Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

While I have all but given up blogging nowadays, this was one meal I thought was worth the write-up. I'd been dying to go to Dinner since it first opened, and finally got my wish when my boyfriend took me there for an anniversary meal a couple of weeks ago.

Situated in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, the decor was elegant and understated, with none of the flamboyance I would have expected from Heston Blumenthal. The general vibe was more suit-and-tie business dinner than Mad Hatter's tea party, but it was very chic nonetheless.

We were led to our table by an immaculately dressed waiter and settled down with a basket of bread and a bottle of bubbly to peruse the menu. As everyone probably knows by now, the menu is based on traditional English recipes, dating anywhere from the 1600s to 1940, and encompasses a range of dishes, from the unusual (nettle porridge...) and the creative (...meat fruit pate...) to the relatively mundane (...steak and chips).

To start I ordered the scallops with cucumber ketchup and roasted cucumber. The scallops themselves - always a favourite for me - were delicious - plump and sweet and perfectly caramelised; and the roasted cucumber was surprisingly tasty. I have never had cooked cucumber before (and have never wanted to!), but it was actually very good - fresh and salty with a firm, juicy texture.

Meanwhile, my other half sampled the famous meat fruit - a globe of chicken liver and foie gras pate artfully shaped and coloured to look exactly like a mandarin orange. Despite being a pate-hater, this was so good that even I could appreciate it.

For the main course, I ordered the blackfoot pork chop. Served rare (against the long-standing tradition of serving pork well-done), it was delectably juicy with a delicious and delicate hint of smokiness. I can honestly say it was the best pork chop I have ever eaten (and quite possibly worth a return visit in itself).

My boyfriend (unadventurously) opted for steak and chips. I was disappointed to discover that these were not Heston's renowned (and much imitated) triple-cooked variety, but rather some fairly standard shoe string fries. The steak was good though, and the mushroom ketchup was an interesting touch, but it was rather a wasted order, I thought, compared to some of the more interesting menu items.

For dessert we split another famous dish, the tipsy cake (served with spit-roasted pineapple) - which was excellent but a bit less dramatic than I had envisaged - and the home-made ice-cream.

I was very glad we decided to get the ice-cream - up until this point the meal, while delicious, was rather lacking in the theatrics which I had been expecting (lots of sedate business diners and a conspicuous absence of bangs and fireworks...)

Made at the table in a machine which resembled an old-fashioned sewing machine, the ice-cream making process involved liquid nitrogen and impressive billows of steam. Once firm, the ice-cream was served in a miniature cone, rolled in the topping of your choice.

All in all, it was a fantastic meal, and despite being slightly disappointed by the rather subdued atmosphere, the standard of the food definitely reinforced my determination to try the Fat Duck some day in the future.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Friday, 27 September 2013

Pre-theatre meal at Brasserie Zedel

A few weeks ago my friend and I enjoyed a sophisticated pre-theatre dinner at Brasserie Zedel in Soho. The first appearances of this popular French restaurant are deceptive - entering at street level you find yourself in what seems to be little more than a laid-back bistro. Head downstairs, however, and you will discover a glamourous ball room, decked out in fabulous art deco style (complete with marble pillars and over the top gold detailing).

The menu features a good selection of classic French dishes, with everything from frogs legs to beef Bourguignon, and is very reasonably priced given the lavish surroundings and central location (you can get a main course for under £10, or 3 courses for £11.75 on the prix fixe menu).

I opted for the Choucroute Alsacienne: a heaped dish of sauerkraut topped with with chunks of smokey sausage, cured pork belly, and a rather large frankfurter. Meanwhile my friend went for the classic French combo of steak frites with a rich Bordelaise sauce.

For dessert, we ordered the poached pear with chantilly cream and the creme brulee.

I have to admit - the food, while good, wasn't mind-blowing. Instead, the real draw is the venue - the beautiful high-ceilinged room, the over-the-top decor, and the smartly dressed waiters all add up to a dining experience which is more than a little bit special. Definitely worth a visit.

  Brasserie Zedel on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Ramen time at Tonkotsu...and Akari, a hidden gem of Japanese cuisine

It's been a while since I've posted (I'm winding down my blog, in response to a busy new job and general life-ness) but I thought I've had a couple of good Japanese meals recently so I thought I'd do a little review.

First - Tonkotsu, the much-acclaimed ramen joint in Soho. Having spent the past few months on Urbanspoon's "Talk of the Town" list, I was eager to see what the fuss was all about, so I went along with a couple of friends for a casual Tuesday-night meal.

The restaurant was relaxed and stylish, and the food - huge bowls of warming, ramen noodle soup, with rich, umami stock and tasty chunks of melt-in-the-mouth pork belly - was undeniably very good. However, I didn't really get the hype: everything was tasty, but it was nothing exceptional, and it wasn't miles above what you could get at somewhere like Wagamama.

So, on to my second review - Akari. This is one of my favourite Japanese places in London. It's not officially a restaurant - it describes itself as an "Izakaya", a traditional Japanese drinking establishment. In line with that theme, Akari is decked out like (a classy, oriental-esque) pub, with dark wood panelling and a prominent bar.

Despite being situated quite far along Essex Road, away from the hustle and bustle of Upper Street, Akari always seems to be busy. It attracts all sorts of clientele, from couples on first dates, to families with young children (sashimi and miso cod is admittedly a bit more exciting than fish fingers and chips!).

When I first moved to London I lived just around the corner, and we used to go fairly regularly. After a disgracefully long hiatus I finally managed to get back there earlier this week, with my mum and boyfriend in tow, and was pleased to find it to be as good as I had remembered.

The food really is exceptionally good, and at about 30 quid a head including drinks (this time round, a couple of glasses of plum wine for the ladies and a few pints of asahi beer for the gent), it is outstanding value.

Having not visited for a while, I domineered the ordering process, ensuring that all of my favourites made the cut. We ordered three starters, three mains, and three sides, with a pudding to share at the end, and finished our meal fit to burst.

Seared tuna tataki - mmmm

So, here's what we had:

Prawn tempura - some of the best I have had anywhere. Incredibly light golden batter encasing huge, piping hot king prawns. Delicious.
Squid tempura (aka calamari!) - juicy strips of buttery squid, in that same fluffy tempura batter.
Tuna tataki - generous chunks of seared tuna, topped with tasty garlic mayonnaise and a tangy Worcestershire-like sauce
Miso cod - a stand-out dish: delicated fillet of cod baked in a sweet white miso marinade - slightly caramelised on top and meltingly tender inside. An absolutely gorgeous dish.
Chicken katsu - I'm not a fan, but my boyfriend insisted, and even though it's not my thing, it certainly isn't bad here
And for sides - rice balls stuffed with salmon or sour plum, and a delicious dish of green beans in a tasty sesame sauce

A tender, caramelised hunk of sweet miso cod - WOW

Both restaurants are very reasonable compared to  other Japanese restaurants in London, but if you want something really exceptional for your money I would have to recommend escaping the Soho crowds and giving Akari a go.

Tonkotsu on Urbanspoon Akari on UrbanspoonSquare Meal Square Meal

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Amazing Peruvian cuisine at Coya

Coya is a cool new Peruvian joint situated on Piccadilly, right next to Green Park. It has a trendy bar where you can sample the excellent selection of cocktails (try the pisco sours, if you want something really authentic) and Latin American liquors, or you can head straight to the restaurant proper for a divine collection of modern Peruvian dishes.

Pisco sours

Before I start, let me just say - these photos do not do justice to our meal, which featured some of the best Latin American food I've had (in London, or - to be honest - anywhere).

Yummy ribs, gorgeous fish (seabass cazuela, in the back)

Various types of ceviche, tasty ribs in a beautiful tamarind glaze, delectable calamari, more-ish patatas bravas, and some of the best seabass I have ever eaten...everything was delicious, and I left incredibly satisfied and hungering for more!

An ugly photo of some tasty fried squid!

Coya on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Saturday, 20 July 2013

John Salt

I've been hearing a lot about John Salt in recent months, and living close by in Angel, I was keen to check it out. Unfortunately, by the time I got round to eating there, Ben Spalding - the chef who made John Salt famous with his innovative12-course tasting menus - had already moved on, and while the a la carte menu still looked very appetising, I was concerned as to whether the food would be as good as originally reported.

Ham and egg: a tasty reinterpretation of this classic pairing

I needn't have worried: our meal there - a casual date night, after a few sunny post-work drinks - was excellent. The food was delicious, the decor was cool, and the prices were pretty reasonable too.

Raw crudites with bagna cauda

A plate of tender cured ham, topped with a golden egg yolk and a generous scattering of Parmesan was my favourite starter. Summer vegetable crudites - completely raw and  paired with a tasty, intensely anchovy-flavoured bagna cauda dipping sauce - were also good. Our third starter - two plump scallops, swimming in tangy N'duja butter in their shell - was also well executed; although at 7 pounds for two it was probably less good value than some of the more interesting options.

Skirt steak with that incredible kimchi hollandaise....mmmmm

For the main course we split the skirt steak (served with an exquisite kimchi hollandaise sauce, which merits a return visit in itself) and the smoked featherblade, which was topped with a crisp tangle of battered onion and finely sliced red chilli peppers. Neil Rankin, Ben Spaldings successor, is formerly of Pitt Cue, and the excellent standard of the steaks - charred and slightly caramelised exterior, perfectly rare interior - reflected his expertise in this area.

Smoked featherblade with battered onion and red flannel hash (behind)

For sides, we ordered a portion of the "aged dripping fries" (nothing special, these were barely distinguishable from the McDonalds variety) and the red flannel hash - an interesting (in a good way!) mix of beetroot, peas and sweetcorn, and crisp roast potatoes.


Our shared dessert, the (slightly comical) banana dog, ellicited mixed opinions - I liked it, although it didn't quite live up to the hype it has received in other blogs. It was basically a banana fritter, similar to what you would get in a Chinese restaurant - nothing exceptional, but enjoyable none the less. My boyfriend, on the other hand, didn't like it at all - he thought the batter was too heavy and flavours too plain. We both agreed, however, that the (unfortunately tiny) scoop of ice-cream that came on the side was exceptionally good - a bit bowl of this on it's own would have gone down a treat!

All in all, it was a great meal - even with a bottle of wine it still didn't come to much more than 70 for the two of us, and the spacious, trendy interior would make this a great spot for drinks (and bar snacks!) with friends.

John Salt on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Run this city - Regent's Canal

Stretching from far-west Hayes all the way to Limehouse Basin, Regent's Canal is heaven-sent for runners and cyclists who want to escape the traffic fumes and crowded pavements of the city. The section between Angel and Victoria Park is my favourite running route - the beautiful scenery gives me the motivation I need to drag myself out of bed and into my running gear before work.

The canal path is at its best before the morning rush hour – there are plenty of other joggers (so it's not eerily deserted), but somewhat fewer cyclists attempting to knock you into the water as they whizz past on their way to work. The lighting is particularly beautiful at this time of day, and there are cool breezes even in the middle of summer.

You can access Regents canal from Colebrook Row, just a minute or two from Angel tube station. Near the start of the trail there's a pretty lock - one bank of the canal has been transformed into a beautiful English country garden, while on the other side an old mill has been converted into what most be one of London’s most scenic office buildings.

Continue East along the canal path, past the Narrow Boat (the balcony tables are perfect for drinks on a summer evening) and on in to Hackney. Jog past the Towpath Café, whose tiny interior opens onto the water. Mismatched chairs spill out onto the path, and jam jars filled with wildflowers sit on every table. Come back later to join the young couples and families breakfasting on granola, fresh fruit, and delicious coffee (whole milk only, no decaf allowed).

Take a quick detour at London Fields - on Saturdays there's a great market here (come back for lunch or to pick up some fresh produce) - and have a jog round the park to check out the groups of East London hipsters enjoying instagram-worthy picnics.

Continuing a little further along the canal you come to Victoria Park. Despite its size, this is a bit of a hidden gem - but while it may be less celebrated than its West-London counterparts, it is equally lovely, with landscaped flowerbeds and rolling expanses of lawn.

And if you're feeling particularly energetic (or you're on a bike!) you can carry on all the way to Limehouse Basin, where the canal feeds into a pretty marina.

I must have jogged (or cycled) this route literally hundreds of times since moving to London three years ago, but the ever-changing seasons and the variety of sights along the way mean it still hasn't gotten old. It's a far more scenic way of getting some exercise than trapped inside a dingy gym, and if you're ever in the area I highly recommend giving it a go!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Cheesy French toast bread pudding

The inspiration for this dish came from an old cookbook I stole from my Mum, "Take Three Cooks" by Nanette Newman, Emma Forbes and Sarah Standing. The original recipe is for a marmalade bread pudding, but they suggest the use of cheese for a savoury variation. Since my boyfriend is a huge fan of French toast, I thought I'd give it a go.

It's pretty easy to make, and would definitely pose a good alternative to traditional eggy bread if you were serving brunch to a crowd. The glorious combination of bubbling golden cheese and rich custard-soaked bread is incredibly good - comfort food at its best.


The recipe doesn't call for any fancy ingredients - simply sliced bread, eggs, milk, cheese and butter. If you want to snazz it up, you could add some slices of ham between the slices of bread or spread one side of the bread triangles with mustard to give it an extra kick.

Ingredients (serves 2 - or one hungry boy. Double the recipe to feed a larger group)

4 slices of white bread (the original recipes suggests removing the crusts - I didn't bother)
25g spreadable butter
300ml milk
2 eggs, beaten
75g cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste


Butter each slice of bread (on both sides if you're feeling especially decadent - I was lazy and just did one) and cut into triangles (two or four, again depending on how lazy you want to be when it comes to stacking them!). Layer the bread into the base of a greased ovenproof dish, topping each slice with cheese.

Before (not so pretty!)

Heat the milk in a pan until hot but not quite boiling. Pour the milk over your eggs, whisking as you pour. Season with salt and pepper, then pour the custard mixture over your bread and leave to soak for 10-15 minutes (or - more laziness - miss this step!).

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C for around 25 minutes (increase this to 30-40 if you have doubled the recipe) until your cheese is golden and bubbly and the custard is set. Serve piping hot.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Delicious baked eggs at Coco di Mama

Coco di Mama is a new chain of Italian cafes which have been popping up all over London. Serving up a great selection of pastas at lunchtime, as well as some excellent Italian-style coffee, they are also the source of my new favourite breakfast treat.


The baked eggs florentine is simply incredible: closer to a crustless quiche than what I would traditionally think of as 'baked eggs', the rich, buttery egg custard, shot through with tender spinach and topped with a glossy brown gruyere crust, is mind-blowingly good.

And despite tasting pretty decadent (and being big enough to keep you full right through to lunch), it's healthier than you would think - according to the sign, it contains a mere 267 calories. I'm quickly developing a Coco di Mama habit - I've been at least 3 times a week since I made my discovery - and I definitely recommend checking them out!

  Coco di Mama on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Friday, 21 June 2013

Summery fruit salad (with strawberries, blueberries, mango, and pomegranate seeds)

This tasty fruit salad is one of my go-to dinner party desserts - a light and summery end to a filling meal, it goes well with anything from Middle Eastern feasts to elegant Japanese cuisine.

I usually make it with nectarines in the place of mangoes, but "adverse weather conditions" (according to a sign in the supermarket) resulted in a lack of stone fruit this Spring. While I do prefer my original version, the mango was a nice change - a little more tangy and exotic than nectarine, while still providing the colour and texture contrast I was looking for.


500g strawberries, hulled and quartered
250g blueberries
2 nectarines or 1 large mango, cut into chunks
Seeds of 1 pomegranate (see de-seeding tips below!)
1 teaspoon of caster sugar


The method is pretty straightforward (that's the best thing about fruit salads!). Prepare the fruit as described above, mix together in a large bowl, sprinkle with the caster sugar, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (this gives the sugar time to draw the juices out from the fruit*).

However I thought this would be a good place to share the fantastic tip a commenter gave me for de-seeding pomegranates. I used to really struggle with this - everything would end up splattered in red juice, and I'd usually have to do it in my underwear to avoid stains - fine, but not that convenient if your guests have already arrived!

What I didn't realise was that I could eliminate this problem by de-seeding the pomegranates under water: Fill a large bowl with cold water, slice the pomegranate in two, and - when submerged in the water - simply remove the seeds in the usual fashion. The white pith floats to the top, making it easier to separate from the seeds - and best of all, there's no mess! Sorted.

*By osmosis - Year 9 biology say whaaat!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Salted caramel ice-cream at Paul A. Young

Over the past few weeks the sun has finally been making an appearance, kicking off my favourite time of the year: ice-cream season! Having heard very good things about Paul A Young, I headed to their branch near the Royal Exchange for my first (OK, third) ice-cream of the year.

Dark chocolate sauce, slowly solidifying over sweet-salt caramel ice-cream - does it get any better than this?

On the day of my visit, there were three flavours on offer - sea salt caramel, white chocolate and cassis, and a 70% dark chocolate sorbet - along with a vat of melted chocolate sauce and cocoa nibs or chocolate balls for sprinkling. I went for the sea salt caramel, and the nice guy at the counter let me do my own toppings (cue a flood of that ridiculously delicious chocolate sauce!) - incredible.

At £4.50 a pop, the ice-creams aren't cheap, but the beautiful combination of sweet, lightly salted caramel ice-cream and glossy, slightly bitter chocolate sauce was well worth it!

The flavours were quite intense, which meant that the serving size was probably slightly too large (even for me!). When the ingredients and flavours are this good, you don't need too much, so next time I might share with someone.

My Paul A Young experience definitely lived up to my expectations - and the tasting plate of brownie samples means I may be going back for more than the ice-cream.

  Paul A Young Fine Chocolates on Urbanspoon Paul A Young Fine Chocolates on Urbanspoon