

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!) 
BBQ season is nearly upon us and I have spent the last 2 years helping out my great friend DJ BBQ.  We have a lot of dates in the bag and this year will be bigger and better that ever! Grillstock, Camp Bestival, Jamie Oliver's big FEASTIVAL to name a few! I have lots of other big plans with Hospital Records so watch this space! (I can't wait to hear more!)

You can currently find Matt at the pass in Ealing Park Tavern cooking up a storm, including this super delicious looking Spring plate of lamb cutlets, shoulder, pear mostarda, peas and artichokes - yum!!
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Spirit Social is a monthly event near Notting Hill that's being run by new to the market rum brand, The Duppy Share. Spirit Social is a really fun night, showcasing some of the UK's newest booze brands, with great street food, live music and darts. I went along to their first event to see what it was all about, and of course, to try out the spirits.

Spirit Social takes place every 2nd Thursday of the month at the Maxilla Hall Social Club that's located between Ladbroke Grove and Latimer Road tube stations. It's an evening where "1920s cocktail glamour and toe-tapping gypsy jazz tunes meet dart boards with a dose of Duppy mischief in an old school social club under the Westway". Despite going on launch night, and arriving early, the place was heaving. One side of the room is taken over by 4 bars, each showcasing their spirit brand. Drink brands will vary from month to month, with The Duppy Share ever present. When we went, we got to sample the following:

The Duppy Share - a new rum brand made with a blend of 5 year Jamaican and 3 year Bajan rum which is bottled at the Thames Distillery in London. Launched last year, and already available to buy in Selfridges, The Whisky Exchange, Borough Wines, Spirited Wines and tons more independent booze retailers in London, The Duppy Share is already proving extremely popular. Bartenders love it too, and you can get it in cocktail form at The Wolesley, The Grain Store, The Princess Victoria, Rum Kitchen, Boom Burger and lots more. They're launching in over 20 bars in Manchester soon as well. It's a young, fun brand that brings a new energy to the rum market. Cocktails being served on the night were The Duppy Conqueror - made with rum, sugar, lime and nutmeg; and a Rum Old Fashioned - made with rum and orange. Both delicious, and both let the rum shine through. I'm going to be using The Duppy Share to create a welcome cocktail at my next pop up on 25th April, so if you're coming to that, you'll be able to sample it then.

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You have to do something pretty special as a restaurant to be as popular today as you were when you opened 14 years ago. The Providores and Tapa Room in Marylebone do just that though. A restaurant/bar downstairs and a larger restaurant upstairs, The Providores and Tapa Room was set up in 2001 by Peter Gordon, Michael McGrath, Jeremy Leeming and Anna Hansen and is now run by just Peter and Michael. Anna Hansen moved on to The Modern Pantry, which I'm already a fan of.

I visited The Tapa Room restaurant on a Thursday a couple of weeks ago after I was invited to review it, and it was heaving. We arrived at 6.30 and there was already a queue outside the door, with others waiting inside, armed with a drink but not yet seated. A real mixture of people filled the room, from gents in suits, to sons treating mothers, to tourists who'd stumbled upon a great spot for a bite to eat. We were seated in the corner, on a table for 3 though there were only 2 of us, which was great as we ordered a lot of food, so there was room for all of that, plus cameras etc, on the table.

The Providores and Tapa Room boasts an ever changing wine list with the largest selection of premium New Zealand wines in Europe. However we didn't fancy wine, so chose a jug of sangria to share instead, in the hope of pretending it was warm and sunny outside. We were there for small sharing, tapas like plates after all. And it turns out that the scrumptious food was all that was needed to make us think of sunnier climes. Gorgeous plate after plate of food came out, each dish as delicious as the next.

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I've got some exciting news for you West Londoners - there's a new food market coming to town, and I'm pretty happy about it! I live in between Chiswick, Acton and Ealing. In the nearby area we have 2 food markets at the weekends - there's Ealing Farmers Market which happens on Saturdays from 9-1pm and then Chiswick Farmer's Market on Sundays from 10-2pm. Both are nice, but both are quite some distance from a tube station and the Ealing one in particular finishes way too early for me to get there regularly. By the time I've got up, ready and out the house on a Saturday morning I'm lucky to make it for closing time.

So when I heard about a new Ealing food market, that's going to be championing local producers, I wanted to find out more. Eat Me Drink Me has started a regular street food gathering Food Truck Friday in Ealing Broadway shopping centre. Sadly I work full time so won't be able to go along to the Friday events. However, Eat Me Drink Me are also launching a Sunday market in front of Ealing Town Hall. Eat Me Drink Me Sundays will take place every 3rd Sunday of the month, from 10am - 3pm, with traders selling both hot, ready to eat food, and others selling produce. The perfect place to go to pick up weekly ingredients plus something scrumptious for Sunday brunch.

Food truck traders at this Sundays market include Mama's Jerk - who make THE best jerk chicken and are already a firm favourite of mine; Ruperts Street - a vegan stall serving fresh and bright food; Margo & Rita - Mexican food in the form of burritos and tacos and lots of hot sauces; Guasacaca - a new one to me that I definitely want to try out, they serve Venezuelan street food, pockets of slow cooked meat topped with their special avocado sauce; Churros Garcia - Spanish inspired deep fried batter with thick hot chocolate for dipping; and finally, something to wake you up, local coffee house Monkshood will be there to top up everyone's caffeine levels.

Providing the fresh produce will be Ealing butchers Hook & Cleaver - pick up your Sunday roast, choosing from free-range Norfolk chickens, free-range & GM free Plantation pork, free-range grass-fed West-Country lamb, dry-aged Aberdeen Angus beef or cuts from rare breeds, including Salt Marsh lamb and Gloucester Old-Spot pork; Flavours of Spain - selling cured meats, olive oil and Spanish cheeses; Charlie's Fruit Bowl - another local store who'll be pitching a gazebo for the day, selling all the fruit and veg you could possibly need; Mags Petite Fleur - providing flowers to make your house look and smell beautiful; Cheeky Chutneys - sauces and spices galore, to perk up any homemade curry; and last but not least, Ruben's Bakehouse; who'll have artisan sourdough, pastries, brownies and more.

I can't wait to try out this new market, and will definitely be reporting back to let you know how their first event goes. If you come on Sunday, then look out for me and come and say hi. I'll have my camera round my neck, a burrito in one hand, coffee in the other, and arms full of shopping bags!!

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A few weeks ago I went along to the press launch for the new menu at Le Menar - a restaurant specialising in modern North African cuisine, in Fitzrovia, headed up by chef Vernon Samuels. We gorged on delicious nibbles - burrata with Za Atar, merguez spiced oysters, and falafel bites, and drank lots of bubbly. It was a really fun evening and I couldn't wait to go back to try out their menu for real. The restaurant is gorgeous inside, with sofa seats and colourful cushions, beautiful lights and mirrors and a mezzanine level with even more seats and gold topped tables. The lighting is dark and ambient (great for atmosphere, not so much for food photos) and you can nestle into a corner and forget about the outside world. I went back to try the menu properly last Tuesday with Hugo. Sadly for the restaurant it wasn't at all busy, but then again it was a Tuesday and it didn't matter at all to us as we had some catching up to do! And lots of eating...

We started off with the smoked lamb prosciutto, Za Atar figs and wood sorrel for me, and mini Kibbeh, harissa jam and baby basil for Hugo.

Both were absolutely delicious. The lamb prosciutto was a great alternative to the normal pork prosciutto (they don't serve any pork at Le Menar) and its salty, smokey richness was wonderful with the sweet, spiced figs and sharp sorrel. Hugo's kibbeh were great - they're lamb wrapped in compacted rice and deep fried, a kind of non-veggie falafel, though much more tasty. The portions are really generous and the prices are great value. There were 8 kibbeh and they cost £6.

For mains I couldn't resist a tagine, and having had our fill of lamb in the starters I went for the beef tagine (£17) - braised beef cheek, chantenay carrots, chick peas, prunes and couscous. It was rich and deep flavoured with  the prunes soaking up all of those cooking juices.

Hugo's main course was the mixed grill (£17.50) and it was one of the fanciest mix grills I've ever seen - rack of lamb, merguez sausages, lamb kofta and chicken skewers. It was served with a deliciously pungent garlic sauce and we asked for some of their chilli sauce too, which was punchy and full of flavour.

Despite being pretty full by this stage we couldn't resist puddings - I'd seen photos and heard marvellous things about the pistachio and saffron crème brulee that had been served after I left the press launch so knew that's what I would have. It was so good. Creamy with a crunchy topping, with whole pistachios in the bottom and a delicate scent of saffron running through it.

Hugo had deep fried Madagascan vanilla ice cream with butterscotch dates that was equally scrumptious. I hadn't tried deep fried ice cream before and, despite the decadence of it at that point in the meal, it was so good.

We finished off with an electric apple shisha while we let our food go down before the walk to the tube. A perfect end to a wonderful meal.

Le Menar is slightly off the beaten track, on Cleveland St, north of Goodge Street but is definitely worth making a detour for. The food is innovative yet traditional and so flavoursome. I can't wait to go back and try out their other tagines and some of the lighter starters - Lebanese spiced squid and pomegranate marinated salmon both caught my eye.

Le Menar is at 55 Cleveland St, and the nearest tube is Goodge Street, though it's only 10 minutes walk from both Oxford Circus and Great Portland Street stations too.

Click to add a blog post for Le Menar on Zomato

Square Meal
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Lisa's is a cute Swedish restaurant, full of high tables and stools, and lots of candles, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Portobello, just north of the flyover. I was invited down to try some of their food and write about it for Scandinavian travel website TranSun. The staff were warm and welcoming and happy to talk us through drinks options, while recommending a typical Swedish beer for the boy, and a lovely spicy cocktail for me. The "chilli fizz" was a perfectly balanced mix of white rum, chilli, lime, elderflower, egg white and soda. You could really taste (and see) the chilli, but it wasn’t that kind of spicy heat, more just the actual flavour of chilli. I could've drunk a few of these...
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I was recently contacted by Sister and Company who asked me to write some recipes for their website using their 100% organic, cold-pressed, extra-virgin (raw) coconut oil. I'm a huge fan of using coconut oil in my cooking so it wasn't a hard task for me to come up with some ideas for them. Sister and Company coconut oil is produced at a small organic farm in Kerala, South India, and contains no additives while retaining all its goodness due to not being heat treated, as so many other brands of coconut oil are.

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Last weekend I had a real treat. Some time at the end of last year a plan was made to visit The Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs, a chef's table run by James Knappett that won its first Michelin star last year. Obviously, with a Michelin star comes a long waiting list, so we weren't able to get a Saturday night reservation until last weekend. 10 of us had a booking for 7.30. The Kitchen Table has 2 sittings each evening,with the first group of 10 arriving at 6.30 and the next arriving at 7.30, and each group sitting round half of the counter that wraps around the central kitchen. When I heard there were 2 sittings I was worried we'd be rushed through our meal, but that's not the case at all as they stagger the sittings rather than doubling up.

The meal at The Kitchen Table comprises of 12-15 courses, each described on the menu by just 1 word that summarises that particular dish. This was the menu on our visit.

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