Wednesday, 24 December 2008

It's Christmas!!

After a really busy couple of weeks at work it's finally Christmas!! Each year it somehow manages to sneak up on me and I find myself with startlingly few presents purchased and wrapped with only a few days to go. I'm all done at last, on Christmas Eve, and yet again I am vowing to never leave it so late in future (one year I was very organised, it felt much the same only the shopping was less stressful).

The following things make me realise that's it's Christmas:

Eating lots of nuts and chocolate

Seeing The Snowman on TV

Finding myself reading all my cookery books repeatedly planning the Christmas lunch

And having some Christmas ham at my Auntie Shirley's

I'd ticked all these boxes by the 23rd of December this year. I'm off to New York (via Frankfurt) to celebrate New Year and Thomas' birthday. I'm most excited about the prospect of indulging in burgers, cocktails and pastrami on rye NYC style! Waldorf Astoria here we come! Merry Christmas.

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Black Orchid, Muswell Hill

Last Friday night Thomas and I returned to The John Baird in Muswell Hill, a pub which has a thai restaurant attached to it.

For starters we chose Tempura prawns with sweet chilli dip and pork dumplings which were amazing! Both dishes were well executed and flavoursome, the only downer being that we ate them too quickly, next time three between the two of us perhaps?

I had the jungle curry with chicken for main course, something that I was inspired to try out by a former housemate who loved extremely spicy food. I have dramatically increased my tolerance for hot food over the last year or so and now I adore it. I was not disappointed by the Black Orchid’s version of this curry but I do think that having become accustom to Indian curries I found the sauce to be a little on the thin side. Though it certainly warmed me up on one of the coldest nights of the winter so far!

Thomas had the cashew nut curry with which he was particularly impressed and likewise with the chicken wings he had whilst waiting for me to arrive. With 2 sides of rice the total bill was £35. Incredibly good value and well worth the visit further North.

I must say though in Thai restaurants I hate that the waiting staff swoop as soon as you place your knife and fork down, even if your companions are still eating. This never equals good manners in my book but the waitresses here were very efficient and it's all part of the deal. The down side to the evening was that we had to sit in the bar as the restaurant was full and spent the entirety of the meal listening to a group of drunken teachers moaning about their pupils. One of whom, a languages teacher, was particularly loud and evidently angry at one point yelling “what’s French for I don’t fucking care?” Charming. We tried to numb the pain with tequila, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!


Black Orchid on Urbanspoon

Friday, 12 December 2008

Haché, Camden

Having read complimentary things about Haché I persuaded my boyfriend and Rob to eat there (despite not actually knowing the precise location “somewhere near the Subway in Camden,” it’s certainly very handy to have 2 companions with Iphones in just such situations!

Along we trotted to Inverness Street (of course, it’s not near the Subway at all! Oops) and I must say I had bigged it up somewhat, something which I felt I could do with confidence due to the gushing reviews posted by Dos Hermanos, the well respected food blogger. They claim that Haché provide ‘easily the best’ burgers in London. (They did plump for the 14oz steak burger though, this is no longer even offered, instead it's a 12oz).

The name haché is a reference to the chopping method used to form these hand made patties as apposed to the usual mincing. I opted for the Steak au Naturel, Thomas had the Steak Catalan with chorizo and chilli and Rob took the Steak Blue Cheese. We threw in some fries and grilled halloumi for good measure and all concluded that actually, whilst the meat is good quality and cooked superbly to your liking, it is not better than GBK. I do have a slight problem with GBK, 3 infact, 1) I was once very ill after a visit there when I indulged in the Chicken, Avocado, Bacon burger (though I think this a conplete coincidence and in no way down to the food), 2) I find them very difficult to manage, preferring to eat my burgers with my hands rather than knife and fork. They are enormous and I often find myself going for a junior burger because of this which disappoints me because I am not a junior, but even they are very good, and 3) You have to go to the counter and order for yourself, I am generally a very lazy person.

At Haché you are directed to a table and the waiting staff bring you your food and drink, that’s what we like! How novel. And their burgers are indeed very good. The 3 of us agreed that their downfall is the bun. The ciabatta bread is a little dry and overly floury. The bill was reasonable considering that I had wine and there is a service charge included.

I believe that my quest for the ultimate burger will end in New York come New Year but in London I have to say that GBK reigns supreme. I did have a very good cheese burger at Bistrotheque so I would rate them second with Haché coming in a close third.


Hache Burgers on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 11 December 2008


As companies go, the one I work for is renowned in the industry as being pretty hardcore in terms of drinking and partying so each year, come crimbo, the bash is sure to be raucous if nothing else! This year did not disappoint and there were bust-ups a plenty providing welcome entertainment for those not directly involved.

Come 1:30pm we donned our Christmas cracker hats at this year’s chosen venue Verve, St Martin’s Lane. When the invite went out, lips furled at the news. However, as we were quite a large group they catered relatively well considering, service was exceedingly polite but a little slow, the food, however, was surprisingly rather good.
I chose Goatscheese to start which was like a little cake with breadcrumbs served with rocket and caramelised onions. The best starter by far looked to be the smoked salmon though, I wished I’d gone for that.

For main course I had roast turkey, classic, which came with potatoes and vegetables and was rather good if a little stingy in size. The turkey was wrapped in parma ham and was stuffed which was a pleasant surprise and was a whole breast rather than slices. My dessert was raspberry cheesecake which was only passable but yummy enough to conclude that Verve can be commended on the standard of the food but I did head there with very low expectations! To be honest the venue matters not when there’s such fun to be had observing the carnage and in truth it was more about the wine than the food!

My Secret Santa gift was a giant universal remote control, an interesting choice I thought, it’s unlikely it will be lost down the back of the sofa at least.


Verve on Urbanspoon


Post work’s Christmas party....inevitable hangover (less severe than usual though thanks to a brilliantly healthy dinner of cod and vegetables) and next day munchies. My usual favourites come lunchtime are Leon and Tossed as I generally opt for salads or soups and find these places to provide above standard ones.

My all time favourite at Leon being the Superfood Salad. I popped into Waterstones at Lunchtime to purchase a gift and saw the Leon cookbook which they also sell in their shops or online. I might try to recreate the salad for myself but I don’t think I could source such a good quality feta and the book does not specify their supplier.

Today I went to Tossed for lunch. Their St Martin’s Lane branch is very popular and there are often queues snaking outside. They have opened at Westfield shopping centre and seemingly are doing very well for themselves. I was disappointed with the Mexican salad today though, very dry, barely any dressing and not a hint of avocado, they often run out of key ingredients but usually offer an alternative of your choice. Not today though, perhaps the maker of my salad was having a bad day. Perhaps they had their Christmas party yesterday too! In any case, I shall not be returning for a while.

I got myself a gift in Waterstones too – a new 2009 Moleskine diary,

Easily the best diary I have ever had was the 2007 version of this, it was the large day to page one and is perfect if a little hefty but I like that about it. Last year there were limited edition red ones which were a bit special. They are slightly expensive at £16.50 but here you most definitely get what you pay for. Now I just need to bide my time until January 1st!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Hummingbird Cake

I made this on Friday afternoon having sampled Lantana’s version and I have to say it’s the best cake I have ever made. Here’s the recipe:

For the cake:
420 gr Plain Flour
400 gr Fine caster sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of sode
1 tsp Ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 large Eggs
Pineapple (1 small tin, 227g, chopped, undrained)
4 small bananas, mashed
2 tsp Vanilla extract
110 gr Pecan nuts, toasted and chopped finely
180ml rapeseed oil

For the icing:
454 gr icing sugar
57 gr unsalted butter (room temperature)
227 gr crème cheese (room temperature)
55 gr pecan nuts, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract

It's very easy, to make the base, mix and whisk the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another then combine the two throughly.

Toast the pecans for around 8 minutes, either in the oven or in a dry frying pan on the hob (being careful not to let them burn), chop finely and add to the cake mix. Divide between 2 tins (i used 7 inch tins for a thick sponge) which have been greased and lined and bake for 35-40 mins at 180°.

To make the icing, mix all the ingredients with an electric mixer and sandwich the cakes together (when cooled) with 1/3 of the mixture spreading the remaining icing over the top and around the sides of the cakes.

It's wickedly sweet so small portions are recommended serving around 12-14 people or 3 greedier people over the course of the weekend! Everyone should make this, I think that next time I will make lots of smaller ones and perhaps use a variety of nuts (though the pecans are particularly good here because of the high fat content, they contribute to keeping the mixture moist, the pecans and the sea of oil!) Sounds gross but rest assured it's delish!

Christmas Mayhem

This weekend I met Noy at Oxford Circus for a spot of Christmas Party dress shopping!
2pm on a Saturday + Oxford Circus + less than 20 shopping days until Christmas = MADNESS.

There were Morris Dancers, a brass band of Santa’s, a live band performing on a makeshift stage covered in ‘Australia’ (Baz Luhrmann’s latest release) merchandise, clowns, men on stilts, Bob the Builder, Break dancers and many other horrors. I welcome the meagre attempt to pedestrianise Oxford Street in the run up to Christmas but whose idea was it to instead fill the road with these idiots?! Also, officials were yelling through megaphones when anyone actually dared to step foot on the road! Ridiculous. Serves us right I suppose.

Anyway, the mission was accomplished despite all of this, 2 dresses were purchased, for Noy the brief was ‘License To Thrill’ and for me anything goes really, it not mattering what I wear due to the dire standard of venue selected for my work Christmas party, Verve, St Martin’s Lane. Oh dear.

On the plus side I did buy a much needed set of weighing scales and a plastic spatula, baking necessities courtesy of John Lewis where there were tastings available, the highlights being smoked salmon and sausages.

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Spicy Fish Stew

Last night I made a spicy fish stew. The stars of the stew were to be scallops, the very reason for my hankering to make this dish in the first place. Also there had to be some prawns and I would see what white fish took my fancy at the fish counter.

I plumped for a swordfish steak and some haddock fillets in the end and in actual fact the swordfish was the worthy star come dinnertime. The cost of the meal was high but to offset this, the nutritional value is immense with very little fat. The dish can, of course, be embellished with a dollop of aioli and some nice bread but for the moment the health conscious version suits us.

I believe that this is the kind of dish that even my sister (whose favourites include crisp sandwiches and chicken nuggets and chips) might indulge in with some encouragement – omitting the chilli of course. Kid, here’s how to make it……

1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 sticks of celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1tbsp crushed dried chilli
2 tbsp paprika
100ml white wine
1 litre fish stock
3 tins plum tomatoes
10 new potatoes, cut into equal small pieces
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, inc stalks
8 scallops, without coral
1 swordfish steak, skin removed
10 prawns (I used unpeeled, tails on ones)
2 haddock fillets

- heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan
- finely chop the onion, celery, carrots and fry until soft with the garlic (8-10 mins)
- add the paprika and chilli, fry for another minute
- pour in the wine, tomatoes and stock, bring to the boil, add the parsley stalks (bunched together), reduce the heat and simmer for around 45 minutes.
- meanwhile, boil the potatoes and poach the haddock fillets in milk
- add the uncooked swordfish (cut into chunks) and scallops (halved) to the liquid and turn up the heat. Allow 5 minutes then add the raw prawns.
- Assemble in layers in large bowls, haddock fillet, potatoes, vegetables, other fish then ladle the liquid over the top and sprinkle over some parsley.

Obviously stews are so hearty and warming, just perfect for cold wintery evenings. There are reports of widespread snowstorms overnight (mostly in Scotland and Northern England) so this kind of comfort in a bowl is exactly what you want to see on the menu. Tonight’s offering is beef stew courtesy of Thomas. Yum!
I forgot to take a picture so here's an homage to the fish that made it all worthwhile!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Bridget Jones eat your heart out

On Saturday I purchased my first pair of Bridget esque control pants from M&S (where else?) I had flirted with the idea for a while but took the bold step with much encouragement from Nibs who apparently is a regular in the control dept. during her lunch hour. And I completely understand why, it’s like another world! People have really got the wrong idea about these garments, particularly guys who find them unattractive but they are ultimately flattering and can genuinely be sexy too.

I opted for a tummy and bum cincher to wear with a body con type dress from Topshop. Much along these lines

However, I realised that I had not accounted for the fact that the dress has a see through mesh back. Upon further reflection I decided that this didn’t matter. On the contrary, come 10pm the very same evening I was sporting said pants, loud and proud. The mere fact that they streamline the silhouette is so appealing when wearing something tight and means that one can enjoy a week filled with meatballs and curry and brunch at Lantana without a single thought about unsightly bulges in that LBD.

M&S to the rescue!

Monday, 1 December 2008


At last for Saturday brunch I ventured to Lantana . This has been most ardently anticipated and I was extremely excited to be able to go following several failed attempts.
My boyfriend, having lived in Australia whilst studying, assures me that the standards of food there are above and beyond anything that I could expect to be served in the UK.
Prior to this information the only representation of Australian cookery I had seen was Bill Grainger’s TV show! To be honest I thought that his series was slightly too good to be true presenting the viewers with an enviable lifestyle with a home on the beach, a beautiful wife, 2 perfect children and a diet that looks so incredibly delectable that it is a wonder they are not all clinically obese.
So, when I stumbled upon Scrambling Eggs (owner Shelagh's blog) I knew instantly upon seeing this picture

that a visit to Lantana was in order, to sample London’s very own slice of aussie eating. An Australian friend was equally keen having relocated to Paris and been unable to source a decent coffee ever since. Lantana use Monmouth coffee and I have to say, it’s the best latte I’ve had since my summer visit to Italy.

Upon arrival we were disappointed to see a full house but were promised it should not be too long a wait, this turned out to be true thanks to the nice chap who offered to share his table with us as he was eating alone.
As for the food, I opted for the beans (with crumbled feta), sausages, spinach and poached egg with sourdough bread. I had such huge expectations and was not disappointed. Nibs went for the eggs on toast with sausages and freshly squeezed orange juice. I was surprised to be impressed the most by the baked beans. They were worlds away from Heinz and so delightfully tomatoey with a slight bite, as beans should have, I think this is a quality they lose when stored in a tin. The Hummingbird cake that I took home for my boyfriend was literally one of the best things I have ever tasted (it was a present honestly!) I think I’ll have a go at making my own next weekend.

The service is efficient and friendly in a casual kind of a way. Something which was not appreciated in one review I’ve read but I found it charming, however (and it pains me to say this) the very nice chap sharing our table was still waiting for his food long after we had finished, despite having ordered at the same time and he was served a latte that he had not asked for. His order had been lost and so his breakfast was free of charge but clearly there are still some issues that need to be smoothed out.

I witnessed a customer eagerly scribbling in a notebook and I believe (whoever they may be) that the words will be complimentary. These neighbours were unable to clear their plates and I think that all the essentials are there to make Lantana a huge success. I shall eagerly be returning with Antipodeans and am sure even they with their higher standards will not be complaining!


Lantana on Urbanspoon