Monday, 29 July 2013

A London lunch: Albion, Boundary Street

Last week I had a short freelance position in the Shoreditch area and so was lucky enough to lunch with one of my very good PR friends, Hannah in the area. We had made plans to meet at Dishoom but when we arrived at the same time, Albion, was teeming with people dining al fresco in the glorious sunshine, and it looked so appealing we changed direction.

Part of the Boundary hotel and restaurant building, Albion is a Prescott & Conran design, and it shows. Pitted as a café, it is certainly a slicker operation that your average greasy spoon and every plate that rushed past us looked to contain something delicious.

As it was a fleeting lunch, we omitted the main menu in favour of something lighter – but I will certainly return to try some of the dishes, such as the fish pie, grilled mackerel with horseradish cream and pheasant and ham pie – all of which sound great.

Instead Hannah opted for the roast chicken, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich which she enjoyed immensely. It was in fact a huge sandwich and certainly worth the £6.00 price tag. The chicken was cooked perfectly and the thick, crusty bread, which was made on the premises was fantastic – Hannah couldn’t manage the whole sandwich, so I had a little bite just to be sociable.

I fancied something hot and when I saw someone else having the Welsh rarebit, I was sold. On the same thick-cut, bread as Hannah’s sandwich, my cheese on toast was absolutely gorgeous. More of a cheese sauce then the usual grated stuff, it was a mature Cheddar (I enquired) mulshed into a kind of roux and topped with Worcester sauce and a good helping of black pepper. Priced at only £4.75, I thought it was a snip.

A lovely light lunch, great, friendly service and a sociable and happy atmosphere – if you haven’t already been, check out the Albion for lunch or brunch, and whilst you’re there make sure you have a nose at the on-site bakery.

Albion at The Boundary Project on Urbanspoon


Back in March I popped into Koya in Frith St with my Dad for a mid-week dinner. It’s been on my list for a few years, and I was delighted to finally make it there. Although the likes of Bone Daddies and Tonkotsu are far more in vogue, I’ve been keen to try this stalwart of udon for ages and I’m glad I did. 

I ordered the Buta Miso with cold udon noodles which was super tasty. A flavourful, salty and smoky broth, that was absolute balm on this particular evening as it was freezing cold and raining outside. With pork mince, a savoury paste that I’d never experienced but really enjoyed, and some chopped spicy green chilli, and spring onions it was a really satisfying bowl of soup. I wasn’t as keen on the noodles to be honest. They were much thicker and dough-like in consistency than I was expecting – but I am going to give them a few more tries before disregarding them.

My Dad ordered the ‘Ten Curry Don Donburi’ or in other words prawn tempura with a curry sauce served over rice. This was delicious and moreish – in fact so moreish that we ended up ordering another, full portion of prawn tempura – fantastic. The curry was mild and creamy, the prawns juicy and succulent and coated in a crisp and flavourful light tempura batter.

We also ordered a special that was available that particular day – a lemon sole dish that was presented in a way I’ve never seen before and that was so, so clever and intricate, I would imagine it took great skill to prepare. The whole fish was served on a bed of shredded lettuce and with a wedge of lemon, and somehow the chef had managed to remove the entire skeleton of the fish, so the entire backbone was sticking out of the fish at a jaunty angle. Aside from looking impressive, the fish was superb. The fish had been fried and the crispy, skin on the outside was crunchy, salty and delicious, whilst the delicate white fish on the inside was cooked to perfection - light and flaky, with its almost gentle flavour.

We enjoyed a very satisfying meal in Koya which came in around the £70 mark and I would certainly return – but next I must try some of the other udon places that are now dotted all around London.

Koya on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Vicky's Special Seafood Stew

I have grown up with a love of food and drink that stems from my wonderful parents, Les and Vicky. Practically from birth, my two brothers and I were taken to different restaurants and were always encouraged to try absolutely everything. We were lucky enough to enjoy lots of holidays abroad in various parts of Europe and so all love experimenting with new dishes and styles of food.

We were never shy of seafood or shellfish, and with them both hailing from the East End of London, we often enjoyed ‘high tea’ on a Sunday afternoon – a feast of cockles, winkles, whelks, rollmops, prawns and an array of sandwiches, always, always cut into quarters or as my Mum calls them ‘dolly sandwiches.’

Both my Mum and Dad enjoy cooking and each have their signature dishes, which get brought out for special occasions, birthdays and the like, and on request when one of us has a craving. My Dad is known for his paella whereas my Mum’s seafood stew is her absolute signature – and it is legendary. 

The whole family enjoyed this dinner this afternoon for no other reason than it is a Sunday and we were all eating together. It occurred to me that in writing this blog since January 2010, I’ve never shared this wonderful recipe, which has been honed to perfection by my Mum over the years.

Originally found in a 1997 edition of ‘Best Ever Cook’s Collection, Farmhouse Cooking’ which incidentally has some fantastic recipes included, my Mum has experimented with lots of variations. For special occasions, this is made with lobster, but for a standard Sunday lunch, like today, we had langoustines in in place of the luxury crustacean. Monkfish works really well in this stew, being a little meatier than some white fish, it holds together better, but you really could use any fish. 

My mum’s addition to make this a little heartier is to serve over pasta. We’ve had linguine, spaghetti and vermicelli before but any would work, today we had pretty tripoline – the telephone wire looking ribbons.

So here is Vicky’s Special Seafood Stew:
·         12 Langoustines or a lobster if you’re feeling flush
·         24 fresh mussels
·         1 large monkfish tail or a cod fillet of about 300g
·         1 tbsp plain flour
·         225g squid
·         90ml olive oil
·         12 large raw prawns
·         450g tomatoes
·         2 large onions
·         4 garlic cloves
·         2 tbsp brandy
·         2 bay leaves
·         1 tbsp paprika
·         1 large red chilli
·         300ml fresh fish stock
·         3 tbsp ground almonds
·         2 tbsp parsley
·         Salt & Pepper
·         Pasta of your choice

Firstly scrub the mussels, and get rid of any that are open. Chop the monkfish into bite-size chunks..

Liberally season the flour and toss the monkfish and squid in it and then fry on a high heat in a drizzle of olive oil to sear for a minute or so and then set aside.

Fry the prawns and set aside with the squid and monkfish.

Peel the tomatoes (a tip is to put them into boiling water for 30 seconds-1 minute and then move into ice cold water to ease the skins off). Chop roughly. Chop the chilli (if you like a fiery kick leave the seeds in, but remove if you prefer a milder dish).

Dice the onions, crush the garlic and add to the pan (keeping back about 1 clove of crushed garlic). Allow to soften then add the brandy and set alight to flambé. When the flames have died down, add the tomatoes, chilli, bay leaves and paprika and pour over the fish stock. Gently bring to the boil, and then reduce and simmer for five minutes.

Add the mussels and langoustines to the sauce and cover, keeping on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Once the mussels have opened, remove them from the juice, and again get rid of any that haven’t opened.

Cook the pasta you’re using in a separate pot of water.

Make a flavourful paste to intensify the stew by blending the ground almonds, garlic and parsley with a good pinch of salt and pepper and stir into the sauce.

Finally return all of the fish and seafood to the stew pot and cook on a low heat for a further five minutes until hot through.

We always serve this at the table, but pile in the pasta first into a soup bowl and then ladle in the stew. Make sure you have some fresh, preferably crusty bread to dip in and soak up all of the fantastic flavours – you won’t be disappointed. I advise a glass of Rioja or a jug of sangria to go alongside. 

Afternoon Tea at Quince, The Mayfair Hotel

A birthday celebration

I can’t think of a finer way of celebrating a double birthday than by taking afternoon tea and a glass of fizz with good company. Back in April I did just that at Quince in The Mayfair Hotel for my boyfriend’s mum and sister’s birthday jaunt.

The Mayfair Hotel is plush and stylish throughout, and Quince is laid out in a salon style. We ordered a bottle of Prosecco as we arrived and enjoyed a glass in the bar area before moving to our table for the five of us.

We chose our various teas from the friendly and attentive waiter and these soon arrived with our two stands filled with loveliness.

Afternoon tea is such a classic tradition, so it was great to see Quince’s offering had a slightly modern twist in comparison to some of the places I’ve been to before. The layer of finger sandwiches for example, included salmon with cream cheese and chicken with avocado – traditional, but then a cheese with a spicy red pepper sauce and a smoky chorizo filling too, all of which were just lovely.

We each had an oh-so classic plain scone which came with the almost obligatory clotted cream and strawberry jam but also with an apricot chutney which was equally delicious. 

The sweet layer was absolutely beautiful to look at, and the taste matched the aesthetics. A tiny, delicate vanilla macaroon with chocolate cream, which was melt-in-the-mouth light, sat with a small portion of baklava – one of my absolute favourite sweet things. Both were fantastic. 

A little raspberry tartlet and a rich portion of unctuous, gooey chocolate cake completed the baked goods – I only managed a bite of the tart, which was once again excellent, but the chocolate cake was truly divine.

An additional sweet treat was included in the tea selection - a passion fruit panna cotta in a little shot glass. This was sweet but spiked with a lovely sharpness from the fruit – which almost worked as a refreshingly light palate cleanser – superb.

Our waiter really was a diamond – Claire, one of the birthday girls and the organiser, wasn’t keen on the chicken or salmon sandwiches as she doesn’t eat mayonnaise or cream cheese, and our waiter provided us with a few extra alternative sandwiches, at no extra cost, which was nice. But after ascertaining that it was a birthday celebration, as we paid the bill Claire and Tina were presented with a lovely little cake and a plate beautifully decorated with fruit and chocolate wishing them ‘Happy Birthday’ which was a really nice touch. 

We all received a little box of chocolates on leaving Quince too, which was a nice reminder to take home, and they certainly didn’t last long as they too, were exquisite.

Afternoon tea at Quince at The Mayfair Hotel is priced at £29.50 per person or you can go for the Champagne version for £41 and enjoy a glass of bubbles alongside your tea. We were quite content with another bottle of Jeio prosecco alongside our tea.

I would thoroughly recommend The Mayfair Hotel for afternoon tea – as well as fantastic service and great food, I think the price is quite competitive, especially given the standard.

A birthday celebration to remember – thanks to Claire for organising and here’s to our next celebration.

Quince on Urbanspoon

Forty Dean Street

I recently visited Forty Dean Street for the first time, mid-week with some fellow PR friends, Hannah and Mindy. We had designs on either Polpo or Burger Lobster but grumbling tummies and long queues put paid to that, so we decided to give Forty Dean Street a try. We spotted a board outside promoting their offer of two courses for £10.90 and decided to give that a try.
With three choices for each course, this meant we were able to try everything which suited us just fine.

I chose the melanzine parmigiana for my first course, which was superb. Slices of aubergine baked in a rich tomato sauce, with layers of oozing cheese (I would hazard a guess at a mild Cheddar) and sprinklings of strong, salty parmesan. With expert seasoning, this really did get my hopes up for the main event. 

Hannah’s first dish was also a triumph, squid and courgette fritto, deep fried, cooked perfectly and well- seasoned.  Mindy’s on the other hand wasn’t quite as nice. A large vegetable arancini – it was certainly edible, but a little on the dry side and quite salty too.

For the main course I chose spaghetti with pork meatballs. The sauce was a lovely spicy tomato event, but the meatballs weren’t the best to be honest. I bit into quite a bit of gristle which was unpleasant and they were dry and over-salted, so not great.

Mindy had selected a vegetable pasta, with a tomato based sauce and chopped courgettes throughout, quite a basic dish really, but very appetising all the same.

Hannah chose the chicken supreme which came in yet another tomato sauce (spot the theme) and was served over some creamy mashed potato. The potato was perfectly seasoned, and the sauce was good, but the chicken was a little bit overcooked and had lost some of its moisture which was a shame as it was an otherwise delicious plate of food.

I would certainly return to Forty Dean Street and try out dishes outside of the set menu as we saw some very tempting dishes being carried to other tables and I was impressed by the service – particularly when it came to paying the bill. It turned out that the board outside was promoting the lunchtime offering and the evening offer was slightly pricier at £16.50 for two courses, still good value in Soho, but when we queried this, the manager was happy to honour the £10.90 price and apologised for the confusion, which was good of them.

If Italian is your bag, then definitely give Forty Dean Street a try but I would advise against the meatballs.

Forty Dean Street on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Asian-inspired Fish

This is a healthy and frankly delicious way of preparing white fish. Sea bass is usually used when making this dish, bit recently I have taken to buying River Cobbler, it's an economical choice and I've picked up two fillets for £2.00 before, not only is it a frugal choice, it picks up the flavours beautifully.

Serve with some steamed or stir fried vegetables for a nourishing and tasty meal.

Here's how:

2x white fish fillets
3x spring onions
50g fresh ginger
1 red chilli
Small bunch fresh coriander
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime

Firstly place the fish fillets on some tin foil in an ovenproof dish on top of some foil. 

Drizzle over the soy sauce and rotate the fish so both sides are coated. Cut the spring onions in half then place on top of each fillet. 

Peel and slice the garlic and ginger and place on top of each. Then slice the chilli and do the same (if you don't like it too hot remove the seeds). Finally squeeze over the lime juice and add the coriander then pull the foil up and around the fish to protect it.

Place into the oven at 180 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and enjoy!

Cinnamon and Honey Baked Nectarines

This simple dessert is one of many ways to enjoy nectarines while they are at their best and takes only a minute to prepare - of course this would work just as well with peaches too.

Take 1 1/2 nectarines per person and cut into three rounds, place on some tinfoil in an ovenproof dish or a baking tray, flesh side upwards. 

Sprinkle over some ground cinnamon and then drizzle over a generous slathering of runny honey over each. 

Pull the foil up around the nectarines to preserve the juices from escaping during cooking and place into the oven at 180 degrees for around 35 minutes. 

Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a little creme fraiche and drizzle oven the juices left in the foil for a seriously tasty and light summer pudding. 

North African Spiced Pork

Pork chops, whilst being evocative of 1970's cuisine, are in fact a versatile, flavousome cut of meat and this spicy marinade makes for a delicious meal for two. Serve with some vegetable couscous, salad (tabbouleh works so well) and some fresh scattered mint leaves and wash down with a dry white - it's a flavour winner.

Here's how:

2 pork chops
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of half a lemon
1 1/2 preserved lemons chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, chopped finely
1 tsp harissa paste
1 tsp ground cinnamon or half a cinnamon stick crumbled
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
Bunch fresh torn mint and coriander leaves
2 tbsp olive oil

Simply combine all of the marinade ingredients in a food bag and throw the pork chops in. Seal and ensure the meat is completely immersed in the marinade.

If possible, leave in the fridge overnight to allow the flavours to permeate the meat, but if you are pushed for time, allow to stand for a couple of hours.

These can then be cooked over a barbecue (while the weather's glorious) or as I did here in the oven for about 40 minutes around 180 degrees. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Pork Souvlaki and Baked Feta

As regular readers will know I adore Greek food but struggle to find many decent, authentic restaurants serving Greek food around so when I get a craving for this type of food there are a few recipes I turn to for an instant mood boost. 

Prawn saganaki or youvetsi, stifado, briam, moussaka and beautiful gemistes or stuffed tomatoes or peppers are favourites but take a little effort. For mid-week Greek, my go-to is always souvlaki - fantastically flavoured skewers of pork or chicken that transport me immediately to the beautiful islands. 

Marinated overnight, the accompaniments can be flung together while the meat cooks. Here I've served with Greek Salad, pitta and homemade tzatziki as well as baked feta or as my Greek friends call it, 'feta in the oven.' 

This recipe makes a meal for two or three and some delicious leftovers for lunch the next day.

For the souvlaki:
350g pork loin steaks
150ml extra virgin olive oil (you can just use olive oil but I prefer the pepperiness from the extra virgin)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 large tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tbsp dried thyme

I use pork loin steaks but almost any cut could be used here. Chop the pork into equal cubes and place into a bowl or a food bag and cover with the olive oil.

Add the remaining marinade ingredients, stir and cover and place in the fridge either overnight or for at least 2-3 hours..

Remove from the fridge and allow the pork to come back down to room temperature while you assemble the simple Baked Feta dish for which you will need the following:

1/4 block of feta
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green or yellow pepper
1 1/2 tsp runny honey - preferably Greek
1 heaped tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees. Slice the peppers longways and place into a small, oven-proof dish. 

Slice the small block of feta into similar size and shape as the peppers and pop into the dish. Season with black pepper and if you wish, a small pinch of salt - I omit from using the salt as feta is quite a salty cheese. 

Sprinkle over the paprika and then drizzle over the runny honey and place into the oven for 30 minutes.

Getting back to the souvlaki - if you have some, place the meat on skewers. You can easily make without the skewers though so don't worry. If cooking inside, the grill is preferable. I tend to cover the grill with a sheet of tin foil and then place the souvlaki on top and cook for about ten minutes on the medium setting, watching and turning as needed.

While the souvlaki is cooking you can throw together your Greek Salad and Tzatziki and either place your pitta into the grill too or gently toast.

I do hope these recipes are useful to some readers - they certainly bring me comfort when I'm craving Greek food and on that note if anybody knows of any good Greek restaurants, please do share - enjoy!

Perfect Greek Salad

In my humble opinion a Greek salad is one of the best possible salads you can have and throughout the summer months it's a mainstay in my kitchen. Made for barbecues, to go alongside a roast chicken instead of the usual wintry accompaniments or just made up for a great lunchbox with pitta and some Tzatziki

Here is my version of the ultimate Greek salad.

Lettuce leaves of your choice (I tend to use iceberg)
Handful of cherry tomatoes
Half a cucumber
1 red onion
1/2 large red and green pepper or 1 small one of each
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Kalamata Olives
Half block of feta cheese
Generous drizzle of Greek olive oil
2tbsp dried oregano
Sprinkling of black pepper

Wash the lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, celery and dry off with some kitchen roll or a clean tea towel. Shred the lettuce and add to a bowl. Chop the peppers, and cucumber and slice the onion and throw into the bowl and throw the olives in too. 

Tear off the leaves of a small bunch of coriander and add to the bowl. Drizzle olive oil over and the juice of the lemon and give a good shake.  

Finally slice the feta into large oblongs or if you prefer, cubes and place on top of the salad. Drizzle over a final flourish of olive oil and toss over the oregano and enjoy!


There are many varieties of tzatziki out there - but this is the fail-safe recipe I use time and time again which complements a variety of Greek dishes and which goes down a storm each and every time.

Combine 200g Greek natural yoghurt with a quarter of a cucumber finely grated, 1 large clove of garlic, crushed and about a tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves and stir through - simple but fantastic.

Greek Briam - Glorious Summer Vegetable Stew

Briam is a wonderful Greek vegetable stew that can be adapted according to what's in season - or in the larder. It's a great vegetarian main course that takes very little preparation but tastes fabulous and is economical too.

I've experimented with recipes from several online sources as well as one from The Food and Cooking of Greece - a wonderful book which gives lots of information about ingredients used in Greek cookery and the history and origin of many dishes. With a little trial and error, the below recipe is the one I believe most resembles the delectable dish I associate with my beloved Corfu and glorious hot summer nights. 

This will serve four people with rice and some fresh, crusty bread. 

Here's how:

200g peeled potatoes
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Handful fresh cherry tomatoes
1 courgette
1 onion
1 green pepper
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 bay leaf
1tbsp dried oregano
1tsp sea salt
Pinch of peppercorns
1/2 glass of red wine 
Couple strands of celery
1/2 pint of vegetable stock

Firstly peel the potatoes and chop into small cubes, rinse then parboil. 

In the meantime slice the onions and garlic and add to a deep casserole dish. Halve the courgette and then halve again and chop into equal discs about the thickness of a pound coin and throw into the dish.

Cut the pepper into similar sized chunks as the courgette and cut the tomatoes in half and add both. 

Peel the carrot and chop into fine oblongs. Chop the celery and add both to the casserole dish.

Add the tin of tomatoes, the drained potatoes (drain when you can pierce the flesh with a fork easily) and the red wine.

Add the bay leaf, seasoning and oregano and pour over the vegetable stock and 2 tbsp olive oil and give a good stir. Place the lid on and pop into the oven for 2.5 hours at around 150-160 degrees. Remove the lid for the last 30 minutes of cooking and stir every 40 minutes or so. 

Creamy Mushrooms on Toast - Brunch Dish For Two

This is a lovely weekend brunch or lunch dish improved when you can get hold of a glut of delicious wild mushrooms. I crave this though and sometimes supermarket fungi just has to suffice, in fact with a mixture of mushrooms, it's still gorgeous. A great alternative to bacon and eggs and fab with some fresh orange juice or better still a Bloody Mary cocktail.

Here's how:

Drizzle olive oil
1 small red onion
1 large clove of garlic
150g mushrooms (a mixture of any)~
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
3tbsp creme fraiche
2 ciabatta rolls or a ciabatta loaf sliced in half

Slice the red onion finely and crush the garlic and add to a frying pan with a generous glug of olive oil and place on a low heat.

Cut the ciabatta in half, drizzle a little olive oil over and place onto a griddle pan on a low heat. Alternatively you can grill or even toast.

Slice the mushrooms and set aside.

Once the onions are softened, add the balsamic vinegar to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook for 3-4 minutes longer then add the mushrooms to the pan. 

Allow to cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms have softened slightly then add the creme fraiche, a pinch of salt and a generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, stir through and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.

Remove the ciabatta and place on a plate and spoon over the mushroom mixture. Add some freshly chopped parsley and enjoy.