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.