Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Festive puds

My favourite festive puds
A friend just asked me for some recipes for festive puddings which weren't Christmas cake, Christmas pudding or cranberry based. Hmm.... a challenge!

Having 'mulled' it over (I'm not going to spare you the puns so stop reading if you can't handle it) - I came up with the following:

Rice pudding with apple compote
I had some really nice rice pudding with spiced apple compote at the weekend from Anna Mae's - it can be quite Christmassy with the right spices:

Dark chocolate raspberry banana bread - Sally's baking addiction
I really like this blog for recipes (although it's American so some of the ingredients seem a bit odd). The raspberry and chocolate banana bread is a fail-safe 
Baked Vanilla Cheesecake
A baked cheesecake is always a winner too (you don't have to bother with the fancy toppings, the basic vanilla cheesecake is lovely on it's own as long as you use real vanilla pods)

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A review of Leila's Shop

15-17 Calvert Avenue  Bethnal Green, London E2 7JP

I'm in love... with Leila's.

Tucked away between Shoreditch High Street and Columbia Road, Leila's is the perfect pit stop for a mid afternoon snack and beverage to warm the cockles at this chilly time of year. Relaxed, homely and not too full at around 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, we slipped in on our way home to grab a cheeky hot chocolate and olive oil biscuit.

Made the traditional way in a good old saucepan on the hob, the hot chocolate may come in a thimble-like glass but believe me, any more of this rich nectar and you would feel decidedly sick. It was the perfect tonic for a freezing afternoon stroll and I'm already planning the next time I can fit a visit into my schedule to have another hit.
The olive oil biscuit was something I'd never tried before and was light, predictably oily, but delicately flavoured with fennel cutting through, giving it a fresh savouriness which I couldn't get enough of. The counter top was piled with pastries, brownies and other goodies so there was plenty of choice. And if you go for the panettone you'll get a slice generous enough to feed at least two!

I love the open plan kitchen where you can watch the chef and waiting staff pottering around and get your taste buds tingling looking at all their fresh produce. Everything on the menu can be cooked up using ingredients bought from the deli next door so you can even take your inspiration home with you!
I can't comment on the food as we'd already had lunch, but I'm more than happy to have an excuse to come back for brunch at some point at by the looks of their menus I won't be disappointed:
Leila's shop are on Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A review of Dishoom (breakfast)

I feel I should provide a disclaimer here that that the marketing manager at Dishoom is a very good friend of mine. I have eaten at both their Covent Garden and Shoreditch restaurants in her company but on the occasion I am going to reference here, was in neutral company. 

Disclaimer aside, I am probably still going to sound like she is whispering in my ear while I write this as I have no complaints to make at all about the service or food. I hope you will believe that what I write is an honest account:

7 Boundary Street, London, E2 7JE

London's very own Bombay Cafe, Dishoom opened the doors to its new Shoreditch premises in October. We went along for one of their dry runs for dinner and were suitably impressed with the decadent cocktails and fresh, fragrant dishes on offer. From grilled paneer tikka to their slow-cooked pulled lamb this is not your typical East End indian restaurant. 
So, on a cheeky Friday off work we thought we'd try something different and give Dishoom's breakfast a try. They serve the breakfast menu until 11.30 on weekdays and until 1pm for a more casual start at the weekend. 

We rocked up 20 minutes before the end of service and were greeted with a smile and a sun-filled booth at the front of the restaurant. Given how busy the cafes on nearby Redchurch Street get during the morning's breakfast meeting rush, it was surprisingly quiet. Perhaps the city boys haven't cottoned on to the delights of a bombay breakfast. It won't be long. 

I ordered English breakfast Assam tea which came loose leaf in a large pot with my choice of milk and sugar on the side. My fella ordered the chai which was absolutely delicious. It wouldn't usually be my first choice for breakfast but on a cold November morning, its delicate fusion of spices couldn't be more comforting. 

To eat, I had the Bombay Omelette which was subtly flavoured and beautifully light for that time in the morning. Balanced with grilled tomatoes and Dishoom's own variety of 'fire toast' (first buttered, then thrown onto the grill) it was perfectly proportioned and very reasonable at under 6 quid. 

Fella had the bacon naan roll which was quite small, but at £3.70 you could always have 2 if you're that hungry! The chilli tomato jam, smoky bacon and fresh cream cheese were brilliantly balanced to create a tongue tingling combination, and along with the chai was the star of the show. 

Reasonably priced, more tasty than your run of the mill eggs on toast and all in the stunning surroundings of Dishoom's new Shoreditch location, I felt extremely spoilt on a Friday morning. Happy happy girl. CHECK THEM OUT SOON!
You can take a look at Dishoom's website, follow them on Twitter and find them on Facebook

Friday, 2 November 2012

Ideas for the weekend...

Still stuck for something to do on Saturday? Why not wrap up warm and wander over to Borough Market? Yes, it's full of tourists and much more expensive than most neighbourhood markets, but it makes for a great afternoon out if you combine it with a visit to nearby Maltby Street and polish off your day with a locally brewed pale ale at Bermondsey's Kernel Brewery.

Speaking of tourists, this is exactly what I did with some Dutch friends visiting London recently and they loved the cross section of London on show. The photos below will take you on our journey around South London:

Borough Market. At the top - a tower of brownies. Not much risk of running out at least. 
Above - More cheesecake than you can shake a stick at and those are cinnamon doughnuts at the top there. YUM.

The ever-busy Monmouth coffee. Still haven't had a drink from there - I can never face the queues. 

Bermondsey Street - a quaint little street with boutique shops and trendy restaurants. Families with small children eating tapas and drinking wine at midday. You know the sort. 

Maltby Street market - although this is actually along an alley called Ropewalk. Looks like a cute little cafe? Nope. That is a gin shop. Had a very tasty pulled pork bun (not from the gin shop).

More on Maltby Street (from Nigel Slater no less) 

The Kernel Brewery - yes it's hidden away in a housing estate but it does sell tasty ales brewed on the premises and you can sit on a lovely long communal table sipping your beer (exhibit A below). There's also a butcher and green grocer next door. Who knew?

Unit 11, Dockley Road Industrial Estate, London SE16 3SF

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A review of The Electric Elephant

186a Crampton Street, Camberwell, London, SE17 3AE

There are times in life when emergency cake is called for and The Electric Elephant was there for my sister and I on one such occasion recently.  Although they usually close around 5pm, the weather was nice and they still had a few customers so obliged us by staying open an extra hour.

My sister works in Elephant and Castle and had come across the place with her colleagues. Knowing I'm always on the prowl for new material (and rarely manage to branch out from east London), it was the perfect recommendation for after-work, pre-dinner, tea and brownies.

The cakes are homemade (there was also a rustic looking bread pudding), there's pastries, and a full lunch menu including soup, sarnies and paninis in the day time.

The cafe backs onto a really pretty little yard and there's some outside seating if you want to catch a few rays. What a little gem.

The Electric Elephant has a website.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A review of the Market House

30 Broadway Market, London, E2 4QJ

It's not often that a place completely misses the point of breakfast, but it does happen. And unfortunately, the Market House seems to have done just that.

Branded as a pub/restaurant, I was prepared to be quite forgiving if their morning offering wasn't quite up to scratch. But, as my other half pointed out, given the standard of the competition near by, if you're not going to do it right, why do it at all?

First, the good points: the ambience is relaxed and there are quaint little touches like buckets of flowers and jars of cutlery on the tables. The staff are attentive and the coffee was tasty and well poured.
However: I ordered scrambled eggs and salmon with toast which arrived extremely overcooked within about 3 minutes of ordering. How can you overcook scrambled eggs in 3 minutes? You can't. But you can ladle it out from a pre-cooked batch and then attempt to pass it off as edible.

It was a similar story for the full English my fella ordered. The component parts were fine, it was just painfully obvious that it had been sat drying out in a Bain-Marie or oven for an hour or so. Like a fair but honest parent, I wasn't angry, but disappointed.
To give a balanced account, the poached eggs, which appeared to be the only element cooked fresh, were done to perfection and the table next to us that had variations on eggs benedict, florentine etc. seemed happy enough. But if you only do poached eggs well then, surely, only serve poached eggs?

The other disappointment was the apparent misunderstanding of what it is to have a leisurely weekend brunch, spread over several hours, coffees and magazine supplements. I don't want my breakfast thrust in front of me within 10 minutes of walking through the door.

When a new eatery opens on one of your favourite streets, you can't help but imagine all the good times you will spend together. Instead, I was left with the empty feeling of not really wanting to return. No matter how 'eclectic' the decor, I won't be back for brunch in a hurry.

The Market House have a website, they're also on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A review of Amandine

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176 Victoria Park Road, Victoria Park Village, Hackney, E9 7HD

If you're looking for somewhere to slow down the pace and escape the crowds on a sunny day in Victoria Park, then Amandine could just be the perfect spot. Slightly away from the main strip, it's a short walk around the corner from Lauriston Road and well worth the few extra yards.

As well as being dog friendly, they have a lovely outside seating area to the back of the cafe so we made the most of the sunshine by taking a table in the garden.
Image fromĂ©
The menu only appeared to be up on the chalk board inside, and was written in such small writing that I struggled to read the detail of what I was ordering. However, I am coming to realise that foregoing my contact lenses is probably not the most sensible of lifestyle choices so can't really complain.

With sandwiches, salads, soups and daily specials there's plenty of choice, and lots of sweet treats to tempt your taste buds too. The fridge was stacked with cold drinks which hit the spot on a hot day, so I'll have to return for coffee and cake later in the year in order to give a balanced review of all that's on offer (I'm sure I can handle that...).

We had toasted ciabattas and a salad:

The food was really tasty and generously proportioned, the staff friendly and attentive (although we ordered separately they clocked we were sitting together so brought the food out at the same time). I'm sure a little gem like this gets busy at times, but for us it was a haven of calm in the chaos of an East London summer and I'll definitely be back for more. 

Amandine is on Facebook, Twitter and Tumbler

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Bashing out bagels

Having finally mastered bread, I got a bit lazy and sat on my laurels enjoying loafs and rolls and not bothering to branch out for a bit. Until, that is, the Great British Bake Off graced our screens for the third series and I was abruptly snapped out of my reverie and reminded that there's a whole world of bread-related goods out there. One of the contestants is actually trying to make this whole world of breads it seems - Brendan to win!

Suitably chastised, I took some inspiration from episode 2 and had a bash at bagels. I didn't use their recipe, as I wanted to start off with some plainer varieties than the ones shared on the Bake Off website. Instead, I found this BBC Good Food recipe which is really straight forward and gave me splendid results (if I do say so myself).

You'll need to be vaguely familiar with bread making, and confident in your kneading technique as you need a rise from the dough to get the right texture. But if you are a relative novice  it's still worth giving them a go. What's the worst that can happen (seriously - if you mess these up I want to see pictures).

I prepared the dough, whacked it in the airing cupboard while I went to the gym for an hour then came back, shaped, steamed and baked them in about 40 minutes.

Plugging for plain bagels with fennel seeds sprinkled on the top, as well as some cinnamon and raisin ones I was pleasantly surprised by the taste and texture. The shape was definitely a bit 'rustic' but I reckon that's the best way (or you might as well get them from the shop...).

Having mastered bagels I now feel I can rightfully claim myself as a 'proper' east ender. If you don't know why, watch the 'short history of bagels' bit 45 minutes into episode 2.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A review of Strangers with Coffee

Strangers with Coffee, 31 St Cuthberts Street, Wells, Somerset, BA5 2AW 

It's not often that I'm quick enough off the mark to review a place that's recently opened, so I love when it happens by accident. On our recent country jaunt staying at The Swan, Wedmore, we ventured out into the rainy west country to the 'smallest city in England' - Wells. There's a massive Cathedral (hence city status) and buzzing food/antiques market on Wednesdays and Saturdays so we had a bit of a nose round and then sought out somewhere for lunch.

A little off the beaten track, Strangers with Coffee is opposite St Cuthbert's Church which is really near to the main visitors car park. There's a big A-board pointing you in the right direction. Opening at the end of June, they were welcomed on to the local cafe scene by none other than the Mayor herself.

The first thing we noticed was that they serve Allpress espresso, from the New Zealand roastery which has more recently set up shop in London's East End. Having visited and reviewed Allpress before, I was pretty excited to see the brand outside of London and we headed inside to try it out.
Although pretty compact on the inside, there's seating outside under a small shelter with bright scatter cushions and not too many smokers. We made the most of a brief interlude of sunshine by sitting outside and, unlike in some places, were not forgotten. The friendly proprietor saw to our every need and I will from now on always demand my apple juice in a wine glass - how very civilised!

The menu was brief but balanced with a range of sarnies, salads and breakfast options. My other half went for the cheese salad sandwich, and I opted for the croque monsieur. Both were tasty, generously proportioned and came served with crisps and salad - a nice touch.

It's great to see ambitious start ups making the most of the blossoming UK cafe culture and using trendy coffee brands like Allpress to really carve out a niche for themselves in their local coffee scene. I'm sure that by serving such a great espresso brand, Strangers with Coffee has already trumped many surrounding businesses.

The quality and taste of the coffee really came through in the cappuccino enjoyed by my other half, but I must say the pour was a little 'wet' for my liking. I like my cappuccino to have a good head of foam on it to really differentiate it from a latte, and on inspection there was only a few mm skimming the surface.

All credit to Allpress for taking the leap to supply other independent coffee houses, but I guess every extension of your brand leads to a little less quality control. Strangers with coffee - hone your pouring skills and you'll do Allpress proud. For now, I'll stick with the apple juice.

Check out Strangers with coffee on Facebook.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

A review of The Swan

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The Swan, Cheddar Road, Wedmore, Somerset, BS28 4EQ

What with it being the Olympics and all (hopefully that small fact hasn't escaped anyone's attention...) and living in East London, we thought it might be wise to 'jump ship' for a few days. Head out to the country and away from all the chaos.

Discovering The Swan on ("a hand-picked portfolio of beautiful boutique hotels, B&Bs and houses for rent, in some of the world's most stunning locations..."), we were easily persuaded by the pub's luxuriously giant beds and baths, posh smellies and decadent River Cottage inspired grub. Our room was supposed to be the most modest of the six on offer, but there was plenty of space for us to spend a very comfortable three nights swathed in luxury, playing at being grown ups.
Picture from
As well as having dinner at the incredible in-house restaurant which serves all seasonal, local ingredients the breakfast part of the 'B'n'B' was a real highlight of our trip. Regularly lumbered with the 'continental' option or a greasy fry up, we were spoilt for choice with their selection of yoghurt, granola, muesli, buttery scrambled egg and home cooked bread or full English. We tried something different almost everyday and, being tardy risers, were pretty much tided over until dinner for the most part.

Even the coffee was expertly poured and in the appropriate vessel (glass for a latte, cup for a cap) - pretty impressive for a pub more used to pouring pints.
They have a really laid back ethos at the Swan - "you can eat where and when you like". There's no set meal times and you can have the restaurant menu in the pub, or the bar snack menu in the restaurant - they really don't stand on ceremony. Cakes are available at breakfast if you're that way inclined, and there's always a newspaper or magazine lying around to flick through.

It was this relaxed approach to eating and drinking which really made the difference to our stay. Seriously refreshing in a world of intimidating holiday itineraries and 8am check out times. I would definitely recommend. 

The Swan has a website, Twitter and Facebook page. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

A review of Cafe Boscanova

650 Christchurch Road, Boscombe, Dorset, BH1 4BP

Whenever I visit a new place I always try to look up a good cafe so that I'm not stuck tried and hungry looking for somewhere to eat. A recent trip to Bournemouth was no exception and I looked up a few places before going, hoping to show my host somewhere new and gently cajole her into supporting her local independent cafe scene.

After a fantastic night out (dinner at Aruba and then drinks, live music and dancing at Sixty Million Postcards if you wanted to know) we went for the obligatory morning fry up at home in our pyjamas before heading to the sea front for some bracing fresh hair to blow away our hang overs. Feeling more ourselves and with our appetites restored, we headed over to Boscombe just a short drive away from central Bournemouth. My previous research had led me to believe we would find some hearty, healthy fare at Cafe Boscanova, and we weren't disappointed.

With a homely, slightly chaotic feel, this cafe is buzzing with locals and they're as passionate about their coffee as they are the wholesome food they serve. With the scrawls on the back of their espresso machine giving away their passion for precision brewing, you know you're in good hands when ordering your favourite caffeine fix here.
For the more virtuous amongst us, they do a whole host of fruit juices and smoothies which was what we opted for on this occasion to purge our livers and restore the vital nutrients lost during the previous evenings' binge. I went for the 'Sweet Surrender' which packed a punch with carrot and apple juice blended with a hit of fresh ginger. POW!

They do the whole gambit of cafe offerings, from granola, to fry ups, soups to burritos and if you have a veggie or vegan pal they won't be disappointed as there's plenty of options for them as well. With optional extras to 'pimp' your pancakes or build up your brekkie, you won't be leaving hungry. We went for the halloumi wrap and meze plate which were packed with veggies and did a great job in rejuvenating our flagging bodies.

If you ever go to Bournemouth, it's well worth taking a turn away from the centre of town to seek out this little gem. With friendly staff, a great sound track (although the barista did skip past Fleet Foxes, so you can't always account for taste) and tasty grub you can't go far wrong.

Cafe Boscanova is on Twitter, Facebook and have a website

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Amsterdam cafe reviews

All photos © garethreid 2012
I take a trip to Amsterdam or elsewhere in Europe every now and again to see some friends I met whilst studying in Melbourne. (Of course) you will have already read my round up from our trip to Berlin last year... so may be familiar with my approach to these weekends.

In general, I try to get to know a place by perusing as many of their dining establishments as possible. And this weekend was no different. When you're getting up at 8am on a weekend away I think second breakfast is more than appropriate, don't you?

So, here's my thoughts on a few places to eat in Amsterdam:

de koffie salon, Utrechtsestraat 130, 1017 Amsterdam, Netherlands
I may have cheated a little bit when researching places for good coffee near our hostel and taken a tip from the TimeOut "Best of Amsterdam Awards 2001". You can't be too careful when researching "coffee shops" in Amsterdam though so I was happy to ask the experts on this occasion.

de koffie salon was less than 5 minutes away from our hostel so we stopped by both mornings to grab a coffee and quick snack to keep us going on the walk into town. The coffee was really tasty, and they always ask whether you want one or two shots so you can personalise depending on your taste.

The first morning I had a single shot latte and some granola with natural yoghurt which was served in a drinking glass with a long sundae spoon - nice touch.  My other half had a double shot cappuccino and ham and cheese croissant. This all came in at about €15.

The coffee and snacks were great, but my favourite thing about this place was the giant communal table at the back. Both days we stopped by the table was bustling with people grabbing breakfast and reading the paper - dogs, babies and all.

De Bakkerswinkel, Zeedijk 37, 1012 Amsterdam, Netherlands
I'd been to De Bakkerswinkel on a previous visit to Amsterdam and remembered really enjoying it so sought it out this time as well. They've since moved premises to a rather shady street mostly housing Chinese restaurants, making for rather a shock when you stumble upon this bakery-come-canteen where you least expect it.  

I've included the 'please wait to be seated' sign in the images above because we stood looking at it for about 20 minutes whilst doing just that. I could see they were busy, but I could also see quite a few free tables so found it extremely frustrating to be ignored for so long. Not a good start. 

Once we were finally seated the waitress was very friendly and the food was great, I guess the reason why it was so busy (dammit). My other half had a coffee which was fine, but not particularly memorable apparently, and I had a fresh orange. For (second) breakfast we both had fried eggs and bacon on sourdough which was tasty and generously proportioned. The whole meal came in at just over €20.

Footnote: I know this doesn't technically come under the 'cafe' category, but thought you might find it useful to know that we stayed at CocoMama - "Amsterdam's first boutique hostel". The staff were amazing, really welcoming and annotated our map to show us the best places to go. They have a cat. And an honesty bar where you can get a beer for €1. Nuff said.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Review - Pimlico Fresh

Image by Masumi Hirayama
86 Wilton Road, Pimlico, London, SW1V 1DE

I got a new job in the new year. Fresh start and all that. The transition to Victoria wasn't one I was particularly eager to make having been so spoilt by the abundance of eateries and high street shopping on my door step in Angel. However, I have gradually aclimatised to my new surroundings and found that (once you get far enough away from the station) there is plenty to do and see.

Sticking to Pimlico rather than Victoria is a good start. If you want something on the go then you can't beat Tachbrook Street market. There's loads of food stalls towards the end of the week with everything from amazing £3 falafel wraps, to brisket burritos, kebabs and curries.

However, if you're looking for somewhere to sit and while away your luxurious lunch hour, I'd definitely recommend Pimlico Fresh. In an area otherwise saturated by coffee chains and italian delis (which are fabulous in their own way) - I was relieved to be recommended this place through a plea on Twitter.
Image by Masumi Hirayama
It's got a real Aussie vibe with 'proper' coffee - double shot, micro foam and all. The menu adorns one wall and there's a big communal table you can sit on on your own with a book without looking too conspicuous.

I've had lunch here a couple of times now, starting off with a salmon and cream cheese bagel, and working my way up to a Moroccan chicken filo parcel with rice salad. Both times I was impressed, and full. They do fruit juices and smoothies as well as cakes so you can decide whether you feel virtuous or not. I'm usually not.

Given the area is pretty touristy and there are a fair few theatres just down the road, Pimlico fresh is usually inhabited by people on their lunch breaks popping in and out and you rarely to trip over luggage. The prices are also refreshingly uninflated.

If I had one criticism it would be that the service is sometimes a little slow. Especially if you're just waiting for a take away coffee. However, quality takes time. And if you're not interested in quality, got to Starbucks.


Recipe - Rhubarb upside down cake

Rhubarb's just about in season now and I got hold of some at my local supermarket. For me rhubarb spells summer, so I thought I better find a way to make it a but more suitable to the soggy weather we're having. Result? Rhubarb upside down cake - from this recipe:

The recipe's American so they use cups, which I have, but it should be easy enough to convert. According to Wikipedia, 1 cup = 250 millilitres.  Nothing like some mathematical wrangling to keep you on your toes...

The sponge is vanilla and coupled with the tartness of the rhubarb it's a really tasty summer pudding. We had it with custard. Yum.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

A visit to Happy Kitchen

Arch 393, Mentmore Terrace, London Fields, E8 3PH

I've been meaning to drop by Happy Kitchen for ages and never quite made it, but yesterday the March sunshine encouraged me to wander further afield than usual and I came across it quite by accident. It's not exactly on the beaten track, but if you're happy exploring London Fields you'll find it not far from Pub on the Park.

Unfortunately, having had a BBQ pork Banhmi11 baguette for lunch at Broadway Market and then a rather generous hunk of baked cheesecake from CakeHole  at Hackney Homemade, I was stuffed and couldn't manage anything to eat. However, I did have a very yummy coffee (coffee beans from St Ali) and can vouch for the cakes looking amazing.

With a focus on organic whole foods, sweetened only by fruit sugars and no gluten, eggs, dairy or wheat, my glutounous side at first felt at risk of being disappointed. However, the smorgasboard of cakes adorning the counter put this to rest, and given they have their own range of brownie bars, I know these girls understand my sweet tooth, as well as my waistline. Yummy, decadant cakes that might also be good for you? Never?

The proof is, of course, in the pudding, so I will have to return on an empty stomach and sample their baking. They do pancakes at weekends so I think I'll have to give those a go soon, as well as perhaps invest in some of their vitality-inducing granola and grains (they have a 'pick 'n' mix' nut bar...).

Happy Kitchen are on Facebook, Twitter and have a website.