Delicious by DS5 – Shoreditch Pop-up restaurant

Often times, pop-ups are a little difficult (if not slightly pointless) to write about. By the time you get a chance to do so, they’re – poof! – gone. However, the one I was lucky enough to snag a table at a couple of weeks ago was a unique enough experience that it would be a disservice not to talk about. Oddly enough, it was for the launch of a car, the Citroen DS5.

The setting was typical of your Shoreditch pop up: big, white gallery space, hidden door, champers on arrival, lots of creative types waiting anxiously to be sat, but once led to our tables, it was quite unique. Three reasons why:

  1. Entry was a £5 donation to Fareshare
  2. For £5, you got a 5-course meal devised by Tim Anderson (of Master Chef and Brew Dog Camden fame)
  3. The menu was based loosely on the 5 senses, and incredibly posh at that

First course, Textures of Duck included a tissue-like dissolving in your mouth piece of crispy skin, a lovely liver parfait disguised as a quail’s egg and a deliciously leather-y jerky

Second course, Visions of Beetroot, was visually stunning, but not for me. I take beets in small doses, and this was way too much for me. Pretty though…

Hands down favourite was Flavours of Beef, a simple, but majestic fillet perfectly cooked and served with a delightful blue cheese potato puree and cashew butter.

And of course with any gastronomy-inspired tasting menu there has to be a bit of theatre.This in the form of Sounds of Bacon, made up of a pancetta lolly pop and pork rind popping candy (ie Pop Rocks). Good fun, both, although the popping candy made me want to reach for a nice cold Diet Coke rather than wine.

Also in the theatre department were the liquid nitrogen macaroon palette cleansers. I can’t say I enjoyed them any more than any other macaroon, but it was quite fun to blow ‘ smoke’ out of your mouth in between courses (as modeled by my friend George…)

Dessert – Aromas of Syrah – I was incredibly sceptical of. Peeling back the lid on the jar, you’re met with what can only be described as a cigarette barbecue. Not at all appetising. However, once the ridiculous odour dissipated, you were left with what actually was a quite nice chocolate ganache.

And in between all this, we got to play around with the car itself, and all its shiny buttons and features. It’s about nine million times out of my price range, but we had a lot of fun playing with the moon roof and driver’s seat massage function

By the end of the evening, suitably impressed with almost everything and having now been to two different Tim Anderson sort-of ventures, I’m wondering when is he going to get his own restaurant. I think it would have a lot of potential.  Surely something must be in the works…

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Filed under British, Random European, Supper Club

Otto – Notting Hill

There are several reasons why I’m not a professional food blogger, or even one of those consistently ranked into arbitrary Top 10 lists (money, time, the inability to come up with 17 different ways to describe something as ‘salty’), but the main one, I think, is that I am often late to the scene on restaurants. While punters scramble to search for reviews of Pitt Cue, Dabbous and Burger & Lobster, I’m bringing up the rear chatting about last year’s news.

Like Otto.

I’ve been wanting to try it out ever since it opened and I spotted it looking down from the top of the 328 bus. It looks almost like a coffee shop from the outside, but then you see the chalkboard set up outside that says pizza (ooh!), cornmeal pizza (huh?). Intriguing to say the least. Nowhere in London does this. In fact, I’m sure it’s out there, but I hadn’t seen anyone do this. Must try.

Fast forward a year and a bit, and I don’t live in the area anymore – a recipe for disaster. But then, I get an email from Otto’s PR advertising beer (they have Blue Moon!) and a slice for a fiver. Reason enough for going back to the old ‘hood, I thought.

Turns out the press release was a teensy bit wrong, and the deal is only if you join a club. However, the owner (or manager on duty, I’m not sure which) decided to give us the deal anyway, which is a lovely gesture (and why I’m mentioning it).

Like any good independent/modern pizza place, Otto’s menu is full of quite a few decent flavour concoctions. Apart from a cheese and tomato for the less adventurous palette, you’ll find slices with toppings like grape and brie (a special they had on the blackboard), BBQ pork and red lentil kofte.

The cornmeal crust makes them much, much, much more filling than a regular pizza. For a shorty like me, one piece actually filled me up quite nicely. I’ll admit it’s a little weird at first (sort of like a cornbread biscuit), but I got used to it quickly. I won’t say that I’d go for it every time as my pizza base of choice, but it didn’t detract.

And while the crust is uber-important, it’s the quality of the toppings that really make it for me.  I had the aforementioned kofte, which was nothing short of amazing.Why anyone hasn’t put red curry sauce and lentil koftes on a cornmeal base before? The thing I remember most (in addition to the zesty spice and fresh coriander) was the fact that it was so heavy. This pizza has a little junk in the trunk.

The other two slices were of a slightly more normal variety (think we had the sausage and pepperoni), and were good, but not as good as my little Middle Eastern pizza treat. Even my lovely boyfriend who tends to stick to the boring stuff classics agreed.

I just wish I lived closer.

Otto Pizza on Urbanspoon


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Om nom nom’ing abroad – A culinary tour through Nepal

I’ve just returned from another whirl-wind adventure abroad – this time to Nepal. Some may remember the Yak-filled two-weeks I had in China and Tibet.  Personally, I was a bit worried Nepal would end up being the same. However, I’m happy to report that the Himalayas appropriately divide Nepal and Tibet in both geography and food. The cuisine was very much more influenced by India, but with just a hint of Chinese. In other words, pretty damn good.

Here’s a bit of what I enjoyed…

A sort of Thali with crispy rice as a pre-dinner snack

Delicious steamed pork momos with a spicy carrot coriander dipping sauce - enjoyed at a random road-side diner in the middle of nowhere

Great little snack of a fried egg and two types of pancake (one very similiar to dosa)

More momos... This time half steamed, half fried, filled with buffalo. Delish!

And while not actually in Nepal, I couldn’t help but stop by the Dairy Queen during our connection in Oman for a Butterfinger Blizzard. It was just as delicious in Arabic as it is in English

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The Hind’s Head – Bray

The Hind’s Head in Bray was an afternoon of seconds for me. The second time I’ve dined at a Blumenthal restaurant, the second time I’ve actually seen Heston in the flesh (the first being a sherry tasting at Shoreditch House many, many moons ago) and one of the few times I’ve ordered seconds of something at the table.

Walking in, I felt immediately in good hands. The place is warm, woody and welcoming – very much a mix of that old pub style with unencumbered luxury. Somehow the fine china, white linen and Tudor-style ceilings so low even a 5’3″ gal like myself had to duck for, work together.

The menu is your classic, poshed-up English dishes. Not tons to choose from, but something for every palette. For those who think British food is still all limp vegetables and boiled meats, I bring your attention to the below…

I decided to start with a couple nibbles in place of a full starter. The Scotch Egg (£3.50) in all its glory was marvellous. A very nice crispy exterior sprinkled with fresh sea salt flakes, opened up to a gooey (but not too gooey) quail’s egg hugged with minced pork so fresh and tender, you’d think it was picked off the farm that morning. Hell, it probably was.

After enquiring as to what the devil it was, I chose the Devils on Horseback (£1.80) as my second little nibble:

Bacon-wrapped, pitted dates. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, but I’ve always been partial to the bacon/fruit flavour combo.

Finally, on to mains. We must be really boring, because out of a table of 8 people, 7 of us ordered the Veal Chop, Cabbage, Onions, Sauce ‘Reform’ (£29.50). The odd duck out was a vegetarian. Poor girl – she missed out on this:

Considering it was taken on an iPhone 3GS, this is a photo I’m particularly proud of. It’s bright, colourful and almost looks like a transparent background. Luckily, the dish tasted as good as it looks.

But as good as the veal was, it was shadowed by something infinitely simpler: Chips. Delicious, delicious triple cooked chips. Piping hot, crispy on the outside, salty, not greasy Heston chips. I couldn’t get enough of them, so I ordered seconds for the table.

It may not be as flashy as its flashy molecular gastronomic neighbour, The Fat Duck, but it is good, proper British food with incredible service in an idyllic village setting. Anyone could complain a bit about value for money when talking about Heston Blumenthal, but you don’t book a table unless you’re planning on spending about £100 a head – simple as that. With those expectations, The Hind’s Head was a fantastic experience.

Now, I just to save up my pennies and complete the trifecta.

Hinds Head on Urbanspoon


Filed under British, Fancy Schmancy

The Blacksmith & Toffeemaker – Clerkenwell

I really wish I could tell you a lot about The Blacksmith & Toffeemaker, but unfortunately this post is probably more of an amuse-bouche than a full-fledged main. I got a little bit of a preview of it at an event I went to last week, but like so many media gatherings, there just wasn’t enough food to go around. Sad, because what I did try was actually very nice.

I know the pub itself is in a bit of a black hole. It’s one of those places that has probably changed ownership in names three times in the last couple years. I remember the space being a bit old man-looking from the outside. I can understand why – it’s stuck in front of a council estate and in between the void that is the journey between the winding streets of Farringdon to restaurant row on Upper Street. The new owners, however, have given it a breath of fresh air. I might even go so far as to say the pub is cute and quirky. Or at least as quriky as a pub can be. I mean, just look at this:

Stuck? Yeah, it’s soap. I probably spent a good minute searching for something with to cleanse my hands, staring at this weird wall fixture until I realised that it was ‘soap on the roap stick’. Probably not the most sanitary, but quite a cool idea.

But yes, the food. What little of it I had, I thought was fantastic. Even though the event was positioned as a re-launch of the pub/new menu/etc, it actually ended up being more of a tasting of English wines, paired with nibbles. I must admit I was sceptical of English wines, but for the most part, they were pretty good too. The Sharpham Estate, Dart Valley Reserve 2009 reminded me a fairly strong viogner, perfectly paird with ‘potted salmon’, which was actually quite a bit more like a parfait.

Maybe parfait is their thing though, the chicken liver variety was a fine little number. Served on homemade bread and whipped with enough consistency and texture to remind you it’s actually meat, this little dollop tickeld the tastebuds:

My favourite nibble of the night, though, was the Scotch Egg, paired Mumford’s English Rosé from Somerset.

I usually prefer my yolk to be slightly more runny, but the sausage casing and crumbly outside more than made up for it. I’ve been told they have a black pudding scotch egg on the menu as well, which I think I’m going to need at some point.

I guess it’s not a bad thing that the worst thing about this event was that there wasn’t enough food. Perhaps it was intentional – the ‘leave them wanting more’ mentality has sort of worked on me. So much so, that I am actually thinking of trekking all the way from Kilburn to Angel (possibly the most inconvenient journey in North London) to try it properly.


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Gospel Brunch – Altitude 360

I think church is just about the last place you’ll find me on a Sunday, so imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago, instead of watching movies in bed, I was at the top of Millbank Tower joining in with the London Community Gospel Choir.

Yes, I have now been fully immersified into the wonder that is London’s only Gospel Brunch at Altitude 360. Hand to god, it’s probably the most fun I’ve had over prosecco in quite some time – and that’s saying a lot.

To give you an idea of the scale of awesome we were in for, here was the view from our table:

As you can imagine, a view like that needs to be matched by equally punchy food and entertainment in order not to be outshone (especially on one of London’s first sunny warm days). This bread plate was the first attempt:

Have I ever said how much I’ve missed cornbread? I mean, seriously… bouncy, rich, sweet, savoury cornbread is just amazing, and Altitude’s (thank god) didn’t disappoint. The brioche with caramelised onions deserves a hearty shout out as well.

Once the bread plate was demolished and  I stopped oggling out the window, I started oggling the menu. BBQ ribs, chorizo omelette, tuna steak, BBQ chicken. Lots of delicious choices, but in the end I decided to go to with a good old fashioned BBQ chicken.

The bird itself was fine and the BBQ actually a really good sticky effort. The rice and black beans (so difficult to find in the UK!) , however, were actually quite dry. The extra BBQ sauce helped and the Cajun potato wedges I ordered on the side were ace, but when 2/3 of your main is a no-go, you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed.

DQ went for a breakfast option: the chorizo and red pepper omelette served ‘on a roll’.

I have to admit, I was really confused about this one. It wasn’t so much served on a roll as it was ‘as a roll’, but lately I’ve found that restaurants try to be as cagey as possible with their menu descriptions. No longer are we allowed to visualise what will be on our plate when we order it. It always has to be a surprise now. (Like the time where I ordered a steak pie, and it came out looking like a tartare terrine)

Missing roll or not, the omelette was bursting full of red pepper goodness. It was slightly on the greasy side, but mostly because it was chock full of chorizo – and chorizo grease is probably the best grease of them all.

Desserts were absolutely heavenly. Mississippi Mud Pie was sinfully rich and Key Lime Pie – another American classic I’ve not seen over here – was as fresh and tart as if purchased from Florida earlier in the morning.

The only real downside at this point is that DQ and I were both physically hurting from having so much food. I blame the bread. The delicious, delicious bread.

As you can imagine though, the food is only a small reason you come to the gospel brunch. Our Southern feast would not have been complete with the soulful serenading from the sassy Gospel Choir. I could go on about their talent or the vibe in the restaurant, but it’s probably just easier if you watch the video.

Turns out, even though I’m not religious in the slightest, I actually know quite a few gospel songs. You probably do too. ‘Oh, Happy Day’, ‘I Go to the Rock’, ‘Your Love is My Love’ and a few others. No less than three songs were dedicated to Whitney too, rest her soul. This was the big finale. This lady had some pipes on her…

The whole thing is £49 per person (including juices and water, but not alcoholic drinks) and this time DQ and I were guests of Altitude. It might seem a little steep for brunch, but when you consider the entertainment value, the view and the fact that we were there for about 3 hours, it’s a steal.

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Bam-bou – Fitzrovia

In our very busy city-dweller lives, it is rare that 6 people can come together to enjoy a nice meal and drinks without weeks of planning and diary-checking. Spontaneity almost always breeds a successful night out – and the surprise of being able to get three couples together for an out-of-the blue triple date still warms my heart even months later.

Because of the spontaneity of the evening, we didn’t do much planning on where to go to eat. Bam-bou is very central, just north of Oxford Street in Fitzrovia. Walking by it as often as I do (my office isn’t too far), I’ve always remarked at how busy it always seems to be. It’s not super-cheap and doesn’t have a lot of the buzz so many of the restaurants – whether deserving or undeserving – in London have these days, but with the crowds even on random weekdays were a good sign.

The food is Vietnamese-French, which I consider to be less Asian-fusion (such a dirty word!) in the restaurant sense and more of a nod to a not-so-pleasant piece of history, since France ruled Vietnam as a colony until 1954.

But that’s not so much to the point. On to the food.

By far the best starter we had was the duck roll. Coming out of the kitchen  like little mini-burgers, the duck patty was almost flakey in texture, complemented perfectly with a fragrant plummy hoisin. Unfortunately we weren’t particularly impressed with the bland veggie summer rolls or the slightly too greasy calamari (though the spicy aioli served with the latter had a lot of pluck. I like that in a dipping sauce).

Mains across the table were made up of a combination of curries, pork skewers over vermicelli mostly reminiscent of bun cha and a lovely spiced duck with a salted plum sauce, which – despite having a similar description to our duck starter – couldn’t have been more different in preparation.

All of them were quite lovely too. The duck, though somewhat of a small portion for £15.50 (not including any sides or rice) was a bit steep, but expertly cooked. Loved it. The curry sauce was almost  intoxicating, and the pork beautifully tender.

Most of the time, restaurants with a melting pot approach to Asian food are a dime a dozen and rarely anything to shout about, but Bam-bou breaks the mould.

Bam-Bou on Urbanspoon

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