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 canap├ęs 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.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Frith Street's Finest - Arbutus


Last Wednesday evening me and the boy were in Soho deciding where to grab some dinner when we stumbled across Arbutus. I'd been before but a good three years ago and as it was 730 and busy I doubted we'd get a table. I was right to doubt - however we were accommodated in the bar area on a high table for two.

Sitting right in the area that every diner had to walk through to get to their table meant I was able to enjoy my favourite sport - people watching. I marvelled immediately at the mixed bag that Arbutus attracts, there were the suited types, couples, groups of friends and real arty types - plenty to be nosy at. We were off to a good start.

I chose the squid and mackerel 'burger' with razor clams and sea purslane to start. The 'burger' was a small, moist and absolutely delicious patty full of wonderful sea flavours and very well seasoned. The razor clams were the first I've ever had and actually enjoyed - as well as the flavour they were devoid of that awful rubbery texture that I've come to expect. The plate was presented very prettily too which made it all the more appetizing.

The boy had the crispy pigs head with salad and again this was artfully presented and the flavours matched the presentation. The pork was chunky and had an exceptional, almost sweet flavour with some crispy, crunchy bits which were a delightful contrast. What was most surprising was how utterly gorgeous the salad was - sliver's of soft turnip and radish which I can only presume had been poached in something sweet, syruppy and lovely. Wonderfulness on a plate.

The boys' main was slow cooked lamb with cannelini beans, apricots and almonds. The lamb was apparently tasty and tender to the point of melting in the mouth (it certainly didn't last long). The accompaniments were good - however the boy decided this was a bit of a delicate plate for him and he said he'd have preferred something a bit heavier. This would be perfect for a smaller appetite though.

Mine was the opposite and the boy ended up finishing it anyway. I had the roast rabbit which was roasted with pancetta, artichokes and sweet, baby carrots in a the most delicious, garliccy juice - heaven. This came with a 'shoulder cottage pie' which was frankly the best comfort food - creamy mashed potato over tender shoulder of rabbit. A very satisfying, if filling dish.

Even though I was stuffed i couldn't resist ordering pudding. The dessert menu had me drooling, every single item on that menu sounded fabulous and it was eventually the waiter who twisted my arm, ever so easily into the cold chocolate fondant.

I've been lucky with desserts recently and it appears my luck continues - this was sensational. As well as looking fantastic the fondant itself had a richness of flavour but was as light as a feather. It came with crispy, caramelised chocolate wafers and a small helping of salted caramel ice cream, pure bliss. It was finished with a little shaving of pretty green pistachios. It really was a dessert to die for.

Throughout our meal the staff were incredibly attentive and friendly - the great thing which was so clearly obvious was that the staff here genuinely care about the food served. You can sense their pride and passion and it only adds to the overall dining experience.

The meal was around £75 without wine, but for this level of food I think it's reasonable - we didn't have a single complaint.

It's hard to believe Arbutus opened it's doors over five years ago as I seem to remember it and that would imply I'm getting on - however judging from our faultless meal and the swarms of mid-week diners rushing through the doors it's clear that Anthony Demetre and Will Smith continue to get it right. They really have managed to achieve that winning formula, what's more they have it down to a fine art - well-executed hearty classics, great service and a good balance between smart and casual dining. I certainly won't be leaving it another three years before I return.

Arbutus on Urbanspoon

Rich Mocha Cake

This is a rich, moist and deliciously decadent cake. I’ve used Green & Blacks Dark cooks chocolate in the cake and their Dark Chocolate for the ganache topping. The coffee flavour running combined with the rich chocolate makes for a very grown-up indulgent cake. A slice with a tea or coffee in the afternoon will certainly perk you up. (It worked for me).150g Caster Sugar150g Salted Butter
3 Eggs

150g Self Raising Flour
75g Dark Chocolate
2 tsp Baking Powder
1tbsp Hot Water

1tbsp Instant Coffee
100g Dark Chocolate
100ml Double Cream

Firstly make your ganache topping by breaking up the 100g dark chocolate into a dish, pouring in the cream and melting over a hot pan. Once melted, whisk vigourously until you’re left with a thick, glossy velvetty sauce. Leave in the fridge while you prepare the cake.

Preheat the oven to approximately 170C.

Whisk the caster sugar with the softened butter until it’s pale and fluffy.

Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and add to the sugar and butter mixture slowly – each time adding a little of the flour, folding in gently. Continue untill all egg and flour is added. Also add in and mix the baking powder.

Melt the chocolate in same way as before, and gently fold into cake mixture.

Dissolve the coffee in a little boiling water and add this to the cake mixture – ensure you give it all a good stir.

Pour into a greased cake round – I used a spring form for ease – and back for 25-30 minutes.

Once cake is baked – leave to cool on a wire rack.

Once cake is cool enough – remove ganache topping from the fridge, give it a stir and then gently spread over the top of the cake using a pallette knife.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


Today after two years of meaning to, I finally made it to Moolis in Frith Street for lunch, with my good friend Steph.

I've seen praise for Moolis from the likes of The Guardian, The Metro and Evening Standard to name just a few, so naturally expectations were high.
Moolis offers roti wraps with a variety of fillings - six in total, with two vegetarian options. Steph opted for the Goan pork with pomegranate salsa and was left so satisfied she exclaimed excitedly halfway through "this is better than Wahaca", where she has recently discovered and loved. I had to agree with her - it had the perfect level of spice for me, the pork had a juicy picquancy and the cooling crunch of the fruit was an idylic partner - scrummy.
I had the Keralan beef with coconut, salsa and yoghurt. The beef was again spiced beautifully, and flaky, spiced pieces simply melted in my mouth. The salsa running through the roti really was tasty and just highlighted the overall freshness of it all - the roti had no grease at all - lovely.
The moolis are quite large so if you're less greedy than Steph and I then you can opt for the mini versions or the salad box (I won't be sharing titbits on what these are like as my apetite is large as regular readers will know).
The moolis are around £5 each and for £1 more you can get either a side dish, a lassis or a fruit juice. We both had a lime and minty affair - which was refreshingly lovely and felt like a sin-free mojito.
I couldn't resist trying a mango kulfi afterwards, which are served on a stick like a creamy lolly. It wasn't that strong on mango flavour to be honest - but it didn't matter, there was enough creamy spiced yumminess to satisfy by sweet craving. It was the perfect finale to a very cheap (£8.50) and very satisfying lunch.
I can honestly say that after more than 6 years of working in London this is one of the best grab-and-go lunches I've had (with maybe the exception of The Japanese Canteen. Chicken Katsu Curry which has helped me survive many a work hangover).
It may have taken me two years to get here - but I will definitely be returning sooner rather than later and if this is Indian street food then get me to an Indian street, and fast.
Mooli's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Two Ways With...


In the second of this series of posts I've chosen the Cypriot cheese that is increasingly popular in the UK. Readily available in most supermarkets and a frequent contender on menus in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants, it is often used in one of two ways.

The first is as 'saganaki', which translated from Greek means frying pan, or fried, and simple as it is, I do enjoy this style. The second which I seem to see more and more of is sliced, grilled and piled up in stacks of grilled vegetables, simply drizzled with oil. Again this is nice, however I think this is a versatile cheese that has more to it than these two dishes let on.

So my two dishes this time cook the cheese in different ways, both ways paired with almost identical ingredients used in different ways. Two different plates of food, and two very tasty dishes.

What's more these are a great couple of dishes to offer to vegetarian guests - something that I seem to have a lot of!

You may notice that both of these recipes use chilli, mainly as I am slightly addicted to spice, and if you prefer a milder flavour then decrease the amount of chilli used.

Chilli and Lime Vegetables with Grilled Halloumi

This is an incredibly simple but seriously delicious hot salad topped with lovely grilled Halloumi, perfect for a warm summer's day when you fancy something light to eat, but don't want to compromise on flavours. I served this with a dip which works as an excellent alternative to Greek tzatziki - using coriander instead of mint, which works well with the lime and chilli.

100g Halloumi
1 courgette
1/2 an Aubergine
1/2 Red Onion
1 Green Chilli
4 Cherry Tomatoes
2 Tbsp Creme Fraiche
1Tbsp Coriander
1 Clove of Garlic

First cut the courgette and aubergine into ribbons using a vegetable peeler. Halve the tomatoes and chop the onion and chilli.
Pour a drizzle of olive oil into a large griddle pan over a medium heat and pop in all the vegetables.
Slice the Halloumi so it's at least 1/2cm thick.
Once the vegetables are nicely cooked, remove to a dish, cover with foil and pop under a warm grill whilst you add the halloumi to the griddle.
In the meantime place the creme fraiche in a small bowl. Crush the garlic and chop the coriander and add to the bowl and give a good stir.
Assemble the hot vegetables onto your serving plate and squeeze half a lime, or more if you require over them. Season with black pepper (don't use salt if you can help it as the cheese has a high salt content).
Once the Halloumi has been grilled for at least two minutes on each side place on top of the vegetables and you're ready to serve with your dip on the side.
For me this is like a taste of the Med.

Deep-fried Halloumi with Chunky Guacamole
100g Halloumi
1 Ripe Avocado
3 Cherry Tomatoes
1 Green Chilli
1 Clove of Garlic
1/2 Red Onion
1 Tbsp Coriander, chopped
1 Tsp Mint, chopped
1/2 Lemon or Lime Juice
1 Slice of White Bread
1 Egg, whisked
1/2 Cup of Plain Flour

Firstly make your guacamole by chopping your onion, garlic, chilli and tomatoes (try to remove seeds) and adding to a mortar.
Cut the avocado in half, remove the pip and skin and slice. Add this to the mortar with the coriander and mint and use the pestle to work into a paste, don't be too vigorous as it's good to still have some larger chunks of avocado.
Squeeze over the lime juice and give one last bash. Either pop in the fridge if you prefer this cold, otherwise just leave to one side.
For the Halloumi slice as in the above recipe.
In a food processor blitz the slice of bread and put into a shallow bowl. In another bowl pour in the flour and season. In a third bowl pour in the whisked egg.
For each piece of Halloumi first coat in the flour, next the egg and then fully coat in the breadcrumbs.
In either a deep-fat-fryer or if you don't own one, then fill a heavy-duty saucepan 1/3 of the way with vegetable oil and put on a medium heat.
Allow to heat up for four or five minutes and test it's hot enough by tearing off a small piece of bread and gently putting in with a metal slotted spoon. If this starts to sizzle then the oil is ready.
Once the oil is hot enough place each piece of breadcrumbed Halloumi into the pan with the slotted spoon. Cook for just over one minute, then use the spoon to turn over and brown on both sides.
Remove from the pan and place on a plate with kitchen roll. Then serve with the guacamole.
The cheese should be lovely, slightly melted and oozy and this works as a great starter or as a rather indulgent snack.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Frugal yet Fabulous: Vapiano

On a wonderful weekend in Stockholm with 6 friends last summer we discovered an eaterie that I thought was just brilliant; Vapiano. Something that is almost unheard of - a high-quality and fast food Italian joint that doesn't break the bank. We visited Vapiano on our last day when all of us were feeling slightly delicate after a heavy weekend of drinking and were all suitably impressed.
On our return I googled the restaurant and found that this is a chain which began in Germany and they have worldwide locations - including two here in London.

I was determined to visit one of the London locations which are in Great Portland Street and Southwark and just a couple of weeks ago I finally made it and was again in awe of what is an almost unique and brilliant concept.

Vapiano works in a canteen-style fashion. On entering each person is given a card, and once a table is chosen you go to the various stations, order what you require and swipe the card. You then wait while the dish is cooked fresh before your eyes and in my case nosily converse with the various chefs.

I visited the Great Portland Street site and found there is a designated area for pizzas, around 10 stations for pasta and a whole area for salads.

Both in Sweden and London I opted for pasta and thought it was great you can choose from eight types according to your preference. There are a range of different sauces you can choose to go with your pasta.

The menu segregates certain dishes into groups a, b, c etc and each increases in price - however all offer excellent value for money. The pizza menu works exactly the same way. The lower price bracket is a tiny £6.10 and the highest is £9.10 - personally I think you'd struggle to get a decent bowl of pasta in central London for this amount.

On this occasion I had pappardelle with the 'scampi e spinaci' sauce which included king prawns, spinach and basil pesto in a creamy sauce. Very happily for me, engaging in conversation with the chef while he cooked my dinner, I mentioned that I enjoy spice a lot - so he added a chopped green chilli to my dish and I have to say it was excellent. I also had a tomato and mozzarella salad which was lovely, fresh and flavourful.

I dined with four friends but won't go into detail about their food - only to say that it was all eaten, and all enjoyed. The only minor complaint was that a couple of the dishes were excessively garlicy (something that has been happening to me a lot lately - see post on Les Deux Salons).

There's a very informal atmosphere in Vapiano and when we went on a Wednesday, early evening, it was absolutely jam-packed. The tables are mainly high with stools and each table is equipped with freshly growing basil, and an array of different oils.

For the value it provides the quality of food is excellent and I think the card system is great too. Each person pays their own individual bill on the way out - there's no awkwardness at the end of the meal with people scrutinising who might have had what, and no paying for any sneaky diners who never quite pay their way either. If particularly skint you could choose one of the Group A (£6.10) pastas or pizza and just have the frequently replenished water, if only to still be able to dine out with friends or family.

My meal included the most expensive bracket of pasta and the mozzarella salad - which is actually large enough to share between three as a side dish, as well as a large glass of white wine and I had change from £20. It's the type of restaurant you could eat in at the end of the month when funds are running extremely thin.

I can't understand why there aren't more Vapiano's about - judging from my experiences in both venues, they are far superior, and offer better value than the chains such as Bella Italia and the like that litter almost every high street.

If you haven't already, get yourself down to one of the Vapianos and try it for yourself. Judging from the crowds it 's here to stay and I for one hope it becomes the Italian-style equivalent to Nandos - a cheap yet powerful place to eat good, honest food and enjoy the company of friends. Sure, this isn't fine-dining by any stretch of the imagination but who is to suggest that frugal can't be fabulous.

Vapiano on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Cream Tea at Home

Home-made Raspberry Jam and Plain Scones

After my fruit picking experience last week I was left with a rather large quantity of raspberries and decided I would make some jam.

Tying in with my ambition to bake more, what better opportunity than to bake some plain scones, a firm favourite served with lashings of cream and a generous spreading of jam.

After all no afternoon tea would be complete without deliciously buttery cream scones with jam.

Raspberry Jam

800g Caster Sugar
800g Raspberries, washed
1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
2 Tbsp Lime Juice

This makes enough to fill two 400g jam jars - which will need to be sterilised.

Pre-heat oven to 180C and place a small plate or saucer into the fridge to cool.

Place sugar on a baking tray and place in the oven for 8-12 minutes till it's warmed right through.

In the meantime pop the raspberries in a large saucepan and put on a low heat till the fruit has softened.

Once the sugar is warm pour into the fruit and add the vanilla extract and freshly squeezed lime juice.

Cook up to a boil and then simmer quite vigorously for 30-40 minutes.

To sterilise the jam jars remove the lids and place upside down in the hot oven for 15 minutes or until the jam is ready.

To test if the jam is ready, take the cold saucer from the fridge and get half a teaspoon of the mixture and pop onto the plate. This will be very, very hot, so leave for two-three minutes to cool, then press against it with your finger. If it starts to wrinkle up and feel firm, then it's ready. If not, keep on the heat for a further five minutes and test again. Repeat until ready.

Once ready pour into the jam jars and place a round of baking paper over the top and an elastic band. Once this has completely cooled down you can put the proper lid on.

This makes for a gorgeously sweet jam and is perfect for spreading on toast, crumpets, scones or for use in baking such as jam roly poly or jam tarts.

Plain Scones

225g Plain Flour
2 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
30g Caster Sugar
150ml Milk
50g Butter

In a bowl mix the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt and then use the rubbing in method to mix the butter in. Using only your fingertips after a few minutes you should be left with a breadcrumb mix - similar to that of a crumble topping.

Slowly add the milk, bit by bit till this forms a firm and pliable dough.

Turn out onto a floured side, making sure your hands are floured too and flatten out into a circle, which should be over 1cm thick.

Cut out the scones. (Traditionally these are made round, but I made heart-shaped ones).

Put onto a tray lined with greaseproof paper which has also been greased.

Brush the tops with a little reserved milk and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Place on a wire cooling rack and allow to cool.

To serve cut in half and layer on some extra thick double cream or some clotted cream and a generous helping of the raspberry jam. Not mandatory to have tea with your scones however from my point of view - advisable.

Cream tea in the comfort of your own home - wonderful.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Pick-Your-Own & Sweet Gooseberry Pie

Ticehurst Fruit Picking

Living as I do in essex, but very much on the outskirts of East London, I'm not in what you could call a rural area. However with only a fifteen minute journey into the countryside and just 45 minutes away from central London via train I feel I can enjoy the best of both worlds.

I spent last weekend exploring various parts of East Sussex and discovered some real hidden gems and it is my latest aim to visit new parts of my own county, Essex.

I visited Bodiam, Rye and Hastings on Saturday and noticed you couldn't travel for more than a few miles without spotting a road-side seller offering local cherries and the like. I was intending to stop off at one of these on the way home on Sunday and get some soft fruit.

Happily on our return across the county towards Kent where we were planning on stopping off for some lunch, we came across an almost concealed sign in the village of Ticehurst announcing "Mill Hill Maynards Farm, Pick Your Own", and thought we don't mind if we do.

The sun was shining and my mum, brother and I grabbed a punnet each and hit the strawberry patch first. I think it's fair to say my mum, Vicky, actually ate more than she collected here. I couldn't blame her, the fruit was ripe, soft and deliciously juicy.

We also picked a colloshal of raspberries, some delicious cherries and a few gooseberries

It was a thoroughly enoyable couple of hours and once weighed we paid just over £6 for over 2kg of fruit, a mere fraction of what this would cost in a supermarket.

The fruit was enjoyed in various ways and I made a glorious gooesberry pie on the Monday for which the recipe can be found below.

Any fellow Essex-county people please do post and let me know of any 'pick-your'own' sites in the local area as I'm keen to do this again throughout the summer.

Sweet Gooseberry Pie

The sugar in this recipe offers a nice balance to the sharpness of the fruit, and the port makes for a deliciously boozy, syrupy filling.

125g Butter, salted
70g Icing Sugar
3 egg yolks
250g Plain Flour
450g Gooseberries, washed
115g Caster Sugar
2 Tbsp Port (could use a fruity red wine as an alternative)
1Tbsp Vanilla Extract
1 Clove
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 180C.

Sweet Pastry

With a wooden spoon mix the butter and icing sugar together in a bowl and then add two of the egg yolks.

Sieve in the flour and use your hands to mix it all up until it resembles breadcrumbs (like a crumble mixture).

Add a drop of warm water in and keep mixing, adding water drop by drop till the pastry starts to come together.

Roll into a ball and wrap in clingfilm, then chill for 20-30 minutes in the fridge.


Put the fruit into a saucepan over a low heat with a tablespoon of water.

Simmer for a few minutes.

Crush the clove and add to the fruit with the cinammon for a little spice.

Add the sugar, Port or wine, and vanilla extract to the pan and cook until soft. Should take between 12-15 minutes.

Roll out the pastry and cover the base of a small pie plate, then remove the excess and cut a large enough lid for the pie.

Press the base into the dish and then pour over the fruit mixture.

Pop the lid on then press down all around using your thumbs.
With any excess pastry you can cut out shapes and decorate the pie lid.

Brush the pie with the remaining, whipped egg yolk and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes until your lid is nicely golden.

Remove from the oven and leave to stand for at least ten minutes to allow the fruit to cool a little.

I served this with some vanilla ice cream and it was a delicious summery pudding, enjoyed by the family.

Serves 4

Friday, 1 July 2011

Fish Friday

Colcannon Mackerel Fishcakes

A simple but delicious take on the humble fishcake.

I've used mackerel in these as their moist, rich flavour goes perfectly with the colcannon-style base. I've also added a little heat to the dish, but this can be omitted if you're not a spice fan.

I served this as lunch for myself and my brother and we had homemade chips and a little sweet chilli dipping sauce as accompaniments.

I prepared the chips by simply slicing some Charlotte potatoes (skin on), par-boiling for ten minutes, draining then placing in a pre-heated oven for 20 mins at 200C.

I enjoyed my lunch with a generous glass of Gallo White Zinfandel, a deliciously zingy Californian rose, after all it is Friday - let the weekend begin.

200g (approx) Smoked Mackerel Fillets
150g White Potatoes
2 Large Spring Onions
50g Spring Greens
2 Slices of Bread (white or brown)
1 Tbsp Creamed Horseradish
1 Tsp Hot Pepper Sauce
1 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste

First peel the potatoes and boil till soft, then mash, season and place in a bowl to cool (I used a knob of butter to mash).

Chop/mix the bread in a food processor to create breadcrumbs and place into a bowl.

Chop the spring onions and put into the bowl with the mashed potato.

Remove the skin from the mackerel fillets and break up the fish into small pieces and also place in the bowl.

Finely shred the spring greens then put in a pan of boiling water and simmer for 4-5 mins, drain and place on a hopping board. Use a clean tea towel or some kitchen roll to absorb any excess water then also place into the bowl.

Add the horseradish, hot pepper sauce, cayenne and a good sprinkling of salt and black pepper and mix well. Add a heaped tablespoon full of the breadcrumbs and mix again.

Get a tablespoon full of the mixture into your hands and form a round with it, place in the breadcrumbs till it's covered, then put onto a plate, and repeat to make similar sized fishcakes.

Heat a pan on a medium heat with a little oil, I used grapeseed oil as it's very light in flavour, however any oil would work. Once the pan is hot add the fishcakes and cook on each side for 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy.

Serves four.