Lobos Meat & Tapas is exactly the kind of place that is responsible for my recurrent idle fantasy of moving house to be in close proximity to Borough, Maltby Street and Bermondsey Markets and all the fabulous food and drink places this area of London affords.

Of course, this fantasy is hugely unrealistic, not least because I’m such a dyed-in-the-wool hoarder that I’d never manage to squeeze the ‘stuff’ I’ve amassed over the decades into the minimal-storage space in the clean, modern, uncluttered and tiny city pads that we might just about be able to buy if we sold our house up in the ‘burbs! And of course, I wouldn’t actually want to give up a back garden (or our allotment plot nearby) in exchange for a shared public garden that no one ever actually relaxes properly in (if they use it at all) or a single pot of tomatoes grown on the ledge that’s rather generously described as a balcony.

But still… to have so much of London’s constantly evolving, constantly improving, constantly surprising and constantly exciting food scene right on the door step must be a thing of wonder.

If you live near Borough Market, or even if you don’t quite frankly, I recommend you make your way to Lobos for some very delicious treats. Lobos is folded origami-like into an arched, two-storey space carved out under the railway bridge, right next to the modern glass-fronted Market Hall that went up a year or two back and just a stone’s throw from Southwark Cathedral. Downstairs is the bar space with a couple of high tables; upstairs is the restaurant space with a handful of small tables and cosy leather-padded booths.

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Image by Paul Winch-Furness, provided courtesy of Lobos

Lobos – which means wolves in Spanish, so I’m told – was launched last month by three friends who met while working at Tapas Brindisa – chef Roberto Castro, Joel Placeres and Ruben Maza.

Let me be clear, this isn’t a place for vegetarians or pescetarians – pretty evident from the restaurant’s name, but it never hurts to spell it out. Meat is the name of the game and the menu focuses on prime cuts of Iberico pig, Castillan lamb and beef sourced from The Ginger Pig. It’s classic tapas, beautifully cooked, served in a very cosy space by friendly and helpful staff. And of course, being a tapas bar, you can pop in for a drink and some small nibbles or make a proper meal of it, as we did.

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We settled in for an early weeknight dinner. Even in summer, with August sun keeping the sky light until late, inside was dark and cosy with bare-filament lights casting a very orange glow.

Wine is available by the glass, carafe or bottle and there is a short cocktail menu as well as regular soft drinks. I’d love to see a little more thought put into the soft drinks, but then I’m one of those rare non wine drinkers. Pete was appreciative of the choice of wines by carafe and enjoyed a Tempranillo from Rioja (£6.25/ £17.75/ £34 per glass/ carafe/ bottle).

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The flavour of this Iberico Bellota Ham (£14.50) – that’s the acorn fed stuff – was terrific and somehow it disappeared from the board awfully quickly. That said, I would have liked it to be better streaked with silky white fat; the fat is always so good!

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We ordered Baked Tetilla Cheese (£ 9) on our waiter’s recommendation, not least because he described it arriving to the table as a flaming spectacle. Any brandy had already burned off before it reached us but the dish was still a big hit. Thin, super-crunchy fried toasts were served alongside this hot pan of melted cheese adorned with soft and sweet roasted vegetables.

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I always consider Croquetas (£ 7) a great test of a tapas kitchen, and subconsciously hold them up to José Pizarro’s offering – José was chef-partner in Brindisa before he launched his own restaurant in 2011, and his croquetas are to die for. Well now I can confirm that chef Roberto’s are equally fantastic – filled with ham, chorizo and bacon studded into rich, soft bechamel and served piping hot.

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With a name that translates as secret, of course secreto Iberico is still referred to as the hidden cut of Iberico pork, its natural fattiness giving fantastic flavour. Secreto Iberico, Mojo Chips (£ 9.50) pairs strips of secreto simply grilled and served with paper-thin freshly-fried crisps dressed with a herby green mojo (sauce). Super, super tasty and I liked the choice of crisps over a more mundane side.

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It’s a rare skill to be able to cook ribeye steak so it’s properly pink inside but the fat has had enough time to render down to melty goo in places and lightly charred and crisp in others but that’s how it was in the Ribeye and foiegras (£ 14.95), and same goes for the foie gras; beautifully caramelised and almost liquid inside. No sides, just adorned with slivers of soft and sweet cooked onion. Amazing.

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Yes I was just being greedy when I ordered the Double Chocolate and Pistachio Cake (£ 5) but oh, it was worth it. On a layer of dense chocolate cake sits a huge pile of chocolate mousse, equally rich and made with decent dark chocolate. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s dressed not just with a tiny sprinkle of crushed-to-death pistachios, as is so often the reality of ‘pistachio’ desserts, but a fistful of quality green nuts that are perfect against the chocolate. Dessert, doce puntos!

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Pete enjoyed the Dulce de leche Cheesecake (£ 5.00) just as much, appreciative of the restrained sugar levels; much more appealing than the sickly sweetness that so often equates to dulce de leche desserts.

We’ve been fortunate to experience some wonderful meals out recently (and one much less satisfying one which I won’t be sharing with you here). Lobos provides yet another great choice in the area and has been added straight to the shortlist for places to visit when we head down to the food markets. We’ll definitely be returning for more of their tasty tapas menu.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Lobos Meat & Tapas.

 

I know very little about Filipino food – the food of the Philippines – so I was intrigued by Luzon, a 3-month pop-up restaurant serving a modern take on Filipino cuisine. Named for one of the 7,107 islands that make up this island nation, it’s the first joint project of chef Rex De Guzman and entrepreneur Nadine Barcelona, both eager to popularise contemporary Filipino food in London.

Housed in Generator London – a funky, modern and welcoming hostel in Bloomsbury – Luzon is open for lunch and dinner on Thursdays and Fridays only, with three courses priced at £22 for lunch and £34 for dinner.

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De Guzman has taken the food of the Phillipines, a “culinary conglomeration of traditional cuisines like Malay and Chinese with bold influences of Spanish, the Middle East and the New World” and presented it with a modern twist; his plating more suited to fine dining than rustic home-cooking. I can’t comment on how true to Filipino cuisine the resulting dishes might be, having never tried traditional Filipino food, but I can tell you that every dish was beautifully presented, utterly delicious and a delightful blend of familiar and unfamiliar flavours.

A short wine and cocktail list is very affordable – wines are £3.50 to £4 a glass and cocktails are between £5 and £6.50. We enjoyed our Mango Mojito (£6.50) and Apple Virgin Mojito (£4.90).

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Neither of us could look past the Pork Tocino starter of 3-day marinated and pressed pork belly, spiced mango salsa, crackling and sweet tocino glaze. Tender pork with fat properly rendered into wibbly submission, sweet and fruity mango salsa, properly crunchy but not tooth-breaking crackling and fresh spring onion, all pulled together by the incredible sweet sharp glaze.

Other starters on the menu were the vegetarian Ensaladang Talong – aubergine salad – and Mackerel Kinilaw – fresh mackerel in a lime-chilli marinade.

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Chicken Adobo has seldom looked so good; I may not be hugely familiar with the taste but know that it’s usually a brown stew served family-style. Here, a leg of silky chicken on the bone and a tiny breaded drumstick was drenched in a glossy adobo sauce, which skilfully balanced soy sauce, vinegar and garlic. On the side, garlicky green beans partially hid smears of dark, heady and intense spiced coconut sauce. A fried slice of chayote – a gourd related to melons, cucumbers and squashes – finished the dish. Utterly delicious.

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I know we both had pork belly to start but we didn’t hesitate to order Pork BBQ as one of our shared mains. Two skewers of pork, this time with a little less fall-apart but just as well cooked, coated in another sticky glaze, these came with crunchy sweet sharp pickled vegetables known as papaya atchara. Like the chicken, these were served with a portion of steamed rice – both of us commented on how fragrant and tasty the rice was; you know it’s good when the rice raises an eyebrow for its flavour!

Two other mains were available, a Red Mullet Escabeche and Vegetable Laing – a stew of taro and tofu in a spiced coconut sauce.

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As with the mains, we shared our desserts, choosing two out of the three available.

Peanut butter ice cream with coconut tuile may not sound that exciting but it was beautifully made – firm but smooth and not overly sweet and wonderful against the crunch and toasted flavour of the coconut tuile and crumbs.

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Last but not least, a phenomenal Leche Flan – like a dense crème caramel – served with a mouth-puckering lime sorbet (which we virtually licked off the plate) and a cashew nut praline. Full as I was at the end of the meal, I could have eaten another one of these on the spot!

The third dessert available was Turon served with plantain spring rolls, salted caramel cream, plantain puree, pineapple and snapdragon.

The restaurant space at Generator London is fairly spacious, comfortable and well lit and with tables decently spaced out – not always the case in other pop-up venues where communal tables pack chairs in so tightly it’s almost impossible to get in or out let alone eat without squashing one’s bosoms with one’s elbows! Not an issue at Luzon, I’m happy to say.

For both my friend and I, our meal at Luzon has sparked an enthusiasm to find out more about Filipino cooking and flavours and we’re both keen to visit again next month when the menu changes, and perhaps again the month after that!

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Luzon restaurant.

 

Isn’t it wonderful when a restaurant meal utterly surpasses your expectations? That’s exactly what happened when Pete and I visited the Angel branch of Jamie’s Italian for a weekday evening meal.

I’ll put my hands up and confess – one reason it was able to do so was because I had relegated Jamie’s Italian to the ranks of a mainstream, mass-appeal chain; Bella Pasta with a celebrity face-mask if you will – so I was expecting dishes that were ‘decent’, ‘satisfactory’, ‘competent’, ‘good value’ rather than ‘superb’, ‘delightful’ and ‘damn tasty’. And Jamie’s Italian serves delicious food that is way better than chain-standardised menus, spaces and services often produce.

We decided to eat the Italian way: a light antipasto, then two pastas for our primo, followed by a shared secondo meat course served with contorno vegetable side dishes. We skipped fruit and cheese and finished with sweet dolce desserts and caffè in the form of coffee cocktails!

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Jamie’s Bruschetta (£5.50) was a lovely start. That creamy buffalo ricotta flecked with herbs was rich and fresh, perfect over crunchy toast. The garlicky tomatoes were cooked and perfectly tasty – and I do like roasted tomatoes, don’t get me wrong – but both of us agreed we’d prefer the fresher flavour of raw tomatoes here. The scattering of lemon zest added an appealing citrus note, lifting all the other flavours.

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I’m giggling as I write because the Three-Cheese Caramelle (£6.95 / 11.95), we ordered the small) was so very good it made us grin as we ate! Described as ‘beautiful filled pasta with ricotta, provolone, Bella Lodi & spinach, served with creamy tomato, garlic, basil & rosé wine sauce’ it had a lightness of texture and brightness of taste that was very unexpected for such a rustic dish. I could eat this every day and be happy.

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But hang on, Jamie’s Sausage Pappardelle (£7.45 / 12.25), we ordered the small) was also fantastic. In this ’ragù of slow-cooked fennel & free-range pork sausages with incredible Chianti, Parmesan & herby breadcrumbs’ everything was spot on from the chewy folds of pasta to the soft, meaty sausage, redolent with fennel seeds, to the light crunch of the crumb topping – this dish was full-on comfort. Perhaps I’d have the caramelle every day through summer and the pappardelle every day through winter?

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We were very relieved we’d opted to share our main when this enormous Turkey Milanese (£13.50) arrived. Of course, the turkey had been properly flattened before proscuitto and provolone were added and the whole lot was bread-crumbed and fried. Served topped with a fried egg and generous shavings of black summer truffle, it was wonderful – the truffle heady, earthy and decadent. I liked the lemon zest scattered over but Pete noted that, although he liked it too, it was a little overused across the menu, such that it made dishes that are actually very different taste a little samey.

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Our first side of Garlicky Green Beans (£3.50) would have been plenty on its own, and was a perfect side for the turkey. The spicy Sicilian tomato sauce, shavings of pecorini and slivers of fried garlic made a delicious dressing for beans that were perfectly cooked to retain a little crunch – I dislike beans served either over or undercooked.

The Royal Caprese Salad (£3.95) was also delicious, but oddly presented and not very well balanced. Half of the heritage tomatoes were roughly chopped but two enormous slices were left as unwieldy slabs on the plate. Against all that tomato was plenty of basil, some sharp salty capers and lots of olive oil but disappointingly little mozzarella; just one tiny ball broken into two pieces.

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Molten Chocolate Praline Pudding (£6.50) is listed on the menu as served with salted caramel ice cream, an accompaniment which swung my choice from the Epic Brownie in its direction, so I was disappointed to be told that the kitchen had run out of salted caramel ice cream only when the dish being served to the table with chocolate ice cream instead. I prefer being advised of changes as soon as the order has been handed to the kitchen, so I can switch to something else if the change is significant to me. Still, the pudding was very good – perfectly liquid within and soft and squidgy without; the dark chocolate and hazelnut combination a gratifyingly poshed-up take on Nutella.

Tiramisù (£5.95), described as ‘the classic Italian dessert topped with chocolate shavings & orange zest‘ wasn’t as classic as all that – the Cointreau-like orange flavour was all the way through rather than just in the scattering of zest over the top. That said, the texture was spot on, with lusciously liquid-laden sponge layered between light-as-air cream. The stick of cardboard stuck to the side, which we mistook for a chocolate decoration until bitten into, was a minor let-down.

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On arrival, I chose a Passion Fruit & Mango Smash (£7.95) – rum with passion fruit, mango juice, fresh lime, vanilla syrup and ginger beer; super sweet and way too easy to drink! Pete took advantage of the wide range of wines available by 500 ml carafe, enjoying his Montepulciano D’abruzzo Il Faggio (£16.05) throughout the meal.

After dessert we switched our usual coffees for some very tempting coffee cocktails, a Tiramisù Martini (£7.15) for me and an Espresso Martini (£7.50) for Pete. His was served with rather more froth than cocktail but the vodka, Kahlua and espresso combination was a hit. I judged my combination of Bacardi Gold, amaretto, Frangelico, Kahlua, espresso and double cream even better!

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Service was friendly and professional and, for the most part, pretty responsive; there were occasional moments where flagging a member of staff took a little longer than ideal – the place was busy and each waiter has a slew of tables to look after. But what I noticed much more is what came across as a genuine desire for customers to have a great experience, a willingness to give guidance on the menu and to steer customers according to their professed tastes. The usual checks that all is well after each course was served seemed less perfunctory than usual too.

The space is cavernous, which makes it a little noisier than ideal, but I know Pete and I are in the minority when it comes to our preferred balance between peaceful and buzzing. Seating isn’t hugely comfortable, though it’s far from the worse I’ve encountered. Hard seats are never as welcoming for a leisurely meal as padded ones!

On summer evenings, floor to ceiling windows let in lots of golden light, making it easy to imagine oneself in a bustling Italian trattoria.

The menu is prosaic – a solidly predictable offering of classic Italian cuisine – but the dishes themselves are anything but dull; deftly cooked with good quality ingredients that are a joy to the eye and an even bigger delight to eat. The food is pretty damn good here, and great value. I’m also comforted by the confidence that quality should be consistent across multiple visits – one of the unsung advantages of a well-managed chain, when they get the formula just right.

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Jamie’s Italian, Angel branch.

 

Islay, aaah, Islay, it’s always such a pleasure to visit your beautiful landscapes again.

Even if you made a liar out of me when I told our Islay newbie friends how we have always had gorgeous weather for Feis Ile (whisky and musical festival) week and would surely have it again.

Even in the driving winds and rains, you were beautiful.

Though the weather made me grateful for the cosiness of our self-catering house with its deep, soft sofas, small but well-equipped kitchen and comfortable bedrooms.

And its windows out across glorious views of green grass, yellow gorse, blue sea and cows. I spent long moments standing watch as baby rabbits, deranged with excitement, hopped and swallows swooped across the spring sky.

There were seven in our group this time; two crazy brave folks on bicycles and the rest of us in joyously rain-proof cars. I think – I hope – we all enjoyed the week, though I remain in awe of the cyclists’ sheer determination and tenacity!

We didn’t visit as many of your beautiful locations as we usually do – no excursions to Kilnave Chapel, the Kildarton Cross or to the ancient seat of the Lordship of the Isles, on the shores of Loch Finlaggan. Few meanders across sand beaches or stony shorelines. And a little less time sitting out in the sunshine with a whisky in hand and the merry notes of live music nearby.

Still we visited all the distilleries: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroaig and Islay Ales too.

We didn’t diligently attend every distillery open day this time – since our first visit in 2006 the popularity of the festival has grown year on year and there are far more fellow visitors to contend with than ever before. Of itself, that’s no bad thing – it’s an extra pleasure chatting to locals and other travellers – but the narrow, twisting roads and limited parking at many of the distilleries makes transport logistics ever more difficult and there were a occasions when we bowed out of the long, slow queues for park and ride minibuses and pootled away somewhere else instead.

We took it easy, visiting distilleries on their quieter days and booked into only a couple of specialist events – partly be design and partly because they now book out within minutes of tickets being released. I am reliably informed that Jim McEwan’s last Bruichladdich masterclass and Dr Kirstie McCallum’s straight-from-the-cask tasting session at Bunnahabhain were both very fantastic.

Congratulations to both Ardbeg and Laphroaig, both celebrating 200 years as legally registered distilleries. Lagavulin follows suit next year. And a hearty congratulations to Kilchoman on their tenth birthday!

We made two lovely visits to my favourite Scottish pub, An Tigh Seinnse in Portnahaven, run by lovely Laura and her husband.

Of course, I gorged myself on crab claws and scallops from the Seafood Shack – no squat lobsters this time but the crab and scallops were as good as ever.

We cooked three communal dinners in the house and enjoyed two barbeques in the fantastic barbeque hut in the garden – I refer to this handsome hexagonal hut as the Hobbit House, though in reality it’s plenty large enough for the tallest in our group and seven of us had plenty of space to spread out inside. A large central barbeque is surrounded by benches covered in soft animal skins with light coming in from small windows. Next time, I shall pack a few candles for when the darkness falls. ASPorter butchers in Bowmore were the source of delicious meats, and the Bowmore co-op provided most of the rest. Plus some wild garlic foraged by Lagavulin’s car park and, later, from the back garden when we realised it was growing rampant there too.

We returned to The Lochside Hotel in Bowmore for a couple of lunches.

And we made a new discovery when we stopped into the Ballygrant Inn to a warm welcome in the well-stocked whisky bar there. Another welcome respite from the rain, especially for damp cyclists!

Even in the rain, driving around Islay afforded one stunning view after another; verges bright with blooming bluebells and tightly curled ferns, marshy grassland dotted with sheep and cattle, wide sweeping shorelines with gently lapping waters or wind-whipped, white-tipped waves, winding single-lane roads with quaint passing points that were slightly hair-raising when the island’s bus or a large lorry hurtled at speed towards you.

I did a lot of the driving as the only non whisky-drinker in the group, though I rather enjoyed it, perhaps more than my passengers did!

And when the sun came out more resolutely, for our last couple of days… oh Islay, you were, as always, glorious!

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Views from the main house

 

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Inside the Hobbit House

 

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Two visits to Ardbeg, one for Feis Ile open day and one for a quieter lunch in the Old Kiln Cafe

 

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A salad with foraged wild garlic; a newly discovered pleasure – cambozola cheese in Pedro Ximinez sherry; ASPorter butchers; farm-fresh eggs from the chickens by the house; my sparkling sake whisky alternative; serving up my banoffee dessert; the aftermaths of after-dinner drinking

 

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Laphroaig, celebrating 200 years this year

 

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An Tigh Seinnse (with birthday boy Pete and frenzied crab-eating Kavey); Portnahaven harbour views

 

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Birthday puzzle; whisky and chocolate tasting at Lagavulin; Ballygrant Inn whisky bar; one of An Gleann tablet makers resident peacocks displaying at a very disinterested peahen

 

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Two visits to Bruichladdich, one for Feis Ile open day and another to buy whisky when the shop was less rammed

 

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The boys walked to Caol Ila, I waited for the minibus and beat them there; beautiful views across to Jura

 

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Just some of my lunch purchases from the Seafood Shack

 

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Although we missed Kilchoman’s open day we did go for tea and cake on a quieter day instead, completing a quick crossword in the car and cafe

 

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Two visits to Bunnahabhain during the week

 

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Whisky tastings at Bowmore; Bowmore’s round church, Kilarrow, designed to give the devil no corners in which to hide; lunch at The Lochside Hotel

 

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Taking shelter from the downpour in the Islay Ales open day tent; I found cake!

 

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A trip to Islay starts and ends with a CalMac journey

 

Although this isn’t a typical entry, I’m submitting this to Celia’s In My Kitchen, since we did lots of wonderful cooking in our Islay home-from-home and the fabulous Hobbit House!

Big thanks to my friend Matt Gibson for extra photos, credited by image.

 

Rex and Mariano has been making quite an impression since it launched earlier this year. From the same group as famous steak restaurant Goodman and enormously successful proto-chain Burger & Lobster, the new fish and seafood restaurant is named for two key suppliers involved in the venture – Rex Goldsmith aka The Chelsea Fishmonger and Mariano, the semi-anonymous father of a Goodman employee, responsible for importing red prawns and other seafood from Sicily.

Key to the concept is serving seafood at accessible prices, certainly far lower than is the norm in Central London.

In a quiet pedestrian street that runs between Dean and Wardour, Rex and Mariano is already a Soho favourite, despite it’s tucked-away location.

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One innovation I thought I’d hate in fact worked very well; orders are placed directly by customers by way of an iPad, though a traditional printed menu is provided on arrival as well. The interface has been well designed – swipe sideways to page through the menu sections, touch a plus button to select an item, enter a quantity and tick to add to your order. An easy-to-find banner button allows you to call for assistance at any time, whether you have questions about the menu or simply need more cutlery. At any time, you can view your total bill thus far and you can review your current order before placing. It’s best to order a few dishes at a time, since most arrive very quickly indeed.

We had to laugh when, mere moments after discussing our greediness, we placed a second order only to be interrupted with a message that our order was “getting quite large” and we might like to send some through now and order more “in a bit”. We took heed and ensured each round was limited to three or four dishes.

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Most of the menu is, as you’d imagine, fish and seafood. But I am a sucker for good burrata not to mention good tomatoes. The burrata, smoked tomato, focaccia (£6) was superbly creamy, with just the right level of smoking to fresh, ripe tomatoes and the focaccia served simply to provide a crisp toast underneath.

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The raw fish page is split into Ceviche, Tartare and Carpaccio, each of which feature tuna and sea bass. Salmon and lobster also make an appearance. Our salmon carpaccio, olive oil, lemon, tomato and basil (£7.50) is fresh, simple and benefits from a light touch with the dressing.

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Lobster ceviche with coriander, fennel, yuzu, orange (£12) is very generous for the price. Large and juicy chunks of lobster meat and thin slices of crunchy fennel are deliciously dressed with coriander leaves and a yuzu orange dressing – both MiMi and I are big fans.

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Oh the red prawns from Sicily! Red prawns raw/ cooked, lemon, olive oil, salt (£10) – doesn’t that make you salivate? We might have ordered this dish twice. OK, fine, we did. And to be honest, we could probably have eaten a third plate quite happily had we not agreed to restrain ourselves just a tiny bit! Also available cooked, we opted for the raw option both times and were blown away by the sweet, sweet flavour – lovely against the slightly grassy olive oil.

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Clams, white wine, parsley, chilli (£7) were simply cooked and decent. If I’m not sounding excited, don’t take it as an indication that they were anything less than delicious – they just had a lot of strong competition! Perhaps a bowl of soft fresh bread to sop up the juices might be welcome with these.

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Sicilian Large Stripe Prawns, lemon, red chilli, parsley, olive oil (£14) were another favourite. Expensive for four prawns yes, though each one was pretty large. The tails were perfectly cooked to retain their juiciness and sucking out the heads of these beauties was an absolute must! We ordered this dish twice too and although the prawns were larger second time around, there was a dearth of the delicious sauce that drenched the first plate and added such excellent flavour.

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Fritto Misto, old bay, lemon aioli (£9) – oddly listed under the Grill section of the menu – was very good, as good as I’ve had in London. It suffered in comparison against the revelatory raw and cooked prawn dishes and that lobster ceviche but that’s probably a little unfair. Ours had plenty of squid rings and tentacles (I love the tentacles best), whitebait and white fish but only one solitary prawn on the entire plate.

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We probably shouldn’t have bothered with either the fried courgettes with aioli (£5) or the triple cooked chips (£4) though again, both were very good. Our focus was firmly on the fishy goodness and the vegetables didn’t get much of a look in.

For dessert we skipped the proffered lemon sorbet or chocolate mousse and went back to the raw red prawns and cooked red stripe prawns – a fitting end to a delicious meal.

The homemade Limoncello offered by the manager (after a minor mix up over leftovers) was a fitting finale, and vastly better than cheap commercial versions.

Service was friendly throughout; although the iPad ordering system reduces staff and customer interaction to an extent, staff are attentive and readily available should you need them. A nice touch is that service is added at only 5% – presumably staff can service a lot more tables when focusing on bringing out dishes and clearing away empties.

I mentioned at the start that Rex and Mariano offers seafood at accessible prices and that’s certainly true. That’s not to say this is a cheap restaurant, especially if you’re as greedy for great seafood as MiMi and I, but the quality of ingredients is superb and the prices for what you get are very reasonable. Our bill, with one soft drink each, was just shy of £50 each, though we could have knocked ten off that and still been satiated.

Thank you to MiMi Aye for additional images.

Rex & Mariano on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

 

I ought to write more about local restaurants, since we visit our favourites far more often than any in central London… and certainly more often than those in “upped and comed” areas of East London that are hip and happening but a pain in the arse to get to!

Sushimania is the latest new face in North Finchley; the fifth in a chain that also has outlets in Edgware, Golders Green, Brighton and Reading.

We’ve visited three weekends in a row.

We are very taken by the excellent cooking and half-price lunch deal, but consistently disappointed by lacklustre service.

Luckily, there’s not a huge amount of interaction required as an order slip and pen are provided and each item in the menu has a number to write into the boxes provided. I’ve only once resorted to taking my slip to the counter (table service is provided, if you can attract a member of staff). On subsequent visits we’ve taken to sitting right by the counter so that we can attract attention more readily. Staff do bring the dishes out in timely, if sometimes utterly disinterested, fashion. Occasionally they will stand in confusion holding a freshly cooked dish, unable to work out that clearing empty dishes first will allow them the space to serve new ones.

The half price menu applies to virtually the entire a la carte list  with the exception only of the sushi set platters; this brings the prices down to a pretty reasonable level –that said, I’d never visit in the evening as the full prices are steep. If you go, go for lunch!

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horenso no goma-ae and nasu dengaku

Appetisers is probably my favourite section of the menu. It includes Agedashi Tofu (£4.20 → £2.10), Horenso No Goma-Ae (spinach with roasted sesame dressing, £3.00 → £1.50), Chicken Gyoza (£4.60 → £2.30), Nasu Dengaku (aubergine with miso glaze, £5.00 → £2.50) and Tori Karaage (fried chicken, £4.20 → £2.10).

All of these have been consistently excellent every time we’ve visited.

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tuna tataki

Oddly, the next short and sweet section is called Starters. We certainly enjoyed the Tuna Tataki (£8.80 → £4.40), though I think it’s a little pricy compared to other dishes.

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tempura moriawase

Thus far we’ve skipped straight past the Salads section and on to Tempura. Both the Tempura Moriawase (2 king prawns, 2 fish and 4 vegetables, £8.80 → £4.40) and the Yasai Tempura (7 pieces of vegetables, £5.80 → £2.90) have been excellent – the batter is very light and crisp and the seafood and vegetables always perfectly cooked within.

Kushiyaki is another tasty selection with Yakitori (£3.60 → £1.80) and Gyu (£4.60 → £2.30) both basted in a tasty marinade.

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tempura phoenix roll futomaki

Sushi is divided into Nigiri (oblongs of rice with topping laid over) and Gunkan (battleship shaped nori wrapped sushi, often used for roe toppings), Hosomaki (small rolls with nori on the outside), Uramaki (medium sized rolls, usually with two or more fillings), Futomaki (larger rolls, usually with nori on the outside), Temaki and Sashimi.

We’ve ordered from all of these sections… so far we’ve tried Salmon Nigiri (2 pc, £3.20 → £1.60), Seabass Nigiri (2 pc, £3.80 → £1.90), Squid Nigiri Mackerel Nigiri (2 pc, £3.20 → £1.60), Egg Omelette Nigiri (2 pc, £3.00 → £1.50), Salmon Roe Gunkan (2 pc, £3.80 → £1.90), Spicy Tuna & Cucumber Uramaki (6 pc, £ 4.20 → £2.20), Crispy Duck & Cucumber Uramaki (6 pc, £ 4.00 → £2.00), Tempura Phoenix Roll Futomaki (salmon, tuna and cucumber futomaki that’s deep fried in tempura batter, 4 pc, £7.20 → £3.60), Spicy Tuna & Cucumber Temaki (1 pc, £4.00→ £2.00) and Salmon Sashimi (3 pc, £3.60 → £1.80)!

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various sushi, agedashi tofu, chicken gyoza, tori karaage, chicken teriyaki and garlic fried rice

We’ve not ordered a great deal from sections beyond. From Side Orders we liked the Garlic Fried Rice (£3.20 → £1.60) – this is also where you’ll find miso soup, stir-fried vegetables and mixed pickles.

From A La Carte we have tried only Chicken Teriyaki (£9.80 → £4.90) – great flavour and served with a lovely vegetable stir-fry but the chicken breast was a little dry for my liking.

Future visits beckon – I’m keen to try Sweet Black Cod (£14.80 → £7.40), Tonkatsu pork (£7.80 → £3.90), various soba and udon noodle dishes and ramen and rice bowls.

Perhaps service will improve. I certainly hope so as it’s the only black mark against an otherwise deliciously strong offering and a welcome addition to the area.

Sushimania on Urbanspoon

May 092015
 

I had so much fun with last month’s In My Kitchen – a romp through a busy month by way of Instagram – that I thought I’d rinse and repeat!

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My little baby nephew was born and I couldn’t wait to meet him. The first time he was 10 days old, and the second, he was a month old that day. Isn’t he gorgeous?

 

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For a while we had glorious sunshine. For a while…

 

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Allotment leeks in a delicious blue cheese and leek risotto.

 

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Deliciously sweet oranges and some apple and guava juice, both bought from Waitrose during my lunch break. Pain au chocolat from a local bakery and wagyu burgers from Aldi, not the highest quality wagyu but decent beef burgers for the price.

 

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We enjoyed a really lovely stay at Glazebrook House Hotel in Devon.

 

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And we attended an excellent Italian cookery class at Manna from Devon – we covered so much during the day – making pasta from scratch, some of which became tagliatelle and the rest ravioli, carpaccio of beef, bruschetta with red peppers and broccoli, lemon polenta cake, a crab risotto, a fish stew. Everything was delicious and the location itself is just beautiful.

 

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Driving in Devon is always a joy, especially when the sun is shining and the views of the coast are so beautiful!

 

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During our weekend in the Dartmouth area, we popped into local seafood restaurant Rockfish for a super fresh and delicious fish dinner. Check out the giant onion rings!

 

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After visiting London’s Piada Bar in Soho, I was given a packet of three piada flatbreads. We made some very quick and very tasty flatbread pizzas with them using ready-made pizza sauce, pre-grated mozzarella and a variety of charcuterie languishing in the fridge. So, so good!

 

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Our friends at The Bull in Highgate invited Pete and I to attend their Northern Line beer and food matching event. We enjoyed the evening immensely, and there were some very interesting matches too. Do keep an eye out on their Events page for future dinners.

 

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We took friends to the lovely Warda Lebanese restaurant in Southgate. I still think this is the best Lebanese food outside Lebanon!

 

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Two visits to Korean restaurants in New Malden for a sit down meal, the first Yami (top row) which did a fantastic modum namal including yellowbeansprouts as well as regular beansprouts, and their marinated short rib was excellen and Palace (bottom row) which was a little disappointing on the bbq front but did a decent tteokbokki (rice cake, fish cake, chilli dish).

 

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Pete pulled the last of our leeks from the allotment and combined them with a few leftover rashers of bacon, some wild garlic from the back garden and a little cream for a very tasty pasta sauce. Weirdly, this seems to be the most popular instagram I’ve shared thus far, no idea why!

 

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I loved visiting Wing Yip when I was a kid and it’s no less exciting now, several decades later. I took a Friday off to make a long weekend longer, and we took advantage to enjoy a dim sum lunch at Wing Yip’s Wing Thai restaurant, without the weekend crowds. A quick stop in the cafe bakery next door afterwards for a custard tart, a jin doy and some banana cake.

 

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We enjoyed a delicious ‘Chinese Spagbol’ recipe from Lizzie Mabbott’s ChinaTown Kitchen, a great recipe that we’ll make again and we have lots more bookmarked to try soon.

 

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We visited new local Japanese restaurant, Sushi Mania. Service is poor and when we visited, the place was overrun by really loud families, but the food we tried was all very good. At lunch time the a la carte is half price – that’s what I’d recommend; the full prices are too steep.

 

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We used to go to this local pizzeria a lot under previous management, but hadn’t been since it changed hands. Pizzas are just as good as ever, though a touch more pricy than the competition. Tasty, though!

 

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A few weeks of glorious sunshine have mostly been swept away by overcast skies and hard showers. This rose leaf in our front garden glistened after one such downpour.

 

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Our first dish from Diana Henry’s A Bird In The Hand was this very delicious and simple chicken, butternut squash and cream bake. Definitely one to make again!

 

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Two of my favourite fruits –  Asian mangoes and pears, the mangoes from a local grocery store and the Nashi pears from Wing Yip.

 

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Bank holiday Monday lunch at our local (Bohemia), roast dinner, shared with friends. Lovely end to a long weekend.

 

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Friends shared some of the Japanese kit kat stash with me, which they brought back with them from their recent trip. Wasabi and citrus gold blend were as good as I remember from my 2012 Japanese kit kat tasting. Strawberry cheesecake was vastly better, the balance of flavour completely different and far more pleasant. I’d never had the chilli variety before, so that was great fun to try – at first it seemed mild and then the chilli heat came through!

 

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With half a butternut squash leftover from the Diana Henry recipe, I found a gnocchi recipe online, which Pete made for a weeknight dinner. Served with mini fresh mozarella balls, grated parmesan-a-like and deep fried sage leaves (from the rampant bush in the back garden).

 

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We’ve been munching far too many sugary sweets since the start of our three month Scoff subscription. You can win a three month subscription of your own, here.

 

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I’ve been at  my new contract in New Malden for 5-6 weeks now and loving the lunch options in the vicinity of my office. My favourite is Ohaio – a hole-in-the-wall place at the entrance to the rail station, which sells a wide range of Korean, Japanese and Thai dishes, made hot and all fantastic value. Most lunch deals are £4.50 or £4.90 and include the main plus miso soup and some mini spring rolls.

 

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We took some friends to our local Korean, Yijo, for another delicious feast. Above you can see Japchae, Kimchi mandu (dumplings), tteokbokki (a dish of chewy rice cake worms and fish cake slices in a hot sauce), a beef, tofu and vegetable hot pot and some meat on the table barbeque, a proper charcoal one. The portion of meat for the price has dropped significantly but everything else is still tasty and great value.

 

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Pussy Galoaf, our sourdough starter (and daughter of Priscilla) is going strong. For loaf 10, Pete upped the ratio of starter to give more sourdough flavour and baked the loaf in a silicon loaf tin inside a large lidded casserole dish. It was good!

 

This is my entry into the wonderful Celia’s In My Kitchen event.

 

If you were to write a wish list for the perfect, modern country house hotel, what might you include?

For me I’d be looking for a beautiful rural setting with plenty of varied attractions in the vicinity, easy to get to but still with that feeling of getting away from it all, sumptuous and spacious bedrooms with modern comfort and lots of personality, glamorous bathrooms with deep bathtubs and walk-in showers, appealing public spaces with comfy seating, an inviting bar and a delicious restaurant, all with modern decor throughout that is playful, quirky and fun to discover. Generosity of hospitality and genuine warmth in the welcome would also feature highly.

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Glazebrook House Hotel sits at the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park and is a very easy drive from London – less than four hours on the day we visited.

And it scores pretty damn highly against my wish list.

Collage Glazebrook outside (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

After decades as a traditional, fairly uninspiring but perfectly decent hotel, it was purchased and completely remodelled by Pieter and Fran Hamman. They commissioned interior designer Timothy Oulton to create a stunning and eclectic luxury boutique hotel with just eight rooms, a bar and restaurant plus conference room and attractive gardens. The new Glazebrook opened last May and, as it comes towards the end of it’s first year in business, we were invited to visit on a glorious spring weekend.

Owner Pieter tells us that the Georgian house was built in 1865, the same year that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll) wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Accordingly, there’s a subtle Alice in Wonderland theme in play, though it’s not overdone or pushed to kitsch; the room names draw from the story and just behind reception there’s an unusual display of magnifying glasses hung on a wall over correspondingly-shaped holes through which little passages from the book can be seen – magnified, of course!

At the heart of the styling is Timothy Oulton’s range of furniture – beds, headboards, sofas, tables, storage trunks, wardrobes – a modern take on traditional styles with lots of leather and shiny metal. In the main part, the decor owes more to the sensibilities of an eBay and car boot sale addict, with displays of everything from road signs to bowler hats, trumpets to drum kits, old cine cameras to dolls houses, china plates to tarnished silver serving platters – all of it vintage, assiduously sourced by Oulton’s team and turned into artful knick-knacks. As a life-long collector, I absolutely love it!

Collage Glazebrook interiors (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The lobby is a rather fabulous space with grand chandeliers, a huge British flag draped behind the reception desk – large and silver with matching silver bulldog atop it, a taxidermy flamingo, an emu skeleton and many more fascinating details, plus some very comfortable sofas to sink into. From this central space you can take the grand staircase to the first floor, where seven of eight rooms are located, and there are also doors to the restaurant, the bar and a whisky and wine room.

Collage Glazebrook Mad Hatter Room (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

I can’t wait to see our room and I’m not disappointed. Mad Hatter features a king size bed with large leather headboard above which are three vintage dolls houses suspended on the wall – lying on the bed, it’s a little discombobulating at first to look up into their interiors, but you quickly forget about the oddness. A huge marble desk sits below a flatscreen TV mounted on the wall within a frame of blue and white plates. Old hats and hat forms are mounted on another wall. Glass domes show off a tumble of tiny green glass bottles and tea cups and saucers with an illustrated page from Alice in Wonderland. The bathroom is huge, with a deep white tub, double marble sinks and a walk-in shower and gorgeous black and white Q*bert-esque tile floor.

A nice touch is that the wardrobe contains a fridge containing a nice selection of beer, wine and soft drinks plus tea and coffee making facilities and a basket of chocolate, sweets and snacks. All of these are complimentary, we are told when being shown to our room; such a welcome change from price-gauging mini bar charges. Later, sitting in the bath with a sparkling glass of Luscombe Damascene rose and a packet of fruit pastilles, this is even more appreciated – I’d much rather the room rate be an extra £10 or £20 a night with such extras rolled in than having to negotiate ludicrously marked up charges for wi-fi, bottled drinks, coffee and an occasional bar of chocolate.

The bed is supremely comfortable but both of us hate this style of feather pillow – the kind that squishes completely flat where your head lies, to create two enormous cushions trapping your head and providing no support at all. The only other gripe is the shower; you can flip the water between a detachable, wall-mounted shower and the overhead monsoon head but the wall-mounted one is barely high enough for me (and I’m only 5 foot 6 inches) and Pete can really only use the monsoon head, which is mounted just a few inches above his head.

But these are minor niggles and we love our room.

Collage Glazebrook other rooms (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The other rooms are just as beautiful. White Rabbit, with it’s giant sheepskin bedframe and playing cards is often sold as the bridal suite and has a white tub and walk-in shower like ours. Chesire Cat is the third luxury double (along with White Rabbit and our room) and I’m very taken by the purple colour scheme. The room is huge and has a pretty chaise longue but note that the bathroom doesn’t include a tub and both windows look out onto slate tile roofs and trees, quite a restricted if appealingly private view. Jabberwocky is a superior double, a little smaller than the luxury doubles and with shower only once again. Tweedle Deez is another superior room and the only twin, with two stunning metal four poster beds and a shower-only bathroom. Gryphon is the hotel’s only single room, the bedframe made with recycled metal from a Spitfire plane, so we’re told. Caterpillar, a standard double, is the smallest room in the house, although still with the lovely design touches of all the other rooms. Last is Bread and Butterflies, a wheelchair accessible room on the ground floor.

Collage Glazebrook dining room dinner (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The in-house restaurant is very popular with locals so do make sure to book a table when you make your room reservation, if you want to be sure of a eating in.

Benefitting from enormous floor-to-ceiling windows, the room has plenty of light during the day and lots of light from chandeliers and candle sconces during the evening. Walls are decorated with collections of vintage china and silver serving platters, with wooden flooring and comfortable leather chairs.

Cooking is solid, based on good quality ingredients, though some dishes wow more than others. Winners are the Ticklemore goat’s cheese fritters and gingerbread whipped mousse starter – light, crisp, delicately flavoured – and a phenomenal whole lemon sole with samphire, lemon butter and jersey royal potatoes – the fish is so perfectly cooked and the lemon butter dressing just right.

The chicken liver parfait with tomato chutney and brioche is decent but let down by a slimy chicken thigh terrine which tastes of very little and contributes nothing to the plate. My west country pork belly, seared loin, cream potato, apple and cauliflower is a strong combination but the loin is very dry and the pork belly could do with even longer cooking to make the fat more soft and melting. It’s decent but not excellent.

The main let down of the meal is a chocolate torte with espresso jelly and tia maria cream – the espresso jelly layer, tia maria cream and tempered chocolate triangle on top are all fine but the main torte is very grainy, like seized chocolate and the texture is too off-putting for me. I am kindly offered a switch and enjoy a scoop of thunder and lightning ice cream served with an excellent light and crisp chocolate chip cookie.

The cheese selection is a really good choice featuring west country cheeses Yarg, Cornish Blue, Sharpham Cremet, Sweet Charlotte Cheddar and Quirk’s Mature Cheddar, served with quince jelly, grapes and a nice plate of crackers; the Sharpham Cremet goats cheese is utterly fantastic, a perfectly ripe, incredibly creamy goat’s cheese in the Brie style.

Collage Glazebrook dining room breakfast (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

Breakfast is served in the same lovely dining room, this time with wooden tables unadorned with white linen and pots of fresh herbs as centre pieces. Juices, fresh fruit and patisseries are excellent as is Pete’s cheese and ham omelette. My full breakfast is alright – the single tiny sausage is a little overcooked, the black pudding and bacon are OK. There is little to make my heart leap – close but no cigar. I would rate both dinner and breakfast as enjoyable meals, but with some room for improvement.

Current room rates are £159 for the single, £179 for the standard double, £189-£199 for the superior twin and doubles and £239 for the three luxury doubles – that’s for bed and breakfast, with bar drinks and dinner charged a la carte. We think that’s a real steal for a relaxing afternoon, evening and morning in this lovely property.

Pete and I fell pretty hard for Glazebrook and I know we’ll definitely be back. We talked about family celebrations we might hold here, to share the delights of Glazebrook with our nearest and dearest, but I suspect we’ll err on the side of selfishness and keep it as a romantic retreat to savour on our own.

Kavey Eats were guests of Glazebrook House Hotel.

 

I’ve been on Instagram for just over a year and I’ve quickly come to love it. It’s quite distinct from other social media platforms, though it also lends itself to some cross-sharing – I push selected instagrams across to twitter, facebook and to my Nibbles tumblr, which in turn feeds through to the Kavey Eats sidebar. The downside, if there is one, is that I often forget to share some of my food and drinks experiences here on the blog. So for this month’s In My Kitchen, I thought I’d take a meander through some of the last few weeks via my instagrams.

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At the beginning of March, Pete and I took the opportunity to visit the recently opened Sky Garden, housed in that skyscraper that lookslike a mobile phone. It’s (currently) free to visit, but tickets must be booked in advance. Although there are some pretty planted terraces within the space, I think it’s a slight exaggeration to describe the space as a garden, as most of the space is taken up by a restaurant and a cafe terrace space. That said, the views of London are beautiful, and if you’re planning a trip to London, it’s a fun thing to do.

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Afterwards, we popped across to Bad Egg Bar & Diner where we enjoyed a giant fried pork belly rib, huevos rancheros, portion of fries, dulce de leche milkshake and a couple of beers for very reasonable prices.

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We made use of our slow cooker to make a delicious batch of Boston Baked Beans which we enjoyed with slices of Clonakilty black pudding.

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I finally remembered to bake some of the Japanese kit kats friends brought back for me last year – they’ve been sitting forgotten in a box for several months. Note: these kit kats are designed to be baked, I’m not sure this would work well with regular kit kats!

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I was blown away by some particularly fabulous lychees from a local grocery shop – so plump and super sweet.

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Pete and I met with the creators of Codlo, an affordable and space-saving sous vide solution which converts your existing slow cooker or rice cooker into a fully functional sous vide machine. Our results so far have been very positive indeed, and I’ll be writing a full review to share soon.

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I got my hands on my friend Mat Follas’ first book, Fish and it’s a cracker. Review coming in the May issue of Good Things magazine, for which I’m still a regular contributor.

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McVitie’s sent me some of their cuddly toys and biscuits – the cuddly soft toys are super soft and super cute. And I can never resist a chocolate digestive (though, for the record, I think the dark chocolate ones are way tastier!)

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We combined a visit to our wonderful local pub, The Bohemia (in North Finchley) with a catch up with our friend Dom, who is currently in the process of launching his new chocolate brand. In the meantime, we happily purchased his excellent chocolate bars, such as this bar of Trinidad 60% Laverstoke Buffalo Milk Chocolate with Halen Mon Vanilla Sea Salt. Delicious!

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It’s a constant source of surprise to me that North Finchley can support quite so many coffee shops, with new cafes opening every few months to add to the list. But I’m glad Harris & Hoole are one of the options as their hot chocolate and banana cake make a very welcome breakfast after an early morning local appointment. And service is consistently helpful and friendly too.

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I can rarely resist browsing our local Tiger store whenever we pass and on my last visit I found these gorgeous individual oven dishes, as well as a funky white jug to send my friend Celia for her Festivalof50 birthday celebrations. (You can see that jug over on Celia’s blog and watch the video created by our fellow blogger Jason from Don’t Boil The Sauce! – yes I’m in it, looking quite demented!)

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Once again, I was invited to be a judge for the International Chocolate Awards. Of course, it’s a pleasure to taste some excellent chocolate, but the judging is taken very seriously, with regular palate checks and palate cleansing (icky gloopy polenta, but it works) and a carefully considered marking system.

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I attended the inaugural Good Things Supperclub, a pop up dinner featuring recipes from our latest issue – I think it’s fair to say that everyone enjoyed the evening.

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Gregg’s The Bakers invited me to visit a store and try their new breakfast range – which was shockingly good value and very tasty. Just as well there’s not one near my new office or I’d be far too tempted to have a sausage baguette every morning. We also picked up a few of their doughnuts and were amazed at the quality of these, especially at the price point – the caramel custard and chocolate custard ones we bought definitely rivalled those by Krispy Kreme (which I buy regularly) and were far less expensive.

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A Sunday visit to Maltby Street Market saw us devouring a truly fantastic burger from Grant Hawthorne’s African Volcano peri peri stall. We also took home samples of his new smoked salmon -both the peri peri dry rub and the treacle and peri peri sauce varieties were excellent. Keep an eye out for those going on sale soon.

We had a lovely visit to Anspach & Hobsday Brewery, where we chatted with Jack Hobsday about the history of the brewery, the individual beers and the adjacent market. Pete was seriously impressed with the beers. Left to right above, the (third of pint) tasters are A&H’s White Coffee Milk Stout, Pale Ale and Table Porter. We bought home a big box of several of their beers, so look out for full reviews of their bottled range on Pete Drinks soon.

Of course, we also did some shopping – a couple of St John’s custard doughnuts and some fantastic Iberico ham from Tozino, which we had for dinner along with the African Volcano salmon and the Gouda cheese I received from Kaashandel Peters.

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Pete experimented with some kamut flour that we purchased from Tuxford Windmill a few weeks previously. This was Pussy Galoaf loaf 6 and although it was denser than the usual white loaves we’ve been making, the texture was nice and even and the taste very pleasant.

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Just before I started my latest contract (having been working from home for the last couple of months) I spent a happy day down in London catching up with friends for dim sum at Princess Garden and cake at The Delaunay Counter before grabbing a tasty Honest Burger at Camden and heading on to an excellent Tea Tasting event run by Momo Cha Fine Teas.

Glad to find that their teas are as magnificent as ever – I placed an order for more of their incredible High Mountain Oolong the very next day!

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The last Sunday in March was a decadent affair, as I accepted an invitation to Sunday Brunch at the Rosewood Hotel, in celebration of their recently launched Slow Food & Living Market. Unlike other small-scale food markets I’ve visited, this little market is perfectly curated and the range of top quality produce is fantastic, with current stallholders including O’Shea’s Butchers, Hansen & Lydersen (smoked fish), Oliver’s Bakery, Nyborg’s Kitchen, Hiver Honey Beer, Anspach & Hobday brewery, Lalani & Co fine teas, Gosnells London Mead, and other stalls offering fresh produce, dairy and cheese as well as chocolates, cakes and more. It’s not huge but every stall is a good one, so it’s a lovely place to browse and shop. The brunch, featuring produce from the market, was also excellent, though pretty pricy at £60 per person without drinks.

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Surprisingly late in life, I finally spotted and bought some fresh garlic – this is fully grown (unlike wet garlic, which is usually harvested before the bulb has developed much) but still green from the harvest, rather than the dried bulbs we more commonly buy. It has a far milder flavour than the dried equivalent and was delicious in a pasta sauce alongside finely diced homemade fuet.

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Another invitation, this time to a fun blogger event hosted by Tonia Buxton at The Real Greek restaurant in Soho. After some light learning (mixing our own tapenade and learning how to stuff dolmades) we enjoyed a tasty dinner – the menu is affordable and tasty.

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Over the Easter weekend, Pete and I were very happy to discover that the newly taken over local Vietnamese restaurant, now called Phó’ Viet Hu’ó’ng, is better than ever. My dish is the co’m su’ó’n (pork ribs and fried egg with rice) and Pete had mi xào (egg noodles) with chicken and veg. Better still, lunch was only £5.50 each including a soft drink. Very very tasty!

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Easter cooking at home included a simple rosemary roast lamb and some hot cross buns – despite the somewhat Jackson Pollock-esque crosses, they turned out very nicely!

 

I’m submitting this (mammoth) In My Kitchen post to Celia’s round up over at Fig Jam & Lime Cordial.

 

In the last few years I’ve discovered that I have a taste for sake. I’ve learned the basics about how it’s made and the different types available, but haven’t sampled enough to get a handle on my preferences. There’s a very distinctive taste that most sakes have in common, despite their many differences and it’s a taste I like very much. But having one or two sakes in isolation once every few months serves only to let me choose my favourite between the two – such tastings are too few and far between for me to build up a coherent library of taste memories in my head, and thereby gain more confidence on choosing well in the future. One of the outstanding items on my Food & Drink To Do list is to immerse myself more fully in the world of sake and work out which styles, regions and even producers I love the most.

The Chisou restaurant group have been running a Sake Club for about a year now, a regular evening of tutored tastings with matched Japanese snacks provided. I’ve been meaning to attend since they launched, but have singularly failed.

What finally spurred me to action was actually a deviation from the norm – a special umeshu tasting.

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The tastings are held in a private room – in Chisou Knightsbridge this was the upstairs dining room – properly separated from regular diners. We shared a table with a couple who were also first timers to the Sake Club, Gareth and Nirvana, and had a lot of fun talking about food and drink, life in London and visiting Japan.

Chisou’s Marketing Manager Mark McCafferty hosted the evening and started by giving us an introduction to umeshu, though a printed crib sheet was also provided for each guest. He introduced each of the six drinks, and the snacks that were served with them, sharing tasting tips and notes throughout.

Although umeshu is usually described in English as plum wine, the ume fruit is not actually a plum; although nicknames include both Chinese Plum and Japanese Apricot, it’s a distinct species within the Prunus genus (which also includes plums and apricots); if a comparison is still needed, the ume is a stone fruit that is closer to the apricot than to the plum.

Why did Chisou decide to hold an umeshu night as part of their Sake Club series? Because umeshu is traditionally made using surplus sake or shōchū – a distilled spirit made from a variety of different carbohydrates – or to use up batches which have not turned out quite as planned. That said, as it’s popularity has increased, many breweries make umeshu as part of their standard product range, and some use high grade sake or shōchū and top quality ume fruit to do so.

The method is very straightforward and will be familiar to those who’ve made sloe gin or other fruit-based spirits – strawberry vodka, anyone? Whole ume fruit are steeped in alcohol – the longer the period, the more the fruit breaks down and its flavour leaches into the alcohol. Some umeshu is left to mature for years, allowing the almond-flavour of the stone to become more pronounced.

In many cases, additional sugar is added to the umeshu, to create a sweeter liqueur. Many households make their own umeshu when the ume fruit is in season, as it’s a very simple drink to make.

The whole fruits are often left in the umeshu – both in home made and commercial versions – and served alongside the drink. Take care, as the stone is still inside!

The welcome drink, as everyone settled in and we waited for a few late arrivals, was a Kir-style cocktail of prosecco and Hannari Kyo umeshu. With this we enjoyed orange-salted edamame beans and wasabi peas.

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Next, an Ozeki umeshu on the rocks served with a generous plate of pork scratchings with individual bowls of an umami-explosion shiitake mayonnaise. In Japan, the highest quality of fruit is often very expensive, and Mark explained that this particular brewery use top quality ume for their umeshu. For Pete, this was “reminiscent of a sherry” and Nirvana liked the “aftertaste of almond”. I loved this umeshu, one of my favourites of the evening.

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Third was a cloudy version – Morikawa umeshumade with a ginjo sake (using highly polished rice), so quite unusual. For me, this tasted stronger than the previous one, but in fact it was a slightly lower ABV – I think this may simply have been because more bitterness was evident in the taste. Mark suggested we should “warm it up like a mulled wine, to make the most of it’s spiciness”. Gareth particularly enjoyed the “mouthfeel” of this umeshu. Pete thought it would an amazing match with a cheese – a perfect replacement for port.

With this came a small skewer of smoked duck with apple cider, miso and fresh ginger, served theatrically beneath a smoke-filled dome. I could have eaten an entire plate of these, instead of just one!

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I was surprised how much I liked the fourth option, as I couldn’t imagine the combination on first reading the menu. The Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu combines traditional shade-grown green tea with umeshu to add a rich umami note to the finished product. Oxidisation means the drink is amber rather than green, but the meaty and medicinal notes are evidence of the presence of green tea.

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Next was a cocktail combining Hannari Kyo umeshu with Yamagata Masamune sake, lime juice and angostura bitters. I found this a too bitter and dry for my tastes, so asked if I could taste the Hannari Kyo umeshu on its own, as we’d only tried it with mixers thus far. It’s a lovely umeshu but couldn’t compete with the Ozeki umeshu or the Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu for me.

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Last, we were served a cup of good quality vanilla ice cream with warm Morikawa umeshu to pour over the top, affogato-style. As you’d imagine, the sweet and sour notes of the fruit liqueur really work well with cold vanilla ice cream, making it what Nirvana called “a very grown up ice cream”. As Mark commented, “warm it up and it really comes alive”.

Pete and I decided to stay on and order a few dishes from the food menu to soak up the alcohol before heading home, umeshu-happy.

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agedashi tofu, gyoza, pork with kimchi, chicken karaage

After such a great evening, we are keen to attend more Sake Club events. Umeshu night was very well priced at £40 per person and was a great learning experience, a fun social evening and very delicious. If you book Sake Club, do take care that you go the right location. The club is alternately held at different branches of the restaurant and it’s not uncommon for regulars to go to the wrong one, resulting in a mad dash across town.

Kavey Eats attended the Umeshu tasting as guests of Chisou Knightsbridge. The additional dishes pictured at the end were on our own tab.

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