Archive | August, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Coal Vaults in Soho

31 Aug

UPDATED 5TH SEPTEMBER, 2013: Following its publication, my review of Coal Vaults‘ launch party has been removed, so the link included within my original blog is now invalid.

I gave an honest account of the event and stand by every word submitted. It would have been unethical to lie about such a negative experience and to gloss it up for the sake of popularity. Professional integrity is paramount. I applaud The Upcoming for posting my review – albeit for a brief period – and hope it didn’t cause them any trouble.

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The promise of a new “hot spot” in London is always met with anticipation and excitement. Newcomer Coal Vaults opened its doors this week with a succession of PR-driven launch events to entice celebrities and reviewers.

With promises of seasonal British cuisine, delicious cocktails and a quirky industrial interior, The Upcoming kindly decided to send me along to pen a review. What followed was one the most depressing and deflating nights ever experienced in London. Read why here.

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Top Thing of the Week (August 19th – 25th)

25 Aug

Due to ill health, I was stuck at home for most of this week and can’t produce a Top 5 selection of weekly highlights.

That said, I was forced to venture out on Saturday to attend a one day course that had been pre-paid months earlier. It was a Hand Reflexology class at The Central London College of Reflexology on Drury Lane.

A full review of my experience will follow soon but, in the meantime, I confirm that aside from learning a fantastic new skill, I came home feeling a lot better than when I left. All hail alternative therapy!

The London Restaurant Interiors Tour – Part 1

25 Aug

Imagine if an events company offered a tour of the most beautiful, interesting or quirky restaurant interiors in London. The possible locations would be endless and it’s difficult to select a Top 10. Thus, I’ve decided to blog countdowns throughout the year: an evolving and expanding list to which others are welcome to contribute.

Whether you prefer dining in themed eateries, quirky diners, intimate supperclubs or sat upon the swaying deck of a boat restaurant, there are enough gorgeous, innovative and opulent choices to ponder and assess.

To kick off the ‘tour’, I suggest we take a virtual walk around a tourist-friendly combination of familiar, central and interesting hot-spots before future lists expand to encompass some of the more brow-raising decors gracing the Capital.

#1 A pit stop to Momo in Regent Street’s Food Quarter is must for a brief sojourn from London life. With its copper tables, dark wooden panels, amazing arches, colourful upholstery and pretty tableware, the heart of Morocco comes to the heart of the English Capital.

Selected wares are available to purchase from the Mo Cafe, next to the main restaurant, but do not endeavour to haggle with the waiting staff; it may look and feel like a bonafide souk but it’s most certainly not. Attempting to negotiate a 2-for-1 deal, or suggesting they throw in a couple of fake Rolex-style watches for an extra quid upon receipt of your dining bill, will only result in confused looks from fellow diners and staff!

#2 One of the most ornately decorated cafés in London is the stunning cafeteria found in the V&A Museum. With exquisitely painted ceilings, globe lighting, stylish columns and attractive arches, it’s a beautiful spot to indulge in Afternoon Tea during a visit to the museum.

So pleasant is this venue, you may find yourself turning into one of their exhibits. I never want to leave whenever I’m there and half expect the cleaner to give me a quick dusting at the end of the evening and hang a sign around my neck stating: Double-Chinned Tea Lover, 2013. A Greek artefact often seen in areas serving cake.

#3 Of course, we can’t mention the ornate without a nod to Gilgamesh in Camden Stables Market. Featuring more wooden carvings than an Indonesian street market, the panels tell the story of the Sumerian King and demi-God after which the venue is named.

Immortalised in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories ever written, the King goes through a series of adventures that require bravery, courage and wisdom. Entering this venue will require the same three skills; the excellent Pan-Asian food and gorgeous cocktails aren’t cheap so don’t go if you can’t face a hefty bill without wanting to chuck yourself onto one of Gilgamesh’s spears!

#4 Competing in the over-the-top carvings stakes is neighbour Shaka Zulu, also located in Camden Stables Market. Try to resist the temptation of turning up in fancy dress; no matter how much a loin cloth may complement the venue’s tribal interior and the scantily-clad fire eaters it houses, I assure you that entry will be denied and your bits will feel quite a chill as you stand in your cloth trying to negotiate with the bouncers at the door.

#5 Flamboyant doesn’t even begin to describe the decor of Turkish-Mediterranean eaterie Sarastro on Drury Lane. Modelled on the Victorian curiosity shops of yesteryear, expect to find more than your mind can dream within the confines of this unusual restaurant!

Fellow food blogger Mint And Rosemary visited the eatery last week and was welcomed by a large figure pointing a giant erection towards her. This was not the manager or a registered sex offender running amok: it was a statue forming part of the decor. Fertility God? Possibly. It might be worth considering a Depo-Vera shot or a vasectomy before you visit, lest you tempt fate.

★Part 2 of my Top 10 will follow soon but please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments box★

Top 5 Things of the Week (August 12th – 18th)

18 Aug

#1 Restaurant Reviews course at City Lit
Food writing is a delicate art, requiring balance and creativity – just like good cooking. Hidden in a discreet side street in London’s Covent Garden, City Lit adult education college offers a range of food-related courses, from cupcake decorating to food writing.

Under the supervision of expert tutor Nikki Spencer, a vivacious food critic and journalist, I spent a week honing my Restaurant Reviewing skills.

Gaining useful tips, advice, feedback and skills, the course included two visits to local restaurants – which, of course, we had to review. It was an inspiring week and my classmates were awesome: an amazingly talented bunch of food writers and truly lovely people.

#2 Chocolate Frozen Custard Shake at Shake Shack

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Rich, smooth and exceptionally delicious, the Frozen Custard Shakes at Shake Shake burger bar in Covent Garden actually taste better than their burgers!

I discovered the delights of their chocolate flavoured creation during a field trip in the Restaurant Reviews course mentioned above. Sitting within the bustle of Covent Garden, draining my carton of chocolate goodness in the name of education, I felt a pang of sorrow for all my classmates who had ordered a different drink – my shake was unbeatable!

#3 Music Paper Bread
Crunching out a pattern of addictive beats with every bite, I’m addicted to these wafer-thin bread discs from Sardinia.

Salty, crisp and as addictive as Pringles, these have become a storecupboard staple. Available from M&S stores for £2.49, they won’t break the bank and come in a handbag friendly box – result!

#4 Tiramisu at Polpo in Covent Garden

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It was a toss-up between Venetian-inspired Polpo’s cheese and onion Pizza Bianca or their creamy Tiramisu: the dessert only just clinched it! Creamy, light and served in a glass, every mouthful was superb – from the flavorsome cofffee-soaked sponge to what looked like a chocolate ganache lining the bottom. Heavenly!

#5 Gelati from Venchi

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Covent Garden certainly kept me well fed this week! A cone topped with two Chocolate and Chocolate and Hazelnut gelati from Italian chocolatier Venchi was rich, tasty and the perfect antidote to the scorchingly hot summer sun!

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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Shake Shack in Covent Garden – Part 2

15 Aug

Slurping noisily, I finished my chocolate shake and possessively hugged the carton like a gorilla cradling her young. Churned with fresh, frozen custard, every gratifying slurp had generated a contented sigh, leaving me bereft after draining my last drop.

My fellow diners may have misconstrued this attachment as a sign of intense satisfaction. After all, Shake Shack – the much-hyped American burger bar which opened its first UK outpost in London two months ago – has attracted an army of cult-like followers, religiously tweeting and instagram-ing tales of near divine experiences. Yet today was the second time I have eaten at the Covent Garden restaurant and both meals proved average and lacklustre.

On both occasions, I rocked up to the soulless yet stylish grey eatery, housed beneath the market square’s glass atrium, and queued for ten minutes for the “amazing” and “incredible” burgers. Surrounded by excited newcomers looking like randy teenagers desperate to enter a brothel during a trip to Amsterdam, expectations were naturally high. Sadly, although my orgasmic shake was worthy of unbridled praise, the same cannot be said of my remaining meal.

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A SmokeShack burger, fries and shake cost a steep £13.50, which goes some way towards explaining why my burger seemingly blinked up at me like a mocking clown with clashing face paint. A golden brioche bun enclosed a brown Aberdeen Angus patty layered with neon cheese, pink Wiltshire smoked bacon and a smattering of red peppers.

Determined to find the fabled ShackSauce allegedly annointing the burgers of hardcore devotees, I dismantled mine to find coral-stained bread and a tiny squelch of remaining sauce. Like a gynaecologist conducting a cervical smear, I prodded at the area with a crinkle cut chip. Feeling apprehensive, I finally shoved the cream-coated stick into my mouth and – Praise Jesus! Holy Ketchup! Or whatever else devoted Shack-ites spout – I was pleasantly surprised. The mild sauce was deliciously tangy with a subtle undertone of heat: a delightful condiment that needed to be laddled on with a skip to sucessfully compete with the mush of bread, bacon and beef. The three core ingredients were locked in a war against a ruthless oppressor: pickled cherry peppers. The ShackSauce was a mere casualty in the epic battle.

Not one to overlook the virtues of an eatery, the chips were undeniably good: crispy, buttery and an acceptable alternative to French Fries (which would have been preferable). It takes a special kind of chef to cock up fried spuds so Shake Shack can rest assured that Mr. Potato Head won’t fire off any angry letters about the mistreatment of his brethren any time soon.

The biggest disappointment was the patty itself: lean and smeared with yellow, it looked as though it had been flattened by one of the local council’s road-marking trucks as they were painting new parking lines. In hindsight, perhaps my visit had some divine intervention after all… had I taken heed of the warning earlier by scanning other people’s trays, I would have parked my rear for lunch elsewhere – Byron Burger and Five Guys are both within walking distance.

The only reason to venture into Shake Shack again would be to grab another delicious milkshake. At £4.50 each, they cost almost as much as the burgers – but with the added allure of rich flavour.

In the blog following my first visit, I concluded that Shake Shack was all frill and no knickers. Now, having tried a milkshake and chips, I concede that I was unduly harsh; it’s more like a lacy crotchless thong – plenty of frills around the edges but a gaping hole in the centre.

Square Meal

Italian ‘Music Paper’ Bread – Baked in Sardinia

13 Aug

A new sound has invaded the streets of London. If you hear the staccato rhythm of a persistant crunch within your vicinity, fear not – it’s just me devouring my Sardinian Music Paper Bread as I traverse the Capital.

Known to Italians as Carta Da Musica, which translates to “music sheet”, these exceedingly moreish discs are thinner than poppadoms and mottled in colour (food blooger Kat vs. Food likened them to “giraffe skin”).

Crisp enough for you to hear a snap with every bite (music: geddit?), they smell and taste of mild olive oil, with a cunning sprinkling of salt to make them as addictive as Pringles.

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On sale in M&S stores (£2.49 for 100g), the small, square box is tucked away in the retailers’ international food section
– alongside delicious-looking Italian chocolates, Spanish condiments and continental oils.

It’s easy to forget (or in my case, deliberately ignore) their purpose as a quirky addition to a bread basket, as opposed to a conveniently-sized, carry-around snack. I’m sure they would prove wonderful dipped in oil and balsamic vinegar, plunged into any kind of dip, or simply layered with soft cheese and tapenade.

Unfortunately, that would require enough restraint to carry them all the way home without delving into my shopping bag to consume them throughout my journey.

Delivering a cracking rhythm that wouldn’t be out of place in a Will.I.Am or Pharrell Williams track, I’ve turned into a chomping music-maker who should be credited with the creation of a fresh new sound: Bread Beats. Will it take off in clubland? Probably not. But I’ll be playing my ‘instrument’ in many a tube station throughout the summer; I get rather peckish during my long journey home.

Top 5 Things of the Week (August 5th – 11th)

12 Aug

#1 Espresso Beer by Dark Star

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A friend recently introduced me to the delightfully bitter and heady flavour of Dark Star’s Espresso Beer. Brewed in Sussex, it’s made with Arabica beans and has a mild yet rich flavour.

Available from Waitrose, it’s the perfect after dinner tipple – especially with a decadent chocolate dessert!

#2 Tommi’s Burger Joint in Marylebone

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Burgers bars are opening across London quicker than Usain Bolt can reach a finish line, with many from the good ole U. S. of A.

Challenging them pickle for pickle is Scandinavian entrepreneur Tomas ‘Tommi’ Tommason, whose pop-up burger joint in Marylebone Lane proved so popular last year, he had to bag a permanent spot in nearby Thayer Lane.

The doors to this new home opened this week and hungry punters weren’t disappointed. The meaty patties topped with tomato, onion, mayo, ketchup and mustard are served in a shiny brioche bun with a generous portion of fries – bliss!

#3 Haagen Daz Chocolate Fondant Secret Sensations

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I’ve taken a liking to this new ice-cream flavour, largely due to its pockets of oozing, chocolate sauce. It looks appetising and the flavour is well balanced – not too rich and sickly for summer. That said, the pairing of chocolate with more chocolate is always a winner and if you sprinkle some chopped, roasted nuts on to add some crunch, you can’t go wrong!

#4 Fig, Green Beans, Mozarella and Hazelnut Salad
A cousin introduced me to this delicious Mediterranean Fig & Mozarella Salad at a family barbecue and I was instantly enamoured by its pretty colours, diverse textures and summery flavours!

#5 Pineapple & Raspberry Upside Down Tart at 1776
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Old fashioned desserts are the best: apple pie, profiteroles, baked alaska – and upside down cakes. In particular, the Pineapple & Raspberry Upside Down Tart at 1776, the fine dining restaurant at 1 Lombard Street, was exceedingly good.

Selected from their daily dessert trolley as opposed to the regular dessert menu, there is no way of knowing when they will serve this delectable creation again. As with any rare treasure, its worth seeking out.