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Category: Comfort food

Where to eat on Seymour Place

Where to eat on Seymour Place

Once upon a time, I had a truly terrible job working for a company on Seymour Place.  I think I lasted all of four months, and they felt like the longest four months of my life.  There wasn’t even anything exciting in the area to make up for the work woes.  I spent my free time eating claggy pasta salad from the local caff or drinking cheap wine in one of the old man pubs nearby.  So, funnily enough, it’s not a part of town that I tend to frequent much these days.  But, London being what it is, Seymour Place has evolved and developed over the years into somewhere really rather interesting.  The lower part of the street, closest to Marble Arch, is now a hub of independent shops and restaurants, with everything from Italian to Basque to the good old fashioned British pub.

Bernardi’s
Located right at the bottom of Seymour Place, Bernardi’s is a slick Italian restaurant with the relaxed atmosphere of a neighbourhood bistro.  The team behind it – the Bernardi brothers and chef Sabrina Gidda – have injected both the venue and the food with a youthful energy, while still retaining classic Italian flavours.  A large globe of burrata was wonderfully squidgy, its richness offset by the sweet roasted peppers from the accompanying peperonata.  Cornish squid with garlic, parsley and peperoncino (a type of chilli) looked simple, but the perfectly tender squid and smack-in-the-mouth flavours demonstrated real culinary skill.  Italian staples like arancini and pizza are given a modern twist with the inclusion of more unusual ingredients such as n’duja, taleggio and celery leaf.

Donostia and Lurra
If you’re a lover of Basque food then you need to get down to Seymour Place asap, as you will find not one, but two, great Basque restaurants.  Both are owned by Melody Adams and Nemanja Borjanovic; a couple who decided to jump head first into the hospitality industry with no prior experience.  Their gamble has paid off because both Lurra and Donostia are now firmly on the culinary map.  If you’re feeling flush, go for the dry aged Galician Blond beef.  It’s everything a great steak should be.  The meat was presented on a sizzling hot plate and was already sliced, making it easy to share.  Not only was it melt-in-the-mouth tender, it embraced all the naughty stuff like beautifully rendered fat and a generous sprinkling of rock salt.  Their cheesy croquettas, bursting with bechamel sauce, are also worth checking out.

Vinoteca
I’m a big fan of the Vinoteca brand and have visited some of their other branches several times over the years.  They’re always reliable; you know that you’ll get good, safe food, together with a stellar wine list.  Their Seymour Place offering is consistent with the rest of the group.  It has a relaxed, bistro feel, with a broadly European menu that changes every day.  What’s more, they have over 300 different wines available – so even the most discerning oenophile will find something they like.  If Oxford Street drives you completely around the bend, then you can escape just around the corner to Vinoteca and numb the pain with a few glasses of wine.  It may only be a few minutes walk, but it feels a world away from the West End nightmare of nasty shops and slow moving tourists.

Sandy’s
Sandy’s is an old fashioned pizzeria – with a twist.  Their speciality is Corsican cuisine.  If you love beer and pizza but you’re bored of the usual fare, then I recommend paying Sandy’s a visit.  Their pizzas feature lots of gruyere; a departure from the usual mozzarella and indicative of that French/Italian fusion that’s so typically Corsican.  The pizza bases are light and thin, letting the toppings take priority.  They even have a pizza named after Napoleon Bonaparte, in a cheeky nod to Corsica’s history.  Another first for me was Corsican beer.  I’m not much of a beer drinker but I really enjoyed the glass of light, crisp Pietra that came with our pizzas.  Oh, and they also do takeaway.

The Gate
The Seymour Place location is the third and latest branch of vegetarian powerhouse, The Gate.  Even a dedicated carnivore like me can find something interesting on their menu (which has so many allergies flagged that it reads like a periodic table).  I tried their butternut rotolo – sage infused potato lined with a mushroom duxelle and stuffed with butternut squash.  It was served with smoked butter beans and courgettes, a maple parsnip puree and a few other miscellaneous veggies.  I’m pretty certain I got all of my five a day in one meal but, perhaps unsurprisingly, I found it all a bit too sickly and rich.  Their jalapeno margarita, on the other hand, was immense.  I consider myself to be a bit of a margarita connoisseur – or a bit of an alcoholic – and this fiery version of a classic ticked all the boxes.

The Portman
The Portman is a two in one experience.  Downstairs, it’s a traditional pub; upstairs, it’s a smart restaurant.  If “classic British” is what you’re after, then this is the place to be.  Their menu plays it fairly safe with dishes like fish and chips or pie of the day.  However, everything is given a little more finesse than you would perhaps expect from a West End boozer.  My shepherd’s pie was made with generous chunks of slow cooked lamb in a rich, meaty gravy, with fluffy mashed potato prettily piped over the top.  It was a hug in a pie dish.  In true “classic British” form, The Portman also specialises in game so you can expect to find things like venison, hare or teal on their daily changing menu.

Many thanks to The Portman Estate and Coverdale Barclay for giving me the opportunity to visit the restaurants on Seymour Place.  All views are, as ever, my own.

Ognisko

Ognisko

I generally try to avoid South Kensington as much as I can.  Despite the plethora of world-class museums in the area, it still manages to feel like bit of a soulless wasteland.  When I’m not being helplessly swept along by the tourist hoard, I’m aimlessly wandering around looking for a decent place to eat.  Somewhere that’s not a chain or life-ruiningly expensive.  So when my friend suggested we go to an exhibition at the V&A, I immediately went into panic mode.  A day out is just not complete without a bloody good lunch and there was no way we were going to end up in Carluccios.  Fortunately, I think I’ve managed to find the holy grail – an interesting, independent restaurant that isn’t going to break the bank.  Welcome to Ognisko.

Regular readers will know how much I like Polish food.  If there’s a menu that’s full of game, pork, some kind of fruity sauce, anything stodgy like dumplings, then I’m all over it.  Polish cuisine is a great big hug on a plate.  But it’s not really know for having much finesse, is it?  Well, Ognisko challenges this right from the outset.  It’s based in a beautiful townhouse at the north end of Exhibition Road.  Even the entrance alone whispers elegance and class.  In fact, it’s a club that was established in 1939 for the Polish community in Britain during World War II, which goes some way to explaining the rarefied feel, the warm yet deferential service.

Deciding what to eat was so hard!!  There were so many delicious looking dishes on the menu, plus whole sections just for dumplings, blinis and potato pancakes!  Eventually I settled on a starter of roast quail with spiced pearl barley and plum chutney.  The quail was served whole and had been spatchcocked, so I could get plenty of meat off it.  The plum chutney wasn’t a “chutney” as I know it, i.e. something fairly rustic and chunky.  It was a smooth plum sauce, but I wasn’t complaining because it was delicious and really united the whole dish.  Even the pearl barley, which I generally find about as exciting as dust, was tasty and added a different texture to the plate.  My partner in crime chose the smoked eel with Russian salad and a horseradish and mustard dressing.  The presentation was incredibly dainty, and the salad was the perfect foil for the smokiness of the eel.

For my main course, I went for the game option again.  I’m just so predictable…  But how could I resist roast haunch of venison with swiss chard and cherry sauce?  While it may not have looked quite as pretty as the starters did, the fact that the venison was cooked to absolute perfection more than made up for aesthetics.  The meat had clearly just kissed the pan and so was dreamily tender.  And, in my opinion, there are few things more delicious than that sharp pop of berries in the same mouthful of rich meat.  The one negative element was the duck breast that my friend ordered.  It had been over-cooked to the point of ruination – grey, chewy and unappetising.  Duck that’s not pink is pretty unforgivable in my book.

I feel that now is the right time to mention the dumplings.  Because, of course, we ordered dumplings on the side just like regular people would do.  Right?  We chose the fried kopytka dumplings with chestnuts and forest mushrooms.  I was expecting something like a few large crispy balls filled with mushrooms, but what we got actually resembled more of a pasta dish.  The dumplings were little strips of dough mixed into a creamy mushroom and chestnut sauce.  The sauce was absolutely stuffed with garlic and parsley; the smell of it alone was enough to make us drool.  Unsurprisingly, the dish was super-rich but we couldn’t stop eating it.  It was the gastronomic equivalent of crack cocaine.

The dessert selection looked pretty interesting; you could choose from the likes of caramelised spiced plums and Sliwowica flamed poached pear tart.  We were so full after all the dumplings and meat and stuff, that we decided to share a pudding.  Dietary requirements meant that we had to “make do” with a chocolate fondant.  Chocolate fondants are notoriously tricky to get right, as many a Masterchef contestant has demonstrated, but this one was bang on.  A torrent of chocolate sauce poured out from the middle, swirling into the vanilla ice cream and sour cherry compote that accompanied the fondant.  Delicious.

Ognisko was a real treat.  Not only because it’s always brilliant to discover a great “new” restaurant, especially in a part of town that so frequently disappoints, but also because it felt like the kind of place you visit for a bit of a splurge.  Everything from the elegant interior, the slick service and the sexy plating spoke of fine dining.  However, here’s the best bit, the prices didn’t.  Ognisko is pretty reasonably priced, with main courses in the region of £17-£19.  It’s also really close to all the museums, making it perfect for a day out.  Maybe there is hope for South Ken after all….?

Ognisko, 55 Princes Gate, Exhibition Road, SW7 2PG
I was lucky enough to have lunch bought for me as it was my birthday, so I don’t know exactly how much the bill was.  However, it was in the region of £80 for two people, including drinks.

The Best Food and Drink of 2016

The Best Food and Drink of 2016

Fried chicken waffle by Waffle On at Maltby Street Market

Yes, everyone keeps saying that 2016 has been the worst year ever.  But when it comes to food and drink, this year has been a cracker.  With more new restaurants and more foodie entrepreneurs than ever, there is no excuse to eat badly.  Here are the best things that I snaffled into my greedy face this year:

Chicken and pistachio shish from Arabica Bar & Kitchen
I wanted to eat everything on Arabica Bar & Kitchen’s menu.  I’ve eaten a lot of samey mezze over the years, but these guys really know how to sex it up.  It’s easy to be bamboozled by choice; however, you should definitely include the chicken and pistachio shish in your order.  Forget all about those dry old shish kebabs you may have had the misfortune to eat in the past.  These little skewers are succulent, dripping with meat juices and are infused with the flavours of the Middle East.

Chicken and pistachio shish from Arabica Bar & Kitchen

Kürtöskalács in Budapest
Yeah I have no idea how to pronounce it either.  But that won’t be a hinderance to you when you visit Budapest because you can find it everywhere.  It’s a chimney cake made from a doughnut style dough and rolled in sugar.  It’s served hot with various toppings, like nuts or desiccated coconut, but I chose good old fashioned cinnamon.  It was huge but worth every stomach-straining bite.

Fried chicken waffle from Waffle On
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to eating at Maltby Street market.  However, I can definitely recommend the fried chicken waffle with maple syrup butter from Waffle On.  Street food is generally naughty but this is really decadent.  The chicken is fried to perfection, and the combination of sweet and savoury flavours here is sheer bliss.

Rabbit risotto from Cafe Murano
Rabbit’s another one that is so often dry and dull.  And a perfect risotto sometimes feels like the holy grail. Not so when these things are in the hands of the chefs at Cafe Murano.  The risotto was creamy, topped off with chunks of juicy rabbit meat and a drizzle of stock.  It’s a wonderfully, sinfully rich dish that stood out on a menu that was full of wonderful dishes.

The Meihua Shan at Oriole
Many bars claim to be “speakeasies” but Oriole probably comes closest to the real deal.  For a start, it’s genuinely hard to find.  I walked past it a couple of times in increasing confusion.  But once you’re in, you’re truly through the looking glass.  Their incredible cocktail list – inspired by the golden age of exploration – helps to transport you to another era and another world.  Again, you can be bamboozled by choice (and some unusual ingredients), but the Meihua Shan is worth splashing the cash on.  Made with Hendricks gin, plum rosolio, juniper chou syrup, egg white and lemon, it manages to be both refreshing and creamy.  And, as with all the cocktails from the team behind Nightjar, it looked like a work of art.

Meihua Shan cocktail from Oriole

All of the cheese from La Latteria
La Latteria specialise in mozzarella, stracciatella and ricotta.  And they do this exceptionally well.  Scoffing down a plate of their ricotta felt incredibly naughty – it was that creamy.  Then I did the same with their stracciatella.  Seemingly simple produce that, when done well, tastes exquisite.  Find them at newbie food destination, Mercato Metropolitano.

Pork confit bao from BAO
Yes, this has become a bit of “a classic” but justifiably so.  Judging by Instagram, I think everyone in London has now eaten this but, if you haven’t, then brave the queue at the door of BAO.  This little squidgy mouthful is worth it.  As is the rest of the menu.

Goat kofte salad from Gourmet Goat
Goat is a much under-rated meat but, when it’s handled well, it’s delicious.  Gourmet Goat know exactly what they are doing and their goat kofte salad is delightful.  The meat is tender and flavoursome, and the salad is one of the tastiest I have eaten.  It was packed with beetroot, chickpeas, goat kurd and came with a punchy chilli “pistou” – and I gobbled the whole thing up in a matter of minutes.

Goat kofte salad from Gourmet Goat

Everything I ate at Rotorino
Admittedly, I’d had a few shandies before my friend and I decided to grab a bite here.  But everything I ate here was delicious.  So much so, that it managed to make an impression through the fog of gin that surrounded me – and one that has lasted.  My starter of marinated mackerel with pinenuts, almonds and breadcrumbs was fresh and zingy.  The roast chicken on toast (yes, toast!) that followed was one of the tastiest roast chooks I have eaten (although annoyingly a little under-cooked in places).  The buttermilk pannacotta with rhubarb for dessert was perfectly executed.  Can’t wait to go back.

Chicken livers with pomegranate molasses from Meza
It’s taken me 7 years to get around to going to Meza in my ‘hood of Tooting.  I now can’t believe that I have gone without their chicken livers for so long.  Melt-in-the-mouth with a sticky, sweet, tangy dressing and a great smack of Middle Eastern spices.  I think I might have to nip up the road and get some now….!

“Strawberries and Cream” from Fifteen 
This wasn’t a dish of strawberries and cream.  It was actually a cocktail, made for this year’s London Cocktail Week.  The list of ingredients was as long as my arm but the end result was simple and elegant.  It really did taste of strawberries and cream, reminiscent of those old fashioned boiled sweets.  And of course it looked as pretty as a picture.

Strawberries and Cream cocktail from Jamie Oliver's Fifteen

Slow cooked beef cheek pie from The Holly Bush
My second choice dish from the menu at The Holly Bush in Hampstead actually turned out to be the right decision after all.  This “proper” pie was fully encased in buttery shortcrust pastry and stuffed full of the most tender chunks of beef cheek I have ever eaten.  It came with a rich, dark gravy and every mouthful was a pleasure.  Comfort food at its best.

Ricotta dumplings from The Ship Inn, Rye
This dish.  My God.  Ricotta, sage, pumpkin all forming a perfect storm of flavour.  It was so delicious and so comforting to eat.  The cheese was rich and gooey, counterbalanced by the sweetness of the roast pumpkin.  Exactly the sort of thing you want to eat on a dark, chilly winter’s night on the Sussex marshes.

Ricotta dumplings from The Ship Inn, Rye

Disappointment of the year: Hatchetts
Hatchetts, a new arrival in 2016, had a limited, unimaginative menu that was very over priced for what they offered.  Weirdly, they had a “Christmas dinner” on their standard lunch menu when I visited.  I ordered it because the other three main courses available appealed to me far less than this one did (which is saying something).  It was average.  So was their chocolate fondant dessert.  The plates were stone cold and the restaurant was empty.  When you charge premium prices then you should deliver a premium experience.  This was just lazy and complacent.

I ate a lot over the course of 2016, but I barely scratched the surface of all the amazing restaurants and bars that are only in London  I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions but I think, for 2017, I’m going to have just one: eat more.

If you have any recommendations for me then drop me a line.  I’d love to hear them.  Happy New Year!

Tub 4 Grub/The Collective

Tub 4 Grub/The Collective

Raw cookie dough as part of the Tub 4 Grub campaign

I have a confession to make.  I hardly ever cook.  For someone who writes about food, this is a little embarrassing.  The thing is, I used to love cooking.  I’m a total feeder.  I cooked for friends, colleagues and loved ones, and I would always go crazy, making more food than they could possibly eat.  I cooked for my boyfriend all the time.  In fact, I became a proper little domestic goddess, enjoying nothing more than getting out of bed at the crack of dawn to cook him an amazing breakfast.  We hosted parties together and I would push myself to produce fantastic dishes to impress his friends.  I baked him cakes and pies just because.  We grew fat and happy.  Then the relationship ended and a rug was pulled out from under my feet.  As he fell out of love with me, so I fell out of love with cooking.

But sometimes life gives you a much-needed kick up the backside.  For me, this came in the form of The Collective and their Tub 4 Grub campaign.  The Collective make yoghurt.  You may have seen their tubs in your local supermarket.  Initially started in New Zealand, they were so successful that they expanded to the UK.  With interesting flavours like honeyed plum with stem ginger, Russian fudge or wild blueberry, it’s not difficult to see why they are doing so well.  But they also give a little something back.  Tub 4 Grub is an initiative that they started to support Action Against Hunger, with the goal of raising £20,000.  Once you’ve eaten your tub of The Collective yoghurt, don’t throw it away.  Wash it out, fill it with goodies (ideally ones you have made yourself), personalise it, then give it away to someone who needs a treat.  All tubs sold will raise money for Action Against Hunger and the team will donate a further 50p if you share your good deed on social media.

Tubs of The Collective yoghurt

I think this is a really lovely idea so, when I was approached about participating, I jumped at the chance.  And I knew exactly who I wanted to donate my tub to.  CARAS is a charity based just around the corner from me in Tooting.  They support refugees and asylum-seekers, particularly women and children, through a range of services such as mentoring, outreach and training.  Now, more than ever, it feels appropriate to do something, even if that’s only a small thing like baking biscuits.  Here was a reason to get back in the kitchen.

Making cookies for Tub 4 Grub

There are a few recipes on the Collective website, but I decided to make chocolate chip cookies because, well, who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies.  Plus, biscuits are generally really easy to make and I’m more than a little rusty when it comes to baking.  I followed a great recipe from the BBC Good Food website, which was quick and straightforward.  Ok, so my cookies didn’t look quite like the photo on the BBC website…..  But they tasted good which is the main thing.  I filled up several tubs, labelled them and set off to CARAS.  A children’s group was running as I arrived.  Despite the dreary weather, the children were playing outside, running about and laughing – which is exactly what children should be doing.  I don’t know where they came from and I don’t know what they have been through, but I sincerely hope that life for these kids will only get better from now on.

Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies

The team at CARAS were so lovely and were also very kind about my slightly rubbish cookies.  What’s more, I began to remember why I used to enjoy cooking.  I guess it’s twofold.  Firstly, creating something is always pleasing.  You feel like you’ve achieved something, even if it’s some squished biscuits that you can make in a morning.  Secondly, the act of sharing food is incredibly meaningful.  Not just from the sense of pride that you get when someone enjoys your cooking, but also the connections that you make as a result.  So I’d like to say “thank you” to The Collective for giving me the motivation to dust off my pots and pans, dig out my apron and use something other than the microwave.  And my friends had better watch out because I’m going to be making you fat once again!

Thanks to The Forge and The Collective for introducing me to the Tub 4 Grub campaign.  If you want to take part then visit The Collective website for more details and remember to share your efforts on social media using #tub4grub.

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

The Holly Bush Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Plot Twist

The Plot Twist

Flaming cheese wheel at The Plot Twist

Beans on toast.  Steak and chips.  Wine and cheese.  All pretty familiar meal time combinations.  But Hungarian food together with Italian food?  Never heard of that one before!  While both of these cuisines rank pretty highly on my list of favourite foods, I’ve never eaten them in the same sitting.  There may well be a reason for that, which I shall come to later.  However, I found myself indulging in the staple food of both of these great nations thanks to The Plot Twist and their new pop-up restaurant in Holborn.  If comfort food is your thing then you need to hit these guys up because you won’t be disappointed.

The Plot Twist are actually a couple – both in business and in love.  Tamas is Hungarian and Agata is Italian, hence the cuisine mash-up.  They have run a few other foodie events around London, but they have now teamed up with two Italian chefs (The Cuoppo) and opened their first ever pop-up bar and kitchen.  If there was ever a time of year to open a restaurant focusing on solid, stick-to-your-ribs food it’s now.  The menu is fairly brief and comprises mainly of goulash and pasta, with a few lighter options to start.  We kicked off with the Hungarian-Italian charcuterie and cheese board.  This was a mixture of meats and cheeses from both countries, served with pickles and the most delicious little fried bread balls called zeppoline.  I had no idea what bits came from what country (apart from the bread and the pickles) but it was all tasty, standard charcuterie board fare.  I could have easily demolished a plate of the zeppoline alone – and, as they are a menu item in their own right, I would recommend you get stuck in.

Goulash soup in a bread bowl at The Plot Twist

Next up was goulash soup served in a bread bowl.  I visited Budapest earlier this year where I ate a lot of goulash soup, all of it excellent and therefore a very tough act to follow.  The version by The Plot Twist lacked some of the layers of flavour, and the dumpling to meat ratio was a bit skewed towards the dumplings.  I do love dumplings so this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.  However, there was the slight issue of the huge loaf of bread/soup bowl already vying for space in my stomach.  When I’m faced with fresh, crusty bread that is soaked in a rich, meaty sauce then, of course, I’m going to eat it.  It’s kind of a no-brainer.  Although it’s perhaps not too sensible when you’re munching your way through a carb-tastic feast of epic proportions.

Cheese and sausage pasta at The Plot Twist

Speaking of which, the next stage of this culinary odyssey did not disappoint – both in terms of taste and its ranking on the carb-o-meter.  It was tubetti pasta with potatoes (yes, potatoes!) and sausage from a flaming wheel of Parmesan cheese.  This bears repeating: a flaming wheel of Parmesan cheese.  Our chef literally flambéed a huge slab of cheese in front of us, which was then used to make the pasta sauce.  There are few things better than melted cheese, unless you’re talking about melted cheese with pasta.  And sausage.  This dish was rich.  Like, Bill Gates rich.  But the sausage had a lovely, slightly nutmeggy, flavour that really complemented the cheese and cut through some of the creaminess.  The whole thing was a fun spectacle and, like the goulash before, it was the perfect meal for a chilly November day.

No matter how full I am, I can always find room for pudding.  I was very excited that our dessert came from Hungary and, furthermore, was something I hadn’t even heard of.  Túró Rudi is a curd cheese cylinder wrapped in a thin layer of chocolate, which came served with a sticky cherry sauce. Hungarian puds are notoriously rich, but this was pleasingly light and very easy to eat.  This might have something to do with the fact that it’s not actually a pudding, in the strictest sense of the word, but was actually a chocolate bar that was popular in Hungary during the 1960s!  Of course, this version had been pimped up for us but I love the idea of retro chocolate.  It tasted pretty good too; just creamy enough with a welcome sweetness from the cherry sauce.  Maybe one day there will be a hipster pop-up specialising in retro desserts from around the world….?

Turo Rudi dessert at The Plot Twist

So, the reason why you don’t usually eat Hungarian and Italian food at the same time?  It’s heavy.  Really, really heavy.  With lots of carbs.  And it always tastes really good so you just keep on eating, even though you’re already painfully full.  Both of these countries have a reputation for delicious food that is cooked by people who really like to feed you, and The Plot Twist ticks all of these boxes.  The menu is simple but tasty; homely, hearty food that you could imagine eating alongside Tamas, Agata and their families.  Plus they offer an excellent wine list which, as both Italy and Hungary make amazing wine, is another very good reason to visit.   They are only around until 21st December so you need to get in there fast.  But maybe don’t eat for a few days first.

The Plot Twist x The Cuoppo, 51 Red Lion Street, WC1R 4PF
Many thanks to Tamas and Agata for inviting me to try their food.  All views are, as ever, my own.

Tang at St Giles

Tang at St Giles

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Don’t get me wrong.  I love autumn.  In fact, it’s probably my favourite time of year.  But the combination of the clocks going back and stupidly long hours spent in the office have left me in need of a little pick-me-up.  And pick-me-ups don’t get much littler than Tang.  Not because it didn’t have the desired effect, but because it is genuinely tiny.  This weeny Chinese restaurant is hidden away in one of those strangely unpalatable parts of the West End, just off Tottenham Court Road, and you’ll definitely need to keep your eyes peeled to find it.  It’s worth wandering up and down the tourist-choked streets of WC1, however, because Tang is a hidden treasure.

Tang is actually is part of the St Giles Hotel, which is another reason why you might walk straight past it as it’s a singularly unattractive building.  The hotel is more than a little dated, particularly when compared with some of their other hotels, but Tang itself radiates hipster chic.  The walls are covered with Chinese newspapers and old photographs, and you sit on long wooden benches at long wooden tables.  Perhaps this is a sign that the St Giles hotel group are moving towards a more contemporary feel.  Another sign is our reason for being there in the first place: the launch of St Giles 360.  This is a new immersive marketing tool aimed at giving visitors a window into each of the 6 locations where St Giles are based – London, New York, Manila, Penang, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur.

St Giles 360 is a really fun, innovative device but I’m all about food, not technology.  The team at Tang served up a tasting menu containing some fabulous Asian comfort food.  We started with the ambiguously named Black and White.  This was crispy homemade black bean tofu with a white miso dipping sauce.  Now, I probably wouldn’t order something like this if I was presented with a choice.  I would always choose something meaty over boring old bean curd.  However, this was probably my favourite dish of the night, which surprised me as much as it surprised those who know me well.  The little tofu bites were perfectly cooked, with just the right texture, and the miso sauce was delightfully tangy.  I could have happily spent the entire evening stuffing these into my face.

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Next up was a fried chicken bao served with hot sauce.  So basically an Asian-style chicken burger.  Was Tang taking inspiration from Colonel Sanders?  Don’t be daft.  For a start that hot sauce was HOT.  Seriously.  We were all doing that thing of trying to casually maintain conversations and style it out, as the sweat began to drip off our foreheads  But the chicken was that great combination of crispy and tender, which went perfectly with the soft little bao.  Again, I could have devoured a few more of these despite the face-melting sauce.

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We were then presented with a bowl containing braised beef short ribs, Asian vegetables and jasmine rice.  The smell coming off this dish was fantastic.  Just one whiff transported me straight to the Far East.  It was intoxicating and got me really excited about tasting it.  Sadly, the flavour did not live up to expectations.  Yes the meat was rich and tender, but overall the dish was bland.  I have no idea how something can smell so incredibly appetising but then fail to deliver on taste.   I hadn’t actually spotted the little pots of sauces on the table, which was a shame as they probably would have given this course the extra bit of ooomph it needed.

At this point I was pretty well stuffed but there was still one more course to go.  This was the chicken tang: a roast chicken broth with poached chicken, bean sprouts, egg, ginger sauce and noodles.  This is exactly the sort of thing you should be eating on a cold, damp November night.  I could feel that ginger sauce valiantly fighting off any winter lurgies that may have been hanging around.  Chicken soup is always a winner when you need bucking up and when it comes packed with all sorts of lovely extras, like that soft boiled egg, it’s a sure fire hit.

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Tang is a charming little bolthole, where you can eat the Asian equivalent of soul food and pretend that the outside world doesn’t exist.  It helps that there are no windows – not as grim as it sounds, honestly – so you can forget that you’re on that nasty corner by Tottenham Court Road tube, the Dominion Theatre and a Crossrail crater.  The menu is extremely reasonably priced – the most expensive dish is £10 – and the servings are generous.  I loved the extra little touches, like the beautiful crockery, that made the place feel more like someone’s kitchen instead of a restaurant.  Avoid the soulless chains and seek this place out because Tang puts the heart into an area of London that needs it most.

Tang London, 111 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3NQ
Many thanks to Talker Tailor Troublemaker, Colin Woods and St Giles Hotels for inviting me to the launch of St Giles 360.  All views, as ever, are my own.  

Tang Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Polish Bakery

The Polish Bakery

Loaves of bread from The Polish Bakery

In the murkiness of a post-Brexit world, there is one thing for certain.  Living in London has allowed me unparalleled access to a huge array of cultures and new experiences.  I feel so lucky to be able to choose from cuisines as eclectic as Eritrean or Ecuadorian, Swedish or Swiss.  However, I do have a weakness for food from one area in particular – and that’s Poland.

I travelled to Krakow last year where I engaged in acts of unspeakable gluttony.  It’s very difficult not to overindulge when you are confronted with delights such as pierogi, boar steak and apple cake. Fortunately the large Polish community within London means that I am able to continue stuffing my face while saving on the air fare.  Most recently, I was introduced to The Polish Bakery who offer a range of breads and cakes vast enough to satisfy even the most dedicated carb-loaders out there.  The Polish Bakery is a family-run business based in Wembley, and is the oldest Polish bakery in London.  Their bread is based on traditional recipes, with many ingredients imported from Poland.

I tried three different breads from The Polish Bakery: chia seed, rye, and rye with cranberries.  Chia seeds are very much in foodie fashion at the moment; my Instagram feed is full of photos of chia seed pudding.  Chia seed bread, however, is a new one on me.  It tasted like a lighter version of sourdough, slightly nutty with a hint of yeastiness.  It also makes fantastic toast!  I’m not a proponent of superfoods or “clean eating” but, for those who are, chia seeds are alleged to be full of antioxidants, Omega-3, fibre and protein.  So this is a way to get a relatively guilt-free carb fix.

Both of the rye breads were delicious.  I tend to avoid rye bread as it’s often like chewing on a bit of carpet underlay.  However, the rye bread from The Polish Bakery was surprisingly light and soft.  The rye bread with cranberries was a particular delight; a combination that I have never tried before but that worked really well.  Again, it makes great toast.  Loaded up with butter, it would give a quirky twist to a traditional afternoon tea.

My carb-fest didn’t stop with bread, however.  I also tried two of the many cakes available from The Polish Bakery: a fruity cheesecake and – hurrah – apple cake.  Both cakes came supplied as huge doorstop-style slabs, in true Polish fashion.  The cheesecake wasn’t overly sweet, which I liked, and the fruit cut through the density of the cream cheese.  However, it was the apple cake that really got me going.  I had some stunning apple cake when I was in Krakow, warm and rich with cinnamon, so my expectations were already high.  I decided to warm up the cake from The Polish Bakery and the smell that filled my kitchen was heavenly.  The apple filling oozed out onto the plate like the best kind of comfort food.  It tasted exactly as I expected it to: apple crumble in cake form.  Delish!

Fruit cheesecake from The Polish Bakery

I have one – very minor – criticism.  Both the cheesecake and the apple cake used the same thin sponge base, which tasted a bit inauthentic and seemed out of place in both cases.  I would have preferred the cheesecake with the more traditional “buttery biscuit base” to add a bit of texture, and the apple cake really didn’t need a separate sponge base at all.  However, this wouldn’t stop me from buying more cakes from The Polish Bakery, especially now that I have seen the drool-worthy range available on their website.

So my love affair with Polish food continues and doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon.  I’m grateful that – for the time being – I live in a world where I can get my greedy mitts on amazing, fresh European food.  It’s not just about eating, it’s about a growing understanding and appreciation of the communities and cultures around us.

The Polish Bakery very kindly supplied me with a selection of their products but all opinions are, as ever, my own.
http://www.thepolishbakery.co.uk/

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 – Chard & Taleggio Risotto

Recipe – Chard & Taleggio Risotto

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Disclaimer: I generally don’t cook with exact measures, unless I’m baking.

“Chard risotto??”, I hear you cry.  Yes, it may sound odd but, believe me, it tastes really good.  Winter is all about comfort food, and this risotto will give you a great big hug while still being (vaguely) healthy. Chard is currently in season and is a great source of iron.  You can use it as a side dish with most meat and fish, but here we make it the star of the show.

  • Risotto rice
  • A knob of butter
  • Vegetable stock
  • A small bottle of white wine
  • 1 x onion – finely chopped
  • 3 x garlic cloves – crushed
  • A few bunches of chard – remove the stalks and roughly chop them
  • Taleggio cheese to taste
  • Seasoning

Start by melting the butter in a saucepan and sweating down the onion & chard stalks until soft.  Add the crushed garlic and stir on a low heat to prevent it burning.

Add the risotto rice, followed by a ladle of the vegetable stock and the small bottle of wine.  Cook until the liquid is absorbed, then keep adding the stock ladle by ladle until the rice is cooked through.

Stir through the taleggio, tasting as you go.  Be careful not to add too much from the outset, as this is quite a strongly flavoured cheese.  Roughly chop or shred the chard leaves and stir them through the risotto until wilted.

Enjoy!