Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Barrio East, Shoreditch

When I set up this blog at the end of last year I didn’t really know what to expect.  I wasn’t exactly sure how or how much it could grow. Ultimately I wanted people to read it, but for great food tips, rather than just my own vanity.  A part of me did like the idea of being invited by restaurants/bars though (maybe a little bit of my own vanity then).

But when I was asked to try Barrio East’s brunch menu, I toyed with the idea, but then decided that if it was somewhere I would go anyway, then just maybe some freebie food was ok with an objective viewpoint.  So off H and I went to Shoreditch on bank holiday Monday.

I really like their other outposts for drinking (Barrio North on Essex Road in Angel, and Barrio Central on Poland Street in Soho) – especially excellent happy hour mojitos (a simple cocktail but easy to ruin).  But I hadn’t made it for drinks in Barrio East, so it was a good chance to check it out in sober daylight – it’s bigger than the other two, with the same colourful look and feel.

They decided to introduce weekend brunch, and now serve at the weekends from 11am to 3pm, with a menu of Latin-inspired eggs, burritos, beans and Bloody Marias.  Maybe sensibly I decided against tequila in a Bloody Maria at 12pm, with great watermelon and ginger juice instead.

I went for the Mexi-Can – toast with lots of creamy avocado piled on top, poached eggs, punchy jalepeno peppers and bits of crunchy tortilla, with an extra chorizo sausage on the side.  A great combination, and a massive portion.  H had the breakfast burrito filled with scrambled eggs, tomato, guacamole, sour cream and extra chorizo, with some fried potatoes on the side – it could have done with some beans or something inside for a bit more texture, but was tasty and equally giant. 

These would have been the perfect cures after rather a few mojitos or tequila shots in their bar the night before.  But maybe it’s best not to return to the scene of the crime that soon….maybe just space it out a few days.

Thanks to Barrio East for the invite – they were all very lovely

Barrio East on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Social Eating House, Soho

There seems to be a bit of a theme to my last few Saturday nights.  There’s lots of places I want to try, but not quite enough forward planning and funds to book a table and go for a whole night of cocktails, wine and 3 courses.  I have instead found myself going to new spots for a few cocktails and food in the bar instead, which I think I sometimes actually prefer.

Last week it was Bird of Smithfield, and last night it was Social Eating House.  I went to Little Social only a few weeks, and think I like Social Eating House even more.  The downstairs dining room is beautiful – all bronzed and lovely, and the upstairs bar is equally stylish, dark and cosy.

I loved the playful cocktail menu – mine was named Robin Hood Quince of Thieves, with apple brandy, quince liqueur, honey mead, lemon and teeny tiny apple perched on the side.  I will go back for the fluorescent green Thermo Nuclear Daiquiri, that lists glowing radiation and danger as ingredients (alongside the overproof rum and absinthe).

From the ‘Bites and Jars’, C and I shared some English baby peppers (£4 - like slightly larger padron peppers), and duck fat chips with aoili (£3.50) – some of the best chips I’ve had, with a perfect crunchy/fluffy balance.  The little spice pork belly slider (£5) was a great example of the cute miniature burger, with sweet apple and onion with the tender meat in the brioche bun.  

We had two jars to go with the toasted bread (both £6) – a properly fishy and creamy soft salt cod brandade (a kind of salt cod/olive oil dip) with parsley oil and little crisps perched on top, and a wonderfully spiced mixture of aubergine and tomato.

This was all delicious, so I just need to go back from some scary sounding nuclear cocktails and to the restaurant below.  The menu sounds great, and if someone else isn’t picking up the bill, the Prix Fixe menu is fantastic value (2 course for £18/3 for £21).

The Social Eating House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Bird of Smithfield, Clerkenwell

Although this blog is all about what I have eaten, I like to think I know a little about drinks too.  My wine knowledge is a bit sketchy admittedly, but after a few stints working in bars and spending far too long discussing someone else’s mixology competition entries in a different life, I know a good cocktail.  I don’t make them as often as I should, but last night decided to make some rhubarb bellinis.  I just chopped the stems, cooked down with a little lemon zest and sugar and then spooned in the bottom of a glass, before topping with cava (or could be prosecco).

I was pleased with the result – it had a nice crisp tartness, but a little stringy maybe and not the most beautiful drink. And I felt all the more in the need to re-try and perfect after our next drink at the newly opened Bird of Smithfield, with their pristine cocktail of prosecco topped with an immaculate swirl of rhurbarb foam, and some pretty pink garnishes of the fruit.

It’s the first time I’ve been to this new venue just the other side of Smithfield Market to me.  It’s the new venture from Alan Bird (who headed up the kitchen of the Ivy for a number of years).  There’s a basement bar called the Birdcage, a first floor Dining Room, a second floor private dining room for hire and a roof terrace on the top, with great views over the meat market (will be fabulous when there is some actual sunshine).

There’s also a ground floor bar and lounge where you enter, where we spent a few hours yesterday.  The décor inside is tasteful  and slick – a little 60s/Scandi-chic feel, with beautiful styling (I loved the bookshelf of fashion coffee table books).  The rhubarb cocktail was great, as was the other (both £8ish) that involved gin, Campari, raspberry and soda (can’t quite remember the details, but delicious).

E and I then shared some of the bar food – there’s a mixture of bites, small plates and sandwiches.  We tried peapods with sea salt (£2), and great little nibbles of whipped goats cheese with red onion marmalade on little crisp, ruby Beetroot crisps (£2).  We also had crispy monkfish cheeks with excellent tangy tartare sauce (£3) and meaty little quail scotch eggs with a just-gooey yolk and spiced tomato chutney (£5).  The shared Surfin’ Bird burger (£12) was a good mixture of surf and turf with lobster chunks and spiced seafood sauce on top the beef in a squishy, glazed brioche bun.

The bar food was really excellent, and the service relaxed and friendly – they were happy to take us up to the roof terrace just to have a look, talking us through the different levels.  The dining room menu is full of great British ingredients and lovely-sounding things like a lobster, asparagus and spiced tomato salad and Shepherd’s Pie.

I’ll get practising my latest cocktail recipes, but in the meantime maybe I will just walk 5 minutes for a perfect prosecco/rhubarb combination.

Bird of Smithfield on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Little Social, Mayfair

One of the best lunches I have been to in the last few years was at Pollen Street Social.  The food was beautiful and interesting, and I loved the idea of their Dessert Bar.  My favourite part was their special touch – when you arrived they gave you a key, which you presented to one of the barmen at the end of the meal.  They then unlocked a little drawer behind the bar, and inside was a box, with a little bag with 2 tiny and delicious almond cakes and their home-made tea bag, for your afternoon tea.  A really playful and memorable attention to detail.

Pollen Street Social’s Jason Atherton is expanding his collection of restaurants in London, including Little Social (across the road from Pollen Street Social) and Social Eating House (in Soho on Poland Street).  On Friday, we went for a work lunch to the first, which is French-ish bistro influenced.  It’s cosy and very charming inside (I especially liked the old maps on the stairs), and the menu was one of those lovely ones where I would happily eat most of the choices.

From the starters we tried the crab, tomato and radish salad with miso tomato dressing and marinated beetroot – it had sweet crab, with fresh crunchy little cubes and great tomatoes.  There was also a spring green pea and broad bean risotto with peppered bacon and mint ricotta, and beetroot-cured sea trout, with Cheltenham beetroot (a special sort apparently, after a little Google research) and shallot dressing.  There was also lovely warm bread with great butter – the little things do make a difference.

From the mains the beef burger was a good example of the classic, with bacon, cheese, caramelised onions (divided opinion), pickles and French fries.  I was intrigued by the roasted halibut BLT (obviously an excellent sandwich) – which consisted of a tomato sauce, a little slab of chunky golden bacon and sweet griddled lettuce, with perfectly cooked fish and incredibly flavoursome Portobello mushroom. The roasted cod with Provençal salad and saffron aoili (from the set menu – 2 course for £21), was a little two fennel heavy.  We could have done with some sides for the fish main courses – maybe we were just being greedy, but they seemed a little small.

We just shared one dessert of apple and blackberry crumble – it came out as a bowl with the mascarpone and cinnamon ice-cream and lovely apple.  A mini copper pan was then presented and sprinkled over the crumble with more fruit.  It was big and a fantastic example of a crumble (even if I am sometimes a little dubious of ‘deconstructed’ kind of crumbles).  We also had some lovely squidgy, darkly cocoa-rich chocolate truffles.

They brought the bill in a cute little brown envelope with travel stamps – another nice touch, but I wasn’t quite as blown away as Pollen Street Social even though the food was all expertly done (it is more relaxed, with a more affordable bill).

I want to try Social Eating House now, which has a similarly priced menu (starters around £10, mains around £20).  The menu there also looks great, and the bar on the top floor sounds promising, with fabulous sub-£10 cocktails and booze-absorbing snacks such as pork belly sliders and duck fat chips with aoili.

Little Social on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Quality Chop House, Exmouth Market

There are apparently 37,450 restaurants in London.  The city has so much choice, but I invariably end up eating in places near work or home.  There are lots of great places on the doorstep of the new Clerkenwell flat (Polpo, Hix, St John, Burger & Lobster), which is perfect if public transport is just that bit too much effort.

A few Thursdays ago I went to the Quality Chop House up the road, just at the edge of Exmouth Market.  You’ve been able to eat there since 1869, when you could apparently get "a plate of meat, bread and half a pint of ale for six pence”.  It’s recently been re-done, with the seasonal, British menu changing daily.  There’s a Dining Room and Wine Bar, which both have a short a la carte menu at lunch, with a 4 course set menu in the Dining Room (£35), and a separate Wine Bar menu in the evening.

We were in the Dining Room, and it was a nice change to have no choice for the menu.  We started with a few nibbles of slow-cooked venison that was shredded, breaded and fried until crisp, smoked ox heart and beetroot, goat’s curd and pennywort (foraged ingredients seem to feature a lot on the menu). 

The next course was Cornish cod with lovely crisp, salty skin, served on a blob of vibrant nettle puree and monk’s beard (a little like samphire).  The main was tender Longhorn beef cooked pink, with ramsons (wild garlic), morcilla crumbs that were a little greasy, charred spring onions and a fresh and crunchy celeriac remoulade on the side. 

We were feeling greedy so paid an extra £3 for some great goat’s cheese, before a delicate and pretty dessert of meringue, blood orange (none for me, due to my irrational orange hatred), a delicious alexander (a plant that tastes a little like celery) and gin jelly, cream and cobnuts.

You can buy the wines in the shop next door (for £10 less a bottle), and there are some really interesting glasses and bottles, including those from affordable small producers.  We tried a different glass for the courses, including a menzanilla sherry, some light red wine and a beautifully dry sparkling Spanish wine (they could apparently call it cava, but choose not to).

They take reservations for the Dining Room in the evening but not the Wine Bar, and at lunch they take bookings in both rooms.  At lunchtime they even apparently offer a hot takeaway sandwich for £4.50 too – as a lover of things sandwiched between bread, it’s a very tempting idea, especially as it’s so close (you do need to go inside to experience the wonderfully clashed Grandma crockery - just have a look at the photos).

The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Coconut Ice-Cream

There is a lot of faddy eating out there.  There seems to be an increasing number of those going wheat/gluten/dairy/sugar/anything delicious-free.  I’m all for healthy eating, but everything in moderation is a little more realistic, and much of this cutting out seems to be for the sake of doing so.

Saying all this, I therefore felt a bit hypocritical when I told people I was cutting out dairy.  I read a few articles saying how it can be bad for your skin, so in the name of vanity I decided to try a dairy (i.e. cow milk based products) free diet for a few months.  I definitely haven’t been completely stringent and have been eating sheep and goat’s milk, butter and cheese (apparently it can just be the hormones in cow milk – feel free to correct me on any of the science).  But all good desserts and sweet things have butter and cream, and sometimes you just don’t want your porridge and honey to taste rather goat-like at 7am.

Coconut milk is an excellent alternative, and I had an experiment at making coconut ice cream yesterday.  There were a couple of leftover egg yolks from making my favourite macaroon recipe, so I used these along with honey and desiccated coconut before topping the finished scoops with dark chocolate for an excellent Bounty effect, and sprinkling with toasted sesame seeds.

The What Joanna Ate parental household seems to have every kitchen gadget possible (grapefruit segmenter or pineapple corer anyone?), but surprisingly no ice-cream maker.  This worked pretty well nonetheless with a little stirring and blending, but would be even simpler with a machine.

Other flavours would be delicious in the ice-cream – a little vanilla extract or vanilla pods, crushed cardamon pods or lime zest would work well in the mixture.  Topped with sticky roasted mango, a smattering of passion fruit or a glug of dark rum, this makes a delicious pudding – and completely dairy free if anyone else is interested in that.

Serves 2ish (4 or so scoops – easily doubled, I just had 2 egg yolks left)
2 egg yolks
50g honey
1 tin coconut milk
50g desiccated coconut
  • Whisk the egg yolks and honey together until a little thicker, before whisking in the coconut milk and desiccated coconut
  • Transfer to a saucepan, and gently heat for about 8 minutes until thickened a little (it should coat the back of a soon), and be careful not to let boil
  • Pour into a shallow plastic container and leave to cool completely
  • If you have one, churn in an icecream maker according to the maker’s instructions, and if not, put the lid on the container and put in the freezer
  • Mix with a fork once every hour for 3 or so hours, until frozen solid
  • Break up the frozen mixture into the food processor, and blitz until the mixture is smooth
  • Eat straight away, or re-freeze ready for scooping

Saturday, 4 May 2013

What Joanna Ate Facelift

If any of you have come across What Joanna Ate before today, it would have looked rather different.  When I decided to set up the blog, I spent one chilly November Sunday last year taking rather a lot of photos of a saffron poached pear.  After about 50 different variations, I decided on one particularly lovely golden pear to be the header, and had a play around on Google Blogger to set up the rest of the template.

Since then, I have been cooking, writing and photographing away, and thinking of new ideas.  I decided that my photos and design were not quite what I wanted to convey the blog and I, and after seeing the work of a fabulous illustrator Rachael through a friend, enlisted her professional help.

After a rather vague brief, Rachael came up with the fantastic illustration above – you can check out all her great work below, and do get in touch with her for any commissions: