Thursday, 21 March 2013

A London Lunch No.8: Rare Str'eat Burgito, Borough Market

For the past eight months I’ve been working within skipping distance of Borough Market and have enjoyed a flurry of fantastic lunchtime eats.

A new favourite is the fantastic Burgito, from Rare Str-eat, a new company that describes itself as ‘gourmet food on the go’. If the burgito is anything to go by, they have achieved just that.

With an approach championing high quality ingredients, combined with a fun take on British food, the burgito is as it sounds, a combination of a burger and a burrito – two wonderful things.  

Piled onto a tortilla wrap sits three delicious burger patties made with rare-breed Galloway beef, a little green leaf salad, a homemade, tangy and warm tomato relish, various pickled gherkin and the ingenious addition of Comte cheese (surely one of the finest things in life). Fried, sweet caramelised onions and a slathering of sweet mustard complete this concoction before it is rolled up to make the ‘ito’ part of this dish.

To say it is good would be an understatement. Not only is this a clever take on two food items that London seems to be obsessive about at the moment, but it is delivered so well, and with such friendly service. I predict Rare Str’eat will be around for some time.

Located in the ‘Green Market’ area of Borough Market, you can pick up a Rare Str’eat burgito for a mere £5.00.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


L’Anima is one of those seriously slick operations that everybody should try once. 

Francesco Mazzei’s menu, a modern twist on classic Italian, is alone, enough to guarantee your return. Combined with the stylish interior, top-notch service and piano lounge with regular live singers it’s not hard to see why this place always seems busy.

I visited recently with the boy on a Saturday evening, it was freezing cold and we didn’t fancy heading out too far and after a Google search or two, I discovered L’Anima’s ‘Prezzo Fisso’ set menu, £35 for three courses, we were sold.

Located just behind Liverpool Street station in the heart of the square mile, L’Anima is a huge glass fronted building, and considering its city location, it had a serious buzz for a weekend.

We ordered a bottle of the house Champagne (£60) and mulled over our choices. A basket of fresh, Italian bread was delivered, a few types included, all delicious, but none more so than a gloriously salty rosemary scented focaccia.

The set menu we chose from had just three options per course, which made for easier decision-making. 

Glen ordered the Seafood Spaghetti starter option whilst I opted for the Smoked Veal Carpaccio. The spaghetti was in a light tomato sauce with a strong and fiery chilli flavour and amongst the sea creatures included, were clams, mussels and the odd prawn. The portion was perfectly sized for a first course and it really packed a punch. It was the kind of starter that leaves you wanting more. 

The veal carpaccio was equally good. When I have enjoyed beef or fish carpaccio previously, the slices of flesh have been cut far thinner, however this chunkier version was simply delicious, the meat melted in the mouth and was expertly seasoned. With slithers of chestnuts and parmesan topping the dish and a few dark leaves, this was a gorgeous plate of food in every sense of the word.

For the main event, I opted for the Monkfish Gauzetto – basically a piece of monkfish stewed in a tomato, olive and caper sauce which was divine. If I were being incredibly picky, I might have preferred the fish cooked slightly less, but it didn’t really impact on the flavour, it was a dish I would return for with sublime flavours. Quite a strong garlic hum powered the stew, and it is once again, a dish I will be trying to emulate in my own kitchen (perhaps with chicken thighs, or pork cheeks). 

Glen chose the three meat cannelloni, which was a beautifully presented plate. Served on slate, was a slathering of rich, tomato sauce, topped with a creamy cheese sauce and completed with three tubes of fresh pasta filled with a delicious combination of meats. We never did get to the bottom of which meats were included, and as this was a fairly small portion for Glen, I was only allowed a small bite – however I would hazard a guess at pork, beef and rabbit (no horsemeat here). This was yet another fantastic, faultless dish. 

We also had a couple of sides to make up the meal a little, some roasted potatoes with peppers and char grilled vegetables – both good.  

For my dessert I had a vanilla panna cotta, which was soaked in grappa and sprinkled with pomegranate jewels – very pretty to look at, and a lovely refreshing pudding.

The absolute dish of the day though, without fail, had to be Glen’s Monte Bianco – this was quite frankly a triumph. Stunning to look at, and even better to taste, the meringue of pureed chestnuts was in a little structure, held together by fresh cream, and positioned in some rich, dark and utterly irresistible chocolate sauce. Chocolate nibs were scattered around the plate, and a scoop of chestnut ice cream was positioned with two little caramel balls of deliciousness. This was just marvellous, in every way. 

L’Anima’s Menu Prezzo Fisso to me, represents fine-dining at a much more affordable price. The evening we had set us back around the £160 mark, but we enjoyed three amazing courses each, a bottle of Champagne and a live soul singer to boot, in stylish surroundings, what more could a girl want on a Saturday night?

L'Anima on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A London Lunch No. 7: Dim Sum at Young Chen, Lisle Street

Dim sum for lunch makes me happy, very happy indeed.

My Grandad on my Dad’s side hailed from Hong Kong, so certain delicious Chinese delights, such as Char Siu Bao, remind me of my first tastes of dim sum, and offer the same kind of comfort food nourishment to me as macaroni cheese or my favourite, Pie & Mash.

I like to think of dim sum as the Chinese version of ‘afternoon tea’, as I only ever enjoy after 12pm, however traditionally, I believe this is served all day, and of course with the accompaniment of Chinese herbal tea. Not a massive fan of herby teas, I usually wash my dim sum down with a bottle of two of Tsintao, probably the most well known Chinese beer.

Many of the restaurants around Chinatown in Soho get a bad press, but actually there are a few real jewels, and frankly I blame sheer snobbery for people shunning the ‘dutty’ looking venues in favour of more fine dining style Chinese. Dim sum doesn’t need to be gourmet or artisan, so here is a lunch recommendation for one of my favourites, Young Chen on Lisle Street.

Probably the most well known dish, Siu Mai, are the little pork and prawn dumplings topped with bright orange cod roe gems. An odd looking little dish of steamed parcels, there is a reason they are so commonly known, they are absolutely delicious, and the Young Chen varieties always leave you wanting more. The always have a mixed texture inside, minced pork, chopped up pieces of prawn and a flavourful bite from spring onion – they are a must order at any dim sum venue.

One of my favourite dishes, has to be King Prawn Cheung Fun, not least because it includes my surname. Again, this isn’t the most beautiful or inviting plate of food, however the cannelloni-like rice noodle wrappers, filled with deliciously fresh, large meaty prawns and sitting in a pool of sticky, salty soy sauce can bring such a joyful sensation to the mouth. Like many dishes served as dim sum, Cheung Fun has a sweetness to it and for me, it is a truly addictive plate of food.

Ha Gau, the other well-known dumpling, are another favourite – shaped like a sea shell, the original are filled, again with prawns and are quite simply fantastic little bites of joy. But do try other varieties too, such as those with chives.

I cannot order dim sum, no matter how many are in my company, whether one or ten, without ordering one of my favourite things in the world – squid cakes. I don’t know the Chinese name for these sadly, but they are fabulous patties made up of squid, fiery chilly, garlic and ginger and the herb that frankly improves most things to my mind, coriander. I didn’t take a photo on my last visit, despite knowing I would be writing about them, as I literally inhale as soon as they arrive.

If you like Char Siu Bao, or indeed deliciously sweet char siu, or the sweet BBQ pork of Chinese restaurants, then you will probably like what I call Char Siu Pastries. Little mini pies of slightly greasy flaky pastry filled with the delicious barbecued meat and topped with sesame seeds – they are to die for. The element of grease is particularly good if you have been on the sauce the night before too. 

These are probably the dishes I most often order and enjoy when having dim sum, but there are tons of others that often make up the selection, such as fried chickens feet (yes really), turnip paste and lots of other dumplings. If I go with a crowd, normally my family, then we might be likely to order Beef Ho Fun – flat, delicious fried noodles topped with tender beef in a black bean sauce, or crispy noodles with seafood to bulk up the order too.

One thing that I must mention, is the simple, but incredibly delicious dessert of dim sum – the egg custard tarts. An alarmingly yellow hued custard centre surrounded by sweet, flaky pastry these are an absolute must if you have a sweet tooth like me. 

Dim sum can vary in cost depending on how many of you there are and how hungry you are. But if you go in a two to Young Chen and order 4-5 dishes of the above you could expect change from £40 so it’s a reasonably, yet very enjoyable food experience.

Young Cheng on Urbanspoon 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A London Lunch No 6: Hummus Bros, Soho

As regular readers will know, Soho is my general stomping ground, whether work related or otherwise. The area is undoubtedly my favourite part of London, and some of my preferred eateries, not to mention watering holes, exist in this area.

Wardour Street is host to numerous delights and for a delicious and filling lunch I can thoroughly recommend Hummos Bros.

Open since 2005, it pretty much does what it says on the tin and makes bloody good hummus, with a seriously impressive selection of toppings.

My absolute favourite is to have the ‘chunky beef with tzatziki’. This is casseroled, large pieces of beef cooked in a rich stew-like sauce and each time I’ve had this I’ve been in heaven. The meat has been mouth-wateringly tender and falls apart. The beef sits on a bed of the delicious hummus, here it is rather smooth, although not as smooth as commercially produced packet hummus. It has that wonderful garlic hum, without being over powering. Two pitta bread pockets come alongside in a regular dish and all priced at £7.65 – a bargain.

I can never stick to one dish, especially when they are as flavourful and moreish as they are here, so I generally grab either the tabbouleh salad, or if I’m hungover and in need of stodge, the falafel salad – both of which are flavoured with my favourite herb, coriander which just makes everything taste incredibly fresh and, at least to me, delicious.

Although I am often a creature of habit, ordering the same dish when I return to restaurants, I feel almost smug in the fact I can also suggest the chicken, guacamole and mushroom version of the hummus topper, as I have also eaten and enjoyed all of these.  

The concept here is simple and it works. To me, this just proves that a simple menu can work well if you perfect the dishes on there and don’t deviate too much or try to over complicate.

If you’re a lover of hummus, don’t delay, head to Hummus Bros.   

Hummus Bros on Urbanspoon

Monday, 4 March 2013

A London Lunch No5: Byron Burger

Having worked in the West End extensively over the past few years, there are several lunch spots that I would describe as the perfect hangover go-to. Byron is most certainly a contender.

I have eaten in several Byron outlets, for there are 28 here in London alone, but my favourite is the brightly hued one on the Charring Cross Road in Soho.

If you are a Byron virgin, then my recommendation is to simply go for the signature Byron Burger. A medium cooked, pink beef burger (no horsemeat here) topped with smoky bacon, Cheddar, lettuce, sliced red onions and tomato and a little relish - it has made me happy as an egg on more than one occasion.

Priced modestly at £9.25 for a decent sized burger, it’s a beauty in a bun. You can add your own choice of toppings and or sauces as you wish and I tend to add on some avocado as it is such a natural bedfellow with bacon and together with everything else it just makes a wonderful, meaty burger full of contrasting textures and complementing flavours, all contained in a fluffy bun and with a very good ratio of burger to bun – none of this biting in and getting a mouthful of bread and nothing else.

I recommend sharing a couple of sides so as not to miss out - the French fries and onion rings are both well worth a try, they have that almost dirty level of grease without making you feel disgusted with yourself after eating them.

Even if you’re a vegetarian there is a very good burger option on the menu for you – the adventurously titled ‘Veggie’. This is a grilled huge Portobello mushroom, unctuous goat’s cheese, roasted red peppers, sliced tomato, spinach leaves, red onion and deliciously garlicy aioli. Having several vegetarian friends I have had a bite of this on a few separate visits, each time being very good – however for me, this is no substitute for a meaty hamburger.

If you’re in a particularly naughty mood then I can 100% vouch for the chocolate milkshake – it is an indulgence and not to be undertaken unless having a light meal as will fill you up!

Each restaurant has it’s own ‘personality’ and style, and the Charring Cross Road Byron has the look of an all-American diner, and the menu matches the look. I have only ever experienced excellent, helpful and smiley service, which makes me think the recruitment process is also good here.

There are seven burgers on offer as well as a choice of salads and I’m slowly making my way through the menu – so far I haven’t been disappointed.

Expect to spend up to £20 for a burger with sides and a drink.

Byron on Urbanspoon

Friday, 1 March 2013


Even before its’ opening last year, Bubbledogs was surrounded by a flurry of media hype. I’ve been meaning to go for a while and recently made it with a group of ladies who I’ve been working with, including the lovely Sarah of Little Lady Eats. We found that going en masse is a sneaky rue to avoid the tell-tale queues up the street – that’s right folks, you can book a table at Bubbledogs, you just have to be in a group. We had booked a couple of months in advance mind, but nevertheless, we were in.

Situated on sophisticated Charlotte Street, the whole concept of Bubbledogs is a clever one – Champagne combined with ever-so-trendy hotdogs, very now, very New York.

Eight made up our group and we were spread over two high tables on stools, towards the back – towards the much-lauded ‘Chef’s Table.’ We strutted immediately past the relatively long queue and found a rather narrow, wooden interior that immediately put me in mind of a ski lodge. The walls were adorned with drawings of dogs, which some in our group found cute, and I could see the connection, but being unmoved by animals as I am (unless eating them of course), I could take them or leave them.

As it was a mid-week work treat and not an extravagant evening, we ordered a couple of bottles of the house Prosecco, which was excellent and priced at £32 a bottle. The helpful waiter also explained that this was cloudier in appearance that other sparkling wines and had less fizz due to its’ preparation being different – I was impressed with the knowledge. After a quick toast amongst our number at making it through January, the single most depressing month, we moved on to the food. `

In what our group deemed as a rather hostile move by our, up until this point jolly group, the waiter informed us after we’d ordered that we would be required to ‘vacate the table’ at 8:30pm – precisely an hour and a half after we’d arrived. Never a fan of this style of time-managed dining, it was even more infuriating that there had been absolutely no mention of this when booking, or even on our arrival nearly thirty minutes prior. It did sour the mood a little, but hotdogs are obviously not going to take long to prepare so it was actually a notion that would and should’ve been left unsaid, but there you have it.

So naturally, Little Lady Eats and I were keen to try as much as possible so we ordered a different dog each and split them in order to try two each – a Sloppy Joe (chilli dog) and a Swedish Viking which was the special that evening, we both opted for the pork ‘dog.

The Swedish Viking was actually a great combination of pickled cucumber, sweet mustard, crispy fried onions and ketchup. The only disappointment was the actual sausage, which was of questionable quality. Don’t get me wrong, the hotdogs are reasonably enough priced, given the location at under £10 a pop, however bland, rubbery meat was the standard in our dogs and I thought it could have been better. When I was in Stockholm a couple of years back with six friends we enjoyed a hotdog or two when inebriated from the numerous street sellers which were priced at around £1-2 and frankly the meat was better there.

The Sloppy Joe was a ‘chilli dog’. Now Sarah and I were both expecting chillies or a chilli sauce in there, which is obviously down to our own lack of dog-knowledge – what we were instead greeted with, was a chilli con carne topping. Once again the meat of the chilli was of poor quality, the flavour was hiding in the overcooked, almost crusty meat and it was frankly a disappointment.

Aside from the dogs we had ordered one each of the sides on offer for each of our two tables. The standout side, in fact the tastiest thing I had that evening, was the sweet potato fries. These were soft, fluffy and sweet in the centre but crispy, perfectly seasoned and delicious on the outside. They were served with an absolutely to-die for truffle mayonnaise, and though the dish was a simple one it was completed elevated by the gourmet accompaniment.

The other two sides were incredibly average – a coleslaw that was perfectly edible, but nothing to write home about and a portion of ‘Tots’. I was fairly excited to try the tots as I remember an episode of Friends where Joey mentions them, but found they were in fact, a combination of a potato rosti and a croquette – very school dinner, very unappetising.

Given the hype around the opening, I was always going to try out Bubbledogs for myself, and now I’ve been, I’m unlikely to return – however I’m still glad to have given it a whirl. The reasonably priced menu cannot be denied and there’s certainly no hiding the fact that here in London, there is a huge appetite for conceptual restaurants like Bubbledogs. The long queues along Charlotte Street suggest this will remain a ‘hotspot’ for some time yet, but for me Bubbledogs just didn’t live up to it’s hype and from now on I’d rather spend my money on restaurants that rely on the food to guarantee repeat customers rather than a quirky concept.

Bubbledogs on Urbanspoon Square Meal