Thursday, 31 January 2013

Fox and Anchor

Last year I was invited along to spend the evening at The Fox & Anchor with a number of other bloggers to celebrate the launch of their ‘Best of British’ menu. I am incredibly overdue in writing this post, and although some of the items on the menu have now changed in accordance with seasonality – the ethos remains the same and so I am keen to share my experience.

Firstly I must say Charterhouse Street located The Fox & Anchor is steeped in old-worldly charm - it is, what I would describe as a ‘boozer’, they have an impressive array of beverages and pride themselves on being a ‘great British pub’, which I think they pull off well. 

I arrived on a cold, wet and windy evening and the first thought on arrival was how lovely and warm it was and how this place reminded me of cosy country pubs far away from the hum of London, a great start.

I joined a group of bloggers, and was lucky enough to be seated beside May of Slow Food Kitchen and Tori from Eat Tori and as well as enjoying the food, it was great to catch up with like-minded women who made for fabulous company too and shared some of their top London eating spots – which is always good.

We were welcomed with some sparkling wine and whilst making our menu choices were invited to sample some classic pub snacks, Scotch eggs, pork pies, sausage rolls, piccalilli and, of course, pork scratchings. The sausage rolls were lovely, filled with a quality, herby sausage and surrounded by delicious flaky pastry. The pickle was also good, but the pork scratchings were my favourite. These had the brilliance of those served at Pitt Cue and proved to be like Pringles, once I’d popped I couldn’t stop.

I decided to go for the crab rarebit to start, which comprised brown crabmeat spread onto a slice of rye bread, topped with Cheddar and a little Worcester Sauce, then grilled. As is often the case, although this was simplicity itself – it was perfection. A few ingredients done well and seasoned beautifully for a deliciously light start. 

For the main I was torn between so many of the dishes, I am such a great lover of hearty British cookery and this menu screams of childhood favourites. I finally opted for one of the pies, a speciality of The Fox & Anchor, after careful consideration and confirming that I could try somebody else’s ham hock, which had also caught my attention.

My pie wasn’t traditional, its ‘crust’ was made up of brioche and the filling was slow cooked duck, in a sweet and almost sticky sauce or gravy. It was fantastic and different to anything I’ve tried before. Used to having duck pink, I was surprised at how tender and flavoursome the meat was, it had remained slightly sweet and the sweetness was enhanced by the brioche exterior.

We shared a selection of all of the sides and standout ones for me, were the creamy mash, champ and honey glazed carrots – again great British classics, but executed very well. 

I tried the ham hock, which was exceptional, it was literally falling off of the bone and full of the irresistibly salty flavours I remember from childhood family dinners – I would certainly opt for this if I went again.

I must mention though that both the duck pie and the ham hock were absolutely huge portions – I struggled to finish half, and I’m not shy when shovelling in food. I would suggest if you have a smaller appetite sharing a main course as it can be a little overwhelming to be presented with such a large dish. Perfect for bigger appetites – dare I say it, these are ‘man-sized’ portions, which is almost suitable for such a venue.

We were persuaded into trying a dessert, which I have to say I felt guilty about as I only managed a little spoonful of mine. I chose the traditional apple pie with vanilla custard, which was gorgeous and had that delicious caramel filling that makes each mouthful a joy – a winner, but disappointing that I couldn’t finish it. 

We had a number of different wines throughout the evening and really had a fantastic time. I couldn’t fault any of the dishes I tried on flavour at all, presentation was also good for this style of cooking and my only slight niggle would be the size of the mains, but better to be too big than too small I suppose. As we were guests of the restaurant, I didn’t pay on this occasion, however the menu is very reasonable with mains all under £16 and they have a number of mid-week deals such as ‘Pie and a Pint’ Tuesdays for £12.95 and the like so it is certainly an affordable venue.

If you are looking for traditional British food, served in comfortable old-English style surroundings without an extortionate price tag then The Fox & Anchor is the place for you.

 Fox & Anchor on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

A London Lunch No. 4: Baltic

Having worked in the Southwark area for some months, I’ve passed the front of the Eastern-European Baltic restaurant and bar many times and paid it no attention at all - it looks incredibly unassuming. However, once inside there is a different story to tell, with high, bright ceilings, crisp white décor and chic interior décor, combined with the smartly attired waiting staff, there is no getting away from it, the place is chic.

I have tried a few items off of the menu but for a lunch recommendation for two or three people I would suggest the meat ‘zakuski’ which is a sharing platter filled with incredibly tempting and delicious things. 

The zakuski includes both chicken and beef ‘shashlick’, or in other words marinated pieces of meat, with a similar spice mix as those familiar in Turkish and other Middle-Eastern cookery – flavourful and really lovely and tender meat. Lamb koftas also feature. I don’t generally eat lamb as I’m not a fan of it, however I have been with two separate groups and had the zakuski and both sets have told me these koftas are excellent.

A little salad and three bright dips also go alongside this with the final part – the most moreish little fried potato dumplings. Not dissimilar to gnocchi, these little lovelies are soft and fluffy with a salty taste in the inside with a slight crunch on the outside where they’ve been fried  - they go particularly well with the sour cream based dip.

This is a great platter and with a bottle of crisp white wine, this makes for a very satisfying end of the working week lunch. 

If, like myself, you are greedy, which I suspect if you are reading this you may well be, then a dish to top this up would be some of the spectacularly good ‘pierogi’ – a Polish dumpling filled with cheese, potato and spring onion. I’ll be honest and say I haven’t tried these dumplings elsewhere before so have no yardstick to compare them to, however believe me they are to die for. Again a little crisp on the outside but filled with a soft, unctuous cheesy centre – these are certainly naughty, but very, very nice.

The platter costs £8.50 per person and one for 2 is enough for three people if you have the dumplings too. Recently when I visited, my friend and I selected the Porter Mill Station, 2012 Chenin Blanc Swartland and this worked well for us. We had change from £45 and went back to our Friday afternoon feeling full, content and ready for the weekend.

I’m not too familiar with Eastern European cooking so if any readers have any recommendations in London then please swing them my way as I am very keen to try more of those dumplings.

Baltic on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Monday, 21 January 2013

Jamie's Italian, Westfield Stratford City

A couple of weeks back my mum Vicky and I headed for a little retail therapy followed by a bite to eat at Westfield, Stratford. Now I'm not usually one for 'chain' restaurants, however my mum had recently eaten at Jamie's Italian with my brother during a frenzied Christmas shopping session, and was quite impressed so I thought, why not.

To start off we ordered the self proclaimed 'World's Best Olives' which were large, juicy green Italian ones, and were lovely and full of flavour. I wouldn't say they were the world's best, nor the best I've tried but I am biased and think nothing can beat a Kalamata olive. Along with the olives came a tasty tapenade and some fried crisps which are called 'music bread' here - all perfectly adequate and well worth the £3.75 price tag. 

We also tried the Pumpkin & Mozzarella Nachos, which were in fact, just little squares of the two combined, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried, served with an arrabiata sauce. These were a little bland alone, but improved slightly with the sauce - I probably wouldn't choose them again but they were perfectly edible. 

Finally as part of our antipasti we chose the Italian bread selection with some oil and balsamic vinegar. There were several different types of sliced bread in the little tin that this arrived in, all of which were good, but special mention must go to the rosemary foccacia which was like a little piece of heaven. Perfect soft in the middle, flavoured throughout with the rosemary and with a slightly crisp exterior and some sea salt for that added texture - perfection. 

For our main course we both selected a dish from the pasta menu. I actually had what my mum had enjoyed so much on her previous visit - the Seafood Bucatini. Or in other words, a selection of expertly flavoured seafood including clams, mussels, squid, scallops and crab combined with a thick spaghetti pasta and with the addition of chilli, garlic, some chopped tomatoes and a little white wine, all cooked together in a bag. This really was top notch, I'd say it is certainly the best dish I've had from any chain restaurant before. The basic sauce just proves that actually simplicity and real expert flavouring is everything with Italian cookery. My mum has already re-created this dish at home as she enjoyed it so much when she visited and I will be following suit too.

This time around, my mum opted for the Black Angel Spaghetti - squid ink pasta, coupled with scallops, capers, wine, garlic and chilli plus anchovies. Again this was a great dish - perfectly seasoned, good quality scallops and no complaints at all.

I also insisted on trying the Polenta Chips as they sounded so appealing on the menu. These were tasty, but probably a little too much with the starters we'd had and alongside pasta.

We washed the meal down with a white wine I'd never tried before but will be looking into purchasing for home consumption - a Trebbiano Garganego Del Veneto. A crisp, yet ever so light and refreshing wine that perfectly complemented the food and priced at only £15.95 I thought this was a bargain.

Service was good throughout the meal, although once the restaurant became quite busy, it did become a little slow, but the waiter who looked after us was knowledgeable and friendly and we weren't in any rush so this was good for us.

I was impressed overall with the meal and the venue which also includes a little deli style shop and was even more impressed when the bill arrived. We'd enjoyed two large and enjoyable courses plus wine and there was change from £50 which I really don't think you can grumble at. I would definitely eat there again and if you do go then do try the Seafood Bucatini, it really is a lovely dish. And do please share your thoughts if you have had a similarly good or otherwise experience at Jamie's Italian.

Jamie's Italian - Westfield - Stratford City on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A London Lunch No. 3: Roast Hobbs Meat, Borough Market

Another day, another London lunch spot to rave about – this time at lovely Borough Market. I could talk about a different stall or outlet there every day, as there are literally so many delicious things on offer throughout the week and on a Thursday through to Saturday it is literally buzzing with people and is a great lunch spot for either a lazy Saturday morning or afternoon of browsing, or a happy countdown to the weekend lunch, as is often the case.

One place that I can thoroughly recommend a lunchtime saviour is Roast Hobbs Meat in the Bedale Street archway of the market. They serve a multitude of mouth watering meats, all served in either a baguette or a bread roll, and this makes for a seriously good Thursday or Friday lunch.

My particular recommendation is their BBQ Pulled Pork served with coleslaw – it is just divine. Slowly cooked, pork, flavoured and nicely coated in seriously smoky BBQ sauce and with a homemade, crunchy and fresh coleslaw all compressed together in a fresh piece of bread of your choice – what is not to like.

Oh and once again, this lunchtime lovely will only set you back a mere £4, will taste a damn sight better and will be far more satisfying than a bog-standard Pret or Eat sandwich.


Hobbs Roast Meats on Urbanspoon

Friday, 4 January 2013

Duck & Waffle

I recently visited the much talked about Duck & Waffle, situated on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower in the heart of The City with three friends, Hannah, Leila and Mindy.

Having heard much about the place since it opened in the summer, I was itching to try out a few of the dishes for myself and get a load of the much-applauded view.

The first exciting thing to happen was the journey up to the restaurant in the high-speed elevator that has some seriously spectacular views over the financial district and beyond – it really did put me in mind of Charlie & The Great Glass Elevator and immediately the big kid in me was awoken.

You are welcomed into the bar area as you come out of the elevator, and even though it was only 6:30pm (the only time we could get a table!) and early in the week too, the bar was quite busy and had a great vibe. As I generally come home from anywhere in London via Liverpool Street station, I can see this being a regular watering hole on the way home!

We were shown to our table in the smart interior of the restaurant, and we immediately selected some mocktails (a combination of antibiotics, drivers and December hangovers prevented us from drinking). I had a Virgin Mary, which wasn’t on the menu but which was happily provided for me and was delicious with a fiery kick – perfect for the cold evening it was. 

Garlic & Rosemary Bread

The ‘All Day’ menu is separated into different sections, all aimed at being sharing dishes, and with lots of cheeky sounding, fun things on the menu. From the snacks menu I simply insisted on ordering the BBQ Spiced Pig Ears. From here we also chose the Rosemary & Garlic Bread and the retro sounding battered sausages. As suspected the pig ears were ridiculously good, tasting like pork scratchings, but less meaty – they were SO moreish and I literally couldn’t stop eating them until there was none left in the brown paper bag that they arrived in, complete with rubber, branded seal.

BBQ Spiced Pig Ears

The Rosemary & Garlic bread was tasty, the garlic was roasted beautifully sweet and the bread was topped with crunchy sea salt so made for a great flavour combination. The battered sausages were exactly that, although good quality, frankly I liked them as a schoolgirl for the naughtiness they represent, and they are still as good today, as a 28 year old.

From the ‘Cold Cuts’ section of the menu we simply selected the Rabbit Rillette that came on crunchy sourdough bread. This was lovely, meaty, juicy and exactly as a pâté should be – with the gentle flavours of a mild oniony chutney enhancing the delicate and sweet rabbit meat. A great dish.

Crab on Toast

We selected three more dishes, all from the ‘Small Plates’ section. I was quite keen to try the Spicy Ox Cheek Doughnut which comes with an apricot jam, but my friend Leila who’d visited before has said how she was under-whelmed by it previously so we omitted this one – but after reading another recent review, I will definitely be giving this a try next time (there will be a next time).

Instead we opted for the Hake and Haricot Beans, my old favourite – Crab on Toast, and Clams with Nduja. 

Rabbit Rillette

Regular readers will no-doubt notice a pattern between my being unable to resist crab on toast wherever it is on offer, and I’m unashamed of this fact – it is simple, delicious and a beautiful, beautiful thing when it’s done well, as it was, once again at Duck & Waffle.

The Hake and Haricot Bean casserole was for me, the one dud dish of the day. The Hake was ever so slightly over-done, but was flavoured well in a saffron-hinged sauce but the beans were so underdone to the point of being crunchy and just simply weren’t enjoyable – such a shame.

Hake & Haricot Beans
Our final dish, the Clams with Nduja was a triumph, served with a crunchy flat bread and a plentiful dish, the clams were seasoned well in a herby, Nduja flavoured broth – it really was a delight and mopping up the juices with the bread was a joy.

Clam with Nduja
All in all I would say the views at the Duck & Waffle are worth the visit up the great glass elevator alone for a drink, but the food is pretty bloody good too. Our waiter was attentive, friendly and knowledgeable helping us decide with drinks and food dishes too and the value for money was also good. We paid £104 (including service) for all of the above dishes, one gin, a round of mocktails plus water for the table and some olives which given the quality and the fun-factor I thought was really reasonable. Next time I go I want to try the Ox Cheek Doughnut for sure and something from the ‘Large Plates’ section of the menu – but the smaller plates option means you could pop in for lunch or a quick bite too, which is great.

Duck & Waffle really has a fun, almost child-like vibe and I can see this being a popular venue for city workers for a long time, the impressive views across London make it a great place to entertain clients, friends or even a date.

For once, one of these seriously talked about venues, truly has lived up to the hype.

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

A London Lunch No.2: Beigel Shop, Brick Lane

Another day, another London lunch recommendation – this time for under a fiver, and from the colourful East End location of Brick Lane.

The area, once-upon-a time, had a thriving Jewish community, and whilst today the local vicinity is far more multicultural with foods from almost every nationality available within a two mile radius, some lasting treasures remain.

Within two doors of each other along Brick Lane stand Beigel Shop and Beigel Bake a pair of Jewish bakeries selling a multitude of delicious pastries, challah bread, and of course the beigel, or bagel as it’s more commonly known.

What they both have in common on a typical week day lunchtime, is a queue out of the door, plus an almost intoxicatingly delicious aroma that seems to envelope your senses as you creep slowly towards the front of the line. I have no complaint with either, but for my bagel of choice, the classic salt beef, I rather think Beigel Shop has the edge.

Priced at around £4.50, the deliciously salty, juicy and melt-in-the mouth beef brisket filling is one of the most satisfying I have tried – and the low cost proves you don’t need to head to Mishkin’s or any of the other new trendy, and perhaps slightly overpriced venues to enjoy this traditional tasty treat.

The original accompaniments of mustard and sliced gherkins, are still, in my personal opinion, the best and having tried this type of beigel from many, many sources – the Beigel Shop is definitely up there as a must-try place. The salt beef is always piled in generously and it works as a particularly good hangover cure!

Beigel Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 3 January 2013

A London Lunch No.1: Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food

The first of this new series of brief London-lunch recommendations is Middle-Eastern Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food located in my favourite area of London, Soho. Down a small back street off of Brewer Street, the Green’s Court location is slightly off of the beaten, and well-heeled track of the well known roads of the area but it’ s well worth a visit.

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern cuisine, having read my thoughts on Kaslik and Kenza, both fantastic evening entertainment and cuisine however Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food is a great day time location, laid back, informal café style – it does exactly what is says on the tin and provides good quality, tasty street food – in short a perfect lunch spot.

I went with my brother Dan, recently one Saturday and we indulged in their ‘Lunchtime Mezze’ vegetarian dish which isn’t mentioned on their website, but which comprised a small plate of delicious items. Firstly was quite simply, the tastiest, most aromatically fragrant and melt in the mouth fabulous falafel I have ever tasted, a little tabboule salad, fresh and herby and zingy with lemon, some gorgeous hummous, a ‘warak enab’ or a stuffed vine leaf filled with chopped tomatoes, onion, rice, lemon and finely chopped parsley, a ‘manaaee’sh cheese’ a halloumi filled pastry fried and covered in sesame seeds and a ‘fatayer spinach’ a similarly fried pastry, this time filled with spinach, spring onions and toasted pine nuts.

All of this was fantastic, and for one person would be enough for lunch, especially as a complimentary basket of pitta bread, olives and pickles arrives for each table.

Being the greedy sorts we are, and also wanting to try more dishes, we also ordered a portion of baba ghanoush, which was fantastically smokey, puréed roasted aubergines flavoured with garlicky tahini and of course, more lemon juice – this for me is the taste of the Middle-East and again, this is probably the best I’ve tried.

We had one more dish from the mezze menu, the ‘makale samak’ a basket filled with deep fried calamari, tiger prawns, white bait, slices of aubergine and served with a spicy, yoghurt and mint dip – once again delicious.

This lunch-spot is definitely worth a look, and testament to that was the fact the place was packed with people waiting for a table in an area filled with foodie haunts. We got change back from £30 and we both had a home-made flavoured lemonade too to wash down the delicious food – if you like this style of food then Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food will be right up your street.

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon Square Meal