I've lived in London for nearly 17 years and in that time have covered most of zone 2, before settling in West/North West ish London a few years ago, which I love. However, last night's visit to Linden Stores, a family run wine shop and restaurant in Highbury, had me wishing I still lived in North East London. Linden Stores is my actual dream neighbourhood restaurant come true. The kind of place I pine for in my own neighbourhood. A wine shop, where you can sample wines before you buy them by buying a glass of any of their wines for a fiver, that also does small plates of wonderful, very affordable, modern European food and has a buzzing atmosphere despite having less than 20 covers.

We were the first table to arrive at Linden Stores so chose to sit at one in the window and watch the world go by and the rain hammer down. The wine list is varied and interesting and I ordered a glass of Tremendous  - a white Rioja. Alex had a glass of Laventure - also a white Rioja, both made from the Viura grape, but each with distinct characteristics. The Laventure won for both of us, but not by much as both were bright, zesty white wines with strong soft white fruit flavours. I love a white Rioja and I think I've got it on my brain at the moment as I'm writing the menu for a pop up I'm doing with Campo Viejo (the well known wine brand from Rioja) in October.

Food wise, we sampled most of the menu, starting with pork scratchings and apple puree. The thinnest slices of pork skin cut right through to the layers of fat had been deep fried, creating almost crisp like crackling, and served with a sharp and sweet apple puree. For £3. There are gastropubs up and down the country charging £5+ for a "snack" of slightly chewy, often hairy chunks of too salty "pork scratching" so save your teeth, money and waistline and head to Linden Stores for theirs instead. Genuinely the best version of pork scratchings I've tried. And the best value.

From one version of perfect to another. Chicken liver pate, crostini and pickled cherry. 3 crostini for £3.... and not even a one bite kind of crostini. A proper plate of snacking food - sweet, rich, gamey, salty and slightly sharp, these were heaven in more than a mouthful. And again, SUCH incredible value. We ordered two rounds and agreed we could have ordered more - they were so good. It seems like such an easy thing to get right, but so many places get it wrong. 

Other highlights from our meal included pea and Yorkshire fettle croquettes with homemade mint mayonnaise. Light and full of cheese, with a just-so crispy coating, and the mayo made with what tasted like rapeseed oil and lifted just enough but not overpowered by a touch of fresh mint. 

Home cured bresola had been curing for 12 weeks and was served piled high on a board, and covered with finely grated Quickes Cheddar from Devon (or Quickies according to their menu, a typo I loved!), garlic crumb for crunch, spring onions and chives for freshness. It was melt in the mouth good and disappeared in seconds. 

One of my absolute favourite dishes of the evening was the last one to arrive. Chicken, smoked aubergine, peas, potato dumplings and cherries (again!) The chicken was perfectly cooked and seasoned, juicy and moreish, and married so well with the other flavours on the plate, and with the glass of smooth, velvety Malbec I had with it.

Not only does Linden Stores produce some of the best plates of food I've eaten in a while, it's ridiculously good value - our bill would've come to around £100, but we were kindly invited so the restaurant comped our meal. My favourite thing is being invited to try out a restaurant and already planning our next visit under our own steam before we even leave. They also have a private dining room downstairs, run wine tastings and classes and other events throughout the months. It's a neighbourhood gem that's well worth travelling for, so I'll be finding my excuses to get back over to Highbury as soon as possible!
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Wow, it's hard to start blogging again after so long of not doing it! Nothing has changed - I'm still eating at loads of new and delicious places, I'm still doing pop up supper clubs, and I'm still cooking up a storm of new recipes at home - all of which I want to share with you... but somehow, it just hasn't really happened. So here's my attempt to get back on the horse. There's a lot to catch up on, so I'll start from my most recent favourite and work my way back from there!

And by recent I mean where I ate last night, and by favourite, I mean Bucket - a new (ish) sustainable seafood place that opened in Westbourne Grove, not far from where I live. I actually first went a few weeks ago during soft launch, on my own. I sat and watched the world go by while eating an oozy, cheesy, creamy, rich lobster and prawn toastie, which was stuffed with seafood, melted cheese and thick bechamel and had been fried in butter before being devoured by me. Sheer decadence, paired with a glass of Provence rose, I knew I'd found my happy place! 

Last night I went back with Emily. We arrived to what felt like a bit of a sad scene - the beautiful restaurant - think Balaeric beach, done really nicely - was mostly empty and it was 7.45pm. But we took our seats and perused the menu while Emily sampled a chocolate bitters and PX negroni, and I used every bit of will power to order a mocktail (grapefruit juice) in light of my current "cleanse", much to Emily's disappointment. After a good 15 minutes ogling all the things on the menu we finally decided what to eat. The menu at Bucket is split into small snacks (squid ink crackers, taramasalata, seaweed crisps etc), plates - half of which are virtuous plates of raw or grilled fish, the other half less virtuous, including *that* toastie. Then there are the buckets - various sizes of deep fried seafood, and different flavours of mussels. There's also a boards section offering a half chicken, sirloin of beef or a whole seabass, and plenty of sides to choose from too. As well as weekly specials.

By the time we were ready to order we looked around to a much happier sight of a nearly full restaurant. Apparently all walk ins, which says a lot for a restaurant that's on the same road as at least 20 others places to eat. 

To start we had grilled giant squid steak with lemon puree, and tuna tartare with avocado mayonaisse. I've never had squid steak before, but it was wonderful. A thick piece of perfectly tender squid, with the smoky char from the grill on a bitter and slightly sharp puree. An absolute must order if you go to Bucket. The tuna tartare was also exquisite. Simply seasoned with salt, pepper and a drizzle of sesame oil, the freshness of the fish shone through. 

Then it was on to the buckets. We chose a small fritto misto - whitebait, prawns, calamari and courgette, with all the sauces, and a small bucket of the lobster and brandy mussels. The fritto misto was perfect - the lightest of batters clinging to perfectly cooked seafood - something that's not as easy as it sounds. In order to use sustainably sourced and certificated whitebait, it means using a larger fish than you'll find in 99% of restaurants. This in turn makes the cooking process more difficult, but Bucket have managed to get it just right, with a juicy fish cooked through in a crisp batter. The sauces that we dunked said fish into were brilliant - sriracha mayo was just the right amount of spicy, citrus mayo had lime, lemon and orange zest in it to give it a really full and balanced flavour, roasted garlic aioli was punchy enough to see off all the ghouls, and seaweed mayo had a delicious salty depth to it. 

Despite devouring all of the fritto misto, it was the mussels that really stole my heart. Again, perfectly cooked in the richest of sauces. It was like an unctuous, reduced down lobster bisque that clung to every mussel in the bucket and begged to be mopped up with the hunks of bread served alongside it. Or even with the charred bits of courgette we'd ordered as a side. Or both. Or just a spoon.... you get my drift! Bucket do three or four other varieties of mussels, none of which I've sampled yet, so I guess I'll just have to go back and work my way through them, and at around £12.50 for a small bucket, that's definitely something I can manage!

Emily also tried the lobster mac and cheese, which I'm guessing was the pasta not bread version of *that* toastie, and something I will also need to go back and try for myself.

Bucket out did itself. I'd raved about my first visit to Emily, and last night did not disappoint. It's so refreshing to have a reasonably priced, sustainable seafood restaurant in London that serves such tasty and high quality food. As it says on the menu - "there are only so many fish in the sea" and personally, I'm going to eat most of my share at Bucket from now on!
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Hello! Yes, I know, it's been a while.... no excuses really. But hopefully there'll be a lot more coming on this site in the near future. I might not have been writing about them (yet), but I've continued to eat my way around London and beyond, and have lots of lovely places to tell you about, but I thought I'd break the ice with my top 10 from 2017 (before we get even further into 2018!)

So, starting with the best... which is a bit of a tease, as it's now closed down....

Summers - for six glorious months north west London was home to the best food I ate last year. Summers appeared in the tiny upstairs room of the Sir Colin Campbell pub in Kilburn, turning out plates of the finest terrines, meats, pickles, and perfectly cooked vegetables you could ever hope for. Tables were ramshackle, walls were peeling, the whole thing was run by one chef and one waiter, and every time we visited we stayed for hours and hours - drinking delicious bottles of wine, eating as much as humanly possible, dancing downstairs to the Irish "band" before running back upstairs for just one more plate of whatever goodness was on the menu that day. I'm really hoping that Greg and Ruairidh have a secret plan to reincarnate Summers very soon!

So, after that ode to my favourite, now missing in action, here are the other 9 I loved in 2017 (and are still open for business)

The Cow - having moved to north west London in late 2016 I've discovered a raft of brilliant eateries right on my doorstep. The Cow is one of those. Probably the most deceptive pub I've eaten in, you'd have no idea of the quality of French food they serve on walking through the doors. An "old man's pub" is the less than flattering phrase one of my friends used to describe it, but appearances mean nothing here. The menu is bursting with fresh seafood, perfect cuts of meat and French classics. The pies are legendary and the chicken liver parfait is the best I've tasted. You can eat downstairs in the main pub, or book upstairs for a more sophisticated experience. Either way, if you're in Portobello/Notting Hill, be sure to head to The Cow for food.

Western's Laundry - another neighborhood gem (though sadly not my neighborhood), Western's Laundry, just off Holloway Road, bill themselves as a seafood restaurant, but if you're not a fan don't let that put you off. They're far more than that. The daily changing menu includes treats like meaty croquettes, delicious cured hams, ray wing with bertolli beans, braised chicken leg and leeks, and seriously good cheeseboards and puddings.

Freak Scene - I've long been a fan of Scott Hallsworth's cooking so was thrilled to find out his new venture was a five minute walk from my office in Farringdon. The food here is billed as curious Asian plates - I'd say it's more divine Japanese junk food. A totally unique offering, there's nowhere else in London that I know of doing food like Scott does at Freak Scene. The red curry duck with lychees is my perfect guilty lunch - in fact I'd quite like to go every day for lunch and work my way through the menu over and over again. Which, if my waistline allowed, I could, as they've just gone from pop up to permanent (YEY!)

Noble Rot - sometimes it takes me a while to catch up. Places go on "the list", I never go, then new places open, the original place slips down "the list" and then a year or two later I finally make it to said restaurant. In this case, Noble Rot, the wine bar/restaurant in Bloomsbury. Having won several accolades for their excellent wine list, this is clearly a place to go for a good bottle. But don't miss out on the food. Pair that good bottle with their extrodinarily good food, go with friends or a date, and don't book anything afterwards - just move yourselves and your bottle from the restaurant to the bar area and congratulate yourselves on picking a corker for an evening of great food and booze.

Patty and Bun - there seems to be a lot of "junk food" on my list this year....! Patty and Bun have been a firm favourite of mine ever since I took a bite of their veggie burger at Wilderness a few years ago. The deep fried mushroom dripping in garlic butter won my heart. And then they opened in Notting Hill, and I've been back many, many more times for all of their burgers and sides. Deep fried cheese balls with fiery chilli sauce, thunder thigh chicken bits and their Ari Gold cheeseburger, made with meat from the same butcher I use for my pop ups, with onions, smokey mayo and brioche buns. I figure if you're going to eats burgers, you might as well eat the best quality ones you can get.

Dumplings Legend - I'm pretty sure that I became addicted to the Dumplings Legend's dumplings on first bite. I mean, how else can I explain buying 8 or 9 portions of their dumplings that evening we first tried them at Taste. Since that first bite, I've visited their Chinatown base (too) many times. Open till 2am and with an extensive dumpling menu, DL is the perfect spot for your fix of steamed, fried and baked little parcels of joy.

Chik'n - another "junk food" place...! But it hardly even counts as junk food.... I think. Chik'n is the first fast food joint from the guys behind Chick n' Sours, a firm favourite of mine, as Chik'n is now too. Their first outlet is at the top of Baker Street and serves up buckets of wings, towering burgers and varieties of chicken tenders, all made using higher welfare chicken, which is cooked in rapeseed oil meaning healthy(er) fried chicken. They recycle their waste and dispose of unrecyclables responsibly and are just all round good eggs.

Mam - there's no surprise that a dog friendly, Vietnamese BBQ restaurant, run by the loveliest team, that's five minutes walk from my flat makes it on to my top 10 list. But even if you don't live locally (or have a dog) I highly recommend a visit to this gem of a restaurant. With a menu that ranges from crispy chicken wings tossed in fish sauce and crispy garlic, to the lighter prawns with steamed vermicelli and herbs, there's something for everyone in this plant filled, cosy, West London spot.

The Wigmore - last but not least (how could I ever put anything to do with Michel Roux Jr last or least?!) The Wigmore is the newish pub that's part of the Langham Hotel near Oxford Circus. Dog friendly, and so warm and welcoming, this central London pub serves some truly indulgent and delicious food - pub classics done with serious style. We had a rabbit, veal and cep lasagne to share between 2, and today's menu includes toasties, scotch eggs, pies and moules. I can't think of a better place to hide from the madness of Oxford Street and eat all the wonderful things.

I've already got some contenders for 2018, which has got off to a food fueled year already. I'll be sharing full reviews of my favs on here over the next weeks (I promise!!)

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