This site uses one cookie, which doesn’t collect personal data. To continue, ignore or hide this message. To find out more, click here. Cookie notice: hide / find out more.
Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Bratislava – sculpture and urban art

Porto – Harry Potter was born here

Chotto Matte

Melodies of the Danube – Budapest and beyond

The Drift – Bishopsgate

The Test Kitchen

Arthur Hooper’s – Borough Market

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint

Signac – Reflections on Water

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

Black Roe – Poke and more

Jacqui Pickles – President, Les Dames d’Escoffier London – in conversation

Thai Square Fulham

Bōkan for Bottomless Prosecco Sunday Brunch

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

Risotto! Risotto! by Valentina Harris

Trolley in the Lobby - Bar at One Aldwych

Taruzake – cedar difference

Recipe: Banana Bread

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

The Swan at the Globe

Hotel TerraVina Dining

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour

Umami Kelp and Wasabi – an introduction

Rafute

Remelluri Organic Winery

Mele e Pere for Vermouth with a Master

Markopoulo recommendations

Domaine Papagiannakos Winery

Maribor – wines, gastronomy, bikes and hikes

Sake Cups – or perhaps a glass

Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs

Rijsttafel in The Hague

Rennes

The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie

Umbria’s Autumn Gastronomy with Valentina Harris

Hisashi Taoka of Kiku – Fish aficionado


 
 
 
It’s all about travel and food - lots of international excursions, culture and history, hotel, destination and restaurant reviews.
Please look elsewhere for negative reviews.
All restaurant, hotel and product reviews are sponsored; however, the resulting articles are unbiased and the opinions expressed are my own.

To enquire about a review of your restaurant, hotel, resort, book or product please email mostlyfood[at]live.co.uk

twitter for Mostly Food and Travel Journal    Follow Me on Pinterest      Follow my travels on Instagram Follow my food on Instagram Follow my drinks on Instagram

Latest News!
 

SPRINKLE-LICIOUS

easyJet transports Londoners to Holland with new sprinkle café

Over 750,000 Dutch people eat sprinkles for breakfast every day.

Approximately 14 million kilos of hagelslag (sprinkles on buttered bread) are devoured by Dutch residents every year – that’s close to 300 million slices per year.

Holland is the sixth happiest place in the world according to the World Happiness Index*.

Guests visiting the pop-up will experience traditional hagelslag, beauty-inspired sprinkle treatments, and the opportunity to marvel at edible Dutch art masterpieces.

easyJet’s ‘Café van der Sprinkles’ opens for three days from Friday 22nd September.


Dutch Sprinkles A new café opens its doors to a Dutch cultural experience in central London today, by serving Holland’s staple breakfast speciality, boterham met hagelslag - sprinkles on buttered bread.

‘Café van der Sprinkles’ has been launched by easyJet, in partnership with the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, giving Londoners the chance to experience a sprinkle-covered taste of Dutch culture and happiness.

Over 14 million kilos of hagelslag is consumed by Dutch people every year. The Café activation aims to offer people the opportunity to experience a slice of what it’s like to live in the sixth happiest place in the world

The café will be based in Leicester Square at The White Space from Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th September, and offers guests a sprinkle-fuelled adventure into Dutch culture.

easyJet crew Upon entering through a plane door, visitors will be greeted by cabin crew and whisked off to begin their journey. Visitors have the opportunity to admire the edible Dutch art masterpieces created by foodie influencers and Instagram sensations The Meringue Girls. Using just sprinkles, the duo will re-create Dutch art masterpieces including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Dick Bruna’s Miffy, Piet Mondrian’s Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow, and the famous blue and white Royal Delft flowers.

After wandering through the tulip-lined corridor, guests will find themselves in the café where they can order from the ‘DIY sprinkle menu’ choosing their preferred base – options include white, wholemeal and gluten-free bread. Visitors will have a selection of templates giving them the opportunity to create their own sprinkle masterpiece.

Guests will also be able to indulge themselves in the Beauty Parlour with the tastiest beauty trend going - a sprinkle manicure and makeover, including eyebrow, lip and beard/moustache treatments.

In addition to the sprinkle treats throughout, the pop-up also features interactive UV artwork of the Rotterdam Skyline. When light shines on the masterpiece, a selection of Dutch hip-hop beats will play.

The range of delights on offer at the event highlight just some of the experiences Holland has to offer beyond Amsterdam, from popular cities such as Eindhoven, Rotterdam and The Hague.

Lucy Outram, easyJet’s Head of UK Marketing & European Planning said, “Generation easyJet are adventure-seekers, keen to experience the diverse cultures that European cities have to offer. easyJet’s Café van der Sprinkles experience will give people the opportunity to literally get a taste of Holland, in the heart of central London. Along with our partners, the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, we’re hoping to inspire more people to embrace the ‘why not?’ spirit and visit Holland for real.”

Sandra Ishmael, Director UK and Ireland, Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions said “We’re delighted to be celebrating our partnership with easyJet in the form of the delicious Café van der Sprinkles pop-up. Visitors will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Dutch culture whilst experiencing a snapshot of Holland beyond Amsterdam.”

Visitors to Café van der Sprinkles also have the chance to win a pair of easyJet return flights to Holland and get a real taste of Dutch culture, by taking a creative ‘sprinkle selfie’ of their makeover or food, and posting their photo with #SprinklesCafé on Instagram or Twitter

easyJet presents: ‘Café van der Sprinkles’
Where: The White Space, Leicester Square, WC2H 7JB
When: Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th September
Fri & Sat: 11.00 – 19.00
Sun: 11.00 – 17.00

easyJet flies to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the gateway to Holland, up to 36 times a day from airports across the UK, from £29.99.

food and travel reviews
 

Bratislava – sculpture and urban art

Bratislava Liszt We have all heard of Bratislava but mostly with regard to iffy stag do’s. They are thankfully drifting into the mists of a former time, and there is so much more to this city than nightlife.

The first known permanent settlement here was around 5000 BC. About 200 BC, the Celtic Boii tribe founded the first fortified town. The Romans introduced grape growing and winemaking, which still continue today. Bratislava was part of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 19th century and found itself at the centre of major political events in this part of Europe.

Bratislava was occupied by German troops in 1944, bombed by the Allies, and eventually taken by Soviet troops. After the Communists seized power in 1948 the city became part of the Eastern Bloc.

Bratislava anticipated the fall of communism with the Candle Demonstration in 1988, and the city became one of the foremost centres of the Velvet Revolution the following year. In 1993 the city became the capital of the newly-formed Slovak Republic.

Bratislava the watcher Many visitors arrive by river and they will be welcomed by a significant 20th-century structure, the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising, which reaches across the Danube. It has a prominent UFO-like tower with a restaurant.

There is a celebrated musical tradition in Bratislava. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Franz Liszt worked or lived here. One can find references to them on buildings which might now be offices or shops. The arts are evidently still alive in the guise of street sculpture found around the Old Town.

Čumil is a celebrity here. The literal translation of the word Čumil is ‘the watcher’. There are a couple of explanations for the name of this iconic brass sculpture and trip hazard. The first one is that he is a communist-era worker who is not interested in the work he has been assigned so spends his time people-watching. The second urban myth says he’s looking up women’s skirts. He does have a somewhat dubious expression. He is the most photographed person in Bratislava and can be found hanging out at the junction of Laurinská and Panská Streets.

Bratislava soldier There is a life-sized and rather charming Napoleonic soldier in the Main Square, near the Old Town Hall. He can be found leaning on a bench which obviously will invite a line of selfie-takers who want a truly unique souvenir of a trip to Bratislava. Napoleon was here in 1805; it’s said that the soldier fell in love with a local girl. He stayed in the city and became a producer of sparkling wine. His name was Hubert – which is also the name of Slovakia’s most popular sparkling-wine brand. There is no way of knowing if that story is true, but it is either delightfully romantic, or a very clever marketing ploy.

But Bratislava also has a reputation for welcoming another kind of art: graffiti! This isn’t the nasty tags left in railway sidings by pale and spotty losers. We find murals, colour, comment and ads. This is urban art at its finest.

Bratislava is an architecturally beautiful and diverse city with buildings from every era of its past. There is culture, cafés and something fascinating on every corner. It’s a place well worth exploring.

Visit here to learn more about AmaWaterways cruises

Read my articles on the AmaWaterways cruise here

food and travel reviews

Porto – Harry Potter was born here

Yes, it’s true, dear reader! The boy with the lightning scar was conceived and born in Porto.

Lello Porto stairs This city is also known as Oporto and is the second-largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. In 2014 and 2017, Porto was elected The Best European Destination by the Best European Destinations Agency. It is an ideal city for a short break: one can spend a day on the northern bank of the Douro River in the old town and then the second day across the bridge in Vila Nova de Gaia.

One of Portugal’s internationally celebrated exports is fortified Port wine. It is named, unsurprisingly, after Porto, since the town was responsible for the bottling and export of this wine so prized by the British. But along with Port there are very good wines from the Douro valley, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafés offering local dishes.

But what is the Harry Potter connection? In 1991 Harry’s mum, J. K. Rowling, arrived in Portugal to work as an English teacher. It was in the fascinating city of Porto that she wrote a chapter in the Philosopher’s Stone, “The Mirror of Erised”. A walk around the old town and one can be persuaded that Porto was the model for various elements of the whole Harry Potter series.

Lello bookshop would be a must-visit store even if Harry had never seen the light of day. It’s thought that J. K. was inspired by seeing this architecturally unique bookshop, and plenty of other folks have been, too, it seems – it’s been designated the third most beautiful bookshop in the world by The Guardian and Lonely Planet. I would love to see those that made it to first and second place: Lello sets the bar very high!

The staircase in the centre of the shop is said to have given the idea for the Hogwarts staircase, and it certainly is sumptuous. Designed in the distinctive Gothic Revival style, the shop is full of wooden shelving and carved pointy Gothic arches. The ornate flight of stairs has red-carpeted treads, the book-laden shelves create just the ambiance of Harry’s school library. Such has the J.K. Rowling urban myth flourished that these days there is an entrance fee for those just wanting to have a look. Perhaps an Invisibility Cloak would be in order. One can’t help but imagine that the locals who would just like to buy a copy of The Concise Guide to Portuguese Politics (OK, I made that up) must be quite put-out!

Lello Porto store Outside Lello’s there are narrow streets that will doubtless remind one of characterful Diagon Alley where Harry and his friends purchased wands, books and owls. There are plenty of mysterious characters around, wearing cloaks and wandering about in groups. No, you haven’t been transported to another world: they are university students, and between September and the end of May those cloaks are their sartorially elegant uniforms. Harry and his fellows also wore cloaks and J.K. may have taken her inspiration from the Porto students.

Tourists might visit Porto the first time for Harry Potter and Port wine, but they will likely return to enjoy more of the vibrant river front, architecture and café culture. It’s a city with more faces than a three-headed dog called Fluffy.

TAP Portugal flies direct from London Gatwick to Porto 13 times a week, prices start at £42 one way including all taxes and surcharges.

For further airline information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932

For further destination information, visit visitportoandnorth.travel

Visit Lello here

Livraria Lello
R. das Carmelitas 144
4050-161 Porto,
Portugal


food and travel reviews

Chotto Matte

Chotto Matte tostadita Chotto Matte is Japanese for ‘please wait a minute’. No, dear reader, don’t go thinking that this is a veiled threat of slow service. It’s surely more a statement that dishes are freshly prepared. It’s not a matter of waiting but more like allowing yourself a little time to anticipate. Having said that, Chotto Matte service is quicker and more efficient than many other restaurants.

The restaurant specialises in Nikkei Cuisine. Nikkei refers to the Japanese living outside Japan. This term has been expanded to include, in this case, the dishes that evolve when you marry traditional Peruvian ingredients and Japanese culinary practices.

Peru has the second largest Japanese population in South America, after Brazil. It was the first country in that continent to set up diplomatic relations with Japan and to invite immigrants from that country.

Chotto Matte gyoza In 1889, around 7,000 Japanese workers arrived in Peru with the promise of work. They came to farm sugarcane and many workers decided to stay. They brought their own gastronomic tastes and philosophy with them, so the Nikkei concept is not news. This isn’t now a fusion cuisine but perhaps more of a hybrid, an entity in its own right, and should be respected as such.

This is a large restaurant over several floors. We ate on the ground floor where there is a rather impressive bar offering cocktails, beers, spirits and sake, which works particularly well with many of these dishes. There is a striking graffiti mural covering the longest wall, although describing this as graffiti doesn’t convey the quality of this Japanese urban street art. It is appropriate for the location and the fun ambiance at Chotto Matte. This restaurant also has some of the most comfortable dining chairs!

All ingredients at Chotto Matte are responsibly sourced and are free from MSG and GMO’s. Dishes are small and it’s recommended that each person order 4 or 5 dishes, and all are designed to be shared. For the first visit I recommend ordering one of the set menus, as we did. 

Tostadita was our first sharing plate of succulent beef cubes, smoked aji panca (Peruvian red pepper), shiitake mushrooms, Spanish peppers, and a dash of yuzu juice. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus and is made good use of in this menu. These crunchy little blue corn discs were flavourful and beautifully presented.

Chotto Matte chicken Sea bass ceviche followed. It was prepared with sweet potato, Peruvian corn, coriander, chive oil and citrus sauce, and exemplified the South American and Japanese partnership. It was fresh and light, with vivid colours from the chive oil. A great summer dish.

Nikkei gyoza was a hot plate of pork, prawn and cassava dumplings with aji Amarillo (yellow chilli) and sweet potato purée. Cassava is a South American starch and a common ingredient. These pot-stickers were perfectly textured with well-balanced flavour from the filling.

Nikkei sashimi sea bass garnished with cherry tomatoes, jalapeño peppers and coriander with yuzu truffle soy was a fish lover’s dream dish. The jalapeño didn’t overpower the delicate fish and the truffle was an aromatic background adding a richness.

Chotto Matte dessert Pollo den miso – chicken miso, carrot, daikon, and yellow chilli salsa – was one of the triumphs of this delightful meal. This along with Tentaculos de pulpo – octopus with yuzu and purple potato purée. If you only have time for a couple of dishes and a flask of sake then these would be the ones to choose. They were attractive and substantial plates and memorable. Outstanding in every regard!

Inside-out sushi roll was our final savoury and acted as something of a palate cleanser, being mild with a spike of spice from a mound of wasabi and pickled ginger, both traditional sushi accompaniments.

Dessert was an attractive platter of a selection of sweet treats. Mochi ice cream was the most traditionally Japanese of the group. Mochi is a chewy rice cake and can be presented as a savoury or a sweet. Here the mochi was filled with mango and matcha green tea ice cream. Chocolate pot garnished with honeycomb and dulce de leche was an absolute winner. Passion fruit crème brulée with a garnish of pomegranate was a classic with a twist, and a classy finish to the evening.

Chotto Matte sake Chotto Matte is a contender for my best restaurant of the year. Granted, it’s all a matter of taste but Chotto Matte ticked more than the usual complement of boxes. The restaurant is well-designed. The location is convenient. The dishes were well-executed and delicious. Is there a negative comment? Yes, the plates have left me with cravings that will only periodically be sated, as I live off the end of the District line!


Opening Hours:
12 noon to 1.30 am Monday to Saturday
1pm to 12 noon Sunday

Chotto Matte
11-13 Frith Street
Soho
London
W1D 4RB

Phone: 020 7042 7171

Email: info@chotto-matte.com

Visit Chotto Matte here

food and travel reviews

Melodies of the Danube – Budapest and beyond

AmaWaterways Budapest We have likely all heard of the Blue Danube, a waltz by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II. But this majestic river isn’t actually blue, although it is beautiful and worthy of a nice tune. AmaWaterways offers a trip that will cover all the famous sites between Budapest in Hungary and Passau in Germany.

We were met at Budapest airport and then there was a relaxing coach ride to join the glistening boat, the Amaviola. We were escorted to our cosy cabin and then it was teatime. A nice cuppa and a slice or two of cake was most welcome. (Learn more about my culinary experiences on board here.)

The romance of the whole trip started in earnest after dinner. We took a trip through Budapest on the river. It was night and we had the best views of the illuminated state buildings along the banks, as well as beautifully lit bridges with their carved stone piers which would be difficult to appreciate for their splendour from the road above. We moored for the night.

AmaWaterways market The next day could be as full or relaxing as one might want. It would be a crime to miss this wonderful city, however, so choose an excursion which suits your preferred pace. Most ports of call offer a regular walking tour, a gentle version, and then there are the options of hikes and bikes for those with an unseemly desire for exercise. Perhaps we should all have chosen the latter exertions, as the food with AmaWaterways is really first class and tempting!

Budapest is one of the classic cities of Europe. It is refined and cultured with many opportunities to enjoy its celebrated café-and-cake culture. The walk will take you along shopping streets, past architectural charm, but there is one place which will be a magnet for any food lover: Central Market Hall!

This market is vast with a street level, an upper level, as well as a basement. There are aisles of sausages, drinks, spice, fish, meat and vegetables. This is the place for a foodie souvenir such as strings of dried red peppers and garlic, the celebrated Hungarian salamis, and other meat products. A bag of ground paprika would be a relatively inexpensive gift. Don’t spend all your money here, as there are more countries to follow.

AmaWaterways Bratislava Day 3 is Bratislava and it’s well worth taking time to visit. The walking tour took us through tree-lined parks, booths selling local souvenirs and decorations. There is more marvellous architecture, cafés and shops selling local wines. Bratislava also has a taste for sculpture. One can find Hans Christian Andersen, a brass sewer worker, a Napoleonic soldier and many more metallic personages. Street furniture at its finest.

Day 4 found us in Vienna and it’s a day not to be missed. The boat moored a little way from the city centre so shuttle buses were on hand to ferry passengers who wanted to return to the river once their excursion was over, but also to allow others to spend a little independent time in spectacular Vienna.

The sightseeing started before we even arrived at the drop-off point. We passed the Opera House, government buildings, churches and parks, and all with a running commentary. The walking tour showed us historic backstreets, architectural curiosities and shopping streets. The Viennese have good taste so designer labels abound. This is the reason you saved that aforementioned cash. Reserve enough time for a little people-watching, a cup of coffee and a slice of Esterhazy cake. A foodie souvenir would be Manner Wafers. The company started in 1890; originally the wafers were paper-wrapped and sold in tins. In the 1960s, the distinctive foil packaging was introduced, although the tins are still available and make a great keepsake – they are iconically Viennese.

AmaWaterways Passau Day 5 offered tours of Weissenkirchen or Dürnstein – an excursion with wine tasting, or a Dürnstein Fortress hike, or an Apricots and Sweets tasting, a historic Melk Benedictine Abbey tour; or take free time to appreciate floating along the scenic Danube. This might be the day to enjoy some leisure on this splendid boat. There can be few better unwinding opportunities than watching the world go by at an unhurried pace, mug of coffee in one hand and a good book in the other – and perhaps a slice of gateau at one’s elbow. This is your holiday so do it your way. I did, and the batteries were fully recharged.

Day 6 found us in Linz for a fascinating walking tour, although some passengers chose a coach excursion to Salzburg, where I hear the hills were alive with the sound of music. Other travellers visited Cesky Krumlov or the Austrian Lake District.

We stayed in Linz and it didn’t disappoint. We moored just a short walk from the old town. It has a striking main square and religious buildings aplenty, but the guide will show you some secluded alleys which one would be unlikely to find alone. They show the style of homes that wealthy townsfolk would have enjoyed a couple of hundred years ago. This is a city of hidden treasures.

AmaWaterways beerfest We cruised into the German town of Passau on day 7. This is stunning, with the best views being from the river where one can take in the historic skyline of terracotta house roofs and church spires, and all in magnificent rich tones of reds, yellows, amber and pink.

Passau is accessible for gentle walking visitors or for hikers and bikers who might want to take a look at the imposing Passau Castle. This is a town in which to linger. There is stunning architecture, churches with unique metal-encrusted doors, boutiques and bars. I confess I had never heard of Passau but this is a must-visit on this trip.

Our vacation ended in the little town of Vilshofen. We were not here for castles, café culture or cathedrals but we had a fun engagement. We were treated to our own private beer festival with the locals. The band played traditional music wearing traditional costume, everyone danced traditional dances, and local beer and pretzels were consumed.

This was the first AmaWaterways cruise for me but I am impressed. The crew were friendly and efficient, the boat, The Amaviola, was smart and comfortable. The food was outstanding in every regard, and the included excursions were conducted by locals with inside knowledge. I can highly recommend AmaWaterways, and the next cruise is already booked.


Visit here to learn more about AmaWaterways cruises

Read my article on the AmaWaterways cruise here


food and travel reviews

The Drift – Bishopsgate

The Drift cocktail The Drift has an enviable location in a contemporary and noteworthy building but in the heart of the historic City of London. Its address is Bishopsgate but one finds the front door on Houndsditch.

Yes, dear reader, I was thinking the same thing – that perhaps the owners, Drake and Morgan, didn’t like the shabby connotation of a Ditch, preferring the more wistful name of Drift. And it’s true that Houndsditch did once have an unsavoury reputation.

A ditch was dug outside Roman Londinium’s wall but this disappeared with the passage of time. The Danes then dug a protective ditch around the city. Refuse, in those days, was just as much an issue as now. It was too convenient for the adjacent houses to dispose of rubbish and that, it seems, included dead dogs. The name Houndsditch appears in the 13th century but before that time it was just known as ‘the ditch’. By the turn of the 20th century, the street had become a celebrated clothes market, at last shaking off its reputation as a canine cemetery.

The Drift asparagus Bishopsgate has a rather more classy history. The Bishop’s Gate was one of the gates to Londinium. It was originally the entrance for those coming from the northeast into the City, and crossing London Bridge, which was the only bridge on the Thames in those days. In medieval times these gates would be closed at night and opened again in the morning. First mentioned in 1210, the gate was removed in 1775.

The Heron Tower is officially called 110 Bishopsgate. It’s the tallest building in the Square Mile of the City of London financial district. It’s an impressive and dominant glass structure, and near Liverpool Street Station. The Drift is well placed for those travellers who are looking for a quick bite before boarding their train, and for workers from this building and those numerous offices in the surrounding City.

The Drift crab The Drift isn’t trying to impress passionate foodies who admire minuscule portions on hand-made Japanese dishes. They are not seeking a reputation as the spot for 28-day-aged exotic aardvark. This is about sensible food, affordable prices and comfortable, casual yet smart surroundings. It will tick a lot of boxes for a lot of diners.
The space is light, modern, well-designed and attractive. There are well-spaced tables for couples, tables for small groups and benches for larger parties. The open kitchen allows for a little culinary theatre, and perhaps one might catch a whistled selection from ‘shows we have loved’ from a young chef.

We started with cocktails. Whisky Sour on the rocks is a classic and a favourite. This one was mixed from Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky, lemon juice, sugar syrup, and bitters, and finished with shaken snowy egg white. It has an adult taste rather than being a ‘dolly mixture sweet’ style of cocktail.

The Drift crayfish My guest’s Mojitocolada was served in a highball glass and was made with Koko Kanu rum, which is a blend of natural coconut essence and white Jamaican rum. It was garnished with pineapple and mint. Refreshing and fruity and deceptively alcoholic. Don’t ride your bike home after a couple of these.

Gin drinkers will appreciate London Spritz served in a wine glass. This was Tanqueray gin, cucumber, elderflower, apple, mint and topped off with soda. This one is a real summer evening cocktail, and will likely be enjoyed by those who want a Pimm’s but without the excessively herby finish.

Tiki Punch is another dramatic cocktail for rum lovers. A copper cup was filled with a summery libation of coconut-washed Venezuelan Pampero rum, banana liqueur, more pineapple, lime and stout. I didn’t think this one would work but all the ingredients sang in sweet harmony.

The Drift burger Grilled Asparagus topped with perfectly Poached Egg napped with Hollandaise sauce was my companion’s starter, a simple dish that needed no extravagant garnishes. The asparagus had great flavour from the char and the sauce had plenty of refreshing lemon. Crab Bruschetta was my starter, which comprised two slices of toasted bread with a mound of flaky shellfish, bejewelled with chilli and spring onion – delicious and decadent.

I had another little taste of luxury for my main course. Crayfish-topped Flatbread with baby gem lettuce, cherry tomatoes and a generous drizzle of the classic Marie Rose sauce. It looks impressive, being a board-filling bread with plenty of the good stuff. A lovely presentation and tempting at this time of year.

Buttermilk Chicken Burger was my guest’s substantial main dish. A chicken burger makes a change from the ubiquitous beef but can often be dry. This fried chicken was juicy and served with chipotle mayonnaise and the usual fixin’s on a sweet brioche bun. Onion Rings came in a chunky tower along with a pot of Cowboy Fries. The menu describes the dressing as honey, chilli and garlic but it spoke to me more of a barbeque sauce. A great combination.

The Drift offers something for everyone. Burgers were popular with other guests but diners will be missing out if they don’t stray from the old faithfuls. Food isn’t intimidating here, although the menu offers both classics and more innovative plates, too.

Opening Times:
Monday to Wednesday 7:30am till 11pm
Thursday and Friday: 7:30am till midnight
Saturday: 10am till midnight
Sunday: 11am till 6pm

The Drift
110 Bishopsgate
London
EC2N 4AY

Phone: 0845 468 0103
Email: info@thedriftbar.co.uk

Visit The Drift here

food and travel reviews

The Test Kitchen

Test Kitchen glass I don’t often cover pop-ups. It’s not that I regard them as any less worthy than an established restaurant but it’s just that they are around for only a limited time. The Test Kitchen, although a pop-up, will be around for a while and it’s the prequel to a hopefully enduring restaurant in 2018.

The chef already has outstanding credentials, having honed his culinary craft at the likes of Le Gavroche, The Halkin under Gualteiro Marchesi and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. Adam Simmonds has been looking for a rather different format of dining experience where he could have face-to-face interaction with the diner. The Test Kitchen provides just such a platform where the guests are encouraged to ask questions and even offer suggestions via a feedback form. And, yes, some of those suggestions have been heeded. I think a few other restaurants could take advantage of such forms! It’s part of the development process and one does feel rather more involved and inspired.

It’s a small space, a couple of dozen covers with bar seating and an open kitchen. It was an evening of gastronomic theatre, with food and wine being the evident stars. Those young and bustling chefs produced some of the most innovative and beautiful dishes to be had in this capital. The ingredients were seasonal and fresh and served with flair.

Test Kitchen bean We started with sourdough bread and a pat of homemade salted butter and then we each chose 3 dishes from the menu divided into vegetables, fish and meat. These are small dishes but each is thoughtfully constructed. I ordered broad beans, girolle mushrooms in an onion and pine broth. That’s where the bread came into play. I know dipping isn’t polite but it seemed more genteel than licking the plate! Roasted pearl barley, salt-baked celeriac and truffle was my guest’s veggie plate. The truffle was aromatically evident, with great creamy texture from the grain. This is high-end comfort food.

We continued with fish dishes and they didn’t disappoint. My smoked eel, Granny Smith apple, veal and parsley was light and flavoursome. My guest’s plate was somewhat larger but equally well constructed. Cod, girolles, broad beans and summer flowers created a plate which was pronounced first class. The fish was just cooked and melting. A pleasure to eat.

Test Kitchen sweetbreads I don’t, I confess, love all things offally but veal sweetbreads are a favourite. They were cooked to creamy perfection and I hope Adam will consider keeping them on any future menus. There is nothing to challenge the diner with this dish …well, except their imaginations – most people seem to think sweetbreads are dangly-bits, but in fact they are thymus glands. The sweetbreads were garnished with lardo, girolles, peas and lemon, which was a predominant flavour giving freshness to the rich sweetbreads. 80 day-aged sirloin of beef, bone marrow, date, white onion was my guest’s meaty choice. This was unsurprisingly succulent beef with that marrow as a savoury accomplice. The extra aging allows the meat to reach its full potential and it has a rewarding impact on both taste and texture.

Lemon Posset, avocado, gooseberries, with shards of crisp yoghurt meringue was my companion’s dessert. This was visually architectural and tangy from the fruit. Matcha tea custard with poached English cherries in red wine syrup was my finale and it had the delicate flavour of Japanese tea laced with the more robust British stone fruit. Recommended!

Test Kitchen matcha The Test Kitchen no longer needs to test. Adam Simmonds, this skilled chef with the engaging smile, deserves to be proud of both the concept and the execution at The Test Kitchen. His team have an audience but it is, for the most part, an appreciative one. I can’t wait to taste Adam’s future menus. He has already set himself a creditably high bar.

OPENING HOURS
Monday - Closed
Tuesday to Friday: 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Saturday: 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch
5.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Sunday - Closed

The Test Kitchen
54 Frith Street
Soho
London
W1D 4SL

Phone: +44 (0)20 7734 8487
Email: info@thetestkitchen.uk

Visit The Test Kitchen here.

food and travel reviews

Arthur Hooper’s – Borough Market

arthur hoopers bacon It’s a bright English summer day. A perfect time to enjoy the delicious and colourful delights of the celebrated Borough Market. It was first mentioned in 1276, although the market claims to have been around since early in the 11th century, and possibly even before that. During the 19th century it became one of London's most important food markets due to its convenient location near the Thames. The present buildings were designed in 1851, with additions in the 1860s and the 1930s.

The surrounding streets have cobbled pavements and hints of earlier times. Arthur Hooper’s is in the thick of this vibrant neighbourhood but its interior lends itself more to cool wine bar than Dickensian chop shop. It has high tables and stools near the entrance, allowing views across the street to the market. There are quieter tables, and striking steel-caged, back-lit bottle shelves and charcoal black walls which combine to create a soft and restful, yet thoroughly contemporary, ambiance.

Arthur Hooper’s offers small European plates along with a thoughtful and reasonably-priced wine list, with many of those bottles also available by the glass or carafe. We ordered a carafe of Merlot/Grenache by Les Vignes de L’Eglise in Languedoc in south-western France. It’s the first wine on the menu but in my opinion wines from that region are often great value for money, and this proved to be the case here. This had a light cherry-red hue with plenty of juicy berry and plum. It has medium tannins, so perfect for pairing with diverse small dishes.

arthur hoopers sausages A Bloody Mary was my guest’s cocktail of choice. It comes bereft of the usual garnishes but this Mary is no timid or shrinking violet. It packs a punch from a generous hit of chilli. It was pronounced vibrant and worthy by a man who appreciates a good tomato-based libation.

But the food is the star here. It’s a restaurant which is blessed by its enviable location. There is the best of produce just a few yards from the kitchen and Arthur Hooper’s takes advantage of that. The menu changes with seasons and availability. We enjoyed cured and hot-smoked pork belly in glistening pink and white ribbons. This is a perfect sharing dish for those who might only want a glass of red and a plat pour deux. The flavourful fat was a perfect partner for my French wine.

For those looking for a more substantial meal then Lovison Pork Sausages with polenta and a dish of Sautéed rosemary new potatoes must be a contender. The sausages were dense, meaty and hearty, and were complemented by the tenderness of those spuds.

arthur hoopers clams Clams with nduja should be a signature dish here, although I note that Hooper’s might periodically offer mussels cooked in the same fashion. This is the dish that reminds the diner to order more bread! Nduja is a spicy, spreadable pork salumi from Italy. Yes, it’s delicious on crackers but here it’s used to melt into and season the shellfish and broth, which cries out for bread-dipping. A winner!

Tor goats’ cheese is unpasteurised with ash coating, and comes from Somerset’s Whitelake Dairy. It’s matured for 2 to 3 weeks and has a distinct yet not overly ‘goaty’ flavour with a beautiful firm texture. No serious cheese-lover should miss this, simply served with a little chutney and some toasted bread.

Harissa butter beans with charred tenderstem, ricotta and nigella seeds was another well-flavoured and textured dish. Tenderstem is a member of the brassica family of veggies, a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. I think it originated in Japan. One can enjoy both florets and stems which are, well, tender!

arthur hoopers coffee Ricotta Cheesecake with cherries was my guest’s choice from the ever-changing dessert menu. The savoury dishes were substantial but there is always room for a sweet somethingorother to go with an espresso at the end of a delightful lunch.

No, Arthur Hooper’s isn’t about fine dining but it is definitely the place for the best of foods, affordable wine, great location and ambiance, and friendly staff. I can highly recommend them for the very best of fun and casual dining. The diners might be casual but that food is as well-crafted as any restaurant sporting drifts of starchy tablecloths and equally starchy waiters. I’ll be back to make new culinary discoveries and to linger over another carafe of red.

Opening times:
Mon - Thu: 11am - 11pm
Fri - Sat: 11am - midnight
Sun: 11am - 5pm

Arthur Hooper’s
8 Stoney Street
Borough Market
London SE1 9AA

Phone:020 7940 0169
Email: hello@arthurhoopers.co.uk

Visit Arthur Hooper’s here

food and travel reviews

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint

stagolees Stagolee’s is an American restaurant and we have plenty of those in the UK, ranging from dubious to excellent in quality. But Stagolee’s is unlike all those other US-inspired eateries. This spot will introduce the diner to a different face of American food but a truly authentic one, and you’ll likely not find these vibrant dishes in any other place.

This is a Joint, a shack. It doesn’t have padded banquettes, starched tablecloths and sniffy waiters. It welcomes with smiles, scrubbed tables and benches, and memorable food and cocktails. The bar is small but the shelves are stacked with Moonshines, bourbons and spirits from across the Pond. This will be a magnet for any lover of rye or for those who want to learn more about that and other celebrated American drinks.

Chef Ashley James offers Londoners a taste of the South. No, not Bournemouth but the southern states of the USA. This is home cooking and comforting food made from grandmothers’ recipes – the grandmothers in question being those of Ashley and her partner Jordan.

stagolees We started with Hot Spinach Dip with cheese and artichokes, and it’s a classic. It’s light and flavourful served with tortilla chips, and it’s a winner. Devilled Eggs are another standard and a deliciously piquant take on stuffed eggs, a childhood favourite at Sunday teatime. Pimento Cheese Spread is called the caviar of the South; I had heard of it but never tried it. One taste and you will be on the road to culinary addiction. It’s savoury, well textured and downright tasty. It’s a must-try here.

Cornmeal Battered Fried Fish is already well loved by the increasing number of regulars at Stagolee’s. The coating is perfectly seasoned and crunchy, and there is a garnish of watermelon pickle which was another revelation. I am hoping that Stagolee’s will consider selling this by the jar!

stagolees Hot Fried Chicken is the undoubted showpiece here. It truly is hot and is the best fried chicken I have ever had. There is nothing timid about this moist plateful. It packs a punch but that heat doesn’t mask flavour. An order comprises a couple of sizable pieces of chicken, and there are sides on offer too.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese is creamy and piping hot. It’s a foil for the spice of the chicken. Southern-style Greens with smoked ham works well with both the fish and the chicken, and it’s not short of meaty taste and hearty bite. Cornbread is a southern classic and it’s sweet and light at Stagolee’s, and will doubtless have many an American tearfully reminiscing. It almost had me in that condition and I have never been south of the Mason Dixon Line.

stagolees But what is a meal without dessert? Peach Cobbler was the dessert of the day and it’s another Southern staple. This was fruity and moreish. The menu changes to take advantage of the best produce, so perhaps the special will be apple pie or key lime pie next time.

Ashley’s Hip made with Bulleit Bourbon is named after Stagolee’s soon-to-be-famous chef. It’s sweet and delicate but it’s undoubtedly alcoholic. But Mountain ’Rita will likely become a signature cocktail here. This makes use of the same spices around the rim as on the chicken, and the drink is spiked with jalapeño chilli. This is a Margherita with attitude; it’s not for the faint of heart and I can guarantee that one will never be enough.

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint is a couple of bus rides from chez nous but I’ll be a regular there. Chef Ashley, Jordan and their team deserve to be proud of this cosy corner of Fulham. It’s a welcome and truly unique addition to London’s restaurant scene.

Bookings
Phone: (0)20 3092 1766
Email: info@stagolees.co.uk

Opening times:
CLOSED Monday and Tuesday
Wednesday and Thursday: 5:30pm to 10pm
Friday: 5:30pm to 10:45pm
Saturday: 11am to 3pm for Brunch and 5:30pm to 10:45pm for Supper
Sun: 11am to 3pm for Brunch and 5:30pm to 10:00pm for Supper

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint
453 North End Road
Fulham
London
SW6 1NZ

Visit Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint here.

food and travel reviews

Signac – Reflections on Water

SignacPaul Signac was born in Paris in 1863. He had a privileged childhood although that was to change somewhat with the death of his father. The family had lived in Montmartre, which was a quarter famed for being the haunt of poets, writers and artists.

Signac’s family encouraged him to become an architect but the young man was entranced by the revolutionary new art he saw around him, and at the age of 18 set his heart on becoming a painter after attending a Monet exhibition.

Signac loved sailing, a hobby he took up while living in Paris. In 1892 he sailed a small boat to most French ports, to Rotterdam in Holland, to Venice, and around the Mediterranean to Turkey. He made expressive watercolours which later became large canvases. They were produced by painting small, mosaic-like squares of colour, a departure from the uniform dots made famous by other artists such as Georges Seurat who made such a profound and evident impression. Pointillism constructed paintings through little dots of pure colour best viewed from distance.

Signac – Reflections on Water offers a cross-section of over 140 works which show Paul Signac’s techniques and approach to his subjects. There are minimalist pencil sketches, bold pen and ink executions and more subtle colour harmonies. The artist was inspired by water with all its ever-changing textures, hues and movement, and this vibrant catalogue draws the reader, the viewer, into its artistic narrative. It takes us on a journey overseas, along meandering rivers, through bustling ports, and presents dream-like images of tranquil landscapes made more compelling by the brushstrokes of this iconic artist.

Signac – Reflections on Water
Publisher: Skira Editore; Reprint edition (28 Sept. 2017)
Price: £29.95
ISBN-10: 885-723403-7
ISBN-13: 978-885-723403-8

food and travel reviews

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield

It’s not surprising that we were invited here to enjoy a meal with meat as the showpiece. This was Smithfield, after all!

Blackhouse rib-eye Smithfield’s meat market dates from the 10th century, and is now London’s only remaining wholesale market in continuous use since medieval times. It’s a bloody spot in other ways, too. Smithfield was the place of many executions of religious non-conformists and political rebels, including Scottish patriot William Wallace, made famous by the film Braveheart.

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield is a smart yet casual restaurant and bar. It has a rather masculine ambiance with walls clad in natural wood, low lights and superbly cosy banquettes. Yes, meat is the draw here and appetites will be whetted by the sight of 28-day-aged joints resting in the cabinet at the restaurant entrance.

But there is more to appreciate here than red meat. There is a great selection of fish and shellfish and some veggies, too. The menu offers innovation but also some retro favourites which are worthy inclusions. The food was enticing but the service was equally memorable, and it was rather classy theatre.

Blackhouse shrimp We ordered our starters, main courses and cocktails from our server, Paolo, who was just as characterful as the steak he was about to display. No, not just a single steak but the whole length of, in this case, rib-eye. This cut, in my opinion at least, has the best ratio of flavourful fat and well-textured meat. Paolo sliced a modest portion as requested, and then we were ready to enjoy our meal, now spiked with a degree of culinary anticipation.

My first cocktail was a metal mug of Maple Loves Ginger, which was Ketel One Citroen, stem ginger purée, and lemon, with sweetness from both maple syrup and pineapple juice, the predominant flavour. The dried pineapple slice was a tasty garnish and gave exotic flair to the copper goblet presentation.

My dear reader might be surprised by my choice of starter. Prawn Cocktail is indeed a throwback dish which was ubiquitous on home and restaurant menus a few decades ago. Strangely, it fell out of favour because it was so popular. It was popular because it was good, and it still is. The Blackhouse version was sumptuous with large prawns, plenty of the traditional Marie Rose sauce, along with some delicate triangles of buttered bread.

Tommy’s Collins was my guest’s starter cocktail of El Jimador Reposado, lime, agave, mint and ginger beer. El Jimador Reposado is a 100% agave tequila aged for 3 months before bottling. This partnered well with Piri Piri Calamari with Saffron mayonnaise, which was another comfort dish and a generous helping too!

Blackhouse calamari Butterfly Perch was, as the cocktail bill of fare suggested, “perfectly matched with seabass”, my companion’s main course. The Seabass Fillet was wrapped in a lettuce leaf, stuffed with pearl barley couscous and then oven-baked to slightly char the lettuce while allowing the fish to remain moist. There was a garnish of choron sauce, which is a tomato-bejewelled Béarnaise sauce that goes so well with fish.

But I was waiting for that steak which had looked red and magnificent on Paolo’s chopping board. Steak Holder cocktail was my “Perfectly Matched” libation. Bombay gin, black grapes, Plymouth Sloe gin, star anise, maple syrup and blueberries combined to present a powder-purple delight with fragrance from the spice.

The ribeye was from the Butcher’s Block selection. It was dry-aged in Himalayan rock salt resulting in a tender and perfectly seasoned cut. When ordering steak consider flavour over bulk. A steak falling over the edges of a dinner plate might seem impressive but it usually indicates a person who is in need of a good feed rather than one who wants to savour the best. The Grill on the Market at Smithfield IS the best. If you have a huge appetite then order one modest steak and if that isn’t enough then order perhaps a different cut for the second instalment.

Blackhouse steak Coconut Bakewell Tart was our shared dessert. This was a great balance between a good old-fashioned and familiar pud with a little hint of distant climes with that coconut which works very well in this typically-English baked tart. The smear of salted caramel sauce added perfect sweetness.

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield ticked all available boxes. The location was well served by public transport. The décor was warm and inviting. The service was friendly and the staff were passionate and knowledgeable. All dishes and drinks were first-class but the meat will likely be the element which will assure many happy returns. I am impressed and planning my next visit to try a burger, which I expect will be the finest I would have ever eaten.

Opening hours:
Monday to Wednesday: 12 noon - 12:00 midnight
Thursday to Saturday: 12 noon - 1:00am
Sunday - Closed

The Grill on the Market, Smithfield
2-3 West Smithfield
City of London
EC1A 9JX

Phone: 020 7246 0900

Email: grillonthemarket@blackhouse.uk.com

Visit The Grill on the Market at Smithfield here.


food and travel reviews

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

Brick lane poppadums We Londoners are a cosmopolitan bunch. That isn’t a recent phenomenon: our country has been built, over the centuries, on a diversity of cultures and that has also added to our cuisine.

The British national dish is curry. There is a curry house on every high street, with around 10,000 of them, so this isn’t just a fad. Indian food has been popular here since the days of Queen Victoria. She had her own Indian servants who would prepare delicious and spicy dishes that were so much more vibrant than the usual British fare of those times.

This two-and-a-half-hour journey through London’s Brick Lane doesn’t show you classy and polished London: it introduces the visitor to real London. It’s a neighbourhood that has had a long history and there are still streets of iconic Georgian buildings to attest to that fact. Some of those attic windows once shed light on the work of Huguenot weavers. The Brick Lane Mosque was once a Synagogue. It’s been an area that has welcomed those looking for a better life and they have all left their mark. This neighbourhood is called ‘Banglatown’ due to its high concentration of immigrants from Bangladesh. The restaurants, cafés and shops reflect that ethnicity.

Brick lane craneWe can visit any city as a tourist and we will be able to admire the architecture. We might find an interesting shop in which to browse, and restaurants abound. But even guide books can’t answer questions and they usual only cover the well-trodden path. One really needs an actual person with ‘insider’ knowledge, someone who is a regular in some different shops and restaurants, and someone who can even point out the very best of unique street art.

London Food Tours offer in-depth insights into, in this case, Brick Lane and its surrounding streets. One walks those streets, but that stroll is punctuated by bites of authentic foods. One starts the tour with a glass of British-brewed Indian beer, a plate of crispy poppadums and a selection of tangy chutneys. A very traditional start to any Bangladeshi meal in the UK.

This is a cultural tour as well as a culinary one. Our charming and able guide described points of interest in colourful detail as we made our way to the next venue, which was a supermarket. This is a box of tasty treasures for any food lover, and there was enough time to do a circuit and to carry away some home-cooking essentials. One can find a selection of those aforementioned poppadums to cook chez vous, as well as aisles of spices and tableware.


Savoury snacks called ‘telebhuja’ are popular and our next stop allowed us to try a couple. We learned about the owner of the shop as well as a little more about the goods on sale. Trays of filled and fried pastries tempted the group, who unanimously pronounced these as flavourful and moreish. They actually constituted our starter on this roving meal extravaganza.

Brick lane banana The shop next door provided our dessert, which we reserved till the end of the afternoon. Subcontinental sweets are made of copious amounts of reduced milk, sugar and butter along with exotic flavours and even decorations of real gold or silver leaf. I can highly recommend the Pistachio Barfi!

Then it was on to a refreshing glass of a yoghurt-based drink called lassi. We enjoyed this along with a brace of Bangladeshi fish curries accompanied by fluffy white rice. We ate with our hands as do the locals, although cutlery was available for the timid.


The final stop was a short walk from Brick Lane but to an iconic restaurant which has long been appreciated by Londoners. Here we enjoyed a vegetarian and a lamb curry along with light naan bread cooked in a tandoor for delicate flavour.

This is the only London Food Tours excursion I have tried but I am impressed by their attention to detail, and the professionalism and enthusiasm of our knowledgeable guide. I am a Londoner but even I benefited from a tour rather than just an independent visit, and the walk introduced me to experiences I would otherwise have missed. I look forward to going along to other such guided tours.

Details:
Monday to Sunday at 2:30pm. The food tour takes place in Brick Lane which is in the East End, an 11-minute walk from Aldgate East station. Meeting point and detailed directions are provided with your booking confirmation. The food tour ends opposite Aldgate East station and the guide can point you towards alternative public transport or call a taxi for you.

Contact:
From North America: 1 215 688 5571
From Australia: 03 9028 7131
From the UK: 01223 793177

Visit London Food Tours here

food and travel reviews

Black Roe – Poke and more

Black roe images Black Roe is tucked away in a side street in the heart of Mayfair. It couldn’t be better located for transport and diners. This is a neighbourhood with plenty of restaurants but it is making its mark, attracting visitors who want quality food and something a little unique.

Pacific Rim cuisine is what’s offered here in this small but marvellously formed restaurant. It’s been opened by Kurt Zdesar, owner of Chotto Matte. It has seating for 60 with tables and banquettes. But it’s the décor that impressed me. Huge black and white portraits line the walls to great effect. The bar at the far end welcomes with warm amber light.

Black Roe's key to culinary distinction is poke. That isn’t pronounced as a dig in the ribs but rather po-kay with an accent on the ‘e’. It’s basically is a raw fish salad, a deconstructed sushi with garnishes and dressing. In the restaurant window there is a tapestry of poke fixin’s. It is served as a starter in Hawaii and as a main course. A large proportion of those islands’ populations are descended from Japanese so this is a Pacific Rim fusion, and has already taken the West Coast of the US by storm.

Black roe poke We started with Prawn and Pork Pot Stickers with chives and ponzu, a citrus-based sauce commonly used in Japanese dishes. These were perfectly-made dumplings which are both steamed and fried. They had a beautiful crisp bottom, and that delicate char gave flavour as well as texture.

A bowl of the celebrated poke was always on the cards. The “Black Roe” Ahi and Yellowtail Poke with spicy yuzu salsa was our choice from a selection of poke dishes. There was indeed some of the eponymous black roe along with cubes of the abovementioned fresh fish. The ratio of topping to rice was generous and the presentation was beautiful. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit and created a tangy dressing for both rice and fish. This is a must-try here.

Octopus Aioli with chilli salsa and coriander was the best dish of cephalopod I have had in ages. I would go as far as saying it’s one of the best dishes of any style I have enjoyed in a while. The mollusc was meaty and the sauce was outstanding. This is one of my ‘dishes of the year’ so far. Yes, I know it’s just a matter of taste but I think it’s that good! Executive Chef Jordan Sclare should be proud!

Whole Lobster “Mac ‘N’ Cheese” is at the opposite end of the menu from the light and refreshing poke. This is a stunner and a real ‘celebration’ plate. It’s rich, flavourful, creamy with cheese and well-punctuated with chunks of lobster. It’s a visually striking dish but you will likely order it again, and not just for the picture on Instagram!

Black roe octopus But I have pointed out that bar, and it serves some rather decent cocktails. Cherry Pistachio Sour made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, pistachio, lemon, egg white and cane syrup was deceptively mild, timid and addictive. Remember, this is actually alcoholic.

Quiet Storm with coconut cream, passion fruit, lime, lychee and apple juice with a garnish of mint was a non-alcoholic souvenir of those characterful Tiki bars in California and Hawaii of a few decades ago. This thirst-quencher was served in a bright green Tiki mug.

Black Roe is my cup of tea, it’s right up my alley …and a bunch of other superlatives. The location is perfect and the menu for both starters and main courses is an eclectic fusion that fits so well with the vibrant London restaurant scene. I’ll be back for dessert and to explore more of that cocktail menu.

Opening times:
12:00noon - 4:30pm, 5:30pm - 10:45pm

Black Roe
4 Mill Street
London
W1S 2AX

Phone: 020 3794 8448

Email: info@blackroe.com

Visit Black Roe here.

food and travel reviews

Jacqui Pickles – President, Les Dames d’Escoffier London – in conversation

Jacqui Pickles les Dames logo Les Dames d’Escoffier London are enjoying a vibrant calendar of events and are welcoming new members who are eager to participate in activities and raise funds for other women in hospitality. President Jacqui Pickles is one of the Chapter’s founding members and in 2015 took the helm from Valentina Harris, who did such a fine job as the first London President.

Who is this calm and measured lady who manages to instil enthusiasm in such a diverse cross-section of leading women in UK hospitality? She has a successful catering company and has spent almost all her career working in food and wine.

I asked how she first came to hear of Les Dames d’Escoffier. ‘I met Valentina Harris in the early 90s. I was doing some work for an importer of kitchen equipment, and met someone who wanted to set up chef demonstrations. I put some programmes together for her, and got some really good chefs who would go down to her kitchen shop. Valentina was one of those chefs, and we hit it off. I helped her set up a cookery school in France, and we built up a good relationship. It was she who invited me to become one of the founding members of the London Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.’

What are some of Jacqui’s early memories of food?

‘As a child I do remember it was simple food, Northern food. It was my Grandma who taught me the importance of making something taste good. She really only had three seasonings: salt, pepper and butter. She was a natural cook, and couldn’t make pastry to save her life, but she just knew how things should taste, and how to put them together. My mother was a good cook, but she was much more precise. She had been a nurse, and ran the household as if she was running a ward – we had to scrub down before each meal! She worked as hard at being a mother and housekeeper as she had as a nurse in the 1950s.

Jacqui Pickles ‘My mother went to Cordon Bleu evening classes once a week and so, suddenly, when I was about ten years old, we were being given pork fillets stuffed with prunes and anchovies, and stuffed peppers… We all embraced this, and these were the days before anyone had seen an avocado pear!

‘My father had a small farm and he set up a market business selling eggs and cheese. His first market stall was in Barnsley, which was odd because we lived in Preston. In those days there was no motorway so he had to get up very early, feed his pigs and whatever, then drive over the Pennines, and clear the snow from Market Hill in Barnsley to set up his stall. He built a successful business of about 30 shops in the end, and it kept my grandfather, father, my uncle and my elder brother going for 50 years.’

How did her career start?

‘I went into the family business. But there were too many ‘chiefs’ there, and one day I told Dad that I was handing in my notice. A week later I left and headed south with no plan. Eventually I found some work at Bourne & Hollingsworth. Then I went to the Cordon Bleu school for a week (which was as much as I could afford), and my interest was piqued.

‘I got a job as a secretary and actually my love of food started in that company. One day my colleague, Mike, asked me to lunch, and took me to the Connaught Grill. In those days it was all silver and waiters in tails – the poshest place I had ever been. The parents of my boyfriend Guy (now my husband) suggested that the next time he invited me to lunch I was to ask to go to Le Gavroche. So we went to Le Gavroche, and I still remember exactly what we had for lunch. We ate so well, and what a performance, a ballet – so fantastic! After that, we always went to Le Gavroche. I remember peeking at the bill, and in 1980 it was £78 for the two of us – quite a lot!

‘Guy and I would take our holidays in the South of France. Coming back we would always stop at a little place called Le Cheval d’Or, which had a great dining room. In1982 I said to Guy, “I really want to learn how to cook!” So I handed in my notice, and left my job in January 1983. I told Mike that I would look for a cookery course, and he took me for a last meal at Le Gavroche. He said, “You never know, you might end up working here.” I laughed, but by May 1984 I was working there!

‘Fate played a big part: I applied to the school at La Petite Cuisine in Richmond and that was such a stroke of luck, because Lyn Hall was a brilliant teacher, and knew every great chef in France. It was a wonderful school and I fell in love with the whole thing. She was such a hard taskmaster, but after just three months with her you could go straight into a professional kitchen. From there I went to France, in May 1983, to the Chateau de Montreuil, near Boulogne.

‘Then Lyn Hall came to visit, and asked me to come back to the school and be the chef’s assistant. I did that, but within a month the chef had left and I was chef! I did love teaching, and building relationships with the students who came through. But I did miss the restaurant.

‘Steven Docherty, the sous-chef at Le Gavroche, was asked to come and give a lecture one evening, and I said to him that I would love to come to the Gavroche kitchen sometime. He said, “Just visit one evening after work, and just peel vegetables or whatever.” So I did that, standing there with a crate of carrots, just watching everything that was going on. So I thought, “I’ve got to get back in!” and one day I asked Albert Roux for a job. He asked, “How serious are you? How long are you going to cook for?” and I replied, “I’m going to cook for life!” so he said, “OK, you can have a job!”

‘I started at Le Gavroche in mid-1984. That was the hardest job of my life! Very tough, and I was the only woman in the kitchen. From Le Gavroche I went into their outside catering business. Then Albert gave me a job of looking after all the chefs in the contract side. When they started to go for the big contracts I was brought into the meetings to help them. I was with them until 1986.

‘I set up my own company, and my first contract was with John Frieda, the up-market hairdresser, so I called the company Head Chefs Ltd – we provided food for their clients and we did his opening party in his Mayfair salon. The outside catering work began then.

‘I travelled a lot. I saw the world in style – Japan, Canada, The States, and all round Europe, and it was fabulous. The only place I actually cooked was in Iceland: a merchant bank client used to take their guests for a fishing trip and I cooked in a fishing lodge for a week every July, and it was really hard work. We started at 6 in the morning and finished at 2 in the morning, but it never got dark so you didn’t notice how tired you were.’

Jacqui Pickles

Jacqui Pickles continues to be involved with catering and hospitality, and organising international events. She is charismatic, quietly spoken and persuasive. She has already encouraged many women to get involved with the increasingly influential Les Dames d’Escoffier London Chapter.

Learn more about Les Dames d’Escoffier here.


food and travel reviews

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Best of England Many of us have become interested in wine. Yes, drinking it and pairing it. Remember the days when we in the UK drank just a few different wines? It wasn’t that they were so good that they became popular; truth to tell, it was all we had. Red or white from ‘various countries’. They were not different bottles from various countries but often bottles made with a blend of grapes from various countries. Rosé came in the guise of Mateus Rosé in its distinctive flat bottle. OK, I admit it, I still have a taste for that retro classic; I guess it’s familiarity.

Things have changed. We are more discerning and we are interested in not only what’s in the glass but where it came from. If it’s delicious then we want to learn more, and one might discover that the crisp sparkling white in our glass actually comes from England! It’s documented that Christopher Merret used the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, 40 years before it was claimed that Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon had invented the process which came to be called the Champagne method.

Best of England is a young and vibrant company which publishes English county guides, and now they have tours to offer visitors from the UK and across the globe. The company has quality at the heart of both books and tours. They research so you don’t have to, and they offer well-tailored trips to delight the novice wine buff as well as those with a more professional wine interest.

An English vineyard tour with Best of England is a tasting delight. One can opt for a short tour with afternoon tea, which might sound like something of an oxymoron but what better backdrop for a classic afternoon tea could there be than a lush vineyard …and a glass or two of something chilled, sparkling and reviving!

For those who are looking for an intense 3-vineyard experience then Best of England has a tour to satisfy that want. One will see how these wines are made, from growing vines to corking and labelling the final product. Visitors will meet the winemakers and hear their individual stories, and there will be an opportunity (of course) to sample the wines.

Included:

Best of England Bolney have been making wine since 1972. Their wines are well-regarded and can be enjoyed in this family-run winery. The estate is 39 acres and has a café offering gourmet lunches, as well as tastings.

Ridgeview is another family-run vineyard, outside the picturesque village of Ditchling. It has outstanding views over the dramatic South Downs Ridge. They produce award-winning sparkling wines using traditional methods.

Rathfinny Wine Estate is found in the Cuckmere Valley and three miles from the sea. The vineyard is 600 acres and over the past three years they have planted 72 hectares of vines; by 2020, they will be one of England’s largest vineyards. All the buildings here have been constructed with locally sourced materials, using sustainable technologies such as photovoltaic cells and wastewater recycling. Rathfinny Estate have worked with the National Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority to open the ‘Rathfinny Trail’ so that visitors can arrive by foot or by bike.

All of these established and thriving wineries show different philosophies of production and growing, giving an impression of the progress made in English viticulture over the past decade.

Best of England make wine education fun and accessible, whether you are novice or professional. They arrange everything for a stress-free day of tasting in the most delicious fashion. Just turn up at the railway station and leave the arrangements to this imaginative company.

Learn more about Best of England here.

food and travel reviews

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

civracWhat a kind invitation! A food and wine pairing evening at impressive Lutyens, off Fleet Street… and Cornish wine! Well, no, not really – the wine is French and very good too. The maker is Cornish and that, strangely, might give him some advantages: he has an appreciation of the British wine palate.

Cornishman Mark Hellyar changed careers a few years ago to start producing wine in Bordeaux. He is from Padstow where his family have farmed for a couple of hundred years, so he does indeed have a connection with land and cultivation. Cornishmen have long had a reputation for being independent and rebellious, and with that genetic sense of adventure Mark sold the software company he was running in order to start a new phase of his life. Now the resulting wines are found at celebrated Michelin-starred restaurants and in the cellars of the discerning.

Mark Hellyar of Chateau Civrac is a Cornishman in Bordeaux. The wines are contemporary and made with the British consumer in mind. Mark’s wines are hand-made in small quantities thus giving the opportunity to tailor wines for individual and complex character and ever-changing nuances. There is nothing dull or banal from Chateau Civrac. Mark wanted to make wines that were different from classic Bordeaux and his wines have a New World quality about them, with more subtle tannins, and which perhaps have more in common with those he discovered while working in California and South Africa.

civrac Chateau Civrac has developed a noteworthy Sauvignon Blanc called Wild White which isn’t a hippy-inspired vintage as the name might suggest. The ‘wild’ element comes from the French Sauvage and Blanc for white – a little linguistic toying. We tried this and several other outstanding wines at the Honest Grape food and wine tasting, and everybody was impressed by Mark’s offerings.

But what are Honest Grapes? It’s actually more of a bunch of who’s rather than what’s. They are a group of wine enthusiasts, wine professionals, and friends who have created something of a one-stop wine site which offers suggestions and invitations to events. They hold regular pairing dinners and single-variety tastings which will excite anyone who enjoys good wine, and anyone wanting to learn more.

Honest Grapes supports independent growers, small producers and importers, allowing their guests to taste wines that they won’t be able to find easily elsewhere. There are wines for quaffing with Sunday lunch and others suitable for celebrations and impressing the in-laws; there might even be a cheeky bottle or two appropriate for an evening in front of the television enjoying ‘The French Connection’ or ‘Julie & Julia’. This is a marketplace for interesting bottles, well-chosen vintages – and delicious diversion.

civrac I am no wine expert and I am not a chef but I really enjoyed this pairing evening. Honest Grapes presents events that will appeal to food lovers who will appreciate learning more about how wines not only accompany dishes but actually enhance them. But any dinner party is just as much about those folks sitting around the table as what’s on it. These evenings are convivial. One might not know the others but everyone has something in common – love of great food and excellent wine, as furnished by Lutyens and, in this case, the charming Mark Hellyar (whom I hope to interview in the near future).


Learn more about Honest Grapes here

Learm more about Mark Hellyar and his wines here

food and travel reviews

Current articles

Thai Square Fulham

Thai Square massaman curry Restaurant review: Yes, dear reader, this is a chain restaurant and I make no apologies for reviewing a Thai Square. Why do chains become chains? Because they become popular. And why are they popular? Because they’re good. Thai Square has been around for a few years now and they have not dropped their standards... Read More

Bōkan for Bottomless Prosecco Sunday Brunch

bokan tempura Restaurant review: It’s in London’s vibrant Docklands – or more accurately high above that sought-after neighbourhood. It’s up a depth at a considerable 37 floors! This is an elevated restaurant in every sense of the word. This area glistens with glass and polished metal and exudes an air of sophistication... Read More

Risotto! Risotto!

Risotto Risotto
Many a cookbook reviewer will start their article with statements of impartiality, even-handedness and cool, professional aloofness. Not me. On this occasion, at least. I am pinning my culinary colours to Valentina Harris’s gastronomic mast with a degree of unashamed pride... Read More

Trolley in the Lobby - Bar at One Aldwych

lobby bar Bar review: One Aldwych and its Lobby Bar occupy one of the most important Edwardian buildings in London. One doesn’t have to have a degree in architecture to be impressed by this hotel. One might remark that it has a hint of Paris about it and indeed it does... Read More

Taruzake – cedar difference

Taruzake - cedar difference
Drinks review: There is one variety of sake that has always intrigued me, one with a very pronounced flavour – of wood. No, not the taste of knotty pine nor the richness of mahogany (although I have never had a chew of either of those). Here we are talking cedar... Read More

Banana Bread

banana bread Recipe: This is great for using up those quickly-browning bananas. The over-ripe ones are perfect for this recipe as they are both soft and sweet. Throw in a handful of nuts or dried fruit if you have them... (opens printable page) Read More

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

Luton Hoo Hotel review: Luton Hoo is arguably one of the finest examples of its genre. A stay laced with dinner and champagne was likely to be memorable, and indeed it was. Luton Hoo offers several wine dinners every year and they are understandably popular with regular visitors, those who are celebrating, and others who are interested in learning more about the best of wines... Read More

The Swan at the Globe

The Swan at the Globe Restaurant review: The Swan fits perfectly with the area. The small windows remind one of Dickensian homes, although I suspect this is all much newer. One mounts the stairs to the contemporary restaurant which at 6pm was filled with tourists... Read More

Hotel TerraVina Dining

Hotel TerraVina Dining
Restaurant review: Hotel TerraVina is a gem. It’s a well-appointed house – well, it seems like someone’s home (read the accommodation review here). A line of colourful wellies in the hall welcomes the arriving guests. The rooms are individually designed and the beds... Read More

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour

Opium
Restaurant review: This isn’t a bar for the feeble of limb. It has a staircase more associated with a lighthouse than a drinking hole. The deep red walls and the perfume of incense sticks combine to present an expectation of something truly exotic at the top of those stairs... Read More

Umami Kelp and Wasabi – an introduction

Turning Japanese
Japanese food review: We in the UK find the concept of umami to be somewhat elusive. We need educating in this element of flavour which can be recognised in all manner of foodstuffs – even those common and definitely not Japanese, such as Marmite... Read More

Rafute - Okinawan braised pork belly

Rafute Recipe: Rafute is flavourful, tender and moreish. It’s a dish popular in Okinawa in the far (very far) south-west of Japan. It’s traditionally made with two local staples – Awamori, which is Okinawa’s celebrated spirit, and the island’s brown sugar, which is often made into candy... Read More

Remelluri Organic Winery

Remelluri
Food & Drink review: In the 14th century, a monastery was built that gave birth to this farm, producing cereal and wine for the monks - La Granja Nuestra Senora de Remelluri (Our Lady of Remelluri)... Read More

Mele e Pere for Vermouth with a Master

mele vermouth
Food & Drink review: Vermouth has been ubiquitous in and on cocktail bars since mixed drinks became popular more than a century ago, but many of us have no idea what it actually is, apart from being the bottle that stands at the back collecting dust... Read More

Markopoulo recommendations – Attica’s food, wine and welcome

Markopoulo recommendations Travel review: Most travellers to Greece seem to arrive in Athens with a long journey still ahead. They are looking for small restaurants where the locals eat, perhaps a secluded beach, no other foreign tourists in sight. Yes, that must be a small island, and a boat ride away from the mainland. Well, all those elements are nearer than you think... Read More

Domaine Papagiannakos Winery

Domaine Papagiannakos Vineyard
Winery review: A few years ago one might scoff at the prospect of a visit to a Greek winery. The memory of old-school Retsina lingers on. That wine had more in common, to non-Greek taste buds at least, with that in which one might clean paint brushes. But those days are gone and now Greek wineries are taken seriously... Read More

Maribor – wines, gastronomy, bikes and hikes

Maribor Slovenia travel review: Slovenia is a small country in Central Europe. Small it might be but it has natural beauty, with mountains (Slovenia's highest mountain, the three-peaked Triglav, is depicted on the national flag), vine-strewn hills, thick forests, historic cities and a 46 km long coast on the Adriatic. It is, in some regards, Europe in microcosm... Read More

Sake Cups – or perhaps a glass

sake cups Japanese culture review: For those of us who love the delicious complexity of sake, the vessel from which we drink is often something of an afterthought. But it shouldn’t be... Read More

Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses

cinnamon collection masterclass Restaurant Masterclass review: It seems a bit early for pondering Christmas presents but, trust me, it’s not. If you have a passionate food lover in your near vicinity you might want to ditch the summer holiday brochures for half an hour and consider a masterclass... Read More

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs
French travel review: Reims is a beautiful and historic city in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. It is only 130 km from Paris with easy access by train. Excursions to nearby Chalons are a must and there will be not only the delightfully ubiquitous champagne to taste but also... Read More

Rijsttafel in The Hague

Rijsttafel in The Hague
Indonesian Food review: I love The Netherlands and am an unashamed supporter. It’s an oft-disregarded tourist destination even though it’s easy to get to from London. Short breaks are more usually taken in Paris or Berlin. That’s a shame as Dutch cities offer history, architectural charm and delicious food... Read More

Rennes – second capital of food (or is it third?)

Rennes food
French travel review: Rennes Market is considered to be the second- or third-largest in France, depending on whom you are speaking to... Read More

The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie

vilmart
Wine review: The Champagne house Vilmart & Cie was founded in 1890 by Désiré Vilmart and is considered by many an authority to be perhaps the leading producer of quality Champagne in the region of Northern France which bears the same name... Read More

Umbria’s Autumn Gastronomy with Valentina Harris

Valentina Harris Umbria interview Chef interview: Valentina Harris doesn’t have many free moments but I cornered her on a return flight from a culinary tour of Umbria. She is an unashamed supporter of the country of her birth, and conducts gastronomic adventures to Umbria and other regions... Read More

Hisashi Taoka of Kiku – Fish aficionado

Hisashi Taoka of Kiku interview Chef interview: Kiku was first established in Mayfair in 1978 and has gained a reputation for serving authentic Japanese cuisine. The owners, Mariko and Hisashi Taoka, are dedicated to presenting the freshest of food in a calming cocoon of blond wood... Read More


Click the menu options for more - much more...         


Follow
Mostly Food and Travel Journal
on
twitter for Mostly Food and Travel Journal
and
Follow Me on Pinterest
and
Follow my travels on Instagram Follow my food on Instagram Follow my drinks on Instagram
 
 
Capital Spice - chefs, restaurants and recipes
By Chrissie Walker, foreword by Sanjeev Kapoor.
21 great London Indian chefs, over 100
stunning recipes.
Available from bookshops and Amazon.
ISBN: 9781906650728

 
Marks and Spencer wine