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London food guide

28 Jun

I was recently in London- twice in a week effectively- long story. Apart from visiting friends/other social engagements, I did what I like doing best and wandered around trying to find new, interesting places to eat/drink/get caffeinated in. I wanted to experience as much as I could of the London food scene. This is an amalgamation of the two trips.

I flew into London City for the first time. An absolute treat. From aircraft to central London in 30 minutes, (I flew into Stansted the next week. Not quite comparable. I felt I deserved pilgrim status by the end of that journey.)

Regency Cafe

Regency Cafe

 

The trip started with a regular feature on my London culinary map, the Regency Cafe. On Regency Street. Fancy that. Does great breakfasts. It’s a plastic chairs screwed into the floor place, builders queuing for their breakfast, like something off East Enders (so I’m told.) Don’t let any of the above put you off. Tasty food and it’s an experience. Check out this article and video on it.

Fortnum & Mason is always worth a gander. I bought tea. It was nice. Aren’t you more fulfilled for knowing this? I wrote about it before in a previous London food guide. So I shan’t bore you again.

I ate in Wahaca, which I’ve written about here: Wahaca, Covent Garden

Does what it says on the tin.

Does what it says on the tin.

 

Breakfast. I wat this again.

Breakfast. I wat this again.

I had never been to the Borough market. There I’ve said it. People were typically quite taken aback when I told them this. Unfortunately I went quite early in the day, midweek. So it wasn’t exactly in full swing. So I went and got a great breakfast in the nearby Tapas Brindisa. A wonderful plate of eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and manchego. A proudly Spanish place. I asked for a cappuccino and was firmly informed they didn’t do that, but I could have a café con leche instead. The waitress’ facial expression was akin to the facial expression I make when people say Ireland and England the same country.

Scales in Monmouth Coffee

Scales in Monmouth Coffee

From there it was only a short hop over to Monmouth Coffee. Where I had a wonderful flat white. This place had come recommended from a few of my more caffeinated mates. Cool spot, filter coffee to order etc.

Another coffee shop that I found myself in later that day was Prufrock Coffee. A funky coffee shop, friendly staff and a great place to sit for an hour or two.

My favourite discovery of these trips had to be the Covent Garden Cocktail Club. My friend Eda brought me along. Members only, but very easy to join. I was unsure where she was leading me, as we disappeared down into what looked like a dingy basement. Inside is a very cool bar area, with friendly bar-tenders making what are arguably some of the nicest cocktails I’ve had. There is an appropriate level of theatrics involved in their making without the constant fear of some over exuberant bar-tender accidentally flinging a bottle of Smirnoff at your head. The Brixton Riots are one such cocktail that typically get the bar’s attention. Happy hour is worth making- two for one. You get to sample more of the menu that way. For research like.

After a few cocktails we met another friend and headed to Meat market, a spin-off I’m told from Meat liquor. I feel this actually warrants its own post, so you are just going to have to wait to hear about that experience.

A more mainstream cocktail place we also ventured into was Be at One. Cocktails were good, the people watching was even better.  They also have a very handy app that lets you start your own happy hour when you arrive at certain locations.

La Gelatiera  was a funky little spot I went with Eda and her mates. We got chatting to the Greek staff in the place. We bonded over ice-cream and our economic woes.

On my final morning I met a friend from school and we went to Milk in Balham for breakfast. Twas very tasty indeed.

 

London is a city I have warmed to hugely over the last few years. There is great eating and drinking to be had. As always I’m really interested to hear about your favourite spots- please leave any suggestions in the comment section below.

WJ Kavanagh’s, Dorset Street

26 May

Dorset Street is hanging down with food outlets. If you peruse the lists of any takeaway website, you will see the array of eateries one can order from. There is some serious value out there too- a kebab and chips for a fiver! Despite these tempting deals, I managed to walk by the takeaways and wandered into WJ Kavanagh’s recently and shortly afterwards was joined by a good friend from college. He’s from outside the pale so is a good fella to dine with, as he doesn’t see Dublin as being divided by the Liffey. Dorset Street would not phase him. An adventurous sort.

I arrived first and settled myself at the bar and took in the array of beers/gins/whiskeys on offer. Impressive. The barman offered me a few to try as I wasn’t sure. Something I always appreciate. I settled on a very fine beer from Waterford, from the Metalman brewery. Himself arrived (looking like a George Michael tribute act, a comment that didn’t go down well, but he did- I blame the sunglasses.) We chose a table and leafed through the menu.

Meatarian board

Meatarian board

 

We started with a sharing platter for “Meatarians.” It was a very pleasant board of food. Various meaty delicacies, highlights being the terrine, which had good hammy flavour and wasn’t overly dense. Another favourite was the bacon jam which was very unctuous and sweet. Delicious. Served with some warm (good) bread and some piccalilli and pickled carrots of some variety- it was eaten in its entirety.

Two cocktails were ordered, for sampling/blogging purposes. The things I do for you people. George’s Daisy Cutter was grand, but I hit the jackpot with a ‘No.2’. Gin, elderflower, rose-water and citrus. Stunning with perfectly balanced flavours.

"No.2" in all its deliciousness

“No.2” in all its deliciousness

Mains were boar burger for him and bangers and mash for myself. A side of mac and cheese was also ordered, but we felt it was a little dry. Mac and cheese should be the sort of consistency you could lose a limb in. The boar burger was happily eaten, I even got to try some and it was very tasty- served in a good bun. My bangers and (black pudding) mash were served with an oniony sauce, but the mash was a little bland and didn’t really deliver on the black pudding front. All the same it was a tasty plate of food.

This is where a very pleasant dining experience took a turn. It was roughly an hour between finishing our mains and desert arriving. We were left with empty plates for (conservatively) 25 minutes. It wasn’t even that busy. It took so long we started to question whether or not desert would be ordered.

We did in the end- I ordered the fondant ( I was told it would take a while as it was done from scratch- he should have known at this stage we were a patient lot.) Himself went for a liquid (Redbreast, 12 year old) third course and enjoyed it. The fondant seemed to have had some sort of accident en route from mould to diner, so wasn’t intact, but was sufficiently gooey. The booze soaked cherries were potent and “Tasted like Christmas” according to George. The sea salt ice-cream was a first for me and was delish. The date purée seemed to have been replaced with a butterscotch sauce of some sort, and I left it be on the plate.

All of the above came to €73.  WJ Kavanagh’s has great drinks, very pleasant food, but unfortunately the service wasn’t up to the standard that the rest of the experience set. I’d still go back mind. The quirkiness of the place got to me, from the way the menu is written and presented, to the graffiti in the gents, but I think it was the chocolate fingers that accompany the bill which swung it.  Dublin needs more fun places like this, especially north of the Liffey.

Eel à la Mulley

24 May

Smoked eel brandade, coconut jelly and pea purée

Smoked eel brandade, coconut jelly and pea purée

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I threw control of a blog-post to twitter. I asked the nice people who follow me to suggest an ingredient and then I would do a recipe that featured it. Simples. I wasn’t expecting eel, suggested within nano-seconds by Damien Mulley. It wasn’t what I was expecting if I’m completely honest.

So after some consultation with friends we formed the rough plan that we would do a smoked eel brandade. Served with coconut jelly and a pea purée. A friend of mine had eaten this before and assured me the flavours worked. I was a little sceptical. Piña colada eel didn’t fill me with confidence.

 

Ingredients:

Smoked eel brandade:

100g of smoked eel

250 ml of full fat milk

50 ml of double cream

1 clove of garlic

1 medium potato (something that will hold its shape)- peeled and diced

1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

squeeze of lemon

salt and pepper

 

Coconut jelly:

300 ml coconut purée

3 sheets of gelatin

 

Pea purée:

150 g peas

tablespoon of olive oil (or more if needed)

 

Method:

Start with the jelly:

Soak the sheets of gelatin in some cold water. Heat the purée in a pan gently, when it is warm, squeeze the water out of the sheets of gelatin, and add to the hot purée and whisk until dissolved. Pour into a cling-filmed container, cool and leave to set in the fridge.

Brandade:

Heat the milk, cream and lightly crushed clove of garlic in a pan. When it is gently simmering, add the eel and simmer for two minutes. Remove the eel and add the potatoes to the smoky milk and cook gently until the potato is tender. Remove the potato, and gently crush it. Add the eel to this along with the parsley and squeeze of lemon. If it is too dry, add more of the milk, you should be able to make quenelles out of it.  Season accordingly.

Pea purée:

Have water boiling, add the peas, cook until tender. Blitz with a hand-blender and add enough olive oil that it is a smooth purée. Pass through a sieve to remove the skin.

 

We plated them up as above, and we added some crushed roasted hazelnuts to the top of the brandade for some texture along with a jaunty little garnish of pea shoots and olive oil. Equally you could crumb the brandade and deep fry for some extra crunch.

 

I got a lot of help with this so a few thank-yous!

Cusine genie for the brandade recipe.

Jane for the coconut jelly help

And Sarah for eel sourcing, pot washing, plating up, photography assistance.

Wahaca, Covent Garden

13 May

Guacamole and chips.

Guacamole and chips.

I found myself in London recently. One recommendation that came through on twitter and from friends over and over was Wahaca. So I made sure I tried it for dinner one of the night’s on my trip. I met with a friend from college, who had never eaten with a food blogger before. She did very well, and waited for photos of the food to be taken before going near anything.

We arrived not long after 6, and there was already a wait for tables. We used this time to grab a refreshing beverage- and soon our buzzer was going telling us that the table was ready. We ordered some guacamole and chips while we perused the menu. The guacamole was very pleasant. It had some coriander and wasn’t too heavy-handed on the red onion. Very tasty.

Pork pibil

Pork pibil

I left most of the ordering in my friend’s hands, having been before but my influence did extend to the pork pibil, which was first to arrive. Tender marinated pork, served on soft tortillas, garnished with some pickled onions. It was very tasty but perhaps it lacked a little punch. This may have been due to the heat coming from my beer– which owing to a slight mix up in ordering, was served with chilli and all sorts of other stuff. Interesting and quite spicy.

There was a herring tostada which was sour and a little bit smokey. Delicious. We went for both the taquitos on the menu, the winner here was the sweet potato and feta one. A triumphant combination of sweet and salty. There was also a very flavoursome mushroom quesadilla, which had an earthy taste.

All of this was rounded off with a split order of churros, doused in cinnamon and sugar. Tip (from my mate): order a side of dulce de leche with the chocolate it comes with. Pretty tasty combo. Service throughout was helpful (for us first timers), not rushed and very friendly. In short, the food’s very good, it’s great value and it is a fun place for some casual dining and a few drinks. I just hope they don’t over-extend as they are expanding at quite a rate.

Wahaca, Covent Garden.

66 Chandos Place.

Phone: +44 (0) 207 240 1883 (but they don’t take bookings.)

Kimchi Restaurant, Hophouse, Parnell Street

8 May

As the review tab of the blog will tell you, I’m working my way through Dublin 1’s Asian eateries. Having spent a considerable amount of time in the north inner city in years gone by, it is thoroughly refreshing to see it with a new lease of life and this is something I never tire of. I had heard good things about Kimchi and having not eaten much Korean food before/the prospect of pickled vegetables featuring heavily- I was eager to try it.

Myself and a friend arrived to a fairly busy restaurant for midweek and took our seats. It is an interesting set up. There are Korean bits of artwork on the wall and a few of these proved to be somewhat unsettling to my dining companion. We started with four chicken dumplings which were very tasty. Crisp and with a delicate interior, they were heavily flavoured and we were just sorry there weren’t a few more on the plate.

Chicken with some lurking pickles...

Chicken with some lurking pickles…

I opted for Dakgalbi. Pan fried chicken, in a chilli sauce. It was served with three ‘side dishes’ and some cabbage kimchi as well as some steamed rice.  The side dishes consisted of some fried tofu, pickled bean sprouts and pickled cucumber. The cucumber was by far the best, providing a sharp bite of contrast to the chicken. The sprouts didn’t benefit from whatever treatment they had received and myself and tofu had a falling out some years ago, and any hope of a rekindling of that relationship is unfortunately misplaced. I enjoyed the dish, but it was a little one-dimensional after a while.

The other main at the table was Bulgogi, which thanks to a helpful asterisk on the menu informed us it was a signature dish. It was a dish of thinly sliced beef, and had a nice flavour (soy sauce and Korean seasoning.)  My partner in dining felt it lacked any wow factor, and wasn’t sure the side dishes were in any way connected to it.

With 2 beers and some basic service the bill came to €42 ish. Kimchi is not bad, but nothing special.