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
Donna Margherita – pizza and pasta know-how
might say we love Italian food because we buy pizza. It arrives
in a box on the back of a moped. We choose from dozens of toppings at
supermarket, and we buy it frozen on every high street. Yes, we love
food – but these are not Italian, and one taste of the authentic
turn your head and have you singing ‘That’s Amore’ quicker that the
open a bottle of Chianti
“I wanted to create a menu which we
are able to enjoy, full
of flavour yet still remaining healthy for our bodies,” says owner of
Margherita, Gabriele Vitale. And he showed his skills and that of his
chef in this popular restaurant on London’s Lavender Hill.
This was an Italian cooking class
with a difference.
Gabriele demonstrated how to make the perfect gnocchi, while his pizza
us to the method for making the essential dough for the base. This is a
flavourful and light bread which only takes seconds to bake in the
wood-fuelled pizza oven. It’s those bits of tree that make all the
but it takes years of practice to make the perfect pizza with just the
amount of char on the bottom and a bubbling top of tomatoes and molten
event was a celebration of the restaurant’s
collaboration with the Italian PIA Association (Italian and
School). The organisation’s president, Arturo Mazzeo, was on hand to
the occasion. This group is responsible for training some of the finest
chefs. It truly is an art. Pizza here is made from scratch from a
starter, so plenty of flavour in the long-proved dough.
The course showcased the new
healthier recipe for pizza and tempted
us with the finest Italian pasta. This is an ingredient which is so
overcooked elsewhere. Gabriele presents dishes which are rich in
easier to digest and have a natural taste of wheat. He is also
the benefit of Himalayan pink salt, which has 84 minerals to help
Margherita has long been a favourite restaurant (read my review here). The owner doesn’t just want to feed his guests – he
to savour every element. He takes trouble in sourcing everything, right
the humble egg. Many of his ingredients come directly from Italy and
artisanal products from nearer home. Gabriele wants diners to leave
Margherita satisfied that they have had a delicious and substantial
meal which won’t
have them feeling bloated.
A must-try is E’spaghett’ A Carbonara
which is the real
thing and not often found in other restaurants. It’s spaghetti with
Italian guanciale (an Italian cured meat product prepared from pork
cheeks), organic eggs, parmesan and pecorino cheeses. Please note that
version doesn’t contain cream, but relies on the other components for
Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
183 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TE
Well, this is an interesting one. I am a lover of good food
cooked from scratch but I also live in the real world with real people,
and some of those folks are too young to manage long-hand baking. Pud in a
Mug is a fun way of introducing kids to a little bit of culinary creativity
which I hope will lead to a love of cooking.
It’s school holidays and there is the problem of what to do.
A project. Some fun. Dessert is always welcome. Pud in a Mug by Dr.
Oetker could provide a bit of diversion and a lesson in baking alchemy. The
process of making a hot cake in a mug only takes a couple of minutes and a
The Pud in a Mug range includes Rich Chocolate, Chocolate
Chip, and Sticky Toffee. All sweet and tempting for youngsters who need
a bit of energy. One adds a small amount of milk to a microwaveable mug and
then stirs in a sachet of the desired cake mix. Combine and microwave for a minute
and a half. Beware: This is HOT! Get the youngsters to select their preferred
cake. They can mix, put it into the microwave and set the timer, but an adult
needs to remove and WAIT till the pud cools a bit.
This is a portable edible project so ideal to take with them
when the kids have an away-day with Auntie Beryl or Granny.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Signac was born in Paris in 1863. He had a privileged
childhood although that was to change somewhat with the death of his
The family had lived in Montmartre, which was a quarter famed for being
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
at the age of 18 set his heart on becoming a painter after attending a
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
which later became large canvases. They were produced by painting
mosaic-like squares of colour, a departure from the uniform dots made
other artists such as Georges Seurat who made such a profound and
Pointillism constructed paintings through little dots of pure colour
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
There are minimalist pencil sketches, bold pen and ink executions and
subtle colour harmonies. The artist was inspired by water with all its
ever-changing textures, hues and movement, and this vibrant catalogue
reader, the viewer, into its artistic narrative. It takes us on a
along meandering rivers, through bustling ports, and presents
of tranquil landscapes made more compelling by the brushstrokes of this
Signac – Reflections on
Publisher: Skira Editore; Reprint edition (28 Sept. 2017)
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!
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
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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
What a view! There can be few places more picturesque than
the bank of the River Thames by the 18th century Richmond Bridge. It’s
beautiful at any time but on a summer’s evening it’s memorable. A seat
at Jackson and Rye will give you the best spot.
Richmond is the last stop on the District Line and 8 miles from
Charing Cross, which is traditionally viewed as the centre of London.
Richmond was founded following Henry VII’s building of Richmond Palace in 1501.
Elizabeth I spent time at Richmond and passed her last days there. It’s
popular with more humble folks these days. One can hire a boat, enjoy some
classy shopping, stroll around Kew Gardens which is close by.
It’s a surprise but Richmond isn’t very well served by good
restaurants. Jackson and Rye will be welcomed by those of us who despair of
finding food over which to coo. Yes, Jackson and Rye is a chain but it’s
a rather well-presented one and fits this location so well.
This isn’t a stuffy restaurant but rather one which welcomes
with a smile and soothes the soul with some classic casual dishes and
others that might be a little less common. The drinks are worthy and
well-crafted. There are tables for couples and spaces for groups. The restaurant is blessed
with an outside terrace to take advantage of the aforementioned view and to
people-watch over a cocktail.
And speaking of cocktails, mine was a Mint Julep with a base
of Maker’s Mark, the celebrated Kentucky Bourbon, along with a veritable
bouquet of fresh mint. Ice chinked in the frosty glass and this visitor was
content. My guest was equally pleased with his Rosemary Tree, which was a delicate
stemmed glass of rosemary-infused Stolichnaya Vodka, lemon and dry vermouth. I
think there might be a dash of egg white. A great cocktail for lovers of
The drinks were perfect but the food was outstanding. I ordered Buffalo Chicken Wings and it was a considerable plateful. The
pile of smoked wings was served with three homemade sauces - BBQ, Peri Peri and Blue
Cheese. The blue cheese is a traditional accompaniment but this one was mild
and creamy rather than the usual over-salty dip. The peri peri sauce was spicy and
not to be missed.
Crunchy Chorizo Prawns with a mango chilli mayo was my guest’s starter. These were lollypops topped
with succulent prawns which were seasoned with a morsel of well-flavoured chorizo. A
light nibble with which to begin the meal.
It’s been ages since I had a good burger but
I was tempted by the J+R Cheeseburger. This was a classic winner and I feel no shame
by saying that a great burger is right up there with the best steak. The
meat was perfectly charred, moist and garnished with smoky tomato relish,
American cheese, J+R burger sauce, lettuce, gherkins - and I added crispy bacon. I
also ordered a side of broccoli which was vibrant and tastefully presented,
showing attention to detail.
My companion continued with a rack of
Baby Back Ribs which had had 6 hours smoking, making the meat tender and full of that distinctive flavour.
This must surely be the signature meat dish here. These
ribs came with sides of slaw and fries which defeated the diner, such
was the generosity of the serving.
I am seldom impressed by desserts but
Peanut Butter Fudge S’mores was a sweet star. Graham crackers (digestive biscuit),
marshmallow with a peanut and chocolate sauce combined to give a unique take on an
American camp-fire favourite. I was sorry that we had decided that we should
share! It was the quality of the marshmallow which rather elevated this
preparation to a fine-dining pud.
Jackson and Rye Richmond was a pleasant surprise. It is
undoubtedly a casual restaurant but the food is delicious and
well-presented. The staff are professional and engaging ...and there is that view. It was
a fun evening and I’ll be back to try a glass of rye and to enjoy my own whole
plate of S’mores!
Monday to Friday: 8am till 11.00pm
Saturday: 9am to 11.00pm
Sunday: 9am - 10:30pm
Jackson and Rye Richmond
1 Heron Square
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
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
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.
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
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 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
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
From North America: 1 215 688 5571
From Australia: 03 9028 7131
From the UK: 01223 793177
This is the must-have book of the year for anyone interested
in gardens. That doesn’t have to be an interest in the activity of
a book for anyone who takes pleasure in just spending time in beautiful
London has a proud history in making
and preserving public
gardens and parks. They are the lungs of the city and are used by
looking for a moment of tranquillity, a quiet spot for enjoying a
sandwich, and sometimes by sporty types, too.
Londoners will likely be familiar
with public gardens and
parks in their own neighbourhoods but 111 Gardens in London That You
Miss covers the whole of Greater London. There are the huge and
gardens such as Kew but there are many more that will be less
well-known. I am
a West-Londoner but I have never visited Osterley Park. It’s not far
away and the
house is surrounded by 331 acres of gardens, park and farmland! Would
difficult to miss!
But these gardens are not just to be
found in the suburbs.
Gardens are part of our history and they are themselves historic.
Fields is now a calm idyll, but it wasn’t always like that. This was
public executions were held, and where muggings were a popular pastime!
There are 111 gardens listed and all
of them are worth a
visit. They each have their unique character and attractions, and it
one is never far from a park or garden in London. It’s a must for any
to the city who wants to tread the path less trodden by other tourists.
are flowers, trees, ponds, lakes, architecture and sculpture all to be
discovered, away from the buzz of traffic.
111 Gardens in London That You
Shouldn’t Miss is a well researched
and charmingly written book and one which this gardener is really
111 Gardens in London That
You Shouldn’t Miss
Author: Kirstin von Glasow
Published by: Emons Verlag GmbH
This is a PopUp so don’t spend time reading the rest of this
piece. Just go before it closes!
One might think that sparkling wine is for the connoisseur,
those with money and a dictionary of posh wine terms. Fiz Bar aims to encourage
a new generation of sparkling-wine lovers – those who aren’t interested
in the hype but love the taste …and the fizz.
This is a casual bar which has found its temporary home in a
former neon-sign shop, and there is still plenty of that stock on show.
It’s contemporary with hints of an older Soho: one of the signs beams ‘Peep
Show’! The founders had originally expected that folks would stand and drink,
but now there are pine benches and stools for a more comfortable event, as
there is food on offer here, too, including one of the best grilled cheese
sandwiches in London! The plates and platters do, where possible, reflect British
Prosecco, Cava, English sparkling and Cremante from far and
near are available, and many by the glass. This is about delicious
discovery at a reasonable price. It’s about friends and fizz. It’s just as much
about the folks who visit as it is about the menu. They are an eclectic bunch:
cyclists with helmets and dubious shorts; office workers with laptops; meeters
I trust that Fiz Bar will find a permanent home in the near
future. Yes, I think it’s a sign of things to come. It’s time that we
enjoyed fizz more and stopped drinking it just because we think we look good
doing it. Fizz shouldn’t be thought of as posh but should be appreciated by a
wider audience for its bubbly personality – and Fiz Bar has plenty of that!
Summer PopUp from 20th June - 13th August
The Lights of Soho
35 Brewer Street
Monday to Thursday 10:00am - 23:30pm
Friday to Saturday 10:00am - midnight
Sunday 12:00noon to 16:00pm
Black Roe – Poke and more
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.
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
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!
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.
Sorbets and Gelati - The Definitive Guide
It’s summer even in the UK and a book-buyer’s passion
turns to frozen desserts and all things deliciously cool.
Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati is a huge tome and amazing value for
money. It offers more than 300 large-format pages, over 400 recipes,
iconic illustrations, ice cream lore and information on one of the
world’s most popular food groups.
The progress of ice cream has taken it from the sublime to the
ridiculous and back again. It was once the preserve of kings, emperors
and the very wealthy. The secrets of its manufacture became more widely
known and the raw materials became more reasonably priced, resulting in
an inferior and often unhygienic product being made available to all.
Penny Lick glasses filled by unscrupulous vendors and enjoyed by one
eager buyer were returned unwashed and filled ready for the next
victim. Several epidemics of fatal diseases have been attributed to the
practice. Laws were tightened to give ice cream lovers a sporting
chance at long life, and then the boom was in full swing.
These days we enjoy good quality frozen desserts along with an even
larger choice of shoddy goods, but at least many of us have the
opportunity to make some truly delightful ices at home. The best and
freshest of ingredients are used, and these ingredients are few and,
for the most part, readily available.
Plenty of history here and it’s amusing and fascinating but you will
likely buy this book for the recipes. They are a fine and eclectic
bunch and there is truly one for every occasion and every taste,
including a few savoury examples (although they are not my favourites).
I have been particularly taken by some ices that would be a perfect end
to those enormous holiday dinners. Decadent but full of festive
flavours. Cranberry Sorbet is tangy and refreshing. Good for a dessert
or a digestive between courses. Terry’s Chocolate Orange Ice Cream is
bound to revive childhood memories for those of us who only had those
chocolate novelties as a Yule-tide treat. Crème de Marron Ice
Cream is the ice of choice for those having a Continental Christmas.
Mincemeat Ice Cream has become popular over the last few years but this
book suggests an alternative which might be even more appealing:
Christmas Cake Ice Cream. This honestly does contain Christmas cake,
although omitting the icing. This might not be the lightest ice around
but it will offer a hint of tradition.
My pick of this book isn’t a seasonal delight but an intriguing
confection of, well, confectionery. Werther's Ice Cream is made with
Werther's Original Butter Toffee (candy). Those melting and moreish
sweets are put to good use in this recipe which produces a rich dessert
that is bound to become a regular in those colder months.
Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati is a winner. The weather is hot and
our thoughts turn to cold treats. This could be a welcome present for
those with an ice-cream machine, for those who aspire to such a thing,
and for those who love frozen desserts. The recipes here are inspiring
Cookbook review: Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati - The Definitive Guide
Authors: Caroline and Robin Weir
Published by: Grub Street
Jacqui Pickles – President, Les Dames d’Escoffier
London – in conversation
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
‘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
‘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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?)
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
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
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
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
Tweets by @mostlyfood1 By Chrissie Walker, foreword by Sanjeev Kapoor. 21 great
London Indian chefs, over 100
Available from bookshops and Amazon.