Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Brunch at the Breakfast Club, Soho

The other weekend some friends and I decided to fight off the January blues with a nice girly brunch at the Breakfast Club in Soho. While I've been to the Hoxton branch more times than I can count, and have checked out the diminuitive Angel cafe too, this was my first visit to the flag-ship venue in Soho and I was interested to see what it would be like.

The apple cinnamon french toast is crazy-good

Upon arrival, the four of us were (somewhat unsurprisingly) greeted with a long, long queue. We stood in the cold, breath steaming, and wondered whether we should maybe try somewhere else. In the end, we stayed, and while it did take almost 45 minutes to get to the front  - the venue is small and the line didn't move particularly quickly - we were happy enough catching up and anticipating what we were going to have for brunch. The free shots of hot chocolate (brought out on a tray by a lovely waiter) definitely sweetened the wait too!

The Soho branch is much smaller than its Hoxton sibling, and while it sports the same colourfully eclectic decor, its cosy, comfortable vibe is more reminiscent of the Angel venue (making it the perfect place for a nice homely breakfast on a cold day). After our wait, we knew what we wanted, and quickly got stuck into ordering our food.

Two of our party went for the apple and cinnamon french toast. Light and fluffy, with just the right amount of egginess, this is seriously good. Topped with a generous heap of caramel-drenched apples and served with a big squeezy bottle of maple syrup, it's definitely worth trying if you've got a sweet tooth.

However, on this occasion I was in the mood for something a little more savoury. While there are a few interesting Mexican-style dishes on the Breakfast Club menu ("huevos al benny", "el butty" and the breakfast burrito are three dishes I've yet to try), I was pretty disappointed with the huevos rancheros I had on my last visit (too disappointed to even blog about it - soggy tortilla under too much sour cream and guacamole was not the best hangover cure!) so I went back to my tried-and-tested favourite, the "Half Monty". 

With sausage, bacon, beans, grilled tomato, eggs and toast, it has everything you could want from a breakfast...Well, almost - I ordered some mushrooms on the side too! As ever, this was immensely satisfying, although I think I may get fried eggs next time, as my scramble was a little dry...

My other friend went for the slightly maverick "Veggie All American" breakfast.We wondered just how huge this would be (the pancake dishes at the Breakfast Club are notoriously large, and a team effort is usually required to make a dent in the pancakes and bacon combo), but it was actually not too intimidating. Two modestly-sized pancakes were paired with home-fried potatoes, a veggie sausage, mushrooms, and eggs. It was quite a savoury selection for a pancake-based dish, but apparently very good.

Selfishly, we lingered over our coffees...although we did feel pretty guilty looking out onto the queue outside, which if anything got longer over the course of our meal! While it was nice to try somewhere new, I still prefer the Hoxton branch (for the faster-moving queues, if nothing else) and will probably head back there next time. If you're in Soho though, and don't mind queuing, it's definitely worth a try!

Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Monday, 28 January 2013

Smoked salmon, prawn and courgette frittata

A frittata is a great way of transforming your leftovers into a filling and delicious meal, and last week - with smoked salmon trimmings and king prawns left over from my seafood crepes and half a courgette languishing in my vegetable drawer - it seemed like the obvious choice for an easy weeknight supper.

The best thing about a frittata is that you really can use anything you want: switch the courgette for asparagus or broccoli; swap the salmon and prawns for bacon or ham...or if you fancy something more traditional, combine chorizo, leftover new potatoes, onions, and red and green peppers to create a delicious Spanish omelette.


4 eggs, beaten
Smoked salmon trimmings
King prawns
Half a courgette, sliced into rounds
Black pepper
Butter (for frying)

Beat the eggs in a bowl and stir in the smoked salmon trimmings. Slice the courgette into rounds of roughly the same thickness as a one pound coin. Add the prawns and courgette to the egg and salmon mixture, and season generously with black pepper.

Melt butter in a large frying pan, add your frittata mixture, and cook on a medium heat until it begins to set. If you're brave, you can try to flip it...otherwise finish it off under the grill.

Et voila! Your leftovers have been reincarnated as dinner...

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Ice cream on a snowy day at Gelupo

It wasn't the most successful evening. We arrived at Pitt Cue at six on the dot, naively assuming we would get a table, only to find the restaurant and bar area to be completely full, and a line of 20 plus people already queuing in the snow.

Despite the crazily early hour, we then struggled to find anywhere else with a table nearby*. Finally, after 45 minutes of wandering (hungry and cold) around Soho, we ended up at Carom, a Pan-Indian restaurant which recently opened at 100 Wardour Street (in the same building as Meza Bar and Floridita).

The set menu - two courses for £10 - was extremely good value, offering a selection of modern, light dishes which included a (belatedly) festive starter of turkey tikka with cranberry chutney, and a deconstructed chicken korma main (a tandoor grilled chicken breast with an artful drizzle of cashew korma sauce). However, while good, it was not the BBQ I craved.

I was determined to save my evening by having the perfect dessert, so - in spite of the snow and sub-zero temperatures - I dragged my boyfriend to Gelupo.

Gelupo has a reputation for serving some of the best gelato in London, and I've been keen to try it ever since my delicious birthday meal at sister restaurant Bocca di Lupo.

After chatting with the friendly girl behind the counter, I settled on a small cup of Bonnet gelato as the perfect post-meal treat. While this was not the most visually appealing ice-cream (as my boyfriend charmingly pointed out!) it was beautifully smooth, and boasted an incredible depth of flavour - a complex, multi-layered blend of coffee, chocolate, caramel, rum, amaretti biscuit and vanilla. Delicious. And on the Gelupo website they attribute the amped up flavours of their gelato to a lower-than-average fat content...which means it's healthier than usual too!

With an impressive range of innovative flavours (from the ricotta, coffee and honey gelato to bergamot and persimmon sorbets) I'll definitely going back in summer - if not sooner - to try some of their other offerings!

*I later realised this was because of pre-theatre diners - we probably would have been fine if we'd just thought to move away from the West End!

 Gelupo on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Trafalgar Tavern: Sunday roast in Greenwich

The weekend before last, prior to the arrival of this year's "Big Freeze" I cycled over to Greenwich to meet my brother for Sunday lunch.

I love Greenwich: with its sweeping river views, magnificent architecture, and verdant wide-open spaces, it's very different to central London, and I alway feel like I'm on a bit of a day-trip when I go there (despite only being a 45 minute cycle from my flat).

I caught up with my brother at the Cutty Sark (a useful meeting point!), and we wandered through the Naval College Gardens to The Trafalgar Tavern, a lovely venue right on the banks of the Thames. It was fairly busy inside, with lots of people relaxing with drinks or enjoying a casual Sunday lunch in the lively bar area, but we somehow managed to bag ourselves a window-side table overlooking the river - a perfect location!

Despite being sorely tempted by the fish and chips (the next table seemed to be enjoying theirs) we decided to stick to our original plan and go for the roast. My brother opted for the slow-roast leg of lamb, while I went for the half-chicken with autumn vegetables, stuffing, roast potatoes, and bread sauce.

It was good, solid fare, nothing exceptional, but tasty nonetheless (I was too busy eating to take a photo of my food, which is always a good sign!). My half chicken was succulent and moist, and paired well with the creamy bread sauce and roasted autumn vegetables, while a fairly average disk of stuffing and unexciting cubes of roast potato were saved by the incredible gravy - deep brown and delectably savoury, it made everything it touched taste amazing. While it wasn't the best roast I've had in London (nothing compared to The Albion, say), it was still very enjoyable and pretty good value too.

All in all, with good food, a lively atmosphere, and a fantastic location, I would definitely reccomend dropping into The Trafalgar Tavern if you're ever in the area. The bar is a great place for a drink or relaxed pub lunch, and if you're after something a bit smarter, there's a restaurant too (which I've heard is very nice).

After a satisfying meal and a good sibling catch-up, I cycled home...just in time to catch this beautiful sunset over London Bridge. A lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Trafalgar Tavern on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Lazy seafood crepes (with smoked salmon and king prawns)

If you love fish pie, but can't face the effort involved (white sauce, mashed potatoes, 30 minutes in the oven - I'm exhausted just thinking about it...) these lazy seafood crepes could be just the thing for you. They couldn't be easier to make but still come off as an impressive and inventive dish, and they are equally suitable for a relaxed dinner party as for a weeknight supper.


8 ready-made crepes (make sure they are plain!)
200g king prawns
200g smoked salmon trimmings
150ml or so of single cream
Parmesan cheese, grated
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional: Finely chopped dill, juice of half a lemon

Pre-heat your oven to 180C.

In a small mixing bowl combine the smoked salmon trimmings with most of the single cream (reserving 30ml or so), and stir well.

Place a crepe on the bottom of a circular oven-proof dish and top with a thin layer of the salmon and cream mixture. Dot a few king prawns over the surface, and season with a decent helping of black pepper.

Repeat these layers (crepe-salmon-prawn) until you have used up all your salmon/cream mixture. Top with a final crepe, drizzle over the remaining single cream and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

About to go in the oven...

Place your dish on the top shelf of your pre-heated oven and cook until everything is heated through (this should take around 15-20 minutes - the top should be golden and the cream should be bubbling up at the edge of the dish).

Serve sliced into wedges, alongside steamed asparagus or a side salad.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Sunny Spanish memories to fight off the chill (an ode to Andalusia)

It's been absolutely freezing this week (hello snow!), so I've torturing myself by looking through holiday snaps from my trip to Andalusia last July. Gorgeous cities, great food, and temperatures in the high 30s. Bliss!

 How much would I give to be here right now?

We skipped the coast, and decided instead to spend a couple of days each in Seville, Granada, and Cordoba. These beautiful, richly cultured cities had plenty to explore and - unlike the Costa del Sol - there was hardly a lobster-red Brit in sight (except for us, of course!)

Seville cathedral

We got up early each day to walk around in the cool of the morning, pausing to breakfast on pastries and freshly squeezed juice outside one of the square-side cafes. The temperatures didn't begin to peak until around 2 or 3 in the afternoon (and stayed excruciatingly hot until 6 or so), so we'd have a long, late lunch, then snooze in our hotel room for a couple of hours until it started to cool down.

A key-hole view into the grounds of Seville cathedral

Post siesta, it was time for more exploring, followed by tapas and chilled wine at one of the innumerable tapas bars, before finally sitting down to dinner at around 10pm (which, by Spanish standards, was tragically early - we were eating with the youngest children, while most locals wouldn't venture out for dinner until 11 or even later!)

View from the palace of Alhambra in Granada

The locals were incredibly friendly (not to mention ridiculously attractive: the sunny squares were full of lithe, tanned beauties in teeny-tiny shorts and stunning young Spaniards with toned biceps and  sexy stubble). The relaxed, carefree way of life was so different from the "time-is-money" attitude of the City back in London, and we quickly unwound.

The beautiful gardens of Alhambra

Aside from the strenuous activities of 'wandering around' and 'lying beside a rooftop pool' we also did lots of eating. It was too hot for anything heavy - instead we snacked on tapas, light seafood dishes, and plenty of delicious helados (that's ice-cream, to you and me!).

While I failed in my search for a 'perfect' paella,  this fantastic seafood, rice and tomato stew more than made up for it, and (despite not being especially photogenic) was my favourite dish of the trip. I've been trying - unsuccessfully - to recreate it ever since.


Another tasty local dish was salmojero. Similar to gazpacho, this chilled soup is thickened with the addition of dried bread, and topped with chopped eggs, cubes of air-dryed bacon and a generous drizzling of olive oil - a refreshing (if somewhat rich) lunchtime snack.

 Why don't we make hot chocolate like that here?

And no trip to Spain would be complete without a cup or two of decadently thick Spanish hot chocolate. If you're feeling particularly gluttonous you can order some churros too: these long, thin donuts (which are delicious, if undeniably unhealthy) are dipped in chocolate as part of a traditional Spanish breakfast!

Happy - and warm! - in Cordoba

I'm heading outside now, preparing to face the blizzard in the name of getting some groceries. If anyone fancies escaping the snowstorm, the temperature over in Seville is currently in the mid- to high-teens...sickening.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Burger & Lobster Farringdon - someone finally orders a burger!!!

I've already written about Burger & Lobster here and here, from earlier visits (back when everyone - me included - was really excited about the idea of £20 lobsters, and willing to queue for hours for the chance to try one). Things have moved on a bit since then, and as I type this, there are now four branches of Burger & Lobster (Mayfair, Soho, Farringdon, and a brand new venue just off Cheapside in the City), and (*gasp*) some of them are taking reservations, even for small groups.


While I love lobster, and am really happy to not have to queue (the ability to book a table for 4 a couple of days in advance was much appreciated on this occasion) I do wonder if they might be over-stretching themselves. The concept of super-cheap* lobster seems to rely on having a high turnover of customers, and with so many B&Ls opening across London I can't help but wonder what might happen if they might start to see empty tables.

Anyway...hopefully this won't be a problem, as I'm still a huge fan (and their popularity doesn't appear to be waning as yet)!

I walk past the Farringdon branch every day on my way home from work, so it was nice to finally eat there. The interior is high-ceilinged with the same stripped back style as the other restaurants. We had a good spot right by the open kitchen and got to see some cooking in action...

Three of my party opted for the standard B&L order of grilled lobster with garlic-lemon butter. Unfortunately I had a pretty bad cold and my meal didn't taste of anything at all (at first I thought there had been a serious slip in standards, but my friends seemed to be enjoying theirs, and really, I don't think it would be possible to make a flavourless garlic-lemon I think my cold was definitely to blame!)

Because one of my work-friends is allergic to shell-fish he was forced to shell out (ha-ha) on a burger, so I finally got a chance to check out one of those mysterious creatures up close. As I had expected, this was good, but not worth £20. So the widely spread (and somewhat obvious) claims that the burger-eaters are subsidising the lobster-lovers seems to be correct...

I do still want to try the lobster roll, and I wouldn't mind checking out the City branch (which is less than 5 minutes from my office)...but then I might have a rest from Burger & Lobster for a while. 2012 "year-of-the-lobster" has been fun, but I can't wait to see what exciting foodie trends 2013 will bring!

*For London at least - a Canadian friend has informed me that he would pay $5/lb in Maine!

Burger & Lobster on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Monmouth Coffee Company - oh my!

I love a good cup of coffee, and since moving to London I've become increasingly snobby about the quality of my caffeine fix. With the abundance of fantastic coffee shops across the capital (Workshop Coffee Co and Caravan are two of my favourites), Starbucks just can't compete anymore, and I'm constantly on the lookout for new and better things.

One place I've been meaning to try forever is the Monmouth Coffee Company, so when I passed through Seven Dials this weekend I took my chance, and dragged my friend inside to check it out.

There was a slight line for a table, but after queueing for close to 45 mins at The Breakfast Club that morning I had become accustomed to the idea of waiting, and it wasn't too long until we were squeezed into a corner booth (a space which we shared - somewhat too intimately - with two other groups).

It wasn't the comfiest spot...but the coffee more than made up for it. I enjoyed my first latte so much I had to order another one: smooth, rich and ridiculously creamy (no skinny milk here...), it definitely lived up to the hype.

The expansive bowl of crumbly brown sugar on the table was another highlight for me: deep brown with a gorgeous, almost treacly flavour, you can actually buy bags of this exquisite dulce sugar at the counter. Sprinkled liberally over my coffee, it melted into the thin layer of froth, transforming into a beautiful golden caramel...mmmm.

At the moment there are three branches of the Monmouth Coffee Company across London - Covent Garden, Borough and Bermondsey. Hopefully their popularity will result in a few more springing up across London (somewhere along my commute in to work would be ideal!)

Monmouth Coffee Company (Covent Garden) on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Ottolenghi's turkey and courgette burgers - fusion-style

One of my friends bought me Jerusalem (the new cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi) for my birthday, and I've been very excited to try out some of the incredible recipes. Post-Christmas, I finally have a bit more time for experimental cookery, and this weekend I decided to make a start with the turkey and courgette burgers.

The recipe calls for fresh coriander, mint, spring onions, cumin and cayenne pepper, but as I already had a big bunch of wilting parsley in my vegetable drawer (left-over from my chicken soup), I didn't really want to buy any more fresh herbs. Instead I decided to expand on the spring onion flavour and attempt an Asian twist on the original recipe, skipping the mint, coriander, cumin and cayenne, and substituting grated ginger, lime juice, a dash of soy sauce and a hint of chilli in their place.

Fried in sesame oil and served with pak choi and noodles this was a light, subtly oriental supper, and - if there had been any leftovers - I think the turkey burgers would have also been lovely cold (perhaps in a sandwich for lunch...). Here is my take on the recipe:


500g minced turkey, extra lean
2 small courgettes, coarsely grated (around 200g)
3 spring onions, finely sliced
Grated root ginger (one or two inches, depending on how much you like ginger!)
1 medium free-range egg
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Dash of soy sauce (in the place of salt)
Juice of half a lime
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
Sesame oil, for frying

Preheat the oven to 220C (or 200C for a fan oven). In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients bar the sesame oil, then shape into small burgers (the recipe should yield around 18 patties).

Heat the sesame oil in a large frying pan, and sear your burgers in batches until golden brown on all sides (about 2 minutes on each side, on a medium heat). Transfer the seared meatballs to a foil-lined oven-dish and place in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until just cooked through.

While your meatballs are cooking, prepare your egg noodles according to the instructions on the packet. Separate the individual leaves of your pak choi and steam (or stir fry, if you prefer) for around two minutes.

Serve with sweet Thai chilli sauce for dipping.