Sunday, 25 November 2012

Lantana, Fitzrovia

Lantana, tucked away on Charlotte Place just off Goodge Street, takes its name from the flowering weed common to Australia, and has brought a little piece of the Antipodean brunch scene to London since opening in 2008.  With a focus on great coffee, including the now ubiquitous Australian & New Zealand export of the flat white, and a relaxed menu, the small café was packed on a chilly Sunday afternoon.

The brunch menu is full of tasty sounding dishes – the cinnamon French toast with blueberry compote, honey ricotta and almonds on the next table looked deliciously fruity, but we went for a couple of the savoury options.  My corn fritters worked well with the salty streaky bacon, spinach, flavoursome and juicy slow-roast tomatoes and cool avocado salsa and crème fraiche.

M went for grilled halloumi with more slow-roast tomatoes, poached eggs, houmous, toasted Turkish bread and dukkah (an Egyptian nut and seed sprinkling) – all parts were cooked well, especially the golden cheese and flaky soft bread, but there was little too much going on (we decided there wasn’t a place for cheese, eggs and houmous on the plate together).

The bill came to £27 including service, with a good latte and lovely infusion of fresh lemon, ginger and honey.  The baked goods also looked fabulous – little buttery friands sprinkled with poppy seeds, nutty blondies and a chocolate slice filled with a gorgeous cerise cherry filling.  The place is a little cramped and service started off a bit brusque, but some really interesting brunch dishes.  Along with weekend brunch, Lantana also serves breakfast and lunch Monday to Friday, and has a takeaway shop next door called Lantana Out – it’s just a shame my office isn’t a little closer.

Lantana on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Spiced Roasted Pears & Ricotta Pancakes

Sunday brunch is my favourite meal of the week – it’s the perfect opportunity to spend a little more time and effort making something delicious on a lazy morning.  After whiling away an hour photographing the golden pear at the top of my blog a few weeks ago (an Ottolenghi recipe in the new Jerusalem book, which is poached in saffron, cardamon and white wine), I thought I’d treat my lovely housemates to a pear brunch recipe this morning.

I roasted the pears with fragrant cardamon, nutmeg and vanilla, leaving them juicy and sticky, and served with fluffy, light ricotta pancakes and greek yoghurt.  The pancakes are great with any fruity topping - poached plums with cinnamon, stewed apple with raisins or fresh blueberries and raspberries all work really well.  They are also fabulous sprinkled with pecan nuts and drenched in maple syrup.

Spiced Roasted Pears
4 pears
50g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
Freshly grated nutmeg
5 cardamon pods (lightly crushed)
Couple of knobs of butter

Ricotta Pancakes
250g ricotta
3 eggs (separated)
50g caster sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter (plus more for cooking)
100g plain flour

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180c (160c fan oven).
  • Peel, quarter and core the pears, and mix with the 50g sugar, vanilla paste, nutmeg and cardamon pods in a baking dish – dot with a couple of knobs of butter, and roast in the pre-heated oven for half an hour until just tender (adjust the cooking time depending on the ripeness of your pears).
  • For the pancakes, mix together the egg yolks, ricotta and 50g sugar until combined.  Mix in the melted butter, then sift and gently stir in the flour.  In a separate bowl whisk together the egg whites until stiff, then carefully fold into the rest of the batter.
  • Warm a non-stick pan over a medium heat with a little butter, and dot heaped tablespoons of the batter in the pan.  Leave the pancakes to cook for a couple of minutes, then flip over when lightly risen and golden underneath.
  • Cook until golden on the other side, and then serve with the warm roasted pears (remove the cardamon pods first) and some greek yoghurt or crème fraiche on the side.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Colbert, Chelsea

Chefs are always on the lookout for critics, and even bloggers, but sometimes they should maybe look a little closer to home - Oriel on Sloane Square allegedly closed (according to some newspapers and websites) as the landlord Earl Cadogan of Cadogan Estates had a bad meal there and subsequently refused to renew the lease.  Hopefully he likes the replacement Colbert a little more, the third restaurant from The Wolseley and The Delaunay’s Jeremy King and Chris Corbin.   

Colbert is very much of the same grand European café style, with a distinctly Parisian feel with its brass, marble topped bar and leather booths.  They serve breakfast from 8am until midday, with the menu from midday featuring croques and sandwiches, salads, viennoiserie and crustaceans and caviar (the couple next to us were tucking into two tins of caviar for their brunch - I'm pretty sure this only happens in Chelsea). 

We went for Sunday brunch and chose from the eggs section – the scrambled eggs were soft, rich and generous with smoked salmon (£8.50), and the eggs benedict had a perfectly poached egg and buttery hollandaise (£7 for the small).  A lovely spot for a relaxed brunch in polished surroundings.

Colbert on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Bone Daddies & Gelupo, Soho

Bone Daddies is not your typical Japanese restaurant name, and this new ramen noodle bar on Peter Street in Soho is definitely a step away from other Japanese restaurants in London.  The tongue in cheek name is in reference to the bones used to create ramen broth, and was chosen by the Australian ex-Zuma chef Ross Shonhan to reflect the fact he is not your traditional Japanese chef.

Outside (courtesy of Bone Daddies Twitter)
The ramen craze in Japan and New York seems to have taken hold over here, with places like Tonkotsu (just up the road on Dean Street) and Bone Daddies serving it up.  Ramen is a noodle dish with broth made from either pork, chicken or fish bones, but with no standardised version and ingredients differing from region to region. 

The menu at Bone Daddies includes 8 different types of ramen, and snacks such as sashimi, fried chicken, pickles and soft shell crab.  We started with some glasses of cava (£4 each) and were lucky to benefit from a kitchen mix-up that meant they had some spare edamame (£3.50) and fried chicken (£5) for us to try.  The edamame were fresh and salty, and the fried chicken had a great crunchy coating for the juicy meat, and was given high praise from the fried chicken expert among us.

Sweet 3 Miso Ramen

Tonkotsu Ramen
Between us we went for a bowl of the Sweet 3 Miso Ramen, and two bowls of the Tonkotsu Ramen – all 8 ramen include noodles, crunchy beansprouts, bamboo shoots and gooey-yolked soy soaked eggs.  The sweet miso version was tasty with a flavoursome chicken bone miso broth and tender chicken, wakame seaweed, corn and butter – this was good, but was overshadowed by the tonkotsu.  The tonkotsu was topped with sliced chosu pork (melting, fatty, barbecued pork) and spring onions, and the 20 hour pork bone broth was intensely savoury, porky, rich and utterly delicious, and shows what amazing stocks can be produced through the careful slow cooking of often thrown away bones.  You can add toppings to the ramen including a pipette of extra fat for 50p, but this would have been a step too far for me (although I have heard people raving about this rich addition).

The ramen range from £8-11, so an affordable, filling and satisfying bowl of great comfort food.  The service was relaxed and friendly, and I really liked the minimal décor and rock and roll music.  Bone Daddies is something a little different, and I will definitely be back for another bowl of ramen soon to escape the chilly streets of Soho this winter.

We carried on our gluttony nearby at Gelupo on Archer Street, the artisan gelato shop from the people behind Bocca di Lupo opposite.  The gelato is all made on the premises from great ingredients, which results in stunning, and often unusual flavours.  

Coconut & Chocolate Sorbet
We started with some wonderfully textured coconut sorbet and the bitter chocolate sorbet, which has an intense but clean cocoa flavour (it’s dairy free too so feels a little more virtuous).  One pot led to many, with rich hazelnut ice-cream, a boozy Christmas pudding flavour (spiced ice-cream studded with brandy-soaked raisins), fresh pear sorbet, and finally jammy blackberry sorbet. 

Gelupo is my favourite spot for ice-cream – they let you try the flavours before you choose, and with small pots or cones starting at £3, one of the most delicious things you can get with change left from a fiver.

Bone Daddies on Urbanspoon

Gelupo on Urbanspoon

Friday, 9 November 2012

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack, Fitzrovia

With all the trends for meaty feasts and dirty American food at the moment, it seems that the poor British seaside and its seafood have been a little forgotten.  Bonnie Gull is setting this right – following on from pop-ups in Hackney & London Bridge, they have now set up permanent home on Foley Street (on the site that used to house Back to Basics, another fish restaurant).

The room is small (and slightly cramped) with fun yet tasteful seaside décor – all white wash, checked tablecloths and a clever rope wall. Their approach is all about accessible, affordable, responsibly sourced and 100% British seafood – the menu changes depending on what seafood is good that day, and I loved the touch of the blackboard map of the UK on the wall with the catches of the day chalked up.

We started with some interesting unfiltered prosecco (fresh and cloudy, with less fizz than usual), and some beautifully fresh and shiny oysters – the Portland Pearl AAA oysters (meatier and darker in colour) were the best (£2.50 each).  I’ll try the cocktails next time as they sounded intriguing (maybe not convinced on their beetroot take on the Sidecar), many served with a fishy garnish on the side.

From the starters the mussels (£7) were really plump with a lovely, if a little over-salty, bacon, cider and crème fraiche sauce and hunk of bread on the side.  The other starter of smoked rainbow trout with beetroot, potato pancake and horseradish (£7) had a great balance of flavours, but could have done with a little more trout.

We all went for the whole Devon cock crab (£18), which came resplendent on its board, with the brown meat mixed with their ‘shack mayo’ in the shell, and really sweet white meat to pick out of the claws.  This was served with charred white sourdough and a little salad of leaves and the great crunchy, salty addition of samphire.  The chips on the side were excellent – the chunky beef dripping version were wonderfully savoury and fluffy in the middle, and the skinny fries a great match with their rosemary salt.

We just shared one dessert of poached William’s pear in mulled wine with clotted cream (£5), which was juicy and tender and worked well in the spicy booze, although could have benefited from a little longer poaching for the flavour to work its way through the whole pear.

Overall, I was really impressed by Bonnie Gull – the team are clearly very passionate about British seafood, and their wonderful ingredients are handled with care.  There is also a little of the saucy British seaside humour (we sniggered at the toilet signs that replaced ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ with ‘Winkles’ & ‘Clams’), but all pulled off with a modern, fresh and polished approach - definitely the nearest thing to being beside the seaside in central London.

Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack on Urbanspoon

Duck & Waffle, The City

Entering Duck & Waffle is a little special – you use a separate door at the bottom of Heron Tower (just down the road from Liverpool St Station), and then shoot up 40 floors in the glass-sided lift to the top of the building, with The City shrinking below you.  Perhaps not the best venue for those scared of heights, but a fabulous view across London, with the Gherkin rising up right next to the window.

Duck & Waffle sits with its bar on the top floor, with Sushisamba on the 39th below, which serves a fusion of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian food (I’ve heard mixed reviews, but yet to visit).  The bar is quirky with its open stations displaying the interesting ingredients for their really innovative drinks.  The gin and tonic (£11) came as a glass of tonic water with a ball of potent Hendricks gin and rose petal sorbet floating in the top, with a yuzu foam – really fun and an excellent drink.  

The menu is split into ‘Snacks and breads’, ‘Raw’, ‘Small plates’, ‘Brick oven’ and ‘For the table’ (which includes the namesake dish of duck, waffles and maple syrup). We started with some filthy sounding battered sausages (£4), which were mini, and far tastier, versions of the chip-shop classic, with a creamy, sharp mustard dip. 

The small pea and mint arancini (£5) were nicely crunchy and worked well with the truffled mayonnaise, and the mackerel tartare (£6) was fresh and not overpoweringly fishy, with a crunchy tang from the pickled cucumber, although we couldn’t taste the smoked vodka on the menu description.


From the grill section we shared the lamb cutlets with smoked aubergine puree and mint yoghurt (£12) – these were pink and juicy with a spicy coating of green chilli and coriander, but the puree was a little mean so didn’t add much to the dish.  The other large plate was tender salt beef with new potatoes, gherkins, poached egg and mustard (£11), which was a clever take on the classic salt beef, mustard and pickle flavour combination.

Our favourite dish was the first dessert – Torrejas are a kind of Spanish French toast, and this version came with apples, cinnamon ice cream and a gloriously buttery, rich maple caramel sauce (£7).  This was sticky, sweet and delicious.  The chocolate brownie with honeycomb and peanut butter ice-cream (£7) was less impressive, as the brownie was too dry and not squidgy enough, but the ice-cream was fantastic.

The service was excellent and the food was good value, although the drinks are pricier, with not many bottles of wine under the £40 mark.  Duck & Waffle is open 24 hours and serves breakfast between 6 and 11 am – it would definitely be an interesting, if a little surreal, experience to visit at 3am in the morning after drinks one night.

With the spectacular views, original cocktails and solid cooking with some interesting touches, dinner at Duck & Waffle was a lot of fun, and I will definitely be back for the Hendricks sorbet and lift ride alone.

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Caravan, King's Cross

The 2nd Caravan site is housed in the converted Granary building next to the canal near King’s Cross, which is also handily minutes from my front door.  I’ve been to the original Caravan in Exmouth market for great brunches, but wanted to try dinner in the new place.  The inside fits with the industrial surroundings, full of metal and tasteful grey, but nicely candlelit to make the most of the dramatic full height ceiling.

I’m picky when it comes to a good cocktail, but these were a great start to the evening – a really smooth and rich expresso martini (presumably made with their own-blend Caravan coffee), and a deliciously seasonal spiced apple and pear dacquiri, made from a home-made spiced pear and blackberry compote.

The menu consists of a number of small plates, large plates and pizzas, which makes it easy to share or not, depending on what you fancy.  We started with some really tasty jalapeno cornbread with chipotle butter – I’ve always found cornbread too sweet and dry (even my own homemade version), but this completely converted me – it had a soft texture dotted with corn kernels, and was slightly fried and crisp on the outside with a good chilli kick.  This was our favourite dish and we were reminiscing about it the next day as a cure for a few too many more cocktails later that night.

We shared a few other small plates – cauliflower with sage breadcrumbs and San Simon (a new cheese to me - a cow's milk cheese from the Spanish region of Galicia), which was a little like posh cauliflower cheese without the sauce and had just the right amount of bite left in the cauliflower, with the sage really coming through.  The sweet potato and chorizo croquettes with saffron aioli were an interesting take on the Spanish classic, but the deep-fried duck egg didn’t set well on its baba ghanoush accompaniment, as the charred aubergine flavour was too overpowering for the poor crispy egg.

The pizza we then shared had a rather un-Italian seasonal topping of spiced pumpkin, pesto, piquillo peppers and feta – this unusual combination was a little rich, but worked well together and the crust had the perfect crisp/doughy balance.  They also gave you chilli oil, parmesan, dried chilli and fresh oregano on the side to add, which was a nice touch.

We were too full to try dessert, but had a really good bottle of wine for £20 – the bill came to a reasonable £72 (including the cocktails and the rather patchy service), and overall a great, relaxed place for some interesting food and fabulous drinks. 

Caravan Kings Cross on Urbanspoon

Beginning Blogging....

By day I work in media surrounded by spread-sheets and glossy magazines, but the rest of the time I think about food – I love reading recipes, cooking for friends and get excited about trying new places and discovering new food gems in London.  I found that I always give friends advice on where to eat in the city, so have decided to join the blogging world to help people make the most of what the capital has to offer.  The blog will include reviews around London (both for a treat and for great budget eats), tips on foodie finds, and some recipes that I have tried and loved for a little inspiration in the kitchen.

Baking at home sparked my love of cooking, so I thought it was apt to start the blog with a delicious and very simple recipe for macaroons.  These are not the type of macaroons that line the windows of French patisseries with perfectly shiny, smooth, pastel coloured rounds, but are instead something a little rougher around the edges, and just as tasty.

Ingredients (makes around 20 macaroons)
2 medium egg whites
225g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
¼ tsp almond extract
Nuts to decorate – blanched almonds or pistachios look great
  • Preheat the oven to 180c (fan 160)
  • Whisk the egg whites in a squeaky clean bowl until they reach stiff peaks (should be stiff enough to stand up on their own in the bowl)
  • Gradually fold in the sugar, then gently stir in the ground almonds and almond extract to make a paste
  • Spoon teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto a lined baking sheet, with enough space for them to spread out, then decorate with your chosen nuts
  • Bake in the preheated oven for around 12-14 minutes, until the macaroons are just golden
  • Leave to cool a little on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, before moving to a cooling rack