Friday, 26 May 2017

REVIEW: The Champion, Notting Hill

I've said it once, I'll say it again - there's very little that beats a Sunday spent down the pub. And what a pub The Champion in Notting Hill is. Set just across from Hyde Park and in easy reach of Ladbroke Grove, Portobello Market and High Street Kensington, The Champion is the ideal spot to kick back, relax and enjoy a bite of British fayre every day of the week. Lovely.
We visited on a gloriously sunny Sunday - summer has finally arrived it appears. We took our places in the empty hidden garden, surrounded by old-school Victorian walls and trailing tree vines. Beer was the order of the day, customary when the sun's out, and I went for a Camden Hells lager; Alex chose the Pale Ale. Both were naturally refreshing with a touch of citrus on the palette and stayed cool even in the glare of the sun.
The starters arrived in a quick fashion. I chose the smoked salmon slivers with sourdough, crème fraîche and capers (EW - I picked these off immediately). The smoked salmon was cold, but not freezing and buttery in texture. Each bite of sourdough and salmon together was a salty dream, which was only intensified by the crème fraîche. Alex's choice of fried calamari with sweet chilli was surprisingly soft in texture and not at all chewy. The batter was light and fresh too.
Onto the mains - Alex was a lucky bunny and enjoyed a proper roast lunch of honey and whisky glazed gammon with beef dripping potatoes, red wine jus, red cabbage, leeks, peas, carrots and parsnips. I mean, come on what more do you want! The meat was nice and worked well with the rich jus. The veggies and potatoes were well cooked and not tough at all. The Yorkshire pudding was more like a Yorkshire cake with no rise at all, which was a shame. 
My main of mushroom risotto with pecorino and pumpkin seeds was a touch disappointing. The main flavour was white onions, which while sweet and juicy is not the earthiness of mushrooms. It was also so covered in pecorino and olive oil that the rice was hard to identify. Look, I'm not a food critic who is looking for ABSOLUTE PERFECTION in cooking techniques or utter authenticity in the ingredients chosen, but even for me this was a bit of a let down. Wish I could have had a roast :(
For desserts, I chose the lemon tart with raspberries which was a little more like a cheesecake and void of said raspberries. It was refreshing and light - just what you want at the end of a meal. Alex went for the sticky toffee pudding which was quite the opposite; rich, dense, sticky and sumptuous and utterly delicious if you ask him (which I did). 
The Champion isn't in easy reach of my home but it is worth taking a trek to for the hidden garden. I can't imagine a better spot to while away the hours with a Aperol Spritz or a bottle of something sparkling - just add a couple of starters and you're away!

Thank you to The Champion for arranging this review. All opinions, as ever, are my own. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

REVIEW: A Week (Or So) With MealPal

For the last two weeks, I've really been treating myself. I've reached the end of my time with my current company and ahead of my next move decided to try out some of the delicious lunch offers available in central London. To make my edible adventure a little more cost-efficient (and frankly time-efficient) I teamed up with MealPal - a London/US-based lunch program that gives you access to the best restaurants for less than £5.00 per meal. Their goal is to provide a fast, fun, and efficient system to get you delicious and affordable lunch every day.
I used their lovely little app for just over two weeks to explore the Fitzrovia area at lunchtimes but, because of my pickiness, ended up eating at the same place 4 times. Here's how it works:
  1. Download the MealPal app and sign-up to your chosen plan.
  2. From 5pm the day before, select the meal you want and the time you want to collect.
  3. Pick up your lunch the next day and enjoy, knowing it's already paid for, you don't need to make any decisions and you're enjoying something fresh. 

The kitchen closes at 9:30am the day of collection. You can provide reviews of the lunch after you've collected it, constantly editing your preferences so that MealPal can give you dedicated suggestions for the next day. Delicious, right?! MealPal offers two subscriptions: 
  • Lunch a Lot: Up to 20 meals per 30-day cycle, £4.39 per meal, including VAT and fees. 
  • Lunch a Bunch: Up to 12 meals per 30-day cycle, £4.79 per meal, including VAT and fees.

Unsurprisingly, I ate at my favourite spot The Detox Kitchen more than any other place. Their offering is actually a bargain if you're ordering through MealPal rather than directly with the cafe. I enjoyed both the green veggie and sweet potato frittatas, both served with a range of daily salads including butterbean and fennel; raw slaw; and curried sweet potato. While eating in the cafe, I also purchased a cheeky coffee now and then which I guess is part of the MealPal plan!

On my 'treat' days, I also enjoyed a veggie burger from Patty&Bun with an absolute tonne of fries (again, another absolute BARGAIN!) and panko sweet potato katsu curry with sushi and salad from this tiny place in East London which I can't remember the name of. This is the joy of MealPal; you can literally get anything you fancy all for the same price! Such a joy!
I would definitely recommend giving MealPal a whirl, even if you just try it for a month the savings are immeasurable if you buy lunch every day. The variety is fantastic and it also pushes you to leave the desk at lunchtime - something we could all day with doing more of.

Thank you to MealPal for providing me with this service on a complimentary basis.  

Monday, 15 May 2017

REVIEW: The Commercial, Herne Hill

Wasn't the weather just an absolute dream this weekend! Wall-to-wall sunshine, very little wind - summer is certainly making gains in London, and thank god because winter sucks. In light of this very beautiful weather, we headed out of central London this weekend to the deep and dark south London area of Herne Hill. Okay, it's like a six-minute walk from Brixton so not exactly deepest south London, but still miles away from home. The adventures we have for this here blog are unrivaled, I tell you. 
We popped into The Commercial pub, a newly relaunched establishment with a lovely terrace out the front, beer garden out the back and airy dining room in the middle. As with every good pub, beers on tap are local so we went for a Meantime Lager and a Camden Hells Pale Ale.  Predictably, both were good and I particularly enjoyed the lightness of the Meantime. I also *LOVE* a branded glass; it makes the sip feel extra special.
Starters came in the form of a shared baked camembert inside a whole ancient grain loaf. You heard that right folks; a whole cheese, inside a whole bread - what's not to like! The cheese was s[piked with glutinous gloves of fat garlic, a sprinkling of rosemary sprigs and touches of spring onion for that screw your nose up freshness against the rich cheese. The addition of peppery celery sticks, while not necessary, were also nice and gave some crunch to the carby-fatty deliciousness. 
When it came to mains (yep, we're doing three courses), I originally went for the seafood linguine but was sadly informed the sauce is made with 'nduja (an Italian cured sausage) so instead swapped for the seared tuna salad with Med-style accompaniments of olives, green beans, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and (I think) baby kale. This was a much lighter dish that my wished-for linguine but saved room for dessert I guess. The tuna was fine, maybe a touch over in places and could have done with some searing marks for a touch of sweetness. The salad, generally, was quite oily but this worked nicely with the fish. 
My guest went for that 1970s classic - chicken kiev, served with buttery (and I mean buttery) mash and pan-fried kale. Less a kiev, more a breaded chicken breast, the main event was doused in garlic and parsley butter which smelled divine. My guest attested to the richness of the mash-chicken combination which was freshened up by the (also buttery) kale. A squeeze of lemon juice wouldn't have gone amiss but generally a nice, comforting dish. 
We also devoured a bowl of triple cooked chips - nothing more to say here except that they needed more salt. 

We ended the meal with desserts of Black Forest Eton Mess (YUMMMM!) and sticky toffee pudding. My Eton mess was actually a dollop of cherry-infused whipped cream topped with Flake and meringue and a dusting of icing sugar - can't complain, was sweet and delicious. My guest's sticky toffee pudding was more of a winner and she finished it in about 20 seconds. The sponge was soft and steamed which drank up all that gorgeous sticky sauce. The addition of cool ice cream was great too as it all melted into a gooey pile of sugary yumminess. 
Overall, it was a lovely Saturday lunch spent in great company. The food at The Commerical is nice, easy to eat and reasonably priced for the area too. If you're in Herne Hill or even Brixton, breeze by for a lazy afternoon.

Thank you to The Commerical for hosting this review. All opinions, words, and images are my own.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

RECIPE & REVIEW: Truffled Pizzas with The Tabl

Today's post is in collaboration with Tabl. You can read my other Tabl collabs herehere and here. Not heard of Tabl? Check out this post for all the deets. 

This speedy recipe is absolutely ideal for those days when you've got no time but want something utterly indulgent.

I've not always been a massive truffle fan and have found that 'truffled' dishes either taste of nothing or garlic. Weird right? As part of my Tabl collaborations and kitchen spring clean I was kindly gifted two wonderful truffle ingredients from a company called Pasta & Truffles - a rich Black Truffle Oil and a Truffle & Mushroom Sauce. I did think perhaps I could make a pasta dish but that seemed quite obvious so instead looked to that other Italian classic - pizza!
These beautiful flatbread pizzas honestly take about 10 minutes to make and can be layered with any ingredients of your choice. I went for:

Our second pizza was also topped with a fresh egg which was truly amazing.

Simply whip out a flatbread from the freezer and add your toppings in a pretty pattern - we all want Insta-fame after all! Bake in the oven at 200 degrees for 10 minutes or until the bread is golden and the ingredients cooked. Please make sure you FULLY COOK any raw meat or fish, perhaps before adding to your pizza.
Remove from the oven and, while hot, drizzle with a teaspoon of that Black Truffle Oil then slice into sixths et voila! Midweek pizzas quicker than any delivery service could bring them to your door!
For our second serving we also cracked an egg on top. Bake this version for a little longer to ensure that the whites are fully cooked then, when it come piping hot out the oven, add your truffle oil. Truffle oil and egg yolk is a combination made in HEAVEN! So you must try this one! 

Thank you to The Tabl for providing the truffle products used in this post. All other ingredients were paid for by myself. All images and opinions are my own. I have not used affiliate links in this post. 

Friday, 5 May 2017

REVIEW: Brunch at Ben's Canteen, Clapham

Clapham and brunch are two words that go hand in hand, and Ben's Canteen is now exception. With two sites in Clapham and Earlsfield, the Aussie-inspired hot-spot is a hub of activity at the weekends. Hungover friends share bustling tables with pre-planned diners like Alex and I while the music pumps from behind the bar. Sore heads are satisfied by the plentiful portions, heady Bloody Marys and rich as can be coffee and in all the comfort of on of the most laid-back spaces I have brunched in. 
Brunch always begins with coffee and just look how preeeeeety these flat whites are! I absolutely love a bit of latte art and these made my day. We browsed through the huge menu which is packed with everything from the Full English and avo toast (duh, it's Clapham) to bursting burgers and eggs every style. 
We chose to try something a little different this time - sweetcorn and courgette fritters (£9.50); banana pancakes (£9.75) and a side of homemade hash browns with grated cheddar (£5). Bit of a random combo but bear with me. While waiting for the grub to arrive we also sipped on two refreshing juices - orange for Alex (sweet and fresh) and kale, mint, spinach, mango, kiwi and hemp seeds for me (refreshing, green and yet a touch sweet).
And then the plates arrived! Laden with delicious food I was initially impressed at the portion sizes. If you look at the surrounding area you can pay up to £12/13 for avocado toast (a literal joke) so for £9.50/£9.75 I was absolutely delighted with Ben's Canteen at this point. 
Weirdly going for the sweet choice rather than savoury, Alex's banana pancakes came laden with hazelnuts, salted caramel sauce, yoghurt and plenty of maple syrup. The stack was sticky and rich but with a distinctive bite thanks to the hazelnuts. Amazingly it was also not *too* sweet - perhaps the pancake batter was void of sugar? - so easily went down.
My dish of sweetcorn and courgette fritters was battered and deep-fried similar to a brilliant onion bhaji. It came served with With halloumi, balsamic roast tomato chutney and a poached egg plus a scattering of spinach so I was feeling particularly virtuous on the veggie front. The fritters with a scoop of chutney were absolutely DIVINE - I seriously mean that not just because it was free. I've never had a brunch like it and with the rich egg yolk and irony spinach I couldn't have been happier. Again, portion was massive but because I'm a greedy guts I would have enjoyed a second piece of cheese.
Oh, remember our rather odd choice of side? Well these hash brown babies too were brilliant. Layers of shredded potato were lovingly doused on shredded cheddar cheese which gave a wonderful stickiness to the top. While they maintained the triangle shape we all know and love, these were about 5cm deep so a proper heff of potato - I can assure you we didn't eat for the rest of the day.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend Ben's Canteen. Firstly, sit outside to enjoy the sunshine while you can and avoid getting a headache from the loud music (I'm so old). Secondly, order something sweet and something savoury to really enjoy the breadth of the kitchen's abilities. Thirdly, get the coffee - do it for Instagram if not for yourself. And lastly, JUST GO! Honestly, it's a belter and if I didn't live the other side of London I'd be there every weekend.

Thank you Ben's Canteen for hosting this review. All opinions and images are my own. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

REVIEW: Chai Wu, Knightsbridge

This week we were very lucky chickens and were invited to review Chai Wu; the luxury contemporary Chinese restaurant on the fifth floor of Harrods. Decked in shades of dark wood and gold with plenty of trellising to protect your privacy at the table, this is one decadent spot for a celebration which was convenient as it was my guest's birthday! 
Intimate, dark and hidden away from the prying eyes of keen shoppers Chai Wu is ideal for special occasions especially when you've got cash to splash. We began at our semi-private table for two, menus in hand looking forward to diving into some epic Chinese cuisine. I started with the popcorn shrimp in a spicy creamy dressing £21 (stay with me here); while my guest went for the crispy smoked chicken with Szechuan sauce £18. We also shared vegetarian dumplings (£10 for three).
I mean, let's be real for a second - my shrimp literally looks like glazed popcorn thanks to that sauce! A nice touch. The sauce was not that spicy and was more like a Sriracha mayonnaise than anything else, but regardless it worked well with the sweet shrimp. The batter was quite rich so the dish as a whole isn't very light (you don't say!) but tasty.

My guest's choice of crispy chicken came in a shredded style and was actually quite nice. The chicken flavour was maintained despite the fiery sauce and when you bit down on a chilli - whoosh! That certainly woke your tastebuds up. 

The dumplings were my personal highlight. Great pastry, super thin and slippery; crunchy filling with plenty of texture; and a lovely little surprise sauce too. 

It was around this time that our cocktails arrived. We both went for the Blooming Hibiscus with Tanqueray gin, hibiscus flower, hibiscus syrup, lychee juice and fresh lime. Now I love gin; I also like hibiscus, but unfortunately this cocktail was not to my taste. I couldn't taste gin at all and the overwhelming flavour was lavender soap, no idea how but yes that was the final product. My guest, however, did really like hers so there you go. £12 each.
For mains things got real luxury. As it was her birthday, my guest went for a half Beijing duck (£48). For the first serving she tucked little slivers of fatty, rich duck into freshly steamed pancakes and Mantou buns. The obvious additions of cucumber, spring onions, hoi pickled radish and plum sauce all featured, but so did a platter of sauces ranging from sugared vinegar to hot-as-hell chilli sauce and garlic-ginger puree. This was a really nice addition to the 'normal' Western serving of just hoi sin sauce so thumbs up from me. I made little vegetable patties while she enjoyed her hand-carved duck.
For my main course I went for the sea bass in three-flavoured sauce (which is apparently sweet, sour and hot). The dish is served with a deep-fried whole sea base with all its flesh removed which I found really disturbing. I had to turn the fish around so I couldn't see it's eye staring at me as I ate the sticky sweet battered portions of its flesh. All of that scary imagery aside the fish was very tasty and was brilliant inside the little Mantou buns! £28.
For dessert we went for the chocolate sphere with berries and toffee caramel, which, while it eventually became a puddle, was absolutely divine. £9. I mean, who doesn't love chocolate, toffee, cream and berries. We also went for the dessert of the day - a strawberry 'cheesecake' with green tea ice cream. This was much more refreshing and I personally loved the green tea ice cream. £12.

Overall, it's pretty obvious that Chai Wu is a place for those with cash to splash on food. The dishes are well presented, nicely prepared, flavourful and memorable and while I've read some pretty scathing reviews in other places I actually quite liked it. I found the duck to be a real show piece and the accompanying sauces/buns great and that chocolate dessert is certainly a top ten. 

Thank you Chai Wu for hosting this review. All opinions and images are my own.

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