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).

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Copper & Ink (@copperandink) on

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!

 photo Copper and Ink Review 4_zpsrcpidxkm.jpg

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tony Rodd (@tony_rodd) on

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.

 photo Copper and Ink Review  5_zpsarikutzv.jpg

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tony Rodd (@tony_rodd) on

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!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tony Rodd (@tony_rodd) on

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: 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: 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: 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?

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?!

Food: Why Buy a Degustabox Subscription?

Recently I’ve been gifted an ongoing monthly subscription to Degustabox* in exchange for some honest reviews – and whilst I’ve not yet reviewed a full box (you can see an overview of July’s box here, as well as in my Instagram Story highlights on my profile) today I’m going to talk about whether the boxes are worth it.

 photo Degustabox August 4_zpszzgwe8gs.jpgSo, what is a Degustabox?

It’s a monthly box containing new releases or loved favourites from trusted big brands, smaller more independent suppliers and upcoming foodie start-ups. At a cost of £12.99 a month you get a fairly hefty box containing a good selection of items (10-15 according to their site). I do get a combination of the alcohol and non-alcohol box, but even so I’ve been pretty impressed with the quantity of items I’ve received. In the latest box (received at the end of August) we received a box of Dorset Cereals granola, some hemp milk from Good Hemp, some Illy instant coffee, 2 Gunna drinks, some Crooked alcholic soda, 2 packs of Maggi noodles (including a delicious Sticky Duck flavour), a tin of tuna fillets, some LioBites dried fruit snacks and some *delicious* cereal bars from Boka. Not bad if you ask me!

But why exactly do I love receiving my box? Read on to find out…

Discovering New Brands

I’m really quite bad at sticking to what I know. If I was buying coffee I’d rarely stray away from brands that I’ve grown up with (despite knowing it’s not the best coffee). If I was looking for an alcoholic treat I’d generally avoid ‘cans’ as it reminds me too much of being a teenager. However Degustabox has introduced me to some fab brands which I’d never have tried otherwise – both the Crooked alcoholic soda in the August box and the Rosie’s Pig Rhubarb Cider in the July box are going to become firm favourites.

By far and away, however, my favourite brand I’ve discovered is Capsicana. We had a packet of their
Brazilian Smoked Paprika & Spices in the July box – we used it to marinate some yellow-sticker steaks before serving with a black bean and sweet potato salad. It was delicious – a tad too spicy given we used the whole of the packet between two, but we really enjoyed the more unusual flavour profile. We’ll be checking out more of their products for sure!

 photo Degustabox August 1_zpsvrzusd6r.jpgForcing Me To Try New Things

Similar to the point above, I know what I like. I stick to the usual cornflakes and weetabix when buying cereal, if I buy non-dairy milk it’s always hazelnut. The Dorset Cereals has opened my eyes to the world of granola possibilities (I mean, raspberries, toasted spelt and popped buckwheat?! Yum!), whilst trying Hemp Milk has been interesting – it might not be something I’d jump at buying again, but it wasn’t too bad.

Trying Exclusive Products

Whether they are new releases not available in shops yet, or products only generally available for retailers to buy in bulk, there’s been a couple of exciting things pop up in my boxes. As a child I LOVED mixing ribena with lemonade, so the bottles of sparkling Ribena in the July box made me smile. Likewise we’ve also received some lower-sugar Rowntree sweets which I’ve not spotted on the shelves yet…

Rediscovering Old Favourites

It’s not all new and exciting products in the boxes – some are old and exciting too! Whilst a pot of Cadbury’s Instant Hot Chocolate certainly isn’t ground-breaking, having a tub on my desk at work is perfect for when a sweet-tooth hits mid-afternoon. In fact given I’ve been exclusively drinking a rather more calorific Swiss hot chocolate for the last year, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy this lighter version…

The Surprise Factor

Generally our meals are planned with military precision to avoid food waste and minimise our shopping bill – Degustabox gives us a bit of a surprise and allows us to experiment a bit more. Whether it’s a bag of fancy crisps we would never have otherwise picked up (the London Crisp salt’n’vinegar is lush!) or random spice mixes, we know we’ll have something new and exciting to try.
 photo Degustabox August 3_zpscdejk0e9.jpg

*I received a monthly Degustabox in return for some honest reviews and social media posts, but as always all thoughts and opinions are my own. If you wanted to give them a try you can use the code N63R7 to get a cheeky discount!

Are you a fan of trying out new brands and products? Would you subscribe to Degustabox?

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.

 photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 1_zpslgodecrs.jpgBased 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!

 photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 3_zpsjx4qhdoj.jpgOur 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!

 photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 17_zpslcwxku3x.jpgThe 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.

 photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 14_zpstulhewte.jpg photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 15_zpswskx3p2t.jpg photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 16_zpsh6izs6ka.jpg photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 26_zpsujxgo9oa.jpgThe 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!

 photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 31_zpskm0cr8md.jpgWe 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: 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?

Review: An Alpine Lunch at Betty’s, York

Now, Betty’s is well known for it’s cakes, it’s pastries, the Afternoon tea. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that their heritage actually encompasses not only Yorkshire, but also one of my most favourite countries – Switzerland. The founder of Betty’s was indeed Swiss and their influence still shines through on the menu today. From luxurious chocolates to a hearty rösti to traditional Bircher muesli, there’s hidden Swiss delights throughout the menu.

And with it being a bitterly cold afteroon and our trip to Switzerland still a few months away (our visit was shamefully nearly a year ago!) it would have been rude not to indulge…

It was a tough decision, but in the end we were both happy with our plates of food.

I went for the Swiss Alpine Macaroni, with Penne pasta, dry-cured bacon, new potatoes and a rich cream
sauce, with copious amounts of melted Raclette cheese. Oh my. This was good. However first thought of putting potatoes into a cheesy pasta dish deserves a medal. The bacon was thick, so that it was both crisp and juicy. The pasta was perfectly cooked. The cheese sauce strong, but not too overpowering. I’d happily eat this again. And again. And again.

W ordered the Bacon & Raclette Rösti – A Swiss speciality of grated potato, Gruyère cheese and cream,
pan-fried with bacon and topped with melted Raclette cheese. This, with the addition of the cream, was richer than the ones we’ve tried in Switzerland, but delicious none-the-less. I’ve just checked their current ‘specials’ menu and there’s a glorious sounding Turkey & Cranberry Rösti (yes, I am writing this review on my Christmas break, Lord knows when I’ll actually get round to posting it).

We’d planned to order a small selection from the Cake Trolley for pudding, but these mains were rib-busting (in a good way!) and we were far too full. Another time that Engadine Torte will be mine!

Have you ever been to Betty’s? Did you stick to tea and cake, or try some of their Swiss dishes?

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.

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

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?