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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

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

A post shared by TrishnaLondon (@trishnalondon) on

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

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

A post shared by TrishnaLondon (@trishnalondon) on

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

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

A post shared by TrishnaLondon (@trishnalondon) on

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?

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?

Restaurant Review: Pasta Perfection @ Padella, Borough Market

Anyone who loves food, or indeed anyone who has ever been to Borough Market, will be aware of Padella. It’s hard to miss the huge queues that start to snake around the market during the afternoon, just as it is difficult to ignore the tantalizing smells of garlic, of Parmesan. It’s also pretty difficult to miss the happy and satisfied faces of the people who managing to wait out the queue and snap up a much coveted table.

 photo Padella_zps1sgcekwm.jpgObviously, me being me, I become obsessed with going. And I hate queuing. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to spend my rare free Saturdays (I have potentially under a year to go before I reclaim my weekends back from studying – what will I do with all that time?!) queuing for lunch. I also have a teensy tendency to get a little hangry, so I can’t imagine W would be too happy for me to queue for potentially 2+ hours either! With that in mind, and a random Monday booked off work, we set about a day of foodie-touristing in London. 1 day, several restaurants with no-booking policies and an ice-cream exhibition (Scoop is well worth a trip, even if just to stand in a freezer during this heatwave!).

So, is Padella worth the hype?

Short answer = YES!. Long answer = see below.

 photo Padella Pasta Restaurant Review 10_zps8ldagsux.jpg photo Padella Pasta Restaurant Review 13_zpsx41h68bu.jpgWe started with Burrata, something which I’ve wanted to try forever, but which neither of us had ever actually ordered before. I’m fairly sure it’s now my go-to summer starter if I see it on the menu. Stretchy mozzarella, balancing the line between chewy and non-rubbery perfectly, with a just liquid, just oozing centre. Sat in a oil of fruity olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and served with well-baked bread, this is heaven on a plate. It was rich, creamy, cheesy and yet surprisingly light.

A post shared by Chloe Ellen (@life.and.loves) on

And then came the pasta. The star of the show. W ordered the daily special, which was delicate pasta parcels filled with a rabbit mix. The rabbit was tender, lightly shredded, with some soft vegetables in there. The flavours balanced bold yet subtle. Nothing overtook the rabbit, yet the whole dish shone. There was nowhere for the pasta to hide with this dish, yet it was clear it was expertly made.

I plumped for the Tagliarini with Exmouth Mussels, Chilli, Garlic and Oregano. And oh my! I’ve eaten a lot of pasta dishes in my time, and this is by far and away one of the best. It beats any pasta I ate in Rome hands down, with only a single dish in Venice remaining unbeaten. Pasta in the UK hasn’t come close to this so far, and I could have eaten it day after day. Soft, silky and extremely delicate pasta strands in the most fragrant of seafood sauces, small but plump mussels, and just the right level of chilli and garlic. It was sweet, it was savoury, it was absolutely delicious.

 photo Padella Pasta Restaurant Review 17_zpsjplffh18.jpg photo Padella Pasta Restaurant Review 22_zpswmortqll.jpgAnd then we finished with Lemon Tart. I thought it couldn’t get any better, but this was a fine example of a lemon tart. Very zingy, just the right amount of sweetness, and very well balanced with a dollop of creme fraiche. We shared this, but I regret the decision to share. Next time I’m keeping it all for myself.

So is Padella worth the hype, worth the queue? I hate to say it, but yes. I don’t think I’d risk queuing on a weekend, and I’d highly advise turning up before they open and planning on an early lunch. We joined the queue at around 11.35, they opened at noon, and we were seated just before 12.30. Service was pleasant, not at all rushed, and prices were surprisingly reasonable with our meal coming to just over £30 including service. I’d happily pay that for my pasta dish alone. That’s how much I loved it.

Would you be willing to queue for lunch?

Review: Adventurous Pizza Toppings @ 400 Rabbits, Gipsy Hill

Another week, another pizza restaurant review.

Despite being allergic to tomatoes, and therefore relatively limited in options, pizza is my go-to food when me and W are planning a casual date-night. Spoiled by having the Dynamo ridiculously close to our old flat (it’s about an 8 minutes walk now which feels terribly far away!), we’re now starting to branch out a little bit. Mother LDN was first on our hit list, but next we ventured all the way out to darkest Zone 3 for a dinner at 400 Rabbits.

Highly recommended by Amanda, I was drawn in by the specials menu (which was unfortunately was out of date on their site, so no salt-marsh lamb or beetroot pesto for me) and rather Instagrammable decor. What I didn’t know about was the rather steep hill I had to traverse from the station – already hangry I can’t imagine I was the best company on that walk!

That said, we were welcomed (puffing) extremely warmly, offered drinks incredibly quickly – with my white wine being really rather pleasant (despite smelling far too sweet and flowery), and W’s foraged fruit and seaweed beer slipping down quite quickly! Pizzas also arrived quickly, perhaps they sensed my desperate need for food…

Looking back, I’m pretty sure W went for the “Aged Rare Breed Beef, Green Chillies, Onion , Tomato And Mozzarella” which he thoroughly enjoyed. I have to say the tomato sauce did look particularly good and rich here!

I took a huge leap out of my comfort zone and ordered the no-tomato special available at the time – Ortiz Tuna, Red Onions, Capers, Crème Fraiche and a Burnt Aubergine Yoghurt. As someone who claims she doesn’t like tuna I was taking a massive risk, but fortunately it paid off.  Everything was well-balanced, and the tuna was a world away from the dreadful tinned stuff I remember. Served in big chunks, alongside juuuusssst softened onions it was perfect. The aubergine yoghurt was a delight, and I wish I’d ordered extra to dip my crusts in. The base of the pizza was pretty perfect, no hint of dryness, over-burning or sogginess. My only complaint was the overwhelming garlic flavour I got from my pizza, which did leave me struggling to finish.

That said, we did managed to squeeze in some Gelupo Gelato too. My Malted Milk & Salted Caramel combo was delish, as was W’s Blood Orange sorbet with Bitter Chocolate. Perhaps not quite as good as my favourite ice-cream place (to be revealed as soon as I’m willing to share!) but delicious in it’s own right!

I’ve tried a lot of pizza places this year, and 400 Rabbits was one of my favourites. Inventive toppings with a seasonal focus, an excellent base and good atmosphere. If only it didn’t take me the best part of an hour to get there!

Where’s your favourite pizza place?

Restaurant Review: Mother LDN, Battersea

If you know me, you’ll know I LOVE a good pizza. I mean, what’s not to love?! Yummy filling carbs, hot melted cheese, endless topping combos. Anyone who doesn’t enjoy pizza is highly suspicious if you ask me…

Rather a long time ago now we headed over to try a new pizza joint over in Battersea. The first UK restaurant from the rather trendy Danish chain, it’s set under the train-tracks in what is supposedly an up and coming area. I’m not a fan of the area, finding it bland and soulless, and indeed I’m clearly not the only one – the restaurant was pretty empty for a Friday night.

It could be the rather strange and wacky pizza topping combos putting people off. Sure, there’s the usual Margherita, but there’s also Nick Says It’s Good (mozzarella, cauliflower, green olives, anchovies, capers, chili, pecorino cheese) and David Says It’s Even Better (tomato, mozzarella, spicy spring broccoli and soft salame). Perhaps not a family friendly restaurant, and with a massive bar and drinks offering I get the impression they were hoping to be drawing bigger and more exuberant crowds anyway.

But onto the pizzas.

Out of a choice of 3 (!) tomato-free pizzas, I couldn’t resist the lure of cheesy carbs on carbs and so promptly placed an order for Burning Love. Made up of mozzarella, potatoes, fried onions, and røget spæk this pizza was insanely rich and decadent. In fact, I’m pretty sure this one wins the title of the first pizza I’ve admitted complete defeat over with a quarter still to go. The potatoes are well cooked, just soft enough to add creaminess, but with enough bite to prevent the whole pizza from being soggy. The onions added much needed sweetness. The cheese was plentiful, stringy and tasty. If anything, I’d say the spæk (ham) was almost unnecessary.

The pizza dough is made with saltwater, supposedly resulting in a tastier and healthier base than usual. Whilst I have no idea whether the healthier claim is true, I can say the base was certainly more flavourful that others I’ve tried. However it also had quite an odd texture – noticeably drier (though not crisp) than other sourdough pizzas. A few weeks on and I still can’t decide whether or not I liked it…

W’s pizza (something involving lots of tomatoes and the same spæk) seemed to go down well – it disappeared rather quickly, although like me he was unsure about the base. And it’s all about that base…

There was nothing *wrong* with Mother LDN, nothing at all. But equally it wasn’t as special as I was hoping for. The pizzas weren’t particularly memorable, the atmosphere a little flat, the service slow. Sure, it was tasty (but show me bread, cheese and potatoes thrown together that aren’t tasty!) but I wouldn’t rush back. That said, I have several VERY good pizza places virtually on my doorstep…

Have you visited Mother LDN? Where’s your favourite pizza restaurant?

Review: French & Spice Fusion at Bistro Vadouvan, Putney

I could start and end this review right here: this was the best meal, without doubt, that I have ever eaten in London.

A bold claim for sure, particularly as I’ve been lucky enough to eat in some damn good restaurants. But nearly three months on and this meal is still sticking out in my memory, and for all the good reasons. Friendly and attentive, but far from annoying, staff. Gorgeous plates, cutlery and decor. Cosy blankets for the outside tables (it’s just a shame Caluccio’s nabbed the best spot by the river!). All topped off with some of the most inventive and well-cooked dishes I’ve tried.

We started with cocktails – all strong, all delicous, all very well made – before moving onto wine. No complaints about the drinks, although really the stars here are the food. Bistro Vadouvan combines classical French cuisine with Middle Eastern and Asian flavours, creating original dishes that are both pretty on a plate and rather tasty. With views of the Thames, and stunning sunsets over Putney Bridge, it’s a lovely location and I’m rather pleased it’s within walking distance!

 photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 4_zpsmpcrejwv.jpgI kicked off with the Prawn, Crab and Cucumber Salad. At £12 this was perhaps the one dish I felt was a little over-priced, but equally they were more than generous with the crab. It was fresh, light and summery, with the most delightful Mint, Yuzu and Orange dressing. The sharp flavours of the mint and orange tempered the sweetness of the seafood perfectly. It was also clearly made to order, as the cucumber had yet to impart it’s wateriness that comes from sitting around. The red chilli dotted throughout was fiery and I could have perhaps done without it, though due to the large slices I could delicately remove it.

 photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 2_zpscsuvc8lb.jpg photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 3_zpsd2ttjh7x.jpgW ordered the Asparagus, Sprouting Beans, Avocado and Kohlrabi Salad, something which I was tempted by (but knew I’d get to try if he ordered!). Not being the biggest lover of avo as it is, I was slightly put off by the description of the “Fermented Sour Plum Dressing” but it really worked. All of the ingredients were at their peak-freshness, with the avocado lending a creaminess to the dish. Nuts added crunch, and the whole thing tasted light, healthy and absolutely delicious. I loved my seafood-based salad, but this came a close second.

The Spiced Bouillabaisse was also enjoyed, the classic French dish livened up with Middle-Eastern flavours.

Onto the mains, and this is where the stars of the show really were. Though I could only fault the starters if I was being really picky (see chill point about), I could sit here for hours and genuinely not be able to complain about my dish. I mean, it says a lot about the menu when we broke our biggest ‘couple rule’ and couldn’t resist ordered the same thing – Sea bass with Celeriac, Cauliflower & Raz el Hanout. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe at the time of our visit this was served with cod rather than bass – I imagine both work equally well!

 photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 11_zpsvvqdjbzh.jpg photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 12_zpsxoryaoep.jpg photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 14_zpstph7j6hg.jpgHaving eaten some really excellent fish dishes this year (the unusual Cod & Pineapple at Skosh, and an elegant Crab Lasagne at Galvin La Chapelle), this remains the one I’d happily eat again, and again, and again. The chunky piece of fish was cooked to absolute perfection – flaking into moist chunks with the merest press of a fork. It sat on a bed of Celeriac Hummus, which was creamy, moreish and had a depth of flavour all of it’s own, without detracting from the main dish. Give me a bowl of this and some of the flatbread I saw floating around the restaurant and I’d be a happy girl!  The dish was then topped with a generous serving of Spiced Cauliflower. Flawlessly cooked (soft and tender without a hint of the mushiness cauliflower is prone to) and just so fully of flavour. Again, give me a bowl of cauliflower and I’d probably be quite happy! Drizzled with a lemony-parsley dressing which pulled the whole dish together, I was genuinely sad when I’d finished my plate.

Also on our table was the Glazed Salmon, Carrot & Harissa Yoghurt, and a special involving Lamb Belly. Both seemed to go down extremely well – and next on my list to try is the delicious-looking Poussin Marinated In Sage, Maple Syrup, Garlic & Yoghurt.

In fact, the only negative I have is that the side dishes don’t seem to be particularly well-matched to the mains. Chips and cous-cous are all very good, but perhaps not the most imaginative. That said, on our visit they had a ‘slaw’ on offer which we tentatively ordered to share. Finely sliced cabbage tossed in a spiced-yoghurt and lemon dressing, it was actually far more delicious than the dubious description on the menu and went perfectly with both fish dishes.

A slight running theme is possible here, as like the sides the desserts just didn’t seem overly appealing. However we’d heard good things so ordered a few to share.

 photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 18_zps0138jjek.jpg photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 15_zpsnjp2ch4d.jpgThe Exotic Cheesecake with Passion Fruit Creameux was my top pick, and this is coming from someone who isn’t a huge fan of cheesecake. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever ordered it in a restaurant before! This was light and almost mousse-like – certainly not the heavy and artery-clogging dish I was expected. Flavours of mango and passion-fruit were strong without being sickly, the plate was garnished with coulis, curd and crispy meringues and the cheesecake topped with an almost gelato-textured sorbet.

 photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 19_zpsk3kpb1ri.jpgW loved the Luxurious Chocolate and Bitter Orange, although I found it a tad heavy and cloying (and certainly wouldn’t have been able to finish it!).  Flavours were reminiscent of a jaffa cake, with the textures smooth. One for chocolate lovers, and only if you’ve got a big appetite.

Even before we’d paid our bill, we were talking about other dishes on the menu we’d like to try on a return visit. Unfortunately with moving, holidays, exams and other annoying things we haven’t yet made it, but watch this space!
And now I’ll end with another picture of the fish dish. Because it was THAT good!

 photo Bistro Vadouvan Putney 8_zpsit8mhatr.jpg

Where was your ‘best meal’ eaten?

Review: Duck & Waffle

I’d wanted to visit Duck & Waffle for aggessss. I poured over the Instagram photos, quizzed friends who had been – hell it even made it on my London Bucket List (which I really must make more of an effort to tick off!). Luckily someone listened to my whining and Santa surprised me with a voucher in my stocking last Christmas, though despite this it was still July before we headed up to the 40-something floor in the heart of the City.

 photo Duck amp Waffle_zpss9el8ejg.jpg

A post shared by Chloe Ellen (@ninegrandstudent) on

It was pretty difficult to book in for a weekend breakfast. I checked most days for a good month before I found a date that didn’t clash with pre-made plans, exams or deadlines, and still booked a couple of months in advance. Turns out my planning was excellent – it ended up being the day after W handed in his dissertation, and two days after I found out I’d passed April’s exam (the relief is still there!). So we celebrated with a two course brunch, though passing on the alcohol as numerous bubbles had been consumed in the days previous!

Tea ordered (though still the permanent confusion when presented with two pots and no indication of which was the Earl Grey and which was ‘normal’), it didn’t take us long to decide on our ‘mains’ – we both went for the Duck & Waffle. Neither of us could resist trying the signature dish, although we were tempted by the Full English (him) and the Duck Egg en Cocotte (me).

 photo Duck and Waffle 7_zps9rzbxr0o.jpg photo Duck and Waffle 6_zpswy6s4smt.jpgA toasted waffle, topped with a succulent confit duck leg, capped with an oozing duck egg and a side pot of mustard maple syrup, the Duck & Waffle is a combination of flavours and textures that really just have to be tried. Whilst my waffle was pretty perfect (slightly sweet, soft but with a slightly toasted crunch) I’ve hear reviews of stales ones, particularly those who go later in the day. The duck leg was super-crispy on the outer, with soft fall-apart flesh within. I spent ten or so minutes wishing it was acceptable to pick up and knaw on a bone in public, I didn’t want to waste a single bit of meat. The duck egg was again perfectly cooked with a *just* set white and gooey yolk. The mustard maple syrup was verging on too sweet for me with everything else, I’d possibly want more mustard coming through, but I did enjoy it drizzled on lightly. Plus I got the converted drizzle shot…

 photo Duck and Waffle 12_zpsaxwakdde.jpg photo Duck and Waffle 15_zpsrmox7p17.jpgOur ‘pudding’ was to share a sweet waffle, and it did take flipping a coin to decide which! We went for the Caramelised Banana, which came with homemade hazelnut & chocolate spread, vanilla ice cream and peanut crunch. We loved it – the bananas were warm and gooey, encrusted in a thick brulee sugar topping. The ice-cream was super-cream, the chocolate spread rich. Our only criticism was there was not nearly enough of the peanut crunch.

Oh, and we had to spend the rest of the day lying down in a food coma…

All in all, it was pretty damn good. Pricey, but worth it for a special occasion. The views were gorgeous, the interiors rather Instagrammable and the iconic Duck & Waffle dish was delicious. That said, the menu at Duck & Waffle Local looks a little bit more adventurous (that duck burger!) so I know where I’ll be heading next…

 photo Duck and Waffle 3_zpsc8iyqx9i.jpg photo Duck and Waffle 18_zpsai0yghsw.jpg*Note that this is not a sponsored review – my parents kindly got us a gift voucher for last Christmas, and we paid the difference ourselves.

Have you ever been to Duck & Waffle? What did you think?

Review: Putney Pies

I’m not going to lie, finding out this place existed pretty much sealed the deal for me on where I wanted to live in London. I’m only half joking – we’d narrowed it down to somewhere on the West-end of the District line and then this place came to my attention. Putney it was!

(The cheaper council tax also helped…)

 photo Putney Pies_zps7v1qaahi.jpgWeirdly, I’ve only been twice – and those two visits were shamefully within six days of each other. W is yet to visit (much to his disgust). It’s a shame it’s coming up to summer time now, as pies aren’t exactly going to help me get my summer bod this year!

 photo Putney Pies2_zpskh9mtqa8.jpg photo Putney Pies4_zpspiunzqn8.jpg photo Putney Pies1_zps8qjnhnsa.jpgThe first time I visited I had the Chicken & Ham Hock Pot Pie, whilst my date (the lovely Libby) enjoyed her Steak & Ale Pie. My pie was in a deep, fully-filled bowl topped with buttery short-crust pastry and served with creamy mash. The sauce was light, almost-stock like, but full of flavour. There was plenty of chunky chicken and ham, along with carrots and leeks. The mash was smooth and completely lump-free. All in all delicious!

 photo Putney Pies9_zpsstuyab0o.jpg photo Putney Pies13_zps25ik1b7w.jpgOn my next visit I enjoyed the Pork and Apple Pie. Fully encased in the same perfect pastry, it was packed full of juicy pork, bacon, apple pieces and a delicious cider sauce. The only criticism I have here is that it was a little dry – however as I was unable to have the gravy (damn you, sneaky tomatoes!) this is probably why. My mum enjoyed the Beef Bourguignon Pie with triple cooked chips. I have to say the chips were perfect!

 photo Putney Pies8_zpsxlz1clif.jpg photo Putney Pies14_zpsntobdjyr.jpgBoth times we had a side of Season Veg – normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning something like this, but it was lovely. Everything was perfectly cooked and lightly dressed in butter. Little touches but it made all the difference. On the second visit we also splurged and shared the Brownie with ice-cream – and it was a damn good brownie. Warm and gooey, rich and indulgent tempered with creamy ice-cream and a salted caramel sauce.

Coupled with some of the yummiest prosecco I’ve tried, this was a meal of pie perfection. I’m almost impatient for Autumn when it’s back to pie weather!

Are you a fan of pies? What’s your favourite filling?