Four & 20 – Bucks

When I started my blog in January I promised my reviews would occasionally venture outside of London. So today’s post comes from the picturesque village of Padbury, nestled between Oxford and Milton Keynes.

I grew up in this village and my parents still live in the house I was raised in. If you’re looking for a typical English village, Padders (as my friend and I like to call it) is textbook. There’s a village hall, primary school, WI, cricket pitch – you could almost be in an episode of The Archers.

There used to be five yes FIVE pubs in Padbury, but now there are just two. There’s some fantastic gastropubs and restaurants in the area, but Padbury itself has never had a nice place to eat. It’s a shame as Padbury folk like a good time and are a pretty sociable bunch.

The Blackbird (as it used to be called) sits in the middle of the village and up until a few years ago was a straightforward boozer, with peanuts and pork scratchings as its main culinary offerings. It then closed and villagers waited in anticipation to see what its next incarnation would be.

It was bought by couple Nicola and Alan, who met at cookery school in Ashburton. Alan used to cook at Plateau, a favourite of mine when I worked in Canary Wharf, and then at the Lady Ottoline and Princess of Shoreditch pubs in London.

The pub was gutted and had a complete transformation. And in March 2015 the Four and 20 was born.

There’s a wood burner for the colder months, modern furnishings and artwork. The sign from the original pub sits on the restaurant wall as a reminder of its heritage. For the summer months there’s a nice outside seating area – another thing that was lacking in the village. It’s all very relaxed – in the bar area you feel like you’re almost in someone’s living room (albeit a stylish one.)

We’re here to celebrate my Mum’s birthday but it’s also Easter Sunday.

Delicious bread arrives (granary and white) with butter sprinkled with pink Himalayan sea salt. Three of us go for a fishcake to start with homemade tartare sauce. Its enormous and packed with fish but I manage to eat it all. There’s a runny Scotch egg and tomato tart consumed by the other two in our group and its thumbs up all round.

As it’s Sunday all of us go for the roast except for my brother in law who picks Lemon Sole (controversial) I opt for a mixed roast so you can try a bit of everything – today beef, lamb and chicken. Head sized Yorkshire puddings, cauliflower cheese, broccoli, roasties, spring greens and carrot and swede mash accompanied generous portions of fabulous meat from the local butcher across the road.

Unusually we couldn’t finish all our food. We agree that maybe next time we’ll opt for no starter. The desserts all looked great, so we got one portion of rum and raisin ice cream to share between us, which was fantastically boozy.

The food here is top notch using good quality local ingredients. We couldn’t fault a thing. The menu is interesting but unfussy with plenty to choose from for a frequent visitor. There’s an open kitchen too which I always like. No microwaves pinging here.

I wish Nicola and Alan all the best in their new venture – Padders has been waiting for a place like this for a very long time. If you’re in this neck of the woods visiting Bletchley Park, Bicester VillageSilverstone or Stowe Landscape Gardens, then do pop in for some village hospitality.

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Arabica – Borough Market

Tonight we’re eating under the arches. Not the Phil Mitchell Eastenders type arches, but the arches in the entrance to Borough Market.

Arabica specialises in food from the Levant area. Now I know you all know which countries make up this region, but as a quick geography lesson we are talking: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey (Hatay).  I love this type of food – feta, lamb, pomegranate, flatbreads, halloumi and tabouleh.

The restaurant is cavernous and loud. ‘Buzzy’ as my mum would say. Intermittently a train rumbles overhead. Dotted around are products to buy for those that want to try the Levant thing at home.

Service is attentive despite it being packed. One waitress offers to explain anything on the menu we don’t understand which was appreciated. Water is continuously topped up without asking. One waiter was very jolly when I tried to walk into the kitchen rather than the toilet.

A bag of spiced popcorn arrived while we chose our food. I like any complimentary food items.

My friend is a veggie and its nice to be out with someone who has so much to choose from for a change. We picked a selection of things to share.

Unfortunately I’ve recently developed an allergy to pine nuts, aubergine and sesame seeds which means I had to avoid quite a bit, but there was still plenty for me to sample.

Between us we had a delicious spinach and feta boregi made with rich buttery filo that looked like a cinnamon swirl, cauliflower cheese with a dukka sourdough topping, potatoes cooked with chilli and coriander, and a pide which is a Turkish style pizza with tuna and halloumi. My friend had a lovely looking jealousy-inducing aubergine dip that arrived with warm flatbreads served in a bag. Everything was fresh and delicious, spicy and herby. Despite the dishes hailing from a range of countries everything complemented each other perfectly.

No desserts but a couple of glasses of Soave finished everything off nicely.

I’m very excited that they offer breakfast and Sunday menus so will definitely will be returning.

A tip from me. If you venture into London and head to Borough Market it gets VERY busy on a Saturday. It is now a massive tourist destination and perhaps has lost some of its magic. My recommendation is to head ten minutes walk away from London Bridge to Maltby Street Market and adjoining Druid St Market. You’ll find a dazzling array of stalls, restaurants and bars under the railway arches with no sign of Phil Mitchell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shrub and Shutter (Brixton)

When I first arrived in South London ten plus years ago, Brixton was not somewhere I often went. As a newbie in London hanging around for a bus late a night there was not massively appealing. Apart from the Ritzy, Academy and a few bars it lacked the variety that Balham and Clapham had to offer my late twenties self.

Fast forward ten years and the place is awash with regeneration, waxed jackets, craft beer and more eateries than a person could handle. The indoor market has been renamed ‘Brixton Village’ and getting a table on the weekend can often prove difficult. The colourful fruit and veg shops are sadly dwindling as the rents have risen. As with so many areas in the Capital more established names are filtering out to the outer boroughs and the shops relied on by the community are shutting down.

It’s a tricky one but there’s no doubt that Brixton is thriving and offers a dizzying array of places to go.

So it’s a Tuesday and I’m meeting a fellow south Londoner for some post work catch ups. I’ve read about the Shrub and Shutter several times whilst on my quest for local gin providers. The website looks classy and the food and drink a break from the norm.

We make our way down Coldharbour Lane past Brixton Village (indoor market) and on to an unassuming row of shops opposite a nondescript housing estate. I’ve never ventured this far down this road before – my friend comments that we must be nearly at Loughborough Junction. We pass a lively pizza place I’ve never heard of – Mamma Dough which goes into the memory bank for another day. Past a hairdressers and we’ve arrived.

The bar area at the front is small and at 7pm there’s several couples enjoying a post-work drink. The decor is ‘eclectic’ meaning I’m struggling to define it properly. A small bar is laden with bottles, and around the room sit jars of alcoholy type liquids, plants and a myriad of drinking vessels.

We are greeted warmly and taken to the restaurant area at the back. Eames style chairs, Chinese lanterns, quirky ornaments and cookery books fill the space. A large bone hangs on the wall and a stuffed fox takes pride of place at the end of the restaurant wearing a flat cap. Obviously. We wonder if this place is going to be style over substance. Wrong.

We start with a drink. I want gin. There are 36. After the day I’d had I wasn’t in the mood for complex decision making. I opt for a double rhubarb gin and its lovely. My friend orders a cocktail, the name of which I cannot recall. It arrives in a massive bag, decorated ornately with fruits and spices. A sort of adult Capri Sun if you will. I tried this thrilling concoction and it was amazing. Do take a look at the pictures of their cocktails online. I assumed the styling was for the website but they actually come like this. Yes they’re fun but they use quality ingredients and the prices and no more than an average cocktail bar outside of central London. One cocktail even comes with cheese and crackers. What’s not to love? The man serving us is clearly knowledgeable and advises us on our drinks resulting in two excellent choices.

Food then. There’s a set menu – £22 for two courses £26 for 3. But then there’s also a specials board. We opt for starters off the set menu and a main from the specials which works out the same price.

I chose a pisco cured sea trout starter with quails egg, grapes and puffed wheat (like a savoury sugar puff). As a combination everything really worked and was a dish different to anything I’ve had before. Spiced aubergine,  lemon thyme yoghurt and aubergine hummus was apparently really tasty too as the other starter we chose. We both picked the poussin with broccoli and rosti potatoes. Another knockout dish. They excel at cocktails AND cooking here.

Service was friendly and attentive, they were busy but really looked after us. I’d come here again just for drinks or dinner, or both. Its definitely worth the extra five mins walk from the station.

Before I sign off I must just share with you some of the excellent graffiti I found in the ladies toilets, which might I add, featured a towel dispenser fashioned from a breeze block.

“Toy Story 2 was ok” “What would Dougie Howser do?” “I love Frank Bruno” and “I fuc&ing love cheese!”. Quite.

PS They have a sister bar First Aid Box in Herne Hill.

 

Farmstand (Cov G)

imagephoto (26)photo (25)photo (24)I’ve been working in Covent Garden now for about four years. It’s a vibrant place, or in other words – hideously busy with little opportunity for a bit of peace and quiet. It’s therefore very easy to fall into a routine at lunchtime of dashing to M&S/Pret and taking cover back at one’s desk.

It’s a shame because there are some inexpensive and interesting options, but sometimes the effort is overruled when its awash with tourists on the streets outside.

So I have a recommendation from a nutritionist friend – Farmstand . It’s five minutes away from the office and I’m due to catch up with a colleague so thought today would be good to give it a try.

For the initiated (me), farmstands are the roadside stalls you get in the States selling surplus crops and produce from local farms.

The ethos here is sustainable meat and fish, UK based suppliers, compostable packaging and no added sugar except for organic coconut sugar in a few highlighted items.

It’s open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner AND they serve beer and wine.

Options are ready to go boxes or build your own. We’ve got time today so we go for a ‘build your own option’ at £7.50.

This is what was on offer but due to the approach of this place I’m sure it will change regularly depending on seasonality.

Option one is to choose 1 main and 2 sides

MAIN

  • Grilled Harissa Chicken
  • Pulled Beef
  • Salmon with Lemon, Fennel & Star Anise
  • Split Fava Beans with Butternut Squash & Pumpkin Seeds

Option 2 you can choose 3 sides

SIDES

  • Buckwheat Grain with Chives
  • Puy Lentils with Wild Mushrooms & Chervil
  • Quinoa with Candied Beetroot & Black Beans
  • Charred Broccoli with Chilli & Garlic
  • Roasted Artichokes with Capers & Parsley
  • Cinnamon Roasted Heritage Carrots
  • Raw Romanesco Cauliflower with Mustard Seeds
  • Raw Kohlrabi, Pear & Daikon

I opted for the pulled beef with puy lentils with mushrooms and cinnamon roasted heritage carrots. The beef was spicy and tender, the lentils and mushrooms packed with fresh herbs and the carrots deliciously sweet. On a cold day it was nice to get some healthy hot food inside me rather than a lethargy inducing sandwich. My veggie friend was extremely happy with her selection: the fava beans, lentils and artichokes. The lovely man serving asked if we’d like a salsa (not dance) so chose a mild tomato and pomegranate version which was delicious. However I didn’t realise this was an extra £1.45 until I examined bill later. Maybe a bit steep but not realising the extra charge was my only small gripe. It was on the menu board above the tills but passed by me amidst the excitement.

Staff were great. My teabag had split so was swiftly brought a new cuppa to my table despite it not being table service.

They’ve been open a month I think, but there was still a man at the front door to welcome us and explain the concept.

Its a bright and airy restaurant – you could almost forget you are in one of the busiest places in town. Industrial lighting and bare brickwork is offset by a wall of plants. Stainless steel fridges are hidden by wooden cabinets, making you feel like you could be in a Cotswolds farm shop. Please don’t think this is a farmyard themed place though, it’s all very tasteful.

Tables are set out in twos but there’s a room at the back with a larger table for the Mac/meeting brigade.

Still and sparkling water was available for free via a dispenser – nice touch.

Food is really tasty and offers enough selection to keep you coming back without getting menu fatigue. You feel like you’re being virtuous without sacrificing on portion sizes or flavour.

For anyone looking for a quick and healthy pit stop I would definitely recommend.

The Reform Social & Grill

 

When I imagine what the depths of hell might be like I think of one place. Oxford Street. Yes the John Lewis is smashing and there is that fabulous Barbara Hepworth sculpture but overall – hell.

So to find somewhere pleasant to eat around there, that isn’t a Garfunkles or sub-standard Italian is good news. Step up The Reform Social and Grill.

My friend is delayed so on arrival I head for a drink. I sit at the bar and feel like I’m in an episode of First Dates.

The gin selection is impressive – there seems to be at least 20. I am also proffered a bowl of crisps. A good start.

Hendricks in hand I peruse the surroundings. It’s got a New York/Gentlemans Club feel about it (no not thaphotot sort of club). In fact they even offer a Gentleman’s afternoon tea for those boys out there seeking a more sophisticated stag/birthday do. Despite this, as a solo lady,  I felt very relaxed.

The crowd is mixed as you’d expect for a week night in this part of town – a few couples, some informal business chats and a group of ladies.

The interesting thing is that this is actually part of the Mandeville Hotel, but thankfully it doesn’t feel like a hotel at all. More of that later.

Moving to the restaurant the ‘club’ vibe continues. Lots of wood, leather and Chesterfield banquettes. I love that word. Modern prints hang on the walls including vintage motor racing pics and Dandy magazine covers – no Bunty here.

So to the food. We’re offered two menus tonight – a standard a la carte and a limited edition Yorkshire pudding menu consisting of a selection mini YP’s – sweet or savoury. We weren’t really sure what part of the meal these should be consumed in, so opted for the standard menu. Other people are enjoying the battered choices but we can’t get a close enough look.

There’s a whole section entitled From the Josper Grill. No we didnt know what is was either. As a grill restaurant the menu is predominately meat and fish – just two veggie options on the mains. Butcher’s steak, pork T-bone and braised ox cheek pie – it’s a robust menu with a Brit feel about it.

We both opt for the cod and shrimp burger with red chard and tartare sauce. It arrived quickly and was presented well. No mini chip pans or galvanized buckets here. The burger had the addition of cheese. And in a statement you won’t hear me say often – it probably wasn’t necessary. The burger was great with a huge hit of fresh dill throughout. A nice soft brioche bun and excellent chunky chips completed the dish.

Desserts were a bit more random. Hot chocolate pudding and peanut brittle ice cream went down well with my friend. I was a little bit confused with my choice. Apple and berry crumble. A safe and reliable choice surely? What arrived was a bit strange. A bit like ginger cake crumbs on top (see above). Not exactly unpleasant to eat, but not really a crumble. I’m all for putting twists on things but you really need to explain to customers what they are getting. The fruit and custard elements were both lovely though.

When I started this blog my intention was to keep things purely positive. However I want to make just one point in the name of constructive criticism, as opposed to Giles Coren style restaurant bashing.

At 9.30pm when it was just us and another couple the waitresses began busying themselves setting the tables for breakfast the next morning. Out came the stupidly small pots of jam and marmalade and cups for the daily caffeine fix.

I get that we’re in a hotel, but up until that point you would never have guessed. We suddenly felt that we off the radar, wanted gone and that their attention was focussed elsewhere. If it was past 10pm I’d have probably not minded but 9.30 felt a bit premature. Gripe over.

The music stood out for a soundtrack in a restuarant like this. Suede, The Smiths, Sleeper and Ocean Colour Scene – a proper indie disco which took us back to our younger days. We approved.

If you’ve braved some high street shopping, or want a central mid-week meet up then this is a good bet. They’ve got lots of different menus including afternoon tea and brunch with FREE FLOWING bubbles which is certainly worth considering.