Saturday, 28 July 2012

Tom's Kitchen (and a girly day out in Chelsea)

I love Kings Road, but aside from the occasional night out, I don't get to spend much time there - it's pretty inaccessible from Angel (and no-one I know can afford to live there just yet), so heading over to Chelsea to meet a friend for an afternoon of brunch and shopping felt like a bit of an adventure...

It was a lovely sunny morning, so rather than braving the notoriously temperamental circle line I cycled down to Embankment and followed the river to Battersea Bridge - one of the most scenic routes in London - and met my friend for brunch at Tom's Kitchen.

The restaurant - owned by the Michelin starred Tom Aikens - sits on a quiet street in the pretty residential area just north of King's Road. While one could be forgiven for mistaking it for a pub from the outside (black-painted wood and the old-fashioned lamp both add to this impression), the interior is light and airy, and stylishly decorated. I especially liked the white tiled bathroom with its ornate mirror

Is it weird that I took a picture?

The food here was fantastic - my friend's egg florentine was apparently as tasty as it looked, but I want to focus on (or rather, rave about) the absolute gorgeousness of my brunch choice - the brioche french toast with caramelised apples and cinnamon whipped cream.

Oh.My.God. The french toast - a good 3 inches of light, sweet, custard-soaked brioche, topped with generous chunks of soft, caramelised apples and served with a beautiful syrup (rich, brown, buttery), which drench the french toast and pooled delectably around the edges (perfect for dipping!)

Cinnamon whipped cream was a dream - sweet and delicately spiced, the perfect accompaniment to the brioche/apple/caramel flavours of the french toast. A jug of maple syrup was also provided on the side, but I felt this to be superfluous - the lake of caramel sauce was more than sufficient for dipping purposes, and the stronger flavour of the maple syrup would have detracted from the dish, if anything.

After brunch we made our way over to Kings Road, wandering past an assortment of charming boutiques and specialist food shops on our way...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Greasy spoon brunch with my brother - My Tea Shop

My brother and I met up near London Bridge both craving a hearty Sunday Brunch...and My Tea Shop had just the thing.

A traditional greasy spoon right by the station, this was 100% authentic - a tiny place, crammed with workmen, taxi drivers and other fry-up connoiseurs; all tucking into generous helpings of eggs, chips, beans and bacon.

A man-sized portion of fried goodies hit the spot - a squeeze of tomato sauce and a couple of mugs of strong tea, and we were good to go.

If you've had a heavy night, and can't be bothered messing around with a 'fancy' brunch menu (french toast...rhubarb compote...hollandaise) this is just the place. And the convenient location near London Bridge means it's the perfect compromise for a meeting of North and South Londoners.

My Tea Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


Just across the road from my office, Manicomio is one of my favourite places to eat in the City* - deliciously authentic Italian coffee (a temptation I give in to a couple of mornings a week), an incredible array of takeaway salads and hot dishes at lunchtimes [get there early to avoid the inevitable queues!], 'fancier' dine-in offerings in the airy ground floor cafe (perfect for a girly lunch), and an excellent selection of wines for a post-work drink. There's also a restaurant upstairs - although this is somewhat out of my price range...

On a quiet side street, sheltered from the road by a 'waterfall-wall' installation, Manicomio is light and airy, with high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling french windows, and a pleasant outdoor area (small white tables topped with little vases of flowers - a lovely spot to soak up the sun over a meal or a drink).

In addition to the extensive take-away and eat-in options, Manicomio sells a variety of Italian deli products, including pastas, sweets, olive oils, and cheeses. While these are all quite pricey, it definitely gives you something to look at in the queue, and, at a pinch, can form the basis for a last-minute gift (for something a bit more original than the standard Hotel Chocolat selection).

*There's also a nice branch in Chelsea, just off King's Road near the Saatchi Gallery
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Sunday, 22 July 2012


With its own roastery in the basement, one would expect Caravan to serve up a good cup of coffee - and it certainly doesn't disappoint.

The coffee alone would be reason enough for a visit - smooth and intense, with an impressive depth of flavour, the small frothy cappuccinos, milky glasses of latte, and typically Antipodean flat whites were all delicious...However, Caravan has more strings to its bow.

A cool venue at the West end of Exmouth Market, with an 'industrial-cool' interior, a well-stocked bar, and tasty food, it is worth a visit any time of the day.

I spent a sunny afternoon revising at one of their shabby-chic tables - french windows rolled open imparting an airy al fresco feel - sipping on a stream of (fantastic) coffee and the free water the friendly waiters kept topped up for the duration of my stay.

My only gripe is that the coffees are somewhat pricey given their size: if you're anything like me (that is, if you have grown up in the era of Starbucks and its venti caffeine hits) you will need at least two, and while good...OK, very good...they are by no means cheap. The pleasant atmosphere and attentive staff do compensate for this though, so get your money's worth and make sure you set aside plenty of time for lingering!

At weekends, the place is packed and humming with lively chatter. You may have to wait for a table for brunch, but sitting on stools at the cool bar, nursing a coffee and people-watching was not really a problem for us!

My boyfriend and I both ordered the full English (unadventurous as usual!) - bacon, two eggs any way (we went for poached), a dense, buttered doorstep of sourdough bread, grilled tomatoes, and - my favourite - a helping of delicious 'soy' mushrooms, firm and nutty in a tasty creamy sauce.

The poached eggs were ever-so-slightly overdone, but with plenty of delicious sauce from the mushrooms we still had something to dip our toast into, so no real complaints there!

We also ordered a serving of chilli beans and bubble & squeak on the side. Chilli beans came in a large bowl - a huge portion we struggled to finish. Kidney beans and what I think were cannellini beans mingled with tomato and onions in a sauce that - although not especially spicy - had a strong flavour of chilli.

Bubble and squeak was more of a cabbage and potato croquette - mashed potato mixed in with white cabbage, shaped into a patty, and fried in breadcrumbs...not something that I would really eat (I prefer the traditional version, chock full of vegetables and colour), but I guess some people would prefer this - particularly people who prefer fried goodies to vegetables!

There was a lot of food...but we persevered!

The bar area is cool, and I'd definitely like to go back here with friends for a drink and maybe some light bites one evening - with such a great atmosphere at noon on a Sunday, when most people are nursing hangovers, I would love to see what it's like later on.

Square MealCaravan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Albion

Situated on a quiet leafy close in Barnsbury, The Albion is a fantastic pub - a perfect spot for a drink (at one of the picnic tables out front, or in the expansive beer garden round the back), and an even better location for a super-tasty Sunday roast.

I first discovered The Albion when looking for somewhere canine-friendly to eat with my parents, and their (cute-but-naughty) dog...And in addition to the impressively laid-back attitude of the staff (which they maintained even when the dog decided to sit on one of the stylishly upholstered sofas*), we were blown away by the fantastic food.

I've had the pleasure of trying two of the roast options here: the whole roast chicken (supposedly to share between two, but my boyfriend gobbled it so quickly I barely got a look in!) and, my favourite, the rib of beef (also for two).

Alongside the platters of meat, the table was heaped with a generous helping of all the trimmings - fluffy yorkshires, a fantastically dark, deeply savoury gravy, roasted carrots , and sweet buttery cabbage all made an appearance. However, the star of the show were the roast potatoes, which were literally (no exaggeration) the best I've ever had. Crunchy and golden-skinned, with the softest, fluffiest insides...1000% delicious.

The roast chicken is faultless, but the rib of beef - thick rare slices of beef, served alongside meat-on-the-bone and crispy bone marrow (to be scooped piping hot from a cracked open bone), all dished up in a black skillet - was FANTASTIC. After begging a few tastes from my parents the first time round, my boyfriend and I had to return to get a portion all to ourselves...

The puddings there are also great: sticky toffee pudding with a rich gooey sauce and a cool ball of ice-cream slowly melting on top went down a treat (unsurprisingly); and my boyfriend's dessert the first time round - an intense, rich, chocolate and honeycomb concotion (I've forgotten the name) - was incredible (he had to fight off the attack of three spoons, and even the dog looked hungry!)

The only fault I could find with the place is that you have to book in advance - I've tried to go with friends at short notice, and it really does get fully booked, so make sure you call ahead!

*he likes to think of himself as a human

Square MealThe Albion on Urbanspoon

Gail's Artisan Bakery: Part 2

As promised, here is a review of a few of my favourite treats from Gail's:

Sultana and Hazelnut Rye Bread

I’m currently working my way through a third loaf of Gail’s sultana and hazelnut rye bread, which is so delicious that I broke my rule of ‘trying something new every time’ not once, but twice.

A crusty, flavoursome loaf punctuated with sweet juicy sultanas and whole hazelnuts, this bread is about as far removed from the sliced ‘plastic’ variety as you could hope to find. I like it best toasted in thick slices, drowning in pools of salty melted butter and maybe dotted with strawberry jam…the sultanas hot from the toaster, the hazelnuts toasted golden brown, and the crust even crunchier than before.

TIP: If you struggle to get through a full loaf before it turns stale, slice and freeze any excess on the day of purchase. The just pop a (frozen) slice into the toaster as needed.

American Pumpernickel

Cocoa-brown with a dense, almost peaty texture; Gail’s American pumpernickel has an intensely savoury flavour that is a perfect melding of earthy chocolate and fragrant caraway. The small dark loaf is topped with a generous sprinkling of sunflower and sesame seeds and studded with sultanas.

Egg muffin Florentine

An innovative (and considerably more portable) take on the traditional breakfast dish, this is fantastic cold, and could potentially be even better with a few minutes under the grill (for those with the patience – i.e. not me!) A thick base of dense, doughy English muffin, topped with a thin layer of wilted leeks, and a tangle of vibrant green spinach, cooked to perfection. Salty melted cheese adds another layer of flavour to the mix, while the crowning glory – a golden egg yolk – is magically held together until your first bite, upon which it oozes deliciously (and probably down your chin).

Here is a (very bad) photo – note the ooze in action:


Strawberry and rhubarb cake

A perfect ‘breakfast’ cake, this had an incredible texture – moist and dense without being overly rich - and was dotted with juicy morsels of strawberry and rhubarb. One of my favourite things from Gail's, and better than a muffin any day!

Reverse chocolate cookie

There are two varieties of chocolate cookie on display at Gail’s, both located temptingly in front of the till. The ‘reverse cookie’ is the chunkier of the two – generous, shortbread-like discs, thickly sliced from a log of biscuit dough, and studded with big chunks of white chocolate.

This was not a chewy cookie – firm and crumbly, it would be more accurately described as a giant biscuit – but it was delicious all the same. Dark and intensely chocolate-y, punctuated with the sweetness of the white chocolate, this is the perfect treat to share with a friend (or if you’re feeling especially greedy, it’s pretty good all to yourself too!!).

And on that note, I end my (excessively long...) review of Gail's Artisan Bakery!

Square Meal

Monday, 16 July 2012

Pistachio & Pickle

A little cafe-cum-deli in leafy Barnsbury, Pistachio & Pickle is as charming as its name. While small, it boasts an impressive cheese counter, shelves stacked with a colourful assortment of jars, boxes and exotic teabags, a tasty array of cakes and pastries, and a gigantic coffee machine...

Oh...and it does a mean brunch too.

The brunch menu - handwritten on brown paper and pinned to the wall (oooh, arty) - features all the classics:

On this occasion, my boyfriend and I both opted for the full English, which didn't disappoint.

Bacon, eggs, beans and buttered toast, sausages - succulent inside their crisp glossy casings (not usually a sausage fan, I tend to leave them abandoned at the edge of my plate...but these were very tasty), and a meaty mushroom.

Home-made ketchup and brown sauce was another impressive touch (although, pleb that I am, I missed my Heinz!)

The owners were lovely: chatty, friendly, and very accommodating of the boisterous puppy we were babysitting that day. We sat outside in the cosy patio garden - a peaceful little sun-trap at the back of the cafe and were served by a lovely waitress, who fussed over the dog and didn't complain when he got under her feet.

We will definitely visit again - with or without a dog. I'm keen to try a cup of their Monmouth Company coffee with a pastry, or maybe pick up some cheese and pickles!

Pistachio & Pickle Coffee and Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Recipes: Salad Nicoise

Perfect for a summer's day, salad nicoise is best served with a cool glass of dry rose and a big helping of sunshine.

It's relatively simple to make - despite the huge array of components - and can be easily adapted according to individual tastes. And on top of that, it provides the chef with a good opportunity for some artistic presentation (or, if you prefer, you can just toss it all together on a plate - easy!)

While you can layer it up any way you like, here's how I did it:

Layer 1: lettuce, chopped, rinsed and patted dry
Layer 2: firm tomatoes, cut into eights
Layer 3: black olives, halved (tip: get fancy ones - mine were cheap and nasty and I regretted it!)
Layer 4: green beans, trimmed at each end and steamed until al dente (around 5 minutes)

Layer 5: halved baby new potatoes, scrubbed and boiled, peels left on (it's the healthiest part, dontcha-know). Don't overcook these or they will fall apart and make your salad less pretty - they should still have some bite. If using a different type of potato, waxy is best (e.g. Anya potatoes)
Layer 6: canned tuna, seperated out with a fork

Layer 7: Anchovies, arranged like a flower (or not...)
Layer 8: Hard boiled eggs (NOT overdone - nothing worse than greenish yolks...10 minutes should be plenty), halved

Top with a dressing made from good grainy mustard, extra-virgin olive oil, and lemon voila - salad nicoise!

SALAD NICOISE - Ingredients

For the salad:
Lettuce (mixed leaf, cos lettuce, romaine lettuce...totally up to you)
Tomatoes (any size, as long as they're firm)
Black olives
Green beans
New potatoes (or any other waxy potato)
Canned tuna (could use tuna steaks if you are trying to impress someone!)

For the dressing:
Grainy mustard
Extra-virgin olive oil (or just normal olive oil, whatevs)
Lemon juice

Whisk the dressing ingredients together with a fork - a couple of teaspoons of mustard, and roughly equal amounts of oil and lemon juice, adjust quantities to taste (I like mine extra mustard-y). Season with salt and pepper.

Gail’s Artisan Bakery: Part 1

Gail’s Artisan Bakery is a lovely little cafĂ©-cum-bakery located on the charming Exmouth Market. In addition to its excellent location – with pavement tables spilling out onto the marketplace – Gail’s offers some of the best bread and pastries in North London; and with friendly service, tasty brunches, and fantastic coffee, there are few places I’d rather while away a lazy Sunday morning.

While the outside tables are the perfect place to soak up the sunshine (and the atmosphere) on fine days, the interior is equally pleasant. An artistically display of breads, pastries, cakes, and savoury treats, laid out on an enormous red table near the entrance, welcomes you in; and there is ample seating at the back (with some tables over-looking the open kitchen where the pastries are made – a perfect spot for those looking to pick up some culinary tricks!). The space is light and airy, with white walls, light wood, and muted reds bestowing a fresh, almost Scandinavian feel.

An expansive blackboard behind the counter (also piled high with pastries and cakes) advertises a wide selection of hot drinks and freshly squeezed juices, while a breakfast menu – offering such delights as buttermilk hotcakes, brioche French toast and granola(see below) – graces each table.

While Gail’s is at heart a bakery, it is worth taking a second to note the high standard of their coffee – much as good as Antipodean Caravan further along Exmouth Market, which boats a roaster in its basement, but with the added bonus (in my eyes, at least) of offering larger sizes, for those caffeine addicts among us!

Their cappuccino is fantastic – the ‘toasty’ depth of the coffee clearly tangible under the sweetness of the milk, while the froth is thick, smooth and creamy (unlike the unpleasantly over-aerated foam which seems to be the standard at many chains).

Tea comes in a glass pot – chamomile was especially pretty, with little flowers floating in the golden-hued brew being enjoyed by the man at the next table [picture taken after he left!]

Breakfast at Gail’s – eaten in the sunshine with my boyfriend – was also very good, especially the brioche French toast. Dainty slices of delicately egg-washed brioche, browned in butter and sprinkled with icing sugar, were served alongside tartly sweet rhubarb compote and – my favourite part – a rich and creamy vanilla ricotta sauce (perfect for dipping – yum!).

My boyfriend opted for English muffin, bacon, eggs and tomato: while the egg yolks could have been a bit runnier, the muffin was (unsurprisingly) excellent, and the bacon (of which I stole more than a bite!) was very good – thick-cut and smokey-sweet.

But of course, the real draw of Gail’s is the baked goods, so – having supplied many a weekend brunch with the spoils of a visit to Gail’s – I have reviewed a few of my favourite treats in the next post.

Square Meal Gail's Artisan Bakery on Urbanspoon