Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Bistro du Vin Clerkenwell

I was recently invited to dine at Clerkenwell's relatively new Bistro du Vin courtesy of the lovely people at The Cullinary Guide. This is one of the newest members of the popular Hotel du Vin family so I was keen to see how it matched up and what it had to offer.

I took the boy again and as it was just over a week since we'd been to Les Deux Salons, I was slightly worried he wouldn't be keen on more French fare. I need not have worried though he'll try anything and luckilly he had a very enjoyable meal.

Like Les Deux Salons this place had the buzzing atmosphere that I think is essential to any French bistro-style venue in London. What I thought gave Bistro du Vin the edge was the fact it's slightly more compact therefore created a very intimate setting. Overhearing the chatter from the neighbouring tables does, for me, put me in mind of a French restaurant. It was very busy with a mixed bag of diners and there was just a genuinely good vibe about the place. Also the decor is very chic and stylish, I was suitably impressed.

The menu has a good selection, but not an overbearingly long list and it didn't take me long to opt for a fishy feast. I chose the potted crab to start and it was sublime. Simple but perfect. A delicious round of white, dressed crab meat topped with an amost paste-like brown crab meat and served with delicious, crispy, lightly grilled sourdough slices which tasted as though they had been rubbed all over with garlic, salt and pepper - it was lovely. A little large for one person perhaps, but this turned out to be a blessing.

The boy chose the lamb sweetbreads - like the snails the week before, this offal dish is something he'd never tried before. They were fantastic, well seasoned, cooked to tender perfection, full of delicious flavour in a sticky berry jus and topped with a little coriander. Once again this was a large portion for an entree, however for the boy with his larger appetite, this was not a problem.

For his main the boy went for a sirloin of steak cooked medium rare and I have to say it was truly cooked beautifully. Flavoured with a subtle hint of garlic and with an almost crust of salt on the outside it was melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous. He had some chips on the side, which were good, and which I naturally stole a few of.

My main course was, unfortunately, a bit of a let-down to an otherwise excellent meal. I'd ordered the Sole Veronique, which promised to be sole cooked in a creamy white wine sauce with mushrooms, clams and mussels. The sole was cooked well and did have a lovely fresh flavour, taking in all of the contributing flavours from the sauce and the shellfish and the sprigs of parsley that were plentiful. So far, so good. I'd ordered some new potatoes and a mixed leaf salad which were also good, the salad was dressed in a nice, simple oil.

The disappointment came when I first tried a clam. I'd had probably the best clams I've ever tasted a couple of weeks earlier at Fino, but these would probably have still been as good, as the flavours seemed fine, however as I took a bite, my mouth was filled with gritty bits of sand. Not good. I would have been willing to put this down as a bad one that had slipped through the net, but I tried another and once again my teeth came down on sand, very, very unpleasant. The realisation that these hadn't been cleaned properly didn't fill me with joy.

I tried to persevere as the sole really was very good, and after a few enjoyable mouthfuls I plucked up the courage to try one of the mussels. These were the same as the clams and unfortunately it was the final nail in the coffin for this dish for me. I was beyond put-off. Clearly you don't ever want to take a chance with shellfish anyway and I was suprised that a restaurant of this standing could fail in such a basic way.

At least I had room for pudding (every cloud and all that). To be frank the dessert I chose was alone worth visiting the restaurant for. It was gorgeous - a valrhona chocolate tart with honeycomb and a vanilla chantilly cream. The pastry was the best I've ever tasted in England by a mile sweet, light and delicate with a filling to die for. The chocolate was creamy, rich and almost velvetty - it literally had me making 'mmm' sounds out loud about three times. The cream and delicious, crunchy honeycomb were the perfect partners for this chocolate perfection.

The boy had a strawberry and cream affair which was nice, but not a patch on mine.

Aside from the main course of mine, we enjoyed a great meal and I can see Bistro du Vin's Clerkenwell joint going from strength to strength. They were bursting at the seams and as I mentioned they really had a great atmosphere.

The presentation wasn't amazing. It was good and all looked appetising, but as they say on their website they're not trying to be pretentious, merely provide wholesome, hearty food and I think they have achieved this well - with a few adjustments in the kitchen (especially where cleaning out clams and mussels are concerned) I think this will become a front-runner on the London restaurant scene.

What I think makes this superior from other bistro-style restaurants I've visited in London is the centre-point open plan kitchen with bar-style seating. Diners are able to take their dinner at the bar and enjoy the theatre of watching their dinner being cooked - wonderful.

Service on the whole was good throughout - the head waiter in particular took his time to welcome us. Also the wine waiter was very attentive and good at explaining what would make a good pairing to various parts of the meal, which I found impressive. Towards the end of the meal we did find we had to fight for attention a little bit and certainly we waited a while for our empty dessert plates to be taken away. But to be fair to the staff it was very busy in the restaurant at this time - I'd put this down as a teething problem.

Bistro du Vin's Soho sister is due to open shortly and I for one will definitely be booking a table to see how this matches up - although I may give shellfish dishes a miss!

For more information or to book a table please visit the website at:


Bistro du Vin on Urbanspoon

Monday, 27 June 2011

Green Fingered Pursuits

I recently read a survey that claimed us Brits are getting into gardening by the age of 31, a whole 10 years earlier than generations before. I'm a good four years away from this age yet I must admit, of late I've developed a new found fondness for growing things.

With a nod to my greedy self, everything I've planted is edible.

I'm a complete novice in this area so would welcome tips from any green-fingered readers who have successfully grown fruit or vegetables before.

I'm not going to turn this into a gardening blog, so won't be constantly updating on the progress, however I'm sure you'll find a recipe or two using the produce from the garden here, if and when it happens.

I've planted carrots, courgettes and marrows in one bed and have another with spring onions, Mohawk sweet peppers and Scotch Bonnet chillies.

Separately I have a patch for spinach and lettuce, a tomato plant, a rhubarb plant and a flourishing blueberry and redcurrant plant.

I've been lovingly tending to some parsnip seeds I've planted too and am keeping my fingers crossed these are going to see it through to December and make an appearance on our Christmas lunch.

Finally I have an array of different herbs which are already making regular appearances in dishes and particularly salads - my first success.

So far the most exciting occurrence has been the Mohawk plant which has sprouted a little green pepper this week, with several buds which I'm hoping will follow suit shortly. The blueberry bush is already full of fruit too, it's just not quite ripe enough yet.

As I mentioned words of wisdom on growing fruit and vegetable are more than welcome - otherwise wish me luck!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Two Ways With.....

Peanut Butter and Chocolate

People often have things constantly in their fridge or store cupboard that only get used in the conventional fashion. This new regular slot is aimed at offering readers alternative or new ways of using up ingredients. The first post has also helped in my ambition to improve my baking skills and try cooking new treats.

Peanut butter is something that is constantly in the cupboard and is generally only used to spread on toast. Chocolate is certainly a regular item in my cupboard (never fridge) and I generally indulge in the normal way, breaking off a piece, enjoying, and then breaking off a few more until the bar's finished.

The first item I'd been keen to experiment with for a few weeks, since my birthday afternoon tea, a Peanut Butter and Chocolate Brownie. I found a recipe on BBC Good Food and have adapted it ever so slightly, adding in some coarsely chopped dry roasted nuts for a bit of crunch and added flavour, and a smidgen of booze too.

I used a jar of Whole Earth Crunchy Original Peanut Butter as it has no additives or nasties and I used two 100g bars of Asda Dark Chocolate. Most recipes tell you you must use chocolate of over 70% cocoa solids, however in baking, where chocolate is not the main or only ingredient, this isn't essential by any means. This chocolate is 60% cocoa solids and I can vouch that is did the trick beautifully here.

Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Brownies
225g Crunchy Peanut Butter
280g Light Brown Sugar
200g Dark Chocolate, broken up
3 Medium-Large Eggs
100g Self-raising Flour, sifted
1 tsp Amaretto
50g Dry Roasted Peanuts, coarsely chopped (chop inside baking parchment to avoid mess)

Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line a baking tin with baking parchment and grease with a little butter to avoid sticking.

In a pan, over a low heat melt 180g of the peanut butter, 150g of the chocolate and sugar until it has all melted and formed one consistency.

Turn off the heat, and beat in each egg one-by-one with a wooden spoon then gently stir in the flour.

Add the amaretto and the chopped nuts, mix and then pour into the baking tin.

In a new pan melt the remaining peanut butter and drizzle over the brownie base.

Bake for 30 minutes until the peanut butter on the top forms a crust.

Melt the remaining chocolate and pop in a piping bag (if you don't have one handy just snip a small slit in the corner of a sandwich bag and drizzle chocolate over the brownie and leave to cool.

Leave in the tin to cool and then gently remove and cut into squares ready to eat. These are incredibly tasty and go particularly well with either a dollop of cream or vanilla ice cream.

The second, and equally simple recipe is for Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies. The base for this recipe comes from the Australia Woman's Weekly; The Cake Stall, a book I was kindly sent recently. I will be trying out a recipe or two from each section of the book and then reviewing here. Again I adapted this slightly, mainly in adding in the chocolate, and in my opinion improving the biscuits.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cookies

125g Butter, softened
70g Peanut Butter
165g Light Brown Sugar
1 Egg
225 Plain Flour, sifted
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
70g Dry Roasted Peanuts, chopped
70g Dark Chocolate, chopped into chunks

Pre-heat the over to 180C and line two baking trays with baking parchment, and grease.

Beat the butter, peanut butter, sugar and egg till smooth.

Stir in the sifted flour and baking soda and then the nuts and give a good mix.

Roll a tablespoon of the mixture into a ball and place onto the baking sheet. Repeat placing each cookie at least 5cm apart.

Using a floured fork flatten each ball and bake for 10-12 minutes.

So here are two very easy recipes, both with a delicious outcome using two cupboard staples. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Les Deux Salons

A Garlic Lover's Dream

There seems to be a constant stream of new restaurants opening in our fair capital and it can sometimes take a while to get around to visiting the ones you fancy. Last October when Anthony Demetre and Will Smith (not of Fresh Prince fame) opened their latest offering, Les Deux Salons, I was living and working in Bristol so I added this new brasserie to my ever expanding wish list.

Happily a couple of weeks back I got to visit Les Deux Salons for dinner on the evening of my birthday, a treat from Glen, who I will, from now on, refer to as 'the boy'.

My first thoughts on entering was how very, very Parisian the decor and atmosphere was. The black and white marbled floor, cosy leather seating, and low-hanging crystal style lighting. Not to mention that it was early on a Monday evening, around 730pm and the place was filled with diners, chatter and a general happy buzz - I was suitably impressed.

The waitress (not French) brought over some delicious, crusty bread, took our wine (a Loire Muscadet - dry, crisp, lovely) and water order and left us to ponder over the menu. I'd been for the unexpected afternoon tea at Bea's of Bloomsbury (see previous post) that day where I'd scoffed a plentiful selection of goodies so faced a dilemma - starter or dessert.

Both menus had tempting offerings which made me virtually salivate so I decided to go for a starter and hope that I'd be able to squeeze in a dessert at the end of the meal.

I chose to try the brandade, something I'd heard about but never tried. This is generally a combination of salt cod and olive oil with either bread or potatoes. In this case it was with mashed potato, sauteed squid and an interesting and clever parsley cromesqui.

This was the kind of food you could just imagine tucking into when feeling a bit low, truly a comfort dish served in a small, round ceramic dish. It was soft and very well seasoned mash potato with the squid and cod mixed in, both adding a salty deliciousness and with a huge hit of garlic. Alone this would have been quite tasty. But the essential item which elevated this dish to something wonderful was the cromesqui. A cromesqui is croquette-like, a small ball in breadcrumbs which acts as a container for a liquid - in this case parsley in a luminous greeny butter. As I cut into this little delight the vibrant green liquid oozed out over the brandade, it was a real treat for the eyes before the mouth. It gave the dish a new dimension and what was before tasty, became delicious.

The boy went for the Herefordshire Snail and Bacon pie, having never tried snails and being curious. It was a pot pie with a lovely, flaky puff pastry lid. The filling was in a creamy whitish sauce with yet more garlic. The snails were tender and almost the texture of a wild mushroom and like a mushroom they absorbed all of the flavours of the sauce like a sponge and were gorgeously flavoursome.. The pie went down well with the boy but personally I found that overall the sauce was a little too overpoweringly garlicy for me.

For mains the boy chose young chicken with lemon and garlic, which I complained was a boring order. However as is so often the case, this simplest of orders was actually very tasty indeed. Moist, well seasoned and flavourful chicken with a deliciously crispy skin.

I opted for the roast saddle of rabbit and was so, so glad I did - it was just exquisite. Wrapped in a cured ham and stuffed with a mixture of rabbit offal in what was almost a pate consistency, the combination put me in momentary food heaven every time I took a bite. The three different elements of the dish just worked perfectly.

The rabbit came with spring chard, which had been just wilted in a salty garlic butter, and a carrot puree. I'm not overly keen on purees - while I still have my teeth in tact I really prefer food that can be chewed, however this admittedly had a nice sweetness to it which complemented the dish well as a whole - just a shame about the texture.

We ordered dauphinoise potatoes as a side, because apparently I am unable to enter a French restaurant without ordering them, and the boy couldn't resist ordering some chips - both were good.

Unfortunately after this I couldn't have even squeezed in a chocolate, let alone a full dessert. I was gutted, but there's always next time.

We both enjoyed the meal, the food was of a very good quality, cooked well and also presented beautifully. We sadly took the lingering smell of excessive garlic away with us, but I guess this is to be expected when eating French food. Like it's sister restaurants Arbutus and Wild Honey, Les Deux Salons is good value for a restaurant so well positioned in the West End, just off of Covent Garden. The meal was around the £85 for two courses each and a bottle of wine.

It's well worth a visit and the type of place where you could go for a celebration, a quick bite or a long-drawn out meal. I imagine this is one brasserie that is here to stay.


Les Deux Salons on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 June 2011


A Spanish SensationAfter an incredibly glutinous week of celebrating my own birthday, it was time to pass the birthday baton over to someone else - my wonderful Dad. He's long been a fan of Spanish fare since his and my Mum's very first trip abroad together to Majorca nearly 30 years ago and has even gone to the trouble of purchasing an authentic and very large paella pan from a catering supplier. He has perfected a mixed meat and seafood paella which is only for special occasions and which I can vouch is quite sensational.
Fino on Charlotte Street was the allotted venue for our celebratory meal and we were booked in early last Saturday evening, 630, the earliest and in fact the only table we could get.
We were led down to the smart basement restaurant and invited to begin with a drink in the bar. We ordered a jug of their Cava Sangria and this was a refreshingly fruity and colourful affair, very pretty to look at and the kind of drink that would go down well all evening.
We were also brought over two little ramekins of plump, firm and very tasty green olives. They were divine and as two amongst our 6 detest olives, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit the other four of us demolished these in a couple of minutes flat. Happily these were soon replenished by the friendly Spanish barman.
We had ordered one of the specials, half a suckling piglet, prior to our visit, so our plan was to get a few little dishes or tapas to whet our appetite for the main event. However we found it difficult to resist ordering a lot of dishes, so many sounded great.
We began with a platter of cold Spanish meats, prawn croquettas and red pepper croquettas with bread and oil. The meats were all tasty, particularly the Serano and chorizo. Both croquettes were good but the red pepper ones won my flavour vote by a margin, these were sweet, hot and extremely moreish, I could have easily eaten a whole portion.

Vanessa, our impeccable waitress, was an excellent source of knowledge, she gladly advised us on the specials, her favourites, and explained what certain things were on the menu that we hadn't before experienced. Also when the bread arrived and we requested some aioli as well as the oils, she obliged quickly and approvingly.
Our next course was a medley of seafood, and if the first course was good, this was incredible. My family are real fish and seafood fans and this did not disappoint. We had clams, razor clams, sardines and squid and it is fair to say that when they arrived our mouths were collectively watering, not only did it look great, the smells were enticing too.

The clams were frankly the best I've ever had. They were slightly salty, but this was complemented by the rich and creamy garlicy butter that they'd been cooked and served in, it was an amazing taste and I'm not ashamed to admit I dipped bread straight into that sauce as if I were eating in the comfort of my own home, it was too good not to.
The squid was also good, it was crispy in a light batter and we agreed we thought it was very similar to the way squid is often prepared in Chinese cookery - with salt and pepper and a little chilli heat. These also had the hint of paprika which gave a lovely smokiness. They were great dipped in the aioli too.
I must confess sardines are one of my Dad's favourites, however I've generally found them to be far too bony and fiddly, with not very much meat on them to bother with, and never carrying much flavour. I've decided they deserve a second chance after tasting the juicy, garlicy wonders we were presented with. They were very easy to de-bone and quite big compared to others I've had - to be honest even if they were tiny the flavour of them would have been well worth the effort. As well as garlic there was a little parsley and some citrussy lemon and lime to. The simple flavour combination worked perfectly and this was yet another dish that didn't last very long at all.
Finally on the sea-front, we had razor clams. I'm afraid these were not for me, but I've never enjoyed these whenever I've had them before, despite them being a bit of a favourite in my family, especially in Chinese food. I find them too rubbery a texture to enjoy. General agreement around the table was that they were in fact excellent, so don't be deterred if you're a fan, its more personal preference than anything else.

Next up was our piece de resistance, the star attraction of the meal, our suckling piglet. At risk of sounding like an advert for the restaurant, this too was just fantastic. The crackling was gorgeously crispy - I always feel crackling's such a naughty indulgence anyway it almost adds to the enjoyment, like a guilty pleasure. The meat was pierced with sprigs of rosemary and there was mint and parsley present too which gave the tender meat and the beautiful juices it was cooked in some truly wonderful taste sensations. The mint was subtle enough to just enhance the flavour without overpowering as it can easily do.
Alongside the meat we had some olive oil mash - creamy and delicious if a little cooler in temperature than we'd have liked, some 'Fino Chips' which turned out to be just chips, nothing to write home about, a mixed green leaf salad which had a fabulously simple citrussy dressing on and some kale, which like the chips was a bit of a non-event. It was a good main course, although the half (£75), recommended for up to 6 people, was still quite large, and it's probable we'd have enjoyed more of it had we not had quite so many dishes leading up to it.

Only the ladies managed dessert and between us we had a crema catalina, a chocolate shot and chocolate soup. Mum had the crema catalina, and it was large enough for two people, which was good as we all got to try some. It was lovely with an orangey, Grand Marnier flavour. The chocolate soup was just that; dark chocolate, warm, runny and heavenly with a good dollop of vanilla chantilly cream for good measure. I'd opted for the white and dark chocolate shot, and while it was a taste treat to say the least, it was a mere mouthful and greedy me was left slightly disappointed and wanting more - nothing new there.

Some deliciously dry Spanish Moscatel sherry completed the superb meal for the men.
Fino is the rare London gem, a restaurant that is expert in one area and doesn't deviate or try to juggle too many balls. The food throughout was exceptional, and as I mentioned our waitress was a dream compared to many of her clueless contemporaries I have encountered in the capital.
The meal came in at just under the £300 mark, including a £31 service charge, so isn't cheap at around £50 per head, but we did order in excess of what was essential, after all this was a celebration. And Daddy picked up the bill - as I stated at the beginning of this post, he is wonderful!
Fino, 33 Charlotte St, London, W1T 1RR. 0207 813 8010


Fino on Urbanspoon

Monday, 13 June 2011

Afternoon Tea on a Budget

Bea's of Bloomsbury
Last week my best friend, Larni and I celebrated becoming another year older (she is a whole three days younger than me) with a week-long marathon of fun and frolics. This tradition began 11 years ago and we are reluctant to give it up. This time around we found that food and alcohol featured highly, as did the fabulous West End show Legally Blonde and yet more alcohol.

We naturally celebrated with our own family and group of friends too, but our first treat, was just for the two of us and just about sums us up together - Champagne Afternoon Tea - in other words an afternoon of cakes and sweet things with a good glug full of bubbles - perfect.

It has to be noted that we were actually planning on doing outdoorsy, sight-seeing activities, mainly visiting the Tower of London, but good old England in June let us down and on the morning as the rain came and came we wondered what to do instead. Afternoon tea was suggested but I was doubtful we would find a slot anywhere, early, being so last-minute, and I didn't want to go for a late sitting as I was booked in to eat at Les Deux Salons on the evening.

As luck would have it, I had noticed a few days previously something on Twitter about Bea's of Bloomsbury doing Afternoon Tea, so I called, and we were in. I've long been a fan of Bea's, having previously worked just off of Theobalds Row, where the original resides, so I was quite keen to try out the newer addition to the family in the new shopping centre at St Pauls, One New Change.

I was delighted to find the decor modern, quirky and stylish. There was a brown theme throughout with the odd splashes of colour, and the ceiling was adorned with various lampshades in the guise of teapots, ingenius.

Many visits to the original had been on seriously stressed out days when only the thought of a coffee cupcake, a cup of tea and a natter with one of the girls could get me through the day, it almost represented a safe haven for a certain trio of friends, and the friendly staff at this branch with the delicious array of cakes was one of the reasons why we often returned.

I was immediately impressed that the owner of this establishment have clearly kept their staff selection skills up to scratch, the waitress who served us was accomodating, friendly and informative. We ordered our tea and informed her that Larni is a vegetarian, and she immediately went off to check if all of the cakes were veggie-friendly and to change the savoury sandwiches of hers to meat-free.

The sandwiches were actually small sections of crusty, white baguette and mine were a chorizo and cream cheese with a little green leaf. They were lovely, the smokey saltiness of the chorizo was complimented perfectly by the cream cheese.

One small complaint that we had was that actually, the meaty sandwiches were side by side with the veggie ones, to the point that one of them was actually touching the other, while this may seem a trifle point, let's face it if it was an allergy we were talking about, those wouldn't have been placed on the same plate at all, and really I don't think this should be treated differently. However as we were laden down with goodies, we ploughed on, I had the offending sandwich and found it didn't offend me in any way. It was a buffalo mozarella with tomato and a basil pesto - the pesto had seeped into the bread a little and given a magnificent flavour. It was like a little sandwich taste of Italy, lovely.

Next was a plain scone, the original, quintessential part of any respectable afternoon tea. It was lovely, buttery, light and crumbly, had a good moist texture and excellent seasoning so as not to be so sweet, which I often find scones can be. These were lovely with our pot of fresh clotted cream and strawberry jam too. They were however rather large, and I only eat half to make sure I had room for all the other goodies.

Two signature cupcakes were included in the tea, and as I've tried a number of these before, I was pleased to see two that I'd yet to try. One was a vanilla cupcake with a cassis topping, beautiful to look at with a pinky-purpley icing. The other was a chocolate base with a pistachio cream finish which was the minty green you would imagine, side by side they looked so pretty, it was almost a shame to crack into them. Somehow we found the strength though! We halved them both so we could try everything, and found that not only did they look good, they tasted great. The icing on both was immense, the kind where you'd happily stick your finger in and eat a little minus the cake. The cupcakes were both light and fluffy and in keeping with my favourite coffee ones of old.

The top layer of our tea was a selection of brownies and marshmallow. The marshmallow were just for me as these contain gelatine, which our friendly waitress kindly informed us of. They were lovely, the stuff of childhood memories, only better.

The final three treats I've deliberately left till the end - brownies. Those who know me will know I'm not a fan of brownies, I find that whenever I'm confronted by one they tend to lack flavour and be quite dry. I have been known to voice my irritation when they seem to always end up on dessert menus these days in some format too. However I will openly admit defeat where neccessary, and after trying this trio of brownies, I can say that I may be fast converting to the brownie-lover brigade.

The first was a Valrhona, or in other words a rich chocolatey affair, which I can vouch was very, very far from dry. The dark chocolate flavour was lovely and for the first time ever, I was left wanting more. The second was a Belgian Blondie, or in other words my favourite flavour of any cake - white chocolate! It was heavenly. I kept awaiting the moment where I could nod to Larni and say 'See this is why I don't like brownies!'. Perhaps it would come with the final treat - a peanut butter brownie - perhaps not. This was actually my surprise dish of the day, it was incredible. Not only was it not dry, it was creamy, it was chewy, it had a glorious nutty flavour running through the almost caramel like texture with chocolate, this was like food heaven. It reminded me a Snickers bar, but a bite size portion in glorious, wonderful cake format and all in one perfect texture.

On top of all of this wonderful confectionary we had a pot of Jing tea, and to mark the occassion of our birthday a glass of Moet & Chandon - we felt it'd be rude not to.

We both thoroughly enjoyed this very English tradition and it has to be said that if anyone is looking to experience a real Afternoon Tea without the expense of The Ritz and the like, this is a top-notch, quality alternative.

We had the Champagne Afternoon Tea which at £22.50 is very cheap for the capital. However if Champagne is not for you then it is only £15 per person for the standard Afternoon Tea - definitely a bargain.

Bea's of Bloomsbury's is a quirky, sophisticated venue with cakes to die for and great service. I'm hoping to see more of these around the capital, and hope they retain their excellent staffing and high quality food.

One final note: if like Larni and myself you enjoy the Champagne Afternoon Tea at Bea's and find that one glass of bubbles is just not enough, copy our style and pop a few doors along to Searcy's where you can enjoy one of their Champagne cocktails. They have daily deals on, but as we were feeling flamboyantly decadent after our fun afternoon we ignored these and went for a Strawberry Bellini and a classic Kir Royale and both were fantastic.

Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Jamaican BBQ

National BBQ Week

National BBQ week kicked off today and just over a week ago I enjoyed one of the most idyllic BBQ's on holiday in beautful Montego Bay. Most people can appreciate the joy of fine dining but sometimes the simpler things in life make for the best memories, and in this case it was certainly true.

A few days into my fortnight holiday with my parents and two brothers at the glorious Iberostar Rose Hall Beach , the 5 of us were already fully enjoying the fantastic food on offer at the four various restaurants. Breakfast, lunch and dinner filled us with what seemed like endless options of deicious food, some recognisable and some very much Jamaican and alien dishes to us - we really did feel spoilt for choice.

When the 'Jerk BBQ' was announced we were a little excited to see how Jamaican's enjoyed their al fresco dining compared to our typically Brit burgers and bangers fare.

We were invited to start the meal at 1230, but this was being cooked early on from around 11 on the gorgeous hotel beach, with a band of steel drums and singer setting the party tone up nicely. We listened to an array of Bob Marley classics, the smell of jerk filled the air and we tapped our feet and licked our lips expectantly.

The atmosphere on the beach was just fantastic, aside from the food and the music, everyone present was on their holidays, the sun was shining and the beach couldn't have been a more inviting setting for lunch. Whilst in the restaurants everyone stayed within their couple, family or group, here everyone was happy to sit together mixing with various strangers and just genuinely enjoying each others company.

We were promised "jerk everything" and the chefs really didn't disappoint. I chose some jerk pork, jerk chicken and jerk grouper, over which I spooned the accompanying, sticky jerk sauce which really intensified the heat and the flavours allowing the scotch bonnets to make their presence known. All was absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious.

I also had some curried goat with the obligatory rice and peas, a little salad and some coco bread, which was a new experience. I was delighted to find this Jamaican curry had a depth of flavour and a good fire to it, but the coconut cream based sauce really balanced this out to make for a very tasty curry. The meat was cooked well, was tender, flavourful and fell apart in your mouth - superb.

The rice and peas was nice and had an almost nutty taste to it, however it was very different to how I've experienced it in the UK in that it was of a much drier consistency, was great to try the authentic dish though.

Of course the salad was perfect to cool down the mouth and cleanse the palate a little with all that spice and the deliciously sweet, almost cake-like coco bread went down a treat too.
The meal was washed down with pink lemonade, rum punch and an ice cold Red Stripe beer. There was tons of other food to choose from including various salads, potatoes, coleslaws, plantain, vegetables and patties, but I wanted to save a little room as I'd already eyed the colourful and tempting array of cakes and pastries.

I went for a small orange cake and a pink and white concoction, The first was one of the lightest little orange flavoured sponges I've ever had the pleasure of trying with a segment ofjuicy orange on top - heaven. The final treat was a traditional coconut ice, tasty, very, very sweet and in all the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Happy BBQ season people - may you all be adventurous in what you BBQ.