Well, after a year of being on Tumblr, I have decided to move to Wordpress. I needed to have a bit more control over how my blog looked and make it easier to navigate so here is my new blog:
I hope you’ll keep reading it!
I first ate at DSTRKT in April (http://aspoonful-of-sugar.tumblr.com/post/21780299968/dstrkt-london) and had a fabulous night with my friends Paul and Heath. We were impeccably looked after by the maître d’ Guillermo and decided there and then that we would return for my birthday.
So a couple of weeks ago, we returned. Unfortunately Guillermo was no longer there (although he did text me to wish me a happy birthday which I thought was incredibly thoughtful) and I must say, we all missed him. The waiter and waitress we had serving us were both lovely and pleasant but the level of service was a tad lacking since Guillermo’s departure. Saying that, the hostess for the evening couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful.
When we sat down, Paul and I immediately asked if we could substitute our first course of Maldon rock oyster for something else. Paul said he couldn’t bear to watch me try to swallow another oyster! (see my last review). They were fine with this and gave us venison tartare instead. Albeit it the size of a thumbnail.
It was very nice, but literally gone in one mouthful. Next came the yellow fin tuna cubes with soy air and avocado mousse.
I loved this when I had it the first time but I felt slightly disappointed in it this time. Something wasn’t quite right. There was a very strong tasting droplet of olive oil on the plate and it overpowered the flavour of the tuna. Paul and I took our bites at the same time and immediately looked at each other with puzzled expressions. It was definitely not as good as last time.
Then came the seared Scottish scallops with English pea puree, olive oil powder and preserved lemon.
Beautiful and sweet scallops, perfectly cooked with the incredibly fresh taste of peas and zesty lemon. Lovely.
Next it was Saudi prawns with charred scallions oil. Sweet and meaty, this was delicious.
Then came a dish we had (and loved) last time…grilled flatbread salad with macadamia nut pesto.
This was as good as we remembered. Peppery rocket, soft goats cheese, punchy olives, soft sweet peppers and tomatoes all contrasting beautifully with the crunchy flatbread. I loved this.
And then the main event…the Scottish rib eye steak, sliced and cooked to perfection, served with a Talisker whisky sauce.
To accompany this, a pot of wild mushroom, fresh herbs and madacadmia nuts, with an egg nestled on top. When the waitress removed the lid of the pot, she broke the yolk and mixed it into the mushrooms.
Wow! This was beautiful. Tender, juicy, melt in the mouth beef and earthy, nutty wild mushrooms. Stunning. The addition of the egg yolk really added to the richness of the mushrooms. This was an incredible dish.
Meanwhile, Heath, who is vegetarian, and joined us mid-meal, ordered the truffle potato gnocchi with cheddar espuma. I wasn’t really paying much attention to it until I heard what can only be described as orgasmic noises coming from Paul. He had tried a bite of Heath’s gnocchi and his eyes were about to pop out of his head. So of course, my fork immediately found its way to Heath’s plate. Cue the same noises and eye-popping. This was A M A Z I N G !!
So even though Paul and I were eating off the tasting menu, we ordered an additional serving of truffle gnocchi to share and add to our already expanding waistline!
Totally worth it though. The gnocchi were slightly crispy on the outside so I think they must have fried it after having cooked it. This was a lovely touch. Sometimes I find gnocchi a bit bland in both texture and taste but these were stunning. The truffle and cheddar sauce was divine. Light and foamy in texture but rich and deep in flavour. I think this was the dish of the night.
Then it was time for pudding. The first plate was Chocolate S’mores…cider sabayon, chocolate custard and Gram Cracker crumble, with some toasted marshmallow cubes.
And ice cream…I think it was blackcurrant and vanilla. I’m not entirely sure. (I’d had a LOT of wine by this stage!)
I was a bit underwhelmed by the pudding to be completely honest. It just felt like lot of different ingredients placed on a plate without it really coming together.
Overall, we had a lovely night but we missed Guillermo. Also, the food was still coming out of the kitchen rather quickly and I would have appreciated more time to enjoy my wine. As it was, I felt like I was playing catch up all night. And when the wines are supposed to match each dish, that isn’t ideal.
Certain dishes stood out…the truffle gnocchi in particular, while others failed to deliver…the tuna cubes and the dessert. But we still had a great meal, although it didn’t shine like our last meal.
In terms of the service, we had to keep a constant look out for the waiter in order to get his attention. However, when he was with us, he was very friendly. Just not quite as attentive as Guillermo had been on our last visit.
DSTRKT is a restaurant and a club and the night we were there was the same night Hackney Weekend kicked off, and a few of the stars of that were expected to be partying at DSTRKT later that night including Jay Z, Rihanna and Rita Ora. So by the end of our meal, the place was really filling up. We decided to move into the club after our meal but we were told we would have to walk back up to the front door, pay £20 each and get a stamp. Hmmmm…we’d already paid about £100 each for our food so paying another £20 each to literally pass through a curtain and drink just a few feet from our table was a tad galling.
We did pay to get into the club but only stayed for one drink and decided to move on to another club to dance the night away.
I really like DSTRKT’s food and they have some excellent wine but I’m not sure if I would go back. Perhaps for the a la carte menu as opposed to the tasting menu. And actually, I think I’d climb over my dead Grandmother to get to that truffle gnocchi again! For that, I would return.
Saturday was one of those days where I’d planned to do a lot of ‘stuff’. You know…go for a run, go to a market, do odd jobs in my flat etc. Unfortunately I veered way off course on Friday night and drank too much wine, too quickly. This rendered Saturday a write-off. I’m not very good at handling my wine…or my hangovers!
So, at about 1pm on Saturday I crawled out of bed, holding my head in my hands and feeling very sorry for myself. I knew I needed to eat something but I just couldn’t do it. I had some tea. I had some water. I went back to bed.
At 3pm I start to feel very shaky and knew I absolutely had to eat something. I was going out again that night (glutton for punishment) and I had to line my stomach. ‘Pasta’ was the word that kept popping up in my head…MUST-EAT-PASTA!
I needed something to make me feel better. It needed to be quick, easy, low maintenance but also something really, really tasty.
I opened my kitchen cupboard and found exactly what I was looking for…my favourite cupboard ingredient…aubergine pesto.
I tend to stock up on this when I see it. It isn’t as easy to get hold off as it once was. Sainsbury’s seemed to have stopped stocking it, so when I’m in Waitrose, I buy 6 or 7 jars at a time so I don’t run out.
Its the perfect jar to have in your cupboard. Its simple to stir through pasta, you can spread it on puff pastry sheets and make palmiers… http://bit.ly/OirY5H. Its just a great thing to have to hand.
I looked around my kithchen and saw a punnet of chestnut mushrooms, a red onion and a packet of cashew nuts. I was good to go! I dropped some conchiglie (shell-shaped) pasta in some salted, simmering water and fried up the mushrooms and onions in some oil and butter. Once they were cooked, I added a handful of the cashew nuts. I like conchiglie pasta because it collects little pockets of the sauce its mixed with. In this case, it also collected cashew nuts!
12 minutes later, I drained the pasta, tossed it into the frying pan with the mushrooms, onions and nuts, then stirred through half the jar of aubergine pesto. Once it was mixed through, I plated it up.
Then, whilst I was hunting through my fridge for the parmesan cheese, I noticed a huge chunk of truffle Gouda, which I’d bought in Amsterdam the week before…
This is really quite a spectacular cheese. One of the best I’ve ever tasted. Its soft and creamy yet the truffle flavour is so pungent, its intoxicating. Surely this would be better than boring old parmesan? Indeed it was! It was heaven!
The smoky aubergine, the earthy mushrooms, the crunchy cashews, all caressed with the soft, melted pungent truffle cheese.
This would have been great on a normal day, but at 3pm on a hungover Saturday, when all I wanted was a hug, it was like mind-blowing. It was like a warm hug of comforting, smoky, cheesy, truffly goodness. And it was all done in 15 minutes!
When I go to Amsterdam, one my my first stops is my favourite café, Café Luxembourg. I love it. It’s the perfect place to sit with a glass of wine and watch the world go by. Inside, the café is really cosy. As you walk in, you see a large table in the middle of the bar complete with reading lamps and the daily newspapers. Soft leather sofas line the walls. If you venture towards the back of the bar, large windows give you a beautiful view of the canal.
When I was in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, I arrived a few hours before the rest of my friends. I thought I’d feel a bit lost on my one but it was quite the contrary! I had a lovely day on my own. I wandered around the city, getting my bearings again, popped into a café for an espresso (it was a very early flight!), went to the Oude Kerk to see the World Press Photo Exhibition, wandered in and out of cheese shops and chocolate shops, sampling the delights they had to offer me, and then headed to Café Luxembourg for a bite to eat. I love walking into this place, its like a warm hug of mahogany.
I knew I only had an hour or so until the girls arrived so I ordered a glass of wine and the Buffalo mozzarella salad. As I waited, I just sat quietly, taking in my surroundings and tried to hatch a plan of how I could move to Amsterdam….
My salad arrived and it was beautiful. Simple, clean and fresh. I hate when you order a Buffalo mozzarella salad and you are presented with a few measly pieces of mozzarella and loads of salad leaves. This was not one of those occasions. This salad was packed full of mozzarella, as well as confit tomatoes, basil, roasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil and lemon juice. It was delicious. The pumpkin seeds really lifted it to another level.
It was so good I kept raving about it to my friends when they arrived, and so the next day, we were back again! We got a table at the back of the bar, overlooking the canal and swiftly ordered a bottle of Prosecco.
I knew I wanted the Buffalo mozzarella salad but couldn’t decide what else to get so Kate and I decided to share the Croque Monsieur made with Tynjethaler cheese and the cheese croquettes. Mmmm…..what a delicious cheese feast! The perfect way to start the day.
Faiza went for the carpaccio of smoked rib eye of beef since we were going to a vegetarian menu that night and she wanted to ‘up’ her meat intake for the day!
If you do go to Amsterdam, please pop in, even if its just for a drink. But don’t sit outside. There is a large outside area but if you want to sit outside, you may as well sit in any bar or cafe. What I love about this place is the inside of it. Its probably more of a winter bar to be honest but I could happily while away the hours in here, drinking and eating and watching the world go by.
Café Luxembourg, Spui 24 1012 XA Amsterdam.
Tel: +31 20 620 6264
When I decided I wanted to go to Amsterdam to celebrate my birthday this year, I knew I wanted to go somewhere special to eat the night of my birthday.
Luckily for me, my wonderful friend Cassie told me to look in the current issue of Grazia Magazine (at the time). In it, was a feature on a new supperclub in Amsterdam. No, not the Supperclub, this was a restaurant run by Marit Beemster, who had turned her back on her career as a designer for Tommy Hilfiger and had decided to set up a restaurant in her own livingroom….Marit’s Huiskamerrestaurant.
Marit is vegetarian and was getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of good vegetarian restaurants in Amsterdam. She realised that she could cook better meals for herself at home than she could find in any restaurant so she figured that other people might like her cooking too!
Now, I’m not vegetarian but over the last couple of years I have found myself eating less and less meat. I often find myself ordering the vegetarian option on restaurant menus. Even when I go to Lucky Chip, the best burger joint in London (http://bit.ly/KYKw6I), I order their vegetarian burger (which is amazing by the way, you must try it). This is not to say I have abandoned meat altogether. I still love chorizo and salami and parma ham…actually, I love pork. But I don’t really eat lamb or beef anymore. When I make a curry I tend to make it with potatoes, onions and peppers. In fact, sometimes when I think back, I realise that I’ve not had any meat for days without trying. Anyway, I’m going off track a bit. I didn’t book it because it was a vegetarian restaurant, I booked it because I liked the look of it. However, when I mentioned it to my meat-loving friends, they said they may have to sneak a salami into their bags to help tide them over!
So on Saturday night we headed East, to Oosterparkbuurt, and pulled up in a lovely leafy street. The front of Marit’s home actually looks like a shop front.
As we walked in, we were warmly greeted by the waitress and showed to our table. The restaurant was full. With us, there were 20 people dining there. As we sat down, Marit’s beautiful dog Tilly came to say hello! This really reinforced the fact that we were indeed in someone’s home.
The space is beautiful, warm and homely. The furniture is mis-matched and antiquey, there are bowls of limes and stunning arrangements of flowers dotted around the room.
Looking to the back, you can see her living area with a sofa, arm chairs and a TV. French doors lead off the living area into a garden out the back. Above us is her bedroom, her kitchen is off the living area.
Marits has an impressive wine list. We ordered a bottle of Prosecco to start and then Marit came over to say hello to us and explain the ethos of the restaurant. She explained that we would be having a 3-course vegetarian menu made with ingredients which were sourced locally. We had a choice from a selection of starters, the main meal was fixed, and we had a choice of desserts.
We ordered our starters and a few minutes later we were given a amuse bouche of roasted fig stuffed with goats cheese. A delicious way to start the meal.
The starter I opted for was a salad of mixed leaves, rocket, orange slices, tomato berries, grapes and topped with two slices of sheeps cheese. This was drizzled in a honey and mustard dressing.
This was one of the most delicious salads I’ve tasted in a long time. The smooth creaminess of the cheese tasted incredible with the juicy, citrusy orange. And with the sweet tomato berries literally bursting in my mouth, this was like a dish full of Summer. The flavours were so fresh and zesty, and mixed with the honey and mustard dressing, it was divine. Am I describing this enough? I loved it. I wish you could all try it.
Faiza opted for the pea and ricotta ravioli.
I didn’t go for this as I’d had ravioli the night before. However, tasting Faiza’s dish, this was far, far better ravioli than I’d eaten at Lab 111 (http://bit.ly/MFTeF4). Deliciously light pasta and the filling was so fresh, you could really taste the peas. Lovely.
Our main course was an endive and spinach tart with melted cheese on the top. Also on the plate was roasted aubergine with tomato berries, and a fennel and lemon salad.
Accompanying this were bowls of roasted potatoes with rosemary…
And plates of mixed tomatoes – beef, plum and cherry tomatoes, topped with buffalo ricotta.
How beautiful does this plate of food look?
The tart was delicious. Breaking through the crisp, buttery pastry, you’re met with the soft, tangy endive. The roasted aubergines were perfectly charred and the fennel salad….well, that was a surprise. I actually hate the taste of anise so I steer clear of fennel at all times. But this was lovely. There was enough lemon through it that it just tasted crisp and zesty and citrusy, and not at all like fennel. Result! The sweet tomatoes with the smooth, creamy were a delight.
I adored this meal. It was fresh and light, yet hearty and filling. I think a lot of people believe vegetarian food isn’t filling and they’re going to be left wanting if they don’t have any meat. But Faiza, who is a pretty heavily dedicated meat lover said she was pleasantly surprised by how filling and satisfying the meal was and she hadn’t missed the meat at all. (Faiza actually had a plate of beef carpaccio at lunchtime to ‘up’ her meat factor since she knew she’d be having a vegetarian dinner!)
Next, it was time for pudding. There was only one slice of chocolate cake left and luckily, I managed to nab it! And Marit very kindly added a birthday candle to it.
Rich, dark, luscious chocolate cake topped with raspberries. My favourite combination. Perfect!
The rest of the girls opted for white chocolate mousse, served with rhubarb and strained yoghurt with lavender stirred through it.
This was a triumph. The girls were pretty full by this point and couldn’t finish all of their desserts. Luckily, my stomach has had more practice than theirs, and my spoon quickly found its way into all of their glasses and finished off the remains of their mousses. I really loved this dessert. The white chocolate mousse was perfectly sweet and light as air. The rhubarb added a touch of sharpness to it and then the lavender hit you. Not too hard, just the right amount. Lavender isn’t used very often in cooking so it’s a nice surprise. If used too heavily it can taste soapy but Marit had managed to use just the right amount.
This is really my kind of place. I loved Marit’s home, I loved her furniture, her crockery, her food…everything. I was initially slightly worried that sitting in someone else’s living room might be a bit awkward but it was nothing like that at all. It was homely and comfortable and I loved having her dog wandering around throughout the night. Although she kept trying to win the affections of my friend Faiza who is not really a dog lover! She disguised it well though.
Talking to Marit at the end of the night, she explained how she had started this restaurant just a few months ago and how much happier she is now. It certainly made me question whether I should be doing the job I do as opposed to the job I really want to do. The inspiration to follow your heart was so tangible, it really made it feel possible.
Marit runs her restaurant from her home 3 days a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. If you are planning a trip to Amsterdam, please go check it out. The five of us loved it and didn’t miss meat at all. Go on…give it a go.
Andreas Bonnstraat 34H
tel: +31 207763864
Last year I wasn’t looking forward to my birthday AT ALL so I decided that the only way to cheer myself up would be to take myself to New York. It worked! I had the most fantastic birthday ever. Whilst there, I made the decision that every birthday from now on would be celebrated internationally. So this year, I decided that my friends and I would go to Amsterdam for a long weekend.
I adore Amsterdam. I would move there in a heartbeat if I was able to do my job there. It is the coolest, most stylish, classy, beautiful cities I have ever been to. And luckily for me, its only a 50 minute flight from London.
I knew I wanted to have quite a relaxed, chilled weekend. I’ve been to Amsterdam before so I’d done all the usual touristy things such as visiting Anne Frank’s house, the museums, boat trips etc. This time I just wanted to hang out in Jordaan with my friends, meandering down the canals, popping into any cheese/chocolate shop we happen to pass, and stopping off for a bite to eat, a coffee or glass/bottle of wine and watch the world go by.
As you know, I am somewhat obsessed with food so that was clearly going to be my focal point for this trip. I had decided where I wanted to eat on my actual birthday but still didn’t know where I was going to go on the Friday night. Luckily, a week before I was due to go, I saw an article in the Guardian Weekend Magazine recommending the best city hangouts in Amsterdam. One of them was a restaurant called Lab 111. I asked around a few of my friends who know Amsterdam well and it had some mixed reviews. I decided to test it out for myself.
So on Friday night, my friends and I walked down Kinkerstraat into the Oud-West district of Amsterdam. We turned into Nicolaas Beetsstraat and then onto Arie Biemondstraat. Lab 111 is (very well) hidden within an artist complex called Smart Project Space, a cultural centre offering a continuously changing programme of exhibitions and events. This is very easy to miss! It is a very residential area and there is no way I would have stumbled across it had I not read about it in the Guardian.
We gingerly walked in. It didn’t look at all like a restaurant…more like a school. But as soon as you walk through the doors, you see a large room with a bar to the left and a a big green communal table underneath what looked like medical operating theatre lights.
Housed in a former anatomical pathology laboratory, the room of the restaurant used to be a classroom where medical students cut open corpses back in the old days.
What I especially loved were the walls. They were covered in photographic images of drink bottles on stacked supermarket shelves.
As soon as we sat down we were greeted by our incredibly friendly waiter. As it was our first night in Amsterdam, we ordered a bottle of Prosecco as we looked over the menu. The waiter then poured some outstandingly good olive oil into a saucer in front of us which we dipped our bread into. I asked the waiter where it was from and he gave me a booklet with all the details so I could order it online. It was stunning. Really grassy and full of flavour. I was impressed already.
Looking at the menu, one dish jumped out at everyone… smoked kangaroo with sweet potato, sauerkraut salad and sage-mustard dressing.
I wanted to try it but wasn’t sure I wanted the whole dish so once I was happy that 3 of the girls were going for the kangaroo and I knew I’d get at least one bite of it, I ordered the ravioli with ricotta, artichoke, parmesan and pommodori-tarragon-sauce.
This was very nice but a little heavy on the tarragon for me. I ordered it because I love artichoke but the flavour of the tarragon overpowered everything else unfortunately. It certainly wasn’t unpleasant…the pasta was as light as air, the tomato sauce was delicious, and if I loved tarragon, it would have been a winner.
However, it turned out that the kangaroo dish was the dish of the night….in fact, the whole weekend! We were talking about it days later.
This was a wonderful dish. The meat itself was very smoky, rich and so, so tender. It melted in your mouth. The sweet potato complimented it beautifully, as did the mustard in the dressing. Everything balanced perfectly. I was gutted I hadn’t ordered this myself. Luckily, I have very generous friends who kept offering me bites of theirs.
Kate opted for the cod fritters with wakame salad and paprika ketchup.
I really liked this too. Full of flavour, you could really taste the cod and the paprika ketchup sauce on the side really spiced it up.
For the main course, Claire went for the full-sized version of my ravioli starter. She too thought it was a bit heavy on the tarragon. Carmen and Faiza ordered steak with potato, romanesco and garlic-thyme-gravy…
I didn’t try this but was assured that it was delicious. Tender juicy cuts of sirloin and a beautiful rich sauce. Kate and I went for breast of duck with purslane stew, rhubarb compote and lavender gravy…
I loved this. The duck was beautifully cooked, and the sweetness of the rhubarb compote was a perfect pairing. One I would never have thought of before. The lavender gravy took it up to another level entirely. I thought this was a wonderful dish.
Once we’d finished our mains we asked for a bit of time before having pudding. The DJ was playing some really good tunes, we had some great wine on the go and we were enjoying the atmosphere.
Once we were ready, I ordered the cheesecake and the girls went for the cheese plates which came with a quince jelly.
The cheesecake was delicious. Dense yet not heavy, rich but not sickly. The biscuit base was perfectly crumbly, the cheese had the perfect amount of vanilla. It was lovely. I left the girls to finish off the cheese plate.
Overall, we all had a fantastic night. The waiters were incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, attentive and efficient. The food was wonderful and the place has a great atmosphere, with great music playing through the night. I’m so glad I read about it because if I hadn’t, I would never have found it. Its a bit off the normal tourist track but if you are planning on going to Amsterdam, please add it to your list of places to go.
Lab 111, Arie Biemondstraat 111, 1054 PD Amsterdam
Tel: +31 (0)20 616 9994
A couple of weeks ago, my good friend Claire and I met up for a catch-up. She asked me where I wanted to eat and I suggested Ducksoup on Dean Street, Soho.
I’ve been once, but just briefly while I was waiting for another friend to go on elsewhere. I really wanted to try it out properly.
Ducksoup, which opened late last year, is the brainwave of chef Julian Biggs, helped by Clare Lattin and Rory McCoy, all hailing from Mark Hix’s Oyster & Chop House.
This is a cool little restaurant. Most of the seating is around the bar with a few tables along the wall. Everyone pretty much sits on top of one another so don’t expect too much privacy! Personally I quite like this. It adds to the atmosphere of the place and more often that not, I usually end up meeting really interesting people this way.
I arrived at 6.30pm and just managed to nab the very last table for two. They don’t take bookings (I can’t remember the last time I was able to book a table in a restaurant!) so you need to get there early. It was a roasting hot day so they had the windows open into the street.
Ducksoup was buzzing with noise, energy and atmosphere as I walked in. That could be because us Brits are always incredibly excited when the sun comes out. The restaurant was packed with people perched at the bar and the tables inside and out were full.
The decor inside is simple and unpretentious. The wine list (all natural wines) is scrawled across the white tiled walls.
As you walk through the door you pass a turn-table and a stack of records. The restaurant has a BYO policy - bring your own vinyl! Fantastic idea.
The menu is updated every day which I like. I love that you know you’re getting seasonal, fresh ingredients each time. It also keeps you on your toes and it makes you keep coming back. The hand-written menu is divided into sections…small ‘bar’ plates and more substantial ‘kitchen’ plates.
As I was waiting for Claire to turn up, I ordered a cold, crisp glass of white wine and the salami toscano (£6)…
The salami was delicious. It melted in your mouth. But for £1 per slice, it seemed a tad overpriced!
When Claire arrived we decided to order a few plates to share. The chopped pancetta on rosemary toast (£6) jumped out at us.
I loved this. Crunchy sourdough toast topped with fried onions and pancetta and lots of rosemary. Strong, punchy flavours. Delicious.
Next to arrive, the grilled sardines and pine nut tarator (£7)….
Claire loved these. I don’t mind sardines, I just don’t like fiddling with my food, checking it for bones etc. I’m too impatient. They were very nice, I just wouldn’t normally order them. The pine nut tarator was wonderful though.
Next up, beautiful fresh, in season asparagus, topped with Guanciale and a poached egg (£7)…
Finally, quail on fried bread, onions and a brandy sauce.
I loved this, although the quail looked rather too much like a women laid back with her legs crossed! She tasted delicious though! The quail was juicy and tender, the sweetness and the softness of the onions was beautiful against the crunchy toast while the brandy sauce brought it all together. Gorgeous.
I ummed and ahhed at having a pudding. They had Torta di Nonna on the menu which is one of my favourite desserts, but we decided to order some more wine instead. Next time…
I liked Ducksoup a lot. Its busy, crowded, full of atmosphere, the staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and they offer up great food. The turn table delivered us some classic Joe Cocker and Stevie Wonder the night we were there but that will obviously change day to day. And with their ever-changing menu, I know i’ll definitely be back.
Ducksoup, 41 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PY
Tel: 020 72874599
The menu is printed on Tumblr every day - http://ducksoupsoho.tumblr.com/
June is one of my favourite months. It signals the beginning of summer, plus my birthday is in June and, as much as I seem to choke when I have to say my age these days, I love my birthday celebrations and getting all my friends together. This year we’re all going to Amsterdam for a long weekend and I can’t wait!
Anyway, back to food. June is usually, fingers crossed, packed with sunshine and what’s in season reflects that. This year the weather looked promising, with a 2 week heat-wave at the end of May, but as soon as we got to June, the sun disappeared and the grey skies and rain returned. How typically British!
Weather aside, to me, June means one thing…strawberries.
I love strawberries. They make me think of lazy days lying in the park, or watching Wimbledon. What’s more delicious than a ripe strawberry picked straight from the plant on a hot summer’s day? When I was a little girl, my mum used to take my brothers and I fruit picking. Although I did more eating than anything else. One year, after a full day of fruit picking, we arrived at the scales to weigh what we’d picked, and the man, who saw the strawberry-red stains all around my mouth, promptly picked me up and placed me on the scales instead of my half-filled bowl! Whoops!
British strawberries are perfect in June, with their alluring sweet scent and their succulent juiciness. I don’t think there are many things better than strawberries sprinkled with a little caster sugar and dipped into thick whipped cream. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
This is also the season for gooseberries.
Gooseberries aren’t as fashionable as they were in the 19th century when gooseberry wine, tarts, fools, pies and puddings were all common place. The gooseberry was once a much celebrated fruit but nowadays the gooseberry has become a much forgotten wonder of the past, which is a shame.
As well as the more traditional uses for gooseberries like pies, tarts and fools they can be used in more adventurous ways, such as cooking them down with some sugar and serving them with a pork chops/roast instead of apple puree/sauce. Delicious!
Early in the season they are bright green, with a veined effect on the skin, and quite hard and tart - they are best for cooking with, in particular to make the classic English pudding, gooseberry fool. Later on, softer, sweeter varieties become available, often yellow or red coloured - and these are lovely eaten raw.
And onto one of my favourite foods….tomatoes.
I adore tomatoes and eat a punnet of cherry tomatoes a day. I always have them on my desk at work and eat them like sweets! Tomatoes are technically, (botanically) a fruit, but their affinity for other savoury ingredients means that they are usually classed as a vegetable.
Tomatoes vary in size from the huge beefsteak to tiny cherry tomatoes, but most have a sweet, gently tangy flavour and are good both raw and cooked. The sooner you eat a ripe tomato after it’s been picked, the better it will taste, so try to seek out locally grown tomatoes if possible.
Tomatoes are probably one of the most versatile ingredients. You can do so much with them. The type of tomato you buy depends on what you intend to do with it. Here’s a run-down of some of the most common types….
Beefsteak: these are the biggest tomatoes, and have a meaty texture with a sweet, mellow flavour. They are good for salads, grilling or stuffing.
Salad (or round): this is the traditional British tomato - it’s a good all rounder, but really needs to be ripe to get the best flavour.
Cherry: small and very sweet, cherry tomatoes are pricier than salad tomatoes but their intense flavour is worth the extra cash. They are good in salads, pasta sauces or roasted.
Plum: Available as a baby or full-grown tomato, plum tomatoes have an oval shape, with a rich flavour and comparatively few seeds. Good for making sauces and stews.
Green: there are two types of green tomato. One is unripe, and is quite tart but good for chutneys, or fried. The other is a variety that stays green when ripe, has a tangy flavour and is good in salads or, again, fried.
Yellow: these ripen to a golden yellow colour, and are good in salads, salsas and chutneys.
NEVER keep tomatoes in the fridge. The cold temperature dulls the flavour so they should be stored at room temperature.
Also coming into season are broad beans.
Broad Beans, or fava beans as they’re known in the US, are a great source of protein and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins A, B1 and B2.
Buy broad beans as fresh as possible, when the pods are firm and crisp. They are beautiful steamed or boiled and served with a sprinkling of sea salt. Once they are cooked, simply slit each pod along its seam and run your thumb along the furry inside to push the beans out.
Alternatively you can mash them and serve them on crusty bread, or serve as a side dish. Or you can add them to soups. They are so versatile there are countless ways you can work with them.
Asparagus, broad beans, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, new potatoes, peas, radishes, rocket, sorrel, spring onions, watercress.
Strawberries, elderflowers, cherries, gooseberries, redcurrants, rhubarb.
MEAT & GAME
Beef, chicken, guinea fowl, lamb, pork, quail, wood pigeon.
Crab, crayfish, Dover sole, grey mullet, halibut, herring, lemon sole, mackerel, plaice, pollack, sea bass, sea trout.
Please try to eat seasonally if you can. Foods in season contain the nutrients and minerals that our bodies need at particular times of the year. Its also a great way to support British farmers and it keeps the carbon footprint down. Plus, the foods should also be cheaper.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock of late, you will probably have noticed that over the last week or so, Britain has been having a right good knees-up to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A couple of weeks ago, I posted photos of my own Jubilee party (http://bit.ly/LkIrBq) and luckily for me, someone at the renowned chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker, saw it, liked it and consequently sent me an invitation to their very own Jubilee celebration!
So last Thursday, my friend Cassie and I arrived at their Old Bond Street store in London’s Mayfair and were warmly greeted with a smile and a glass of champagne.
The shop had been thoroughly decked out in bunting and Jubilee-inspired gift boxes…
And even a chocolate crown!
There was an infectious atmosphere of excitement and anticipation as everyone mingled together. With the champagne flowing and spirits high, the Old Bond Street Manager, Adam Lee, addressed the room and welcomed us all, giving us a bit of background information about the Charbonnel et Walker brand.
I already knew of the brand and have enjoyed their chocolates in the past, but I had no idea how rich the history was.
To give you a little of the history…Charbonnel et Walker was founded in 1875 and is one of Britain’s earliest chocolatiers. It is also endorsed by the Royal warrant as the official chocolate manufacturers to the Queen.
The company first formed as a partnership between Mrs Walker and Mme. Charbonnel, the latter from the Maison Boissier chocolate house in Paris. Their original shop opened at 173 New Bond Street in Mayfair and has remained in Bond Street ever since.
Charbonnel et Walker’s exquisite chocolates are hand-made according to traditional recipes in their factory in Tunbridge Wells. Their hand-made boxes and satin ribbons are immediately recognisable and make an ideal gift.
Adam explained that their best-selling chocolate is the Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles. I have had these many times before and they’re incredible.
These consist of a milk chocolate, butter and Marc de Champagne centre with a white chocolate shell and a light dusting of icing sugar. Melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness.
We were also treated to the dark chocolate version although I preferred the milk version.
We also tried their classic milk truffles…
And their dark chocolates dusted in cocoa. I personally adore dark chocolate so the dark ones were my favourite. Intense, rich, smooth…perfect.
Then we moved onto their world-renowned speciality…English Rose & Violet Creams (apparently a favourite of the Queen and the Queen Mother!)
Decorated with a crystallised rose or violet leaf, the fondant creams are infused with rose or violet oil and coated in dark chocolate. As well as the fondant creams, we were also given rose and violet truffles…
I was surprised how much I liked the Rose creams. I’m not normally a fan of fragrant chocolates but these were so delicately fragrant, and so smooth, they were wonderful. I wasn’t as big a fan of the Violet ones but that is purely a personal thing. Everyone else seemed to love them. I’ve just never been a fan of Violet.
Next we were offered to taste some chocolates that are in development. Starting with the sublime Creamed Coconut encased in dark chocolate. I loved this one.
Next up was Passion fruit Cream. This was light and tangy and lovely, but not as good as the coconut. Again, this is purely a matter of personal taste.
Then…the grand finale. Clearly they had left the best til last…Sea Salt Caramel Truffles.
Wow! As you bite into the milk chocolate shell, you’re met with a liquid salted caramel centre. Bite into only half of it and you’ll end up in a mess, so this is best consumed whole. You can taste the hint of salt, which stops the caramel truffle from being too sickly sweet. I could have eaten a lot more of these, they were absolutely divine.
To round off the evening, we were all guided to the back of the store where we were greeted with tea cups of Pimms!
Whilst strawberries dipped in chocolate were passed around.
Cassie and I had a thoroughly wonderful evening. What can be better than an evening of chocolate truffles and champagne?! And we were even sent home with a goody bag containing the chocolate crown and a heart-shaped box of chocolate truffles! I went home feeling slightly queasy (in a good way!) from all the chocolate and champagne but extremely happy.
Thank you so much Charbonnel et Walker for the invite!
Charbonnel et Walker,
One, The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London, W1S 4BT
Tel: 020 7491 0939
www.charbonnel.co.uk (for more information on stores and stockists)
* The top two photos are courtesy of the wonderful Cassie Bennitt (@Miss_Lola_Mae)
When I posted photos of my Jubilee party the other day (http://bit.ly/LkIrBq), I got a lot of people messaging me asking me how I made my millionaire shortbread so here is my very simple recipe…
For the shortbread:
250g (8.8oz) plain flour
75g (2.6oz) caster sugar
175g (6.1oz) butter, softened
For the caramel:
100g (3.5oz) butter or margarine
100g (3.5oz) light muscavado sugar
2 x 397g (14oz) cans condensed milk
OR…2 cans of ready-made caramel.
Pinch of sea salt flakes (optional)
For the topping:
200g (7oz) chocolate (60/70%), broken into pieces. (This can be dark or milk chocolate. Personally, I recommend dark as the caramel is very sweet and if you add milk chocolate, the whole thing becomes sickly sweet. I used 64% cocoa solids.)
Pre-heat the oven to 180’C/Gas mark 4. Lightly grease a 13 x 9inch (33x23cm) Swiss roll tin.
To make the shortbread, mix the flour and caster sugar in a bowl.
Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Knead the mixture together until it forms a dough.
Then press into the base of the prepared tin.
Prick the shortbread lightly with a fork.
And bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes or until firm to the touch and very lightly browned. Cool in the tin.
To make the caramel, measure the butter, sugar and condensed milk into a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then reduce the heat and simmer very gently, stirring continuously, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly.
Or alternatively, go for the easy route and buy some ready-made caramel!
Pour over the shortbread and leave to cool. (You could sprinkle some sea salt flakes over the top of the caramel and stir it through so you have salted caramel)
For the topping, melt the chocolate slowly in a bowl over a pan of hot water. Pour over the cold caramel…
And place in the fridge.
TIP: Keep an eye on the chocolate…when it starts to set, score the chocolate into the size you want your squares to be. This makes it so much easier to cut once its completely set. Otherwise you’ll never be able to cut it into squares. It will just crack.
This made 20 squares but the squares were quite big, considering how sweet it is. You could easily make your portions a lot smaller.
This is such a lovely sweet treat…crunchy shortbread, soft, sweet gooey caramel and crisp, dark chocolate. What a wonderful combination!
Last Wednesday, my best friend Carmen and I met up for dinner. We’ve both been so busy lately we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of weeks which is unusual for us since we live round the corner from one another.
We wanted to have a nice bite to eat after work accompanied by lots of lovely wine. My friend Sally had told me about Opera Tavern in Covent Garden. When I looked it up I realised it was right next door to Mishkin’s, one of my favourite restaurants. (http://bit.ly/KFb91i) Carmen has been wanting to go to Mishkin’s for ages. So I booked us a table at Opera Tavern for 7.30pm, just to be safe, and figured that we’d go along, see what it was like, and if we didn’t like it we’d go to Mishkin’s.
So we met up outside Covent Garden tube station and got to Catherine Street for 7pm. We were too early for Opera Tavern so we popped into Mishkin’s and sat at the bar, hoping for some nice gin cocktails. We were told we had to eat if we were going to drink alcohol so we ordered the baby spinach, roast red pepper, labneh & spiced pecan salad.
It was divine! The soft spinach with the sweet roasted pepper and onions worked so well with the smooth creaminess of the labneh. And the pecans gave it a lovely bit of texture. Finished off with a fantastic dressing, I would have been happy eating this all night. It really was one of the tastiest salads I’ve had in a restaurant.
We also ordered a portion of deliciously crisp and sweet onion rings…perfect.
These were accompanied by beautifully refreshing Diamond Fizz cocktails…Beefeater gin, Prosecco and lemon.
Mishkin’s cocktails are a little too good. I’ve had many great nights I can’t fully remember, all because of their gin cocktails.
At 7.30pm. we paid up at Mishkin’s and headed next door to Opera Tavern.
Initially they seated us upstairs but we asked if there might be a possibility of table outside since it was such a lovely hot evening. We were in luck! A table had become available and we were moved right away.
The very friendly waitress talked us through the menu. My eyes immediately went to the Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Goats’ Cheese and Drizzled with Honey…
Absolutely delicious. The crisp petals of the flower provided a delightful contrast to the smooth, creaminess of the tangy goats cheese. The honey added a beautiful rich sweetness to it.
Next came the Chargrilled Beef Underblade Fillet with Watercress Purée, Gorgonzola and Portobello Mushrooms…
This was Carmen’s dish. I like a bite of steak but I can’t eat a lot of it. Served on a piece of slate, the beef was thinly sliced and cooked medium rare, and it was so tender it melted on your tongue. The addition of the gorgonzola gave it richness and depth and the mushrooms, an earthiness. It was a lovely dish but for me, too heavy for such a hot evening.
Next up was my Mini Ibérico Pork and Foie Gras Burger. I was to-ing and fro-ing between ordering this and ordering the Chorizo with Piquillo and Marjoram but the waitress recommended the burger very highly so I took her advice. And boy, was I happy that I did!
It was the perfect size for me. I don’t like huge burgers. I find them a little overwhelming. This was perfect. But let me assure you, it might me mini in size but its big on taste.
With soft sweet peppers on the bottom, the burger was cooked medium rare over a grill with the foie gras mixed through the pork. The foie gras adds a rich velvety texture to the burger. Topped with aged manchego cheese and crispy onions, it was so juicy, so tender, I loved it.
I was pretty full by now but Carmen’s meat feast continued with her Moorish Marinated Ibérico Pork skewer which I think has harissa on top.
I only had a tiny bite of this since it was so small to begin with. It had a really strong chargrilled taste to it which I loved and the pork itself was incredibly moist.
And last but not least, the Chargrilled Spring Lamb Cutlet with Smoked Garlic Purée, Tomato, Courgette and Cumin.
Again, this was Carmen’s. I’m not a huge lover of lamb so I had the tiniest piece of it. I must say, these guys really know how to cook their meat. Once again, it was soft, tender and juicy and I loved the smoked garlic purée that came with it, although Carmen wasn’t a fan.
We were too full for pudding so we just ordered some more wine and enjoyed the amazing music that was pumping out from Mishkin’s next door, who seemed to be enjoying a bit of a 70s disco vibe. As I danced in my seat to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Le Freak by Chic, Carmen and I caught up on all the gossip and enjoyed being able to sit outside in the warm night air. It really was a wonderful night. Made even more wonderful when John Torode, chef and presenter of Masterchef, walked out the restaurant and stood right next to us with his friends. Carmen, who was feeling super confident due to the amount of wine she’d consumed by this point, was about to walk over and introduce herself and tell him that I loved him. Not her, me! Luckily I managed to stop her just as he walked back into the restaurant and our bill came.
We jumped in a taxi as Carmen was complaining of stomach ache. Nothing to do with the quality of the food, but more to do with the fact that she’d eaten pork, lamb and beef in one sitting! I’m sure eating three different types of meat in one meal can’t be good for you.
Both restaurants were great. Mishkin’s really is fantastic and its fast becoming one of my regular haunts, for the gin cocktails if nothing else! Opera Tavern’s friendly and knowledgeable staff served terrific food and great wine. What can be better than that?
If you’re in Covent Garden, take a trip to Catherine Street. Whichever restaurant you go in to, you’re sure of a fantastic meal.
Mishkin’s: 25 Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JS
Tel: 020 7240 2078
Opera Tavern: 23 Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JS
Tel: 020 7836 3680