Chick ‘n’ Sours – Covent Garden

I very nearly didn’t write this post. I’ve woken up this morning after yet another terror attack in London – this time on London Bridge and Borough Market. Borough Market is a foodie’s (hate that word) stomping ground – and I know people who live and work there. Writing a blog about stuffing one’s face seems trivial and pointless in the scheme of things.

But I love London and I love writing. I launched this blog to share amazing places in the city I’ve chosen to make my home. Writing about food doesn’t change the world but today like all the other days after these awful attacks, people will get up and carry on as ‘normal’, albeit with a heavy heart and return to our day-to-day lives. Onwards……


So… Friday night has arrived and I’m meeting a footloose and fancy-free teacher/mum friend who wants to make the most of her holiday fun times. Working in Covent Garden you soon get wise to the restaurants aimed predominately at Barry and Sheila down from Walsall here to see Mamma Mia.

But I have my ear to the ground and recently walked past Chick ‘n’ Sours in Seven Dials. They’ve had an outpost in hipsters paradise Haggerston for a while, and Covent Garden is their second branch. I texted my friend a range of food options in the day and happily we both settled for “dirty” food. And this looked positively filthy.

The website said there were no tables free till 9pm but ever the optimist we pop along anyway at 6pm. Some charming front of house boys checked their system and a table was made available and we were whisked downstairs.

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It’s dark, buzzing – all neon and a bit trashy. I like it. People are drinking cocktails from headsized glasses we later find out are called goldfish bowls.

The menu describes the offering as next level fried chicken and cocktails. The list is small but we still find it hard to choose. We decide we should have a sour but have no idea what to expect. We both order a Chick n Club #2 – gin, blackberries, apple, blackcurrant and rosemary vinegar (what?) and sour. This didn’t sound entirely appetising to be honest but when in Rome and all that…..

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Served in beer glasses like my dad had in the 80’s, these cocktails were totally delicious. I don’t know what the sour element was on the top but it totally complimented the sweet blackberries and apple.

Food then. The free range chicken comes from two family farms – one in Somerset and one in Yorkshire. Top quality birds.

I choose probably the most mainstream item on the menu but that’s a good test I think. The Colonel  – a soft brioche bun with fried thigh, buttermilk, herb mayo, cheese, lettuce and pickles. Probably only 100 calories or so *coughs*.

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It’s tall, and huge and messy to eat. One to be avoided on a first date perhaps. The chicken is not remotely greasy and ridiculously crispy. This is the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten – this is high quality low brow food.

My friend orders a thigh and drumstick served with pickled watermelon which gets a big thumbs up. Food is served on mismatched plates and it works.

We order a side of slaw with unexpected chillies in it, that blow the cobwebs away and some beef dripping fries. Both excellent – we could have shared fries but you live and learn.

We have a glass of white natural wine for a fiver which is good value and really decent.

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Chick ‘n’ Sours is fun and a great place for a relaxed meal. But the food is seriously good and excellent value. Every member of staff was lovely and they have excellent pineapple wallpaper. Usher is a fan.

All the fun of East London – round the corner from the office.

Sketch, London

I’m running late. I’m never late. Leaving the office, battling through town and getting stuck behind a van outside the Hippodrome – my relaxing afternoon has not begun well.

My friends are already waiting – one of them the birthday girl, the reason why we’re here today. An afternoon tea aficionado we had spent time researching somewhere she hadn’t been and that would befit this landmark occasion.

I’d been to Sketch many years ago but so far back in time I don’t remember the details and I certainly didn’t go for the full afternoon extravaganza.

Relieving myself of coat and bags I finally make it to The Gallery room. It’s pink. Very pink. Not in a lurid Barbara Cartland way – its sophisticated and opulent – almost womb-like with no windows onto the outside world, and small table lamps creating the ambience.

If you’re thinking this sounds all very refined requiring your best behaviour, then think again. Back in 2014 Glasgow-based, Turner Prize nominated artist David Shrigley was commissioned to transform the restaurant.

David created 239 new illustrations for the space, and designed the ceramics which the afternoon is served on/in. His distinctive style adds a large dose of humour and provides an innovative twist on a traditional afternoon tea.

Staff are both plentiful and playful here – bedecked in an interesting and eclectic range of styles. Men don grey boilersuite-esque outfits with Converse,  and women wear beautiful dresses which have apparently been designed specifically for the afternoon tea service. We’re told each space at Sketch has a different outfit to complement the surroundings.

A string quartet play throughout – The Verve, Adele, REM and Aerosmith. Weirdly it works.

We are going for the set afternoon with champagne today (one of these a vegetarian option)

We start with champagne (Pommery Brut Silver) which is served in those flat Mary Antoinette style glasses.

Our first course is ‘Egg & Soldiers’. A Comte cheese sauce comes beautifully served in a ceramic eggcup with an egg yolk sitting on top and accompanied Comte cheese soldiers.

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Before we had time to crack on a young and handsome man appears in a pink linen suit and Panama hat, announcing himself as “The Caviar Man”. I think I’ve only eaten caviar once or twice so am not an expert in any way. CM produces an enormous silver terrine of the black stuff and expertly explains the provenance of the this luxury delicacy. It had been farmed near Lake Garda as sturgeon in the Caspian Sea were endangered, There you go. My vegetarian pal was not forgotten and given a cauliflower caviar alternative which looked like an excellent substitute. Dispensing our caviar on a mother of pearl spoon with clear eating instructions CM bid us farewell. The whole dish was delicious and I could have eaten another as a grande Comte fan.

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Next the tea – and a first for me in terms of tea selecting. A trolley carrying canisters of all the teas on offer allowed us to smell and talk through with our waitress until we had decided. Much more helpful than taking a gamble from a dizzying long list of names.

Next we’re onto the sandwich and cake section of the afternoon. Traditional sandwich flavours were given modern twists – a tiny fried quail egg on the egg sandwich, more caviar (red this time) on the salmon sandwiches served on arctic bread. Replenishment was available on request. A big David Shrigley thumbs up for that. Veggie sandwiches were a bit disappointing, not helped by the “cheese is ok” memo not getting through.

You can see a full list of cakeage here but everything was delicious and interesting. Scones were square not round to prevent wastage. Controversial.

IMG_2969Sketch probably has some of the most instagrammed toilets ever so I couldn’t really leave without paying a visit. Gliding up completely white stairs you are met by a room of egg-shaped pods like something from an episode of Dr Who. It’s all a bit unsettling but makes for a nice photo.

We’ve had a fabulous afternoon. Sketch is great and has some other bars and areas with different offerings. If you want a break from tradition but still want the quality then Sketch is a winner in my opinion. They even offer a children’s afternoon tea menu if you want to spoil the little people in your life.

It’s not the cheapest tea available out there, but service was faultless and the standard of food was pretty excellent. For a special occasion it’s definitely worth it. Don’t forget to go for a wee too……

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Clos Maggiore, Covent Garden

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I work in Covent Garden, so it takes a lot to drag me back there on a weekend and battle with the tourists and spray painted human statues.

We’re here today due to an electrical fault back in December that prevented the restaurant from opening. Safety first and all that.

Four resourceful women that we are, we ended up at the Ivy Market Grill that day and all was good. So the four of us are back to try Clos Maggiore on our second attempt.

I can’t review here without mentioning it has been voted the most romantic restaurant in the WORLD. It’s seen numerous marriage proposals and on entering the place I can kind of see why.

If you do go here, book a table in the back area because that’s where it’s really something. A roaring fire sits in the middle of the room and a glass ceiling (retractable for the summer) floods the dining area with natural light. Plants climb the walls and a cherry blossom (not real but looks it) covers the entire ceiling. You forget you’re in tourist hell and suddenly feel like you’re on holiday in Tuscany or Provence (inspiration for the menu).

There’s an upstairs too which also boasts an open fire. Flowers, plants and French artwork add stylish touches throughout yet everything feels relaxed and unstuffy.

Due to the unfulfilled booking in December we are massively looked after today so for transparency I’ll highlight what we did and did not pay for.

Onward then…Well if you like wine you won’t be disappointed. There’s over 2,500 on offer on a list covering 100 pages. Keen to try Japanese or Canadian wine? Well you can here. Yes you can spend more than a couple of months rent on one bottle, but there’s some options I spot at the £27/£3o mark so not unreasonable at all.

Our ridiculously lovely experience starts with a bottle of Rothschild champagne – complimentary. It’s gorgeous and we’re off to a flying start.

Nibbling on some delicious Parmesan focaccia we choose our food from a £34.50 a head set lunch menu which I can say now I’ve tried is excellent value. (£39.50 with half a bottle of wine).

To start I choose a venison and Iberico pork terrine, followed by organic sea-trout with crab and mussels. We all had different things which I won’t list, but no one could fault anything that they ordered.

There’s a 5 course tasting menu available too plus a vegetarian version for non meat eaters. A stone’s throw from theatreland – they also have pre and post theatre menus too just FYI.

Between courses one of the many charming and hilarious waiters arrived with four bowls of fresh pappardella pasta with wild mushrooms and Parmesan. Another complimentary touch that contributed to our rapidly expanding waistbands. I forgot to mention this stunningly simple dish was finished off with a more than generous amount of fresh grated truffle.

My sea-trout was fresh and delicious – perfectly matched with a generous amount of seafood. I was relieved to have chosen something light to offset everything else.

I’m not really a desserty person, but the Tiramisu sounded amazing and it was. Often a sweet cloying pudding, this was different. Punchy coffee ice cream and an almost brownie like coffee sponge underneath.

Begging for a gastronomic rest we have a little break to recuperate and catch a breath. Coffee – yes that’s what we needed. Annoyingly that came with hand-made chocolates. These were divine too.

I’m writing this at half nine at night and still feel happily full. Reflecting on our meal I haven’t had such a lovely dining experience in ages. You quickly forget your location, and the food and excellent staff surpass many far more expensive restaurants I have visited in the Capital.

Whether you’re after romance or not – book a table (under the tree) and you won’t be disappointed.

*Desserts, coffee and a bottle of white wine were also complimentary. Thank you CM!

BabaBoom – Clapham Junction

Clapham Junction doesn’t exactly scream glamour for a girls night out – but it’s a Tuesday (Pancake Day to be precise) and the bestie is coming into town from far off lands (otherwise known as Surrey). CJ offered a handy halfway point which we knew had more than a handful of eateries.

I won’t lie, BabaBoom wasn’t our first choice. We’d earmarked somewhere else on Battersea Rise, but seeing a queue snaking out of the door we quickly changed our minds.

My friend had also heard about Bababoom as they had recently come second in the newcomer category at the British Kebab Awards. Who knew?

So yes this is a kebab restaurant but rest assured not the spinning elephant leg variety which in all my 40 years have not had the pleasure of sampling.

This is a charcoal grill kinda place – small menu, high quality/high welfare ingredients and generous portions.

The decor is cosy and relaxed. It’s not a huge place and are people perched on high and low tables throughout. The open kitchen sits in the middle so you can see the grilling action while you wait.

As a keen interior nerd I think I recognise Tom Dixon lighting which makes me very happy.

Your meat/protein can be served on a deliciously soft Persian flatbread (made by clearly a talented man called Afif) or a fattoush salad.

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Not drinking, I go for a homemade lemonade and my friend sups a jealousy inducing mojito. The lemonade is really tasty and not too sweet so we order some more.

Food time and I predictably choose lamb – rotisserie cooked served with onions marinated in pomegranate molasses. My friend (not a veggie) picks the broad bean falafel and hummus which she says is fabulous.

Everything feels fresh and dare I say healthy. Flavours are zesty – packed with herbs and spices – soft breads contrasted with crunchy bright salad. Homemade dips are perfectly matched too – one herby and one smoky – both awesome.

The lamb is tender and packed full of flavour and there’s plenty of it. We both order sides – me dukkah fries and my friend smashed aubergine. If I’d have known how substantial the portions were going to be, I may have forgone the fries but I force them down. For the record they are lovely.

Service was faultless – hats off to our waiter who had his first shift that night. An incorrect bill was dealt with quickly and painlessly.

They offer a lunch and brunch menu, serve Caravan coffee and some interesting beers and ciders – so there’s plenty to go back for.

Twenty pounds each and we’ve eaten well and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

No longer will Bababoom be our second choice.

3 women and a baby – Yuu Kitchen, Aldgate East

Following the recent arrival of a friend’s baby, it was time for a me and another pal to have a catch up and finally meet the little fella.

My friend who knows the owner, recommended Yuu Kitchen in Aldgate East – not a part of town I know very well (Yuu means superior by the way)

The place is currently number one on Tripadvisor. That’s first out of 17,814 eateries in London. Wow.

Situated on a nondescript stretch of the Commercial Road, I was intrigued to try such a highly lauded place – which incidentally has only been open since October.

Owners are head chef Jon de Villa (ex Nobu) and manager Stephen Lowe (ICEBAR) – two Aussie friends with clearly some impressive experience behind them.

The vibe is casual with a large open plan kitchen housing two Big Green Eggs for some of the cooking.

Bird cages hang from the ceiling and manga style artwork commissioned especially for the restaurant by a Hong Kong based artist, adorn the walls.

Food hails from South East Asia and the Pacific Rim – think Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia and Japan. Small plates are on offer so order lots to share or pick a few for yourself.

In no particular order the three of us ordered: scallop, prawn and chive dumplings, salt and pepper calamari, baby back ribs, twice cooked 7up braised pork Bao, soy and buttermilk chicken Bao and dumplings with butternut and sweetcorn.

The food is delicious – beautifully presented, super fresh and generous portions. There’s some great veggie options too for the non meat eaters. Dishes are £4.50 upwards so provide a reasonably priced meal (depending on how much you order of course)

Desserts come highly recommended so with the inability of being able to choose – manager Stephen brings us a selection.

An insanely good selection of homemade ice creams accompany our puddings: apple caramel, dulce de leche, pistachio, and salted caramel.

Wine, beer and fizz are all available on tap. We picked a carafe of Frizzante which totally  hit the spot. There’s also sake and cocktails for those feeling a bit more adventurous.

Despite being busy by the time we leave the restaurant had a serene vibe about it. I would imagine though on an evening when full to capacity the atmosphere will ramp up somewhat.

Service was attentive and friendly – I couldn’t fault it in fact.

I really loved this place – something a bit different and nice and relaxed. If you’re venturing east I highly recommend a visit.

 

Domali Cafe the sequel – Crystal Palace

A few months ago I walked past one of my favourite local haunts, and the windows were blacked out….the panic set in. Their garden is our go to place in the summer months, and their food (and cocktails) have been consistently good in all the years I have lived here.

It’s just a refurbishment. Relief.

When Domali did re-open around Christmas, what was revealed was a complete transformation. Not just a lick of paint – a proper change and not just to the walls.

I chatted to lovely owner Alison (the ali in Domali) when I popped in for a coffee prior to this visit and talked through some of the changes with her. She said she wanted to introduce a bar concept so people can just come for drinks of an evening. Better still they wanted to use local producers for the food and drink  but more of that later.

The restaurant since its original launch in 1996, has been pescatarian, so perhaps one of the most interesting additions to the revamped menu are a few meaty things. There’s now several items (ethically sourced) that sit alongside more familiar (and new) fish, veggie and vegan items.

So back to this evening. It’s a cold grey Wednesday, and as it’s always done Domali looks cosy and inviting from the outside. If ever the new buzzword Hygge could apply to a restaurant it’s here. Gorgeous foresty wallpaper, grey muted walls, dimmed lights, stripped wood and candles create a lovely Scandi feel.

Comfy sofas perch at the front – perfect for people watching and close to the bar. There’s an open kitchen (which I’m a fan of), and the once open staircase has now been closed off creating a much cosier feel.

The place is busy – great to see on a dreary weeknight – a few local faces dotted around. Drinks first. As  I said at the start, local suppliers now feature on the menu. I’m a big gin fan so am delighted to finally try Little Bird gin, distilled in Peckham. My friend chooses a Southpaw amber ale from the Gipsy Hill Brewing Co (lovely lads) down the road. My other friend (yes I have two) picks an organic rose wine – nicely priced at £4.45.

 

The gin is delicious and excellently presented with pink grapefruit and a choice of Fever Tree tonics. The Southpaw beer is a hit, as is the wine.

I must mention the gins at this point which is another new focus of the revamped venue. You’ll also find Jensens (Bermondsey), Sipsmith (East London), Beefeater (Vauxhall) and Warner Edwards – the rhubarb that they use originally coming from Queen Vic’s garden.

 

Ok food. As meat is a new addition I decide to road test the burger. All the meat comes from a Bermondsey butcher who own a Scottish farm, and it’s pasture fed – tick. It’s juicy and delicious, lovely bun and with the familiar Domali chips with garlic mayo that I swap from the french fries they come with. I *may* have added a spot of Applewood Cheddar in there too.

One friend picks a Keralan vegan curry – a huge portion bursting with chickpeas and okra served with rice and a minty relish. My other friend goes for a portion of calamari which she says is really good.

A few items from the old menu have disappeared – freshly squeezed juices, nicoise salad. I would imagine if there are enough asks though some items may reappear.

Domali’s have been brave with their changes after sticking with a trusted formula for so long. The prices are still reasonable though and the staff are great.

I think it’s totally paid off I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regency Cafe – Westminster

The Regency Cafe serves what is probably the cheapest pint in London. Coming in at just 50 pence it beats even Wetherspoons. But I’m talking squash here (available in a variety of flavours), not craft beer.

Unless someone has told you about the Regency, or you’ve been yourself, you’re more than likely not to have heard of it, nor walked past it. Situated near Horseferry Rd, the cafe sits on an unassuming, and let’s be honest fairly uninteresting street with little else there other than flats and offices.

This gem of a place opened in 1946, and has featured in both films (Layer Cake) and TV shows such as London Spy. With the exception of some pasta (exotic) this place couldn’t be more English. In 2013 it was voted fifth best eatery in London.

Nestled between Channel 4 HQ and Parliament one can only imagine what dealings may have taken place across the formica tables. The clientele are a mixed bunch – office workers, Japanese tourists, cabbies – a thrilling and diverse mix reflective of London itself.

 

Decor is art deco and I’d imagine largely untouched for years. The tiles on the walls are original, pre-dating the wall to wall tile trend that seemingly features in every new bar and restaurant these days. Photos of Spurs players and boxers adorn the walls for no clear reason.

The first warning I will give you is that this place is highly stressful. Firstly there sometimes can be queues – big ones at that – so getting in is the initial challenge. Today there are six of us so the challenge is pretty sizeable. There’s a small line but we’re ok.

Next the rules are you cannot under any circumstances sit down before you’ve ordered. You order first, and then hope to the breakfast gods you can find a table.

The third hurdle is what to order. It would seem at first there are hundreds of options but on closer inspection you’ll see that it is predominately combinations of every conceivable fry-up breakfast item (plus chips) with a few additional classics such as scampi and pies. Bacon, chips and beans/sausage, chips and egg/gammon, beans and sausage and so forth. The list could go on.

Be prepared, be decisive and please listen out for your order. Food normally comes out in around 2 minutes so don’t expect to have a long leisurely meal.

Around the table we all have all chosen different things. I pick a steak pie which is really good, meatastic, a thick pastry top, lovely rich gravy and a generous portion to boot. Chips are proper too – no skinny fries here. The peas are that green hue you only get from tinned vegetables but as the healthiest part of my meal I willingly take them on.

There’s a daily special always on offer, a set breakfast at £5.50 and a few custard friendly desserts. An omelette (with chips) comes in at £3.45, a large beefburger (with chips) £3.60 and various salads (probably with chips) around the £4-5 mark. Tea (builders and 90p) or coffee comes in mugs (from an urn natch) and you can even get orange juice in glass milk bottles like you used to order from the milkman.

Now I’d be doing you all a disservice if I didn’t mention one of the best features of the place. The lovely lady at the counter who quietly and swiftly takes you order.

Once seated a voice so loud that would put Brian Blessed to shame booms your waiting order across the crowded cafe. You may only manage a few sentences of your conversation before being interrupted with “GAMMON, CHIPS AND EGG!!!”. Like I said it’s not relaxing but this is totally part of the experience. If you want to be quiet then go to Costa.

Probably don’t come here on a date, or for a work meeting, but do come with a hangover and/or a large appetite. This place is fantastic and cheap as chips (literally).

Opening hours:

Mon – Friday: 7:00 – 14:30,  16:00 – 19:15
Sat: 7:00 – 12:00
Sun: closed

Pedler – Peckham Rye

When you hear Peckham, Only Fools and Horses and the sitcom Desmond’s may spring to mind. Sure the high street is packed with chicken and hair weave shops (separate venues) but like so many areas, it has not escaped the gentrification that has enhanced (for some) many London boroughs outside of Zone 1. This has brought with it a new wave of residents, and a surge in new bars, shops and restaurants.

I’ll start by saying if Pedler ever thought of opening a second outpost, then please do consider my area Crystal Palace. This place is the kind of neighbourhood restaurant I would kill to have nearby.

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I can honestly say the service we received was probably the best I’ve ever encountered – hands down. When we arrive our booking doesn’t appear to be on the system. The place is heaving so I begin to fear the worst. But no – the beyond delightful manager (I think) sat us down in two comfy armchairs to peruse the menu. After only a ten minute wait we are seated at our table.

I hate to use the word quirky but I can’t think of a better description. It’s relaxed and cosy but with a stylish edge, whilst not straying into hipster territory. A handsome bar houses an impressive array of spirits including Little Bird gin which is the owners other venture. I’ve spotted this small batch tipple at Maltby Street Market before, but have yet to try it.

Unusual objects adorn walls and surfaces, but the styling doesn’t stray into ‘try hard’. A large cows head sits on one wall, a gold pineapple (their logo) hangs from another. On the day we visit a fresh white rose sits on each table. The attention to detail is terrific without feeling contrived. There’s an appealing looking booth area for large groups, and a tiny open kitchen that sits right at the back.

So yes – the food. I am focused on a roast so go for Yorkshire Riddings rib of beef which I am told has been cooked for three hours. My veggie friend chooses a roasted cauliflower Mac’n cheese – the cheese having beer and mustard in it. Cor. She says its lovely.

My beef is so tender and tasty, and essentially looks like a steak. We both get a head sized Yorkshire pudding and a huge bowl of root veg – turnips, carrots, parsnips and two types of potatoes. It’s all really good. Our waitress tells us the menu changes almost daily in the week.

Crockery and cutlery is mismatched – a bit like what your granny had. My gravy arrives in a little silver vintage jug and my whipped horseradish on a little seashell shaped dish. Water is available in huge brown glass medicine bottles.

Full to the rafters, we naturally order pudding. We both choose a lovely apple crumble served with a creamy homemade vanilla custard – no Ambrosia here.

I have to stop at this point and mention the immense music selection. Standout out tracks included ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ ‘Love Cats’ ‘Run Rabbit Run’ and ‘Love and Marriage.’ Like I say eclectic but utterly joyful.

The clientele are a mixed bunch, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. You almost forget it’s a Sunday afternoon. We chat to the couple next to us and another behind – it is massively friendly much like the staff.

The cocktail selection looks fabulous (many featuring Little Bird) but as it’s a workday tomorrow we go for a bottle of wine – Portuguese Vinho Verde – a particular favourite which is not available in many places. It’s slightly fizzy and a bit lower alcohol than the usual white offerings and this was lovely. The wine list was impressive overall with the starting price for a bottle (referred to as a flagon) at £18, and cocktails were around the £7-8 mark which isn’t too shabby.

If you’re London-based I’d highly recommend coming down to SE15. There’s plenty to explore in nearby (no sniggering) Bellenden Rd, with indie cafes and shops and a great pub the Victoria Inn (also a B&B). Peckham Rye park is also lovely – housing an arboretum and Japanese garden.

Open all day for brunch, lunch, dinner and in between I think Pedler would be perfect for a raft of different occasions. It’s not open on a Monday though – just so you know. I cannot wait to come back here – no matter what time of day.

 

 

 

The Gutsy Chutney Supper Club – Wandsworth

I’d never been to a supper club until last night. I knew they were happening across London every day of the week but somehow I’ve just never made it to one. The thought of sitting on a bean bag in a someone’s living room in Kilburn eating tapas with strangers may have been putting put me off.

Well more fool me.

As a relatively new food blogger, how stoked I was to receive an email from a lady saying she’d found me online and would I like to come and review her supper club The Gutsy Chutney. Hell yes.

Roping in a SW London friend from work off we trotted to deepest darkest Wandsworth. Strolling through the leafy residential streets we were finding it hard to picture where this venue could be and then there we were. Barmouth Kitchen is a sweet cafe (run by ten local families) and the location for tonight’s event.

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On what was a freezing night we were greeted by the friendly Deepa and her husband and shown to a large communal table prettily set with name cards – almost Christmas like. Deepa had clearly put alot of thought into the aesthetics for the evening and that really showed.

Bowls of dried snacks sat on the table which look delicious but we had no idea what they were. Jackfruit. If you like plantain chips you’ll like these.

We sit with a fun local couple originally from Norway and lovely man from Ilford. We all hit it off and chatted throughout the evening on a range of topics ranging from breast milk ice-cream through to the ship tunnels in Norway. Not a dull moment at our table. The other guests seemed to be equally enjoying themselves.

Gutsy Chutney events always have a theme and this one was food and wine matching. Result. The wine had been chosen by Deepa herself from a place in Tooting Market called Unwined. I used to live near Tooting and back then Oddbins was the sophisticated place to get one’s libations.

We were treated to a German Reisling, Austrian Zweigelt, an Italian Dolcetto and Rofosco and finally a French Grenache dessert wine. Yes that’s five. Each one matched perfectly to each course, and it was great to try something unfamiliar.

 

So to the food. Deepa is from Kerala but her menu is far-reaching, adding twists on dishes with Mexican, Goan and English influences. This was fusion food at it’s finest.

We start with prawns balchao golgappas – three little vermicelli puris stuffed with a fiery Goan relish and whole prawns offset with a little tamarind sauce. We were advised to eat these whole and on the first one I didn’t listen. They were very spicy and I felt a bit pathetic. They were so tasty though, and for the next two I ate them in one bite as instructed. My  Reisling soothed any burning sensation and normality resumed.

Cleverly this starter was followed by a palette cleansing salad of green mango, pineapple, chilli and coriander all served in a little ice cream cone.

My friend and I agreed that after this next dish all future pies and probably curries would never match up. We were only given butter chicken in a pie! But wait, not pastry but a naan topping – light, crispy and hugely innovative. The whole table ate every scrap – this for me was the standout dish of the night.

There were two more mains and a dessert still to come. On we go.

We are served a cold creamy rice dish mixed with unsweetened yoghurt and mustard seeds. This is traditional in Southern India served as a soother after spicy food. Deepa paired this with a rich mutton (another first) curry. The meat was tender and full of flavour and heat, but worked brilliantly with the rice particularly (as we discovered) if you put both things on the fork at once.

 

So this is where the Mexican twist came in – a keema and chickpea curry served in a taco shell – a popular street food served in Bombay we’re told. This was tasty too – peas added in for a bit of sweetness. It reminded me of my South African grandmother who used to put peas in spaghetti bolognese which I know was not her attempt at fusion cooking.

On the home stretch now and despite being full to bursting we are served a carrot halwa with ice cream. This was totally gorgeous, so I asked Deepa to run through the ingredients – carrot, condensed milk and raisins with some clarified butter. It tasted like a rice pudding and we couldn’t believe there wasn’t rice or some sort of grain in there.

If you’re off the booze there were non alcoholic drinks on offer and each course had a vegetarian option for the non meat eaters. The night was £50 in total – 5 courses and 5 wines which we didn’t think was bad at all.

Deepa and her husband talked through each dish as they arrived and answered any questions. At the end of the evening they sat and chatted with us making us feel like we were at a dinner party rather than a restaurant.

Feeling happy and full we head out into the cold after a fun night fuelled by the most delicious food and wine.

* My meal was complimentary but my friend paid the full price.

NYC – Part II

Rubirosa – Nolita

Having not been to the Nolita area before I found the area buzzing – even early doors on a week night – a bit like Soho I suppose.

After first attempting to get a drink at Mother’s Ruin (sadly too rammed) we decamped to Rubirosa managing to get a seat at the bar.

The friend I am with has been here before, with a different friend again, who had also told me to visit here on my trip.

A delightful bartender (one of many) recommended two great wines for us and we settled down. There’s a great cocktail list – classics with an Italian twist which would in my mind, make Rubirosa a drinking destination as much as a restaurant.

It’s cosy with an old-fashioned vibe about it – wooden floors and furniture and a large velvet curtain to swoosh open as you enter and leave. There is a huge range of people in here – dates, groups of friends and people flying solo. Hand written notes from Rubirosa fans adorn the wall behind the bar.

We weren’t intending to eat but as we were there and everything looked immense we decided to stay. Classic Italian/American comfort food is on offer – meatballs, pastas and of course pizzas, which are huge but also thin and delicate.

From memory the medium size pizza was six slices and the large eight. A medium was quite sufficient for both of us, although several lone diners manged to eat a whole one to themselves. Respect my friends.

We order an Arugula – cherry tomato, onion, Parmesan and balsamic with some prosciutto added for good measure. It arrives resplendent on its own stand and a man sitting next to us asks what we have. He seems jealous about what we’ve picked. He says he’ll order that next time.

The pizza is delicious – a great tomato base and generous and excellent quality prosciutto. There’s one of those meat slicing machines behind the bar so perhaps they prepare it all there?

There are gluten-free options AND there’s a pizza with vodka on it if you fancy that.

Sitting up at the bar is highly recommended to get involved and soak up the atmosphere. It certainly feels like a neighbourhood restaurant but I can guarantee people travel from across the city to come here.

If you’re seeking a good quality pizza in a lively atmosphere – Rubirosa is a winner in my opinion.

Clinton St Bakery – Lower East Side

The Clinton St Bakery is a few steps from Katz’s deli – the infamous diner from that scene in When Harry Met Sally (on my list for next time).

Since I’ve told people I’ve been here I’ve discovered other friends have too and it seems according to them I should have had the pancakes. They’ve been voted the best in NYC. Twice.

We get there early and the queue is already snaking out of the door. We’re informed it’s a 40 minute wait. Unless of course we want to go next door. We’re not sure what next door is but we accept anyway. It seems to be a less formal version of the main restaurant but for me feels more like a diner which is what I’m after. There’s two free seats at the counter so we can observe all the action. Result.

People pop in and out – some collecting breakfast to take away. Lucky *astards.

Perched in anticipation we ponder the extensive menu and struggle with what to choose. We start with coffee though and in true American style it’s free refills.

Finally I order – picking the Country Breakfast. Three eggs any style, Heritage maple cured ham, hash browns, and a buttermilk biscuit. I can’t remember what a buttermilk biscuit is until my friend reminds me its a scone. Whooo! Hash Browns are not a la Macdonald’s – think more of a potato pancake type affair. I go for scrambled eggs which is a gamble as people rarely meet my high scrambled standards. They are delicious as is the ham which has been cooked – more like bacon really. I can’t manage it all and for those that know me this is a rare occurrence.

clinton-2

Kicking out of her comfort zone my friend orders the Southern Breakfast that includes sugar-cured bacon, fried green tomatoes and cheesy grits. Neither of us had grits before but they were a perfect accompaniment to breakfast. They’re sort of creamy like mashed potato/polenta but taste like neither of those things. My friend is beaten too due to the huge portions.

This is everything you’d hope for in a proper American breakfast and more. There’s cocktails if you’re feeling decadent plus an array of sweet bakes if you want to take away. They’re open in the evening too if you want to try some of their non breakfast options such as buttermilk chicken and waffles.

Next time I’m in town though I’ll go back for those famous pancakes.

Pure Thai Cookhouse – Hell’s Kitchen

Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t exactly sound inviting. I’m staying in Manhattan tonight and meeting a friend who’s coming in from out-of-town. We therefore needed somewhere that’s equidistant from my digs and her station – Hell’s Kitchen fitted the bill.

After a bit of research our choice was endorsed by my friend’s husband who said he’d heard lots of good things about the place.

Pure Thai Cookhouse is touted as one of the best Thai restaurants in the City and considering the size of New York this is a bold claim.

The restaurant is unassuming from the outside and once inside is narrow with people eating on every available surface. It’s a Monday but when we arrive there’s a queue so we pop a few doors down for a drink and wait for our text to summons us.

When we go back its still busy and the amazing aromas wafting from the kitchen are intoxicating.

The decor here is laid back – canteen style with metal furniture and tables tightly packed together. If you’re after an intimate dinner or a private conversation this probably isn’t the place for you. We end up chatting to a British couple living in Virginia as we’re so close to them we can hear their accents.

We order two starters which once they arrive seems a little greedy based on their size. Steamed beef buns are three delicate pillows filled with slow braised beef brisket, leeks, cucumber, and sesame plum sauce. Steamed vegetable dumplings were also delicious – packed with peanuts. spinach and garlic.