Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Melbourne: A guide for your stomach

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne

The good people of twitter have give me a list of places to eat in Melbourne as long as my arm (if I wrote in teensy weensy tiny scrawled letters), but unfortunately I will only be in town for 6 whole days and this man can only eat and drink so much.

So, I thought the best thing to do would be try to compile a list from all the emails, messages and scraps of paper I have been given, and get it down in one place. Please feel free to report back on anywhere that I fail to include in any subsequent write up (which will unfortunately be a lot). I trust these people with my appetite:

COFFEE:

- St Ali, South Melbourne – fabulous, and great breakfasts/lunch spot.
- MART: which is at the Middle Park tram stop. Cute place, can sit inside or out overlooking the gum trees. Great coffee, and breakfast/lunch.
- Grocery Bar: On Fitzroy St in St Kilda. A short stroll from the beach.
- Il Fornaio Bakery, near corner of Acland St and Fitzroy St – Italian bakery, but also do great pastas etc for lunch and breakfast/coffee is great. Doughnuts and almond croissants are amazing, but everything is good!
- All the best coffee spots are in the city centre, St Kilda, Albert Park or Fitzroy/Brunswick
- Sugar Dough bakery if you are in Brunswick – great pies, cakes and coffee
- City Centre: Postal Café, Journal, Il Solito Posto, the places on Degraves Street
- Seven Seeds (106 Berkeley St, Carlton)
- Proud Mary (172 Oxford Street, Collingwood)
- Atomica in Fitzroy (268 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065)

AREA GUIDE:

City Centre:
- DeGraves street – quintessential Melbourne laneway with lots of shops and coffee shops/sandwich shops. A must do. Jungle Juice is great for coffee and fab sandwiches.
- Melbourne Supper Club – a bit expensive, but very Melbourne Wine bar. Old school.
- The European and The Melbourne Wine bar are all virtually next door to the Melbourne Supper club.
- Izakaya Den is an amazing Japanese place in the city which is getting fab reviews
- Syracuse – Greek influenced meditteranean food. Quintessential Melbourne.
- Shopping at the GPO, funky small shopping centre of the Burke St Mall.
- Double Happiness is a tiny bar. All Melbourne’s best bars are tucked down alleyways. The Gin Palace is another good one – quieter, businessy crowd.
- Longrain has great Thai food – not cheap but good
- Movida, fun for wine and tapas. Very Melbourne place also.
- Matteo's Restaurant, Brunswick street -
- Vue de Monde for the tasting menu but if you can’t do that at least visit the café and get a Cookie du Jour – they use Amedei chocolate and it’s a steal at $2.50.
- POP, Hardware Lane
- Flower Drum, Market Lane - Top notch Cantonese food

Carlton:
- Gerald's Bar (386 Rathdown St, North Carlton)

St Kilda:
- Grocery Bar or Il Fornaio for coffee – Fitzroy St
- Cicciolina’s is one of my fav restaurants. Very casual, but great quality Italian food and wine. It’s on Acland St, but not touristy.
- Stokehouse, Jacka Blvd

South Melbourne:
- St Ali, Dead Man Espresso, Gas – for coffee (and Gas also do good tapas style lunch)
- South Melbourne market – for food and dim sims! – short tram ride either to City centre or the beach.

Albert Park:
- Kamel, Victoria Ave: Coffee and breakfast at Egyptian style place
- Misuzu’s, Victoria Ave: Japanese food, really cute place and lovely food
- Andrews Burgers – trad’l Aussie burgers. Mmmmm, buy and walk down to beach to eat it!
- MART for breakfast – Middle Park

Fitzroy/Collingwood:
- Panama Dining Room, South Street
- Cutler and Co (55 Gertrude Street)
- Farmers Market at Abbotsford Convent, Saturday

Southbank:
- Rockpool - Steak house on the corner of the Crown casino but meant to be good.

South Yarra:
- Brioche: For good bread

Ripponlea:
- Attica - Go for the tasting menu. Really interesting and excellent quality food. Nice staff too.
- Best breakfast ever from Las Chicas just next to Balaclava Station. Good coffee up the road at Batch

SWEET STUFF

- Doughnut vans at Vic market and Footscray pretty traditionally Aussie and worth trying
- Lindt café for macarons. (also try from the chocolate shop in St Kilda and from Café Vue.)
- If you’re in the CBD and looking for hot chocolate I’m told you should go to Chokolait rather than Koko Black.
- Best chocolate shop is Monsieur Truffe on Smith St in Collingwood. Actual chocolates (bon bons) - and good hot chocolate – are best from Ganache in Toorak (off Chapel) near South Yarra train station (same road – walk towards Chapel Street).
- Brunetti's, Lygon street - Cakes galore.

Big thanks go to Carly and Jen (UK based Aussies), SJF (Melbourne blogger), Amy and Pauline (buddies), and Nadia (auntie) for all their help. All the information has been provided by the most knowledgeable Melburnians I know and I am currently doing my best to visit (and report back) on as many as I can.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Public House, no ordinary pub (invite)

Public House, Islington

I feel bad. It has taken me a good few weeks to write this one up. A few months ago, I was invited to try out Public House, a restaurant cum bar just off Upper Street in Islington. Not really sure what to expect, I was intrigued by some of the flavor combinations that they presented in a press release that they sent and coming from one of the old Loungelover team, I was expecting some decent grub in an elaborate and well thought out setting.

Never has there been a more misleading name for a restaurant. With a name like Public House, I would expect a roaring fire, a drunk local at the bar wearing a hat at a jaunty angle, maybe a dart board but definitely a fruit machine. Public House is as elaborate as it's provenance suggests. There are definitely influences of Loungelover in this space and although elaborate, feels comfortable and rather easy on the eye. With a small bar at the front, and a dining area towards the back, it's not a huge space but feels comfortable and not cramped.

Public House, Islington

The menu is short and changes every month but presents a variety of interesting options. I was drawn to the scallops, them being my "new favourite thing" and of course it had to be pork for the mains. Once we had ordered, we were presented with an "amuse" of salted cod flakes with "terrible" potatoes and roasted seeds. Now before you all shout at me, I realise that salted cod is going to be salty, but this was really too far gone. Every mouthful had me reaching for the water, which is a real shame as I actually quite liked the idea of the dish. The roasted seeds provided a nice contrast in texture to the cod and the only thing terrible about the potatoes was the name. Small cubes of soft potatoes perfectly sauteed with flecks of vanilla, surprisingly tasty.

Public House, Islington

Our first course in earnest were two large scallops, perfectly seared and presented with their roe still attached. Many places remove the roe, but it's a total waste. With a deeper flavour than the white flesh, it is arguably tastier. These scallops were perched on top of little disks of haggis and then again on top of sticks of rhubarb blanched in champagne. A very odd and somewhat ambitious combination but actually proved to be quite successful. The haggis was iron rich and was significantly mellowed by the sweet scallop. The tart rhubarb was a good contrast and I genuinely enjoyed such a strange combination.

Public House, Islington

My main was a far more straightforward pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta, stuffed apple and cauliflower purée. It's not often that I am disappointed by a pork dish, but this left a lot to be desired in my eyes. My main qualm was that the piece of meat was rather tough, and using the blunt knife I was provided, I hacked away a chunk. It tasted ok, but nothing to shout home about. The apple was stuffed with a smidgen of liver but my aversion to most things offal meant that this was largely left alone. Cauliflower puree was nondescript, the whole dish could have done with some starch and some gravy. Having said that, most dishes would benefit from starch and gravy.

Public House, Islington

Dessert was a sorbetto with blackberries. Incredibly light and refreshing, the actual sorbetto contained hints of a blackberry liqueur but arrived far softer than I anticipated. In fact, it was more like a blackberry slushy, pleasant, but not what I was expecting.

So that was that. A pretty average meal with some good ideas and some good cooking. If the kitchen can just pull both together in the same dishes, it should do well. After all, I find that the food around Upper street is rather poor in general, and I admire its ambition. Worth a try and certainly not your ordinary pub grub.

Public House - 54 Islington Park Street, London N1 1PX

Public House on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bangkok, one crazy place

Tired Tuk Tuk driver

Day 1: After a long arse journey, I find myself in the madness that is Bangkok. In the first hour upon landing, I have nearly been run over by a multitude of pink taxis (apparently, red lights mean nothing here), been accosted by prostitutes (female and of the ladyboy variety) and eaten my first meal for under a pound. The last time I was here, I stayed in the Amari Boulevard, a lovely affordable hotel off the Sukhumvit road. It is incredibly well located and 8 years ago, was quiet and new. A lot has changed in 8 years. The hotel is still excellent, but the surrounding area has transformed. Market stalls selling anything from Cd's and clothes to flower garlands and homemade chess sets, clog up the pavements and tonnes of bars and fast food restaurants make up the shops in the surrounding buildings. What a change, I really look forward to the next few days...

Street sellers

Day 2: Bangkok is not pedestrian friendly. The pavements are narrow and more often than not, littered with people, be they trying to sell you something (quite often themselves), begging or just generally walking into you. Walking from place to place is not the way forward.

The Red Shirts

The sky train, however, is. Fast, efficient and clean, it is everything the street level is not. Handily taking you to most of the places you need to go in the city, it is definitely my preferred method of transport. It also has excellent views as you hurtle through the city, taking you from shopping mall to shopping mall. Bangkok has a lot of shopping malls and is the ideal place to buy pretty much anything you need. If it wasn't for the fact that this was my first stop on my trip, I would have filled my boots!

The Red Shirts

Whilst I was in Bangkok, I witnessed some of the "red shirts" peaceful protest against the current government. I don't really know much about the politics, but was touched to witness the solidarity of the people. They are standing up for what they believe in and I watched touching moments where the people were united.

Kiss me, I'm Irish
Sang Som

And none more so united than when I hit the Khao Sarn road for a bit of an Irish jig with my Irish mate on Paddy's day. Let's just say that some things are best forgotten. And after three Sang Som buckets, that's exactly what happened, everything past 12 was well and truly forgotten.


Views from the Chao Phraya river

Day 3: After the previous nights antics, day 3 was pretty much a white wash. I got up for breakfast and then proceeded to clamber back up to my room and hide under the covers, wishing all the bad people would go away. After a few more hours, and feeling no more human, I needed to make the most of the short time I had here and mustered the energy to drag my sorry self to the river. I'm not sure what possessed me into thinking that the river may have been a good idea, but I hopped onto a few of the hotel boats which shuttle up and down the river and surveyed Bangkok from there. In my precarious state, it didn't help that the Chao Phraya river is one of the dirtiest I have ever laid my eyes upon, but made it to dry land and even managed to enjoy a drink on the terrace of the Mandarin Oriental (non-alcoholic).


Baan Khanita

I must admit, this short trip certainly wasn't a foodie trip. Breakfast is included in the price of my room and I was full of bacon and omelets every day, meaning that the scope for culinary endeavours was severely limited. I did manage to make it to Baan Kanitha, a "high end" traditional Thai restaurant promising "flavor delicacy, service supremacy and charming ambiance" (I kid you not, check out their website). Well, it certainly delivered on 2 out of the 3. The service was impeccable. In fact, it almost felt that I had my own waiter. His efficiency was startling and he topped up my water and rice with the stealth of a ninja. The restaurant was busy, filled with a good mix of ex pats and Asians, although how many of those were actually Thai was anybodies guess. Cosy and comfortable, it certainly fulfilled the "charming ambiance" criteria.


Pandan leaf chicken
Beef with chilli and holy basil

The food, however, was rather average. The pandan leaf wrapped chicken was bland and was dry, which defies the object of wrapping the chicken in the leaves. The green papaya salad (som tam song see) was pleasant but nothing special. I also ordered beef with chilli and holy basil and was surprised to find it arrive in minced form. Not really what I was expecting and didn't taste all that great either. My meal came to about £15, quite pricy by Thai standards. I have to be honest, although I was pretty disappointed with my food, it may have had a lot to do with poor menu choice. I looked around and everyone else seemed to be loving their food. I guess I will never find out for sure.


Vertigo Bar, Banyan Tree hotel
Vertigo Bar, Banyan Tree hotel

After dinner, I decided to head to my definite "must" for anyone travelling to Bangkok. The Vertigo bar on the top of the Banyan Tree hotel is quite a sight to be marvelled. It is effectively on the 61st floor of the hotel, towering over nearly all of the surrounding buildings. With a restaurant and a bar, you can enjoy a rather expensive meal, or enjoy a decent cocktail with nibbles. I clearly opted for the cocktail version and a few hours up here helped me clear my head and reflect on a decent few days in Bangok.


Vertigo Bar, Banyan Tree hotel

So that's it. Bangkok in a nutshell. Thanks to @applelisafood and @gingergourmand with providing me with plenty of ideas for stuff to do.

Baan Khanita - 36/1 Soi Sukhumvit 23, Sukhumvit Rd., Bangkok 10110

Friday, March 19, 2010

A return to Goodman: The Burger

The Goodman Burger

Burgers, burgers everywhere. Every hyperlink you click will take you to yet another write up from another fellow blogger on the humble burger. I mean, how many iterations of a burger can you get? After all, it's just a beef patty between two bits of bread isn't it? Wrong. There are so many permutations that achieving the perfect burger is becoming somewhat of a science. Some claim that it doesn't need to be that hard at all, in fact, they have even petitioned for the famous West coast chain of In n Out to broaden their horizons to the UK. Some have even recreated famous US versions of the burger in their own home. Hell, even I did my own little mission in the US of A to discover what it is about their burgers.

The burgers in the UK simply don't compare. A different attitude, a different approach and frankly, it feels like for many, a burger is just something they feel they should have on the menu without a great deal of thought about what a good burger really is. It's not really surprising that so many lovers of food have taken it upon themselves to discover the holiest of all holy grails in food terms for many, the perfect burger. The Hawksmoor, a renowned steakhouse, is reputed to have an excellent burger. I have yet to try it, but busied myself on a hectic Monday with a visit to another steakhouse, Goodman on Maddox street.

Blokes eat Beef at Goodman

The Goodman Burger

I have already written about the excellent steaks on offer here. It's one of those rare places, a high end restaurant that I keep finding myself coming back to again and again. This time, it was all about the burger. At £12 with chips and numerous choices of fillings at no extra cost, I may even consider this a bargain. Made from prime USDA offcuts, with a bit of chuck thrown in, the burger tastes like a handheld version of their steaks. The patty was juicy and perfectly pink, almost flaking apart as it hadn't been minced into oblivion. I added cheese and bacon, although in hindsight, I think this was an error. The burger was perfectly seasoned and the additional toppings just made the whole burger a bit on the salty side. My only negative point is that burgers need a good pickle, and unfortunately this one let it down with little of the required piquancy.

So there you have it, great steaks and great burgers. It helps that the manager of Goodman is as passionate about his burgers as his customers are. A brief chat revealed that he is definitely a burger man and has a few tricks up his sleeves in this department, which leads me to the question, whatever are Goodman going to do next???

Goodman (website) - 26 Maddox Street, W1S 1QH

Goodman on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A recipe: Gin and Tonic Gummy Sweets

Gin and Tonic Gummy sweets

Blogging is a great way to meet new friends and to share passions of yours. Food has been good to me, but I have a secret passion for multi coloured rhomboids. Yep, I am a Lego addict.

I have loved it since I was a young child and remember it fondly. I remember the time that my best friend and I spent hours constructing a giant gorilla with compartments for minifigs, of the time I witnessed a friend pelt a half completed fire engine at the wall, only to see it explode into a thousand pieces across his front room, and of the Christmas my little sister bought me the Lego Batmobile. LEGO IS AWESOME!

It shocked me to discover that my passion for Lego was shared by many others. A few tweets to and fro and just like that, Lego Club was formed, an afternoon rediscovering our childhood, nattering over nibbles and alcohol. Each member of Lego Club was prescribed to bring something, and when I announced that I would be bringing gin and tonic, little did they know what was in store.

Gin and Tonic Gummy Sweets

I love sweets. I love gin and tonic. So why not make some gin and tonic gummy sweets? These have to be made, idiot proof and incredibly easy. I used a rectangular container and just cut into squares but if you have molds, even better.

1 x Sachet of Hartley's Jelly Lime Sugar Free
3 x Sachets of gelatine (normally about 35g)
1 pint of gin and tonic (about 50/50, I mean, you want it to taste of gin, right?)
Some lemon sherbet, optional, but a worthy addition

1. Put the gin and tonic into a small sauce pan. Sprinkle the lime jelly and unflavored gelatin over the generous G&T. Leave alone for a few minutes.

2. Place sauce pan over medium heat and stir until gelatin is dissolved, about 2-5 minutes. When mixture is liquid and all gelatin has dissolved, remove from heat.

3. Once it has cooled down a little, pour into mold. I used a cling film lined takeaway box (I am all style). If you have nice shaped molds, I would use them.

4. Let it cool down and then I chucked them into the fridge. They were ready after 2 hours but may be ready sooner. Remove then chop up into little squares. For a final flourish, sprinkle a little lemon sherbet before you eat them.

And in case you were wondering, here's what I made in Lego club:


Monday, March 15, 2010

Galvin La Chapelle, no ordinary school dinner

Galvin La Chapelle, The City

My old school was like no ordinary school. I mean, lessons were alright, but when it comes to what I remember most, it would have to be lunchtimes. Every day we would queue patiently outside the canteen, waiting to be fed, until we were ushered one by one to go and receive our daily sustenance. Most kids may have dreaded this part of the day, but Adrian, the "head chef", led a brigade of dedicated dinner ladies who served up some of the most delightful food to found in a Surrey prep school. In fact, he even won an award for it. Hard to believe, but he put every bit as much effort into his food as I would imagine a chef in a Michelin starred restaurant and churned out top notch traditional British favourites, in school dinner format.

Galvin La Chapelle, The City

Which brings me onto La Chapelle. My little meander may have seemed a little off topic, but the airy setting for the Galvin brothers latest venture just so happens to be based within an old school assembly hall. The hall has been sensibly transformed into a stunning and sophisticated space (although I am still slightly put off by the toilets being located above the kitchens!) and is patrolled by a legion of bow tied waiters. A great first impression.

On my first visit, all was going well until we began to wield our cameras (so before we had eaten anything). We were promptly informed that the restaurant operated a no camera policy, leaving me totally deflated. As a blogger, I just don't get why some establishments don't let you take pictures. After all, when you see the effort the kitchen has made into the presentation of each dish, surely they would want their hard work to be remembered? What galled me more was not the no photo policy, but the seeming arrogance of the staff. Wearing a fake cringing grin, we were regaled tales of how many critics had come to the restaurant and were able to enjoy the "exquisite food" without the need to take pictures and had given them glowing reviews. I found the fact that they were telling us how great they were before we were given a morsel to eat slightly hard to swallow, along with the attitude of the sneering waiter.

Galvin La Chapelle, The City

Although it took me a while to recover from such perceived arrogance, I am happy to say that the food was good. Very good actually. A starter of smoked duck & chestnut velouté was meagre but highly flavoured and led nicely onto the star of the show, a roast saddle of venison. I'm not one for conformity and stealth picced my main with my iPhone. Beautifully constructed, it had to be shared with the world. I soon tucked into the most succulent and tender pink venison which was sat on tart blueberries and sour red cabbage. Sweet chestnut puree helped balance the dish and for one split second, under the influence of such tasty meat, all was forgotten.

Unfortunately, the food alone cannot paper over the cracks. There were multiple inconsistencies with service, food being slow, clearing plates whilst other people were still eating, leaving us waiting when all we wanted to do was order. The list goes on and the management seemed a little shocked when we asked to removed the service charge (which they duly did with a little fuss, but were quite apologetic after).

Galvin La Chapelle, The City

They must have done something right, as I proceeded to return the week after, with my mother in tow for mothers day. Thankfully, the meal went a lot smoother, albeit with the obligatory long gaps waiting to be served. I'm not sure if they had changed their approach to cameras in the last 7 days, but I happily snapped my meal with no interruptions. We all ordered off the prix fixe (£25 for three courses) and although the food was less intricate, it was no less enjoyable. A mushroom veloute was deep and earthy whilst lifted by a spoonful of creme fraiche. My main of lamb shoulder was unbelievably tender and had a small portion of rich mash. I sense butter had a major part to play. A dessert of rhubarb crumble was satisfying although a tiny bit more sugar wouldn't have hurt.

I think it's safe to say that I really enjoy La Chapelle. The service may not deliver on all levels, but the waiters are on the whole friendly and mostly accommodating. As for the food, well, I love it here. Twice in a week says it all really and I actually look forward to my next visit. Sorry Adrian, but I think this place just pips you.

Galvin La Chapelle - 35 Spital Square, London, E1 6DY

Galvin la Chapelle on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pulled Pork, Fernandez and Wells style

Fernandez and Wells, St Annes Court

I love pork. In the hierarchy of meat, I think it wins. It is so versatile, you can have it in so many ways, in a roast, as bacon (smoked or unsmoked, a choice within a choice!), sausages, chops, and don't even get me started about the skin. Crackling ahoy!!!

Fernandez and Wells, St Annes Court

One of my favourite ways of cooking it is very slowly on a low heat. 5, 6, 7 hours, the longer the better and it can handle it. What you get is extremely tender meat (and if you are like me, ensure that you get a tonne of crackling too) which falls apart as (pay attention) the connective tissue which holds the meat together starts to break down. Bodeans does a very enjoyable version, but I was informed by a certain @foodieguide that Fernandez and Wells on St Anne's court did a daily pulled pork sandwich. Served with lashings of rocket and cider apple sauce, it is a beast of the very best kind.

Fernandez and Wells, St Annes Court

The only thing I would say is that it can do with a hint more seasoning, but at £5 a pop, it makes for a hearty and filling lunch. And look, here's a pic of Cat from The Catty Life trying to scoff one into her gob. She may only be little but the thing is almost as big as her head!

Fernandez and Wells Espresso Bar - 16a St Annes Court, Soho W1

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What is British food?



Earlier this week, I was invited to the Observer offices along with two fellow bloggers (Chris and Helen) to talk with Jay Rayner about what we thought "British" food was. We all had some interesting thoughts on the subject and the 5 minute film above was the product of our chats.

I wasn't really happy with my typical British 3 course meal and with a bit more thought, I would opt for the following:

Starter: Potted rabbit, toast and chutney
Main: Belly Pork, tonnes of crackling, apple sauce and mash
Dessert: Pear and apple crumble, tonnes of custard.

What do you reckon British food is and what would your ideal British 3 course meal be?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Flat White - A rather flat coffee

Flat White, Soho

I used to be a tea man. Tea was my go to hot drink, the drink that would keep me comfort in the winter, and the drink that would gradually escort me out of my post-binge hangover. I'm Chinese, we drink a lot of Chinese tea. As a student, it was all about the tea. We couldn't get enough, forfeits were based around making tea, going to the supermarket to buy tea bags and on the odd occasions, milk to go with our tea. And then one day, I discovered coffee.

I still love my tea, but coffee just takes it to the next level. These days, I struggle to function without my daily dose of caffeine and will travel further than my nearest supermarket to indulge in a good cup. Over the last six months, I have begin to appreciate the intricacies of the coffee bean and slowly ticking off some of the better cups across London. One afternoon, I managed to make it to the highly lauded New Zealand outfit in the heart of Soho, Flat White.

A flat white is another variation of your standard coffee drink. With a strong espresso base, it is topped up with a strong textured head of milk, often displayed with "coffee art", which highlights the required texture of the drink. So, I clearly had to order a flat white at Flat White.

Flat White, Soho

There has been talk of a certain arrogance of the staff at this establishment, but I can honestly say I never saw any of that in my brief visit. Those behind the till and coffee machine were perfectly amenable whilst tending to their string of customers. The coffee certainly looked the part, beautifully textured head, excellent "leaf" pattern milk art...and then I took a sip.

Unfortunately I felt rather let down. The flat white at Flat White tasted flat. I vowed that I would never try a flat white in Starbucks but this was so milky and had so little discernible flavour of coffee that I might as well have been in Starbucks. Disappointing, although I hear that their sister outlet, Milk Bar round the corner is better. I know where I will be heading next time.

Flat White - 17 Berwick Street, Soho W1F 0PT

Monday, March 8, 2010

The anti-cupcake at Beas of Bloomsbury

Beas of Bloomsbury

It's buzzing. As I sit in the corner of Bea's, a steady flow of customers stream in and out of the cold and rain looking for their caffeine or sugar hit. Squirreled away into the corner, needing both sugar and coffee cravings sated, I order a coffee and a cupcake and watch.

Bea's is not your ordinary cake shop. Serving A-grade coffee using Square Mile beans, I can see how locals would gravitate towards James and his coffee machine for their daily caffeine hit. For just £2 for a cappuccino, you receive an excellent coffee, lovingly prepared and infinitely better than any milky sludge that Starbucks round the corner will serve you, with some change to boot.

Beas of Bloomsbury

I hate to say it, but coffee is merely a distraction in Beas. The minute you walk through the door, you pass an elaborate display in the window and are immediately confronted with some of the most delicious cupcakes you are likely to lay your eyes on. The cupcakes themselves are available in an array of flavours, which change every day. On my visit I opted for a Baileys and chocolate cupcake, with the use of flavoured buttercream instead of icing leading Bea to label it an "anti" cupcake, not one for the traditionalists. Personally, I thought they were bloody lovely, give me cream over icing any day of the week, viva la revolution!

Beas of Bloomsbury

I even managed to meet the eponymous Bea, who is a lovely bundle of energy. Having emerged from the pastry kitchens of Nobu, she is growing her own empire one shop at a time. Hopefully look out for a new venture out East in the very near future. After my afternoon in there, I am starting to believe that man can live on cupcakes and coffee alone.

*HOLD THE PRESS* - I have just been informed that Bea now has a new savoury chef. He is 6 foot 3 and a Kiwi. And apparently he makes a good lunch, another reason to go!

Beas of Bloomsbury - 44 Theobald's Road WC1X 8NW

Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 5, 2010

Back to the Future: Bellevue Rendez-Vous

Outside

In homage to my late late Le Cassoulet post, I thought I would take this opportunity to go back to the future and catch up on another meal worthy of a write up. The date is some time in early November 2009, the place, Bellevue Rendez-Vous.

I have lots of sisters. In fact, I have them coming out of my ears and as they get older, birthdays appear to be getting more and more expensive. I swear their more exuberant requests for birthday presents are not proportional to my rather gradual increase in salary. Thankfully, my little sister is probably the least fussy of them all. I even remember fondly how one year, all she wanted for her birthday meal was not a slap up five course meal but a local takeaway kebab.

This year saw us head to Clapham and the aforementioned Bellevue Rendez-Vous. Located just round the corner from Chez Bruce and Brinkley's, it has some seriously fierce competition. Serving modern French food, it's not really reinventing the wheel, but it sticks to the basics and executes on these well with the occasional artistic squiggles and splodges. There are no airs and graces, with friendly service and informal decor. People drifted in and out with their obligatory pushchairs in tow (this area isn't known as the pram belt for nothing).

Smoked duck on celeriac remoulade
Roast Wood Pigeon and pear chutney

The starter of smoked duck on a celeriac remoulade was incredibly moreish, but that could have had something to do with the fact that it was a minuscule portion. I simply wanted more. My mothers wood pigeon was perfectly executed, with a reassuring pink tinge to the flesh, still tender and juicy. The tiny stack of pear chutney was the perfect accompaniment, although I am unsure as to what the dark streak down the middle of the plate was nor why it was there.

Roast Venison, Ceps and Artichoke mash

The mains were equally well executed. My roast venison had a slightly more rustic approach with everything slathered neatly onto my plate. Again, perfectly cooked meat and a really wholesome meal. Even though the presentation appeared more straightforward, the kitchen was still showing some invention with the introduction of the artichoke mash which was pleasant, if a little unusual. The confit leg of duck was also highly commendable. Although not my dish, the three portions ordered by separate members of my family meant that there was ample amounts of duck for me to scavenge. Crisp skin and moist flesh with bags of flavour, this also comes highly recommended.

Poached Pear and Vanilla Ice cream

Fit to burst, desserts were almost overlooked but you don't become a Teh without culturing a fearsome ability to eat, so a few were ordered and shared out amongst us. The poached pear was a triumph, simply poached in red wine, cinnamon and cloves to retain the flavours, gentle to the bite whilst not reduced to mush. This was accompanied by vanilla ice cream and the obligatory unnecessary squiggle.

I know it's been ages since I went, but looking through my photos of this meal brought back fond memories. Although it is clearly competing with some serious competition, it is more than capable of holding its own. What you get is delicious, beautifully presented, well cooked dishes. You can't really ask for more than that, now, can you?

Bellevue Rendez-Vous - 218 Trinity Road, London SW17 7HP

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lex cooked and we ate

Fork and Spoon

Sometimes I despair that I started this blog. I dream of the days that I can go out and enjoy my meal without worrying about whether I have remembered my camera or whether it is fully charged. I remember when I once howled in anguish upon discovering that I had forgotten my camera completely and bugged me throughout a rather excellent meal at Trinity (I rectified it and returned to give it the write up it deserved). Bad times.

I was about to do the unthinkable. Having booked a place at Lex Cooks, you eat, run by a lovely trio of Aussies (although Lex herself has strong Romanian roots ;) ), I was considering leaving the camera at home, grab a bottle of wine and just go and enjoy myself. I just couldn't do it and brought it along anyway.

I think it's testament to what a fun night I had that I ended up with very few photos. The ones I did take were early on and before the hazy fug of the red wine mist descended upon my photography skills. Sharing a table with Carla from Can be bribed with food, Fernandez and Leluu and guests, a really enjoyable evening ensued. Starting with some pesto popcorn, we soon dug into a homely bowl of sweet potato soup with caramelised onions and a herb pesto. Sweet and light, all mopped up with some homemade bread.

The conversation flowed as did the wine, and by the time the main of duck stuffed with amaretti and blood orange salad arrived, the party was in full swing. This is the thing I love about supper clubs. You get to meet new people, you get to chat to the chef and I think the experience is second to none.

By the time the trio of desserts arrived, we were all stuffed although I still somehow managed to stuff my face with about three portions of the walnut and sour cream cake. A great fun night and comes highly recommended!

Lex cooks you eat - Somewhere in NW London.....

Monday, March 1, 2010

Everything I look for in a restaurant: Trinity, Clapham Common

Trinity Meringues

The first time I went to Trinity, I took my parents to celebrate a rather important anniversary. The food was marvellous and beautifully presented, and I was heartbroken to find I had taken my camera out of my bag only the night before. I needed to go back, to sample the great food and to give it the write up (with pictures) it deserved.

Located in the heart of the old town, it is an oasis of calm away from the madness that is Clapham High street. Whereas the high street is heavily influenced by the indomitable Infernos and its crowds flowing from bar to bar, old town is much quieter with a few restaurants and local pubs and bars.

Trinity is conspicuously tucked away and I only succeeded in locating it once I had been informed that there were fairy lights heralding its entrance. The restaurant itself is unassuming, a simple and clean space with white walls and understated pictures adorning the walls. The staff are friendly and talking to them felt like talking to old friends. They have so much energy and I genuinely felt that they just wanted me to be happy and enjoy my meal. I hadn't even looked at the menu yet but felt totally at home.

Trinity, Clapham

As we were handed our menus, we were brought some warm homemade crispbreads with a smooth pink paste of salmon roe. Normally something I would turn my nose up owing to its intense fishy hit, I was pleasantly surprised by the layers of fishy flavour and although strong, went very well with the accompanying crispbreads. Digested with an aperitif of a rhubarb Bellini, we made our decisions and ordered.

The last timed I dined here, I did the unthinkable and went for an all fish menu (barring the few nuggets of chorizo that came with my halibut). This time, veering away from the enticing a la carte options, I ordered off the more straight forward but incredibly good value prix fixe. First up was a rather simple sounding butternut squash and parmesan soup.

Trinity, Clapham

I wouldn't ordinarily opt for soup but having previously tried their sublime white onion and truffle oil soup that my mum had ordered and remaining green with envy for the rest of the meal, I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. I am so happy to tell you that this was delicious. Slurp after slurp saw spoonfuls of sweet butternut squash with the occasional burst of flavour from the salty flecks of parmesan disappear down my gullet. I wouldn't say that this is a conventional soup as the consistency was far closer to that of a light and delicate mousse, but I was reassured that the secret came from the fact that it was one third milk and one third cream. My arteries screamed in despair as my taste buds nodded their approval.

Trinity, Clapham

Next up was a solitary Toulouse sausage on a bed of puy lentils and dabs of cauliflower puree. A simple yet rather good main. I was slightly worried that a single sausage does not make a meal (breakfast maybe) but on reflection, the whole meal was actually finely balanced. The bed of puy lentils concealed a tiny treasure trove of lardons, although this tipped the salt balance of the dish a little too close to "generous". Jokingly, I asked our French waitress where the sausage had come from. Our rather animated waitress exclaimed "Toulouse of course!". If its provenance got her seal of approval, it certainly got mine too.

Trinity, Clapham

Finally, pleasantly sated, I had the pleasure of digging into my dessert of pear tarte fine with a liquorice ice cream. Absolutely fascinated by the ice cream, I tucked in straight away and what I got was a subtle taste sensation. With no initial discernible liquorice flavour, tasting much more like a plain milk ice cream, the slight aniseed tang descended upon the extremities of my mouth and finished with fresh licorice. Strange, but lovely. By the time I had tried to analyse exactly what was going on, I had pretty much polished off the ice cream, and devoured the remaining tart "au natural".

Trinity, Clapham

I had eaten well and wasn't ready to leave. I ordered some coffee and alongside came a rather generous portion of some of the most delightful nuggets of fudge I had ever tasted. They summed up everything I loved in this place. Simple, unpretentious food, well executed, beautifully presented and made with care and attention. My companion's "celebrity" goggles were on and spotted Jean Baptiste, maitre'D of the F Word, dining happily in the center of the room. I am sure if he had dined here a few months earlier, it would have been a shoe-in for best local restaurant. My local and I love it.

Trinity Restaurant - 4 The Polygon, Clapham, London, SW4 0JG

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