Review: A Great Value Tasting Menu @ Copper & Ink, Blackheath (SE London)

With some very good restaurants a short walk from our flat in Putney (including Home SW15, Bistro Vadouvan and Putney Pies) it’s rare we venture into Central London in search of a date night meal, let alone take a journey all the way out East (and into Zone 3 no less – falling outside our Z1-2 travelcard zone it’s got to be good if I’m paying extra to get there). But given I’ve followed Copper & Ink on Instagram since they announced their intent to open, my husband was a huge fan of owner and chef Tony on 2015’s Masterchef and their menu prices are nothing short of a bargain compared to standard fare in London – we booked in.

 photo Copper and Ink Review 7_zpsyqe3m9lv.jpgStylish and modern, the restaurant is okay but felt a little bare and soul-less when I arrived – although this was much improved when the lights were dimmed down slightly, much to the detriment of my photos. We ordered some wine for me, a Bramble cocktail for him and very quickly decided that the five-course tasting menu at £40 per head would have to be done. And we’d have to add a cheese course for good measure (this was charged at £8 for the two of us).

 

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Perfect. I do enjoy a tasting menu as it (1) removes the need for me to make choices and (2) means I get to try more from the menu. Both bonuses here as the standard menu had so many things I wanted to eat. Though actually if they could have just bought me a loaf of their bread and a much bigger bowl of the chicken fat butter I’d have gone home happy. Fat, but happy.

Actually, the bread and butter also brings my biggest complaint of the night. Why oh why, for a table of two, were we given three slices of bread?! This also reappeared with 5 biscuits on the cheese course – equal numbers please! Total minor niggle really, but if that’s the only thing I can complain about then it was clearly a good meal!

 photo Copper and Ink Review 2_zps2kdcinfq.jpgFirst course was a salt-baked onion with roasted peppers and a balsamic gel. It looked and sounded super simple but was surprisingly complex. The onion was soft with just a little bite to stop it falling apart, and it’s flavours super concentrated. The peppers were sweet and sharp without being over-powering, and I thought it was an excellent start to the meal. It was so nice to kick-off with something light and vegetable-focussed!

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The second course was my favourite – I could have eaten it over and over! Crab salad with gin cured trout, radishes and lemon caviar. The crab was an absolute delight, so fresh tasting and a really good amount of it. The trout was pure perfection, soft and succulent, and the lemon caviar added a beautiful burst of sharpness. Ours also came with some crab toille which introduced some much needed texture. I would go as far as saying that crab is one of my all-time favourite things to eat, so this was perfection.

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The third course was the ‘main’ of guinea fowl, with a pan-fried breast, a bon-bon made from the leg meat, morel, asparagus and mashed potato. Tony himself served us this dish, informing us that the mash was made with equal parts butter and mash. The flavours in this dish were insane, and the mash unsurprisingly some of the best I’ve ever eaten (I have a leaderboard of restaurants who do really good mash, and the top three are now Copper & Ink, Home SW15 and Pollen Street Social, no particular order). The ‘jus’ was definitely more of a gravy, and all the better for it – thick, glossy and full of flavour. The bon-bon was packed full of meat without being dry. I thought the breast was just a touch over cooked and the portion size maybe a tad small, but possibly only because it was so delicious. I was sad to finish it!

We were then firmly on pudding route – two desserts to go, and then our additional cheese board. I personally do feel that the cheese board was necessary as the portions are on the smaller side, but equally for the price it was still a bargain.

 photo Copper and Ink Review 6_zpszmvwwpym.jpgFirst dessert was classic flavours, with the modern deconstructed trend. I’m not usually a fan of deconstructed desserts, but I think it works for mille feuille as the pastry stays much crisper. The cherry sorbet was a complete celebration of the fruit, the almond creme patisserie was indulgent. I loved this dish and thought it hugely clever!

 

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We finished with a doughnut – but not just any doughnut! It was served with a mango puree/sauce (it was quite light and almost mousse like) a mango and chilli salsa (fruit, heat and sweet all perfectly balanced) and a coconut sorbet which bought the whole dish together. The doughnut perhaps wasn’t fried to order as it had a touch of heaviness about it, but it was delicious – fresh and naughty all at the same time.

The cheese selection of the night was a good one – a delicious gouda, one of the best blues I’ve ever eaten (a really good Stickleton), some goat’s cheese (a little ‘cavey’ for me) and a softer one which I also really enjoyed. Served with grapes, oatcakes (why the odd number?!) and quince paste it was again a small portion, but finish the meal off perfectly. We accompanied this with port (him) and a final glass of malbec (me) – the Copper & Ink wine list is nothing short of wonderful, with so many wines available by the (well-priced) glass.

Some delicious petit-four to finish, and we left more than a little disappointed that we live on the opposite side of London. It’s definitely a spot I’ll remember for a good-value treat meal in future!

Have you tried a new restaurant recently?

Review: Fancy Pub Grub at The Royal Oak, Marylebone

I feel like this pub has managed to get itself a bit of a bad rep recently thanks to the reported ‘misbehaviour’ of former head Chef Dan Doherty – indeed after trying and failing to get a booking last year being able to secure on last-minute and being the only table eating was a bit of a surprise, even for a Monday… Which brings be onto a spoiler. This place is definitely worth a visit. The food was stunning, despite the slightly odd and empty atmosphere, and I’d highly recommend you go. It was so empty I’m concerned it may not be there for much longer, and so I’m imploring anyone looking for good quality but not overly cheffy food to head there whilst you can.

 photo Royal Oak Review_zpsjkg4sddj.jpgIt was pretty empty, service was friendly but it was lacking a buzz I’d have enjoyed. I felt like the whole pub could hear my friend telling us about his recent break-up and so that is something to bear in mind. Hopefully it was just a one-off when we visited as otherwise there’s some very talented people in the kitchen going to waste.

We kicked off with a couple of starters. Everyone else on the table went for what seems to be the restaurant signature – the Nduja Scotch Egg. Nduja is one of those things that sometimes comes containing tomatoes, sometimes not, so I tend to avoid it for ease. And I was quite gutted, as these scotch eggs looked a perfect example of their type – crisp coating, and a gloriously runny yolk. Apparently the nduja was particularly spicy which worked well.

 

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 photo Royal Oak Marylebone 2_zps0nhwfrdc.jpgI didn’t, though, feel short-changed with my choice. A salad of fresh peas, pea puree, mint, ricotta and sourdough croutons was light, tasty and really bloody delicious. The kind of thing I could have eaten 10 times over. Simple yet refined cooking at it’s best. Perhaps pushing the ‘pub grub’ definition a tad too far, but the scotch egg was firmly in that camp.

And then mains. Again we had some duplicate ordering, with 2 lamb and 2 steak coming to our table.

 

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The Lamb Breast was served with roasted new potatoes, peas and asparagus. It looked delightfully green (many places give just a token amount of green veg at the moment) and as a lamb lover I did have a touch of order envy. However breast can often be a touch too greasy and whilst one plate seemed perfectly cooked, the other piece didn’t look like it had seen the oven long enough to fully render down.

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 photo Royal Oak Marylebone 8_zpstyx8efy9.jpgThe Bavette Steak was my pick, and it came with duck-fat potatoes, watercress and smother in wild-garlic butter. This was beautiful. The steak was cooked to a rare perfection, blushing pink but well-rested to avoid any weeping. The potatoes were glorious – many thin layers all combined and roasted to produce something crisp yet melting and oh so good. Who needs thrice cooked chips when you can have these?! And wild garlic butter? I could have eaten it by the spoonful. Garlicky without being overpowering, perfectly seasoned. It also went perfectly with the steak.

Portion sizes were generous, so we didn’t manage to even look at the pudding list much to my regret. Maybe next time…

Do you have any gastropub recommendations?

Review: Nonna Tonda Pasta @ Market Hall, Victoria

Market Hall, both the Victoria and Fulham locations, may well be one of my favourite foodie things of the last few years. All of the joys of street food markets – getting to choose where/what you eat, not having to be guided by other’s choices, small portions so you can try ALLLLL the food – but without the bad bits. AKA no getting cold and wet thanks to the standard British weather.

 photo Market Hall Pasta_zpsaejvnvbl.jpgThese indoor dining halls are casual, a little bit chaotic (I’d advise going in with a vague plan and, at peak times, making sure everyone has a phone on them as I definitely think you could get lost in the crowds). Getting a table can be difficult but if you, like us, are all eating from the same vendor then bar seats at the serving area are usually available. Food is ordered and then collected when the handed-out buzzers sound, meaning it all arrives at different times. Along with the noise this doesn’t make it the best location for a girly catch up (if you’re in Victoria head to Hai Cenato for that) but it’s fun, it’s buzzy, and it delivers tasty food.

In Victoria there’s around 12 food traders – and so many of them are on my list to try. Roti King, Fanny’s, Bunshop, Monty’s Deli… I think I could live in Market Hall for a couple of months and not get bored of the food. However on a cold, wet and windy Saturday with a hungover husband in tow it was definitely time for some carby goodness.

Now I’ve got a bit of a thing for good pasta. I now can’t buy supermarket own-brand stuff, and I’ve eaten some amazing pastas in both Italy and London (Padella is well worth queuing for in my opinion, and Lina Stores is high on my list to try).  I was gutted last year when I missed out the chance to try to Fat Tony’s pop-up at the now-closed Bar Termini – it was hailed some of the best pasta that London has ever seen. So yep, sorely gutted to have missed out. And insanely excited that it’s the same guys behind Nonna Tonda at Market Hall.

 photo Pasta at Nonna Tonda Victoria 3_zpsekaw7tdo.jpg photo Pasta at Nonna Tonda Victoria 5_zpsavsovxdi.jpgYour choice is pretty much pasta, or pasta. Or maybe some pasta. If you’re not a pasta fan, move on.

I went classic and ordered the bucatini cacio e pepe – and it was glorious. The pasta was perfectly al dente with a good bit of bit but still soft and slippery – and bucatini is the perfect shape as the little hole absorbs plenty of the glorious cheesy, creamy, peppery sauce. How they make it this good with just water and cheese I’ll never know (I watched them make it, trying to learn tips, but they were so speedy!).

 photo Pasta at Nonna Tonda Victoria 1_zpsq6je76s9.jpgW went for something a little tomato-ey with shredded meat. It was a special on the day we visited, but it went down extremely well and certainly went some way to appeasing him (dragging him to a noisy dining hall with a hangover perhaps didn’t win me any wife points that weekend!).

I also want to mention the bread that was served with each bowl of pasta. I’m not sure what it was exactly (it wasn’t like any focaccia I’ve made or eaten before) but it was slightly oily, so light in crumb and just delicious. Perfect for mopping up leftover sauce.

 photo Pasta at Nonna Tonda Victoria 4_zpsxosmn6iv.jpgI’d like to say I’d be back to Nonna Tonda but, whilst I’d happily eat there again, there’s so many other places in Market Hall I’d like to try. For a foodie it’s a must-visit spot in London, and one I know I’ll be returning to time and time again.

Where would you choose to eat in Market Hall?

 

Review: Half’n’Half Pizzas at Battersea Pi, Clapham

I suffer, quite chronically, with the problem of not being able to choose what to eat. In a chain restaurant I’m generally good as I have my go-to choices (until they remove it from the menu, as happened to me in Bella Italia last week with my favourite pasta dish…) but the problem comes out when I’m presented with a “I-want-to-eat-everything-on-this” menu in more independent places. Battersea Pi went someway towards solving this problem, as they allowed me to choose two pizzas in one.

 photo Battersea Pi_zpsqaodfl3i.jpg(I could have chosen 3 if we’d had a big pizza to share, but I couldn’t persuade my husband to go without tomato-based pizzas…)

After putting a shout-out on Twitter for recommended pizza places in SW London I had shouts for Dynamo (I LOVE their Stelvio pizza, but the service in the Putney restaurant has deteriorated to the point we only order via Deliveroo), Franco Manca (they’ve taken their tomato-free pizza off the menu – the courgette and basil one was delicious) and 400 Rabbits (so yum, but just too far!) – and then this place dropped onto my radar. Just down-the-road-and-round-the-corner from Clapham Junction it’s super easy for us to get to, offers 3 or so tomato-free options on their standard menu, and the toppings just sounded yummy. It was an easy choice for my post-exam ritual of a pizza night!

And as it was potentially to be the last post-exam pizza (I need another excuse if I end up qualifying this time around!) we decided to go all out. A carafe of the “fancier” (read: not the cheapest) rose on the menu was ordered, and it was delightful. A very pale, almost golden colour and absolutely delicious. And we even went all out with starters too…

 photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review 2_zpshk7qlm16.jpg photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review  1_zpsdnfj1ezu.jpgBruschetta with Lardo, Parmesan and Honey were outrageously simple (and totally unphotogenic) but also outrageously delicious. The lardo was fantastic quality, the bread crispy without causing fear for my teeth and I could have eaten several plates along with the aforementioned wine.

My choice, Arancini with Pancetta, Spinach, Scamorza and Leek (or leak, as both the online and printed menu read), were just as good. The rice was still slightly al-dente, the outsides perfectly crisp and there was blobs of melting cheese throughout. The pancetta, though delicious, I felt could have been taken out to make these veggie friendly – and my biggest point of criticism for the food was that I’d have avoided serving these in a bowl on top of salad leaves, as it made them very wilted and unpleasant. Either on a plate, or in a bowl without salad!

And then the main event. The pizza.

We both went for the ‘regular’ size with half’n’half toppings. And trust me, these pizzas are big. W managed all of us but complained of being full for the remainder of the evening. I enjoyed two large slices for lunch the next day – and as a side note the base reheated perfectly without going soggy, greasy or chewy.

 photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review  6_zpsqzrev3l0.jpg photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review  8_zpssicduyrz.jpgW went for two tomatoey options – the No. 3 (Nduja, Ricotta, Mint and Jalapeno Jam) and the No.7 (Lebanese Spiced Lamb with Turkish Yoghurt and Parsley). “They were delicious” is the answer I got when I was penning up this post and asked for his opinion so there you go!

I, of course, went for the “white base” options – the No.2 (Roasted Butternut Squash, Sage and Sausage) and the No. 6 (Rosemary Goat’s Cheese, Crispy Kale and Caramelised Red Onion). I was expected chunks of roasted squash, so a puree as a sauce confused me slightly (especially as it’s billed to have a white base!), but it was delicious and the sweet nuttiness really worked well with the sage, mozzarella and sausage. I found it unexpectedly spicy, but still tasty.

The No.6 was a revelation! Whilst really not attractive to look at, the crispy kale worked wonderfully on a pizza, adding an amazing crunchy texture and a slight bitterness which worked so well with the creamy goat’s cheese. Red Onion and Goat’s Cheese is a combination I love anyway (check out my comforting pasta recipe here) and to have it on a pizza was pretty much a dream come true.

The bases were delicious – less greasy that those from the Dynamo, but less doughy and more flavourful that those from Franco Manca. I’d put them fairly close in flavour to the ones I make at home, though obviously these guys have a *massive* pizza oven and I have a temperamental oven that seems to leak more heat into the flat that it retains. Toppings were just enough – not scanty, but not enough to overload the base and make it soggy or impossible to eat. Nothing worse than a soggy bottom. I personally would have liked a little more cheese, but I’m a bit of cheese fiend right now!

 photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review  7_zps0xjch8aq.jpgWe declined the offer of seeing the dessert menu (and it’s only online, so I’m not sure what they offer) but I know I’ll be back. They were very ready to make changes to pizzas for dietary requirements, there’s vegan options and it was also a lovely, relaxing and friendly place to be.  Though next time I’m 100% persuading my hubby to get one of the giant pizzas…

Where’s your favourite pizza spot? Do you struggle to choose what to order?

Review: A Classic Yet Modern Afternoon Tea at Hide Ground, Mayfair

I’m a real lover of a good afternoon tea – and by good I don’t necessarily mean super-fancy, but just good tasting and good quality food, ideally with a little twist to make it super special. Maybe it’s fancy (and pretty) pastry work, unusual sandwich combos, cocktails or just a gorgeous sitting room, I see afternoon tea as a special occasion.

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea_zpsmuliuj8v.jpgIt’s something I like to treat my mum to every now and then, and so it has to be good! Last year we went for the Wyld Afternoon Tea at Dandelyan (now Lyaness, and a similar menu is still available which I hope to try very soon), and this year I had originally booked the Mary Poppin’s Tea at Aquashard. After seeing multiple bad reviews and having difficulty in getting confirmation that they could provide suitable treats given our dietary requirements, I chickened out fairly last minute and needed a new option. And booking in for afternoon tea, on a Saturday, in London, at short notice – it’s fairly difficult. Luckily newly Michelin-starred Hide had availability and were wonderful in reassuring me on the allergy front, so I booked and looked forward to seeing THAT staircase.

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea 16_zpsonulolps.jpgWhilst I’m not usually a fan of cancelling restaurant bookings (especially one I’d struggled to make as it does get booked up), I can say I definitely made the right decision here. Our afternoon at Hide couldn’t be faulted, it was such a lovely experience.

The afternoon tea started with the tea choice – and whilst my mum played it safe with the English Breakfast (it’s the northerner in her!) I tried two beautiful teas. The first was a Black Leopard, which was delicious. I had it with a splash of milk and thoroughly enjoyed it as something a little different. The second was a Milky Blue Oolong. I wasn’t convinced by this at first (it smells and tastes a little like rice pudding!) but weirdly I’ve craved it ever since. I imagine it would be wonderfully comforting before bed…

The food all arrived at once, two savoury snacks, a plate of sandwiches, scones, patisserie and some candy-floss.

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea 2_zpsyq7i48jo.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea  1_zpsq4osl1gr.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea  10_zpsi0juw3rk.jpgOur savouries were a delightful gougere, which I would describe as a warm savoury profiterole filled with a thick cheese sauce – and yes, it’s as good as it sounds. We also enjoyed a snack of a smoked egg yolk with white asapargus and truffle – this had some crunchy toast crumbs inside and reminded me of a boiled egg and soldiers, just super fancy. I was slightly jealous that my mum got two of these, as she doesn’t eat cheese!

Sandwiches were wrapped in paper, which had kept them fresh and soft. No dried out bread here! There was only three finger sandwiches, and my one criticsm of this afternoon tea is that I didn’t feel overly fully when I left. I’d have loved the option to replenish the sandwich plate as they were delicious! The Salmon with Picked Cucumber was the star for me, with just the right amount of salmon to avoid being overly slimy. The “cheese and chutney” was delightful, with the cheese being grated and mixed with the butter and chutney so it (1) stayed in the bread upon biting and (2) wasn’t cloying. I also loved the Chicken with Tarragon Mayonnaise, it was light and flavourful. Just another one of each and I’d have been a very happy girl!

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea 15_zpsrflqssz8.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea 8_zpsomqxquuu.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea 17_zpshpq4a1tv.jpgScones were wrapped and so still warm when we got to them – and they broke perfectly in half (the sign of a good scone!). Served with clotted cream and a superb Strawberry and Hibiscus Jam I was a happy girl, and the dried fruit used as so moist I didn’t have to sit and pick it out…

And then on to patisserie. Again, portion sizes aren’t huge here and I felt another cake wouldn’t have gone amiss. The chocolate tart was impossible to eat neatly thanks to the chocolate soil, but it was rich, indulgent and yummy so we didn’t really care! The Glazed Lemon Verbena Sponge really did steal the show – it was light, moist and so zesty.

We finished by enjoying our candyfloss, which definitely reminded me of my childhood (in particular the summer fete my primary school used to host). Instead of the vivid pink of my youth it was undyed, and they adorn with various herbs. Definitely the grown-up version, but also so nostalgic!

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea 3_zpsoq1fpufw.jpgService was friendly, efficient and they were absolutely happy for us to linger and chat – just what you want for afternoon tea! And of course the restaurant was just beautiful. I’ve heard tale of the many millions spent on renovating it and I have to say it’s created the most spectacular effect. The staircase was stunning, the toilets so luxurious (with the most amazing smelling candle that I *think* was created specially for them – gutted!). I also spied the cheese trolley, so that’s clearly a reason to go back…

In short, if you’re looking for a traditional yet modern afternoon tea, I’d highly recommend Hide. I’d just maybe plan in a decent sized early-lunch beforehand!

Are you an afternoon tea fan? Where would you recommend for me next time?

Review: Nose to Tail Eating at St John, Smithfield

Perhaps one of the least pretentious Michelin-starred restaurants in London (to the point we were debating whether it had one – it does), the slightly shabbier decor both inside and out means it’s all about the food at St John. Very industrial, and I was worried as the bar area was actually cold as we walked through, but thankfully the dining room was warm and a little comfier.

 photo St John_zpst2dxrxgc.jpgWe started with some great bread (though the butter was a tad too cold – perhaps it has also spent some time in the bar area!) and ordered what turned out to be a couple of glasses of some very nice red. The menu also wasn’t what I was expecting – I was expecting meat, and a lot of it, but there was also a fairly decent balance of fish and veg on there too. Not a huge amount of choice, and some options just far enough out there to really excite me. I’m the type of person to order the offal, the rabbit, the thing that you have to google, and I’d been looking forward to this meal since booking a few months prior.

And it was worth the wait. Again, there was a complete lack of pretentiousness. No showy-off plating of ingredients. Nothing cooked in a particularly fancy way. Just excellent quality ingredients, cooked quite right, paired with exactly the right flavours, and in properly big portions to boot.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 2_zps51eir7gr.jpgI ordered what is perhaps considered to be their signature dish as my starter. I’d been day-dreaming about it since booking and was honestly waking up in sweats in case it wasn’t on the menu (daily menus are published at 5pm, so you won’t know what you’re getting when you book). Fortunately for me, and possibly the sanity of those around me, it was very much on there. Roast bone marrow served with a parsley and caper salad was served undeniably simply, with some more excellent bread grilled to a dry yet not burnt toast. It was very much a get-stuck-in type dish, I was pushing and scraping the marrow out onto toast, and adding salad and seasoning as I saw fit. I was in a greasy mess by the end of it (not a first date dish) but a very happy greasy mess. The bone marrow was rich and comforting, the salad sharp and cutting through it exactly right.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 1_zpsb1ye6gfb.jpgMy husband went slightly more refined with a Pork Cheek and Dandelion Salad. Crispy and crunchy hunks of meat, and really pepperly leaves in a dressing strong with mustard. It wasn’t a dish for the faint-hearted and I thought the dressing was perhaps a tad over-powdering, but it was 100% something I’d eat a whole plate of.

Once I saw the main courses on offer they was never any doubt in what I was ordered. I’ve loved faggots since childhood and find they near impossible to get hold of in London, so I said yes please and thank you to Kid Faggots with Mash and Onion Gravy. Greens on the side, because I needed to reassure myself I had eaten at least one of my five-a-day during the meal. These combined of a mixture of heart, kidneys and liver all wrapped in caul fat. I felt the outside could have done with some crisping up, but it was a heart, delicious plateful that I didn’t want to end. The inside of the faggots was nicely textured – certainly not mush, and you could just about pick out the differing tastes and textures of the different elements. And despite it’s wishy-washy appearance, the sauce accompanying the onions was packed full of flavour. Not that you need a sauce, because that mash was certainly creamy and buttery enough to hold it’s own! Greens were also spectacular, buttery and a little bitter. Not necessary, but given there’s no additional veg on the plate they did add some balance.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 5_zpsjtzbucbg.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 4_zpstxjnl391.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 3_zpskrigyy7j.jpgW went for a Saddle of Pork dish with Red Cabbage, and this is the reason why I’ve not been able to buy pork since. It was quite honestly the best tasting bit of pig I’ve had the fortune to try, and no Sunday Roast will ever be the same again. Was it fancy? Certainly not. But it was damn tasty. As we ate they sold out of the salad cut, so moved on to serving the same dish but with another cut of pork. Nose to tail eating at it’s finest.

Though talking about the sides, I’m still a little bitter I couldn’t talk my husband into sharing the Welsh Rarebit with me. Next time.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 8_zpsddv2rngo.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 7_zpse4mq2yeh.jpgTo be fair to him, I was struggling at this point. As was he – to the point he looked slightly panicked when they surprising him with a birthday treat of some (absolutely wonderful) ginger ice-cream. I stole a good few spoonfuls as it went perfectly with my Ginger Loaf with Butterscotch Sauce (also served with vanilla ice-cream, but the ginger was better). Surprisingly this wasn’t over-sweet, and was pretty much everything I always hope a Sticky Toffee Pudding would be…Eccles Cake with Cheese was also a good choice, and we rolled out of the restaurant too very full, very happy people.

Have you ever visited St John? Where’s the best meal you’ve had of 2019 so far?

Restaurant Review: A Double Brunch at Home SW15 (Putney) ft. The BEST Brunch Dish I’ve Ever Eaten

Home SW15 is our local ‘go-to’ – it’s where we head for a few drinks, dinner (when we have the pennies) and now brunch. Admittedly it’s taken us over a year to go for brunch but after repeated poor service at The Dynamo even the eggs couldn’t quite let me forget the unwelcoming vibe. Home SW15 is the complete opposite.

 photo Home SW15_zpsafygi6v0.jpgAs the name suggests, it’s like going home. Someone will always rush to greet you at the door. They’ll ask about your day if you’re dining in the evening, enquire about your plans at brunch. It’s friendly, it’s relaxed and it just feels comfortable. It’s not only the service that I love about this place though, the food is pretty damn good. We’ve had a couple of dinners there (my first review is here – bad photos!) but we also managed to squeeze in two brunches in the space of about three weeks recently.

 photo Brunch at Home SW15 1_zps6exrjxri.jpg photo Brunch at Home SW15 4_zpspscqghmf.jpgThe first was a treat from my dad in exchange for sleeping on our floor after his Christmas party. It was on this occasion that I ordered the best brunch dish I’ve ever had. I know that sounds a bit click-baity but quite honestly I could and would order this again and again, despite the high-ish price-tag. At £16.50 the Crab Cakes are pushing the purse strings, but oh my are they worth it! Two fair-sized crab cakes, packed full of crab with it’s instantly reconnisable sweetness. Two perfectly poached eggs. The most glorious hollandaise. Some crunchy chilli and spring onions for even more flavour and some texture. Yum. Yum. YUM.

 photo Brunch at Home SW15 7_zpsucgfhrls.jpgThe boys both ordered the Shakshauka. Obviously this isn’t something I can steal a mouthful of, but it smelt delicious and they seemed happy. The portion was also exceptionally generous, with plenty of toast for dipping. Nothing worse than not getting enough toast to soak up runny egg or sauce!

The second was for W’s birthday and, in true Home style, we were greated with on-the-house minosas (the freshly squeeze orange juice was divine) and even a hand-written birthday card from the team. It’s those kind of details that really do make it our favourite local.

 photo Brunch at Home SW15 11_zpshxk9inlo.jpg photo Brunch at Home SW15 14_zpsydhfndqm.jpg photo Brunch at Home SW15 13_zpso0qrwbv0.jpgOn this occasion I ordered the Eggs Benedict. It’s one of my favourite brunch dishes and generally I would always order it if I saw it on a menu – and this came with a bit of twist. Instead of using bacon or a slice of ham, the muffins are piled high with shredded ham hock before being generously drizzled in hollandaise and topped with poached eggs. Now I’ve had the ham hock as a main course for dinner at Home before, so I knew it was tasty. But I really wasn’t expecting quite so much of it for breakfast. It was absolutely delicious and I’m not sure a standard Benny will do it for me again! The only complaint I do have is that my eggs were quite lukewarm as opposed to hot, I have a feeling they made have stood for a few minutes.

 photo Brunch at Home SW15 9_zpsdtiggly0.jpgW also ordered well, with the French Toast, Banana, Maple Syrup and Bacon. I can’t quite get over the banana-bacon combo, but the piece of French Toast I stole was the best I’ve eaten outside of the US. Gooey and soft in the right places, crisp in others, wonderfully sweet but still light. I was quite tempted to order another plate of these after I’d finished my dish!

So yep, Home SW15 is a solid brunch spot, and one I’d whole heartedly recommend. Even if you’re not local it’s well worth the trip just for the crab cake dish alone… Uou also have to go for ‘bar snacks’ if you can. Their Cauliflower Cheese Croquettes are deep-fried balls of dreams. I’m not sure there is a limit to what I would do to get my hands on a plate of these…

Where’s your go-to brunch choice? Do you stick to one place or do you like to explore?

Restaurant Review: Indian Fine Dining @ Trishna, London

For perhaps quite obvious reasons, we don’t go out for an Indian (or order one in) as often as I’d like – I find it’s probably the most difficult of all cuisines to eliminate tomato from, and so I tend to avoid it. However with a trip to one of London’s fine dining Indian restaurants on the top of W’s list for his graduation meal I sucked up the nerves, booked and table and made them well aware of my allergies.

 photo Trishna_zpsqpdsdgo4.jpgTurns out they were spectacularly able to cope with my allergies, though if a place has a Michelin Star I kind of expect that. But I was also able to eat just as much as everyone else, have just as much variety, and there was only a few things that were absolutely off limits, with other dishes either fine as they were or adapted to suit. We went for the 7-course tasting menu and, as this was over three months ago, unfortunately my memory isn’t quite doing the meal justice. I expect the tasting menu changes regularly anyway, so this is more an overview than an in-depth review!

It wouldn’t be an Indian meal, however fancy, if we didn’t start with poppadoms and chutneys. We had a selection, and all were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the surprisingly fiery green dip. It was bright, it was fresh, packed with coriander flavour and other subtler hints of spice, with a great big whack of chilli to finish.

There was a lot of seafood on the menu, with the first three courses being entirely fish-based for me (although the tasting menu does generally provide a choice for each course – I avoided the heavier meatier options, though the sweetbreads and venison did go down well with the rest of the table).

 photo Trishna London Review 4_zpsszg1sg1w.jpgI loved the prawns we had for our first proper course. Deep fried in a very light and flavoursome batter, served with fresh coconut and a nice spicy dip. Perhaps the most perfectly cooked prawns I’ve tried. These were followed by a huge and again perfectly cooked scallop with more coconut and a delicious sauce. Another dish I really enjoyed.

 

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Some dishes are too good to take off the menu – Hariyali Bream #TrishnaClassics #TrishnaLondon

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The Hariyali Bream is a bit of a signature dish for Trishna, and I personally loved it (although it was near on impossible to get a good photograph!). The deliciately cooked fish was covered in a green chilli and coriander coating served alongside tomato kachumber or, if you’re me, a sprouted bean salad that was delightfully fresh and light. The fish had clearly been cooked well, but it also had a lick of smoke suggesting there’s someone *very* skilled on the tandoor oven involved.

 

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Tandoor charred Lamb Chops – Kashmiri Chilli, Ginger, Crushed Onion & Kasundi Mooli #TrishnaLondon

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My Tandoori Lamb Chop was delicious, but this was back at a time when eating red meat proved a little difficult for me, so I did unfortunately give up after a bite or two. Don’t get me wrong – it was meaty, juicy, well-cooked, full-of-flavour and just the right amount of spice to compliment (and not over-power) the lamb. But right then I was not a fan of meat and just couldn’t do it justice. I did also feel the mooli salad on the side was overpowdered by the mustard spicing.

 

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Bater Shami Kebabs with mint, cardamom, ginger & tamarind chutney, quail scotch eggs #TrishnaLondon

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One of my favourite courses was the Bater Shami Kebab with mint, cardamom, ginger & tamarind chutney, quail scotch eggs. This really did feel like fine dining (perhaps the only course that truly gave that impression) with gorgeous presentation, and a fabulous mix of flavours and textures. The egg in particular – delicious.

My highlight, however, was our ‘main.’ Our chosen curry (I think we had a choice of three or four) arrived alongside a selection of rices, sides and naans. They’d thoughtfully cooked some sides separately for me, though I was so full by this point I merely tried them – finding the potatoes delicious but the dahl a little watery for my taste. The Crab Coconut Curry I chose (with Dorset brown crab, coconut oil, pepper, garlic, and curry leaf) was utterly delicious, and I’m beyond gutted I was too full to eat more than a couple of spoonfuls. The curry flavour was just enough to compliment the crab, which was sweet and tender. Every mouthful was bursting with both crab and spices, it was quite honestly the best curry I’ve eaten. Naan breads were also amazing, buttery and almost flaky. I could be served a bowl of the crab curry and a selection of these naan for my final meal and I’d die a happy lady…

 photo Trishna London Review 14_zpsbyxbric1.jpg photo Trishna London Review 1_zpslgfb7wpm.jpgDesserts were also delicious, with my Pistachio and Fig Kheer (cardamon rice pudding, pistachio kulfi and fig confiture) being just the right combination of sweet and refreshing to round off a very filling meal.

So, fancy Indian meals? Turns out it’s definitely worth it, and this was a really memorable meal – I know I’ll be back for more of that crab curry in the future! The service was, allergy wise, pretty excellent and I felt safe eating everything given to me (unlike many chain restaurants I could name). Atmosphere was potentially a bit light on a Friday evening, but for food this good I’m not sure I care.

Have you ever tried a ‘fancy’ Indian restaurant? What’s your go-to curry?

Review: Royal China, Queensway*

Don’t judge, but I may have (nearly) made it to the age of 25 without ever trying a Chinese. I’m not even sure why! Don’t get me know, we had the occasional takeaway as a treat growing up, but more often than not it was fish’n’chips (my go-to was a Pukka pie, I love them!) or the very occasional Indian – made even rarer when I developed my tomato allergy. We just never ordered Chinese.

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 1_zpsjftdvbvz.jpgWe were recently invited to try out the menu at the Queenway branch of the Royal China restaurant group and let me tell you, I’m now definitely going to consider Chinese we do order in from now on – my eyes have been opened to a whole new cuisine and I’m gutted I’d missed out before!

Royal China is an award-winning restaurant chain with branches across London. They’re most famous for their Dim Sum menu (which I’d have really loved to sample, but unfortunately I have very few weekends free right now!), but they also have some really quite unique dishes available. That said, being first-timers we played it safe with our choices – maybe next time we’ll be more daring!

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 17_zpsimk0p7ia.jpgArriving at the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised by how large the dining area was – and how full it was at just 7pm. A lot of people seemed to be just finishing their meals, with it near emptying soon after we sat down, but by the time we left it was again near-full with a buzzy atmosphere. Service really depending on the staff you got at the time. Our waitress who sat us down asked us if we wanted a drink immediately, we requested tap water ‘for now’ and she obliged, though took the drinks menu with her never to be seen again. This contrasted greatly with a waiter who was, quite frankly, delightful. Pleased to advise on dishes that might be suited to a ‘first-timer,’ not laughing at my chopstick ability and even offering to take photos and move out of the light for me. I’d seen some reviews detailing really bad service and, whilst it was brisk, efficient and not particularly friendly (above waiter aside) I didn’t have any real complaints.

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 6_zpsdheizxbc.jpgWe started with some Crispy Aromatic Duck with the usual pancakes and accompaniments. We went for the half duck (£25.80) but felt the quarter would have definitely served two fine if you’d wanted another couple of starters to share or richer main courses. The duck arrived in one piece, then was swiftly taken to one side and shredded in front of us. This meat it was as fresh as could be and it certainly showed – the fleshier pieces were moist and tender, the crispy parts not showing even a hint of sogginess. The sauce was strongly flavoured, sharp and sweet in equal measures which balanced the rich meat well. There was just the right amount of pancakes for the duck, though we noted we ran out of cucumber a little quickly. My one big complaint here is that we were assembling on cold plates, which rendered serving warm pancakes pointless as they were always cold by the time we’d filled them.

We decided to ‘go by the pictures’ when ordered our mains, shameful as I feel that is! We ordered a couple of meat dishes to share, along with a vegetable ‘side dish’ and some egg fried rice.

I surprisingly enjoyed the egg-fried rice (£4.50). I was surprisingly because my only previous exposure to it was dubious school dinners where it was not good. The rice was fluffy, the egg not overcooked and it perfectly edible. Perhaps a little more seasoning wouldn’t have hurt, but when enjoyed alongside other dishes it was absolutely fine.

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 19_zpsgpk1ioxl.jpg photo Royal China Restaurant Review 20_zps1nzpyl6t.jpgOur first meat dish was Lemon Chicken (£11.80). I have to say this was not to my taste at all, but having said that I’m not sure it would be anywhere. I found the sauce very sweet, and likened it to something I’d have liked with some cake or ice-cream, not chicken! The little bit of chicken I nibbled on was very well cooked, tender and soft with a pleasingly crisp coating. This was perhaps a bad choice on my part, as W enjoyed the dish a lot more.

On the side we enjoyed the Chinese Broccoli with Ginger (£11.80). Other than the price making me wince a little, I did find this dish exceptionally difficult to eat with chopsticks, but it was crunchy and flavourful and went perfectly with our next dish.

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 14_zps5jnkatby.jpg photo Royal China Restaurant Review 15_zpshcpvt4is.jpgBeef with Cashew Nuts (£12.80) was our most successful main order, and I really loved the sauce. It was rich, well-balanced and had a good salty kick. Most of the beef was melt-in-the-mouth tender, and all of the vegetables had clearly been cooked for their allotted time as nothing was under or over done. I did have an issue with some pieces of very chewy beef, suggesting more care could have been taken with trimming and preparing before cooking, but I still really enjoyed it. It went really well with both the egg-fried rice and the broccoli, and I’d definitely re-order.

So, my overall impressions of Royal China? It was fine, and a great introduction to Chinese food. I found the prices to be a little high and I probably wouldn’t rush back, but it wasn’t a bad experience (if it was closer to home I probably would have felt differently about going back). The prices were perhaps a tad high, though I thought the duck was really reasonable. I may had also felt differently had I ordered things more to my taste, or knew more about what food I might enjoy. I know Crispy Beef is something I now really need to try, so maybe I will head back to try Royal China’s version…

*We were invited to dine at Royal China in exchange for an honest review. All photos are my own, unless marked otherwise, and my opinions are as always honest!

Are you a fan of Chinese food? What dishes should I try next?!

Restaurant Review: Pizza Union, Kings Cross

This review should really be titled “what to eat when you’re really hangry in King’s Cross and don’t fancy a McDonalds.” Because in that situation I always, always recommend Pizza Union. Speedy service, excellent value and tasty pizza to boot, it’s a great option that’s just a short walk away from the station (especially if you get the right exit out of St Pancras!).

 photo Pizza Union_zpseorlm4hn.jpgI’ve eaten a lot of pizza, both in Italy and in London. I’ve eaten really bad pizza (so far Pizza Pilgrims has been my least-loved), I’ve eaten absolutely amazing pizza (get The Stelvio at Dynamo, you won’t be disappointed! Best. Pizza. Ever). I know what I like in a pizza. I like a sourdough crust that’s got a bit of crispness, isn’t soggy and has good flavour in it’s own right. It should be topped evenly with sauce, cheese and other tasty things, but not overloaded. Pizza Union is a little different to my preferred pizza, in that it’s a thinner crust and really rather crispy dry. But it is tasty, and doesn’t leave me feeling so full I can’t face boarding a train.

 photo Pizza Union Review 2_zpsd1ze64cp.jpgThe average pizza costs around £6 which is pretty bargainous if you ask me – and the margherita gives change from £4 which is probably cheaper than a meal at McDs these days (I haven’t eaten one since the night we got engaged. Let’s just say it wasn’t the romantic night it should have been!). You order at the counter, grab a buzzer, take your seat then collect your pizza when it’s ready. I enjoyed a glass of pretty good prosecco whilst I waited, at £3.70 it would be rude not to! W also spoke very highly of his frozen raspberry mojito slushie…

And then the pizza arrived.

A Calabria for him (tomato sauce, mozzarella, mascarpone, Nduja spicy sausage, rocket, £5.95) and a Milano for me (white base with mozzarella, gorgonzola, pancetta, mushrooms, and rosemary, £5.95).

 photo Pizza Union Review 7_zpszlulfvwu.jpg photo Pizza Union Review 9_zpspxgwwliq.jpg photo Pizza Union Review 11_zpsxc02b93s.jpgThe bases were thin and crispy, my bacon also nicely crisp. Not too much mushrooms (because whilst I love them, I find they go cold super-quickly on pizza), and a great salty and slightly funky hit from the blue cheese. A really good white pizza, especially for the price. W hoovered up his pretty quickly too.

My only regret? We didn’t save enough room for the Dolce – a ring of pizza dough encasing nutella and mascapone. Maybe this is a reason to go back!

Where’s your favourite pizza place?