Sunday, 27 February 2011

Recipe: Breakfast stack

My boyfriend and I came across this recipe for potato cakes with wilted spinach, smoked salmon and poached egg countless times when living in Melbourne. Since coming home we’ve created our own version which we eat for brunch on lazy Sunday mornings (alright, maybe not mornings, but you get the idea).

Ingredients (serves 2):

Two small potatoes
Knob of butter
Splash of olive oil
Plain flour for dusting
Two eggs
White vinegar
Fresh spinach
Salt & Pepper
Tomato chutney to serve


1.       Put a large pan of water on the hob to boil. You can use this pan later to poach the eggs.

2.       Peel the potatoes and cut them into small chunks. Put them in the pan of water once it’s come to the boil and cook for 8 - 10 minutes.

3.       Drain the potatoes, add the knob of butter, salt and pepper, and mash thoroughly until they come together in the pan.

4.       Pre heat a large frying pan on a medium heat with a splash of oil (about a teaspoon).

5.       Divide the mash into two halves and form into a patty/burger shape with your (clean) hands.

6.       Dust the potato patties in the flour, this ensures a crispy crust to your potato cake.

7.       Put the dusted potato cakes into the pan and cook for approx 4-5 minutes each side. Be careful not to rip off the crispy outside when turning them halfway.

8.       Meanwhile, rinse the pan you used to cook the potatoes and fill with fresh boiling water. Return to the heat and bring to a gentle simmer with a steady stream of bubbles rising from the bottom of the pan.  Begin your first poached egg at the point that you turn the potato cakes over.

9.       Add a glug of vinegar to the simmering water (approx 2 tablespoons), stir the water into a whirlpool and gently break the first egg into its centre. The eggs take 3-4 minutes each – it’s best to do them one at a time so that they don’t bump into each other in the water.

10.   Whilst the poached eggs are cooking, rest a colander over the pan to act as a steamer for your spinach. Add the spinach and leave over the simmering water until wilted.

11.   Remove your first poached egg after 4-5 minutes and repeat the process for the second .

12.   Layer up the potato cake, spinach, salmon and poached egg on plates. We like to put a cut into the egg so that it oozes down the stack, sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve with tomato chutney. You can also serve with hollandaise sauce or a wedge of lemon.

Photography by Gareth Reid -

Saturday, 19 February 2011

A review of 5 on Church St*

Church Street, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

At only three months old, 5 on Church Street is still sufficiently ‘underground’ for me to feel quite smug about discovering it before it hits the ‘mainstream,’ as a cafe of this awesomeness inevitably will. That said, it seems that enough people have already heard about 5 on Church Street by word of mouth or happened across it whilst on an afternoon stroll to make the dining room reassuringly bustling on a Saturday afternoon.

Reminding me what a small world we live in (well those of us living in East Herts/ West Essex anyway), it turns out that the friendly chap taking our order and chatting to me at the till is in fact a school friend’s housemate. However, as I didn’t know this when I first visited, you can still consider this review to be in the spirit of independence you have hopefully come to know and trust. 

On first entering, the ‘deli wall’ provides an interesting distraction and allows you to loiter inconspicuously eyeing up the produce on offer for long enough to work out if there’s a table going free. Once you’ve negotiated the small children and wine-sipping middle England to find your table, you find yourself faced with a menu which is wholesome, hearty and just what the doctor ordered on a grey day in February - breakfasts, roti wraps, jacket potatoes and pizzas sitting comfortably alongside creatively envisaged salads and cake selection. 

I had the ‘mini grill English’ – a smaller version of the ‘full grilled big English’ – which was more than enough to fill me up for brunch. I had my egg poached as I find this is usually a good test of a chef’s prowess and was pleasantly surprised when it turned up cooked to perfection. I thought the addition of a potato cake to an otherwise typical English breakfast was a nice touch too. My cafe accomplice had the corned beef hash which was expertly seasoned and generously proportioned – a triumph all round. 

Corned beef hash

I enjoyed the wide selection of teas (provided by Teapigs), choosing the caffeine-free Rooibos over my usual latte. However, although the espresso in my partner’s cappuccino tasted great, the milk was a little bit soggy – next time stiffer foam would win me over as most coffee lovers prefer their cappuccino ‘dry’. 

I’m so pleased to have a new pet cafe to eat away a Saturday hangover or for a special treat on a day off and I’m looking forward to sampling the other delights on the menu in a future evening visit. Seeing as they’ve reached such a high standard after only being open a short time, I can’t wait to see what this place can do and how it will adapt as the seasons change. 

You can find 5 on Church Street on Facebook here

*5 on Church Street renamed Saint’s Kitchen - now closed down (April 2012) :(

Monday, 14 February 2011

A Valentine's recipe for coconut cake-bread

I found this recipe in David Herbert’s ‘Really useful cookbook’ but thought I’d pimp it a bit for Valentine’s Day (and also because I didn’t have all the recommended ingredients).

350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp Cinnamon
250g caster sugar
100g desiccated coconut
50g ground almonds
300ml milk soured with lime juice
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g unsalted butter

1.    Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 4 and line a loaf tin with baking paper
2.    Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl
3.    Whisk the eggs, milk, lime, vanilla extract and melted butter in a jug
4.    Pour the wet ingredients into a well in the centre of the dry ingredients
5.    Mix gently until just combined – don’t over mix
6.    Pour into your loaf tin and bake in the centre of your preheated oven for about an hour.

Tip: Check the cake after 40 minutes and cover with tin foil if the top is already browned.

Combine 2 parts cream cheese with 1 part icing sugar and 1 part sunflower spread in a bowl – missing with an electric hand whisk over a bowl of cold water helps with the consistency. Add some desiccated coconut and a squeeze of lime juice to compliment the flavours in the cake.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A review of Fleet River Bakery

71 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Holborn, London, WC2A 3JF.

Nestled in a quiet backstreet away from the hustle and bustle of Holborn Circus, Fleet River Bakery is the kind of place which makes you not care an inch when your boss stands you up for a ‘breakfast meeting.’ In fact, it makes you wish you got up early more often so that you could feast on their sumptuous granola, Greek yoghurt and berry compote every day of the week. You may have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and when it involves one of the homemade treats on offer at Fleet River it really is a pleasure not a chore. 

With homemade cakes, quiches and salads galore, alongside a wholesome selection of hot snacks this is the perfect antidote to the horrors of the generic, clingfilm-wrapped offerings at the office canteen. Split over two levels, there’s plenty of cosy corners in which to tuck yourself away with a good book and avoid the prying eyes of colleagues during your lunch break - basement seating offering a welcome retreat from the clatter of the service counter where suit-clad professionals bark orders at the wide-eyed staff.

The food is varied and healthy, with a wide selection of cakey treats for the less diet-inclined. Tea is served in tea pots. Lattes in latte glasses. The staff don’t blink an eyelid when you ask for just bread and butter because you’re waiting for an interview and anything more extravagant could result in nigh on disaster. The tables are wide and wooden. Laptops and broadsheets flung across tables in the morning as city types claim their territory like lions on heat. Prints on the walls are engaging enough to gaze at absentmindedly when alone.

Fleet River Bakery offers a city-centre safe house for the frazzled business person, lost tourist, or lucky passerby. It’s the kind of place that, now I don’t work nearby, I’d go out of my way to come back to. And, rather worryingly, find myself day dreaming about frequently. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A review of South Street Pantry

70 South Street, Bishops Stortford, United Kingdom, CM23 3AZ

In a part of the world otherwise bereft of characterful places in which to eat breakfast or while away a Sunday afternoon, South Street Pantry is a welcome tonic. Many a day off or weekend has been wasted for a lack of suitable eating houses in and around my home town and many have ended up supping on soggy chips at the local watering hole.

Although a tentative exploration of this small market town recently brought other promising establishments to light which I will review in due course, it was reassuringly refreshing to be recommended this place by a friend and find it lived up to all expectations. Intimate, kitsch, quaint, with awesome food, and in Bishops Stortford – never?!

The attention to which the decor has been paid is not lost on me, and I especially like the feature wall of mismatched wallpaper. This business is clearly a labour of love – as you would expect from a family business. Run by a mother – son combo with Nana’s Jam thrown in for good measure this cafe shows the kind on entrepreneurial spirit so often borne out of a recession.

The counter at the front of the cafe is loaded with exquisite looking cakes, muffins and other treats so that any innocent bystander could easily find themself inadvertently drawn into the warm embrace of that familiar ritual of ordering tea and cake.  With a small but more than adequate menu, Delicious has really got to the heart of customer demand by providing classic breakfast and afternoon tea options alongside more hearty lunchtime fare including soups, sandwiches and ploughman’s.
 I had the American pancakes which were generously proportioned, light, fluffy and went well with the syrup and fruit compote provided. A little extra compote next time, however, would be well received. I dragged my boyfriend along with me in the spirit of research and he had the goat’s cheese and red onion quiche which he remarked was, “probably the best quiche I’ve ever had.” This honour – I should point out – is no mean feat given that he is of the Jamie Oliver inspired generation of home chefs who consider their tastes superior to the likes of you and I.

Despite the abundance of small, screaming children (it was a Saturday afternoon after all) I would definitely come back to South Street Pantry for two reasons: 1. The food is awesome. And 2. I’m so excited and impressed that a cafe which would not be out of place on a trendy London high street has decided to set up shop in an otherwise unremarkable town. “Good quality cafes for the masses” I hear you cry...

You can find South Street Pantry online here and on Facebook.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

A review of Drink, Shop & Do

9 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX

I don’t quite know where to start in describing this smorgasbord of crafty, cakey delights.  I am in awe of this glorious example of what can be achieved with a coffee machine, some second hand furniture and a selection of craft supplies.

From the street, you walk into a small shop selling crafts made by local designers. From broaches to appliqu├ęd animals in frames, nearly every item I’ve ever seen in a craft market across London is stocked in this veritable treasure-trove.

If you seek handpicked crafts and vintage furniture this is your place – there’s minimal effort involved as owners Kristie and Coralie have exercised their impeccable taste in selecting the quality items on offer. However, if it’s a bargain you’re after you’ll have to venture further afield and explore your local charity and antique shops.

Once you’ve negotiated the small shop and staircase, you ascend into the impressive back room – all high ceilings, majestic pillars and delicate plaster work. Housed in an old Victorian bath house, the space is perfectly suited to a cafe-come-showroom as it’s light, airy and inviting.

One of the most intriguing facts about this place is that everything is for sale – the chair you’re sitting on, the table you’re eating at and even the teacup you’re drinking from. The food and drink is surprisingly affordable for the central location (it’s right by King’s Cross) and afternoon tea certainly doesn’t break the bank.

Keeping it simple proves to be the main success of Drink, Shop & Do’s culinary approach. A choice of mini sandwiches, giant scotch eggs, homemade pies and quiches alongside a glutton of cakes make for easy serving and satisfying results. There’s also a good variety of hot drinks including a good selection of teas and cold drinks.

As well as an afternoon visit, I recently attended this venue for evening birthday celebrations and happily supped upon £7 cocktails – I can highly recommend Ginger Rodgers for anyone visiting for the first time. While our table was steadily weighed down by the amount of glassware collecting on it, those around us used their table tops to partake in the evening’s craft activities – moulding clay into the shape of Michael Jackson. Other activities on offer include knit night and ‘dot to dot’ disco.
For anyone bored of their weekend routine, I can’t think of any better way to mix things up than Drink, Shop & Do.