Tuesday, 20 June 2017

REVIEW: Summer Menu at Carluccio's, Spitalfields Market

Is there anything more wonderful than embracing la dolce vita? Come the summertime, there's little I enjoy more than a glass (or two) of crisp white wine, a bowl of juicy olives and some Italian classics in the sunshine. Enter my evening of Italian bliss at Carluccio's last week, where the Spitalfield's terrace became my very own Italian piazza.

This month saw the launch of Carluccio's new summer menu, with special dishes embracing the lighter side of Italian cooking. From burrata to pea shoots, fresh seafood to panzanella salad, the summer offering has plenty of dishes that promise to please any sunseeker.
We began with seasonal starters of burrata from Puglia dressed with pea shoots, fresh peas, broad beans, fresh mint leaves, lemon oil and rich balsamic vinegar. While I would have loved a touch more cheese, the pairing of flavours was so light and refreshing that could be forgiven. I also enjoyed the pane carasau, a Sardinian crisp bread, which reminded my of the very best poppadums from nearby Brick Lane. 
Alex chose the prawns marinara sautéed with white wine, baby plum tomatoes, chilli and fennel seeds then dressed in a tomato and basil sauce - I mean, can you get more Italian! Cooked in their shells for added sweetness, the prawns were wonderfully juicy and balanced with the peppery rocket salad. A sprinkle of salt wouldn't have gone amiss.
For the main event I kept things seasonal with Carluccio's new seafood linguine with white crab meat, prawns, mussels and clams. The heady sauce of tomato and chilli was suitably light, allowing the seafood to sing and the Bottarga (fish roe) sprinkled on top was so rich in umami flavour which, when paired with Parmesan, gave the fish dish a meaty quality. The slippery spaghetti was perfectly cooked and easily slurped up! 
Speaking of meat, Alex went for the unusual duck pappardelle - a thicker linguine style pasta - dressed with slow-cooked duck, pork, pancetta and mushroom ragu. This rich, meaty plate had the natural sweetness of duck paired with tomatoes and garlic with added saltiness from the garlic breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan. There's little more I can say other than it ticks all the carby, meaty, cheesy boxes! 
Not forgetting dessert! I went for the classic tiramisu - which means 'pick me up'! The Savoiardi biscuits are soaked in strong espresso coffee and coffee liqueur then topped with mascarpone and chocolate. The lightness of this dairy-heavy dish was really surprising and the bitter chocolate worked really well with the coffee. Frankly, it's an absolute classic so you can't really go wrong! 

Alex chose the new Cioccolato Fondente - a warm chocolate pudding baked with almonds and Kahlua. Due to the almonds, the cake was a touch dry but there was easily negated with a big scoop of rich vanilla ice cream. 
From the Babylon Bianco Sauvingnon Blanc and olive pairing to start, to the rich pasta dishes and through to the light desserts, Carluccio's new summer menu truly is an exploration of Italian heritage. Updated for the modern diner with smaller portions and effortless presentation, I can't imagine a nicer way to spend date night.

Thank you Carluccio's for hosting this review

Friday, 16 June 2017

REVIEW: Lunch at Maple & Kings, King's Cross

Basking in the sunshine last week was such a joy. Alex and I took a lovely long walk down to King's Cross to enjoy a spot of lunch at the lovely Maple & Kings, the second venue from Maple & Fitz.

Known for their delicious, health-focused menu available at brunch and lunch everyday, Maple & King's is part of the growing foodie hub set behind the two major stations. The cafe boasts a small terrace which is lovely when the sun is blaring down and a small number of seats inside too.
We began with smoothies. I drank my greens with an After The Disco with pineapple and coconut which was deliciously sweet yet balanced with plenty of greenery. Alex went for the Breakfast Smoothie with banana, dates and almond milk, again a sweet choice which we're a big fan of! 
While Alex went for a brunch dish of shakshuka, I went for a lunch box of smoked salmon with softly pickled cucumber, cracked buckwheat, black beans, lime, tomatoes and chopped coriander. The dish boasted all the flavours of a great Mexican plate with the protein-packed addition of smoked salmon. Priced at around £7, it is slightly on the expensive side but hey it's a weekend treat. 
Alex's heady shakshuka with chilli and garlic came topped with poached eggs and filled with protein-rich mung beans. It was interesting to have this classically skillet-cooked dish in a takeaway style cut and it dipped beautifully into the expertly grilled toast. Yum! It was also delightfully filling which, while the portion appears humble, was really pleasing.
Overall, I continue to be a big fan of Maple & Fitz and their Maple & King's outlet. The dishes are completely suited to those looking to combine health and flavour while, of course, getting an amazing Instagram shot too. I'll certainly be back to try some brunch dishes for myself while I'm sure Alex will nab a salad. 

Thank you Maple & Fitz for hosting this review. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

COMPETITION! Win a Breakfast Hamper from #WakeUpToOrganic

Fancy winning something delicious? Read on...

Morning all! This post is going out bright and early at 6am to catch you morning larks with something truly wonderful. You know that first meal of the day (breakfast, brekkie, le petit déjeuner etc)? I want to know - what do you eat? Is it porridge with almond milk and lashings of beautiful honey; a cheeky bacon buttie rich with butter and ketchup;  a full-on fry up with sweet beans, hash browns, mushrooms and fried eggs; or my favourite, avocado toast served simply on sourdough? And further to that, which ingredients do you pick? Do you prioritize price over provenance? Is organic important to you? Do you plan something special for the weekend or simply pick up what you fancy on the day? I'm nosy - please share! 
Nosiness aside, this is also your chance to win a fabulous breakfast courtesy of Wake Up To Organic day on 14th June. The a national event will celebrate the beauty of organic food and support local independent shops and cafes. Stores and cafes across London will be hosting events to raise awareness about the benefits of organic food, and how easy it can be to make the switch to organic - there's even free classes and giveaways going on! Get involved by sharing your breakfast on my Twitter page (there's a pinned tweet on there) or in the comments below.

If you're in London, why not go along to a FREE event on the morning of the 14th? Here's a list of confirmed stores taking part in the fun: 
-       Le Pain Quotidien
-       Whole Foods Market 
-       As Nature Intended
-       Oliver’s
-       Food For Thought
-       Good Food
-       Coffee Plant
-       Eden Organic
-       Hawkins & Peddlers
-       Noah’s Health Store
-       Alara Health Food Store and Organic Café
-       Healthy Stuff
-       Earth Natural Foods

Here's some of my favourite breakfast combinations, made in collaboration with Wake Up To Organic.

Simple Avocado Toast
 - organic sourdough bread, toasted
- 1/2 an avocado, mashed
- olive oil, to drizzle
- lashings of Maldon sea salt, to sprinkle
- cracked black pepper
- a scattering of feta (optional)

Protein-Rich Overnight Oats
- organic rolled oats
- Greek yoghurt, to soften the oats
- a drizzle of organic honey, for sweetness
- blueberries (I use frozen)
- chopped strawberries (I use fresh)
- a sprinkling of mixed seeds, for healthy fats

Scrambled Eggs, Salmon and Steamed Spinach on Pitta Bread
- wholemeal pitta bread, toasted
- 2 organic, free-range large eggs - poached, scrambled of fried 
- whole milk, if scrambling
- plenty of seasoning
- organic smoked Scottish salmon (use flakes if you like)
- organic spinach
- organic butter, to cook the spinach

Simple All-Butter Croissants with Confitures

- organic all butter croissants (or pastry of your choice)
- organic French confitures - try damson, it's divine! 

Monday, 5 June 2017

REVIEW: The Devonshire, Balham

To the pub we go!

Today's review is of a newly refurbished Young's pub in Balham - The Devonshire. One of the oldest of the Young's estate, The Devonshire has gone by many names and seen many faces. Today, it is a place to travel through time, from the old-world pub at the front with its etched mirrors to the Art Dec-style dining room in the middle, and the contemporary garden room at the back. Sunday lunch or a quick after-work pint, The Devonshire caters to it all.
As the sun was shining we shimmied through the glorious pub to it's large garden. Here, huge umbrellas save the skin from burning while the background of Heathrow-bound flights provides a quite relaxing soundtrack (trust me).

As per all Young's pubs, the menu takes a naturally 'best of British' approach, embracing cooking techniques from across the world and adding the vest best seasonal ingredients. I kicked off with a small starter of smoked salmon with purple sprouting broccoli, pea shoots, green beans and coriander with honey and sesame dressing. While refreshing, I felt that the salmon could have benefited from being in flakes, rather than slivers just to give the dish a bit of body. The dressing could have also done with a stronger flavour of honey, just like my main at MOMMI last week.
Alex went for another brunch-esque plate of in-season grilled asparagus with fiery British chorizo, crispy egg and lemon oil. This earthy plate balance the heat of the chorizo with the richness of egg really well and the lemon oil cut through well. Again, the chorizo could have perhaps been in chunks so that it could play a bigger part but there you go. 
For mains, I chose the truly vibrant green risotto with wild nettle, spinach, broad beans, goats' cheese and gremolata. I would have served perhaps a third less on the plate but the flavour was absolutely divine. Fresh from the greens, rich from the cheese and really soft in texture - an absolute yum! Naughtily, I also dipped my sweet potato fries into the risotto which was a surprising treat. 
Alex went for the goats' cheese marinated chicken supreme with mixed beans, mustard seed, rocket, pomegranate, toasted coconut salad and dill cream. This was a really lovely dish with big, rich, punchy flavours. The presentation was sublime and made each mouthful even more exciting. Bravo! 
Come pudding, the lovely team at The Devonshire let us order from the Sunday menu (we visited on Bank Holiday Monday). I chose the apple and rhubarb crumble which simply sang of childhood. The sweet, sumptuous custard only helped to bring back happy memories of Sunday's at home. Alex's beautiful Bakewell tart was also reminiscent but this time of his recent trip to actual Bakewell itself. The fresh fruit additions helped to bring a lightness to the density of the dish. 
While Balham is a bit of a trek for me (an hour on the Northern Line, more like!) I really enjoyed our visit. I found the service and the food to be exactly what you want from a great British pub; approachable, effortless and comforting. If you're within easy reach then definitely go check it out, otherwise there's definitely a Young's pub near you to give you a taste!

Thank you to The Devonshire for hosting this review. All opinions are my own, as usual

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

REVIEW: Brunch at Mommi, Clapham

Ooooh today's a corker of a brunch review! As we all know, I rarely venture south of the river but my recent reviews have all been in a southerly direction. Bloody Clapham - why do you host all the very best brunch spots! The torture! Anyways, bitching about London's favourite borough aside, today's review is all about the three great pillars of brunch dining: bottomless booze, beautiful food and rawkus company. Welcome to MOMMI

Set on Clapham High Street within easy reach of the overground station and Clapham North tube, MOMMI certainly stands out from the crowd. The all-black-errthang frontage gives way to an Art Deco inspired interior with references of Great Gatsby gold, secretive flapper catch-up curved booths and an expert DJ spinning the decks all day. There's even floral-tiled floors in the bathroom for your #IHaveThisThingWithFloors Insta post. But above all, the best place to brunch at MOMMI is their high street terrace. Lined with dark wood panels and filled with white and yellow seating, it's the best of both worlds - tunes, sunshine and the hustle and bustle of the high street. Dreamy. 

Brunch, obviously, begins with booze. At MOMMI, take advantage of their three course bottomless offer and the order du jour is prosecco. Light in texture as well as taste, their chosen bottle is well balanced and not too fizzy for pre-noon drinking. We sank two bottles over 90 minutes, so it's pretty easy drinking. 
The 'starter' is an easy plate of chips 'n' dip - guacamole to be specific. Creamy smooth and with a great kick of chili, the guac was perfectly delicious but perhaps the chips could have done with a sprinkle of sea salt just to wake them up a little. When the dip is done they verge on being bland - not ideal. 
The true delights come in the main course. Guests on the bottomless deal can chose from: Latin Breakfast (air-dried Spanish jamon Iberico, toasted jalapeno corn muffin, poached eggs, Huacatay spinach, aji amarillo hollandaise); Smashed Avocado on Toast (poached eggs, asparagus and oak smoked salmon with organic honey and sesame); Churrasco Steak & Eggs (5oz smoked rib eye of beef chargrilled on coal, two fried eggs, chimichurri, thick-cut cassava fries); and Huevos Racheros (scrambled egg, heirloom tomato, red onion, spinach and mushroom, crispy tortilla, aji panca beans, cassava fries and coriander creme fraiche).

I went for the avocado on toast - sounds basic, it's not. The chunk of toast came laden with possibly a whole avocado mashed with a tonne of seasoning. On the top, two *BEAUTIFULLY* poached eggs perched while side acts of silky smoked salmon and iron-rich asparagus made the perfect accompaniments. The most delicious part of the dish was certainly the honey and sesame dressing - a sweet dressing that I never though would work with eggs, let alone avocado, but it was a revelation. 
My guest went for the churrasco steak and eggs. The perfectly cooked steak was obviously a true winner and it was well rested allowing for the chimichurri flavours to infuse. She swapped her fried eggs for scrambled and these were light, fluffy and buttery with plenty of seasoning. No sign of the cassava fries; instead we have slim-cut sweet potato fries again beautifully seasoned with plenty of salt. 

For dessert (by this point we were 1.5 bottles in) MOMMI keeps things light with cinnamon waffle churros, drenched in dulce de leche, organic honey, crispy quinoa and, in my guest's case, toasted almonds. These sweet pots of deliciousness were heady and rich with sugar, so thank god there's only a small portion. The little physalis didn't go amiss either and those chopsticks made scooping up the dulce de leche a joy!
Brunch is served in three 90-minute sittings from 11am, but I advise getting there a touch early to enjoy a few extra moments in the sunshine. We vacated our table at the end of the 90-minutes and finished our drinks on the terrace.

Priced at £29.50 per person for bottomless bubbles and three courses of fabulous food, there's little not to like about brunch at MOMMI. The music is fantastic with a live DJ on hand throughout your sitting and the food is absolutely brilliant. I can't wait to go back for dinner! If you're looking for the perfect place to chill with friends before a day in town or want to jump back on the horse after a boozy Friday night, then MOMMI is the place for you.

Thank you to MOMMI for hosting this review. All opinions, as ever, are my own.

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. 

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