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?

Review: Bread Ahead Bakery’s Introduction to Sourdough Course

Bread Ahead Bakery might be famed across London and the internet for their doughnuts, but their other baked goods deserve the recognition too. Sure, the pillows of joy filled with flavoured custard and topped with something yummy are amazingly good (the praline one is my all-time favourite) but I have a big soft-spot for their bread.

 photo Sourdough Course_zpsmakkrg74.jpgChewy rye, flaky and salty focaccia, full-flavoured sourdough. Nothing I’ve tried has been anything short of delicious. So when, on the back of my review of their Doughnut Workshop (which I bought for W’s present – it makes a fab gift or day-date!), the bakery invited me down to try another of their classes I jumped at the chance.

It took a while to find a suitable date, as their weekend classes get booked up really quickly, but one hot July afternoon we headed over to their Sloane Square branch for an Introduction to Sourdough. Conveniently located next to a cheese-shop, we bought supplies for a picnic from the bakery and their neighbours before heading for up three hours of expert tuition in all things sourdough.

 photo Bread Ahead Introduction to Sourdough Course 3_zpsdfkhlsw3.jpg photo Bread Ahead Introduction to Sourdough Course 2_zps4zoghokr.jpgNow, if you’re looking for a really fun baking class I’d recommend you look at some of Bread Ahead’s other options. The doughnut class was very fun, although we still learnt a lot, and it was rather laid back. Whilst I really, really enjoyed this sourdough class, I also found it intense and felt a little like I was back at school! It certainly wasn’t relaxing, it was fast-paced and I found myself wishing it was spread out over another hour or so. That said we came home with two loaves each (a borodinsky rye and white levain) plus our own yeast culture to kick-start our sourdough baking journey at home (with five days of flour for feeding), and a LOT of knowledge. I’ll be doing a ‘top tips for sourdough baking’ post in a few months when I feel more comfortable using a live yeast culture to bake with.

 photo Bread Ahead Introduction to Sourdough Course 10_zpsa3qoqb0i.jpg photo Bread Ahead Introduction to Sourdough Course 10_zpsa3qoqb0i.jpg photo Bread Ahead Introduction to Sourdough Course 10_zpsa3qoqb0i.jpgThe class followed a similar structure to the doughnut class. It was very hands on, but there was also ‘Blue Peter’ moments due to the need to let bread dough rise over a longer period of time. We each had a go at shaping doughs, kneading and discussed the best way to bake, and all got to have a sniff of Bruce, the bakery’s ongoing culture which is around 4 years old. I now know to avoid washing my hands with soap before handling my sourdough starter or any bread mix containing it (the antibacterial soap residue will kill the friendly bacteria). I have better knowledge of how to knead wetter doughs. I’m not as scared of putting things in an oven heated to maximum temperature.

Oh, and we also got to have some fresh-from-the-oven sourdough with a delicious salted butter and blackberry jam. My idea of heaven.

Are you a fan of cookery classes? Are there any in London you’d recommend?

Review: Wyld Cocktail-Based Afternoon Tea @ Dandelyan, Mondrian London

Up until recently I’ve shied away from the idea of enjoying an afternoon tea in London, because damn can those menus get expensive. However a promise of a fancy afternoon tea for my mum’s Christmas present but the pressure on and, after much research, I booked us in for the not-quite-so-traditional Wyld Tea at Dandelyan, in the ground floor of the Mondrian London hotel.

Based on the Southbank (the location is perfect for people-watching, particularly if you manage to get a window table), and with a lovely view of the River Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, Dandelyan is an award-winning cocktail bar. It’s also one of the lovliest places to spend a few hours. The area is full of comfortable sofas with their own tables, each slightly tucked away and private without loosing the buzz of the bar. We arrived at 1pm and it was nice and quiet (wonderful for the all-important Instagram shot) but it got quite busy from around 2pm onwards – so if you wanted a quieter afternoon tea I’d recommend booking for noon. Service was also wonderful – friendly without being pushy, attentive without being over-bearing.

Dandelyan offers 3 choices for afternoon tea – the ‘sober’ version coming with just a pot of tea, (£35) the champagne option (£45) and the Wyld Tea. At £55 per person the Wyld tea includes 4 cocktails each, a full pot of tea, as well as three plates of afternoon tea delights. It’s an inventive menu, with the delicious 1970’s inspired sweet and savoury treats having a subtle botanical influence throughout. The cocktails are also perfectly matched – I was concerned that as we enjoyed the food the cocktails would taste less and less delicious, but this was far from true. All the elements of the menu complemented each other perfectly.

We started with our first cocktail, the Fluff & Fold Royale. This was a short-style cocktail of Lime, Fresh Basil, Cacao Liqueur, Orange Bitters and Prosecco Served with Marshmallow and Pistachio Powder. Whilst it actually didn’t smell great at all, we found it delicious. The zing of the citrus and slight bitterness coming through really whetted our appetite. It was also nicely strong too – they certainly don’t skimp on alcohol measures!

Our choice of tea was served alongside the first cocktail. My mum, being the Northerner she is, went for the standard English breakfast tea which she said was delicious, although we did have to ask for sugar to be served alongside. I went with their Zest Tea, which was a fragrant blend of lemongrass and ginger. Light, tasty and delicious alongside the rest of the food and drink!

Our savoury food course came next along with our second cocktail – the Knoll House Cup was a longer cocktail, served iced cold, made up of Martini Ambrato, Italicus, Creme de Melon and Cardamom. This was a delicious cocktail! Not sweet in the slightest, it was refreshing and very easily drinkable. And of course, the food matched up to the cocktails. We had a couple of different dishes due to our different allergies, but between us ate:

  • Scottish Smoked Salmon, Rock Samphire, Brown Shrimp, Candied Orange Butter Sandwich
  • Lyan Lager Braised Bacon Jam, Confit Suffolk Chicken Pin-wheel
  • Elderflower Compressed Cucumber, Burnt Herb Cream, Rocket Sandwich
  • Ham Hock & Piccalilli Vegetable Butter, Mustard Cress Sandwich
  • Mushroom Toast
  • Roasted Vegetable and Hummus Sandwich

All were slightly different variations on the more traditional elements of an afternoon tea, but all were delicious. It’s quite possible they’ve spoilt a more normal afternoon tea for me!

The Salmon sandwich was as fresh as can be, with the orange butter adding a luxurious layer of flavour. The shrimp added a bit of much-needed texture, although my mum did note that with it being a double-decker sandwich the texture of the smoked salmon was perhaps a bit overwelming.

It’s clear that top-quality ingredients are used here, and it was highly evident in the cucumber sandwich. Utterly delicious, it was a subtle combination of flavours that I could have eaten again and again. I love cucumber sandwiches anyway, but I’ll be looking to re-create the smoky and floral notes that Dandelyan managed to achieve.

I also really enjoyed the Ham with Piccalilli Butter. The ham was meaty and succulent, and the butter added just the right about of pickle-ness without taking over. Again something I’ll definitely look to recreate at home!

My only negative was the Mushroom Toast, which I don’t believe is a regular feature on the menu (it was replacing the Leek & Goat’s Cheese Rarebit, which sounds delicious but unfortunately neither of us are able to eat it!). The Mushrooms were gorgeous and well-flavoured, the toast crunchy. However it was impossible to eat in a lady-like fashion, with both of us rather inelegantly ending up with mushrooms in our laps…oops! I would have also liked the option of refills, as I’d have definitely eaten another one or two of those cucumber sandwiches!

The sweet courses were just as delicious, though first we were given a ‘palate cleanser’ cocktail which turned out to be our favorite of the afternoon. The Spotless Peach (Ketel One Vodka, RinQuinQuin, Off-Cut Cordial, and Chalk) is hands-down the best cocktail I’d even drank, and one I’d walk a thousand miles to have again. Sweet but not overly so, it was almost like a light and fruity white wine.

There’s no scones served with the afternoon tea at Dandelyan, which may disappoint purists. However I quite often find they are my least favourite part of the experience, as they are quite often stodgy (I’ve been spoilt with my mum’s scones!), and they are also super-filling. Here, you are served an exquisite slice of Blackcurrant & Lemon Verbena Battenberg Cake. The Lemon quarters are zingy, the Blackcurrent sharp and fruity. It was quite honestly like nothing I have eaten before – but something I’d certainly want to eat again. The cake was fresh and moist, the icing sweet without being cloying.

The pastry plate was just as delicious. We felt the only slightly lack-lustre option was the Pine Scented Baked Alaska with Berries, as the two flavours didn’t quite merge together as seamlessly as we’d hoped, with the berries being overly tart and the pine slightly too strong. The rest were wonderful.

The Earl Grey Chocolate Mousse & Candied Grapefruit was almost like a posh Jaffa Cake. Chocolatey and zingy, slightly bitter, wonderfully creamy. I loved it. My highlight was the Custard Tart, which was topped with a runny caramel. It was slightly nutty and one of the most delicious little desserts I’ve eaten in a while – although a harder set to the caramel might have made it slightly easier to eat! My mum’s favourite was the Rose Blancmange & Caraway Shortbread. The biscuit base was actually quite salty, which went perfectly with the sweet rose cream on top. A stunning set of pastries!

We finished with our final cocktail, a fruity number. The Bankside Swizzle was a sweet and tart combination of Bacardi Carta Oro, Aperol, Pineapple Cordial, Citrus, and Lemon Balm. We took our time to sip on this one, still catching up with each other.

The Wyld Afternoon Tea at Dandelyan might have been my first foray into luxury afternoon teas, but it won’t be the last! This would be the perfect option for a more relaxed hen party (indeed, there were two there whilst we were), but it was also the most wonderful spot for a mother-daughter date.

Are you an afternoon tea fan? Where would you recommend? 

Review: Modern Thai Food at Yum Sa, Putney

I watched Yum Sa being put together every day for months, walking past it on my way to/from East Putney station twice a day. To say I was excited about it opening is perhaps an understatement – Thai food is one of my favourite treats, and not something I indulge in very often.

We visited one Friday evening and found the restaurant pleasantly full, but the layout meant it was fairly quiet and intimate for most tables – although unfortunately we felt rather squeezed into one corner, to the point the couple next to us had to move slightly so we could squeeze in. A point made repeatedly by my fiance was that his chair was decidedly uncomfortable (I had no problems), to the extreme that we actually left before ordering dessert and he’s still going on about it a few weeks later. His complaints aside, I loved the look and feel of the restaurant. It was modern without being stark, relaxing music played throughout and everything seemed well thought out. The bar area is utterly Instagrammable too, I’m just gutted it was too busy to take a decent photo!

Service was – ok. Nothing to write home about, a bit brisk and efficient for my liking, a bit lacking in character. One point to note was that despite our cutlery being placed on our starter plates, it was removed and left with us for our mains. The food was also a tad lack lustre, though I think I had very high expectations.

Hoisin Duck Gyoza were completely and utterly delicious. I really enjoyed them, with the rich and tender duck being perfectly balanced by the sweet and complex flavours of the hoisin. Likewise, the Crab & Chicken Roll was also good, with the sweet chilli style dipping sauce being particularly excellent. However the texture of the latter was a little rubbery, and the delicate flavour of the crab completely lost. My biggest issue was the price. The two starters came to just under £19 and yet the portion sizes were, frankly, disappointingly small. I’d have happily paid a bit less for the two dishes and probably raved about them, but as it was I felt a little short changed.

It turns out this theme continued with the mains. My Lamb Massaman was a fine example of a massaman (though could have arrived at the table slightly hotter, as it quickly become luke-warm). The sauce was creamy, aromatic and with a delicate hint of spice. The rice it came with was some of the nicest rice I’ve had at a Thai, sticky without being stodgy. However, and I don’t exaggerate here, my pot of curry contained only two pieces of lamb, and not particularly sizeable pieces either.

W went with the Yellow Curry, and our servers suggestion of King Prawns. He at least fared slightly better in terms of portion size, but still received only 5 or 6 prawns. Again, the sauce was wonderfully creamy and well-spiced, the flavours absolutely spot on.

And this is my issue with Yum Sa. Everything was delicious, the food nearly perfect. But we left still feeling slightly peckish. And at £80 for two courses, water and service charge, that has left a bad taste in my mouth. That said, I do have my eye on their Brunch deals (which sounds like a far more purse friendly way to indulge my love of Thai food) and I’m sure I will be back to visit on occasion. I’ll just maybe have a slice of toast before hand…

Do you have any recommendations for Thai food in London?

Review: Doughnut Workshop @ Bread Ahead Bakery, Borough Market

I’m pretty sure anyone who’s ever visited Borough Market will have ooh-ed and ahh-ed at Bread Ahead’s doughnuts. Possibly bought one, possibly snapped a picture of these utterly-Instagrammable pillows of joy. They are a bit of an icon in London, and rightly so. Sure, we’ve had a few more doughnut shops pop up over the last year or so, but these aren’t sickly-sweet. These are made over two days, with a well-flavoured dough and perfectly thought out fillings. They’re super-freshly made, with thousands being made a day. And I highly, highly recommend you pick one up the next time you’re in Borough Market.

We, however, went one step further than just buying the doughnuts.

Yep, we went to one of Bread Ahead’s workshops and learnt how to make them. Justin Gellatly was our tutor for the class, so that caused a massive fan-girl moment by yours truly!

It might take a full two days to produce one of these doughnuts, but the course is very cleverly squeezed into a few (delicious) hours. We first use some dough that has been ready-made by the team, and learn how to roll the perfect doughnuts. All Bread Ahead doughnuts are rolled by hand, and it’s definitely harder than it looks… We popped them on to prove, and then go going with actually making a batch of dough.

As someone who shies away from enriched dough and kneading in general (there’s a reason I love Jame’s Morton’s bread recipes, and it’s that I rarely need to get my hands dirty!), I was nervous about making this dough – however it has actually made me a lot more confident. Who knew a pinch of lemon zest could prevent the dough from getting overly greasy?! With the dough popped in the fridge, we got on with fillings – some of the 14 strong class demonstrating how to make honeycomb and custards. We then got to sample a doughnut cooked in from of us by Justin, still hot from the fryer. I’m not sure doughnuts will ever, ever be the same again…

After a quick coffee break, we got on with frying our own shaped doughnuts, before sugar bombing them in the largest bowl of sugar I’d ever, ever seen. It was then time to pipe in the fillings, a process that got messy, sticky and ended up with an awful lot of the caramel custard ending up in my mouth rather than my doughnut (#sorrynotsorry). We left the class with a bag of goodies each – 6 freshly made doughnuts (plus an extra we’d squeezed out from some leftover dough), a pot of dough for another six doughnuts, and 2 big bags of honeycomb.

Oh, and we bought a deep fat fryer on the way home purely for making more doughnuts. We’re nothing if not committed!

At £80 per person this class was far from cheap, but it was without doubt the best cookery class I’ve ever, ever done. It was very hands-on, we got lots of delicious goodies, and we came away feeling confident in making enriched dough, in deep-frying, in making custard, and with a doughnut addiction. I’d highly recommend a class, though they book up wayyyy in advance!

*Disclaimer – this workshop was paid for by myself as part of my fiance’s birthday present, and I wasn’t asked to write a review (we just had a fab time and I wanted to share!). I am, however, due to be working with Bread Ahead on a little review opportunity over the summer as a result of my Instagram posts following this workshop. All opinions, as always, are my own!

Are you a doughnut fan? Have you tried a cookery class?

Restaurant Review: A Seasonal British Dinner @ Home SW15, Putney

A few new places have popped up in Putney over the last six months or so, and this is the one I was most excited about. Home SW15 boasts a welcoming atmosphere, modern interiors and yummy seasonal food – sounded like a winner in my books!

And seasonal it certainly is! We actually visited a while back in January, so as a result the menu has completely updated leaving me to guess what we actually had. Whoops…

We started with cocktails, and this is where Home SW15 is really exciting. The front of their restaurant is more of a drinking lounge, with a decent cocktail menu – added to which they also do some interesting seasonal cocktails. As I type the ones on the menu feature rhubarb, but when we visited? Parsnip cocktails. That’s not a typo. I went for a sweet one involving white chocolate and aniseed flavours, W’s was fruitier and sharper – both delicious.

On to starters – around the table we had mackerel served with beetroot (which went down well), then W had a bruschetta with goat’s cheese and red onion which was much more than the sum of it’s parts. I went down the heavier route, choosing a game sausage roll with quince ketchup. It was meaty, it was flavourful, the ketchups sharpness offsetting the richness of the game and the buttery pastry. Definitely a winner.

The mains were a bit of a mixed bag. The Confit Potato with Mushrooms was found to be a bit over-heavy, and W thought his Guinea Fowl was lacking a sauce (though it was very well cooked, and the lentils nicely flavoured – a sauce would have made it perfect). I had some of the sharing dish – a whole Treacle Glazed Ham Hock, served with mash and cabbage.

This was delightful. The meat was fall-apart tender, with fattier bits and crispier bits, and a lovely sweetness coming from the glaze. The mashed potato was impossibly buttery – so smooth and creamy that I could have bathed in it. The cabbage was well cooked, nicely seasoned, and burnt a little to add an extra dimension. If it hadn’t have been such a rich dish I could (and would!) have carried on eating it for hours.

Puddings were all good. The Brioche Doughnut with Banana Cream went down very well, and my Chocolate & Hazelnut Mousse with Salted Caramel was delightful. Full of chocolate flavour, with a hint of Nutella-ness about it, crunch from whole nuts and a really salty caramel to offset the sweetness, it was the perfect end to a lovely meal.

As an additional note, the night before we visited they’d actually suffered a break-in, yet the staff were in remarkable spirits. Cheerful and welcoming despite what must have been a horrific day. By far the friendliest staff I’ve experienced in a while!

With Home SW15 only being up the road from me, I really have no excuse as to why I don’t visit very often. I need to try their brunch menu asap!

Where’s the best seasonal menu you’ve eaten?

Review: Mandira, Covent Garden (London’s 1st Fresh Yoghurt Bar)

Billed as ‘London’s first fresh yoghurt bar’ Mandira is a small, fairly-Instagrammable place just off Covent Garden. Admittedly the concept of ‘yoghurt bar’ confused me and, quite frankly, scared W when I told him where we were headed for lunch. As Time Out say, it’s a slightly bizarre concept!

The USP of Mandira is their pots of natural yogurt with various sweet and savoury toppings, but there’s also soups, Turkish Simit bread (similar to a bagel, but slightly flatter, lighter and topped with plenty of sesame seeds), vegetable latkes, smoothies (the cacao and orange one sounds divine) and authentic Turkish hot drinks. Everything is prepped daily and then assembled to order, keeping it as fresh as possible, but also (perhaps more importantly) keeping the yoghurt toppings crunchy.  Recently, Mandira has added something new to their menu – it’s what I was asked to review, and as it’s my current obsession I couldn’t say no!

Turkish Eggs are my go-to breakfast, brunch and/or lunch option right now. Full of protein, light, ready in ten minutes and super easy, there’s not a single reason to go for anything else. Perfectly poached eggs, on a bed of thick and creamy yoghurt, drizzled with melted chilli butter and served with plenty of bread. Now, I have to say that whilst I *love* the dish, Mandira’s version wasn’t quite to my taste.

The eggs were poached to perfect, the yoghurt was gorgeously thick and creamy. However the yoghurt was cold, and the chilli butter was in fact olive oil, then a shake of dried chillis and paprika. It all led to the dish being served up luke-warm and getting cold quite quickly – and cold poached eggs are not exactly appetising. It’s definitely got promise though, heat the yoghurt and they’d have a winning dish. Especially with some toasted Simit dippers – I’ll definitely be trying to make these by adapting my bagel recipe!

W went for one of their Simits – with Turkish Style Cured Beef, Butter and Kaseri Cheese. This was delicious. Filled with mild and creamy cheese, and plenty of the tasty and lightly spiced beef (similar to pastrami) I did have a bit of food envy! Mainly as it was so cold and this was properly hot and warming…

We were also given a selection of their yoghurt pots (in miniature, so we didn’t have to roll ourselves out!) to try. We picked three savoury and three sweet flavours and got stuck in!

Out of our savoury picks, the Hummus + Za’atar (Hummus + Chickpeas + Toasted Pine Nuts + Parsley + Za’atar + Sumac + E.V. Olive Oil) was our least favourite, as it felt a little underseasoned. The other two were gorgeous though.  Smoked Salmon and Dill (Forman’s Smoked Salmon + Dill + Lemon Juice + E.V. Olive Oil) was generous on the salmon, perfectly seasoned with black pepper and dill, and the whole combination went perfectly with the yoghurt. I can imagine a pot of this and some Simit dippers would make a perfect lunch! The Cauliflower and Green Tahnini with Barley Rusk was also very good. The green sauce was intensely flavoured, the cauli tender and the rusk added a good crunch. A tad garlicky if you were popping out of the office for a quick lunch, but as we shared it wasn’t too much of an issue!

The sweet ones were also good. Sweet enough to round off the meal, without being cloying or leaving us in a food coma. My favourite was the Banana and Hazelnut, which came drizzled with Maple Syrup. There was just enough banana and crunchiness to remind me of a banoffee pie, definitely not a bad thing! W really enjoyed the Quince Compote with Granola. The first time we had eaten a fresh quince (rather than in a jam or chutney with cheese) it was really quite delicious. The Dark Chocolate & Orange was slightly disappointing, though absolutely delicious if you got a good spoonful of everything as the mint leaves made all the difference.

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Whilst our meal wasn’t faultless, I know I’ll definitely be back. Whether it’s to sip a Turkish tea, grab a toasted Simit or a pot of yoghurt and salmon (I imagine it would be wonderful on a hot summer’s day – though that feels a long way away after the weather this week!), I’m glad Mandira is now on my radar!

*We were invited to review Mandira for lunch, but all opinions are mine (and my fiances!). 

Would you go for a sweet or savoury yoghurt pot?

Review: Posh Pizza at Hai Cenato, Victoria

These monthly pizza reviews could become a bit of a ‘thing’ here – I certainly enjoy writing them at any rate. Any excuse to eat cheesy carbs…

Today’s review is perhaps a little overdue, given that it was another place I visited on my birthday (basically, the day it’s completely acceptable to eat alllll the food). Especially since the pizza was so damn good and, actually, I’d been thinking about it ever since.

Hai Cenato, Jason Atherton’s New York-Italian restaurant and cocktail bar in Victoria, has been on my radar for a while. We met the main man at Pollen Street Social back in April last year, and *really* enjoyed the food there, so I was intrigued to try his take on pizza. With a decent selection of white pizzas I’m only surprised it took me so long to visit!

My beautiful friend ordered the Margherita – with San Marzano tomato, London mozzarella, basil & parmesan. Obviously I didn’t try any, but it both looked and smelt delicious, and it all got eaten so it must’ve been tasty!

And if my pizza was anything to go by, it was certainly tasty. I ordered a pizza with the description “mozzarella, guanciale, egg yolk, black pepper, confit potato.” I mean, egg yolk on a pizza?! How could I resist?! Guanciale turned out to be Italian cured pig cheek, so vegetarians perhaps should be a little wary when ordering, but I have to say it was delicious. A world away from the last potato pizza I tried at Mother LDN, both lighter and more indulgent at the same time. There was just enough potato to be substantial without making me need a nap, the egg yolk was rich and added creaminess and the base was cooked to perfection. I’d put this in my top five pizzas of all time – though the order of which I’m not sure I could commit to paper/a screen.

As for the atmosphere, this seems to have been plagued with criticism in online reviews. I have to say I really enjoyed it. Service was friendly (plus they bought me a complimentary ice-cream with a candle in as I’d mentioned it was my birthday!), the music buzzy without being overly loud. The toilets were also insanely pretty, to the point I regretted not taking my phone so I could Instagram them…

Would I head into Victoria ‘just’ for a pizza again? Yes I would. It’s not going to replace our go-to treat on payday (cheers Dynamo), it’s the perfect date-night spot, and the perfect place to get a ‘special’ pizza. I know I’ll definitely be dragging W there asap!

Have you ever visited Hai Cenato? Where’s your favourite pizza spot?

Review: Brunch at Antipodea, Putney

Having stuck loyally to a certain brunch place in Putney since Summer ’16, my birthday gave me the excuse to branch out a little. Now. there’s absolutely nothing wrong with The Dynamo and it’s probably still my favourite spot (given the fact that it’s significantly closer and also does pizza!) but I kinda fancied something new.

There’s a couple of other places I’ve love to try, but with things to do and places to be we needed somewhere we could book a table and served a decent menu pre-10am. A surprisingly difficult criteria, but Antipodea on the Lower Richmond Road managed to meet it and I’d seen it look cutely decorated with fairy-lights the other month. And so come 9am on the 24th birthday, we were legging it down the road, late for our booking and cursing that it’s a good 25 minutes brisk walk away.

We needn’t have worried about being late – the staff were welcoming and friendly, once they’d stop laughing at the performance I’d made trying to get the folding door open. Shown to a little table tucked in a corner, complete with comfy armchairs, I’d already made up my mind. I liked this place.

Drinks were ordered and arrived swiftly. My Mörk hot chocolate was dark and hearty, without being overly rich. It’s not a hot chocolate for everyone (it’s certainly not thick, sweet or creamy) but I loved it. There was no complaints about the decaf mocha either.

One of the things I love about The Dynamo is their short and sweet brunch menu (though it has now grown and I need to get down there and try some of the new dishes!). Antipodea is the opposite – the brunch menu is HUGE and I deliberated for a good ten minutes between a couple of options. There’s the usual standard breakfast grub, sweet treats and some more unusual items. Turkish Eggs appears to be the new ‘thing’ in London right now and their Instagram suggests these are pretty damn good ones…

In the end, though, I couldn’t resist pancakes. And it was my birthday. Blueberry Pancakes, served with Caramelised Banana, Creme Fraiche and Maple Syrup was exactly the sugar fix I was in the mood for. Perhaps slightly too heavy on the syrup (though better than not having enough!), these pancakes were DELICIOUS. Thick and fluffy, but still decently caramelised on the outside. Not stodgy in the slightest. I could have eaten two platefuls!

W’s breakfast made me wish I wasn’t allergic to tomatoes, though he said he wished it had a bit more of a kick – some more bacon perhaps. Especially as the bacon there was delicious, smoked-in-house and apparently rather yummy. He ordered the Smokey Bacon Boston Beans, which came looking perfectly Instagrammable and with the most delicious sourdough. I’m actually *really* hoping their bread isn’t made in-house as I’d love to be able to buy a loaf for lazy weekend breakfast in beds…

Whilst the food wasn’t anything overly special, it was certainly yummy. But for me it was the atmosphere and service which really made this place. It was relaxed, all the staff had a smile on their face and it just felt comfortable. I wonder if they’ll mind me heading down there for a few hours to study…?!

Where’s your current favourite brunch spot?