Syrian Supper Club

untitled (22 of 58)

The scent of orange blossom filled the house in the old town of Damascus.  The courtyard garden, complete with its orange tree, offered a relaxing haven from the hustle and bustle of the city that was home to Louisa Barnett and Rose Lukas.  As students of Arabic, they moved to Damascus to learn the language and quickly fell in love with Syria’s intoxicating atmosphere and welcoming people.  However, the spark of revolution had been lit across the Middle East, and this grew into a raging inferno that consumed Syria.  In 2011, as the Arab Spring left chaos in its wake, the girls were forced to leave.

Back in London, Rose and Louisa could not forget the kindness and generosity that had been shown to them by the Syrian people, and so they started coming up with fundraising ideas to help those affected by the civil war.  Taking inspiration from their love of cooking, Syrian food and the increasing popularity of pop-up events in London, they teamed up with two others (George and Johnnie) and decided to host a supper club at their home, inviting friends to join them around their kitchen table.  The Syrian Supper Club was born and quickly grew to become a regular event.

untitled (58 of 58)

The supper club team now have their own registered charity, The Hands Up Foundation (Hands Up) which is the channel for all the funds raised at Syrian Suppers to reach Syria.  They work alongside partner organisations such as Syria Relief, a Syrian-run charity whose aim is to provide care to the 7.6 million people who have been internally displaced by the conflict, and to help reduce migration from Syria.  By providing those still within Syria with the means to survive, the team hope to encourage people to remain in the country, preventing the loss of vital knowledge and expertise.  This not only fosters local support, it also means that Syrians can look ahead to rebuilding their country.  Both Rose and Louisa have friends who still live in Syria, so providing in-country assistance is something that is particularly important to them.

With this in mind, the money raised through the Syrian Supper Club goes towards tangible projects which have very clear and demonstrable results.  One example of this is medical care.  The supper club fundraising has paid for hospital equipment, such as X-ray machines, as well as salaries for a team of medical staff in Aleppo.  Once there were over 5000 doctors in Aleppo, now there are only 35.  Can you imagine having access to only 35 doctors in London?  It’s hard to comprehend.   However, the supper clubs can potentially raise enough money to fund four years of medical salaries.  Some of the money also goes towards a prosthetic limb clinic on the Turkish border.  The staff had been making limbs from incredibly limited resources but, thanks to the Syrian Supper Club, they can now create around 60 limbs each month, giving people back their movement and their dignity.

Almost four years on from the very first supper club, the team now cater to 40 people each month at the E5 Bakehouse in Hackney, serving three courses of Middle Eastern-inspired food, plus a cocktail, for £35 a head.  The events are so popular that even overseas visitors make a point of attending.  The supper club team not only want to remind people of all that’s great about Syria – the food, the culture, the people – they also want to encourage others to host their own supper clubs.  As Louisa said, “Most people hold dinner parties for their friends so it’s actually really easy to fundraise; take the initiative, get out there, spread the word”.  Syrian Supper Clubs are now held as far away as Singapore and the USA.

untitled (7 of 58)

And if you’re not able to attend a supper club in person or host your own, then there’s still a way to contribute.  That orange tree in Damascus , with its bounty of bitter oranges, inspired Louisa and Rose to make their own marmalade.  They continue to do this in the UK and have even won a bronze award at the Dalemain Marmalade Awards.  Jars can be purchased at the supper clubs and the team are investigating options with retailers too.  So it really doesn’t have to take much money and effort to support the actions of Rose, Louisa and their team, as well as experience a taste of Syrian culture beyond what we read in the news.

Find out more about the Syrian Supper Club here
Photos courtesy of Syrian Supper Club

Arabica Bar and Kitchen


You’re supposed to feed a cold, or so the saying goes.  So when my birthday rolled around and I was feeling less than fabulous, it made perfect sense to go to one of the few restaurants where I could easily eat pretty much everything on the menu.  Arabica Bar and Kitchen regularly features in Time Out London’s Top 100 Restaurants list, and it’s been on my radar for some time.  With food “inspired by the sun rise nations of the Levant”, it offers more than your bog standard mezze restaurant.  The menu features dishes such as whipped feta with chillies, mint and pumpkin seeds, Lebanese style roasted cod, and sticky lamb belly and ribs with a pomegranate honey glaze.  It’s not difficult to see why I was so spoiled for choice.

The restaurant itself is a rather sexy little number and, like the menu, offers a happy departure from the majority of Middle Eastern restaurants.  Exposed brick walls replace heavy fabric drapes, you sit on actual chairs instead of cushions, and there’s not a belly dancer in sight.  It’s more like a trendy urban cafe and has the same busy vibe.  We began with an aperitif.  In my case, this was the spiced Lebanese wine, which was basically mulled wine served in a dainty little cup.  Operation Defeat Cold was on.


Our waiter advised us to choose a selection of small plates to start with, and then one main course each which we could share between us.  We kicked off with some moutabel, which is smoked aubergine with tahini, garlic, olive oil and lemon, falafel (natch), halloumi (can’t resist), and spiced venison bourekas.  This latter dish was a puff pastry parcel filled with pulled venison meat and sultanas, topped with flaked almonds and icing sugar.  It was like a richer version of the Moroccan pastilla, and one of the few more unusual dishes I got to try during this meal thanks to some fairly unadventurous dining companions.  That said, the mezze staples like falafel and halloumi were pretty fantastic and definitely a cut above the usual stuff that gets trotted out at most Middle Eastern restaurants.


Again, our main course options were fairly limited thanks to my two companions both ordering the same dish.  Their choice was the chicken and pistachio shish with cardamom, honey and green chilli.  I’m always a bit wary of chicken kebab dishes, having eaten more than my fair share of dry, chewy scraps of meat.  Happily, these particular kebabs were moist and flavoursome, rich in their own juices.  My choice of main was the imam bayaldi.  This was half a roasted aubergine filled with a spiced lamb ragu and topped with tomatoes and pine nuts.  It was pleasant enough but I feel that it could have been a lot richer, with more depth of flavour.


There was a smidgen of room left for dessert and right from the start I’d had my eye on the knafeh.  This is a Lebanese cheese pastry served warm, with orange blossom honey and crushed pistachios.  I had never tried one of these before so I was looking forward to scoffing it down.  The pastry was fine and flaky, like that on a baklava, and soaked with sweet honey.  It was filled with soft, elastic cheese – more like cooked mozzarella than baked cheesecake – but this was actually a lot nicer than it sounds.  Using a semi-hard cheese means that the whole dish is prevented from becoming overly rich and sickly.  Plus I’m sure all that honey did wonders for my sore throat…


Getting to Arabica involves running the gauntlet through Borough Market, and I would advise you to keep your head down and not let yourself get distracted by all the loveliness on offer there.  You need to go to Arabica hungry.  Cold or no cold, there’s no excuse for not stuffing your face.

Arabica Bar and Kitchen, 3 Rochester Walk, SE1 9AF
£45 per person for three courses including drinks

The Diner’s Best of 2015

Yep, it’s the end of another year so time for yet another list.  Here is my round up of the best things I have put in my mouth this year:

Chicken Berry Biryani from Dishoom
I visited the Kings Cross branch of Dishoom all the way back in January but I still keep raving about their biryani.  Tender meat, fluffy rice, a good amount of spice….it ticks all the biryani boxes but has the added bonus of cranberries.  Plus the restaurant itself just looks so, so sexy.


Spaghetti with Cuttlefish and Ink Sauce from Osteria Alba Nova
Good food can be hard to find in tourist-ridden Venice, but venture away from the main hubs and you will be rewarded.  Cuttlefish cooked in ink is a local delicacy and the small, family-run restaurant of Osteria Alba Nova in Santa Croce turns out a cracking version of this.  Ink dishes can be on the heavy side but this pasta dish was as light and tasty as can be.


Confit Duck Burger from The Frenchie
Confit duck in a burger?  It sounds like it shouldn’t work but, boy, does it ever…!  Juicy duck meat topped with crispy skin, truffled mustard, onion relish and your choice of cheese is about as naughty as you can get.  Everyone raves about the goats cheese version but my personal favourite is the smoked cheddar.  Find them at various markets around town.


Apple Cake and Quince Vodka from Marchewka z Groskiem
There were just so many delicious things to eat and drink in Krakow and my waistline paid the price.  However, the apple cake at Marchewka z Groskiem in Kazimierz was worth the extra few pounds.  It was moist and buttery with enough apple to cut through the richness.  I washed it down with a quince vodka, another local speciality.


Lamb Pie, Mash and Kale from 10 Greek Street
Sometimes I just want good, old fashioned British food and this pie dish from 10 Greek Street really hit the spot.  The pie was more like a pasty, instead of the usual pastry-topped casserole dish and was full to bursting with rich lamb stew.  Comfort food done properly.


The Original Heartbreaker from Tongue ‘n’ Cheeks
I have eaten many, many burgers this year but the Original Heartbreaker is by far and away the best of the best.  The meat is smokey, rare and rich, and it’s topped with chimichurri, sour cream, cheddar and watercress.  Hunt one down at KERB – you won’t regret it.


The Blessed Thistle from 46 & Mercy
There were tons of amazing cocktails on offer during London Cocktail Week but my top choice was the Blessed Thistle.  It is made with vodka, sherry vinegar, vermouth washed with pork fat, and thyme – a combination of ingredients that may raise an eyebrow.  However, not only do they work amazingly well together, the use of pork fat gives a delicate smoky flavour to the drink.


Jerk Chicken from Mama’s Jerk
I well and truly stuffed my face at the various Street Feast locations this year, but the jerk chicken wings from Mama’s Jerk at Dalston Yard take the top spot.  It may not have been the sexiest looking dish ever, but simple is definitely best.  They were sticky, juicy, smoky, sweet with just enough heat behind them.  I looked like a total mess after eating them but it was worth it.


Mutton Tikka from Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort
As one dish among over one hundred other amazing dishes at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah buffet in Oman, this mutton tikka faced stiff competition.  However, it stood out thanks to the tender meat and robust spicing. I even broke my buffet rule of going back for second helpings; it was that good.


Sakura from Shochu Lounge
This is another fantastic drink that was available during London Cocktail Week.  Made with Nikka whisky, Cocchi Barolo Chinato vermouth, sakura tincture and plum soda, it was surprisingly sweet but tempered by the smokiness of the whisky.  A drink that I still think about to this day.


I’m really excited about all of the potential culinary experiences that 2016 has to offer.  Does anyone have any recommendations?  If so, drop me a line; I’d be happy to hear them.

Happy New Year y’all.

Bar Termini


Regular followers will know how much I love Soho.  I frequently lament the aggressive pace of change and new development in the area.  However, no matter how much I adore it’s grimy underbelly, I did not want to get up close and personal with the damp pavement of Brewer Street…..  I’m putting the blame squarely at the doorstep of Bar Termini and their fabulous Negronis.

I discovered Bar Termini a few months ago and have been a regular visitor ever since.  I love it’s chic, retro vibe – all staff in white coats, shiny coffee machine, and marble surfaces.  I love it’s teeny tiny, time capsule, Continental feel.  Perched at the bar, cocktail in hand, it almost feels like I’m in a Fellini film.  Most of all I love their sexy sexy drinks.  Bar Termini is perhaps best know for their Negronis.  A Negroni is a cocktail made from one part gin, one part vermouth rosso and one part Campari.  It is, without doubt, a drink for grown ups.  I first tried one earlier this year – at Bar Termini – and am now a bit of a Negroni addict.

Bar Termini is the brainchild of Marco Arrigo, the Head of Quality for Illy coffee, and renowned mixologist Tony Conigliaro.  So you can expect top notch drinks before you even step through the door.  The menu offers a choice of three Negronis – Classico, Rosato and Superiore.  The Classico is, of course, the classic Negroni recipe but cooked for a little longer to give a smoother finish.  The Rosato is made with a rose petal infusion, which gives a hint of sweetness.  The Superiore includes pink peppercorns, cooked through a sous vide to release the bitterness.  All are served in dainty little glasses, in true aperitivo style.  There is more to Bar Termini than just their Negronis however.  They also offer some seriously bad ass cocktails.  My personal favourite is the Marsala Martini, made with marsala dolce, vermouth, gin and almond bitters.

I take everyone I know to Bar Termini, so when my mum recently visited she was no exception.  She had never tried a Negroni before so, as she is a lover of gin, I was pretty confident that this was something she needed to know about.  The fact that she had to shortly catch her train back to Wales was by the by. As I recently read elsewhere, the bar is about coming for one before moving on.  Yeah….not in my world.  Mum loved the drinks, so several Negronis plus a Marsala Martini later and suddenly we were cutting it very fine for that train.  A mad dash across town ensued, as we wove on unsteady feet through the soggy streets of Soho.  And then, as I was doing that whole London thing of stepping off the pavement to overtake slow moving tourists, my foot slipped off the kerb and bam!  I fell flat on my face, toddler style, complete with bruised knees and scraped palms.  So much for that whole La Dolce Vita thing.  Anita Ekberg I most definitely am not.  Fortunately the embarrassment factor, made even more acute by the fact that my mum was there to pick me up off the floor, was diminished thanks to all the gin in my system.

So Bar Termini, your killer cocktails were quite literally my downfall, but that’s not going to stop me coming back for more.  I do have a Negroni addiction to feed after all.

Oh and mum missed her train.

Then sent me this….


Bar Termini, 7 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JE

London Cocktail Week 2015 – My Highlights

Mini clothes pegs.  Dainty egg-cup style glasses.  Drinks made with condiments, pork fat and even ants.  Yes ladies and gentlemen…London Cocktail Week is here.

There are so many things that I loved about London Cocktail Week.  The sheer number of bars taking part, not including the pop ups at Poland Street and Spitalfields, making me feel like the proverbial kid in candy store.  The opportunity to try something that I may not usually order.  How amazingly friendly everyone has been.  But most of all, I really loved how enthusiastic the bar staff have been.  Each person who served me clearly took so much pride in their bar and the effort that had gone into their LCW cocktail.  Here are my personal highlights from the week:

The Lucky Elder Martini – The Lucky Pig
Bombay Sapphire gin, St Germain elderflower liqueur, apple juice, lime juice and egg white went into this refreshing little number from one of my favourite bars – although  I think the egg white might have been forgotten…  I almost felt quite wholesome drinking this seemingly innocent cocktail.  My head was telling me a different story the next day, however.



Sakura – Shochu Lounge
This didn’t taste at all like I imagined although, with ingredients like sakura tincture, I’m not sure what I was expecting to be honest.  Sakura is Japanese cherry blossom and is therefore an appropriate ingredient for a cocktail at this Asian-inspired bar beneath ROKA restaurant, mixed with Nikka whisky, vermouth and plum soda.  Surprisingly sweet, but not overly so, with a hint of smokiness from the whisky.



Muggles Mark – Reverend JW Simpson
What a pleasant surprise to learn that the team at the Reverend had not one, but two signature cocktails on the menu for LCW.  Their recommendation was the Muggles Mark – Maker’s Mark, Liqueur 43, lemon, egg white and homemade spiced pumpkin juice served up in a mini tankard.  Only politeness prevented me from using my finger to scoop out what remained of the appropriately autumnal flavoured froth from inside my glass.



The Pemberton – The Sun Tavern
Named after John Pemberton, the man who invented Coca Cola (you learn something new everyday!), this was made with Glendalough Double Barrel Irish whisky, lime juice, a coke and ginger reduction, and spiced chocolate bitters.  I was expecting a long drink tasting of coke but instead was presented with a little glass containing a creamy mixture with a hint of lime in the background.  Another one that was dangerously drinkable.



Blessed Thistle – 46 & Mercy
I read the description of this and thought “What the actual fuck??”  Any drink made up of vodka, sherry vinegar, and vermouth washed with pork fat and thyme is going to be a gamble and I had visions of being presented with something that had translucent circles of fat floating around in it, a bit like my nan’s gravy.  Fortunately, no actual fat goes into the drink; it is filtered through a muslin cloth so only the smoky taste remains and it tasted fantastic!



Latilla de los Muertos – Discount Suit Company
Firstly – I bloody love this place.  A proper little speakeasy around the corner from Petticoat Lane Market with barely any room to swing a cat.  Secondly – their LCW cocktail rocked.  Made with Ocho Blanco tequila, Briottet manzana verde liqueur, lemon juice, honey syrup, egg white, chocolate bitters, and Tabasco, this was another one that could have been “piss in a glass” (a phrase I have stolen from my friend who used it to describe one particular cocktail not featured here).  It was sweet, sharp and aromatic all at once, with the warmth of honey and a strange but not-unpleasant tingling sensation in my mouth.


I would have loved to have had the time, money, and liver capacity to try each and every cocktail on offer this past week.  I barely scratched the surface and already feel completely broken.  My top pick of the week, however, is the Blessed Thistle from 46 & Mercy.  It takes some skill to make vinegar, pork fat, and thyme work in a cocktail, and to then create a drink that dings each and every one of your tastebuds is something to be applauded.  I’m looking forward to visiting again and trying some more of their selection.  But first, I need to detox for at least a month!

Duck and Waffle

IMG_0092After spending quite a bit of time hanging around in establishments at the top of tall buildings, I have realised that a pattern is emerging.   The higher up in the sky you are, the worse the service usually is.  Which is a shame for many reasons, not least because most of these places seem to implement a kind of “sky tax”, meaning you pay through the nose for the privilege of being there.  True, the views are spectacular so at least you have something nice to stare at while you wait half an hour to get served at the bar (Hutong, I’m looking at you).  However, is feeling like you’re on top of the world enough, when the staff seem determined to drag you back down to earth with a bump?

Duck and Waffle is located at the top of the Heron Tower, one of the newish skyscrapers to adorn London’s skyline.  It is open 24/7, so you can grab a bite to eat no matter what time of the day or night you fancy it.  It’s been on my “list” for a long time so when my friend suggested a sunrise breakfast there, I was already grabbing my coat and dashing out of my front door.  Our reservation was at 5:45am – yes, that’s AM – which meant that I had to get up at 4am. On a Sunday morning.  I’m notoriously sloth-like, so the dawn start is testament to how much I wanted to go to Duck and Waffle.

On arrival at the Heron Tower, we headed for the roped-off entrance to the restaurant which was manned by a security guard/Door Nazi.  Despite having clearly spotted my friend and I, the doorman chose to ignore us and have a conversation with another security guard/Door Nazi who was lurking behind a desk just inside the building.  Door Nazi 1 then emerged to usher through a couple who had arrived after us, while still managing to avoid acknowledging our presence.  Eventually contact was made, although we still had to wait on the pavement while he checked our booking with Door Nazi 2.  Once we got inside the foyer, we then had to wait while our booking was checked again, as well as being grilled about the exact whereabouts of the rest of our party.  For a moment it looked as if we would be turfed out onto the street to wait until the remaining three diners arrived, but my friend and I had completely lost patience by this point so made an Indiana Jones-style dive for the lift doors.  Finally we got to the inner sanctum….

Unfortunately the service didn’t really improve once we made it to our table in the sky.  Despite the restaurant being three quarters empty, we were kept waiting to place our order, to have our table cleared, to pay the bill.  The latter is one of my biggest pet peeves.  I appreciate that most people probably aren’t moving too quickly at that time on a Sunday morning but, if a restaurant is not keen to take the money that is rightfully theirs, then it makes me question why they are even bothering with this whole running a business thing.

The food and view did somewhat make up for the lack of everything else.  The breakfast menu is fairly limited but their signature duck and waffle dish was available.  And it was gooooood.  The waffle was fluffy, the duck was juicy, the egg was runny and, frankly, you can never go wrong with the addition of maple syrup to anything.  Everyone else in our party ordered the full English which met all expectations.  It’s just a shame that you have to negotiate your way through security worthy of a nightclub at 3am to even get through the front door.  Sadly the views > people theory remains unchallenged.

One course plus tea and juice- £27.00
Duck and Waffle, Heron Tower, Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY


Flat Iron

IMG_0010I’ve been watching a lot of “Parks and Recreation” lately and have fallen a little bit in love with Ron Swanson – the deadpan, mustachioed, all-American red blooded male.  Ron Swanson has no time for nonsense such as salad or kale smoothies.  He likes his meat rare and his whisky neat.  He is probably my soulmate….  So I paid a visit to a restaurant that Ron Swanson would most definitely approve of – Flat Iron.  There is just one thing on the menu here and that’s steak.  Really really good steak.

Flat Iron is part of the annoying “no reservation” trend that seems to have swept London lately, so I played it safe and visited late on a Monday lunchtime.  I love my food but I’m not prepared to queue outside a restaurant on a grey, muggy day for it.  Safely seated inside, I was taken through the procedure by one of the waitresses.  Their star dish is a flat iron steak, served with salad and a range of sides and sauces.  They do now offer specials, such as burgers or other cuts of steak, but it’s not a place to visit if you’re not into red meat.

As I was a Flat Iron virgin, I decided to go for their signature dish accompanied by peppercorn sauce and dripping-cooked chips.  The steak came already sliced and perfectly rare, just the way I like it.  It was incredibly tender which made me think that the meat cleaver “knife” was possibly a little OTT, although Ron Swanson would probably disagree.  The peppercorn sauce had a sweetness from shallots and the chips were…well, what you would expect when the menu reads “dripping-cooked chips”.

As if all that artery-clogging fare wasn’t enough, I decided to add a dessert to my expanding waistline.  There was only one choice, so if you didn’t like chocolate salted caramel mousse then tough.  Although if you don’t like that then there’s frankly no hope for you anyway.  The mousse was served squirty-cream style, sprayed into an enamel mug by the waitress.  I was also provided with a pot of rock salt on the side with the advice that I was to sprinkle this over my mousse, for an extra salty kick.  This just served to prove my theory that there is nothing that can’t be improved by the addition of salt.

While single cuisine restaurants in London are now verging on the ridiculous (Come Fry With Me??), Flat Iron manages to maintain a degree of credibility.  The decor is New York chic, the service is slick and friendly without being intrusive, and the steak is damn fine.  I may not have gone full Swanson and ordered five courses of steak with a side of steak, but the quality of the meat on offer could tempt you to go on an all-out binge.  Oh and they do sell some green stuff too.  Sorry Ron.

Two courses, a side, sauce, and glass of house wine – £23.00
Flat Iron, 17 Beak Street and 9 Denmark Street

Eating The Street

You would have to be living under a rock not to realise that street food is a big deal.  The London street food scene has exploded over the last year or so, with a range of top notch vendors serving takeaway scran to suit every palate.  With excellent food markets every day of the week, I’m determined to eat my way through all that the capital has to offer.  Here are a few of my highlights to date:

The Little Yolk
The clue is in the name.  Starting life as a market stall, these purveyors of fried egg yumminess now have their own cafe at Dalston Farm Shop.  The menu has likewise expanded to include dishes such as pancakes, and halloumi with kale and tomatoes, but I still love the original “Bacon One” – streaky bacon, bone marrow butter, fried duck egg, and tomatoes in a toasted brioche
20 Dalston Lane, London, E8 3AZ, Sat & Sun 10am-4pm  



Sambal Shiok
One of Time Out’s Top 50 street food vendors, these guys offer Malaysian food with a twist.  I can’t say that I had ever heard of a chicken satay burger before, but I’m sure as hell glad that it’s in my life now.  Chicken, peanut sauce, pickled onions, cucumber, and spicy sambal in a brioche bun is about as delicious as it gets.  Can’t wait to try their beef rendang next.
South Bank food market Fri-Sun, and Rupert Street, W1 Thurs-Fri



The Frenchie
As per the chicken satay burger, this time last year I didn’t know that such a thing as a confit duck burger existed.  How empty my life was… Rich shredded duck meat stuffed into a toasted brioche along with mustard, rocket, onion chutney and (inspired!) cripsy bits of skin.  All topped off with your choice of either goats cheese, smoked cheddar, or blue cheese.  My brain was telling me that it should be waaaay too rich, but my palate was singing a different tune.  It just tastes so damn good.
South Bank food market Fri-Sun, Camden Lock Sat-Sun, and Brick Lane Sunday only  



Bill or Beak
That’s the question.  Do you go for “Bill” – shredded duck and pork, coriander, spring onion, mint, and tempura shallots topped with a Vietnamese dressing?  Or “Beak” – grilled chicken, garlic and rosemary croutons, and tempura capers in a Caesar dressing, finished off with a scattering of Parmesan?  I chose Beak and did not regret it.  I can’t remember the last time I had eaten chicken that was so moist and so tasty.  It blew all those frightening memories of dry, chewy chicken sandwiches right out of the water.
Kerb (various locations), Brockley Market Saturday, and Street Feast Fri-Sat



Outsider Tart
I have a huge sweet tooth.  It’s my waistline’s worst enemy.  I can easily demolish an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream in one sitting.  Yet the cakes sold by Outsider Tart are so decadent that they have very nearly managed to defeat me.  But not quite…  Describing themselves as “an authentic American bake shop” (which probably explains why one of their cakes can almost floor me), their market stall at the South Bank is like a psychedelic vision of candy heaven.  Their Snickers brownie has great chunks of peanut wrapped with sticky caramel, and The Goober is a lethal concoction of peanut butter, chocolate and M&M’s.  Plus they are so big that I can barely get my mouth around them.
83 Chiswick High Road, W4 2EF, and South Bank food market Fri-Sun


Cocktail Making in Cardiff


Dan was 19 years old, good looking, fresh off the plane from New Zealand, and had the unenviable task of teaching a group of rowdy 30-something women how to make cocktails.  We smelled blood…

I drink cocktails.  A lot of cocktails.  But make my own??  You must be having a laugh.  Actually, that’s exactly what we did.  My first ever cocktail class was full of laughter, as well as a few spills and a few sore heads the next day.  A makeshift bar had been set up in the corner of Cardiff’s Slug & Lettuce, and Kiwi Dan bravely stepped up to impart his knowledge on all things cocktail-related.

We were shown how to make two cocktails during this class – one shaken and one stirred (or “muddled” as per many a hipster cocktail menu these days).  First up was a Cosmopolitan.  Dan ran through the process with us, before we all had a go at making our own.  Despite forgetting what order to add the ingredients (it doesn’t matter, right?), we did learn some useful facts, for example, how to shake a cocktail properly.  I never realised that each shake of the cocktail actually lowers its temperature, and that you know it’s ready when condensation appears on the metal shaker.  I also learned that it’s really quite tricky to separate the glass and the cocktail shaker once you have wedged them together, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to sneak back to the bar and add some more vodka!!

Next we tried our hand at making mojitos.  The best thing about making your own cocktail, is that you can control exactly what goes into your glass.  I made sure to minimise the amount of ice and up the amount of rum….  Maybe I was feeling a bit gung-ho after imbibing more than my fair share of cocktails, but mojitos seemed pretty easy to make – even if I did spill a lot of the ice and some of the rum all over the table.  Pro tip: make sure you muddle it well, otherwise you end up with all the booze at the bottom of your glass, like me.

Although I got very drunk and had a bit of a killer head the next day, I have definitely got the cocktail-making bug.  I found myself viewing the Slug & Lettuce’s well-stocked bar with envy, thinking about what alcohol I was going to purchase when I got back home, and daydreaming about my very own retro 1970’s-style home bar.  The class cost £25 and included a finale of Jagerbombs, plus plenty of food to soak up all the booze.  Cute barman not included.

Taking A Bite Out Of…Istanbul


Kebabs.  They have a bit of a bad reputation to be honest.  My first experience of the delicacy known as kebab meat and chips, “fresh” out of the local chippy in Pontypool town centre, was enough to put me off for a long long time.  Even the more upmarket grilled meats of Turkish restaurants around London didn’t really help to convince me that a kebab is anything more than a greasy, stomach-churning mistake.  So would a trip to Istanbul,  the home of the kebab, change my mind?

Istanbul is a crazy, colourful, feast for the senses, and food plays a huge part in this.  Everywhere you look there are stalls selling hot chestnuts, grilled corn on the cob, watermelon, fresh bread.  Ice cream vendors, wearing embroidered waistcoats and fezs, churn their thick, sticky confectionery (known as dondurma) and ring the bells above their booths.  Shop windows are piled high with Turkish delight and baklava.  And all this is before you even think about setting foot inside one of the hundreds of restaurants, lured by the smell of grilled meat and fish.

Most of our meals in Istanbul tended to follow the same pattern.  A selection of meze to start with (usually hummus, cacik, spinach in yoghurt, and smoked aubergine, with baskets of the most delicious fresh bread), followed by a kebab.  Yes, that’s right.  A kebab.  Every day.  However, in the words of Marks & Spencer, these weren’t just any kebab.  The meat was moist and flavoursome, without any hint of grease or gristle.  This was simple food, done well.


Of course, there is more to dining out in Istanbul than just kebabs.  Fresh fish also features prominently, particularly on the Princes Islands.  This charming archipelago offers a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.  Motor vehicles are not permitted so the best way to explore is via bicycle or horse and carriage.  We visited Buyukada, the largest of the islands, and headed straight for the Splendid Palas hotel, a beautiful turn of the century sanctuary.  We enjoyed glasses of iced peach tea in their gardens overlooking the Sea of Marmara.  When it comes to food, fish is really what it’s all about.  All of the restaurants lining the sea front have large coolers displaying the catch of the day.  We ordered a whole sea bass between three of us, which was served grilled with chips and fresh salad.  Nothing more was needed other than a squeeze of lemon.


Turkey is also famous for its coffee.  More to the point, its rocket fuel, thermonuclear coffee that is so thick you could almost stand your spoon up in the cup.  Like kebabs, coffee has really never done much for me; however cafe culture is huge in Istanbul, so when in Rome etc etc…  Our favourite spot was a tiny little outdoor cafe underneath the Galata Tower.  There are no menus – they only serve coffee, tea and soft drinks.  Coffee was served in tiny, patterned china cups, alongside the ubiquitous bottle of water to cleanse your palate.  Groups of students and families sat around in the amphitheatre style seating area, chatting, sketching or smoking shisha.


Istanbul is a city that challenged my culinary perceptions.  My next challenge is to find a Turkish restaurant here in London that can match all those wonderful kebabs!!!