Monday, 19 November 2012

Birthday Binges

It's a family tradition to go for lunch or dinner on your birthday. We've been doing it for far too long, and now me and the bro are older, we seem to have far more expensive tastes in food. I blame my parents for introducing us to all kinds of food at a young age. But it's so rare we see each other now (even though I live 5 minutes away!) that we continue this tradition with a die-hard commitment.

I was a little late to the Brasserie Zedel party so for my 21-again birthday this year this place was my choice. It's a innocuous place, just off Piccadilly Circus, where TGIs and Angus Steak House make their money so not the first choice for the owners of The Ivy and The Wolseley to set up shop.

The entrance area is not exciting, but I thought it had an authentic Frenchy feel. We went downstairs and I loved the decor. Similar to the Wolseley, but more ostentatious, very art deco.

The waiters were suitably rude - I actually felt bad for being indecisive over my choice, and according to my lovely family, our server actually rolled his eyes at me. If you convince yourself this is the authentic French way, it makes you feel better. 

Unfortunately this is where my poor photography efforts fail. I had some amazingly garlicky snails and a large seabass. I won't rave over this place as I didn't think the food was rave-worthy, but I did really enjoy it for more than the food. The atmosphere is great, the menu is really reasonably priced and the people watching is fantastic. You really should share both the chocolate mousse and creme brulee for dessert, both are enormous and wonderful. I will go back soon.

Next up was the bro's birthday and if that was my 21-again birthday, his would be 18-again birthday. Although I know he wouldn't have chosen 'nose-to-tail' eating at 18. St John has been around for a while and serves up all the parts of animals that you wouldn't necessarily want to eat - until they slap a Michelin star onto it. So this was the destination of choice for Sunday and it did not disappoint. It's a very simple place, it used to be a smokehouse and the owners haven't messed with it much apart from installing a bar and a bakery (which provides such an amazing smell). 

After downing a glass of St John's lovely white wine, we sat down and struggled over our orders. I had to go for bone marrow - I've never had it and I was being adventurous. It's very fatty but I convinced myself it must be good for me in some weird way. Unfortunately it doesn't look the most appetising dish but it was very tasty, the salad was the perfect match - reminds me to make parsley, capers and onions more. (And yes I took the bones home for lunatic dog)

After some seriously tasty starters, I was so excited for my main course. A bit controversial, I'd ordered kid goat. I'm as far from a vegetarian you'll ever get and I don't feel guilty - all thoughts of bouncy goats were pushed from my mind. I wasn't disappointed, I absolutely loved it. The aioli it came with was perfect too.

Every single mouthful was so tasty, better than lamb and not chewy as I had feared after a bad goat curry at Carnival. The presentation is not the selling point here, the plates are plain, as is the whole dining room. Don't go expecting flouncy towers of precariously balanced food. I love it.

Special mention has to go to my dad, the tripe-loving fiend he is for ordering this. I don't know how he eats this, let alone loves it.
what absolute tripe
For dessert, we were all so full but had loved the food so much we couldn't deny the salted caramel tart.

look, it's oozing caramel
This was without doubt the best dessert I've ever had. It was so rich I could never have one alone (well, maybe) but honestly I could not believe how good it was. The bro ordered 12 Madeleines to take home - the smell of these is something I will never be able to describe but if you go, you have to bring some home.

I loved St John, it was the best meal out I've had in some time (excluding Roscioli from the previous post). It probably helped that I hadn't seen my beloved family in a while and we were all so happy to be in each other's company for once, but the food and the service were fantastic. Best of all, you can buy the wine I loved to take home so I will enjoy that over Christmas. If it lasts that long at the Barchester.

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Friday, 16 November 2012

Bad Blogger - Still Eating

I may have been missing in action (work had taken over my whole life) but fortunately I still managed to eat. Instead of blogging about every single thing I've scoffed separately, I thought I'd do a run down of my last few months in food.

Firstly, what seems like an age ago, I went to Exmouth Market and sampled the delights of Medcalf. This is a simple restaurant, in a beautiful street tucked away somewhere not-so-near Kings Cross. Think wooden floors, big tables and craft beers. Despite this being some months back, I can still remember how great this beef was...

The pies didn't look too bad either and the fish was gloriously crunchy. I would really recommend this place for a leisurely weekend feast. The service was a little odd, the waiter didn't seem to speak English but this didn't detract from the amazing food. 

Onto the next highlight - my best friend's delivery of red velvet cake. Just what I needed after a long and particularly tricky day at work. Waiting on my doorstep for me when I got home.

Annie's Red Velvet Gift
Next up, me and two of my lovely chums headed east as we were lucky enough to snap up a ticket to Ginstock - an amazing event organised with the British Street Food awards, by Tweat Up (if you don't know about them you should -

I managed to snag a stalker photo with Gennaro who I adore. He was hilarious and even more excited than me to be there.
Gennaro Contaldo
We didn't manage to eat as much as I would have liked, as the gin took over (and didn't I feel it the next day) but we managed some oysters from Mussel Men and a cheeky Mackerel burger - the bun was way too big but the contents were amazing. All in all a fabulous and very messy day in the sun.

Not your average day in London
During this time, I have managed to cook myself some food, although mostly it's been 'oven on, shovel it in' - I got this joint of lamb from my favourite butchers in Ross on Wye and it was so tasty. Not cheap, but worth it. I rubbed it with a herby butter and it exploded a bit in the oven - but we like a mess at the Barchester. I am totally crap at making gravy, so this jar of gelatinous stuff has been sent from the gods to satisfy The Scouser's gravy addiction.

Because I'm lucky enough to travel with my job, I jetted off to San Francisco for a week or so of hard work - and a night out thrown in. Below is my hangover feast from 'Super Duper Burger'. If you've read this blog before, you'll know I'm a fan of burgers - this is no Meat Liquor but I tell you what, it was pretty dam close. The garlic fries were out of this world, and despite then being unable to go within three metres of anyone, I had no regrets! If you're in San Fran (and why wouldn't you be, it's an amazing city), you have to try it - the details are here
Super Duper Burger
After my work was finished, I went for dinner with some of my new US friends at Hope & Anchor. I found some fellow oyster-lovers and we went 'around the world'. My friend Doug introduced me to this - ordering 3 of every oyster they have, each trying one, then we each choose our favourites and have the final one. The best way I've ever eaten oysters!
Around The World
What a truly unforgettable work trip
My most recent trip has been to Rome, for pleasure not business. Italians treat eating like a sport and I love Italy and everything Italian, especially the food and wine. One night, The Scouser and I went to Roscioli, on recommendation from Katie Parla - if you are going to Rome, download her app and read her blog as it's so helpful in cutting through the tonnes of advice, recommendations and 'oh you HAVE to go here' you'll get.

Roscioli is south of Piazza Navona and it's a small delicatessen with a restaurant placed around the large fridges. I was a little reluctant to sit in the deli but as the evening went on, I realised it was the best spot. You can see everything the chefs prepare, and admire the amazing cheese selection (which I then heartily indulged in).

I had six of the best oysters I have ever had, and then the tagliata - The Scouser had the most amazing carpaccio I've ever seen and in fact tasted. For 'dessert', I had a plate of the stinkiest cheese that has ever existed. Definitely up there with the best birthday meals of all time!

And so here ends the foodie run down of the last few months. I've eaten some amazing food and so had to make a heroic but painful return to boot camp last night, ready to eat my body weight in cheese and other such delights this Christmas. This weekend I am hibernating - roasting some kind of pork joint (attempting amazing crackling with help from my new Ginger Pig Meat Book) and try to create some chocolate mousse from scratch.
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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Yes to Yashin

Last week I visited Yashin sushi in Kensington for my mum's birthday. It's a family tradition that we all meet up for dinner or lunch on our birthdays (especially important now we never see each other). The Scouser doesn't like too much raw fish, but this place has a different approach to sushi. The first one being 'no soy sauce'. I know, I thought it was a bit odd - but we definitely didn't miss it in the end.

As the chefs prepare the food at the bar, the welcome is very enthusiastic. The Scouser nearly fell through the door as everyone shouted something that must be similar to 'welcome' in Japanese.

We ordered our starters and there was so much I wanted, including oysters. Despite my love of the oysters, I went for soft shell crab - another big favourite. It was amazing and I think I won the best starter. Dad was making very happy noises over his tuna with truffle, but it was a little vinegary for me.

Soft Shell Crab

Tuna with Truffle


Mum got a little special happy birthday plate and was suitably embarrassed as the whole place (including the chefs) sang happy birthday. She's a little bit shy - it doesn't run in the family.

What better way to say Happy Birthday than with scallops?

Onto main course, where we all had eight pieces of nigiri with a different fish on each. Now having had a glass or two of wine by this point, I can't remember each fish - safe to say, they were all really tasty. Some more fishy than others, and the crunchy roll topped with tuna was my faraway favourite (it's the top left in the picture below).

Mum was also a little intoxicated by this point - Dad apparently couldn't refuse her demand for pre-dinner cocktails - and so we ordered some sashimi, her 'favourite', she said. Well, when it came it was very impressive. And it certainly matched that in taste. All of the sushi was so fresh and more interestingly presented and created than normal sushi restaurants.

I absolutely love sashimi and could eat it all day long but mum wasn't so sure - this may have been more to do with the wine than the sushi...

I am not sure this is better than Dinings (here if you don't know about it) but I think they've changed their menu since I last went. Japanese tapas? Stick to what you do best I say. Unfortunately The Scouser still isn't totally converted to the sushi way of life but I will always love the slivers of fish and their pillows of rice.

You can find Yashin here -
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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Perfect Steak & its place in The Manwich

Everyone who knows me knows that I love steak. In fact, all red meat is probably my food of choice. Apart from cheese. Cheese and steak - I would hate to think of my cholesterol. Recently, I found out I was deficient in vitamin B12 which isn't present in many foods, apart from red meat which has loads of it. Despite my love of the red stuff, I have to have a little injection to keep me topped up every three months. When the doctor asked me if I was vegetarian, you can imagine my reaction. I must be the least vegetarian person in the world.

If there is a steak on the menu, you can be sure I will order it. I have to physically stop myself doing this. At Barbecoa earlier this year, The Scouser and I had the best steak I've probably ever had (and coincidentally, the best table in the restaurant - the service was amazing. Don't listen to the people who slate it). On a par with that would be Gaucho. I'm yet to go to Hawksmoor, but it's on the list, amongst at least 20 other restaurants.

I recently read an article on The Perfect Steak, courtesy of the Ginger Pig (whose cookbook I want too). I realised how I hadn't tried so many of the different steaks in that article, so I'm going to start. I think my butchers could supply with everything there. Then it's just the cooking to worry about. Maybe I'll have to invest in this meat lover's cookbook after all...what a shame.

Normally I favour the ribeye. When it's a good cut, it's so tasty and stays juicy. Although when you eat it like I do, it's barely stopped moving let alone lost it's juiciness. I have managed to bring The Scouser into this way of thinking too, not entirely kicking and screaming... But a sirloin can be lovely too. Especially when it's featuring in The Manwich.

This is a discovery I have made on a blog I've become a little more than obsessed with - The Londoner. Rose blogs about all kinds, but she has some amazing recipes (need I remind you of the Slutty Brownies?) Having spent more hours than I'd care to admit browsing through her blog, I stumbled across something I knew I would love by the name alone - The Manwich. It's got two types of cheese, loads of steak and a nice carb-overload. Are you salivating already?

It's simple. You need the above (chips are for the more greedy amongst us - we had been decorating all day. That's our excuse and we're sticking to it). Plus mustard and cheddar cheese. Have a look at Rose's picture and her ingredients list, she's much more organised with her photography and instructions. The bread is important here, you need it to be big and thick. You'll need a griddle pan too, for those nice grill lines on the steak.

Get everything ready - the steak cooks fast, and you need to shove it in your gob asap once it's ready. While I was waiting for the pan to heat up (because it needs to be SMOKING hot), I cut the bread up and laid it in the pan to toast it a little. So grate your cheese, get everything opened up, plates out (it's all going a bit Jamie Oliver 30 Minute Meals isn't it? This is easier. promise).

Once the steaks are cooked, get them out and let them rest. I find this so hard because I just want to eat the steak right there and then but no you must wait like an impatient child on Christmas morning. When you can wait no more, slice it up like so...

Quickly layer up as much steak as you want, or until The Manwich can take no more, and sprinkle cheese over the top. Get the top piece of bread and squash it all down and tuck in quickly. My mouth was watering at this point, but I managed to hold back to get a picture of my beloved Manwich. The Scouser said it was the best sandwich he'd ever eaten. And he eats a lot of sandwiches. Just not many Manwiches.

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Friday, 17 August 2012

Relaxing in Ross-on-Wye

Recently The Scouser and I visited Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire. It's a beautiful part of the world, all sleepy villages and lots of local food to discover. We ate out as well as in to avoid bankruptcy - but we definitely made the most of all the food on offer.

We got there and went around the different shops to fill up the fridge. First stop - Andy Callwood's butcher shop for the famed ham hocks. These are the best ham, without doubt, you'll ever eat. They cost £2-3, worth every penny. It's like a knuckle of meat, the bone in and they cook them for hours - then you can just slice some off when you fancy. So much better than that horrible pre-packed sliced ham from supermarkets! I also got some amazing tomato & basil sausages and bacon that could be used as a doorstop (but much much tastier).

Next stop, my favourite - the delicatessen called Truffles. This place isn't cheap, but it has a mass of cheese and exciting things in jars like chutneys and jams. I got some of the local cheese called Hereford Hop which is tastier than cheddar, as it's coated in hops which give it the rich flavour. I also got Black Bomber cheddar - this is the best cheddar ever. Ever. It's not local to Herefordshire, so if you see it, buy it. I also got some of my favourite pate made by family company Patchwork Pate - excuse my raving over everything, but this is the best pate and I would love to be able to get mine as good as this. They have all kinds of flavours, mainly with booze like tequila - sounds vile, tastes amazing.

Back we went with the haul to feast away...

This lasted us for the four days we were there which is shocking considering how I cannot resist cheese if it's right there every time I open the fridge.

In the centre of Ross on Wye there aren't that many nice cosy pubs - when I say nice, I'm talking good lager on tap and a good wine list, because we are massive snobs. Maybe when we win the lottery, we'll go and open what would be our idea of the perfect pub in the town centre. Anyway, we got a taxi to the Kilcot Inn to find the kind of pub we like.

It was a lovely pub, nice and cosy. The menu wasn't massive, but we had the 'love it or hate it' Welsh Rarebit. It was the most cheesiest thing I've ever eaten and that is saying something. Surprisingly, we both had steak for main - just for a change... Mine was cooked rare, and really tasty. I'd definitely go back here - we even got to watch Mo Farah win the 10,000m race and Jess win her Heptathlon.
We also went for dinner at Wilton Court, a riverside restaurant with rooms. Now this might be one of the strangest places I've been to eat. We walked in to an enthusiastic welcome from a guy who loves his job and rushed around all night - then chatted to us for ages after our meal! Something us city people aren't used to... The decor in this place is more than a bit weird - bright yellow walls that remind me of the 80's. But the conservatory is nice and the food was really really good.

To compensate for all this eating, we went to Symonds Yat, a village in the Forest of Dean with a very steep hill (I would say mountain) that we walked up. I was exhausted but the views were amazing. We probably ruined all this exercise with a cream tea when we got back down to earth. I don't have a sweet tooth unless it involves a scone, clotted cream and sticky jam. If only Broome Farm had been open for one of their notorious cream teas - more cream and jam than you could shake a stick at.

Ross on Wye, we'll be back!
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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Dinner Party featuring Slutty Brownies

I have had a fair few parties at my house, not always managing to consume dinner. As I get older and wiser (yes, it's true) I find I can't go out until 4am and drink myself into oblivion. So I tend to stay in and drink myself into oblivion and somehow it ends up being 3am - so perhaps not that old or wise.

Staying in, in my world, is definitely the new going out. I love going out, I love nothing more than an anticipated dinner at a restaurant that has been on my wish list for months. I love meeting up with my dinner-mates early for a drink or three, the anticipation of a fabulous dinner and hours of chatting and laughing. But I also like attempting my own feast and as I haven't won the Euro Millions yet, it's a good thing too.

My most recent dinner party consisted of my lovely newly-wed friends back from their honeymoon with tans and happiness sparkling in their eyes, and Pippa the dog's favourite auntie and her Swedish boyfriend, visiting for the weekend. Much discussion was had over the menu, but not as much as we discussed the alcohol. The newlyweds arrived with bags full of booze and the freezer was promptly jammed full and we set about the gin.

Now, since I have very little self control, I have to make sure everything is as ready as possible because I know when the alcohol arrives, all the concern over serving dinner dissipates and I fill myself with gin and Prosecco. So the slow roast lamb shoulder I am always banging on about is perfect - throw it in the oven about 4 hours before you want to serve it up and Bob is your proverbial uncle.

I also chopped, mixed and prepped everything - the antipasti plates were laid out, I mixed the mixture for the ricotta mushrooms, and my brownies were ready for the oven to be served warm (more on that later).

I used to be a little scared of dinner parties, as our kitchen is also where the table goes, so you drag everyone in to sit down then they watch as you flap about in the final moments. Unfortunately this fear didn't go unfounded as I did manage to pour a whole jug of very hot red wine sauce over a friend's crotch once (after too much Prosecco) so don't get over confident or you could be preventing your friend's future child-bearing capabilities.

Normally, if you are well-prepared and have cooked what you're serving up before, then it will be fine. And they are your friends, so they won't be too harsh...right? Well, let's not mention the time my friend decided it would be hilarious to bring her video camera and film everyone's review a la Come Dine With Me. I still have nightmares about those scathing videos turning up online.

Anyway, this time everything went without too much a hitch and there were no crotch-scolding spillages. I did drop a ricotta-filled mushroom but it was onto one half of the newlyweds, so he didn't mind too much. He even described my lamb as 'meat heroin' the following day, so he is firmly in the good books. I even managed to enjoy plenty of food myself and I have to say I did myself proud.

Now, I have to give special mention to the Slutty Brownies we had for dessert. I have become just slightly addicted to The Londoner a blog by a rather beautiful London girl, who's life you will want a piece of. These Slutty Brownies are without doubt the best dinner party dessert. They take 15 minutes to make and 30 minutes to cook. You do have to cheat and get Betty Crocker's finest, but when you've slaved over everything else, an easy dessert is key in my book. They went down an absolute treat and I tried to avoid the credit for these - so easy and so delicious. I urge you to try them - and I promise I haven't exaggerated the ease of cooking!

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Thursday, 2 August 2012

BBQ'd Burgers at The Barchester

You may realise that I'm a little obsessed with burgers. I love them and I can't really explain why - cheesy meaty sloppy goodness and a frequent hangover cure of choice. I've been to Meat Market and Meat Liquor, as well as Honest in Brixton who all peddle some amazing burgers that I would highly recommend.

Making burgers at home is never the same, but I always give it a go. The best way to cook those bad boys is on a BBQ - just a shame the weather means that sometimes you have to cook under an umbrella.

I get a load of mince - 500g will make two massive burgers, or three reasonably sized ones. Squidge it all up in a bowl and add whatever you fancy. I add loads of garlic, sometimes some herbs and spice, definitely plenty of seasoning and an egg too - to make it all stick together. Mix it up, with a fork if you need to squash it, and then make a round ball of mincey mix for each burger. They will shrink a little when you cook them, and try and pack them tight so they don't fall apart.

Dab a bit of olive oil on each side so they don't stick to the BBQ when you are cooking them, then turn them only once. Leave them on the grill for 5-10 minutes before you turn them. A burger is best with a crispy outside and a juicy inside.

Slap some cheese on top of the burger - my choice is those lovely little cheese slices that look bright orange and probably aren't cheese at all. But you can have whatever you like - The Scouse has been enjoying some 'Mexican' cheese that seems to be cheddar with jalapenos in...

Making your own burgers is fair more satisfying than buying those horrid burgers from the BBQ aisle at the supermarket. And easy and cheaper!

If you are also a little obsessed with burgers and where to eat the best ones, have a look at these blogs:
Burgaffair - these guys are on a mission around London to try the burgers everyone is raving about and then create their own league table
Burgerac - the most comprehensive burger blog, everything is about burgers here and not just limited to London
Young & Foodish's Top 10 Burgers in London - this list has recently been rejigged by foodie afficonado Daniel Young and I'm yet to visit these. Widely considered the burger expert!
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