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My January blues banishing London adventure…

However much I love Cambridge, there’s still a part of me that, a year on, yearns to be back living in London. The air of spontaneity and sheer amount of new and exciting places to visit never ceases to lure me in! Having found a food loving, Cambridge-based partner in crime in Miss Igs, we hatched a plan to banish the January blues by going for a day trip, visiting as many of the new places we’d been lusting over as possible. We soon realised we would need to limit ourselves and I set about making us an itinerary, which looked like this and would take us to Duck & Waffle, E5 Bakehouse, Violet Cakes, Salvation Jane and finally the mecca of the dirty burger…Meat Mission.

Once we’d agreed our route we set about trying to secure a reservation for lunch at Duck & Waffle…we were nervous wrecks waiting for the confirmation to come through, checking our phones constantly (not a rare occurrence anyway ;)), but finally it came and one sleepless night later we hopped on the train to the big smoke and headed straight to Heron Tower near Liverpool Street Station and up the frighteningly speedy lift to the 40th floor!…

I was (literally) in heaven!

We’d seen some chatter on twitter about some not so friendly door staff and a strict dress code and I am very happy to report that we didn’t experience any problems with either and couldn’t have been greeted or treated any better!

We’d been drooling over the menu on their website already so pretty much knew what we wanted to try…

Duck & Waffle menu

Duck & Waffle menu

We felt it only right to celebrate the day by starting with a Winter Negroni…Bombay Sapphire Dry, Martini Rosso, Compari and Anitca Formula, raisin, date and roasted chestnut – rested, bottled and capped…

It was divine and packed a real punch 🙂

We decided to order a few dishes and share them, starting with the foie gras ‘all day breakfast’…

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A slice of toasted brioche, spread with nutella and topped with foie gras, deep fried black pudding balls, gorgeously thin bacon and a quails egg. It may sound a bit random but I am here to tell you that it was AMAZING, who would’ve thought that all those flavours would work so well together, but they did!

Next up we were presented with a paper bag, sealed with the Duck & Waffle crest…

which held our bbq-spiced crispy pigs ears…

and then the dish that we’d both been really intrigued by, and who wouldn’t be…the spicy ox cheek doughnut with apricot jam…

A gorgeously spicy ox cheek concoction surrounded by melt in the mouth, fluffy doughnut and covered in smoked paprika and sugar. My only slight criticism of this dish was that the smoked paprika was so strong that it overpowered the more delicately spiced ox cheek. But nothing was going to stop me devouring my half!

We couldn’t go to Duck & Waffle and not try their signature dish, the Duck & Waffle…

Waffle topped with crispy confit duck leg, fried duck egg and mustard maple syrup…

The duck was so tender and everything worked so well together…the guys at Duck & Waffle really know their stuff!

I was totally bowled over by D&W, it was even better than I had expected, amazing food, friendly service and the most awesome view!

Just check out the private dining room…

Duck & Waffle private dining room.

I would recommend it to anyone and probably will bore everyone senseless by doing so for the next while!

We eventually dragged ourselves away to continue on with our day’s itinerary, next stop E5 Bakehouse situated in an archway close to London Fields Station, where they bake artisan breads on site as well as delicious looking cakes and coffee…

Much to our amusement we found ourselves in the middle of a photoshoot for a Scandinavian start up company and stayed a lot longer than anticipated thanks to our photogenic hands (luckily they were more interested in our hands and our addiction to our phones than our faces!). We finally managed to leave after signing a release form and being promised cloud based fame, not forgetting to pick up a loaf of Hackney Wild, a delicious pain de campagne style loaf, on the way out.

Our next stop was Violet Cakes, who tempt me daily on Twitter with their cake porn…

It was great to see where the magic happens and although it was very sweet, the atmosphere was slightly lacking during our visit :(. We sampled a very yummy (if slightly overpriced at £2.80) cinnamon bun…

Our penultimate stop was Salvation Jane, sister cafe of Lantana (which I love and blogged back in 201o here). Our visit turned out to be at a bit of a strange time of day, when lunch had finished and dinner was yet to begin, and we had the place practically to ourselves…

We were happy enough to sit back and relax and peruse the menus for next time! I was also very happy to discover that there sold Little Creatures, a pale ale brewed in Freemantle, Australia, where I spent a very memorable birthday a few years ago…

It was probably a good thing that we didn’t get to eat at Salvation Jane as we needed to save as much room as possible for our burger eatathon at Meat Mission

Meat Mission is the newest member of the Meat Wagon, Meat Liquor and Meat Market family. I don’t know how I’ve managed not to visit any of the above, that is, until now!

We arrived for an early dinner at 6pm and got to choose out seat. We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on the BEST thing on the menu so asked our lovely waitress for her advice…she told us that the Dead Hippie burger was the must-try burger and highly recommended the monkey fingers ‘battered fillets of marinated chicken slathered in house-made chili sauce with blue cheese dip’. We finished off our order with a 2 pint flagon of Brooklyn Lager, which was so big it took a joint effort to pour 🙂 and some deep fried pickles (or gherkins to me).

The Monkey fingers were ridiculously tender and had a good after burn on them, which worked really well with the blue cheese dip. The mysterious dead hippie sauce was a nice addition to the burger, a kind of tangy mayo. Although it was definitely a good burger, I think I’d put the idea of it on such a pedestal in my mind that it would have been bloomin hard for it to measure up!

Full to the brim and overflowing with inspiration we got on the train back home to the Bridge. Hopefully the first of many ‘research trips’…we’re already planning the itinerary for the next so watch this space!

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What happens if you cross 11 avid foodies with a private chef?…

I love being in the right place at the right time…which is exactly where I was early on a Saturday morning, sitting at my laptop when an email popped into my inbox from Luiz, the London Foodie. He was offering up a couple of spaces at his London Cooking Club the following weekend due to cancellations. I jumped on it without a second thought as spaces are highly sought after and I’d had a great evening last time I attended the evening of French Provincial Cooking using recipes by Elizabeth David. The theme of this month’s club was ‘The Best of British’ and I was very excited to learn that we were to have our very own chef on hand for the evening to help us put the finishing touches to our dishes. Our Private Chef, David Gillott, runs his own company, catering for dinner parties, functions, weddings and even offering cookery classes in your own home! Our epic menu was made up entirely of David’s own recipes with a British Theme…

The idea of London Cooking Club is for each guest to choose and prepare a dish from the set menu for everyone to taste, along with a wine to accompany it.

First up Gina Wessels, who writes a blog called Midweek Feast made mini Yorkshire puddings with roast beef…

Amazingly, it was her first ever attempt at Yorkshire puds, they were delicious and piled high with tender beef and some really good, hot horseradish sauce, which Im reliably informed I can pick up from Waitrose!

Hugh and Liz, our lovely hosts served rillette of salmon in perfect quenelles on melba toast…

We all seated ourselves around a huge table in Hugh and Liz’s open plan kitchen and tucked into traditional potted shrimps, made by May of Slow Food Kitchen fame…

Asparagus with hollandaise sauce also from Hugh and Liz…

Rosemary brought along what seemed like a never ending platter of fresh dressed crabs…

Believe it or not we were still only on the starters at this stage, the last of which was chilled watercress soup. I hit the jackpot and was served my soup in the highly coveted Gruffallo cup :)…

Next up Hana served a jerusalem artichoke pithivier…

I’d never heard of a pithivier before and was enamoured by the delicious mixture of artichoke, mushroom and puy lentils all encased in crispy puff pastry…

Libbie made one of my all time favourite dishes…kedgeree! Libbie’s a great cook but admitted she’s never even tasted a kedgeree before let alone made her own…luckily David was on hand to advise and the finished dish was amazing!…

The prize for most spectacular dish goes to Luiz and Gerald’s beef wellington…

The pastry was crisp, the meat was oh so tender and it was served with a potent wild mushroom sauce, which accompanied it perfectly…

Su-Lin’s English garden salad was the final part of the epic main course… potatoes, runner beans, lancashire cheese, sunblush tomatoes and mint in a honey and mustard dressing…

Finally it was my turn! I’d asked to make the baked egg and vanilla custard as it’s something I’ve never made before and as you may have realised by now…I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth!

I made my tart on Friday night just in case it went wrong so there was still time for a second attempt. The finished product looked a bit more ‘rustic’ than I’d hoped…

But luckily David’s recipe (see below) produced an amazing tart, the buttery rich, lemon infused pastry, balancing the creamy custard filling and freshly grated nutmeg perfectly…

Earlier in the week I’d written to my good friend, Hannah, who’s Publisher of Imbibe Magazine and asked for her advice on what wine I should serve with my tart. She replied with a recommendation from none other than Kelvin McCabe, Head Sommelier at Zuma, who said that I should be going for a sweet wine with good acidity, light to medium bodied with clean citrus notes such as an Auslese Riesling, a young fresh Sauternes or a Coteaux du Layon. I visited a local wine shop and chose a half bottle of Le Grand Chai Sauternes 2006…deliciously fruity with mellow honey notes without being too overly sweet…

Last but not least, David took the floor and made us a layered dessert of rhubarb jelly, white chocolate mousse, rhubarb compote and a surprise layer of popping candy…

all topped off with some very ‘cheffy’ foam! It was a beautiful concoction and tasted pretty darn good too…

How we managed to fit it in after 10 courses I will never know but we all scraped our glasses clean! After a restorative peppermint tea, we dragged ourselves home to have a well deserved lie down! All in all a wonderful evening full of divine food and passionate foodies!

And here’s how you make David’s baked egg and vanilla custard …

For the pastry case you need…

225g flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of salt

zest of 1 lemon

150g butter

75g caster sugar

1 egg yolk

1 egg

Rub together the flour, salt and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Adding the lemon zest at the rubbing in stage made sure it was really infused into the mixture…a great touch! Stir in the sugar. Beat the egg yolk with the whole egg and slowly add these to the dry mixture until the pastry forms a ball. This stage got a bit sticky but don’t panic just wrap the dough tightly in cling film and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 2mm thick. Lay it over an 18cm/7inch flan dish, carefully pressing it into the corners and trimming the edge. Line it with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Put it in the oven to blind bake it for about 10 minutes or until the pastry is starting to turn golden brown. Remove the paper and beans, and allow to cool.

For the custard filling you need…

9 egg yolks

75g caster sugar

500ml whipping cream

freshly grated nutmeg

Turn the oven down to 130 degrees.

Whisk the yolks and sugar together. Add the cream and mix well. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve (I used a square of muslin in a normal sieve as I was worried mine wasn’t fine enough) into a saucepan and heat it to blood temperature. I’m not sure how important the temperature is but I realised I wasn’t sure what blood temperature actually was…I recommend going with your gut ;). Once you’re happy with it fill the pastry case with the custard until it’s 5mm from the top. Carefully place the dish in the middle of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the custard appears set but not too firm. Once cooked, remove it from the oven and cover the surface liberally with grated nutmeg.

Leave it to cool to room temperature before cutting the tart with a sharp knife. David recommended wiping the knife between cuts to keep it uber neat. Then all that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy…preferably wih a chilled glass of Sauternes! 🙂

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I finally got myself down to Foxcroft and Ginger on Berwick Street. Having just eaten an amazing brunch I forced myself to resist the delicious looking sandwiches, which they have piled up on the counter. On our 2nd round of (really good) flat whites made with Monmouth cofee, we could resist no longer and shared a piece of banana bread. I would go as far as saying…maybe the best banana bread I’ve ever had. So deliciously light and moist, served warm and sprinkled with cinnamon and icing sugar. Next time I visit I’ll go with an empty stomach!

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20/03/2011 · 11:40 am

I heart the gherkin!

I know ladies aren’t meant to divulge their age but…I’m celebrating a big birthday later this week, one that’ll make me older than 29 but younger than 31. A few weeks ago my friend Han asked me to keep Friday 24 September free and then said no more on the subject. I realised there was some form of birthday surprise plan being hatched but had no clue what until last weekend, when I was treated to a few tip tit bits…it was something that not everyone can do, involved all the things I love and required me to dress up smart…to be honest I was none the wiser! Now, I don’t think I’ve ever had a proper surprise, so until now I didn’t realise that I’m not very good at them…I’m far too much of a control freak. The only way to not drive myself insane was to force it to the back of my mind until the morning of Friday 24th, when I received a text from Han, telling me to meet her at a City bar at 6.15pm. I obeyed, put on my poshest frock and headed on down to Aldgate. I was greeted by 2 friends, which soon grew to a gang of 8! After a couple of drinks and some red herrings to try and throw me off the scent we left the bar. A few steps down the street they stopped and blindfolded me. I was led uncertainly, via a revolving door into a building, where we had to show ID, walk through a security arch and go up in 2 lifts! I still didn’t have any clue as to where I was but I was finally freed from my blindfold and this was the view that met me…

I was only in the bloody gherkin!

I absolutely love the gherkin and since moving to London have been dreaming of visiting the restaurant and bar at the very top! Unfortunately this was hampered by the fact that it’s private members only…but somehow my lovely friends made it possible for me! It felt like all of my Christmases had come at once! 

We drank champagne in the bar at the very top to begin with…I was in awe, as you can imagine the view was immense. My photo’s really don’t do it justice but I’ve safely stored it all in my memory banks!

If you look closely you can see St Pauls in the very centre…

Once my heart had stopped racing we were shown to our table on the floor below and given gorgeously fresh veggies and olive tapenade to nibble on whilst we perused the menu’s…

Han is our resident wine expert and together with the sommelier we were presented with the most perfect complimentary wine for each and every course!

Before the main event we were given a goats cheese and pea pre-starter …

I chose carpaccio and tartar of beef with aged balsamic and horseradish bavaroise for my starter…

I’d never had beef tartare but figured that if I was going to eat raw meat topped with a raw egg I’d rather do it in a smart restaurant. I was amazed! it was so well seasoned and tender, it just melted in my mouth!

For main I had pan roasted fillet of cod with chorizo, feta stuffed squid and roasted fennel…

it was divine and came with roasted new potatoes and runner beans…

The portions weren’t at all stingy and I savoured every mouthful!

Next up was a pre desert, which involved (green!) white chocolate mousse…

which was followed by a special birthday cold chocolate fondant with apricot, black pepper and blood orange sorbet…

I had to take this photo upside down and rotate it on the computer so as not to obscure the message with my shadow, a bit strange I know…but you get the idea…

and last but not least an array of petit fours…

The food alone was amazing, so the fact that every time I looked across the table and was subjected to the truly most amazing view over London and I realised I was dining in my favourite building and realising my dream, things couldn’t get any better! I felt like I was dreaming! I officially have the best friends ever and am feeling extremely special right now!

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J+A Cafe

I’ve been working in Clerkenwell for over 2 years now and am ashamed to admit that I don’t know the area at all. But recently I’ve been on a journey of discovery. On a recent reconnaissance mission I found myself drawn down a little alleyway just off Great Sutton Street and happened upon J+A cafe. Unfortunately at the time I was on the way to meet a friend so couldn’t linger but I stored it away in my memory banks for another day. That day came around yesterday, when I met a friend for lunch in the sunny courtyard of J+A…

The menu sounded amazing with loads of fresh, home made salads, sandwiches, tarts, quiches and cakes. I had real difficulty choosing what to have but finally settled on a roast chicken open sandwich on Irish soda bread with wholegrain mustard mayonnaise…

The bread, baked on site, was delicious and the chicken was succulent and plentiful. The whole meal was to die for!

My friend had a club sandwich, a triple decker filled with chicken, bacon, avocado, salad, tomato and mayo…not for the dainty or sparrow stomached…

I loved the feel of the place, the atmosphere and their quirky details like their old fashioned bottles used refilled with tap water…

and the fact that they have planted flowers in old butler sinks…

Our bill including 2 coffee’s and a soft drink only came to about £17, generally more than I would pay for a normal ‘nip out of the office’ lunch but definitely good value for money considering the amazing quality and deliciousness of the food. I have just found out that they serve afternoon tea from 3-6pm…I’ll be revisiting J+A sometime very soon!

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The poshest arctic roll I’ve ever eaten

Yesterday, found Kim and I, courtesy of Toptable, on another of our monthly fine dining experiences. I was very excited to be visiting the Grill at the Dorchester as it’s a bit of a London institution. The actual restaurant is a funny old place though. It’s a riot of gold bling, tartan fabric, red velvet sofas, vast vases of deep red roses and to top it off the walls are painted with murals of angry looking, windswept, intimidating scotsmen and women. 

I’d done my homework and read some reviews, which helpfully warned us not to be tempted by the champagne trolley that they wheel around to tempt you with before your meal and there was also a recommendation to opt for the 3 course set menu as opposed to 2 as it comes with quite a few extras. Oh boy were we in for a treat….

First off we were served a platter of speciality breads and rolls including stilton (mmmmm), multi-seed and rye and an amuse bouche of smoked salmon with a pea foam – 

The starters all sounded so good that we ordered 2 out of the 3 on the menu and went halves on the english asparagus topped with a poached pheasant egg and hollandaise sauce – 

and the roasted mackerel on toast with a quenelle of crab mousse, topped with pea shoots – 

We both decided on the rump of lamb with a basil and garlic risotto. It came with kidneys, which I made myself try thinking that my tastes may have grown up but….no I still don’t like them! and an unidentified meat dish, which we think was duck but texture wise can only liken to pulled pork – I’m not doing it justice in my description but it was extremely rich and tasty. I just wish I’d noted the description off the menu as it’s annoying me now that I don’t know what it was. It will remain a mystery for all time.

The lamb was cooked to perfection and accompanied by a lovely glass of Baron Philip de Rothschild Mouton Cadet “Origin” Pauillac 2006.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were presented with a pre-desert of (posh) arctic roll topped with strawberries and jelly. Who’d have thought we’d be served jelly and ice cream at the Dorchester – I’m such a pleb that I have to admit, it was actually my favourite part of the meal 🙂

The waiter wasn’t much use in helping us decode the desert menu but all was forgiven when he brought me out the sabayon parfait, a delicious, extremely light, frozen custard – 

and a banana financier served with praline and ice cream for Kim – 

By this point we were fit to burst but still managed to put away some home made petit fours – it’d be rude not to wouldn’t it??

And the best bit…..we only paid £33 for all of the above including service! God bless Toptable!

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Left to the fate of the London Buses….

This week my Friday treat coffee venue was decided by which bus arrived at the bus stop first. Kind of like a cafe lottery. The number 19 goes right near Exmouth Market, which would have meant yet another trip to Caravan or the number 4 goes down Goswell Road and stops right near Goswell Road Coffee, which I hate to admit, is part of a chain, thankfully not of the St&*%£$ks variety but with 2 more shops on Bermondsey Street and Brick Lane. The coffee is good but for me the thing that keeps bringing me back here is the feel of the place….I love it.

It has loads of big sofas, good music, a notice board advertising yoga classes, rooms to rent, ironing services, giving it a community feel and some pretty darn funky features like lamp shades made out of milk cartons…

coffee paraphenalia holders made out lego…

and a very cool mural that takes over a whole wall…

Unfortunately I only had time to grab a take away white americano but the sofas were calling out to me to be lounged on and the huge pile of magazines/ newspapers just begged to be perused……they’ll just have to wait for another day when work isn’t on the agenda. 😦

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