Thursday, 28 May 2009

Kastner and Ovens

I’ve seen many a colleague schlep back to the office come lunchtime with a Kastner and Ovens bag, the smell is always divine, also there’s a favourable review on Londonist, so I finally managed to wander up to Floral St and see for myself what all the fuss is about.

In the same vein as buffet eating or pick ‘n’ mix sweets they have their daily treats lined up on a table to the left of the cute little shop. It all smells delicious and looks like good home made comforting food.

I opted for the small salad box (I had after all just purchased some trainers for the purpose of marathon training) and one of the friendly guys who work there gave me a little bit of everything. The selection comprised of a chickpea and tomato salad, rice salad with mushrooms and a roasted vegetable and bean salad. This was all well dressed and tasty and there was a sprinkling of a shredded white vegetable on the top which was relatively tasteless so I couldn’t be sure what it was to be honest.

The best part was the rice with mushrooms, which was really rather good, the rest was fairly standard. I may allow myself to be tempted by the hot food next time I think, for some reason I’ll definitely return despite not having been blown away, I like it here. Maybe I'll try a sandwich as recommended by Dinner Diary. Be warned however, they do not take cards, I had to scoot off the nearest ATM.

This was a bargainous £3.50. Very good value, very nice people, nice food. A great lunchtime option.

Kastner and Ovens
52 Floral Street

Kastner & Ovens on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Junction Tavern

On a sunny Sunday evening we pondered where to eat wishing to stay local. This would usually be a no brainer as Del Parc is just across the road but they are closed on Sundays. So, instead we ventured down the road to The Junction Tavern.

We used to eat here fairly often but recently have preferred meals at the St John Tavern when wanting someoub grub, living just about slap bang in between the 2, I figure we should alternate. Then there's The Lord Palmerston, we're a bit spoiled in Tufnell Park really.

Anyway, The Junction Tavern serve food until 9:30 on a Sunday, this swung it and the memory of a wonderful fish stew I'd previously had there. The menu is concise, choose between about 6 starters and 6 mains, which I think is actually a bit limiting. I'd like to see a few more options.

The Junction Tavern is the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) pub of the year and this weekend for the bank holiday they had a Spring Beer Festival with about 20 kegs of ales stacked near to the entrance. The place was busy and this was attracting a fair amount of interest from fellow diners, they have this festival and an Autumn one in September or October.

The pub is split into 2 sections, a room at the front with large windows with an open kitchen at the centre and around the corner at the back of the building is a conservatory type dining room. Both are pleasant, I prefer the front and was pleased to be seated in the corner a little way away from the kitchen.

We shared a starter, a lamb shoulder salad with feta, shallots, chopped cucumber and capers.

This was an interesting combination of flavours, I hadn't expected it to be a salad to be honest, that wasn't clear on the menu but I was delighted with the dish. Feta, afterall is one of my ultimate favourite ingredients. Thomas was less keen, but liked it.

For main course I had the whole mackeral with samphire, broad beans and jersey royals. I was over the moon with this, I love mackeral but usually have it smoked. Mackeral is strongly fishy and oily, yet still quite delicate in flavour. The samphire and broad beans were perfectly seasoned and the wedge of lemon worked brilliantly.

I love jersey royals, they're substantial and not floury, ideal here to accompany the fresh fish and seasonal veggies. I can't get enough of broad beans when they're in season but tend to not do them at home because they can be fiddly, podding and shelling them seems like a bit much work but it's well worth it.

Thomas went for the ribeye steak with chips and aioli. Served with watercress and wholegrain mustard. Thomas is a steak lover and was disappointed with the cut, he said it infact was not ribeye but was cooked reasonably well. Had they not run out of the belly pork Thomas would probably have opted for that.

We also had desserts, pavlova for Thomas and lemon posset with shottbread for me. I love love loved the lemon posset, dipping in the shortbread is a killer combination, crumbly biscuit, tart and creamy posset, this is the perfect follow up to a fishy meal, the citrus element a perfect continuation of the lemony flavour of my main course. The only fault I would have is that is was perhaps a little too cold and there was a hard layer on the top from where it had been sitting in the fridge, possibly uncovered. Still the underneath was wonderfully oozing, the perfect consistency.

Thomas is a huge fan of the meringue, cream fruit amalgamation. Pavlova on the menu is a no branier for him. He liked it but was not raving like I was about my posset. The pavlova was clearly homemade, gooey on the inside as meringue should be but Thomas declared he's had better. It certainly looked impressive.

I like the Junction Tavern and am rarely disappointed, I usually have fish so perhaps that's the key but they consistently deliver and the service is lovely, very welcoming and friendly. For this weekend only they seem to have managed to cater for foodies and beer lovers alike. Credit where credit's due for that.

The Junction Tavern
101 Fortess Road, NW5

Junction Tavern on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Boo in Malta - Grabiel Terrazza

I hate the inevitable headache that comes with a beach holiday, the 'I'm on holiday therefore should relax and eat whatever I like' attitude at direct loggerheads with the exposure of skin one succumbs to on the beach. The carb heavy menus in Malta didn't help and disregarding recommendations from those who had fallen foul of the dodgy water in Malta on previous travels, I had lots of salads in the week that I was there. A great roasted vegetable salad in Gozo at an adorable little bay, we drove around looking for a restaurant in a hotel which had been recommended in Helen's Time Out Guide to Malta but found instead a row of nice looking eateries choosing one overlooking the bay.

I had tuna salad at a beach cafe and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of it. It was tuna chunks rather than steak obviously but I had feared much worse. Good salad and a nice olive oil dressing, great olives, tomatoes, capers and green peppers accompanied. The same could not be said unfortunately for the version of the dish sampled at Grabiel Terrazza. Dining unusually late one evening following a large lunch we wondered down the road in Marsaskala where we were staying and nipped into the closest place we could find.

I ordered the tuna salad and what i got was minus dressing with the tuna chunks still in tin can form in the centre of the leaves.

Dry and uninspiring, this salad was a huge disappointment and my companions didn't fare a lot better. Noy went for a mezze mix of local eats, Maltese sausage, the little crackers which were served everywhere, dips, cheese and tomatoes. A Maltese take on the Ploughman's lunch here in England.

Again the overwhelming factor for Noy was the saltiness of her meal, like the stroganoff she had earlier in the week, the Maltese sausage is too salty to enjoy. The sundried tomatoes were tasty and the Bigilla (dish in the middle with the crackers sticking out of it) was interesting, it's a traditional Maltese bean paste known locally as "ful tal-Ġirba". See a recipe here.

Something wasn't quite right with the platter, which in theory seemed like a safe bet. Helen's sausage and tomato pasta suffered because of the inclusion of the salty sausage. She was asked to choose from farfalle, spaghetti or penne, nice to be given the option, but this was a very standard tomato sauce, unremarkable but not bad, lifted a little by the grating of fresh parmesan.

James chose the greek salad with feta and olives, there was a generous serving of the cheese and, though I didn't try it, I think salad's are clearly not their forte, I'm not quite sure what is but it's definitely not the salad!

This said, the lasting impression Grabiel Terrazza will leave is that here we sampled what had to be the most vile red wine we'd ever had. Vinegary and bitter, we each attempted to drink a glass and failed leaving a fair bit in the bottle. The waiter suggested we might like to take the remains with us, we politely declined and suggested he drink it himself. I wish him luck with that!

Grabiel Terrazza
Marsaskala, Malta

Monday, 25 May 2009

Boo in Malta - Sottovento

On the first evening of our trip James took us to the pretty walled city of Vittoriosa. The harbour has a number of bars and restaurants and was surprisingly busy, rowdy even in a nearby eatery where we could here live music and singing, for late on a Sunday evening, we got there at about 10pm.

Malta’s heavy Italian influence is evident in most of its restaurants. A mere 90km away from Sicily there are pizza/pasta heavy menus everywhere. Sottovento is no exception with most of the large menu consisting of these. James and Helen both opted for pizzas amd they looked very good.

James had the interesting combination of sausage, olives, peas and egg. The base was crisp and substantial, toppings were generous.

Helen's was topped with pepperoni and green pepper. We discussed this later, it seems that the peppers in Malta are far more subtle than the ones we're used to eating here in the UK, I would have exected the exact opposite, anyway, there was a lot of it on Helen's pizza at Sottovento, she picked some off.

Noy went for the prawn and tomato risotto. This was odd because she doesn't actually like prawns, thinking they would be big enough to pick out and liking all of the other components of the dish she was disapointed to find they were very small and there were a lot of them. Presentation could be improved, the use of a bowl rather than a plate might be a good idea but risotto is risotto and the portion was huge, in all Noy was pleased with it.

I had the trio of smoked fish salad which comprised of salmon, tuna and swordfish and was really very good. I would have liked a little more swordfish and less salmon, by the end of the meal the latter had gotten a bit much. The salad was well dressed, the tomatoes and olives were a nice addition.

The setting was the thing that made this meal, really very beautiful, overlooking the little harbour really envoked that holiday vibe which we soaked up, sipping a very satisfactory bottle of house white, imagining which beach we might venture to in the morning. The following day we went to Gozo, the beach looked like this..

Vittoriosa, Malta

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Boo in Malta - Tal Familja

Here's the first of my posts about Malta. The holiday was lovely, I was a last minute addition to the party thanks to the kind hospitality of Noy, Helen and James, I was able to tag along.

The short notice meant I was left with barely enough time to pack let alone to research and get an idea of the local foods or recommended eateries, luckily James is residing in Malta temporarily for work and knew of some local hotsopts.

We ate out most evenings and my personal favourite eating experience of the week had to be dinner at Tal Familja. A small friendly 'typical Maltese' restaurant, we head here looking for an authentic Maltese dining experience.

We were seated, having arrived fairly late in the day, orders were taken and food arrived promptly. Complimentary white bread rolls were served accompanied by a large helping of garlic butter. These rolls were better than others we'd had throughout the week. Warm and crisp, baked on the premises it seems and the garlic butter was a nice touch.

There was also a selection of bruschetta, commonly this is served alongside the bread in Maltese restaurants, this version was good, richer tasting tomatoes are one of the pleasure of venturing to sunnier climes, these didn't disappoint. Then came a Maltese Antipasto selection consisting of beans, tripe, snails and crackers, pictured below clockwise from top left. We hadn't ordered this, it's generously offered to all diners at Tal Familja.

Noy and I took the plunge and both sampled several of the snails and some tripe, whilst James and Helen stuck to the beans and crackers. All of this was cold which surprised me and did not enhance the taste. The local snails, cooked in wine and garlic were less slimey than I'd expected but a bit tasteless really, earthy like a mushroom with the texture of a mussel. I ploughed through a few more thinking that they might improve alas, they didn't. I'm sure that snails can be done better than this but I'm not mad keen to sample them again any time soon.

Time for the tripe, I've read of many fine tripe dishes sampled in restaurants on food blogs and heard much of celebrity chef's attempts to revive the nation's appetite for tripe, not yet a huge success it must be said. In any case, I was keen to try but this again cold offering, in a gloopy mustard yellow sauce, tasted of nothing, I could not recollect a single flavour in the sauce and the overriding sensation was repultion at the fatty, soft, slippery consistency of the stuff. Not good.

I had intended to eat a traditional Maltese dish but in the end only James from our group did this. He went for the Bragioli. Thinly sliced beef rolled with a meat stuffing and casseroled. This was the best dish of the evening and we should have all followed suit ordering local dishes.

I was not able to pass on the disply of fresh fish which was presented atop a trolley to the table, there was John Dory, Seabass, Red Snapper and Sole, all looked amazingly vibrant and appealing, I went for the Red Snapper, served whole with vegetables.

I liked this, they offered to fillet it for me but I boldly declined and regretted it, about a hundred little bones remained after I successfully removed the middle bone making for fairly tricky eating. The taste was subtle and delicious and it was cooked perfectly. Sadly the same couldn't be said for Helen's Swordfish was was severely overcooked and eventually she gave up.

Helen instead filled up on the accompanying roast potatoes, side salad, cabbage and (bizarrely) onion rings served with all main courses. The onion rings reminded me of some I'd sampled in New York, shoestring thin, deepfried and a bit too fatty. I liked the cabbage very much, unusual but welcome.

My fish came with spinach so there was an abundance of sides for all to share. The side salad remained largely untouched, I am not one of course to complain of too much food being served but it's a bit of a waste. Noy, like Helen, was certainly glad of it due to an abundance of salt rendering her beef stroganoff close to inedible.

Looking back, I really enjoyed the evening, we made a new friend in the shape of one of the local cats, she certainly enjoyed the fish dishes more than we did. The bottle of Pinot Grigio we shared was a hit and the complimentary frangelicos were much appreciated. We were disappointed with many of the dishes but in their defence I think we ordered unwisely, that said, it's a travesty to destroy a piece of sworfish in the way they did and despite all the complimentary elements to the meal the service was a bit lacklustre. €25 each, worth it for the experience, and at least I can say I've had snails and tripe now.

Tal Familia

Friday, 22 May 2009


Finding Bento Café full we found we were forced to seek alternative nourishment in Camden one evening.

We chanced upon Teachi and gave it a try due, for the most part, to not having much time to spare before catching a movie. Close proximity to the Camden Odeon is a good thing. Chinese is not one of my favourite cuisines to be honest and so I welcomed the chance to see what Teachi had to offer.

Upon arrival we were seated and greeted swiftly and set to work ordering right away, soups to start, seafood for me and wonton for Thomas. The waiter seemed set against me having the seafood soup though, explaining that it is ‘sticky, not clear.’ Being unsure of what exactly constitutes a ‘sticky’ soup I instead ordered the vegetable and tofu soup, the waiter apologised but seemed pleased with my change of heart.

The chap serving the soups to us was on the receiving end of a rollocking from the guy in charge as he headed to the wrong table. The atmosphere between the staff was decidedly icy. The soup was good, very light and fresh, crunchy vegetables swimming in a decent stock and not in the least bit sticky. It was a very small bowl though, one can’t complain for £3.20 but there could perhaps have been a few more pieces of tofu. Thomas was pleased with his wonton soup, though it needed livening up a bit with the chilli sauce provided on the table.

For main I selected the pan fried black cod in light soy sauce and again the waiter suggested I may prefer something else. What the....? Anyhow, upon careful reconsideration I went for the char-grilled cod with vegetables and bbq sauce instead. I'm not usually a fan of bbq sauce but the fact that this fish dish was grilled swung it for me.

I was pleased with the dish, nicely grilled asparagus, tomatoes and mushrooms accompanied. It was well presented on some kind of leaf, pretty. My problem with it was that there were clearly MSG's in the bbq sauce. MSG's (something I learnt a few years back whenever I ate chinese takeaway) give me a funny head. I get a bizarre and unpleasant build up of pressure, not so much a headache but neurological discomfort. I used to get it behind my eyes, this time it was behind my ears. I've researched and it's possible I am MSG intolerant. Anyway, not nice but not their fault. We ordered some sides of rice and mixed stir fried vegetables which were fine and Thomas had the chicken with cashew nuts in yellow bean sauce.

This came with brocolli and was encased in an edible bowl which didn't taste of much but was crisp and looked like it could have been deep fried glass noodles.

The waiter, thankfully, had no problem with my choice of beverage, I had a Japenese flower tea which was delightful, a little strong by the time I got the bottom of the cup but so it's immensly entertaining seeing your drink literally grow before your very eyes. Thomas had a green tea. Also nice, less fun than mine but then he got a cute little pot.

I think the staff could do with relaxing a little bit, they're very attentive and seem determined to do their utmost to give diners a pleasant experience but are so on edge I fear what might happen if someone complained or a dish had to be sent back, there would most likely be tears. I probably won't hurry back and, whilst I think the food is better than other chinese meals I've had, it didn't wow.

29 Parkway
Camden NW1

Teachi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 21 May 2009


I've been meaning to eat at Barrafina literally forever having read tons of reviews praising their tapas and reporting on how long the wait can be, this must be special. After a few drinks one evening in Soho Thomas and I decided to see what all the furore is about.

We queued for a while admittedly because we got there at 8:30. We had a nice glass of house red to keep us occupied though and the place is buzzy and fun, there's plenty to look at, fortunately the wait gave us time to have a look at the dishes being doled out to the lucky punters already seated and eating. Welcome time to ponder what we might like to sample.

Our waiters were on the ball and I thought the service was very efficient, which i'd not expected having previously read some negative feedback. We started off with some olives and ham croquetas.

Much praise is steeped upon these delightful little fried balls with an oozy filling of cheese and ham. These were the one thing I was desperate to try and they didn't disappoint. This is the type of dish that one could easily order another portion of right after finishing the first though we managed to refrain. I LOVED them. The olives too were great, particularly the green ones, my favourite, nice orangey flavour to them, peel and all.

Next to arrive was the chorizo iberico. An incredibly generous serving, slices filling an entire wooden board made for an impressive looking spread and good value for money at under £6. We were also tempted to try the sliced ham with a leg displayed near to the front of the bar but thought chorizo was a must and didn't fancy a meat fest. Delivered with the chorizo were the green peppers.

I probably wouldn't have selected these myself but Thomas assured me they would be great and I did enjoy them. They were sprinkled with sea salt and grilled until soft. Such a delicate flavour that even the stalks were edible and as tasty as the fruit itself. Just the right amount of heat too.

Next we had the octopus with capers. I was unsure what to expect of this dish but the flavour and texture of the octopus was lovely. It was served warm rather than hot which I suppose is how it ought to be. The capers provided a nice salty edge to the surprisingly subtle mildness of flavour from the octopus. The whole meal was a little salt heavy, bad Barrafina.

We asked for some bread with olive oil to accompany the brilliantly never ending serving of chorizo, it arrived promptly, warm and crisp, with an (again generous) dish of oilve oil which was possibly the finest I've ever had. I was suprised that the final dishes to arrive were the anchovy and smoked bacon salad and the chips with bravas sauce but both were well worth the wait.

The salad, 3 halves of baby gem each topped with an anchovy fillet and a rasher of crunchy bacon, was a perfect amalgamation of textures and tastes, the dressing was perhaps a little too tart for my liking, a tad too much wine vinegar but Thomas thought this was the highlight of the meal.

The fries were magnificent, topped with a garlicky salt and ample sauce to dip, so much more satisfying than ketchup. A good champion for the cause in the fries versus chips debate (I usually prefer a chunkier chip but these were faultless).

With our request for tap water generously greeted with a bottle we didn't even need anymore wine. We did need to share a dessert though and went for the creme catalana. This was zesty and a little boozy, a great end to the meal.

Obviously I would recommend Barrafina, few who have dined the wouldn't I'm sure but I would suggest timing your arrival better than we did, or tackle the queue when tipsy, this made the wait for the nicest meal I've had in a while infinitely more bareable, excellent value for money too at just over £50 for the 2 of us with wine and service.

54 Frith St, W1

Barrafina on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 May 2009


I'm back from Malta, will report on the food there soon. It was a mixed bag, some good, some very bad.

A couple of days before I jetted off I welcomed a visit from my sister and we had breakfast at Carluccios for want of somewhere better in Covent Garden.

I was suffering from a rather sudden loss of appetite and opted for the fresh fruit salad with yogurt and a green tea.

The fruit was standard, a little more juice than I might have liked but all of it was fresh and succulent and I particularly welcomed the inclusion of kiwi fruit. A very small jug of yoghurt was perched on the side. Such a stingy amount it was barely worth it to be honest but yoghurt is a worthy partner and what was there was good.

My green tea was interesting. Curiously served in a slightly grubby latte cup with a steel handle that was scaldingly hot when touched but following a patient wait I was able to take a sip. Pictured below, the tea was in loose leaf form rather than a bag, normally a good thing but in this case some of the 'leaves' tasted and resembled bits of floating bark, nasty if lodged in the back of the throat.

The Kid ordered sensibly, and had the fried eggs and bacon on sourdough. This looked pleasing, comforting and homely, the Kid even managed to eat it without making it look disgusting, a talent she has honed over the years. Praise indeed for Carluccios.

I like this Covent Garden branch of Carluccios, the large restaurant spread over 2 floors with a good sized shop on the ground level serving lunch dishes and deli type food aswell as oils, breads, wines and other Italian goods. It's no Neal Street Restaurant but a good flagship nonetheless.

Garrick St

Carluccio's on Urbanspoon

Friday, 8 May 2009

Scottish Tablet

I'd never heard of this before. It's sort of fudge like in apprearance but in texture is much more crumbly and grainy. It consists of milk, condensed milk, sugar and butter. Our Scottish runner has left us to return to the motherland. She left this as her parting gift and referred to it as 'diabetes in a bowl'. Ha.

It's very good, incredibly sweet, as rich as it is moorish. Homemade, evident by the non-uniformity of the pieces and the abundance of sugary dust left in the bowl. It's gone down remarkably well with my colleagues. Good to know there's more to Scotland than haggis and arbroath smokies!

A note to say that I'm off on a very last minute, unplanned holiday, I really need to get away for a bit and am fleeing to Malta. Sadly I'll miss the meet up with Catavino next Wed, I'm really sad about that but shall be back in a while, hopefully with much to report of my eating experiences there. I'm unsure what to expect, a heavy Italian influence and local rabbit dishes.

Friday, 1 May 2009


Now I have a thing for macaróns. A serious thing. Me and macaróns go way back. When I lived in Kent the closest thing to the real deal I could get would be a usually stale and fairly flavourless Sainsbury’s almond biscuit, a poor excuse but, at the time, all I could get my hands on. Since moving to London, I have become acquainted with the beast like awesomeness of the version from French patisserie Paul.

From the very first bite I was hooked. I am particularly fond of the pistachio flavour but they also offer chocolate, praline and now vanilla. They do smaller ones in a wider variety of flavours but the large ones, packed with wickedly creamy ganache fillings, are delightfully crisp and chewy yet also soft and melting. I adore them and as such am careful to treat myself to one only occasionally.

Obviously this is a thing the French do so very well and when they first came to London I learned the ways of Ladurée at Harrods. These guys claim to have ‘invented’ the double decker macarón as we know it today. They now have a small store in Burlington Arcade too which is dangerously close to where I work! These exquisite beauties, in all manner of flavours, are unbeatable in this city and my obsession began with a beautifully presented boxed dozen from Nibs as a birthday gift a few years back. I love the Ladurée tearoom in Harrods, it’s very grand and luxurious and there’s often a long queue.

Where Ladurée began, Pierre Hermé have continued and many now claim they make the best versions in Paris, I am eager to try and I hear they will soon be leaping across the channel and opening a UK store here in London.

When it’s my turn to produce a dessert and I don’t feel like making anything from scratch, these fit the bill perfectly. They are widely available in the many branches of Paul popping up across London. Though I’ve had only bad experiences with the other food they offer. I go here for one thing only. This week I branched out and got Thomas a chocolate millefeuille which he was more than happy with.

29 Bedford St
8/10 (for macaróns only)

Paul on Urbanspoon