Monday, 29 June 2009

Boo in Kent - The Harrow Inn

One of the things that excites me the most these days about returning to Kent is that I can dine at one of the many brilliant country pubs that the county has to offer.

I used to work at The Harrow Inn, Ightham as a girl and this is the first time I've returned as a proper patron, it was strange being back, I managed to resist the urge to stack the plates and set the table myself, the waitress in her got the better of the Kid however, she used to work there too, and she assisted the lone waiter of the evening in any way she could!

Knowing the ins and outs of a kitchen is obviously beneficial and I had the inside info on what would be the best dishes to order, i'm a firm believer that it's best to order from the specials. Little in terms of decor and dishes has changed in the 3 or so years since I did my last shift here.

So the 4 of us were in for a 3 courser, this vist had been in the planning stage for sometime, dates finally fixed I was invariably very excited and knew I was in for a feast! The starters we chose were smooth duck liver pâté (Crann and myself), goats cheese tart for Kid and marinated sardines for Thomas.

The pâté (which was not on the menu but we asked Eddie, 1 of the chefs, if they had any and lucky for us they did) was delightful, moreish and delicious, served with a cranberry compote and some homemade melba toasts. I was disappointed to see that they no longer serve the rye loaves from the Plaxtol Bakery that used to accompany this order, instead when I asked for bread we were given a rather miserable looking white baguette, advertised as sourdough. That aside, the pâté itself was great, I let Thomas share this with me because his starter was disappointing. There was a slight mix up in that I recall a special of grilled sardines and said were this on the menu, it's a must have.

These sardines were marinated, not grilled and resembled (and tasted like) anchovies, the waiter even said "here's the tomato and anchovy salad" as he delivered it. Hmmm. What's also a little bizarre is that the same salad is served with everything, mixed leaves with chopped up peppers and tomato, it's nice but no thought goes into throwing a little bunch of the the same thing onto every single plate. Thomas thought this starter was not well balanced, the fish having been marinated in vinegar was extremely tart and not offset by any sweetness other than a few splodges of balsamic reduction dotted here and there. It would benefit from another component. Thomas preferred the pâté and Kid's goats cheese.

This starter of a circular disc of goats cheese placed on top of some caramelized red onions in a pastry tart casing is a winner. A classic combination of flavours and textures, again presented with a salad garnish, this is a fragrant starter, goats cheese is not for everyone and Kid is usually not a fan of such strong flavours but all agreed this was a fine choice.

For main course I had the scallops. This was a special and came on a bed of bubble and squeak with a serving of seasonal vegetables, broad and green beans, courgettes and peas. This was the most expensive main course and I thought that it was slightly overpriced at £17.50 for only 5 scallops. They were cooked well, a little over if anything and were classically paired with some parma ham. The bubble and squeak looks a little shiny in this picture, it did not have a typical crispy exterior and was essentially mash with some greenery.

Thomas ordered the rump steak, medium, which is one of the most perfectly executed dishes here. Head chef Dave certainly knows how to make a good steak. This is served with a peppercorn sauce and fries and salad. John Elton (yes, really) owner of the Harrow Inn informed us that his meat supplier had delivered some fine rump steaks to temporarily replace the usual sirloin on the menu here. Thomas very often orders steak and rarely is this satisfied with the way it is cooked.

Kid went for the salmon and chive fishcakes which are large balls of poached salmon and mashed potato. The best thing about this dish is the accompanying citrus sauce which is surprisingly light for a such a creamy and buttery sauce, largely thanks to the lemony flavour.

Again, this main course comes with fries and salad, as does the Cajun chicken which was Cranns main course. This can be spicy or mild, depending on your preference and is pan fried until cooked, this was succulent and juicy.

Happily, we all still had room for desserts. I usually prefer savoury dishes but the one thing I was most looking forward to trying again at The Harrow Inn was their home made orange and ginger tiramisu. Both us girls opted for this and were not disappointed, it was just how I remember. I think my time working here was when I really developed a love for food and returning and eating these dishes was really special.

This is served in fairly small portions due to the richness of it. The layers of crushed ginger biscuits alternated with cointreau infused marscapone, served with more cream and a slice of fresh orange.

Thomas had the creme brulee with raspberries which is a traditional custard dotted with vanilla seeds with some juicy crushed raspberries at the bottom of the ramekin. The crisp caramelised sugar was thick and crunchy. I dislike the sprinkling of icing sugar that comes with each pudding, it adds little, if anything, in terms of flavour and instead of looking thoughtfully decorative, it looks messy.

Crann was pleased with his melting chocolate pudding, served with a generous 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream and some pouring cream. I didn't try this but it looked like it oozed in the right places.

I think the Harrow Inn is definitely worth seeking out if you're in the area, the food is above average and good value for money if eating in the bar area (there's a more formal dining room towards the rear of the building), where side dishes are included with the cost of the main. The majority of customers are locals and regulars or walkers and visitors from the nearby National Trust property Ightham Mote. The Harrow Inn is a Good Pub Guide approved establishment, so many people visit having read this recommendation. It's also worth telling the chaps that the gents toilet is apparently haunted by the ghost of a baker, the building was a bakery a hundred or so years ago. John has some interesting paintings of the building in its former glory on the walls of the bar. The ghost did not make an appearance whilst we were here!

The Harrow Inn
Common Road
Ightham, Kent

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Boo in Kent - Woods

Returning to Tunbridge Wells a visit to the beautiful Pantiles is a must. There's a wealth of nice places to eat along the strip as well as cute boutiques and a fantastic Kitchen Shop, Trevor Mottram, a must see for any foodie in the area, I could easily while away an afternoon in this place!

I was keen to show off Tunbridge Wells to Thomas, who had not seen where I grew up before this visit and we chose to have lunch at Woods where I have eaten before and loved the food, including a fish pie topped with rosti and a bacon avocado and rocket sandwich. They do classic british dishes very well and have a large outdoor eating are and an upstairs bar area with piano, they regularly host jazz evenings and various events.

We arrived at around 3pm in need of lunch. I had a glass of Chapel Down Downland dry white wine, local wine from Tenterden to accompany my salad of Kent Lamb, Courgette and Halloumi with Rocket Pesto.

This was perhaps the best of the 3 dishes but it was slightly odd. The major elements were all warm, the courgette was nice, well cooked and retaining a bite. The lamb was tasty but a bit tough, not so well cooked, and the halloumi was fine, salty and satisfyingly squeaky as I chewed it yet this didn't really work together. The leaves were well dressed with the rocket pesto and I can't think of one thing that was wrong as such but unfotunately I didn't enjoy this very much.

Thomas tried the Smoked Mackerel with Roasted Beetroot and Horseradish Crème
Fraiche on Toasted Granary bread. This was virtually beetroot with a little bit of mackerel in it.

Thomas was not pleased at all, luckily he had ordered fries as a side, but for someone with a healthy appetite, this simply was not enough. It is from the starter section of the menu so they cannot be blamed for this, really but the purple mass on top of the bread tasted of little but beetroot, it would surely work better if this individual flavours were recognisable and served individually?

The chips were okay, Kid also had a portion of these. I was puzzled as to why they would serve it in such a large bowl, looking like half of them had already been eaten before they made their way to the table. Maybe I was being a grump but this seems silly to me.

Kid had the Woods 'Massive' bacon and egg sandwich, with locally cured bacon (no hint as to where). She was very happy with this, thick cut white bread, a fried egg and a fat slice of bacon, just the type of food Kid likes.

I'm sad that Woods is not how I remember it, I loved it a few years back but I was disappointed with the food on this visit, when I particularly wanted them to deliver because I'd been so complimentary about my previous meals.

I even turned into 'disgusted' of Tunbridge Wells when it began to rain and we made a hasty exit.

62 Pantiles
Tunbridge Wells

Smiths of Smithfield

To celebrate my birthday the girls and I had brunch at Smiths of Smithfield. When checking out the menu online I learnt that the restaurant is casually referred to as SOS which immediately took me back to a dingy nightclub in Tonbridge, Kent with the same name, which we regularly frequented as teens. Reminded of these fond, if somewhat hazy, memories we were sold.

I tend to think of owner John Torode (aka Toad) as a bit of a twat but I was hoping that the restaurant which bares his name would deliver food good enough to warrant his position as judge on Masterchef and his general aura of superiority.

We snagged a table for 4 with ease at around 1 on Saturday in the lower level, the first floor being unavailable due to a private function. Fine. At the top of the menu loud and proud is Torode's book Beef: and Other Bovine Matters which handily can be purchased here, signed copies also available on request (cringe).

It was such a sweltering day we asked for iced tap water, this was gladly provided. Service was very efficient, the waitress left us plenty of time to chat before asking if we were ready to order. I went for the macaroni cheese with smoked haddock and a side salad.

I tend to have to avoid macaroni cheese because it's my ultimate favourite comfort food. A few years back I had a phase of cooking it approximately every other day, this got ridiculous and I had to go cold turkey for a while. I always make is in its pure form, no additions, but here the haddock gave it a brilliant smoky flavour with a smattering of small chunks mixed through the pasta. The macaroni itself was smaller than the average, squat tubes about 1cm long. There was a generous amount of melted mozzarella with a grilled tomato for decoration. I was pretty hungover and this stodge was just what I needed to settle my stomach. The side salad of tomato, mixed leaves and red onion was very nicely dressed and in all I was very happy with what I ordered.

The Kid went for a breakfast of toast, fried egg, bacon, sausage, mushrooms and beans. The breakfast is served all day in the downstairs dining room which has a distinct laddy feel, there were lots of groups of guys and the decor of exposed brick and wood lends itself well to chaps looking to lunch or brunch whilst retaining their masculinity! There was a table of 8 guys next to us, all ordered the SOS burger and chips. As did Nibs and Noy.

These were good, served with cheese and tomato relish, supposedly served medium but actually cooked through with no pink meat. The chips were nicely cooked, crunchy and thick and each table has a good selection of condiments and sauces, the appearance of French's mustard swaying Noy's decision to order the burger.

We were all very pleased with what we chose, the service is exemplary and unobtrusive. Most of the menu is simple and comforting, the majority of diners were ordering sandwiches of some variety. It's very good value for money too, my post meal bellini costing more than my entire meal. I would definitely return here and am eager to try out the more formal dining area upstairs. Well done Toad, it seems you do know what you're talking about after all.

Smith of Smithfield
67 Charterhouse St
Farringdon, EC1

Smiths of Smithfield on Urbanspoon

Halloumi and quinoa salad

In the warm summer months I often tend to eat salad at least once a day and it can get a little tiresome. I've been looking to vary the kind of 'salad' I make, less insipid bowls of leafy greens more vibrant, fresh and delicious ways to make the most of seasonal produce. Inspired by a recipe from Olive Magazine's 7 dinners for £35 article, I made a healthy vegetarian salad for dinner last week.

I adore cheese of any kind, and add it to dishes as often as possible. Here the halloumi was pretty much the main event, though I adapted the recipe slightly to include some broad beans that I just couldn't resist buying and they almost stole the show. I had a hugely enjoyable afternoon podding and shelling them in the sun!

What I like best about this recipe is that quinoa (unlike cous cous or bulghar wheat) is really quite flavoursome, even when cooked using just water rather than stock and it's texture is satisfyingly crunchy. It has a distinct nutty note and I will definitely be using it more often from now on. On top of the flavour there are the obvious health benefits, the high protein content ensures its wide use in so called 'superfood' dishes. Here it was dressed with cumin infused oil which gave it a lift and even Thomas (who's not usually a fan of vegetarian dishes) really enjoyed it.

You will need:
150g quinoa
4 tomatoes
olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
150g halloumi
50g broad beans

Quarter the tomatoes, season and drizzle with olive oil. Oven bake them for about 30 minutes at 200c.

Add 2 tbsp of olive oil, the cumin and red wine vinegar to the sliced onion. Cook the quinoa according to packet instructions, cool then combine with the onion.

Stir in the roasted tomatoes, broad beans, pan fry the halloumi and serve on top of the quinoa.

The roasted tomatoes were rich in flavour and the broad beans were so fresh that I added them raw, the smaller ones were the tastiest. I served this with a yogurt dip, livened up with lemon juice and garlic, and some toasted wholemeal pitta breads. This was a satisfyingly filling meal and I will definitely make it again. I got the halloumi from the supermarket and during the pan frying process it lost a fair bit of liquid, I think better sourcing of this would lift the dish to another level and I shall do better in future.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Boo in Kent - The Bohemian

Whilst in Deal Thomas and I were keen to sample some of the foodie delights they have to offer and on the recommendation of Neil (the owner of the B&B) we lunched at The Bohemian opposite the pier. When we arrived and head out back to the pretty terrace area I must admit I was a little underwhelmed by the appearance of the place. It looks much like a generic bar and had it not been recommended to us I would have most likely voted for having a drink and heading off to eat elsewhere.

Things got worse when the ladies on the table next to us received their gluttonous portions of fries topped with cheese, bacon bits and sour cream. I was pleasantly surprised however, by the quality of the food that we ordered. I was still fairly full from breakfast and ordered the Bohemian Greek salad.

This was good, certainly better than it looks in this picture, there was a nice size portion with a generous amount of feta (my favourite) and both green and black olives, the black ones were particularly tasty. This was much better than I had anticipated.

Thomas' selection was also well received, he'd come to the coast hoping to have the opportunity to sample plenty of fresh fish and seafood, here he tried the mackerel.

This was nicely done, served on top of a char grilled slice of thick granary bread, with some roasted cherry tomatoes, leaves of crisp baby gem lettuce and sliced sauteed onion. The fish was tasty and worked well when sampled in combination with all the other ingredients. Thomas' one gripe was that it would have benefited from some form of spread or sauce on the bread which was a tad dry being such a thick slice.

Being on a holiday, of sorts, we opted for a third dish to share, scallops with asparagus and fresh peas which was quite brilliant. The scallops were perfectly cooked, barely touching the heat leaving them perfectly sealed on the outside whilst retaining their delicate and pure flavour and texture in the middle. There's little worse than an overcooked scallop in my opinion and they got these just right.

The asparagus was nicely charred, retaining a bite and the peas were fresh and crunchy, I love summer vegetables and these were great companions for the scallops, it was slightly disappointing that there were only 3, 1 and a half each but what was there was good.

In conclusion I should not judge a book by its cover and should thank my lucky stars that I'm not a cheesy chips kind of gal, well, I say that......

The Bohemian
47 Beach Street
CT14 6HY

Monday, 22 June 2009

Boo in Kent- Number One b&b

I've been back in Kent for the weekend and the trip began with a night at the Number One B&B in Deal. It's by far the finest b&b accommodation I have ever stayed in, I would not hesitate to recommend it and I shall definitely be returning myself to try out their famous weekend deluxe breakfast. Each of the rooms and the communal areas are decorated to a very high standard and our stay there was all the more enjoyable due to the friendliness and capability of the owners. Each bedroom has a coffee maker, large flat screen television and a remarkably comfortable bed, it was a shame that the visit was so fleeting.

For breakfast during the week there is a buffet selection of cereals, fruits, yoghurt, juices as well as a full cooked breakfast. I started with a bowl of fresh berries and some Special K, I know it's naughty but I rarely eat breakfast during the week instead grabbing a coffee on the way to the office. This means that when I do have breakfast I go all out and I was very impressed with both the quality and variety of food on offer here.

The cooked breakfast was lovely, not overly greasy and included all the English breakfast staples, fried egg, bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms and tomato.

All this was served with your choice of toast and tea or coffee. Everything is well considered and executed and it is clear that these guys know what they're doing and really focus on providing an above average service to their guests. A great price too at £75 for a double room. Such a pity that, yet again, a trip in the UK was scuppered by the ineptitude of the national rail service who abandoned us and about 40 other passengers at Folkestone.

We were made to feel very welcome and comfortable as soon as we eventually arrived and Neil recommended some great local places to grab a drink and a bite to eat. This really is 10/10 accommodation, a wonderful place for a weekend getaway from the city.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Lord Palmerston 2

For some reason Thomas and I saw fit to return to The Lord Palmerston despite 1) being pretty sure they made us both ill the last time we ate here, 2) the woman behind the bar is rude (I think we have a clash of personalities - she tried to make us order fondue, er, no) and 3) we had some perfectly good tuna steaks at home which we should have had for dinner instead.

So, have they redeemend themselves thanks to this visit? No. In fact, I'd knock off a point or 2 and now rate them a meagre 4 out of 10. I had a smoked chicken salad with beets and orange. Not the fondue thank you very much pushy lady, it might be a special but it's not my fault that you clearly need to flog it. I thought my salad was alright when I began eating but the chicken was quite fatty, there was lots of limp, rather rubbery skin both attached to the meat and floating around of its own accord. There was barely a smidgen of dressing on it and were it not for the orange it would have barely tasted of anything.

It was boring and miserable. I should have gone for the buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad, I can't get enough of this at the moment, but it was only a starter portion. Thomas, as usual, had the steak and chips which was hideously overcooked despite his request to have it cooked medium rare. The chips were the saving grace for me here as they were chunky and dark but Thomas prefers fries so even this could not salvage the dish for him. The roasted tomatoes are a nice touch, again, Thomas seemed unimpressed with them.

It's a shame because their heart's in the right place, some of the meals I've had here and not written up have been very good but the last couple of visits have been a huge let down. I would advise you to not eat here, I shall not be returning, unless I fancy an argument with the staff who took offense when Thomas informed them that his steak was 'just ok.'

Thankfully I'm off home to Kent for the weekend to eat at some much loved and oft returned to reliably good pubs with hopefully more positive things to report upon my return, going to the seaside too, yay!

The Lord Palmerston
33 Dartmouth Park Hill

Lord Palmerston on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


In a bid to beat the bulge I’ve been on a bit of a salad diet of late. Every lunchtime I try to have salad because as much as it pains me to not have them carbs make me bloated. I’ve exhausted most options in Covent Garden and find myself returning to a few places. One of which is Tossed.

There are several outposts across the city, I’ve also been to the sit down version at Westfield where the portions are monsterous, my closest is St Martin’s Lane right opposite the St Martin’s Lane Hotel.

What I like about it here is that you can make your own or choose from a house salad, there are sandwich options and also hot food like soups, stews and jacket potatoes. It’s fairly standard in terms of ingredients, they’re not the finest available but there’s a huge variety.

My favourite house salad is the classic tuna nicoise, I like their olives and capers, and I often make my own chicken salad with sunblush tomato and avocado which I choose with the pesto dressing which is really very good. The website includes a handy nutrition calculator for the calorie conscious.

Also they have an industrial (and rather scary looking) juicer, they’ll juice almost anything and have a wide range of drinks which are, like the salads, made on request. I’m not sure where they source their fruit and veg but I’ve never seen such enormous carrots in all my life!

Their feta is also worthy of a note, I’m a feta addict and theirs is great. The salads can rapidly become less healthy with the addition of a couple of ingredients, they also offer less angelic house salads like the mexican with ranch dressing, tortilla chips, cheddar and chicken. I tend to go here for a quick guilt free lunch though, this is what they do best I think.

They have slightly odd 'wacky' slogans on their bags/menus etc. I try to ignore this.

Tossed Salad Bar
100 St Martin’s Lane

Tossed Salad Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Tomato salad

Last week, at Borough Market, one of the fruit and veg stalls had a marvellously enticing array of tomatoes, I dived in and got a selection of colours and sizes and made an absolutely delicious tomato salad with them adding olive oil, lots of coarse sea salt and some torn basil leaves.

The winning tomatoes were the little torpedo shaped red ones (I think they were called super sarno?), they were so rich in flavour, whilst I didn't end up using the green ones because they tasted unripe, obviously they are green and are supposed to be tangier but these were verging on sour and inedible. They're currently residing on the kitchen windowsill next to the basil plant, enjoying the sun.

This is such a simple thing to put together but really has quite a spectacular flavour, we served it with some buffalo mozzarella and some fresh multi seed bread also from the market and the joy of it is that the salt brings out so much of the juice from the tomatoes that there's plenty to mop up with the bread. No recipe as such, use any tomatoes you can get your hands, chop them up into largish chunks, tear the basil, glug over a generous amount of good quality olive oil and sprinkle on plenty of salt. Delicious.

I also picked up some wet garlic and the guy at the stall didn't know anything about it. Any recommendations for ways to use this, I've briefly researched and not come up with much other than that they are milder in flavour than the dried variety and are good for roasting whole?

Monday, 15 June 2009


Dinner at The Providores Tapa Room last week holds a special place in my heart, Thomas' final exam day, an unplanned celebratory post pub meal to mark the end of a very tough period of time and the beginning of a hopefully calmer and happier phase of life.

Twice in 2 weeks I've seen my favourite white wine, Cloudy Bay, on a menu, first at The Warrington and again here at Providores but yet again it was priced out of the realm of possibility for the occasion, here it's £72 a bottle. I almost cried and ordered a large glass of the far more reasonably priced house white which was fine.

As for the food, I've been keen to eat here for some time to see if somewhere might give Barrafina or Del Parc a run for their money in terms of eating tapas in London. I return to these places time and time again and am never disappointed. I felt that Providores certainly hold their own and offer a perhaps more adventurous and playful approach to dining. Ingredients and flavours combining to dazzle and challenge the diner rather than presenting fresh and superbly sourced foods in a more traditional way. These approaches are equally worthy I feel and choosing between them in future will depend on mood and appetite at the time (with a predilection to pick Del Parc perhaps because it's about 10 seconds away from our front door!).

To begin with at Providores we selected the The Tapa Plate of grilled chorizo, Guindilla chilli, marinated olives, radish, spiced fig preserves, babaganoush and Cabra del Tietar cheese.

This was good, a mish mash of flavours and textures, it came with some bread and crackers. The chorizo was the crowning glory of the plate, disappointingly little of it sadly but what was there was amazing. Other highlights were the citrusy babaganoush, this was great on the crackers and the order of Pimientos de Padron with a generous sprinkling of sea salt. We got some of these from Brindisa at Borough Market and made them ourselves this weekend, they're so delicious and easy and we got a huge bagful for just £3.

We were sitting on a fairly teeny table for 2 and when the next dishes came there was barely room, so we had to swiftly bid farewell to the (unfinished) platter in order to accommodate the sweet potato and feta tortilla. This was Thomas' favourite dish, I was less keen for the most part because I thought it was too cold. I think this would be best served at room temperature, also several of the advertised key ingredients were missing.

There was no sign of the edamame and the cheese on top of the tortilla was certainly not feta, more like mozzarella. Looking at the picture now, that might be feta in the tortilla but it didn't taste like it and I love feta so that was a shame. Still, this was quite pleasant, very dense and packed full of flavour, the sweet potato was perhaps the nicest component and the yogurt made for an interesting texture contrast.

We also tried the bruschetta topped with red onion and watercress salad. Initially this was very pleasing, (more of the) oozing stringy mozzarella with tangy cherry tomatoes which were bursting with flavour on a large piece of toasted sourdough. Not that any of this can be seen in the picture, interesting presentation, salad hiding the actual dish!

As time wore on the bread became more and more soggy, I know the idea is to have the juices of the tomatoes moisten the toast but this became very stodgy and heavy and the bread completely lost it's crunch.

The highlight of the meal for me was the Yellowfin tuna with beets and horseradish salsa. This had been delicately charred around the edges, it must have barely touched the pan yet it managed to retain a distinct grilled flavour, I loved its incredibly soft, almost melting texture and the horseradish and beets combined brilliantly making each mouthful leave you wanting more.

The meal came to around £70, not cheap considering Thomas didn't drink (just tap water) but I think we probably ordered a bit too much food for the 2 of us, it not actually fitting on the table and all! I liked most of what we had, decent produce cooked in an exciting way, particularly the tuna and I'd like to return, I hear the breakfast is particularly good so I'll probably revisit and try that out.

109 Marylebone High Street, W1

Providores on Urbanspoon

Friday, 12 June 2009

Monmouth Coffee

I love lattes. I have one every day of the week and have a self enforced break at the weekends. We have a great retro Kenwood coffee machine at home with which Thomas has perfected the foaming of the milk but not yet the coffee art, making patterns in the milk as you pour it.

Lattes from Monmouth Coffee are probably my favourites, they look and taste beautiful. I love their little shop on Monmouth Street where they also have a stunning display of pastries and cakes as well as fresh beans available to buy to make your own coffee. The staff are knowledgeable and always very helpful and the coffee is consistently superb. They are always busy and there's often a queue stretching outside and down the street. I got this one from their stall at Borough Market.

There are few places in London where you can be sure of getting a decent coffee, I'm almost embarrassed to say that most mornings I get my coffee from Pret, they use Rachel's Organic milk and there's one lady who makes it just how I like it, I know which days she works and when she isn't there, it's just not the same! I also love the coffee at Lantana, owner Shelagh stocks Monmouth coffee beans and the guys working there know how make a seriously good coffee. Then there's Flat White who many claim make THE best coffee in London, they are definitely in my top 3.

I've heard very good things of the coffee at Fernandez and Wells and Sacred Coffee but am yet to try either. It's great to see more and more independent coffee companies vying for top spot in London, the 3 large chains have had the monopoly for far too long.

Monmouth Coffee Company
27 Monmouth Street, WC2H

Monmouth Coffee Company (Covent Garden) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 11 June 2009


This week I was tasked with selecting a venue for a work lunch, the suggestion of a colleague that we go to Nando's did not appeal and we ended up eating at Belgo. I used to go here quite often when the girls and I were going through a moules phase and we were able to leave work early enough to catch the beat the clock offer where you pay the monetary value equivalent to your time of arrival (before 7pm) for your meal.

Nothing much has changed, I've not been to any of the various other locations around London, always the Covent Garden outpost which is their largest and for me, most conveniently located close to my office. It's always busy but I've not once made a reservation and have been seated within 5 minutes. The room is large, split into two with the kitchen in between and consists of mostly bench style communal type seating.

I shall not rave about this place because the food is fairly ordinary, I had the goats cheese salad and it was tasty but unexceptional, I did feel a little hard done by, this being the least generous of the express lunch options. Those opting for mussels or chicken did much better in terms of portion sizes, they both come with chips. I felt the 3 tiny slices of cheese on toast (essentially what this dish is) sitting on top of a bed of rocket with roasted peppers (from a jar most likely) was an utter letdown, seriously, Pret's salads are better. The 3 strips of cucumber, which I'm assuming appear for decorative purposes, were slimy and warm.

The good thing about it is the inclusion of walnuts doused in honey, again 3 of those, and the glass of white wine. I'd definitely not choose this again but selected it because it's the only non carb heavy choice. With the service charge that is added to the bill, this came in at a little under £10 each, I resented paying it to be honest, usually spending around a fiver on lunch and feeling that I'd not doubled up on quality, only price. We asked for tap water and this was forgotten, we asked again and it arrived shortly before the bill.

Belgo's thing is value for money (or the variety of Belgian beer if that's your bag), the lunch deal is good in that a glass of house wine, cristal lager or a soft drink is included but you do have to choose carefully from the limited menu. Also available is a beef casserole, salmon with mash or sausages. They also have a deal on lobster over the coming months. Go here if you're in need of a simple, unfussy and speedy meal but don't expect to vowed.

Belgo Centraal
50 Earlham St, WC2H 9LJ

Belgo Centraal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Rambling Restaurant

One cannot fail to have noticed the recently increasing number of secret or 'underground' restaurants popping up all over London. Having said that many (non foodie) folk have not the foggiest idea what I'm talking about when I mention them in passing. Up until this weekend I was yet to visit one but have been intrigued and eager to experience the thrill of dining somewhere 'illegal' for sometime now.

The inaugural night of the Rambling Restaurant in Camden was a first for me as a diner and a first for fellow blogger and host Foodrambler.

Upon arrival we were each served a delicious elderflower and mint cocktail. The dining room was at the very top of Foodrambler's lovely home and our meal came complete with a pretty, dusk lit view. Sitting at one of the shared tables gave me the opportunity to meet some fellow bloggers, Helen of Food Stories fame and Chris from Cheese and Biscuits. We sat following a brief period of mingling and were served the starter of liver and bacon.

This was a course liver pate with two crispy pieces of bacon and a shot glass filled with vibrantly coloured layers of minted peas, tomato and yoghurt. Also served was some dense toasted home made bread. This dish looked very pretty and allayed the fears of one fellow diner who was a little apprehensive about the prospect of being given a starter of liver and bacon in the form she remembered it from school. Thankfully for her, this was a twist on the classic liver and bacon and was a well thought out, beautifully presented start to the meal, very seasonal and fresh.

The main course was trout, a fish with a somewhat delicate flavour, which was cooked perfectly and sitting skin side up atop a nicely crisp potato rosti with rocket and fennel. I'm not usually a fan of fennel, I find it's fragrant taste to be overpowering but here it was less potent than I recall from prior encounters and it really worked. This turned out to be my favourite course of the evening.

Again, I liked the presentation, this time a colourful stack of pink fish and the green peppery rocket. I love the kick rocket provides, i'd have it with every meal given the chance. The sauce containing the fennel was fairly thin and light meaning it combined well with all the other flavours, something heavier might have been too much for the trout.

There was an interlude whilst dessert was finished off in which I drank far too much of the byo wine and regretted it the following morning. Dessert was a wickedly oozing chocolate fondant which had the perfect consistency in the centre and the ice cream, flecked with lavender, was a triumph. The flower, which pairs particularly well with chocolate, lifted an otherwise plain vanilla ice cream with its relaxing scent and flavour, this was a welcome round off to the meal.

To run a restaurant from your living room is an incredibly brave undertaking. I feel sure I would panic and fail miserably, Foodrambler, however, remained calm and composed throughout the evening, politely greeting her guests once the cooking was out of the way and bringing around coffee before taking a well earned breather. As expected, I very much enjoyed the experience, finding it refreshing to not have to concern yourself with choosing what to order, as well as paying a mere £15 for the priviledge of dining here with interesting people and getting to nose around someone elses house (not that I snooped of course). I would highly recommend it at such a bargain price and I'd like to wish Foodrambler the best of luck in her new venture.

The Rambling Restaurant
Sssssh, somewhere in Camden but may ramble elsewhere in London

here's a rundown of the evening from the lady herself.
For bookings see the Rambling Restaurant facebook page

Monday, 8 June 2009

Chopped salad

I had lots of salady bits to use up in the fridge and decided to make a chopped salad for lunch, something light and nutritious but tasty.

Obviously there's no recipe as such, just throw together whatever ingredients you have, season well and chop it all up. Here's what I used:

1 tomato
a handful of basil leaves
red onion
olive oil/ balsamic dressing

I especially liked the citrus hit and will make this again as a side to accompany fish or chicken. I would have added avocado and/or feta if I'd had any in, these additions would make the dish more of a main event in itself. In any case, minus these, it still tasted great, incredibly fresh and so light that it made me feel quite virtuous.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Hummus Bros

We went to see Terminator Salvation last night and pre cinema wanted something for tea that was quick, cheap and kinda light, in the Leicester Square area. Hummus Bros was the venue of choice, I've been wanting to go for aaaaages and can't believe it's taken me this long to finally get round to it.

So the concept is hummus, with pitta, toppings and side salad type dishes. I went for the chickpea topping with a side order of greek salad

I loved the smooth texture of the hummus which is different to most others I've tasted, it's usually grainier. Also it was great with a dusting of smoked paprika on the top, it really added a depth of flavour. The chickpeas were good, a little warm which was nice. I swapped the pitta for carrot sticks. The greek salad was good, mild feta and lots of cucumber, it could perhaps have benefitted from a little more red onion but it was delicious.

Thomas went for the chicken and sundried tomato topping with some additional feta, jalapenos and an egg. The egg was a bizarre colour, the white was more of a dark yellow but it tasted good. I'm not sure how one would go about achieving this, it tasted as it should. It's nice that they also serve everyone some chilli and a garlic and lemon dressing which one can add as they wish (seen on the near side in the picture below).

Thomas felt that the chicken was a bit scarce but really loved it here having felt less enthused than I as we made our way there. Perhaps this is more of an ideal lunch place, I think most would want something a bit more substantial come dinner time and they don't serve any booze, but we both were suprised by just how much we enjoyed the meal, I was craving the hummus when I woke up this morning! It was very busy, there was a queue at times, service was very polite and speedy and we had a great seat at the window, observing the goings on on Wardour Street.

To some it might seem a bit gimmicky and if you don't like hummus you're a bit screwed but I loved this place. I'll definitely return and there's a branch in Holborn closer to my work, how convenient.

Hummus Bros
88 Wardour St

Hummus Bros on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Chilli Cool

I've been very keen to try Szechuan food in London for some time now and recently spent the evening in Bloomsbury sampling the delights of a student union bar, a little over £2 a pint, can't argue with that. After a few of those I thought at last, a chance to sample the delights of Chilli Cool.

I'm not a big fan of chinese food but had high hopes of this place. When we arrived there were several large groups and a few couples, it was refreshingly busy for a fairly out of the way location and I was delighted to find an area of Bloomsbury where all of the streets have the names of towns and villages in my home county of Kent, it all felt like it was meant to be!

Rob, Thomas and I each selected a couple of dishes from the menu, first to arrive was a chicken dish with lots of chilli and some aubergines with a heavily aromatic garlic sauce.

I loved the aubergine and being a fan of chilli the heat of all of the dishes was more than welcome. What is clear from this picture and is one of the things I found less appealing was the amount of oil. It all tasted good, and I was very hungry so greedily gobbled away but after a few bowls full it all got a bit much.

Another rather ovewhelming element of the meal was the amount of salt. Thomas and I actually downed 2 steins full of water when we got home. The shredded potato with chilli was a particularly bad offender but it has a really interesting flavour, I actually like very salty tasting food, feta cheese, capers etc and so I really liked the potato. The chillis did envoke a bit of fear due to the sheer size and quantity of them but I indulged and they were surprisingly fragrant and granted very fiery but not crazily so.

My favourite dish was the belly pork. The meat was so tender and the sauce mild and sticky, the fat was as it should be, soft and full of flavour, and this was a mild dish, no chilli, instead decorated with large slices of cucumber. I loved it.

This is how I wish it had been done at The Warrington where the belly pork had been so disappointing at the weekend, Chilli Cool's was a much tastier version.

I also ordered the dan dan noodles which were good, chopped spring onion and minced pork were sprinkled over the top and the noodles were delicious, nicely coated in soy based sauce and brilliantly long. Again rather salty due to the soy but really delicious.

Although the flavours hit the spot while we were dining, I felt like it had all been a bit heavy and most dishes were virtually swimming with grease. I liked the atmosphere of the place but am unlikely to return, this kind of food, for me, is certainly enjoyable but an occasional forray suffices. I'm certainly not brave enough to opt for the more adventurous offerings of intestines or tripe, I do wish I had gone for one of the fishpots which were the slightly pricier options on the menu. Chilli Cool is extraordinarily good value for money, our bill came in at just over a tenner each though we drank only tap water.

I know that many folk love this place but it's not really my cup of tea and my tummy was decidedly dicky for the rest of the night, not suggesting anything was amiss just that my palate is more accustomed to fresher lighter food, or perhaps we ordered unwisely?

Chilli Cool
15 Leight St, WC1H

Chilli Cool on Urbanspoon