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The Holly Bush

The Holly Bush

The exterior of The Holly Bush pub in Hampstead

Picture the scene.  You plan a long-overdue visit to one of your favourite restaurants.  You sit down, browse the menu and immediately spot an amazing sounding dish.  This is definitely what you are going to order and you can’t wait to tuck in.  But then – disaster! The waitress informs you that it’s not actually available.  A mistake was made and the menu is incorrect.  Sad times….  This is exactly what happened on my visit to The Holly Bush in Hampstead and, needless to say, I was more than a little irritated.  However, all was not lost.  This story does have a happy ending…

The Holly Bush is a wonderful pub.  It’s tucked away in a pretty corner of Hampstead, a neighbourhood that has more than its fair share of pretty corners.  One of my favourite things to do at this time of year is go for a wander on Hampstead Heath followed by a slap-up meal in The Holly Bush. The pub is made for cosy winter days – a warren of rooms, all wood panelling, log fires and hearty, seasonal food.  It’s the sort of place that American tourists dream of when they think of an English pub.  It feels like the perfect country pub which means you can forget that you’re in the middle of a big city.  And sometimes this is a very good thing.

Game terrine in The Holly Bush pub

Disappointment over menu cock-up aside, we got stuck into our lunch. My starter of game terrine with pickles and bread might have frustrated the We Want Plates brigade, but I quite liked its rustic presentation on a wooden board.  The terrine – made with rabbit and duck – arrived in a sealed jar which was packed full of big chunks of meat.  While the serving was generous, the same can’t be said for the flavour; I found the whole dish a little bland and under-seasoned for my tastes.  However, the meat was lovely and tender, and the pickles provided a welcome sharp note.  My friend ordered the ravioli with artichoke and ricotta in a lemon and poppy seed butter sauce.  This was perhaps an unusual choice but it tasted delicious.  Really light and tangy.

The main course was where I’d had to plump for a “second best” option.  I had wanted roast goose leg.  I got beef cheek pie.  I enjoy a good pie as much as the next greedy bastard, but they’re a bit ordinary.  Or so I thought.  I must admit that I was fully expecting a fairly generic dish of stew with a puff pastry lid and a bit of veg lolling around on the side.  What I got was The Beast.  This was a pie of medieval proportions, the kind of pie that would do someone an injury if you lobbed it into their face.  It was fully encased in shortcrust pastry, which makes it a proper pie in my book, and was chock full of HUGE chunks of beef cheek.  The meat was velvety and just the right side of fatty.  The gravy was rich.  The pie arrived perched, castle-like, on top of smooth mashed potato and some token green veg (which was actually very tasty).  A moat of gravy and mushroom sauce swirled around it.  I tried to eat it all.  I failed.  Not because it wasn’t absolutely bloody amazing, but because my eyes are bigger than my belly.  It did not go to waste, however, because my friend took offence to such a thing of beauty being ignored and gobbled it all up.  After having already polished off a steak.

Beef cheek pie, mash, gravy in The Holly Bush pub

Despite being painfully full at this point, I still ordered a pudding.  This was for two reasons.  Firstly, there is such a thing as a pudding belly, which entirely separate to the main belly and therefore needs filling.  What do you mean “you just made that up as an excuse for your own greed”?  Secondly, The Holly Bush generally does really good puds.  We both chose the apple, pear and blackberry crumble which came with ginger ice cream.  The crumble element was the definitely best bit.  The fruit base hadn’t been cooked down enough, so it was slightly watery and the fruit itself was a little hard.  The ginger ice cream, however, was lovely.  A great flavour to pair with a fruit crumble.

Apple, pear and blackberry crumble in The Holly Bush pub

The Holly Bush is kind of a fairy tale pub and, like all good fairy stories, my lunch came with a few twists and turns.  I didn’t manage to best The Beast single-handed but, with assistance from a trusty companion, the challenge was overcome.  Ultimately, we strolled off into the sunset (thanks to the short winter days) and lived happily ever after….

The Holly Bush, 22 Holly Mount, NW3 6SG
Approximately £80 for two people including drinks

Duck and Waffle

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

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Duck & Waffle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Flat Iron

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

Flat Iron Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

10 Greek Street

10 Greek Street

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I started this blog with the intention of working my way through Time Out London’s top 100 restaurants.  Well, it’s now April and so far I have managed to visit just one restaurant from their list.  I fail at converting intentions into reality.  However, I have broken the seal with my visit to 10 Greek Street.  In fact, the seal was veritably demolished, along with my lunch and my waistline.

10 Greek Street is as discrete and unassuming as its name.  Small and spartan, with white walls, wooden flooring, and the dishes of the day chalked up on blackboards, it has that whole effortlessly chic thing down to a tee.  Even the menus are casually rolled up and stuffed into a little cavity in the table, along with the cutlery and napkins, as if we were just hanging out down the local caff.  However, the food, which is as simple and straightforward as the decor, demonstrates that 10 Greek Street is worthy of its place as one of London’s top restaurants.

My belly bursting lunch commenced with pork belly, scallop, picada and white beans.  Picada is a combination of nuts, breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley, which was liberally scattered across the dish.  Pork belly and scallop is a classic combination, and the addition of the soft white beans and zingy picada really brought it alive.  The picada also gave the dish a bit of extra texture and crunch.  Next up was another classic combination: pie and mash.  To be specific: lamb pie, mash, kale and lamb jus.  It may sound like simple home cooking but this dish was absolutely bursting with flavour.  The pie itself was more like a pasty instead of the usual pastry topped casserole dish.  Although it looked small and modest, the buttery case was completely jam packed with a rich, unctuous stew that tasted as if every the chef had wrung every last drop of flavour out of the lamb and injected it into the pie.  Served up with flawlessly smooth mashed potato, earthy, iron-rich kale shot through with lemon zest, and a gravy made out of the lamb juices, this is comfort food taken to a whole new level.

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Despite being pretty much completely stuffed by this point, I had already earmarked pudding when browsing through the menu earlier and didn’t want to miss out on trying quince and almond tart.  I regularly make plum and almond tart at home, but I had never tasted quince so I was interested to know if it would be any different.  It’s a familiar story – jammy fruit and soft, nutty frangipane offset with sharp creme fraiche.  Another marriage of classic flavours done well.

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This was all washed down with a couple of glasses of Zweigelt from the Heinrich vineyard in Austria, which was another new experience for me.  Zweigelt is a fairly dry red wine with notes of blackberry and bitter chocolate.  Fairly easy on the palate and light in tannins,  I would happily order it again.  Going to be keeping an eye out for Austrian wines in the future!

I waddled my way out of 10 Greek Street feeling satisfied that I had at least ticked one restaurant off the “Top 100” list.  If you are looking for classic, understated, homestyle cooking but with flavours that will give your palate a damn good wake up call, then get over to 10 Greek Street and see for yourself why it’s sharing column inches with such luminaries as Heston Blumenthal and Jason Atherton.

£45 for three courses including two glasses of wine

10 Greek Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Adam Handling at The Caxton

Adam Handling at The Caxton

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My best friend has found a new best friend.  And that new best friend isn’t even an actual person.  It’s the rather brilliant Bookatable, purveyor of shiny restaurant bargains.  There’s no way I can compete so, as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Our first foray with Bookatable took us to Adam Handling at The Caxton.  As a huge fan of Masterchef, I was very excited to eat at the restaurant of one of my favourite former contestants.  Handling was a finalist in the 2013 series of Masterchef: The Professionals, and right from the outset he impressed with confident and competent cooking.  I adored him even more after watching him struggle with “conceptual cooking” in one of the later episodes, and still managing to nail it by coming up with a dish inspired by how angry he was about the whole task.  A favourite to win, with a feisty streak a mile wide, I think he was robbed of the title; but he doesn’t seem to have done too badly out of being a runner up.

Handling is based at Caxton restaurant within the St Ermin Hotel, an elegant venue near St James’ Park.  The interior is immaculately decorated, with a convivial, gentleman’s club atmosphere.  A large glass of red at the bar was accompanied by small plates of delicious bread, cheese and ham; the risk of spoiling our dinner was great!  Before we could fill our bellies too much, we headed into the dining room for our three course meal where more appetite-ruining temptation was placed in front of us in the form of warm sourdough bread with rich, salty chicken butter.  Wonderful.

As we were dining with Bookatable, we were offered a set menu instead of the a la carte but even with more limited choice, we struggled to decide between dishes as they all looked so delicious.  To start, I ordered the enigmatically titled “duck liver, pear & rosemary”.  This turned out to be an oozingly unguent duck liver pate served with slices of toasted brioche, and offset by a sharp, sweet pear puree.  If I had been served three courses of just this, I would have been a happy girl.  Unfortunately things only went downhill.

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My main course was gnocchi, pumpkin, almonds and burnt butter.  A winning combination.  However, for me, the mixture of burnt butter and pumpkin seeds was slightly too bitter on the palate.  It was a surprisingly strong tasting dish that sat a little too heavily in my stomach.  I enjoyed it….but I probably wouldn’t order it again.  After requesting a short break before the next course, which the staff happily accommodated, it was time for dessert.  I had ordered the orange & chocolate trifle; it had been highly recommended by our waiter so I was expecting great things.  What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to be served something so unpleasant that I wasn’t able to finish it.  It looked pretty enough; a jam jar filled with all manner of naughty, decadent ingredients.  However, it tasted like someone had soaked a bar of Dairy Milk in orange juice and squirted cream on the top, so jarring were the flavours.

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Three courses plus a glass of Prosecco for £35 at a restaurant of this bearing is a pretty good deal to be honest.  It was disappointing that the menu went from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the service was great and I would be interested to try some of the dishes from the a la carte menu on another occasion.  I still believe that Adam Handling should have won Masterchef and he is most definitely a chef to watch.  His future is as assured as he is.

Recipe – Beef Stew With Dumplings

Recipe – Beef Stew With Dumplings

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As I was dragging my sorry self to work on a recent dark and dreary morning, I noticed a brightly coloured van tootling it’s way around Tooting.  It was from a company called Riverford Organics and was dropping off lots of boxes of loveliness to my fellow SW17 residents.  As soon as I got into the office, I googled Riverford to see what they are all about, and was pleasantly surprised to see that not only do they provide boxes of organic fruit and veg, they also supply organic meat.  I placed an order for a veg & meat box and, soon after, received a delivery of a range of seasonal veg plus beef mince, stewing steak and a shoulder of lamb.  Should keep me going for a while!

In light of the wintery weather and using the contents of my Riverford box, I made a beef stew with red wine and dumplings.

For the stew:

Diced beef
Carrots
Celery
Leeks
Potatoes
2 x garlic cloves
Butter
Olive oil
150 ml red wine
500 ml beef stock
1 x tblspn plain flour
3 x tblspn fresh thyme
3 x tblspn fresh parsley
2 x bay leaves
Worcester sauce to taste

For the dumplings:

125g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
60g suet
Pinch of salt
Water

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4/350F.  In a large casserole or oven proof pan, heat the butter and oil, then fry the beef until browned, then stir in the flour and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and vegetables, and cook for a few more minutes.  Keep an eye on the pot so the meat doesn’t start to catch.  Stir in the red wine, stock, herbs and Worcester sauce, salt & pepper, then cover and transfer to the oven.  Leave to cook for approximately 2 hours.

To make the dumplings, sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then add the salt and the suet.  Gradually add cold water until a thick dough is formed.  Sprinkle flour over your work surface and onto your hands, then roll small balls out of the dough.  After the stew has cooked for two hours, place the dumplings onto the surface and cook for a further 20 minutes, or until the dumplings are tender.  For a golden top, leave the lid off.

I ate this on it’s own as the potatoes and dumplings bulked it out, but it could be served with mashed veg such as swede or potato.  I would recommend a full bodied red wine, such as a Burgundy or an Australian Shiraz, to accompany.

Recipe – Pan Seared Pigeon Breasts with Red Wine Sauce

Recipe – Pan Seared Pigeon Breasts with Red Wine Sauce

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Following a meeting on New Year’s Eve, I decided to head into town and ended up wandering into Borough Market, which was surprisingly not packed to the rafters for a change.  Despite the risk to both my post-Christmas bank balance and waistline, I couldn’t resist roaming around and picking up various goodies.  One of the delectable morsels that I purchased was a wild pigeon from Furness Fish, Poultry & Game.  I have always loved their stall and I defy any foodie to be able to walk past it without buying something from their amazing range of food.  I had never cooked pigeon but, having seen almost every contestant on this year’s Masterchef: The Professionals turn out lovely pigeon dishes,  I decided that now was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

This recipe serves one person.

  • 1 whole pigeon
  • 1 x small glass red wine
  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Thyme
  • Salt

Thoroughly clean the pigeon then remove both breasts and set aside.  In a large pan, pour a glass of red wine and add the pigeon carcass.  Add the thyme and salt, then top up with enough boiling water to cover the pigeon carcass.  Leave to simmer for approximately 20 mins.  Remove the carcass and strain the sauce into another pan.  Add a knob of butter and 1 teaspoon of sugar (depending on taste), and reduce until it reaches the desired consistency.

Score the skin side of each pigeon breast then place into a very hot frying pan.  Cook each side for no more than 2-3 minutes, then remove and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

I served this with mashed potato and wilted spinach.  Be careful not to overcook the pigeon – I do like my meat rare but if you cook the pigeon breasts for too long then the meat will become tough and unpleasant to eat.

Enjoy!

The Manor, Clapham

The Manor, Clapham

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“This drink tastes of plants” declared my dining companion.  Our lurid green sorrel and elderflower bellinis were perhaps an inauspicious start to our meal at The Manor, as was our rather over-keen waitress who had seemingly been told to push the tasting menu for all it’s worth or risk pain of death.  At one point, we did think that she was going to hang around the table while we perused the a la carte options, but thankfully duty called elsewhere.  However, things only improved from then on.

The Manor is owned by the team behind The Dairy, which has had rave reviews and full tables since it opened in Clapham last year.  The concept is “British tapas” but, instead of a whole selection of dishes arriving at once, the menu here is arranged by four savoury courses – snacks, vegetables, fish, meat – with small plates of each served in that order.  I usually approach tapas-style menus with a degree of trepidation….How large each plate will be?  Should I order something if my companion doesn’t like it?  What if we order too much, or not enough? What if my brain implodes from all the choice?  Fortunately help was on hand in the form of our ardent waitress, who advised us to select two dishes from each section and, as neither of us is particularly fussy, the decision making process was fairly painless.  Phew!

At this point I should offer some advice.  Don’t visit The Manor if you are a staunch vegetarian.  Even the butter was made of chicken!  Yep, you read that correctly.  Chicken butter.  I have no idea which bit of the butter was the chicken or which bit of the chicken was in the butter (I suspect the delightfully little crunchy bits scattered on top), but it tasted so nice combined with warm, crusty sourdough that I really don’t care.  I could have quite easily eaten an entire loaf to myself, together with the pork & fennel salumi that we ordered as our starter – rich, meaty, with a powerful punch of fennel.  Our second starter of crab, charred celeriac, buttermilk and hazelnuts was perhaps a little too delicate as a companion to the salumi but, as a stand-alone dish, it was delicious and we used up the rest of our bread on the thick buttermilk sauce.

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The remainder of the meal is where the idea of British tapas fails me a little.  Maybe I’m just an old fashioned bird, but I generally prefer to have my meat/fish served with my veg so I can eat them together.  Not so at The Manor.  The vegetable course is most definitely a course unto itself and, as yummy as the burnt kale, cavolo nero and toasted almonds was, I don’t really feel the need to eat an entire plate of cabbage on it’s own (my mother will probably disagree…).  Things stepped up a notch with the arrival of our fish dishes – salty, tangy mackerel fillets with cucumber and dill (surprisingly served warm) and two chunky pieces of monkfish served with roasted salsify and chanterelle mushrooms, topped off with some strips of zingy pickled salsify.

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From here on it was plain sailing into the meat course which was, of course, superb.  Suckling pig belly had chewy crackling, alongside unctuous braised head meat and slices of roast squash, and hay smoked partridge consisted of both tender breast meat and confit leg served with roast parsnips and “fermented grains”, which was a lovely creamy risotto type affair.  I particularly liked the toasted grains that were added to the top of the breast meat, which tasted caramelised and added an extra bit of crunch to the dish.

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But oh….wait….there’s more!  Dessert!  What can I say….other than for me this was probably the highlight.  Frozen chocolate fondant may sound like a bit of a cop out when anyone who has ever watched Masterchef will know that the oozy melting middle – or lack of – can be the downfall of many a chef, but when it tastes this good who cares.  And when it’s teamed up with dulce du leche and freeze dried milk (which is MUCH more appetising than it sounds), it’s so delicious that I went back to see if I could possibly scrape another spoonful out of my bowl – and then tried the same on my friend’s bowl.  You know you’re on to a winning dessert when you’re talking about bowl scrapings.

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At times The Manor smacked of being a little too poncey for it’s own good (the overtly self-conscious graffiti by way of interior design is not really necessary), but restaurants of this calibre are rare outside of the “city centre” and should be welcomed with open arms and empty stomachs.  We waddled off into the night, safe in the knowledge that The Manor will be here to stay and that sorrel should never be used in cocktails.

We paid £138 for two people including a bottle of wine