Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Afternoon tea at Claridges

I have wanted to try the afternoon tea at Claridges since I first moved to London, over two years ago now. So why did it take me so long to finally go? Two reasons. Firstly, at £39 for what is effectively a very fancy afternoon snack, it's not exactly cheap, and I needed to earn some money first. And secondly, you have to book ridiculously far in advance to get a weekend spot...and while I'm pretty organised, it seems almost pathological to know what you're doing twenty weekends ahead of time.

Having given up once before and gone to The Connaught instead (which was lovely, and more importantly, only needed a mere (!) six weeks' advance notice) I finally ended up having afternoon tea at Claridges last weekend.

My friend and I had booked (three months in advance, I might add) for the relatively late 5pm slot. The cakes may be dainty, but you do get a huge amount of food at an afternoon tea (especially if you take advatage of the free refills), and to make it worth the money - and to save room for all the tasty food - it's a good idea to have it as the main meal of your day. So, after preparing our stomachs with a tiny lunch and a drizzly but appetite-building walk across London, we were good to go.

Shaking off our umbrellas outside the door, we entered the grand lobby, where we were directed to the cloakroom to 'freshen up' before our meal. The cloakroom at Claridges is worthy of a visit in itself: decorated in a delightful art deco style, it features frescoed walls, wood-panelled toilets, and a whole row of dressing tables for touching up your make-up.

Fully refreshed, we headed to the Reading Room to take our seats for the afternoon tea. High-ceilinged and softly lit, the Reading Room is also decorated in full art deco style, with elegant archways and intricately carved pillars lining the walls. The atmosphere was lovely: live piano music tinkled away for the duration of our meal, while other diners clustered happily around little tables, engaging in relaxed conversation over pots of tea and delicate cakes.

Our meal began with an introduction from the waiter, who assisted us in choosing from the vast selection of teas listed on the menu. After some consideration, we both opted for the special jubilee blend. A fairly traditional black tea, this wasn't the most adventurous choice, but was a lovely accompaniment to our food.

With our tea, we were served with the first course of the afternoon tea: a plate of tasty finger sandwiches. Ham and mustard sandwiches were very good: cut into rectangles, with soft bread encasing a thick and tasty wedge of cured ham, these were light but satisfyingly meaty. Smoked salmon with cream cheese was also lovely, although my favourites were the little triangles filled with deliciously creamy smoked chicken and egg mayonnaise. The only weak point for me were the cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches: bland and soggy, I've never really understood the appeal of cucumber as a sandwich filling. However, my friend (who is more refined than me) thought they were very nice!

When asked if we would like refills, we (of course) were happy to accept, and contentedly nibbled away on a second plate, although - aware of the need to save room for the oncoming sweets - we didn't quite get through the full batch*.

Next up were the scones and cakes. Four miniature scones - two apple and two raisin - were served warm with a pot of gorgeously thick clotted cream and a delicious Marco Polo tea-infused jam. Split down the middle and slathered with both toppings, these were delicious, and their dainty size made them very maneagable (OK, I admit maneagable we ordered a refill!).

The tray of cakes arrived at the same time as the scones and featured a good variety of treats.

Champage jelly was served in a shot glass, above a layer of berries.The clear jelly had a surprisingly strong champagne flavour, and was very refreshing (although somewhat difficult to share!).

Next up was a slice of dense, incredibly rich chocolate cake. Topped with three semi-spheres of mousse and a thin layer of chocolate, this was fudgy and intensely chocolately: delicious but perhaps a bit too rich for my liking (especially alongside all the other sweet treats!).

The berry tart was also delicious, with a tasty berry filling encased in delicious short-crust pasty and topped with a crumble topping (stained a rich velvet red) and a scattering of hazelnuts.

The final treat was a miniature loaf of lavender-scented sponge. Topped with a swirl of tasty buttercream, this had a lovely crumb and a delicate floral flavour.
With our refill of scones, we received two more slices of the chocolate gateau. Caught up in greed I ate mine, despite being beyond full at this point...and as punishment, ended my meal feeling a bit sick! In spite of that, this was a fantastic experience, and one I hope to repeat some time in the future. Despite the price, the afternoon tea was actually pretty good value: the service was excellent, the atmopshere was great, and as well as serving in place of a main meal, it filled me up for most of the next day too.

Afternoon Tea at Claridge's Hotel on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

*The one annoying thing about afternoon tea is that you don't seem to be able to go back and forth between sweet and savoury - a few bites of our left-over sandwiches would have been a welcome break from the scones and sweet pasties later in the meal, but sadly our unfinished plate was cleared away...

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Steak with porcini mushroom cream sauce and pommes dauphinoise

For the main course of my home-cooked anniversary dinner, I had wanted to make steak aux morilles. This was one of my favourite dishes during my two-year stint in Geneva, when my family made regular trips to a nearby bistro to devour juicy steaks topped with this rich, creamy mushroom sauce.

Morel mushrooms are wrinkled and hollow with an incredible flavour: earthy, musky and delicious, they work fantastically with meat and in creamy gravies, and are capable of elevating a traditional mushroom sauce to something quite special.

Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to find anywhere I could buy these in the UK (I naively thought they may have some in Waitrose), and a quick look on the internet sees dried morels being sold for upwards of £60! So, I decided to go with porcini mushrooms instead.

For the steak and mushroom sauce:


2 good quality steaks (I used fillet steak)
Generous handful of dried porcini mushrooms (or dried morels, if you can find/afford them!)
Single cream, around 150ml

Begin by placing the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl, and covering with boiling water from the kettle. Leave to steep for around 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan with a splash of cooking oil until extremely hot (if you're unsure, add a tiny fleck of meat - it should sizzle up immediately). Add the steaks and cook according to instructions on the packet, and preference. It's usually around eight minutes (four on each side) for a rare steak, but this will of course vary with the thickness of the meat!

Remove from the pan and plate up - you can leave the steaks for a minute or two while you make your sauce without any ill effects to the taste.

Drain the water from the porcini mushrooms (note: if you're making a risotto or a stew, reserve the steeping liquid and add it to your dish, as it picks up a really good flavour from the mushrooms). Using the same pan as you did for the steak, add the soaked mushrooms, a knob of butter, and your cream. 

Turn the heat right down, and stir until the cream sauce has picked up all the delicious meaty residue from the bottom of the pan and your mushrooms are heated through. Pour the sauce over the meat, and serve.

Alongside the steak and mushroom sauce we had brussels sprouts (steamed for around five minutes until al dente) and dauphinoise potatoes.

I have to admit, while not a fan of ready meals in general, I've always been happy to cheat with dauphinoise potatoes: they're a perfect side for a meat and two veg style meal (a bit more interesting than plain old spuds), but far too fiddly to make from scratch on a weeknight. So, with no prior experience of making this dish, I was a bit apprehensive at how it would turn out (and how difficult it might be!)

I made a huge portion, and still have a couple of individual servings in my freezer (to be used in the place of the ready meal variety in the future).


1kg baking potatoes
2 cloves of garlic
150ml single cream (plus extra as needed)
250ml double cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional: Gruyere cheese (for a melted cheese topping), or parmesan - I chose not to use any cheese as I felt it would be overkill after my cheesy souffle starter.

Start by peeling your potatoes, and slicing them into rounds of roughly the same thickness as a £1 coin. Place your potato slices into a colander, rinse thoroughly with cold water, and pat dry on a tea towel.

In a jug, measure out your single and double cream, and add the grated garlic cloves and plenty of salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Lightly butter an oven-proof dish, and cover the bottom with an overlapping layer of potato slices. Season with salt and pepper, and cover with some of the cream mixture. Repeat this process until you run out of potato rounds, alternating layers of potato with the cream mixture. 

Make sure the top layer of potatoes is fully covered in cream. This is especially important if you are not putting in the oven immediately, as raw potatoes quickly start to go grey when left in the air. Covering them with cream gives you an hour or two's grace and allows you to get on with the rest of your cooking in the meantime.

When you're ready, place you dish near the top of a pre-heated oven at 160C (140C for a fan oven) and bake for around 90 minutes (or until the potatoes are soft), checking periodically that the top is not burning. If it starts to get too brown, cover with a layer of tin foil for the remainder of the cooking period.

Stand to cool for around 10 minutes before serving (straight from the oven, this will be extremely hot). You should aim to take the dauphinoise potatoes out to cool at around the same time as you begin cooking your steak.

So, there you go: a fairly decent attempt at a traditional french meal. Unfortunately mushroom sauce and creamy potatoes aren't the most compelling photo subject...but I promise, it tasted a lot better than it looks!!!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Drink Shop & Do

This post has been languishing half-finished in my drafts folder since September, so it feels quite satisfying to finally hit the publish button!

I ended up in Drink Shop & Do - a cool concept cafe near Kings Cross - after an extremely unsuccesful trip to the Kings Cross ice-cream festival (it was raining, half the stands were closed, and they ran out of ice-cream just before we arrived. NIGHTMARE!). Ice-cream hopes dashed,we decided to find somewhere out of the rain for a cup of tea and a bite to eat. My friend suggested Drink, Shop & Do.

What do you call an ice-cream festival with no ice-cream...?

A mere 2 minutes walk from Kings Cross, Drink, Shop & Do is an awesome combo of cafe, shop, arts & crafts studio and performance venue (we were kicked out at 7.30pm for a comedy show). And if you're looking for something a bit more 'grown-up', you can head downstairs (through a door ominously marked "adult & erotica") to Drink, Shop & Dance for music and dancing.

Tasty cakes :)

Upon entering, we passed through the small shop in the front (selling whimsical gifts and a tempting selection of pic n' mix) and up a flight of steps to the light, airy cafe. Cheerily decorated with a brightly painted bar, mismatched chairs, and a swarm of colourful kites and streamers hanging from the ceiling, this had a fun, arty vibe - a great spot for whiling away an afternoon, drinking tea and maybe playing a game of Scrabble or two (they have a decent collection of board games for customers to borrow).

Through an archway on the back wall, we found a snug side-room: dimly lit and draped in jewel-toned silks, it was a bit more cosy than the main room (although no less kitsch!). We settled down for a brew and a good catch-up.

The menu is extremely wide-ranging, offering everything from breakfast to bar snacks. You can even order a tea cupful of sweets! There's plenty of typical cafe fare (soups, quiche, salads, sandwiches), a good selection of cakes, and a choice of four different afternoon teas - including the tongue-in-cheek "man's afternoon tea" featuring pork pies, scotch eggs, and (of course) a Yorkie, and the more sophisticated "royal afternoon tea" (which comes with a glass of Perrier Jouet champagne).

There's also a very comprehensive selection of teas, some interesting cocktails, and even a decent wine list. Basically, Drink, Shop & Do has it all.,_Shop_%26_Do/Drink,_Shop_&_Do_—_Menus_files/Full%20Menu.pdf

On this occasion, I opted for a late lunch of quiche and salad, which was excellent (and at only £6.80, fairly good value for what was a pretty filling meal). One of my friends went for the lemon drizzle cake (dense, moist, tasty), while the other ordered a plate of cheese and pickle finger sandwiches. Served on gleaming white bread, cut into eight mini triangles with the crusts sliced off, this was a very party-food-esque snack. In fact the whole place feels a bit like a kid's birthday party (in a good, colourful, pass-the-parcel, jelly-and-ice-cream kind of way).

As well as food and drink, Drink, Shop & Do also have a menu of 'dos': from clay sculpting and knitting, to 50s pin-up makeover sessions, these would be great for hen parties, birthdays, or corporate events.

With so much on offer, Drink, Shop & Do is definitely one of the best 'all-round' venues I've come across in London. It's nice to find somewhere with so much character this close to Kings Cross - with all the activities, it would be a perfect place to spend a couple of hours if your train is delayed (a bit more exciting than playing Angry Birds on your phone in Starbucks!)
Drink Shop & Do on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Seafood supper at the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack

Bonnie Gull started life as a pop-up in 2011, serving up excellent seafood - and a good dose of seaside nostalgia - from a pie 'n' mash shop in Hackney. One year later, and the popular seafood shack has been reborn as a permanent restaurant, newly ensconced in a cosy venue just north of Oxford Street.

Despite its reincarnation, Bonnie Gull still feels very much like a seafood shack: with driftwood panelling,  blue and white-striped awning, and a muted colour-scheme, it has a distinctly coastal feel (even the barman was dressed in maritime stripes) - a little piece of the British seaside transported to the middle of the city.

It was fitting then, that the night of our visit was a wet one: blustery and cold, with rain beating down as we rushed from bus to restaurant, it was definitely reminiscent of childhood holidays by the sea. The restaurant is small - it only seats 26, and even that is a bit of a squeeze - but it felt companionable rather than cramped; the gentle buzz of chatter serving as a pleasant backdrop to our meal. An impressive focus on quality ingredients is very much in evidence: the menu changes daily according to the catch, and the restaurant is closed on Mondays because (as the manager informs me) "Monday is not a good day for sourcing seafood":

On the day of our meal, starters range from deep fried Mersea sardines to Isle of Man scallops (with chorizo, lemon puree and spinach), while the main course menu features grey and red mullet, wild sea trout, battered haddock, and plaice. There are even some non-seafood options (the sample menu on the website includes woodland pigeon ballotine and venison steak) - although (vegetarians aside) it would seem a travesty to order anything other than seafood in such a place.

In addition to the main menu, Bonnie Gull has an extenstive raw bar selection, serving clams, winkles, whelks, cockles, razor clams and languistines, as well as three types of oysters. My boyfriend overrode my initial squeamishness and ordered us a couple of razor clams. Arriving in their shells, balanced upon a dish of ice, these were excellent - meltingly tender, with a clean 'sea' flavour, they went perfectly with the accompanying 'shack' cocktail sauce.

While the starters all looked excellent - I was particularly tempted by smoked rainbow trout with potato pancakes, beetroot and horseradish - we decided to share a main course item as our first course: the whole Devon cock crab, with shack mayo and sourdough sounded too good to miss, but on a night such as this we were both in the mood for something a bit more warming for our main.

The crab was large and satisyingly meaty, with plenty of sweet crab flesh waiting to be extracted from the legs and claws piled up in the centre of the wooden serving board. The main shell had been hollowed out and filled with a deliciously rich crab mayonnaise, which we smeared onto the accompanying slice of toasted sourdough and drizzled over our salad. However, a word of warning: while we enjoyed this dish, I would probably not recommend it for people on a first date, as a few 'crab juice in face' incidents did arise from our enthusiastic claw-cracking. Very romantic!

For my main course I went for the plaice in caper beurre noisette. This was absolutely exquisite - the incredibly succulent, crispy-skinned plaice fillet lay in a pool of nutty brown butter, scattered with capers and dainty girolle mushrooms... I could easily have eaten it three times over, and have been craving it ever since!

My boyfriend opted for the fish soup. While this couldn't quite live up to my ridiculously delicious plaice, it was still very good: bursting with big chunks of salmon and juicy mussels, and threaded with strands of samphire, it was thick and extremely flavourful; perhaps a little too salty, but hearty and filling none the less.

However I do think that - given the excellent quality of the seafood here - it may be best to go for the plainer options on the menu: when it's this good, you simply can't beat unadulturated fish. Our neighbours went for the grey and red mullet - the former served alongside Anya potatoes and black olive sauce and the latter with fennel, pickled grapes and Pernod - and both looked stunningly good. (On the other hand, the seaside decor does make the battered haddock and chips a tempting choice!)

Along with the exceptional fish, the venue itself has plenty of character - the toilets, labelled 'winkles' and 'clams'*, were a nice touch - and with the charming concept backed up by excellent food, Bonnie Gull looks to be highly succesful: on the night of our visit, there were even some people braving the blustery Autumn night to sit outside! Unlike many of London's trendy new restaurants, Bonnie Gull does take bookings - but with limited space I'm sure their tables will fill up fast, so you had best get in there! I'll certainly be coming back next time I'm in the mood for some fish.

*Worringly, it took me more than a few seconds to work out which I was...

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Banoffee pie to win (or keep) a boy's heart

As I mentioned in my previous post, my boyfriend insisted on ruining the french theme of my home-cooked anniversary dinner by having banoffee pie for dessert. Since it's his favourite (and because I'm a lovely girlfriend!) I relented...

I've had some issues with banoffee pie before, but this one turned out perfectly, and I picked up a few tricks that I'll definitely be using next time. Firstly - I prepared the base a day in advance and froze it overnight. This made a huge difference when it came to assembling the finished product: in the past, I've always struggled with the crumbly base sticking to the banoffee layer and getting all mixed together in the 'spreading' stage. This time, with the base frozen solid, the sticky toffee went on as smooth as anything. This was further helped by my second trick - warming the toffee in the microwave for 30 seconds or so before using it (I made the toffee the night before too, and after 24 hours in the fridge it was pretty stiff).


400g can condensed milk
350g digestive biscuits (or Hobnobs if you prefer)
300ml double cream
Tablespoon or two of icing sugar
3 bananas
Dash of orange juice or squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Decoration ideas:

Galaxy ripple, Cadbury's flake, or other crumbly chocolate
Caramel or chocolate sauce for drizzling
[In the past I've used chocolate powder, or a layer of maltesers. Go wild!]

Step 1: Toffee


400g can of condensed milk

The 'offee' layer is as easy as anything to make - all you need is one 400g can of condensed milk. Put the unopened can into a saucepan of boiling water, ensuring that the water covers the can (this is important - if too much water evaporates, the tin may explode!). I recommend putting a lid on the pan if you don't want your kitchen to fill with steam.

Check the level of the water every 30 minutes or so and top up from the kettle as needed. I find that boiling the can for around 2 1/2 hours gives me the consistency I want for banoffee pie - leave it for half an hour longer if you want a stiffer toffee, or for half an hour less if you want a runnier caramel sauce (for example, to use it as ice-cream topping).

You can complete this step a few days before - simply transfer the toffee from the tin into an airtight container and leave it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. I've heard of people boiling up a few cans and keeping them in their cupboard for future use, but this sounds a bit dodgy to me!

Step 2: Biscuit base


350g digestive biscuits
150g melted butter

Crush the biscuits (hopefully you have a food processor or blender to do this - mine is broken so I spent 20 minutes crushing biscuits by hand. The only benefit of this was that my hands became super-soft from the exfoliating and moisturing effect of greasy biscuit crumbs. Other than that, this was extremeley tedious, so avoid it if possible!).

Blood sweat and tears...and crushed digestives

Melt the butter in the microwave and stir into the crushed biscuits. Spread the resulting mixture into a 10-inch diameter pie tin, and press it firmly into the base and around the edge of the dish to make the crust of your pie.

Insanely yellow melted butter

Place the pie tin into the freezer and leave overnight (or for an hour or two if you're making this to eat on the same day).

Step 3: Whipped cream topping


300ml double cream
Tablespoon or two of icing sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)

Whip the cream and icing sugar mixture until it forms smooth peaks. I did this with a hand-whisk. Again, if you're lucky, your kitchen will be better equipped than mine and you can use an electric one!

Step 4: Bananas


3 bananas
Dash of orange juice or squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Slice the bananas into rounds, roughly the thickness of a pound coin. If you're using immediately, this is all you need to do. If you're waiting before assembling (even 5 minutes or so), then put a drop of orange juice or a squeeze of lemon into the bowl - this will prevent the slices from going brown.

Step 5: Putting it all together

Warm the toffee for 30 seconds in the microwave (or until just warm - you're aiming for body temperature and slightly gooey here, rather than hot and runny!). Using a large metal spoon, spread this in a thick layer over the frozen base (remove the base from the freezer just before assembling your pie).

Place the banana slices onto the toffee - neatly or messily, it's your call (I started mine in a tidy circle pattern, but got bored - once the whipped cream is on top, who's going to know?!) Spoon the whipped cream on top, then decorate as you wish. I crumbled a galaxy ripple over the top, and drizzled with some caramel sauce (I cheated and bought this in a bottle - you could use some of the condensed milk toffee, but mine was a bit thick for drizzling!)

Et voila! Banoffee pie

Keep your finished banoffee pie in the fridge until you're ready to serve.

Another tip - with just the two of us (and after a big meal) we barely made a dent in this. And given the creamy, gooey nature, it's not the easiest thing to take into work to share the leftovers. Instead, I cut it into neat slices, and spread these around the tin (so that they wouldn't freeze together). Then I simply popped the leftover pie into the freezer, for future consumption.

When you're in the mood for more pie, simply take the slices out of the freezer an hour or two in advance and leave on the side to defrost. (Even when it's not quite thawed, it's still pretty tasty! Banoffee pie ice-cream, yum!)

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A fancy french dinner for a special occasion

Five years ago last Tuesday, my boyfriend and I 'officially' started going out*. To celebrate having put up with each other for so long, and to distract from how tragically old this made us (read: me) feel, I decided to prepare a special dinner to mark the occasion.

Anniversary flowers

Occasions like this are the perfect opportunity to try something new in the kitchen - with just the two of us, there's less pressure than a dinner party, both in terms of scale, and expectations (after five years the relationship is unlikely to suffer excessively from a culinary mishap or two!) - so with that in mind, I decided to try a few new things.

Anniversary champagne

I chose a 'french-ish' theme for the menu, although this was derailed somewhat by my boyfriend's insistence that we have banoffee pie for dessert**.


Frisee salad with cheese, sliced pear, and caramelised pecans
Double swiss souffles
Steak with a cream and porcini mushroom sauce, potatoes dauphinoise, and brussel sprouts
Banoffee pie

Given the number of recipes involved, I'll split this post into three. So, to begin at the beginning, let's talk about the starters:

The frisee salad was relatively simple to make. Aside from caramelising the pecans and mixing up a vinaigrette, it really only involved layering everything onto a plate.


1 pear (this should be ripe - mine wasn't)
Cheese (something which goes well with pears - most recipes call for blue cheese, if you're into that!)
Frisee salad leaves
Caramelised pecans
Grain mustard vinaigrette

I was a bit disappointed in the cheese - I bought it from a stall at Borough Market over the weekend, and had specifically asked the man on the counter for something that would go well with pears, but it wasn’t quite right. I'm not sure what it was actually called, but it was a hard cow’s milk cheese, quite strong and salty; somewhere between gruyere and pecorino.

The caramelised pecans were a bit more successful, adding a pleasant sweetness to the salad. They were especially lovely when included in a mouthful with pear, salad leaves, and grain mustard vinaigrette.

Caramelised pecans, cooling on their foil - yum!

(Note: this makes waaay more pecans than you need for the salad - but the leftovers are pretty tasty!)

250g pecans
25g butter
50g sugar

Add the butter, sugar and pecans to a saucepan, and heat until the caramel is smooth (that is, when all the sugar is fully dissolved) and has taken on a rich brown colour. Spread the caramelised pecans onto a layer of tin foil to cool, then store in a airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.

These seem to keep pretty well - I made them the day before my salad, and took the leftovers in to work the day after that, and there was no noticeable deterioration in texture or taste.

I went with a grain mustard vinaigrette, but this would probably also be nice with a sweeter dressing - I saw some pear salad recipes which used maple syrup in their vinaigrette, which could be nice.


Grain mustard
Good olive oil (extra Virgin)
White wine vinegar (substitute this with lemon juice if you prefer)

Mix a heaped teaspoon of grain mustard with equal parts olive oil and vinegar. Whisk together with a fork, and you're done.

To assemble your salad, start with a layer of frisee salad leaves. Top with slices of pear and  cheese, sprinkle with the caramelised pecans, and drizzle with vinaigrette.

This is a simple starter: it's not too filling, and served nicely as something to whet the appetite before the cream fest to come (what with the souffles, dauphinoise potatoes, and bannoffee pie, I used a LOT of cream in this meal!)

The double swiss souffles were the stars of the show. I have had these once before in a restaurant, and loved them, but have always been too scared to attempt a souffle myself, let alone a 'double' souffle...In fact they were laughably simple to make:

I used the recipe from Mary Berry's Complete Cookbook***. It's worth reading it through before you start, as everything needs to be done at once, so it definitely helps to have done some preparation before you put make the roux!

(Note: the original recipe serves six, so I scaled it down to serve the two of us)

15g butter, plus extra for greasing
15g plain flour
100ml milk
20g Gruyere cheese, grated (I used the leftover cheese from my salad)
1 egg, seperated
20g grated parmesan
100ml double cream

You will also need: 2 ramekins, a small roasting tin (to serve as a bain marie) and a shallow oven proof dish.

Step 1: Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan, add the flour, and stir together for one minute. Remove from the heat and gradually blend in the milk, before returning to the heat and bringing the mixture to the boil, stirring until it thickens.

Step 2: Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated Gruyere cheese and the egg yolks (make sure you stir quickly so the egg yolk doesn't start to cook!)

Step 3: Whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks. Stir 1 tbsp into the mixture, before folding in the rest.

Step 4: Generously butter two ramekins, and divide the mixture between them. Place the ramekins into your small roasting tin and pour boiling water into the tin until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins.

Step 5: Bake the souffles in a pre-heated oven at 220C (200C if you have a fan oven) for 15-20 minutes until golden and springy to the touch (mine were done after 15 minutes). Leave the souffles to stand for 5-10 minutes; they will shrink by about one third. (I left mine for 5 minutes, because I'm impatient!)

Step 6: Butter your shallow oven proof dish. Sprinkle half your parmesan cheese over the bottom of the dish. Run a knife around the edge of each souffle, then carefully un-mould them onto the parmesan layer.

Step 7: Season the double cream with salt and pepper, and pour over the souffles. (Note: if your dish is too large, you may need extra cream to cover the bottom. I topped mine up with some single cream, just to stop everything from drying out. If you're making six souffles with 300ml cream, this probably won't be a problem) Sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the top and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden.

Mary Berry serves her souffles garnished with chopped chives: my boyfriend hates them, so I missed this step out.

OK - so one of them collapsed a little. Still, not bad for a first attempt!

So - there were my starters! Recipes for main course and dessert to come...

 *we were 18, so by official, I of course mean "facebook official". If it's not on facebook, it doesn't count...

**disappointingly, as my addiction to The Great British Bake Off has had me itching to try my hand at choux pastry

***This really is a fantastic cookbook: with almost 500 pages of recipes, it covers a huge array of different dishes, and is incredibly handy to have on your kitchen shelf!

Pan-Asian cuisine at Banana Tree

Specialising in Indochinese cuisine*, Banana Tree has six branches across London, serving all corners of the capital with excellent pan-Asian food at a reasonable price.

The Angel branch is my 'local': Situated just a few minute's walk from my flat, it's the perfect remedy to a long hard day at work - ideal for those nights when I can't face cooking, but don't want to get dressed up and sit through a formal dinner either. The decor is stylish but understated - think a sexed-up Wagamama - and with long wooden tables and a laid-back atmosphere, it's as perfect for group dining as it is for a relaxed date.

The menu is varied and pretty extensive, featuring South-East Asian classics such as pho and nasi goreng** (ahh, backpacking memories!) alongside a few dishes I haven't tried before (like the exotic-sounding "Kari Santan Melayu" seafood curry).

Yum yum yum: peachy mango bellini

My most recent visit to Banana Tree was last week, when I came here with my boyfriend and his mum. After ordering some drinks - a couple of peachy mango bellinis and some authentic thai Singer beer - we got stuck into the food menu.

Banana Tree has a really tasty selection of starters, from tamarind and garlic chicken wings to Malaysian laksa soup, and we struggled to chose just three. Eventually we decided to share the double cooked crispy pork mix, satay chicken, and kau chi dumplings.

The crispy pork was excellent. Miniature ribs, encased in a delicious layer of dark, chewy meat, were served alongside a lovely dipping sauce and a helping of tangy achar pickle. Despite the generous portion, these disappeared very quickly!

Kajang satay chicken was also very good. The succulent skewers were accompanied by a beautiful peanut dipping sauce, while chunky slices of glutinous steamed rice, wrapped in palm leaf, made an interesting addition to the dish.

The kau chi dumplings (hidden beneath the fresh herb garnish in the picture above) had a light, fragrant pork and prawn filling - definitely the healthiest starter of the three!

For my main course, I was sorely tempted by the pad thai (which is my go-to South-East Asian order - I've tried Banana Tree's version before and it's very good). However, determined to be a bit more adventurous, I opted instead for the chargrilled blackened chilli pork.

With tender slices of chargrilled meat in a delicious glossy sauce, this was a perfect light main (although it became somewhat less light after I'd dipped each bite into the remnants of the peanut satay sauce!).

My boyfriend's mum went for the crispy chicken with mango and sweet lime sauce. I stole a taste and it was delicious - reminiscent of Chinese lemon chicken (but not the terrible version you sometimes get from dodgy takeaways, all chewy meaty and synthetic-tasting gloopy sauce!), except more fruity.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend went with "The Legendary Rendang". Lauded in the menu as "king of curries", this consisted of slow-cooked beef in a tasty coconut-based curry sauce. For £2.95, he upgraded to the Banana Tree Special Combo meal, and received a sesame glass noodle salad, steamed jasmine rice, two deep-fried sweet corn cakes, and a couple of spicy crackers on the side.

We really enjoyed our meal here (as always) and I'll definitely be popping by again soon...And with branches all over London, I recommend you give Banana Tree a try too!

*Indochina being Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos
**Vietnamese noodle soup and Indonesian egg fried rice, respectively - both delicious!

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