Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Blackhouse and The Big Easy

I love trying new restaurants, whether new for me or new for London generally.

First up, my parents and I visited Blackhouse on Smithfield Market for dinner on a Saturday evening. The restaurant has a really casual, relaxed vibe although some of the other diners were dressed up for a Saturday night on the town while I was in leggings and a t-shirt. There was a real mix of families, older couples and a few younger groups at the start of their evenings so I guess we fitted in with the mixed crowd. 

The cocktails were two-for-one (a special in the restaurant for the Easter weekend but they are usually 241 just at the bar, fyi) so Mummy Lipstick and I tried the English martini and a classic cosmopolitan - both were very good.I hadn't had a cosmo for a while and it reminded me how much I like them despite them maybe now being a bit naff.

We skipped starters as we were starving and went straight to the mains. Mummy Lipstick had the burger with stilton (as an extra) which she said was very good. I stole a couple of chips from the mini fryer basket they were served in, they were super hot (nothing worst than luke-warm chips) and nicely salty. I feel like I have had my share of burgers of late so had the goats cheese salad which I didn't regret - it was fresh and tasty but still filling and I didn't feel too envious of the burger or of Daddy Lipstick's steak and chips (less photogenic but he said the steak was very good).

Service was fast and super-friendly. I find service in London often falls flat for being too aloof or overly attentive (asking if everything is ok every five minutes does not good service make) but Blackhouse got it spot on. We were sat at a huge table in the corner rather than being squeezed onto a table for two which far too many restaurants try to fob you off with as a party of three. My parents were very impressed so I hope we'll be back soon (especially as I signed up to their mailing list and can get 25% our next visit).

Next up, The Big Easy. Having recently opened a Covent Garden branch The Big Easy is yet another American-themed restaurant although rather than focusing solely on burgers TBE offers lobster, crab and BBQ as well as a rather extensive selection of bourbons (although the drinks menu in the restaurant seemed to focus more on novelty "slushie" cocktails):

Hannah and I waited at the bar, snacking on some pretzels until our "full party" arrived and we could be seated. The restaurant is huge and spread across two levels. It feels quite dark inside so I was pleased that our table was by a window (Instagram pictures require light after all).

Sarah's pulled pork.  I loved how this was served with the sides in separate little bowls. The portion of pulled pork was huge and TBE were happy to pack it up in a doggy bag which I saw other diners requesting too, especially the ones who had ordered the giant BBQ platters...

Aisling's BBQ ribs. This was a huge portion! Again, nicely presented with the fries in a little bucket - I pinched a few and they were good. I'm not usually a fan of thick chips but these were crispy and super salty which gets my approval.

I chose the lobster salad - it looked super impressive presented in a lobster shell. There wasn't a huge amount of lobster meat but it had been prepared so saved the effort of having to take the meat out of the claws. The salad itself was a generous portion and tasted nice and fresh. If you've not had lobster before and don't want an entire one or the hassle of figuring out how to eat one, this would be a great "gateway lobster" and while almost £17 seems a lot for a salad lobster ain't cheap and the burgers and lobster roll don't come with sides so it works out about the same as having a burger and fries at TBE.

The restaurant was busy on a Saturday afternoon but a late lunchtime of 2.30pm worked out well. Service was fast but not super slick, our dishes didn't all arrive at the same time but we were left to chat away without being rushed from our table - our waiter seemed very rushed while three front of house staff stood at the door to welcome diners which is maybe a little unnecessary in a casual restaurant. I did enjoy TBE and the company was great (as always) but I'm not in a rush for a return visit - perhaps if I ate pork I'd have more choices to work my way through on the menu and I did feel that it was a little over-priced and aimed at out-of-towners looking for a "London" / "American" eating experience with the huge portions and novelty cocktails.

Have you tried Blackhouse or The Big Easy? Are you looking forward to whatever the "next" eating trend will be?

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Tea at The Delaunay

The Delaunay and its big sister restaurant, The Wolseley, are amongst my favourite for a special occasion meal and I couldn't want to sample The Delaunay's afternoon tea for my friend S's birthday. Past brunches, lunches and dinners at The Delaunay have always been very good so I had high hopes for the afternoon tea, which happens to be pretty reasonable for London (and, I was told from a past visiter, comes with replenish-able sandwiches which is always a plus).

 My friend S and I opted for The Delaunay Viennese Tea. We chose the poppy seed Gugelhupf (which are wheat free fyi) rather than the traditional sc-own (scone). When booking we mentioned that we would want vegetarian sandwiches and requested this again when ordering. Despite that, we were first brought non-veggie sandwiches although they were quickly whisked away and replaced for some veggie ones.

I had a green tea and S had an Earl Grey. We had arrived at 3 so towards the end of the lunch hour but the restaurant was still very busy. Our teas were rather unceremoniously plonked on the table in front of us without the waiter telling us whose tea was whose - the service is usually so polite and attentive so I was quite shocked at this. Thankfully the service for the rest of the tea was better although I'm pretty sure that we were not served by the same waiter twice which detracts from the service points. Due to positive past experiences I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was a bad day.

The cakes were beautiful and a great mix between the traditional - an incredibly rich Sachertorte, a moist coffee cake and a mini chocolate tarte and the more innovative - a lemon macaroon, a very bright battenburg and a green tea and poppy seed cake (this one received mixed reviews from my tea companions but personally, I love anything green tea flavoured).

The vegetarian sandwich collection was good - more interesting than the usual cucumber and egg mayonnaise. It was nice to have a selection of breads and the rye bread added to the Austrian theme.

The poppy seed Gugelhupf were a nice alternative to scones - the little cakes were very moist and came with an apricot jam and clotted cream. They were served warm underneath a reflective dome.

H and S had the afternoon tea with the usual sandwiches and with scones which also looked lovely. We requested more of the sandwiches and the savories which appeared very quickly and our tea pots were topped up with hot water regularly. We were left to chat away without being rushed out (fortunate as there was a lot of food and chatting to get through) and our uneaten food was happily put into a rather cute Delaunay take-out box.

Where have you taken tea recently? 


Friday, 18 April 2014

Insta-Updates: April

We're a third of the way through the year. Time, please slow down (apart from when I'm waiting for public transport).

1. The sun has got his hat on. Seeing sunshine reminds me how much I love this city. Wouldn't life be sweet living in the Shard penthouse? Yes, it would.

2. There's always nice things on the Southbank - this was a vintage organ fair, beautiful but a little bit sinister?

3. Took my mummy to Ikea on Mother's Day and she got some daffs!

4. I was meant to be looking at curtains but just wanted this giant fish pillow instead. It was only £10 - bargain!

5. Wagamama - teriyaki chicken donburi.

6. Getting new trainers - can't wait to wear these, they're so offensively bright. I do try not go to pink with all my exercise gear but sometimes I just can't help it.

7. Coffee and cake for dinner. I was meant to be looking at curtains. Again.

8. Wagamama - grilled fish ramen.

9. Watching the London Marathon from Blackfriars Bridge - that's Mo Farah getting a massive cheer from the crowd.

10. Banana Tree - Singapore Goreng. Because watching other people exercise is exhausting.

11. Spotted this while out running and pretending that I was in the marathon (next year, next year...)

12. Making a "green" smoothie inspire by Laura's smoothie challenge.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Craft Sunday: Art 4 Fun

My "real life" is not particularly creative - I actually work in the City so weekdays consist of phone calls, emails, documents - y'know, grown-up work stuff. Some of my fellow City worker friends and I were feeling the need to use our creative sides which definitely get neglected when you don't work in a creative industry. We headed to Art 4 Fun in West Hampstead on Sunday for an afternoon of pottery painting. It turns out that three hours of painting a mug is not only a good outlet for creativity but is also strangely relaxing despite the amount of concentration required not to make a complete mess or end up wearing the paint.

Art 4 Fun has a really relaxed vibe - you pay a studio fee of £5.95 and then just pay for the item you paint. Drinks and snacks are available to buy or you can bring your own, even a bottle of wine if you fancy (I was far too serious about creating something half decent to let alcohol ruin it). There are lots of helpers on hand to answer painting questions and explain different techniques.You can keep it simple with stamps and stencils or be more adventurous with paint-flicking techniques and arty brushwork.

I kept my design simple because I find these things always are harder then they look. My design actually turned out very geometric - I'm sure that says something about my personality but I'm not sure quite what. The shop will put our finished artwork in the kiln and the end result will be much brighter and shinier. I can't wait to see it in a weeks' time!

How do you use your creative side?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Breakfast Club

Breakfast, you are my favourite of all the meals. As much as I look forward to lunch and enjoy the time I spend with dinner, you, breakfast will always have a special place in my heart. I'm sorry that I sometimes skip you, rush you or, even worse, eat you at my desk with one eye on my emails while trying not to spill you over my to do list.

To make up for the many "crimes against breakfast", The Breakfast Club serves it all day long (and shares a name with one of my favourite teen films). Now, I know it isn't a new thing to get excited over but tales of long queues had previously put me off giving breakfast the attention and appreciation it deserves. It turns out that 2.30pm on a Saturday is an ideal time to enjoy the most important of meals - no queues, enough time to work up an appetite and its past midday so you can have a cocktail!

 My friend P and I visited the Hoxton Square branch - the decor and staff were satisfyingly "Shoreditch cool" and the food definitely lived up to the hype and numerous pictures I've seen of it on Instagram. We sat on a long shared table - great for seeing what other diners were eating, less good for conversation although the slightly-too-loud music (abandoning all pretense of "Shoreditch cool" here) meant that we didn't linger long after we'd finished our afternoon breakfasts. All the same, I'll be back for the veggie breakfast burrito!
The menu has all the usual breakfast suspects - whether you fancy sweet or savory, or both in the same meal its covered. There are some "healthy" granolas and porridges which would be great if I ever come at actual breakfast time and plenty of veggie options too.
I started with an Americano with soya milk on the side (I want to drink everything out of little milk bottles)
P had the American pancakes - pancakes, bacon, sausage, potatoes, eggs of your choosing and maple syrup

I had the poached egg and avocado on multigrain toast - the egg was perfect, not too runny, not too hard
Breakfast was accompanied by this giant dog running around - I can't guarantee he'll be there next time though!
 Have you visited The Breakfast Club?


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Gordon's With A Spot Of Elderflower

Everyone who knows me knows that my drink of choice is a G&T so I was intrigued to try Gordon's new "With A Spot of Elderflower" gin for the first time last week. With spring in the air, the launch is perfectly timed for alfresco gin drinking - elderflower makes me think of the English countryside so its perfect for adding a springlike touch to a G&T. 

At the very cool but very dark Worship Street Whistling Shop, Sophie and I started off our evening with an elderflower gin and tonic - I love how it is paired with strawberries rather than the usual lemon / lime / cucumber:

We were then treated to a history of Gordon's, complete with vintage bottles - I couldn't believe that this one was from the 1920s. The branding of the product hasn't changed much over the years and this cocktail-inspired bottle wouldn't look out of place at a party nowadays. Unfortunately the gin inside is long past its best (gin should only be kept for 5 years) but the bottle is still lovely!

Next up was a tasting with The Robin Collective - Brandy and Robin treated us to some taste experiments using Gordon's Elderflower. Did you know that some of us are "supertasters" and have very perceptive tastebuds which make for fussier eaters. Mild tasters, on the other hand, are less perceptive in the taste department but will have fewer dislikes! It turns out that gin tastes sweeter and nicer when drinking it while feeling something smooth textured and while listening to sweet tinkling piano music rather than the trombone? (One to bear in mind if you're looking for a soundtrack to a romantic evening!)

After all the gin themed activities, it was finally time for some cocktail making! Sophie and I tried our hand at being barmaids. It's harder than it looks!

We made a "Southwark Sour" which made a nice change from a G&T - the ingredients are a little harder to come across than tonic water but it's worth the effort as the end result is just so good:

50ml Gordon's With A Spot of Elderflower
25ml Lemon Juice
50ml Citrus Honey Water (make your own!)
15ml Raspberry Vinegar (Waitrose!)

Just shake the above up with some ice, strain into a glass and garnish with a raspberry!

Making the perfect G&T is much easier - Gordon's With A Spot of Elderflower is available in a pre-mixed can (perfect for summer picnics) and in a bottle for summer parties, just add tonic, garnish with a strawberry and you're done!

Are you a gin fan?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Kerb - An Eater's Guide

Continuing with the "summer of street food" theme from the last post... Despite the weather being a bit less than summery on Friday due to the smog (us Londoners are a lucky bunch, eh?) I was still excited to head along to Kerb for some street food offerings.

For the indecisive foodie, Kerb is a nightmare - there are so many stalls to choose from and everything looks amazing! For veggies / vegans / gluten free folk there are options if you look around (despite the prevalence of meat on most of the stalls). 

Starting with the mains...

Capish? serves Italo-American sandwiches and meatballs
What The Dickens! serves traditional English dishes which seem almost novel now that burritos and sliders are regular fare
Luardos serves up a range of burritos
Tongue 'n Cheek is one for the brave - the Heartbreaker Burger actually contains heart...
Vinn Goute serves up Seychelles food - something I had never tried before, the fish wrap was delicious and appropriately messy for street food
Drinks to wash it all down with - the Grapefruit and Green Tea Punch definitely has my name on it...
 If you still have room for dessert then Kerb has you covered:

Moto Yogo definitely had the cutest stall!

Batch Bakery specialises in unusual brownies - from raspberry to beetroot and they come with a variety of toppings

The best-named stall, You Doughnut, serves up mini doughnuts (spelled the proper English way) available in a variety of quantities
 Kerb is back from 6 - 8 June. See you there (bring some napkins)!


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Bleecker St. Burger

London's street food scene is serving up (sorrynotsorry) some pretty tasty offerings at the moment. I'm hoping that the coming summer is another hot one and that meals are eaten outside, without cutlery or any concerns of making a big old mess.

Bleecker St. Burger has parked its van on the Southbank opposite the skatepark  for the time being. Hannah and I popped along for a quick bite before seeing King Lear at the National Theatre (burger followed by Shakespeare being the cultural equivalent of combining Prada and Primark in the same outfit). We placed our orders and sat outside on the red and black striped tables, munching to the backdrop of classical music and skateboards skidding along the railings of the skatepark.

The menu is short and sweet - FYI, angry fries are fries with buffalo sauce and blue cheese. I opted for the veggie burger, swapping the blue cheese for American cheese, and a side of sweet potato fries. I'm in two minds whether I like that these are becoming more popular - I'm not a fan of normal potato fries but maybe need to start curbing my addiction to the sweet potato variety a bit and not ordering them every time I spot them on a menu!

The prices are not burger van cheap but this isn't the average burger van experience, everything is cooked to order and top notch quality. My veggie burger was on the spicy side but super tasty, brioche buns might be fashionable in the burger world but you can't beat an old school sesame bun. The burger held together at first but became a bit old sloppy mess by the end - just how they should be! The sweet potato fries were perfectly salty and crunchy. Hannah gave the thumbs up to her double cheeseburger and mixed fries. I'm planning on going back to try a cheeseburger when I'm in a meat-eating mood.

Best street food you've had?
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