The Woodspeen, Berks

Growing up in the countryside pubs are everywhere. My own village had no less than five at one point, which I think which was slightly excessive. But good quality pubs are not always plentiful, and something a bit different even rarer.

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From the outside The Woodpseen looks like any other quality gastropub, but looks can be deceptive.

This is categorically a restaurant, set inside a former pub which has only been open since October 2014. Head chef Peter Eaton hails from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, and owner John Campbell has achieved Michelin star status at previous establishments.

Once inside you feel like you’ve been transported to Scandinavia, or perhaps one of the stylish restaurants you can now find in galleries and museums across the Capital.

Mid-century furniture, wood, tones of grey, plants and a huge skylight create a modern, airy and relaxed atmosphere. The huge windows provide a lovely backdrop to the space, and the roaring wood burner added a touch of cosiness alongside the sheepskin throws that dressed some of the seating.

On arrival I decided to go for a G&T, and when I’m informed they have a choice of over 30, I instantly knew I was going to like the place.

We chose the set lunch menu which turned out to be excellent value at £24 for two courses and £29 for three. The restaurant grows a lot of its vegetables on site, and suppliers are carefully picked by the team.

The wine list is impressively long. It’s daytime though, and one of us was driving so we each chose a glass to accompany our food. Prices start at £5 a glass and include options from USA, Turkey and Austria for under a tenner.

We both picked the same starter, a smoked haddock Scotch egg, with a celeriac and mustard slaw. The egg was perfect and seemed to be more of a poached egg, rather than boiled. The haddock was light and the slaw provided a nice crunchy contrast.

I was having a day off from a January health-kick, so I decided to embrace the one thing I was missing the most – cheese. I opted for a pumpkin risotto, cooked with ‘oakey smokey’ cheddar, and served with a balsamic glaze and hazelnuts. The flavours worked together brilliantly – the portion size not overly massive (in a positive way). Risotto can sometimes be a bit gloopy, so the hazelnuts added an interesting texture.

 

We pondered pudding and decided yes we would as the options didn’t seem to look too heavy. A deconstructed apple and blackberry crumble was created with a tart berry sorbet, and my rum and raisin baked Alaska was heavy on the rum with the raisins blended into the ice cream for a more sophisticated take on a classic.

The place was packed – unexpected for a friday lunchtime in a village consisting of literally two houses. The mix of clientele was varied – couples, a group of women ‘doing’ lunch, some business colleagues and everything in between.

I’m not surprised the place is popular. The service was fantastic – attentive without being pushy. The produce used here is clearly top-notch and I’d like to see how the menu changes over the seasons. I envy those who have the Woodspeen on their doorstep – it’s a total gem with not ploughman’s in sight.

NB – there is also a cookery school offering a wide range of classes which is worth a look.

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Oktopus – Liverpool

Welcome to my first blogpost of 2018. After a short hiatus I’m pleased to announce I am back and ready to bring you some of my favourite places as the year unfolds.


I was lucky enough to have the first week of the year off so booked a ticket to visit a friend in Liverpool. It’s a city I’ve visited in the past with work, so sadly had seen very little bar the inside of a hotel room and the University campus.

This time I had the luxury of being shown round by a born and bred Liverpudlian who like me shares a love of good food and wine.

Following a lovely trip to the Liverpool Philharmonic to watch a film, we popped round the corner to a restaurant called Oktopus. Hidden away in a courtyard behind the Old Blind School, it feels like a place only those with their noses to the culinary ground would find it, and I like that.

The restaurant has only been open since April last year after starting out as a pop up at the Baltic Triangle – a thriving area which I also visited on my trip.

The restaurant is not huge – an open kitchen one end and at the other a canary yellow dresser housing the beer taps from the Black Lodge Brewery who run the joint alongside several other venues in the City.

It’s got the classic industrial vibe – bare brickwork, copper lights and exposed vents etc. However little potted plants, chairs reminiscent of schooldays, tealights and the aforementioned dresser give it a cosy feel rather than feeling stark and generic.

Menus here change weekly and offer simple dishes focusing on seasonal high quality ingredients – in particular seafood. The dishes are classed as small plates which come to the table as and when ready.

Being a somewhat greedy eater with a reluctance to share I’m pleased that small dishes aren’t actually that small – increasing in size and price as you go down the menu, ranging from £6.50 up to £18.

We went for four dishes and not one disappointed.

Firstly we picked a salad of white cabbage, chervil, crayfish and capers. It was light, fresh and zingy with a generous portion of plump sweet crayfish.

Next up was another salad this time braised beetroot, forced rhubarb and Blacksticks Blue cheese. I’m not a fan of the mouldy stuff so let my friend crack on with that, but the rest was delicious – I love golden beetroot and would not have thought to pair with rhubarb.

Again another pairing that I wouldn’t have expected was fresh grilled Cornish sardines with harissa butter. I love sardines which always evoke memories of summer holidays, and the harissa added a new punchy dimension without being overpowering.

Finally onto the standout dish for me. Lamb rump cooked with preserved lemons, butter beans and mojo verde. We enquired what was in said mojo verde and were told the herbs change but on this day it was fresh cumin and coriander.

I’d forgotten how much I loved butter beans and cooked with the lemons they lost their blandness that beans can often be if you don’t jazz them up a bit. I’ve actually recreated this base since I’ve been home, adding leeks and a piece of fish. Delicious and healthy.

The staff were chatty and friendly and more than happy to answer our questions. If you like beer it’s great to have some craft ones to choose from. I had red wine but forgot to note what it was, so sorry I can’t share that with you. It was very nice though if that helps?

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In a rare display of willpower I opted out of dessert but instantly regretted it when I saw what was put in front of my friend. She said she would be returning for this pudding alone – buttermilk panna cotta, brandy prunes and pecan praline. It did look ruddy lovely.

Oktopus is great. You could pop in for lunch or a light meal or go full on 3 courses if you wanted. The standard of cooking a was great – unfussy letting the ingredients speaking for themselves.

I’ll definitely be visiting again on my next trip and this time I’ll not forgo dessert.

Oh and if you like your gin and/or whisky pop to Berry and Rye down the road. It looks like a closed up shop, but seek and ye shall find.

Battle of the bald TV chefs – Berkshire

When I started this blog almost two years ago my intention was (and still is) to only share places I’ve enjoyed. If I don’t have a positive experience somewhere I don’t spend time writing about it. Simple really.

On a recent stay at the River Arts Club in Maidenhead my friend and I were spoilt for choice in terms of local restaurants, with Bray and Marlow less than ten minutes away.

The tiny village of Bray contains two of the three restaurants in the UK that hold three Michelin stars. Heston’s three star Fat Duck was voted as the best restaurant in the world in 2005, and he also owns the Hind’s Head and Crown in the village. The other three star joint is The Waterside Inn run by one of the Roux dynasty – Alain.

But back to reality – I’m not a Russian Oligarch so need to see what’s on offer in my price range.

For the first time I’m going to give you a compare and contrast article – two top chefs – two meals – one blog. Who will come out on top?……. Read on.


The Coach Marlow – Tom Kerridge

It’s a lovely autumnal day so we hit Marlow ten minutes up the road. It’s a high-end home counties town. Bunting zig-zags across the road – well-heeled folk dart through the town going about their business on a Friday. We amble up and down the pleasant high street popping into shops and whiling the morning away – smug to be off work.

It gets to lunchtime so I suggested The Coach – a place I’d unsurprisingly researched prior to our visit. It’s a pub owned by once cuddly (now svelte) Tom Kerridge who I’ve always found a refreshing TV chef, seemingly devoid of the arrogance and bravado shared by some other TV cooks. He also runs the two starred restaurant up the road The Hand and Flowers which has rooms if you literally want to roll upstairs to bed post dinner.

The Coach from the outside looks unassuming – no Tom posters plastered on the wall nor mention of his name.

We went in, and the place was busy as we had expected. A charming front of house lady ushered us through to a waiting area and brought us menus for us to browse.

The pub is open all day for breakfast through to dinner with tables available on a first come first served basis.

We chose a glass of wine and waited for only ten minutes before being shown to our seats at the handsome bar, which looks onto an open plan kitchen – chefs working just a metre or so away. If you’re nosy and curious like me, this is a fantastic opportunity to see the inner workings of a professional kitchen, which seems relaxed and fun on our visit.

The lunch and dinner menu consists of smaller plates so depending on hunger the waitress suggested up to four. I can be greedy but we’re out for dinner that evening so we limited ourselves to two dishes each. The most expensive item is £16.50 but everything else hovers around the £6-8 mark. The pub aims to be accessible for all and prices seem to reflect this vision.

We both chose potted crab served with cucumber chutney and a paprika butter. We loved this dish – it was outstanding. 24 hours later we are still talking about it and frantically trying to find the recipe online. Negative.

One thing to note is that the chef that makes your dish brings it to you if you’re sitting at the bar. It was great to have such close interaction with the creators of this amazing food.

Second and sadly last course time. My friend (a pescatarian) orders a autumnal salad with whipped goats cheese. Not being a fan of the goaty stuff I didn’t try this, but my friend enjoyed it thoroughly and it looked beautiful – colours reflecting the leaves on the trees outside.

I chose a Black Pudding and Smoked Haddock Scotch Egg with Moilee. Moilee is a Keralan sauce – lightly spiced and flavoured with coconut. Just so you know (I didn’t).

Yet another delicious dish – a runny quails egg in the centre – a beautiful charred onion on the top. I could have eaten a second. See – I told you I was greedy.

The Coach feels more like a restaurant than a pub. The food is delicious the atmosphere relaxed and unpretentious.

Tom has created the perfect formula for a gastropub and I am absolutely wanting to try his other gaff up the road at some point. In the meantime I’ll have to dream about my potted crab.


The Crown – Heston Blumenthal

With the tasting menu at the Fat Duck an eye watering £255 a head, the opportunity to try any Heston outpost in Bray village was pretty exciting.

I must confess the whole molecular gastronomy thing doesn’t really appeal, but hey if someone offered to take me I wouldn’t say no.

So Heston’s third outpost in the village looks like a traditional pub from the outside. And actually from the inside too.

A country girl myself the pub feels familiar in terms of clientele and atmosphere – similar to the village pubs around where I grew up.

With low beams and a log fire, the pub is cosy and totally rammed. The bar area is swarming with locals – a few couples and the rest local men of all varieties.

We wait for a while to get served – they could have done with an extra member of staff but hey ho.

We are shown to our table which was right next to the bar. The group of drinkers stand what seems .5 of a centimetre from our table – it’s pretty noisy and a bit claustrophobic to be honest. The waiter (who seems run off his feet) apologises though we haven’t said anything. He was clearly aware this layout didn’t quite work for diners.

Anyway we order our meal – prawn cocktail for both of us – a burger for me and fish and chips for my friend.

As a food reviewer I can’t at this point say any more than what we had was nice pub food. Nice and expensive.

The prawn cocktail was delicious – no twists or additions – just a good old prawn cocktail. My burger with the addition of pastrami was again very nice but not the best burger I’ve had by any stretch of the imagination. It came in at £19.50.

My friend’s fish and chips were nice but over battered, causing her to leave a substantial amount on her plate. We were surprised that the waiter didn’t ask if there was a problem.

In fact chatting on the way home we realised that no-one at any point had asked if our food was ok. A bit disappointing really as this should be basic for any restaurant Heston or otherwise.

Two G&T,s, a bottle of wine and two courses and we’d spent £50 each.

I understand that if you want a Heston experience you’ll go to the other two places in the village but I guess we expected something a bit different to justisfy the cost.

We left feeling somewhat underwhelmed after a nice but not outstanding pub meal coupled with less than attentive service.


So…………. the Crown goes to The Coach for me – sorry Heston. #TeamTom

 

 

 

River Arts Club – Maidenhead, Berks

A friend and I decided we wanted to get out of the big smoke for the night, have a good catch up and eat some good food.

Working with a radius of no more than an hour outside of London, I used my Googling powers to pull a shortlist together. Putting the selection to my friend I was delighted she went for the River Arts Club as everything about it floated my boat (including the *actual* boat called Ophelia that the hotel own.

Built in the late 19th Century, this Grade II listed riverside mansion has featured in numerous films and was voted as one of the top ten most beautiful estates in the UK by Channel 4.

Unsurprisingly the Arts Club focuses heavily on the art. Throughout the house striking Sanderson wallpaper creates drama and a feeling of a quintessential English house. This is balanced with eclectic artwork, vintage furniture, beautiful textiles, books and quirky ornaments. Everything comes together to create a welcoming environment – luxurious yet relaxed. Jazz music played in the downstairs room and the honesty bar was a great feature for a quick pre-dinner G&T.

Hosts Iain and Alessandra were charming – nothing was too much trouble. They have clearly dedicated a huge amount of time, money and love into renovating the building. Alessandra even apologised for not having cleared the leaves on the lawn. It’s all about the detail and beautiful aesthetics here. This past Elle Deco article will give you a better feel of the rooms and artworks on display.

Our room – ‘The Turner Suite’ was stunning – a huge oval-shaped window looking out onto the river – a hive of activity with rowers and swans. A free-standing bath and two fireplaces added a touch of luxury – more artwork adorned the walls which were covered in a striking cobalt blue wallpaper.

Fresh fruit, water, nuts, biscuits and a Nespresso machine and lovely toiletries in the bathroom complete with fluffy robes left you wanting for nothing.

One thing to note is that breakfast is continental only. However cheeses, hams, pastries and granola made available in a lovely kitchen was more than sufficient to get the day going.

If you’re a restaurant fan like me, the hotel’s location is perfect for exploring the local gastronomic offerings in nearby Hestonworld (Bray) and Marlow. Blog to follow on those two.

The aforementioned boat can be used to taxi hotel guests to the restaurants nearby which is clearly more stylish then the Toyata Prius we used.

Although quiet in the hotel – I can imagine that when the sun is out and the honesty bar is in full swing some fun times are probably had at this hotel, both inside and out.

I know Maidenhead probably isn’t an obvious choice for a weekend away, but only 30 mins from Paddington this is the perfect escape for some rest and relaxation art lover or not.

 

The Manor – Clapham Common

Whoever invented brunch I salute you. I love breakfast, but by calling it brunch it means you can acceptably drink alongside your poached eggs without anyone raising an eyebrow.

My visit to the Manor had been rescheduled after a tiresome virus left me good for nothing a few weeks before.

I worked in Clapham Common when I first arrived in London over a decade ago, and like everywhere else it has changed dramatically. I feels almost unrecognisable but I managed to find where we were going – hazy memories of nights out guiding the way.

I’d visited the Manor’s sister restaurant The Dairy a few years ago (also in Clapham Common) and totally loved everything about it. When I saw the Manor were offering bottomless weekend brunch, a friend’s birthday provided a great opportunity to give it a try, and see if it matched the quality of down the road.

Ex-electrician turned chef Robin Gill has a few places in London now. He has worked at some outstanding restaurants including the Manoir in Oxfordshire and Noma in Copenhagen. For him it’s all about the ingredients – dishes are creative and beautiful but unfussy at the same time. They grow herbs and vegetables on the roof of nearby Dairy and even have their own beehives – so pretty local then.

Situated up a quiet residential road off the less chi-chi end of Clapham High St you feel like you are stumbling across a gem before you’ve even gone in.

Inside it’s bright and airy, industrial mixed with woods, vintage china and flowers for a softer edge. A huge skylight throws sunshine over the restaurant, which on the day we visited was packed out. The crowd consisted of bright young local things who wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in an episode of Made in Chelsea mixed with older stylish couples and hipsters.

Two of us opted for the bottomless brunch. Unlimited prosecco or bloody mary, a starter, main and side.

All the staff we came into contact with were lovely – slick professional but friendly. More of that later.

Now some “bottomless” “unlimited” menus are a total let-down. Sometimes you spend hours trying to catch the waiter’s attention in order to get a refill of warm prosecco in the 60 minute window you have been alloted. Not here. Catching up with friends I barely noticed the waitress continuously topping up our glasses unprompted. She even came back at the end and said she’d fill our glass as brunch was ending in five minutes. Now obviously I cannot and won’t condone binge drinking but I do like to get my money’s worth.

Right food then. Uncharacteristically I struggled to choose as everything looked great but settled on crispy chicken skins with kimchi, scrambled eggs on sourdough and crispy potato hash which was supposed to have a side of Crazy Bitc* sauce which I avoided (I’m a wimp with super hot stuff.)

Other dishes round the table included Brixham crab nori and buttermilk buckwheat pancakes with charred quince and honey cultured cream. The girls then chose some Colston Bassett cheese with homemade crackers and chutney, and I had a rum soaked sourdough crumpet with quince and milk ice cream.

I tried pretty much everything and am not going to talk about each item, as I’d be here all day. Standout dishes for me were the chicken skins – served with barbecue sauce and the kimchi. It was a punchy dish, the chicken skins layered like crackling were ruddy amazing. I could have eaten just a massive plate of those. The potatoes – oh lord those potatoes. I don’t know how they got that crunchy. Tears of joy all round.

There are ingredients on the menu I didn’t recognise but when the quality of the cooking is this good you trust that you’ll like it because everything is so expertly pulled together.

After dessert, the Front of House had heard me say it was a friend’s birthday and appeared with three mini banana cakes and dark chocolate sauce and a candle. Well done – I didn’t have to ask. Nice touch.

I urge you to head south of the river to The Manor or The Dairy – the food is joyful and exciting, and the restaurant is a shining light amidst the chicken cottages and generic chains of Clapham. Robin also has Paradise Garage in Bethnal Green for South London phobes. Go now…it might not be in your Manor, but you should definately visit this one…..

Jan 2018 – The Manor has now closed. The same team have now opened Sorella.

Pizza making at La Taverna Dei Corsari – Lazio

There’s a myth that if you are a ‘foodie’ (a word I hate) you are therefore an excellent cook. I can cook yes, but prefer someone else to do it hence my love of restaurants. They are clearly better than me and there’s no washing up afterwards.

As part of my recent trip to Italy we were given the chance to go to a pizza making workshop in a real restaurant, taught by an actual chef. Yikes…

Battling an ongoing virus that manifested itself in menopausal like temperature bursts hotter than the sun, standing in a kitchen next to a 300 degree pizza oven was…not the top thing on my list to do. But I’m a professional and was going to do this illness or not.

La Taverna dei Corsari is situated in the Lazio countryside (about an hours drive from Rome) surrounded by ridiculously breathtaking views. Pizza Hut certainly need to up their game.

We were greeted by the friendly and rather handsome Christian whose English was excellent we were relieved to discover. My GCSE Italian and knowledge of a few swear words wasn’t going to be of any help I feared. We discover Christian had recently worked in Bristol (my mum’s birthplace and the University city of my friend) so we felt reassured somehow and more at ease.

The restaurant had been opened especially for us so no audience to put us off our game. The Foo Fighters new album provided the soundtrack to our grafting and off we went.

  • 1kg Flour (00)
  • 750ml Water (not cold)
  • 10g Live yeast
  • 25g Sea salt
  • 25g Oil

So this is the recipe given to me which I’ve yet to try since returning home. I’ve attempted to remember the order of proceedings and hope I haven’t missed anything crucial.

Now for the science bit. Yeast and salt are enemies. So mix the water and yeast together first, and then add to the flour and salt. Work with your hands in a bowl and when combined drop the ball onto a floured worktop.

Knead for a few minutes until dough feels elasticky. Make a well and add the oil and knead again for a few minutes. The dough should begin to feel silky at this point.

Next you need to divide your dough. Each ball needs to be about 250g less if you want a thinner pizza. You’ll then need to shape said balls, so they’re round and smooth on top and pinch and tuck the bits underneath on the flat side. Like an upside dumpling (sort of). Set the dough balls aside on a tray – not too close together and cover with a damp tea towel (not wet) and leave for a few hours until they have doubled in size.

 

Ok when the dough has risen you need to give it a good dousing in semolina which will give it a nice texture. Back onto the floured work surface you need to flatten your dough ball leaving a rim around the edge. You flatten the inside in a circular motion – pressing and turning at the same time. We were told to imagine working a steering wheel. Try not to rip a hole in it. Obviously we didn’t do this…..

On to toppings. We were making a classic Margarita so used one ladle of tomato sauce per pizza, which was clearly homemade. Then add a generous sprinkling of fresh grated mozzarella and a few fresh basil leaves and you’re done.

Now came probably the hardest bit – getting the thing off the bloody work surface and into the oven. This step probably wouldn’t apply to most of us as we don’t have a pizza oven in our kitchens. After several attempts of sliding the pizza paddle under my creation (and some damaged dough and use of Italian swear words) I managed to get it into the oven and even give it a little turn mid way though. If you’re making this at home I would whack oven up as high as it goes and make sure fully hot. You can also get a pizza stone which is worth looking at.

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After five or so minutes here it was. My friend and I felt a massive sense of achievement and Christian was encouraging and kind even when we were struggling somewhat.

The highlight after this was sitting outside overlooking the mountains with a glass of vino with pizzas made for us instead. Pear, walnut and Gorgonzola (I don’t like this cheese but loved the pizza) and another of pig’s cheek, smoked mozzarella and chicoria which is a leafy spinach like vegetable that grew nearby.

Finally we were presented with a sweet pizza. Dark chocolate, creme patisserie in the crust and fresh fruit and cream. The pizzas had to be taken back home in boxes due to the sheer amount we were given, but they were so delicious and obviously far superior to our attempts.

PIzza 8

We had a brilliant afternoon and I can’t wait to give the dough a try at home. If you’re ever in this part of the world and fancy giving pizza making a shot, you can get in touch with my Italian based friend Libby Greenfield for the details. Ciao!

 

 

 

Pianostrada – laboratorio di cucina – Rome

I was in Rome for less than 24 hours and hadn’t been for years. Despite battling a virus and having a reduced appetite (no, I didn’t believe it either), I was determined to sample some of Roma’s finest culinary offerings.

I was on holiday with a friend, and visiting her sister who praised-be is a chef and now living in Italy. Her friend had recommended Pianostrada – so reservation made off we trotted via the fabulous (and cheap) Bar San Calisto for a 3 euro Aperol Spritz.

The restaurant is run by four women – two friends and two daughters that belong to one of the women. They were all blonde, and looked related so we couldn’t really tell who was who.

The restaurant moved about a year ago from the other side of the Tiber to the buzzing Trastevere area. From reading up, the previous location was tiny so the new site seems to have been welcomed by regulars who now have more space to enjoy their food.

A former factory the interiors were warm and inviting – industrial with softer touches such as fresh flowers and plants , great lighting and linens on the table. Although we didn’t see it I understand there is an outside terrace for the summer months.

We had a reservation sitting at the bar overlooking the kitchen. We’re probably about a metre or so away from ‘the pass’ and it was fascinating to watch all the chefs at work. It was a quiet workspace – no raised voices, no visible stress just each person working attentively on their designated area. Every dish that left the kitchen was finished and checked with love and care – it all looked incredible but not fussy or pretentious. If you’ve ever been to a Barrafina in London it felt a bit like that, sitting right amidst all the action.

Wine first. Working in marketing and being an interiors nerd, I was thrilled at the wine list presented in colour order by way of a Pantone chart arrangement. Due to the volume of wines on offer this was actually pretty impractical in reality, so chatting with the waitress about our preferences we chose a well priced Pecorino which was delicious, especially when presented with homemade crisps.

The menu here focuses on small plates – sandwiches and fritti (fried things) in particular. Their speciality is a fish burger served in a black squid ink bun, confit tomatoes and courgette flowers. Despite classing things as street food all the portions we ordered were generous.

Ingredients predominately come from the Lazio region (where Rome sits) and bread is baked on the premises. As you’d expect the menu changes often to reflect seasonality and availability.

 

 

Due to the sheer size of the menu and the restaurant having a nonfunctioning website I only have my memory to remind me of what was eaten. All I can say is everything we ate was delicious, innovative and clearly using top quality ingredients.

We shared a burrata, tartare and incredible plate of ham with homemade bread and tomato to start with.

I then had a beef dish (see above) which was amazing. Cherry tomatoes, stringy Italian cheese, beef, rocket and courgette flowers. I couldn’t finish it all, but it was delicious. My friend had what looked like the perfect portion of pasta with tomato and cheese, and her sister had a raw fish dish served with pickled vegetables and a lemon sorbet which got the chef’s seal of approval.

The vegetarian options looked really good too for any non meat eaters.

The last time I ate in Trastevere I seem to recall an abundance of red and white checked tablecloths and menus geared towards tourists. Pianostrada is cool, clearly a hit with actual Romans and with an interior that wouldn’t seem out-of-place in London or New York, the Rome food scene is looking very exciting indeed. If you’re in Italy’s Capital do give it a try – I’ll certainly be going back.

Ciao!

Jacob the Angel – 16 1/2, Neal’s Yard

As the old saying goes, you’re never more than 6ft away from a Pret in Central London. I jest – you could do a lot worse than Pret a Manger when you’re looking for a quick sandwich on your lunch break.

However, one of the perks of working slap bang in the middle of Covent Garden is that there are new places popping up all the time and not all of them in the crowded Piazza.

Jacob the Angel has just launched – set up by the people behind The Palomar and The Barbary (next door), by siblings Zoe and Layo Paskin.

Jacob the Angel (JTA) is weeny – just ten seats inside and three outside in bustling Neal’s Yard. JTA is classed as an English coffee-house focusing on take away freshly baked cakes, sandwiches and seasonal salads. My visit with a friend fell in the soft launch week, so we were poised ready to be met by a packed house but miraculously there was a table for two free.

As a gin lover, a tuna sandwich containing gin pickled cucumber didn’t fail to pass me by. It was really delicious – the organic bread coming from the Dusty Knuckle Bakery in Hackney, who work with young people who have struggled to find meaningful employment – have a read.

Coffee comes from the Square Mile Roastery, cheese from Neal’s Yard round the corner and charcuterie from Cannon & Cannon.

I normally opt for tea over coffee but feeling reckless I ordered an Americano. The charming man behind the counter recommended their filter coffee instead, which he brought to the table when ready and it was really delicious.

My friend, a veggie picked a few of their salads which I sampled for research purposes. Carrots, with harissa, feta and almonds and another with rice noodles, cabbage and celery with peanuts. Both portions were really fresh and generous and bursting with flavour. After my huge sandwich we momentarily regretted ordering a cake (short-lived).

They make just 30 individual coconut cream pies each day and in a rare display of sloppy journalism I forgot to take a photo. If you like coconut you’ll love it – like a little lemon meringue pie. A summery nectarine cake is also shared bursting with seasonal fruit and perfect to keep my coffee company.

Jacob the Angel is light, airy and friendly. The quality is top class and as menus will be changing regularly you can probably go often and mix it up a bit.

I think the prices are really good too, particularly for an area not overrun with good value interesting places.

If you’re wanting a quick sandwich, coffee or cake do try JTA. If you can’t get a seat there’s lovely Lincoln’s Inn Fields nearby for a sit. Heavenly.

 

Hawksmoor – Air Street

I won’t lie, I felt a little “tired” on my visit due to some slightly over enthusiastic gin drinking the previous evening (sorry mum).

Nearing the end of a week’s staycation I had arranged to meet one of my bestest pals who was coming into town for a catch up and having a day off from her busy mum job.

Hawksmoor had been on the list for a while but it’s not the cheapest and I viewed it very much as a special occasion place, suitable for die-hard carnivores only.

Well I was happy to be proved wrong – finding a great deal on their summer menu – £30 for three courses which included a cocktail or glass of holey wine (champagne).

The restaurant is a chain of 9 which includes Manchester and NYC, has been voted as one of the most sustainable eateries in the UK. They take animal welfare very seriously and are resolute that Britain produces the best beef, working with small farms to source their ingredients. Thumbs up.

I didn’t realise they specialised in seafood too – produce arriving daily from Brixham market without setting foot/fin inside a warehouse.

H1

The Air Street branch overlooks manic Regent Street but sitting behind the gorgeous art deco frosted windows you soon forget about the chaos that is passing underneath.

The restaurant is light and airy, stylish yet relaxed. All the staff we encountered were friendly and good-humoured. The clientele today seemed more of the businessy variety, but tables were really well spaced so no being forced to hear about Nigel’s projected sales figures as you enjoyed your meal.

Starting with a pre-dinner drink, in a rare flash of being sensible I start with a softie. Expertly advised I chose a grapefruit and bergamot iced tea. Life giving and delicious I was back to my normal self.

Hawksmoor has a dizzying array of cocktails split down on the menu into various times of the day. I was thrilled to see a section entitled Disco Drinks. We had four options for our set menu so I chose a Tom and Jerez containing gin, almond, sherry and pear, which was not too sweet, ice-cold and refreshing – perfect pre dinner. My friend had a Hawksmoor Cup – a delicate pinky cocktail made with strawberry gin. These drinks were small and perfectly formed – just enough before food.

So moving onto said food we both opted for identical meals (not uncommon for us two).

As starters go this was up there in terms of size and deliciousness. Not one but two excellent Yorkshire puddings, gravy and potted beef and bacon. My friend and I were uncharacteristically quiet as we ate this.

As this was Hawksmoor we went for steak. 35 day dry-aged rump served with triple cooked chips and homemade ketchup. Arriving on hot plates (a rare thing these days) it was tender delicious and cooked to perfection. We couldn’t fault it.

H2

Now to the only disappointing part of the meal. There was an inexplicable lack of desserts available, just ice cream (no sundaes either) or cheese. We picked three ‘homemade Rolos’ covered in dark chocolate and filled with salted caramel which were actually really delicious and probably preferable to a sleep inducing dessert.

Wine wise we both had a large glass of gorgeous Picpoul coming in at £7.50. There’s three white wines (bottles) on the menu sub £30 – so not bad for such a good quality place.

Check out their pre and post theatre menus, and express menu too. On a Monday you can even take any bottle in for a corkage of a fiver. The snazziest BYOB I’ve ever encountered.

This place is great – high quality – simple menu and great service. If you’re looking for somewhere excellent and don’t want to fork out a shed load then there’s several great menu options and locations you can pick.

Mooo-ve it. (sorry)

Odette’s – Primrose Hill

For me Camden Town on a Saturday is literally one of the most hellish places on earth. Today I’m visiting there to see a play. Above a pub. It’s free and it’s press day, and my friend is reviewing. As it goes it turns out to be actually really good.

At six o’clock we leave the theatre and both of us want to get as far away as possible from the grotty souvenir shops and over excited teenagers.

After just a ten minute walk we are in leafy Primrose Hill – a world away from Camden high street. I used to come here a lot back in the day but it’s been a while. On the hunt for dinner, my friend suggested Odette’s, somewhere that’s been on my radar for years now.

I knew this place has been a longstanding firm favourite with locals, but I’ve only made it to one of the many pubs on my previous visits (some I now understand have been made into flats – sigh).

The area was once the home to ‘Supernova Heights’ and the Primrose Hill set – Noel Gallagher, Patsy Kensit, Sadie Frost, Kate Moss et al. The celebrities here are less prominent these days and the paparazzi seemed to have moved on elsewhere.

Regent’s Park Road is still a nice spot to while a way the hours and people watch. It’s a rare sunny eve so we sit outside. Despite not having a reservation it was no problem bagging a table and the set menu looked pretty good value for such a highly lauded restaurant.

Odette’s been going since 1978 but is now owned by handsome Welsh chef Bryn Williams who formerly worked under Michel Roux and Marco Pierre White. He also owns a bar and restaurant in Colwyn Bay, and appeared on the Great British Menu where he cooked for Her Maj’s birthday.

The set menu is £22 for 2 courses and £27 for three so not bad in my opinion. We start with a G&T and my Welsh friend (and I) are thrilled to hear they have Brecon gin from their list of just four.

We’re brought a basket of delicious soda bread with homemade butter, and crisps served with an amazing garlicky dip. I could have quite easily eaten that all night to be honest.

Aside from the food the highlight was two very glamorous, very Welsh ladies in their sixties sitting next to us, who declared very loudly they had been to Bryn’s restaurant in Colwyn Bay just so we all knew.

There are just two options per course on the set menu, but neither of us are picky so everything was up for grabs. We both chose cured sea trout with garden beetroot (which is white!) and smoked rosemary. It was light and fresh – the smoked rosemary a great accompaniment which I wouldn’t have thought would have worked with fish.

Until today I hadn’t eaten cooked lettuce that I can recall. In this meal we ate it twice (by choice) and I’m a massive convert.

I choose the lamb (Welsh I’m assuming) which consisted of lamb fillet and a kidney which I wouldn’t go for ordinarily, but was ruddy lovely particularly when complimented by an oozing garlic sauce and braised lettuce.

We chose sides of summery new potatoes with seaweed and lettuce cooked, with Parmesan and breadcrumbs which is something I’m going to try and recreate at home.

We share a dessert of Caerphilly, Bara brith (a fruit bread to the uninitiated – me) and pear chutney. The perfect end to a great the meal.

There are two testing menus on offer one of them vegetarian for £49 which is worth noting for anyone seeking a special occasion veggie meal that isn’t predictable or unimaginative.

I can’t comment on the atmosphere in the restaurant but based on the service we received and food we had I’d imagine it would be pretty spot on.

The residents of Primrose Hill are lucky to have such a great local eatery, and for the rest of us a perfect venue to escape to for some laid back Welsh sophistication.