Thursday, April 21, 2011

OXO Tower brasserie - restaurant review

Just got back from a lunch in the sunshine, on the terrace at the OXO Tower brasserie.  I couldn't really take pics, as it was a business lunch - ooh get me!  This is actually a real shame, as one of the best things about the place is the lovely river views.

I started with the squid (Cumin spiced fried squid, chimichurri, roasted tomato, barrel aged feta salad, tapenade), which was very good but was overcomplicated with far too many ingredients and flavours.  Delicious crispy squid but I don't think it really needed all of the above plus fennel and chick peas.

My sea bass main course was very disappointing.  On paper it sounded fab: Sea bass, fresh Devon brown crab champ mash, truffle beurre blanc, fennel salad.  In practice it was bland (apart from the random sprinkle of capers, which was just jarring).  There was no trace of crab in the mash and the only evidence of truffle was a drizzle of oil at the side of the plate.  The fish was well cooked but you would expect it to be at £25. 

On the plus side, the service was excellent: considerate and unimposing.  The setting really can't be beaten on a sunny afternoon.

Unfortunately, the food really lets the place down.  Far too many ingredients and flavours on the plate and poorly composed dishes.

Oxo Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guilty pleasures #1

Diet coke.  Yes, I know it's full of all sorts of nasties but I can't help myself.

I. am. an. addict.

Cote Bistro - restaurant review

Now, I normally don't like chain restaurants but I'm happy to make Cote an exception to my rule.  It definitely doesn't feel like a chain and I was surprised to find out that they had quite so many restaurants - including one in Cardiff (down the bay innit).

No photos as yet, due to ongoing internet access issues at home and the fact that I can't upload photos at work.  Boo.

Anyways, Cote.  When we arrived at the Richmond restaurant on Friday sans reservation, we were greeted immediately by the very charming restaurant manager and, even though it was packed, were seated very quickly.

I like the decor, with red leather banquettes and wooden chairs it actually pulls off French bistro without overdoing it.  It's how I imagine your favourite neighbourhood brasserie in Paris would look.

The waiting staff were friendly and efficient and, although it was a Friday night, we didn't struggle to order and had no overlong waits for food or drinks.

Cote is very good value.  Most starters are around £5 - £6 and mains around £10 - £13 (a bit more for steaks).  The menu might not be the most innovative or exciting but there's a good selection with a French theme.  Drinks are similarly reasonable.  I started with a Kir Royale, which was a steal at £3.95.  A decent wine list starts at £14.50 a bottle, with a good selection at under £30.

We were after a quick meal before some riverside drinking, so just had mains. I went for the roast seabass, which was served with braised fennel and a champagne beurre blanc.  And a portion of fries.  The fries at Cote are excellent.  Thin, crispy and extremely more-ish.  The seabass was also well cooked and the sauce was delish.

Marc went for steak.  Surprise!  Actually, there was a small surprise involved; on this occasion he actually went for the 10oz rib-eye, rather than his customary fillet.  The steak was perfectly cooked and accompanied by a delicious peppercorn sauce.  And fries.  Mmmm Cote fries!

I'd be very interested to try other Cote restaurants, to see if this quality is maintained across them all.  In the meantime, I definitely recommend the Richmond restaurant.

Cote Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 18, 2011

New kitchen

We've been very busy moving house over the last few days - hence the silencio.

I'm without internet access at home at the mo, so can't upload any photos for the time being.

The exciting news is that I have a nice new kitchen.  And it's big.  Ok, so it doesn't have an island but I reckon it's one step closer!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tart's spaghetti - easy dinner recipe

We're moving house this week, so I needed something quick to make for tea.  One of my favourite quick pasta dishes is pasta puttanesca - otherwise known as tart's spaghetti.  It's tangy, salty and delicious.  The added bonus is that I usually have the ingredients lying around - and if you don't you can get them from pretty much any little shop.

Ingredients (serves two hungry adults)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 anchovy fillets per person from a jar of anchovies in olive oil (use more or less to your taste.  I end up snacking on them whilst cooking, yum!)
1 medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (use dried chilli flakes if you prefer)
8-10 pitted olives, quartered (I use green, as I prefer the taste but most recipes use black - it's up to you)
2 dessert spoons of capers (drained)
A good glug of olive oil
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Small handful of fresh basil
250g dried spaghetti

Gently heat the oil in a frying pan and add the garlic, chilli and anchovies. 

Cook on a low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring to break up the anchovies (the anchovies melt away to almost nothing). 

Add the olives, tinned tomatoes and capers and leave to gently simmer, stirring occasionally.

Whilst the sauce is simmering, cook the spaghetti in salted water according to the instructions on the packet, usually around 10 minutes.

Stir the chopped basil into the tomato sauce.  Drain the spaghetti and combine with the sauce.

Top with freshly grated parmesan.  Mature cheddar will do nicely if you don't have parmesan.  Et voila. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

London street food: Okonomiyaki - Japanese pancakes

Headed to Columbia Road flower market on Sunday for a wander.  It turns out that 'wandering' was a bit ambitious - it was sooo busy that we barely managed a shuffle.  Still, it was nice to see all the colourful flower stalls and it looked like there were some great bargains to be had.

As it was lunchtime, we thought we'd investigate the food stalls on Brick Lane for a spot of lunch.  Just opposite the Truman Brewery, there's a whole hall filled with stands selling food from all over the world: Mexican, Ethiopian, Chinese, Mediterranean, Caribbean and lots more.  After two laps of the hall, we settled on some very interesting looking Japanese food.

Okonomiyaki, sometimes known as Japanese pancakes, translates as 'what you like'.  As you can imagine, this means there is a whole wealth of different recipes.  The version at Brick Lane was vegetarian, but many recipes add prawns or chicken.  The basic ingredients are shredded cabbage and spring onions in batter, topped with Japanese brown sauce, mayonnaise and seaweed flakes.  The stall at Brick Lane tops theirs with cheese - and melted cheese is a welcome addition to most dishes in my book!

The end result might not be the prettiest dish I've ever seen but it was absolutely delicious.  I like the sound of the recipe I found on the Las Vegas Food Adventures blog and will be trying it out sometime.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Camino - tapas in London - restaurant review

After hearing good things about Camino in Canary Wharf, my sister and I headed there for dinner last night.

Canary Wharf in the summer is really nice, with lots of outside tables for eating and drinking.  There's a lot more to it than office blocks, although it is pretty quiet at the weekend and can lack atmosphere - but hey, you can always get a table and you don't have to stand on a pavement next to a main road!

Camino has a nice terrace overlooking the river but it was getting a bit chilly by the time we arrived so we headed inside.

The staff were very friendly, efficient and attentive and were happy to point out their favourites from the menu.

The complimentary olives were yummy.  They were marinaded with smoky paprika, orange and onions.

Bread was also complimentary (don't you hate it when restaurants charge for it?).  Quite dense but warm and fresh.

Arroz negro con sepia (rice with cuttlefish, squid ink and alioli) looked gorgeous - very glossy black rice - but was slightly lacking in flavour.

Patatas de boniato (fried sweet potatoes with chilli and lime alioli) were delicious.  Crispy and sweet and well set off by the creamy alioli

Chipirones a la Andaluza (crisp-fried squid with alioli and lemon) were excellent.  The batter was crispy and the squid tender.  Delish

But, the star of the show for us was the pulpo a la parilla (octopus tentacle with olive oil mash and paprika).  We are pulpo addicts after our time in Central America, where it's served all over the place and usually extremely cheap, and order it at any chance we get!

It was very well cooked, slightly crispy on the outside from the grill, tender on the inside and a lovely smoky flavour from the paprika.  Yum scrum.

Pimientos de padron, manchego cheese and croquetas were all good too - clearly very good quality ingredients.

Oh and did I mention the prices?  Most of the tapas dishes were under £5, which is excellent value.

Camino is definitely not middle of the road and might well be the best tapas I've had in London.

Camino on Urbanspoon

Lemon meringue cake - recipe

I haven't made a cake in ages, so thought I'd make one for my sister's birthday.  Her all time favourite pud is lemon meringue pie (although banoffee pie comes a close second), so when I came across Nigella's recipe for lemon meringue cake I thought I was onto a winner!

Unfortunately, my cake didn't turn out exactly like the pictures... I think I knocked too much air out of the meringue mixture when I stirred in the sugar.  Still, it tastes delicious and Rach was pleased with it which is the main thing.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The sun has got his hat on

hip hip hip hooray!

Chocolate Festival - London

Very excited to find out about a chocolate festival being held in London this weekend.

Sounds like there are lots of interesting talks and demonstrations and I'm definitely hoping for a free sample or two!

Feng Sushi - restaurant review

I first came across Feng Sushi eight years ago, when I came to London for a work placement.  I'm not sure Cardiff even had any sushi restaurants at the time, so I was blown away when I found out that Feng Sushi even did home delivery - such stuff as dreams are made on!

Fast forward a few years and apparently I'm not so easily impressed.

I'm afraid I didn't have my camera, so there are no photos - but to be honest, that's no great loss.  The food was average at best and the restaurant itself something akin to Wagamamas with brighter lighting.

We had to help ourselves to menus, wave our arms around to try and attract the waiter's attention to order and then we waited. 

We waited for our wine to turn up, which it did eventually.  We waited for our water, which didn't.  We waited and waited and waited for food.  45 minutes later, part of our order made it to the table.

The sushi was ok but extremely expensive for what it is (the prices on the website appear to be takeaway prices only).  For the same price, we could've eaten at Tsunami  - where the surroundings are luxurious, the staff (generally) attentive and the food high quality and inventive.  I haven't been for a little while and I think a return visit is definitely overdue.

Feng Sushi, hardly the stuff of dreams after all.

Feng Sushi on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Anyone for tea?

Interested to read in the Evening Standard last night that afternoon tea has become so popular in London that some hotels are putting on six sittings a day to cope with demand.  Apparently the Langham has seen a 20% increase in bookings in the last 12 months.

I suppose it's not surprising when we've seen so much interest in traditional activities since the recession: crafts, gardening and, of course, baking.

I absolutely love afternoon tea.  If it counts as a meal, then it's my favourite one!  You can't beat a warm fruit scone with clotted cream and jam.  And I'm partial to a sandwich with its crusts cut off.

We're going to the Landmark in a few weeks time for afternoon tea.  It's supposed to be one of the best in London, so I'm very excited.  I will report back.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Top ten London foodie tips

I'm very excited about the Welsh contingent coming to visit at the weekend and have been busy hatching plans to keep them entertained.

I thought I'd share some of my top London foodie tips, which are guiding our weekend plans.

1. Borough Market
Hardly a secret, in fact it is usually teeming with people.  Nonetheless it's well worth a visit.  Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  I recommend avoiding Saturday if at all possible, as this is when the masses descend.  London Bridge is the closest station.

Some amazing offers to be found - particularly during the week.  You can book online and the site also provides useful reviews.  A good way to eat out on a budget.

3.  Brick Lane
Best known for its curry houses but also home to an amazing array of food stalls on a weekend.  An inexpensive way to sample food from around the world.  Also lots of vintage clothes shops to poke around, once you've filled your tummy.

4. Selfridges food hall
Usually quieter than the rest of the shop.  The cake selection is droolsome.  You can always find random ingredients that you didn't know you needed but have to buy on the spot.  Truffle salt was my last purchase.

5. Food festivals
London seems to play host to a large number of food festivals and events - from thai to tapas.  It's always worth checking what's on before you visit and Time Out is a reliable source of info.

6.  Billingsgate Market
The biggest fish market in the UK is open to the public.  Opening times are Tuesday to Saturday 05.00am to 08.30am - so be prepared for an early start. 

7. Bermondsey Street
After a visit to Borough Market, why not stroll down Bermondsey Street.  It's a super cool street - with boutiques, cafes, bars and restaurants.  I like the Garrison, with it's shabby chic interior, the Woolpack, for decent pub grub and Village East, for a taste of Manhattan's East Village (and the best cocktails in London)

8. Underground supper clubs
I have to confess, I've still not quite got round to going to one of these but I'm desperate to go.  They seem to be gaining in popularity all the time.  Ms Marmite Lover is at the vanguard.  A great opportunity to try some innovative cooking in interesting surroundings without damaging your wallet.

9.  Michelin star dining on the cheap
Most of the top restaurants in London offer a reasonably priced lunch menu.  The added bonus is you're much more likely to get a table at short notice.  It's usually best to look at the websites of whichever establishment you've been dreaming about.

10.  Get out of the tourist spots
It might seem obvious but there are some terrible restaurants in the prime tourist spots of Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Oxford Street.  I think it's worth doing a little online research before you visit, so you don't end up somewhere overpriced and distinctly average

Monday, April 4, 2011

Abstemious me

After a weekend of excess, I fear that gout is not far away.  I am made up of:
30% booze
15% clotted cream
25% cheese
20% chocolate
10% unspecified lard.

So, this week is health week.  So far so good, I avoided the usual butter slathered hot cinnamon bagel for breakfast and had a banana.  Well done me.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I'm eating a pigeon in a disused power station... (London restaurant review)

Marc thought it was very funny to text his friends to tell them this on Friday night, when we went to the Wapping Project.    

He was technically correct, the Wapping Project is a former hydraulic power station, which now houses a modern European restaurant and doubles as an arts centre.  And he did eat pigeon but not a London flying rat, it was wood pigeon.

I started with a yummy cocktail - champagne and violet liqueur.  It smelt and tasted just like parma violets.  Delish.  I was a bit disappointed to discover that the wine was all Australian, as I normally choose French or Italian whites, but the waitress suggested an unoaked chardonnay which was actually very nice.

We shared a brown shrimp salad, with chervil, celeriac and chili to start.  Light and refreshing with very flavourful shrimps.

The best bit of my mackerel main course was definitely the homemade horseradish.  Creamy and firey, infinitely better than the stuff in a jar.  I'd like to try making some myself.

Marc's wood pigeon apparently had a similar taste and texture to fillet steak.

Pudding was a lemon meringue pie and some very nice semillon dessert wine.

It's a unique setting for a restaurant and would be worth visiting for that alone, so it's a bonus that the food was very good.

Wapping Project on Urbanspoon