Thursday, 29 December 2011

Budapest - more than the land of the goulash

At the end of November I was lucky enough to enjoy three nights in glorious Budapest as part of the annual ‘work Christmas do’. Not knowing anything more than the humble Hungarian goulash as a dish I was keen to see what else was on offer.
We stayed at the Mercure Korona Hotel on a B&B basis which was very much a continental affair, with the odd frankfurter sausage and rasher of bacon. One thing that I found a little bit on the strange side was the dish of poppy seed bread rolls soaked in milk – not for my palette!
On the first morning we split into same-sex groups as part of a challenge, and headed off to our respective spas for the morning. We’d chosen the Gellert Bath where as well as plunging into hot water, a heavy contrast to the freezing cold weather, there was also the chance for massage and other beauty treatments. I had a stinking cold so opted out of a dip, but enjoyed a very soothing, and great value for money head massage. There were three of us who opted out of the water and happily we are all greedy sorts, so it was only a matter of time before we headed into the adjoining hotel Gellert Hotel to sample their confectionary in the coffee and cake café.
I enjoyed a caramel cake, which was so rich, moist and moreish that I could have quite easily had another slice. Estelle and Katie went for an apple strudel and a chocolate cake. The apple strudel was like no other I’ve ever tried, it was flavoursome with cinnamon and mixed spice, and actually tasted to me of Christmas – wonderful. The chocolate cake was a small, round chocolate sponge, coated in a hard chocolate jacket – all dark chocolate, all lovely.
We found lunch in a nice little pub/restaurant – with the longest menu I’ve ever seen! Everything we had was good and with a bottle of wine plus a few beers between five of us, the meal came in at less than £15 a head which we were astounded by. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of the place, but there were business cards stuck all over the walls and we were given an enormous basket of monkey nuts at the table and encouraged to throw the shells straight on the floor – it was great fun.
In the evening the whole tribe of us were booked in to Matyas Pince which was hotly anticipated. The menu had been circulated around the office and there were a few options that sounded a little unusual, especially to some of the fussier eaters, so we were keen to see how it fared.
We needn’t have worried – I had a perfectly delicious meal comprising of Truffled Potato Soup to begin, baked goose leg (amazing) for mains with sides of braised red cabbage, ‘smashed’ potatoes and fried onions – this was the star showing for me, the crispy skin alone was worth the trip to Budapest! The meal was finished off for me with a ‘Somlo’ cake which I found were very common in Budapest, and are a sponge cake flavoured with rum, with chopped walnuts and a chocolate sauce. Not up there with the best ever dessert, but nice enough.
Throughout this meal we enjoyed a whole host of wines, including a dessert wine which was served up after our first course which was a little unusual and finished off with an Irish Coffee – lovely. There were a few people who had the odd dudd dish – such as the cheese soufflé dessert which actually looked, and apparently tasted like an egg McMuffin, but I’d chosen wisely so was left satisfied. Also throughout the meal there were traditional Hungarian folk singers going round and singing at various people – so it was a great atmosphere.
The following evening and half of the troops had flown home so there was a smaller group and we’d found a little restaurant close to our hotel called Vendia Ketterem. Considering the overall cost of the meal which was around £20-£25 per head the food was exceptional – presented well and a great, friendly service too. This was a ‘smart’ restaurant and the food lived up to the overall look of the place too. I had a breaded cheese to start which was good and followed with a fillet steak – which I wouldn’t have been disappointed with at Hawksmoor. The accompaniments were a little strange, potato shapes, which had a fruity tang to them but as I’d asked for it blue I was more worried this would be over-done, but no – absolutely cooked to perfection.
We decided against dessert, not least because we had been indulging a little too much – but also as it was our last night and we were keen to get out drinking and dancing boots on. On our hotel reception’s recommendation we tried a little place called Fat Mo's and had an absolutely brilliant evening. The DJ was very accommodating and only too happy to play all of our random requests .Never did I expect to see three of the men from our office dancing away to the routine of Beyonce’s ‘All the Single Ladies’ however it appears with copious amounts of beer, wine and the odd shot of Unicum , anything can happen! Unicum is the Hungarian national drink and which I can safely say I’d happily never try again – a herbal concoction that reminded me of the worst kind of medicine.
I’ve only really mentioned a handful of the eateries we enjoyed food in and have to say I’d recommend Budapest to anyone, as far as the food goes. One thing that must be noted is that smiling seems to not be big on Hungarians list of favourite things to do, however don’t let this deter you from what is a great city. I definitely would return particularly in the summer to enjoy the sight-seeing more especially the views along the river which were slightly blighted by the frost factor.
We enjoyed some fine-dining Budapest style which was fantastic but on the last day I had a bowl of goulash, as couldn’t leave without trying the native classic, and have to say it was the most warming, hearty meal I had out there. I can safely say one would find it hard to go hungry in Hungary as in three days I had no complaints about breakfasts, lunch or dinners.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


Last week I had a dinner date with my Dad - he met me after work in Soho and without the rest of my immediate family hankering after the favourite haunts in Gerard Street we decided to try something new.
We decided on a packed Kaslik - a Lebanese joint that we figured must be decent considering it's remained open in Soho for almost a deccade and was jam-packed.
The last time I reviewed a Lebanese restaurant it was way back in my first ever post in January 2010 on Kenza which had an opulence and glamour about it – in the heart of the financial quarter of the city and with scantily clad ladies dancing round as you eat. Whilst Kaslik certainly didn’t match the mystique and awe on arrival it did have a certain, warm charm that almost embraces you on your entrance. The ground level area is small and there are very small round tables dotted all over with stools to sit on and the odd cushion. Be warned if you’re the shy type then this intimate dining style with strangers a mere few inches away might not be for you!
My Dad and I were won over by the charm though – everyone in the restaurant was lively and there was a real buzz in the atmosphere – a great start. We immediately ordered a Lebanese beer: Almaza which was cold, light and refreshing and certainly quenched our thirst. We scoured the menu and chose for our ‘mezze’ the cold ‘Labneh’ with pitta bread, the Kalaj, and a special which was ‘Meatball Kafta’.
The labneh was a dip of yoghurt and mint, the Lebanese version of a Tzatsiki but without the pungent garlic – it was very refreshing, and complemented our other dishes well. The ‘Kalaj’ was haloumi and black olives, sliced and toasted in pitta bread – absolutely delicious. The haloumi had none of the rubberiness that you can sometimes be faced with, instead it had a slight melt-ability to it, and a glorious flavour.
My dad had chosen the Meatball Kafta which was, simply lamb meatballs in a spicy, herby tomato based sauce and it was the star showing by far. The meat was full of the flavours of the sauce and melt-in-the mouth tender – the meatballs tasted like they’d been lovingly prepared and cooked for hours absorbing all of the cumin, coriander and cinnamon herbs and spices. It really had such a gorgeous taste and I couldn’t pinpoint one particular flavour, but I’d go back there for this dish alone.
The pitta bread which were apparently ‘cooked on hot stone’ were a bit of a disappointment and my dad continued to send them back until they had some colour as they arrived anaemic and white looking and we strongly suspected they’d been prepared in the microwave (not good!). In the end my Dad asked them to burn them – at which they came back slightly browned.
Another down point was the service at the beginning of the meal – we soon realised that there was a Christmas party of some description going on downstairs and with two waiting staff – this was never going to work when upstairs was packed and almost every table seemed to be just receiving their mezze when we arrived – so we assumed the kitchen was similarly rushed.
This thought was confirmed when every half hour or so the sweaty, harassed looking chef would appear in his full whites, hurriedly running through to the front of the restaurant for a cigarette. We found this quite funny and it only added to the character of the place.
But waiter number one in his harassed state did come across as quite rude and we were left for about 25 minutes after receiving our first beer before we were able to order as well – not a problem but nobody arrived to assure us they’d be over soon or anything, which I thought lacked thought. The waitress who took over from him was charming and pleasant which did make up in part for cheerful Charlie at the beginning.
Between the starters and mains as well there was a good 45 minute to an hour wait which was a bit much too.
Back to the food though – when the main courses did arrive I was more than happy. I had the ‘Chicken Shawarma Grill’. My Dad opted for the Lamb Shish Kebab. The menu didn’t stipulate what came with these and when asked the waiter said ‘you must order side dishes’ so we ordered a tomato and onion salad and some rice. When the meals arrived we were a little put out that the meals both came with a really rather large salad, and felt the waiter had let us down a bit.
I really enjoyed my main, the chicken was really tasty and flavourful and I’ve since discovered that ‘Shawarma’ is actually the naughtiest of dishes and realised the reason I enjoyed it so much and thought it reminded me of my beloved Greek Gyros. It was delicious and once again the meat was perfectly flavoured and very, very moreish. It came with a tortilla wrap too – which I found a little strange, especially as it was also cold, so I dis-regarded this and ate a little more pitta.
My Dad’s Lamb Shish was good too and unlike my strips of almost shredded meat, as you would expect with this dish it was served in chunks – the meat was again very tender, and quite herby. The rice that accompanied our dish had mint running through it very subtly and an almost fragrant scent and taste too that I couldn’t put my finger on but it was lovely. The labneh which we kept throughout again complemented our dishes really well.
We didn’t make dessert but this may have been in part due to the fact we didn’t finish our main course till 1030pm after arriving at 8pm and still had to make our way back to Essex – but I’ll be sure to return as I saw some gorgeous looking Baklava going to the table beside us.
The meal came in around the £70 mark including a few beers and white wine so about average for Soho.
The food was not fine dining but in flavour it was exceptional, the service average and the atmosphere electric – I’ll definitely return but with a larger crowd next time so more can enjoy the buzz that gives Kaslik it’s own unique charm.
Kaslik on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Prix Fixe

Good Food - Shame About the Service

I've fancied trying
Prix Fixe for a while - my friend Lianne recommended it for the food and the excellent value and I've read several good reviews too. So yesterday afternoon after visiting the Museum of London with my family we were in Soho around 5ish, and in something close to a miracle we managed to sway my mum away from our regular haunts in Chinatown, and got ourselves a table in Prix Fixe.

As it was early - far too late for lunch, and a little too early for dinner, there was only a couple of occupied tables in the restaurant. This did not prevent the restaurant manager from looking around at all the empty tables, 'finding' us one and informing us we'd have to be done by 7pm in a very sharp manner. This put my back up immediately as it was unlikely we'd be more than two hours anyway, and I found it be unneccesary rudeness.

One thing that must be applauded in Prix Fixe is the fantastic value for money available on their set menu. For £11.90 you get two courses and can choose from 7 starters and 12 mains. There is a good selection however for somewhere pitted (on their website) as a 'Classic French Bistro' the menu is a little bit confused - with items such as Falafel and Hummus, Halloumi, Canneloni and Sausage and Mash on there - definitely not dishes I would cite as French - however I was willing to keep an open mind.

To start we all fancied the same dishes - so we had two Crab Croquette's which came with avocado mousse, pickled cucuber, cream cheese and a red chilli salsa. I thought this was a great plate of food - prettily presented and with all the accompaniments working well together. The croquettes themselves had a good helping of Crab in there and were seasoned well. I love avocado and pureed as it was it tasted great with a bite of the crab. The cream cheese was wrapped in a slither of the cucumber and had chopped dill - another great partner to the crab and the salsa was actually chopped pineapple with chilli - which gave the dish an added element - sweetness. I asked my brother and my Mum who had this dish to mark it out of five purely on taste - and they gave it a 5 and a 3 respectively.

My Dad and I both had their special of the day which was a Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Terrine with homemade chutney and wrapped in parma ham. This came served with two little toasted slices of ciabatta bread. This was a fantastic start to the meal - the leeks gave the chicken a gorgeous strong flavour and the chicken was incredibly moist and well seasoned. The chutney was tangy and went perfectly on a piece of the bread with the terrine. We gave 4 each for flavour.

For the main course my Dad and I again chose the same - the infamous Steak & Frites. I'd read excellent reviews of this and with a £7 supplement on the set menu I thought it would be rude not to try at such a low price in the West End. The steak 'entrecote' itself was cooked well, had a round of garlic butter on top, which melted slowly and gave a lovely flavour. The Frites were perfect, thin French Fries and a small side salad was dressed in a fresh citrussy oil. A great dish and enjoyed by both. But what actually elevated this dish for me was the accompanying sauce - a peppercorn and blue cheese affair which was fabulous slathered over the steak and also to dip the chips into. A four each for flavour again.

Daniel had the Roast Barbery Duck breast with dauphinoise potatoes, marinated red cabbage and a cherry and red wine jus - this had a £6 supplement on top of the set menu too. This was by far the dish of the day for us. The duck was pink and juicy and full of flavour, the dauphinoise were cooked beautifully and the accompanying red cabbage was a lovely pickled addition to the plate. The sauce was like the final link in a chain of beautiful food to make this dish near on perfect. Again a five was scored.

The worst dish of the day was my Mum's - the Roasted Cumberland Sausages and mash. The sausages were good actually - herby and flavourful, but the mashed potato was a complete disappointment. Aside from the fact it was lumpy and not as warm as you'd like - it was watery, flavourless and was left on the plate pretty much untouched.

There was hardly any of the caramelized red onion and sage gravy so my Dad tried to get the attention of the Restaurant Manager again, as he had been serving us throughout the meal, to request more. The far from charming man waved us away and shouted to one of his waiting staff to come and 'deal with table 5'. I thought it was disgusting behaviour - after all the old adage goes 'manners cost nothing' and it's true. Hillariously once the ordered, but polite waiter had taken our request - he returned with a sauce pot full of gravy - the equivalent of a large tablespoon!

I'm working in Soho at the moment and a couple of Friday's ago I had Sausage & Mash in the modestly priced The Garrick Arms and I can honestly say this pub grub was a whole lot better than the slop my Mum was served.

Despite the rudeness of the manager, as always, I found room for dessert after my steak and opted for the cheese selection. This is three small pieces of cheese with biscuits, a plum chutney and red and white grapes - for £5.95. I had a piece of Comte, a Sauvageon and the divine Fourme d'Ambert. The Comte was actually not the best I've tried - but I have to admit I've been spoilt for cheese recently with a visit to Bistro du Vin's Cave a Fromage so I didn't judge too badly. The Sauvageon was mild, creamy and lovely and popular around the table and the Fourme d'Ambert was exceptionally good - a blue cheese triumph.

My Dad was the only other person to order dessert and he went for the Madagascan Vanilla and lime Cheesecake which came with raspberry coulis. This looked very pretty, and I'm told it was an excellent dessert too - with a strong vanilla flavour and a buttery biscuit base - exactly what you want from a cheesecake.

With only a minor complaint towards the food (mash-gate) I left with the opinion that the quality of food against the value for money was really very good. We paid £113 including service charge for four of us and this included a bottle of Chardonnay, a large glass of Merlot and a couple of Peronis too. The waiters were pleasant enough towards the end of our meal - but unfortunately the head waiter left more than a bad taste in our mouths and I doubt any of us would return again soon, despite all enjoying most of our food. Such a shame.

I can only assume that a restaurant in the constantly lively West End, which is constantly busy due to decent and well priced food, has given the manager of Prix Fixe an air of over-complacency. He clearly doesn't feel the need to employ even basic manners. We left at 6:40 and while it was busier than when we'd arrived - the majority of the tables were still empty. If you can bear the rudeness then do try but for heavens sake - don't choose the Sausage and Mash.

Prix Fixe Brasserie on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Feta and Roasted Vegetable Tarts

Following on from my last post ~Jerk Chicken the other addition to the Brighton picnic, with friends Stephanie and Jade and my brother Daniel, were some quick and easy Feta and Roasted Vegetable Tarts.

I have made pastry many times but this time I used shop bought - as I was stuck for time - and the result was excellent. I think little cheats like this are OK in today's fast-paced culture. Lifestyle means that whilst people are keen to cook and try out new recipes, time and money can often be the biggest hurdles to overcome, so if buying a packet of pastry helps then so be it - and if it's good enough for Delia it's certainly good enough for me.

Also I used tomatoes which were the fruits of my efforts which you can read about in Green Fingered Pursuits - and have to say there really is nothing as satisfying as using produce which you've grown yourself.

1 packet of Feta Cheese
1 packet of Shortcrust Pastry
10 Small Tomatoes
1 Red Pepper
1 Yellow Pepper
100g Spinach Leaves
200g Ricotta Cheese
Knob of Butter
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 180D. Grease 6 tart cases.

Chop tomatoes in half and slice peppers. Place on an ovenproof tray and drizzle with a little Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar and Honey. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 25-30 minutes until the vegetables start to discolour and appear charred.

In the meantime roll out the pastry and cut out rounds and use fingers to place into tart cases, to fit cerrated edge.

Once vegetables are out of the oven place the tarts in for 10-12 minutes.

Chop the Feta into small cubes and place in a large mixing bowl with the Ricotta cheese. Stir in and add the vegetables.

Heat a pan and add the Spinach till it shrinks. Then add this to the Feta mixture and stir in well.

Season with salt and pepper.

Remove tart cases and spoon in a generous amount of the cheese mixture into each, flattening down with a knife.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until starting to brown.

Remove from the cases and either serve immediately with a fresh salad or allow to cool and include in a picnic as I did.

Jerk Chicken

A Picnic Twist

For those of you who read my post on my amazing
Jamaican BBQ.
back in June you'll already be familiar with my love of all things Jerk. I have eaten many variations of Jerk Chicken and Pork and have long been searching for a fail-proof recipe, I've tried several but something has always been lacking.
For the recent bank holiday I headed to Brighton for a couple of days with three friends and it was our intention to take a picnic for the first days lunch, each taking something different. I decided I was determined to find a good recipe for Jerk.

After a little Twitter-hunt (as you do) I quickly learned from @tehbus that @FoodStories is, in his words, The Queen of Jerk. Reading her recipe - I thought the inclusion of molasses or sugar was genius - the perfect addition to create sticky sweetness, that has been missing in all other attempts.

However this recipe was missing Soy Sauce which I've seen included in all others including family friends who refuse to divulge their recipes- so I bookmarked Food Stories and carried on my research - disregarding many recipes, I liked one I found here on Jamaica Travel and Culture. With a combination of the two - plus an added ingredient of my own - I came up with what has been my most triumphant Jerk ever - it really was superb, and I'm looking forward to creating again soon.

With thanks to Food Stories and the Jamaica Travel and Culture website for helping me to achieve food heaven - recipe below.

8x Pieces of Chicken on the bone (I prefer legs for this
6 Sliced Scotch Bonnet Chillies (deseeded~)
8 Garlic Cloves
3 Onions, chopped finely
2 Tbsp Thyme
100g Brown Sugar
25-50g Grated Ginger (can use dried)
3 Cloves, ground
1 Tsp Allspice
2 Tsp Cinnamon
2 Tsp Nutmeg
2 Tsp Black Pepper
2 Tsp Sea Salt
1 Tbsp All Purpose Seasoning
4 Tbsp Soy Sauce
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
Juice of 3 Limes
1 Tbsp Orange Juice
1 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar

Put all marinade ingredients into a blender/food processor and blitz until it becomes a rather unattractive looking brown mulch. Place chicken pieces into a marinade bag or dish and cover entirely in marinade. Wear plastic gloves and rub chicken all over on all sides so it's completely immersed.

Cover with tin foil - and place in the fridge for at least 12 hours - 24 is better. Be warned the scent isn't the best in the fridge while this marinates - so try not to have too much in there that this might interfere with.

Once ready to cook - remove chicken pieces and place in an ovenproof dish - removing excess marinade but leaving each piece coated.

Place in a pre-heated over at around 180D and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove and check chicken is cooked (pierce with a knife or skewer and ensure the juices run clear) - if not return to the oven for a further 8-10 minutes or until cooked.

For our picnic I cooled this and served with cooled basmati rice flavoured with lots of chopped Coriander - but this would work just as well with Mint too.

Tip: Use plastic gloves when chopping ingredients as the Scotch Bonnets are incredibly hot.

This worked perfectly as a alternative cold picnic dish - however the other, more traditional way to have this which is also gorgeous - is served hot from the oven with delicious 'Rice and Pea'. I've also made this and the method is simple. Just cook your preferred rice (I normally use Basmati) in Coconut Milk instead of water - season and add the 'pea' element, kidney beans, about half way through cooking. Drain and serve - delicious.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bistro du Vin - the Soho Sister

A while back I was invited along with Kavey Eats, Gourmet Chick, Bitten Written and Food For Think to try out Bistro du Vin, Dean Street - another addition to Soho's growing culinary delights.

Just a few weeks before I'd been to their Clerkenwell branch and was impressed - my expectations were high.

On entering there was a similar sleek, chic feel to the place - although without the central bar feature in the Soho branch this seemed far more spacious. We met in the back of the restaurant - the chill-out area which had a back wall filled with shelves of books and orange interiors.

It was a warm, summer evening and we were greeted with the signature opening cocktail - a Chase Vodka Summer Fruit Punch. This was a long drink and frankly a thing of beauty - filled with berries, rose petals and with elderflower, borage and lemon peel in the mix - it was delicious and refreshing too.

I was determined to try something different from when I'd been at the Clerkenwell establishment, and being with fellow food-lovers I knew the opportunity to try other things would be a certainty.

Once seated at our round table, close to the ever-fashionable Josper Grill, I chose the Lobster Bisque to begin. This arrived in a gorgeous earthenwear terracotta dish on a wodden board with some sourdough bread on the side. The bisque was a vivid orange hue, piping hot and had an immense flavour running through it. It was truly delicious - and surprisingly filling for such a thin soup. The flavour had a very strong fishy taste to it - perfect for me, but maybe not for the faint-hearted seafood lover.

We all decided on our main courses and were promised an array of side dishes to share. After suffering food envy the last time when the boy had chosen a steak off of the Josper Grill - I took our attentive waiter's advice and chose the 500g Bone in Sirloin.

I had no food envy this time. The steak was rare, juicy, red and cooked to absolute perfection. The flavour and seasoning was spot on and although I'd asked for an accompanying Bearnaise sauce, this could have easily been demolished without it.

Generously we were given a couple of all of the sides available and personal favourites were the purple potatoes which had a gorgeous earthy flavour, creamy potato puree and the tomato salad which had gorgeous tomatoes of all hues and sweet, ripe flavouring.

Another star side was the additional bone marrow which was an afterthought as a few of us were having steak. Scraped out and eat with a mouthful of steak this added a gorgeous intensity. A very enjoyable course.

One person had the Wild Mushroom, ricotta and spinach crepe which came up with salad on top. This looked nice enough, but as the only vegetarian option available on the menu I thought this lacked imagination on a menu filled with so many good meat and fish options.

Kavey chose the Hot Roasted Shells - which looked simply fantastic and I will be sure to have that when I return. This included lobster, razor clams, Queenie scallops, crayfish, mussels and crab and it looked a picture. We were informed the flavour matched up to the appearance.

After having such a filling, yet enjoyable meal it would have been easy to have a coffee and roll home. However we were urged to try a dessert and never one to let people down, I quickly opted for the Lemon, ricotta and pine nut tart. It was lovely and refreshing, and once again, as in the Clerkenwell restaurant, I marvelled at the pastry expertise.

One of the key features of Bistro du Vin is their 'La Cave a Fromage' or their cheese cave - a walk in treasure chest of over 70 cheeses, many of which are artisan and chosen for their seasonality. We were treated in pairs to a discussion with legendary cheese expert Eric Charriaux within the (freezing cold) cave and were made up a board of cheeses according to those we liked after trying several. Eric's chat was fascinating and I learned a lot more about cheese. I'm not going to go into too much detail as am planning on visiting La Cave in the next fortnight and making the most of their Unlimited Cheese for £12.50 offer. I will share this experience with readers, but I will say the stand out cheese during this meal for me was the goats cheese which had an accompaniment of honey and saffron - perfect partners.

The meal was fantastic overall and it was great to put faces to some other bloggers that I've long followed.

Soho's game has been rising more and more over the past couple of years thanks to people like Russell Norman, and Bistro du Vin, is another gem which is a very welcome newbie in what feels like the hippest part of London Town right now. Long may it reign.
Bistro du Vin on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Spuntino - better late than never

It would appear that every premises Russell Norman touches turns to gourmet gold, if not instantly, then certainly over time. It's taken me until August to finally persevere with the dreaded queue at the Rupert Street sister of Polpo, Da Polpo and Polpetto - Spuntino and I have to say I wish I'd been more patient on previous attempts - the olives alone are worth the wait.

I met my friend Lianne straight from work on a Tuesday evening two weeks ago and we only had to wait a few minutes before we were seated by the door - it was stiflingly hot so we were quite happy to sit here.

Whilst we mulled over the menu some complimentary spiced popcorn was brought over which we demolished fairly quickly and we got engaged into conversation with a couple to my left who informed us the olives were an absolute must and to avoid the sliders as they'd ordered the lamb ones and were disappointed. So we were off.

We ordered a glass of house Prosecco (£5) to toast our lack of waiting time, put in our food requests and began to enjoy the food which all came up at different times.

The stuffed fried olives arrived first and I can honestly say these were one of the naughtiest yet most enjoyable little balls of deliciousness I've ever encountered. Stuffed with an anchovy, sage and thyme and fried in breadcrumbs they were an immensely satisfying little treat.

We took our new friends' advice and didn't order the sliders but I wasn't to miss out on the mac & cheese. We also ordered the duck ham, pecorino and mint salad, the zucchini, chilli and mint pizzetta, spicy sausage and cheddar grits and the eggplant chips with fennel yoghurt.

The mac & cheese was one of the best I've tried - gooey melted cheesey pasta topped with browned breadcrumbs - you just can't go wrong - this to me is indulgent hangover food. I'd hazard that there were at least three cheeses in this - with the breadcrumbs topped with Parmesan. Delicious but I dread to think of the fat content of this one dish.

The duck ham salad was actually a trifle disappointing as there were only three or four tiny (blink and you might miss them) slivvers of meat - and though the little I had was tasty - it just wasnt enough. Also with the sausage and cheese grits this wasn't particularly enjoyable - quite a mulsh of cheese and a sausage sauce - the flavours were OK but the texture put me in mind of baby food.

The eggplant chips were sensational with the fennel yoghurt - they, like the olives, had the fried yumminess of something that is oh so naughty but just tastes oh so good and the yoghurt complemented it perfectly giving it a piquant freshness.

The final dish of the 'spuntino's' (snacks) was my star dish by far - it was the Zucchini, Chilli and Mint Pizzetta and was light as a feather, crispy based with toppings that were fresh and gorgeous. This transported me to Milan's artist quarter where I've enjoyed my best ever pizzas. I'd love to know how the base was just crisped with such a gorgeous flavour to it. For me zucchini with a hit of chilli and mint were the perfect combination. Fabulous.

We both ordered a cocktail each in and amongst the eating and these deserve mention too - not least because of their potent alcohol levels - I can imagine it's very easy to leave here drunk if you had more that one of these! I had an Orange Blossom - classically gin based with lots of freshly squeezed orange juice and Lianne chose a Mint Julep - almost mojito esque but with about three times the amount of white rum!

Finally we both 'forced ourselves' into having one of their desserts despite both being slightly over full and chastising ourselves about the uncountable calorific content of half of our dishes.

I had the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich which was a very clever take on the all American classic. The peanut butter served as the bread part of the sandwich and was a rich, creamy and to-die-for ice cream and the filling - the jelly or jam was a gorgeously sweet raspberry. To top this off shavings of honeycomb were covering this to give it another texture - it was a beautiful dessert both to look at and to eat.

Lianne chose well too in her Brown Sugar Cheesecake. The base was sweet with just the right amount of crunch and bite and the filling was just delicious. Drunken cherries surrounded to complete this fantastic pudding and I'm not ashamed to say neither of us left a crumb.

As is often the way with the 'small plates' way of eating this doesn't work out cheap and came in at over £40 a head, with only two drinks.
Next time I return I will at least attempt the sliders as I saw a few other diners enjoying them around the bar and I will be returning sooner rather than later.
Spuntino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Hot Product Alert

Pukka Three Ginger

The Pukka family takes it's name from the Hindi word for genuine or authentic and I have to say that I genuinely love this flavoured tea. Normally if I'm having a hot drink it'll either be a builders style cup of tea or milky coffee but since trying these I've become a little obsessed, so I thought I'd share my find with readers.

These are organic tea bags - mainly ginger in flavour but also have galangal, turmeric and liquorice running through. The aim is to 'uplift' and I have to say that after a long day at work, they do just that for me and provide an unusual, spicy tea that I adore.

I enjoy best with a slice of lemon and a little honey, to sweeten.

To buy a packet of Pukka Three Ginger teas or find out more visit the website at

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Kanaloa & Gallo Summer Red Party

Last Tuesday my brother Daniel and I popped along to the launch party of Gallo Summer Red – a red wine designed to be served chilled. Sangria lover that I am, I thought this would only work in the conventionally Spanish way with pieces of oranges, lemon and lime chopped and with gallons of ice.

The event took place at
4 Hamilton Place. in their fabulous roof gardens, and though it had been raining during the day – it pretty much held off and made for a lovely setting overlooking Hyde Park Corner. The red theme occurred throughout and it made for a rather elegant overall look. We were granted a glass of the chilled Gallo Summer Red on arrival and I was impressed, it had a lovely fruity flavour to it. I could see myself easily drinking this in beer gardens across the city over the coming summer months. I finished the first glass in record quick time as it just went down so easily.

We also tried their other two drink offerings - the Spritzer – the red with soda and ice in a long glass – again very light and fruity, and a lot easier to drink, with less chance of a headache in the morning. The cocktail which had been devised by the team at Farringdon club
Kanaloa. was delicious and I have to admit I necked a fair few of these. They had the wine mixed with Chambord and lemonade in a tall glass with raspberries and blackberries – and I quickly re-created this at home at the weekend.

There was an array of canapés supplied by
Dish Catering. - and these were in the main good – with special mention going to the crab tarts topped with dill and the red onion tarts too. The mini burgers were nice too, but too much ketchup for my liking. The waitresses all looked great in their red dresses and fitted the red theme well.

Intending on ‘popping in for an hour’ we ended up staying till 11ish and were treated to music by celeb DJ and fashion designer Henry Holland and a few other celebrity sightings too – fellow Essex girl Pixie Lott was in attendance with her model boyfriend – both looked fantastic. Jo Wood was looking quite rocky and there was also a few other reality TV people that barely deserve mention (and who I wouldn’t have known from Adam if my telly addict brother hadn’t been with me.

It was a fab party and I will definitely be drinking a lot more Gallo Summer Red this summer – however I must warn against drinking it in excess as I had one killer hangover in work on the Wednesday.

Picture is of myself and Daniel with my friend Lianne Walsh who was part of the team running the event as James from
Bang Showbiz.