I've got such a great restaurant to tell you about today. Last week I popped down to the new-ish (I hadn't been yet, so new to me) food market in Brixton - Pop Brixton. It's nestled in behind Brixton Village and is made up of shipping containers that have been converted into very cool bars, shops and restaurants. Arriving, I was distracted by some beautiful jewellery from a brand called John and Pearl, but the real reason I was there was to try out a restaurant called Kricket. Kricket serves small plates of Indian food and cocktails made using Indian spices and herbs. The kitchen there is run by my godmother's very talented son, and having seen photo after photo of the amazing dishes at Kricket on my Instagram feed it was time for me to taste it first hand. I can't believe I'd waited so long to go (only a couple of months but in hindsight that's a long time) - as the food was utterly divine and I'm already planning a couple of return visits as soon as I'm back from my holiday.

I met caterer extraordinaire, Milli (highly recommended if you need food for weddings or large parties) at the restaurant and we ordered 5 dishes to share between us - they recommend 4 or 5 between 2 people - we obviously went for 5....

Smoked aubergine, labneh, peanut crumble and papdi - a wonderful dish - the aubergine was perfectly smoky and was great with the labneh and papdi crackers. The little pomegranate seeds added a lovely juiciness and extra texture.

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It's been a little while since my last chef interview post, but I'm back with a great one today (and I have a few more crackers lined up for the next couple of months).

Today's interview is with chef Neil Rankin of the Smokehouse and Bad Egg. Neil's worked across the culinary board - from top end restaurants with Michelin star chefs, to cooking at Nuno Mendes's infamous loft supper clubs but it was working with BBQ chef Adam Perry Lang that really set Neil on the path that's brought him to where he is now - taking the reins at Pitt Cue in 2011 and then heading up John Salt in Islington. Neil then opened his own restaurant, Smokehouse, in Islington, which now has a second site in Chiswick, and just so happens to be my current favourite restaurant.... because somewhere that serves Somerset goat tacos with chipotle aioli and green sauce, as well as deep fried rock oyster, beef dripping toast and smoked bone marrow, and has a child-free whisky room, and reindeer furs on the back of the restaurant benches, and sources the best quality produce you could want, just can't not be my favourite! Neil's food is about slow cooking and smoking, but also there's a huge Korean influence in a lot of his dishes - think slow cooked smoked lamb shoulder served with a sambal (chilli and prawn) sauce.

Neil is a busy man (especially during BBQ season!) but I managed to get my interview questions to him, and here's what he had to say....

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

Adam Perry Lang. He’s who taught me to cook meat and it set me on my path away from fine dining to what I do now.

2. What is the first thing you remember cooking?

I think it was omelettes when I was 13 or 14. I used to cook them when my mum was late back from work.

3. What is your favourite restaurant in London?

Quality chop house. Its pretty much flawless these days. 

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

A thermopen thermometer. I carry it with me everywhere

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

Salt, cracked black pepper and an abundance of herbs.

6. What's your newest ingredient discovery?

Tahini. Its not a new discovery but I’m using it a lot more than I used to and in different ways. 

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

Generally I’d say dairy but they are all pretty easy given enough notice. 

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

Cook as many cuisines as possible and be creative with your career choices. Don’t just hit the well known kitchens otherwise its harder to stand out and gain an individual style (I love this piece of advice and couldn't agree more with Neil - and you can see the influence all the cuisines that he's cooked in his food at the Smokehouse).

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

Been to them and done them. They’re fun and a great way to get your name out there. 

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!)

Lots of stuff I can’t tell you about but I’ve got a book coming out early next year and doing lots of new stuff in the next 6 months (so exciting, I'll be first in the line to get Neil's book when it comes out!)

A huge thank you to Neil for taking part in my interview series, fascinating answers from a man who cooks some of the best food in London!

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I don't review a lot of chain restaurants on my blog, as I don't really eat at a lot of chain restaurants. I live near Chiswick which is full of chains that I never go to, but there's one that stands out from the rest and which has tempted me in before - Bill's. Bill's started life as a greengrocer in one of my favourite villages in Sussex, Lewes. The greengrocer grew to include a café, the café became a restaurant, and now there are over 60 branches of Bill's restaurants across the UK, from Exeter to Glasgow and most places in between, with 18 branches in London. I was invited to the Covent Garden branch to try the new summer cocktail and food menu. Despite their huge growth, Bill's ethos is still the same - to serve really good food at good prices, in gorgeous spaces, to loyal customers.

Our dinner at Bill's in Covent Garden was on a hot, hot night, and we were sitting at a long, cool table in the upstairs area near the kitchen. We kicked things off with cocktails - a fruity and refreshing raspberry and rosehip collins for me - rosehip gin, raspberry and pink grapefruit cordial, lemon, Bill's pink lemonade and fresh raspberries; and the bramble mojito for the boy, made with white rum, blackberry puree, mint and lime. Both cost less than £6 which is pretty amazing value for a cocktail in the middle of Covent Garden!


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London in the Sky - a 22 capacity, completely open air restaurant that floats above London's skyline - returns this September, with an amazing chef line up for a 14 day pop-up restaurant. Open to the public, this event will see 11 of London’s best restaurants serve their menus at the sky table which is suspended 25 meters in the air. Tickets have now gone on sale for London in the Sky and are selling fast, so if you want to be part of this incredible experience, make sure you get your tickets soon. 

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A couple of Fridays ago I jumped on a boiling hot train across London to Clapton for an evening of food at Palm 2 with Sabel. Sabel is a pop up restaurant that first opened its doors in 2013 in Broadway Market. Fast forward 2 years and they're back, this time at the beautiful Palm 2 above a corner shop next to Clapton Pond. Sabel is run by a lovely couple and is all about sharing plates of British seasonal food. And it's really, really good!
We were greeted by Lianna who welcomed us with a gorgeous summery drink - white port and tonic. The sweet port and tonic were such a great combination. Drinks for the meal at Sabel are bought at the venue and they serve white and red wine in milk bottles and beer.

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If you love Chinese food and want to make it properly at home yourself then I've got the perfect course for you to try. Last night I joined 11 others in Covent Garden for a 3 hour class with Jeremy Pang at the School of Wok, where we learnt how to make veggie gyoza, black bean rib eye and braised aubergine.

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It's so nice going to other people's supper clubs. I do so many of them myself, it's lovely to see what other people are doing with theirs. So when I was invited to Juma Kitchen supper club I was very keen to go. Not only to experience someone else's pop up but this particular supper club is Iraqi food - something I'd not had before. Throw in a few of my favourite bloggers sitting next to me, and it was bound to be a good night.

The first notable difference between Juma Kitchen and my supper clubs is the venue - mine mostly happen at my house (or at a local hotel) whereas the Juma event I went to was at a proper restaurant - The Jam Tree in Clapham - in the back room, which they'd made private for the event. The second obvious difference was the number of people. Mine range from 12-30 guests, but I'd say there were at least 50 diners in one sitting at Juma. So it's much more like a normal restaurant than lots of supper clubs I've been too, apart from you sit on a table with strangers, and there's a fixed menu.

The menu on the night was long! We had entrees, starters, second course, mains and pudding to work our way through, but it was also full of some of my favourite things - all with a very Middle East influence, so I was excited to see what was in store, especially after a lovely welcome cocktail of gin, elderflower, fig jam, fig liqueur and fresh lemon juice - a refreshing, slightly sharp, fruity concoction that disappeared far too quickly and left me longing for another.

We started with a slate of 3 classics - lamb bourek, falafel and baba ganoush. They were all delicious and a great way to kick off the meal - the falafel being my actual favourite of the 3.  I was expecting the baba ganoush to win, but it wasn't as smoky as other versions I've tried, so although it was good, it wasn't my favourite.

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I love discovering places that I didn't know existed. And thanks to Zomato's recent #zomatomeetup I was able to do just that a couple of weeks ago, when they took us on a tour of the restaurants at St James' Court, to show us the new 80 Tastes offer - where you get to try food at all 4 of the restaurants that are part of St James Court and the hotel.

On a hot, muggy evening in London I arrived at St James's Court - spacious and leafy, it's a little oasis in the middle of the city and all the tourists (it's right between Victoria and Buckingham Palace). We started our evening with a  Laurent Perrier Champagne Flight (which you can do on its own too for £20 a head, rather than as part of the 80 tastes food tour if bubbles are more your thing, though I'd advise you do the whole tour, as it's so good). We were given 3 glasses of bubbles, each with a canapé to compliment the drink. We started with the Laurent Perrier Brut which was served with Scottish scallop and avocado tartate - a lovely, fresh tasting bite that was excellent with the champagne. Next was the Laurent Perrier Vintage 2004, served with a summer vegetable ratatouille crostini. The final champagne was the Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé, with salmon, crème fraiche and caviar - I really liked this champagne and food pairing, with the rosé bubbles cut through the oily fish and delicious caviar. The Champagne Flight is available every day at The Cellar Room.

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Just a quick one from me today to let you know that there's still a few tickets available for my next pop up supper club, next Saturday, 18th July. The night will be held at my home in Acton Town (near Chiswick roundabout) and will hopefully be in our garden (weather permitting). We did a couple in the garden last year and it was so beautiful, lit up with fairy lights, with the long table full of guests down the middle of the garden. Rugs and blankets were provided for anyone who got a little chilly, but it was so warm anyway they were hardly needed, so hoping for more of the same for next Saturday.

As always, tickets can be booked via Grub Club for £35 each - and this time that includes drinks!! I'm being sponsored by Jacobs Creek Reserve wines so there's no need to BYOB, unless you want to drink something other than wine. If you want to come but don't like something on the menu I can make you an alternate dish, just mention in the comments when booking.

The menu for the night is:

Welcome cocktail in the garden
Steak tartare, quail's egg, homemade bread OR Pea & broad bean mousse, goat's curd (V) - please mention which you'd like when booking
Sea trout, cider & crab sauce, sea vegetables, new potato salad
Nectarine tarte tatin with salted caramel ice cream
British cheeseboard with salted biscuits and chutney
Homemade chocolates with tea or coffee

The menu is actually very similar to the one I did at my pop up last weekend, as it's such a lovely summer menu. Here are some photos of last weekend's pop up to give you an idea of what it all looks like, and a couple of piccies of the outside ones we did last year. If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably already seen these, but if not, then scroll on!

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Last Wednesday was hot. Seriously hot. Way too hot in London to enjoy, for me anyway. Someone posted something on my Facebook called "gingers advised to not even bother today" which pretty much summed it up for me. Work was fine as we have great air con in the building but it was my evening plans that concerned me.... Emily, of the wonderful blog Curious London, had invited me to meet her at Trader Vic's in Mayfair for a preview of their Independence Day dinner (which has now been and gone, but featured some dishes from their normal menu, so you can still order them now). The tube journey into London wasn't as bad as expected, luckily, and I wandered down Park Lane to the Hilton hotel, where Trader Vic's is. Walking into the venue I was so relieved to feel the chill of more air con - I hadn't been before, and was worried we'd be sweltering on a terrace or in a garden, but we were kept perfectly cool in the Tahitian restaurant, that's been in the same location since 1963!

Trader Vic's serves real fusion food - a real mix of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Japanese and Asian cuisine, though we were there to try their special American Independence Day menu. The restaurant is quite large, but atmospherically dark, and covered in ornaments and decorations from around the world, including massive shells that act as lightshades, fishing nets, wooden carvings, maps and boats. On arrival we were greeted with a Trader Vic's Mai Tai, which was invented by Trader Vic himself over half a century ago. Slightly sharp, and so refreshing, I tried not to drink it in one gulp, as I was so desperate to consume liquid when I arrived! There are 17 Trader Vic's around the world, and it's said to be the only place you can get Trader's original recipe drink. Highly recommended, especially on a hot, muggy night.

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I'm lucky enough to sometimes get invited to review restaurants for this blog (and Try This For - another site I write for). I only ever accept these invites if it's somewhere I want to go anyway, and I turn down invites to places that I don't think I'll like or that aren't of interest to me. After all, this blog is about recommending places for you to try. However, I will occasionally accept an invite to somewhere I've never heard of, because it looks like it will be interesting and something completely different, like Shaka Zulu in Camden, where I headed a couple of weeks ago with Hugo.
Shaka Zulu is located underneath Camden Market and I had no idea it was even there until we went. You take the escalator down to the restaurant, where a huge, sprawling space (27,000 sq feet!!) reveals itself. Every wall of the 2 floor space is covered in hand carved wooden panels, and there are life size animal and warrior statues everywhere you look. The restaurant opened nearly 5 years ago, and it took 3 years to carve all the panels and make all the interior decorations, and another 2 years to install them all!

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