A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Matcha Masterclass by Jameel Lalani, founder of Lalani & Co.

Not long before, I wrote an article about matcha for which I spoke to several retailers of high grade Matcha, Lalani & Co included. (Look out for the article in the March issue of Good Things magazine). During those conversations, Jameel recommended his recipe for a matcha and fruit smoothie, which sounded rather delicious. I was later invited to the masterclass to taste his tempting smoothie recipe and to learn how to make a matcha latte.

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Hosted by Curators Coffee near Oxford Circus, the evening class lasted one and a half hours, during which time Jameel not only introduced the class to matcha – what it is, how it’s made, how one assesses quality, how best to use high grade and regular matcha powders – but also took us through how to make matcha (both usucha thin and koicha thick style), matcha latte (with lessons on latte art from a member of the Curators Coffee team) and a matcha breakfast smoothie. Each of us made our own matcha and matcha latte, the smoothie was made in one batch, while we crowded around the blender.

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Little sweet treats were provided by Curators Coffee, very much in the matcha tradition; matcha is usually served with wagashi – Japanese confectionary. It was a lovely evening, and everyone really enjoyed it, none more so than the giggling gang of students celebrating a birthday and the latte addict who’d attended another class with Curators just the evening before.

This is an ideal class for anyone looking to learn a little more about matcha and, more specifically, how to drink it. Book via Curators Coffee. The class is priced at £40 per person, and includes a jar of Lalani & Co Matcha Gold to take home; this is a top grade stone milled Matcha that retails for £29.

Kavey Eats attended a Matcha masterclass as a guest of Lalani & Co.

Feb 212015
 

I love udon noodles! There’s something utterly compelling to me about these thick, white and slightly chewy Japanese noodles that other noodles just don’t match, though I’m a fan of pasta in pretty much all its forms. Recently launched restaurant Den describe themselves as udon evangelists’’ and their menu is suitably udon-heavy.

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In King’s Cross, but quite a walk from the station, I suspect the location will most appeal to those who live or work in the area. For me, it’s actually quicker to travel a few extra stops into Central London, where most places are nearer to the nearest tube station – particularly appealing with it’s dark and cold or wet. The restaurant sits in a former pub, and the conversion is stark and modern, attractive though a little bare, perhaps.

The sleek communal tables will no doubt enable more diners to share the space when busy, but bench seating isn’t particularly comfortable. Then again, Den seems a short visit pit stop rather than a settle-in-for-the-evening kind of restaurant.

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I visited on a really, really, really cold day so immediately asked which teas are available to warm myself up.

I enjoy a range of Japanese teas so I was a little disappointed that only a single option is available – Japanese green tea (£2). I’d have liked to choose from genmaicha, sencha/ gyokuro, houjicha and so on. Although the glass is very pretty, serving a very hot drink in such a thin glass makes it difficult to pick up until it’s cooled down a fair bit (unless you have asbesthos hands, which I sadly do not possess); I’d rather drink it when it’s hotter. And the glass doesn’t insulate its contents well so the tea is quickly too cool to enjoy. A ceramic cup would be better.

We (and other) guests were served a complimentary snack of deep-fried udon noodles, labelled as udon pretzels on the menu. These, as anyone who’s deep fried spaghetti can attest – what? it’s good! – were delicious.

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Red wine stewed pork belly (£6) was my friend’s favourite tsumami (small plate). It’s long-braised and full of flavour. I liked it a lot, though oddly the meat wasn’t as tender as I expected, given that the fat had certainly become melt-in-the-mouth soft.

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My favourite tsumami was seasonal vegetables in sesame sauce (£4.50) which, on the day of our visit, included beetroot, mange tout and green beans. These were an excellent combination of flavours and textures and the dressing, though not visually attractive, was delicious.

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Crispy mackerel (£6) was sadly not crispy at all, not even a little bit. Soggy and slightly mushy, this dish was left uneaten on the table.

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At this point, we had sufficiently warmed up that we were ready for a drink. Director, Cristoforo Santini (formerly at Matsuri St James) suggested the Nigori crème de sake (£5). Oh, this was marvellous, we both loved it! Unlike the more common clear sakes I’m used to, this one is unfiltered and thicker in texture. It’s also a touch sweeter, still with that wonderful distinctive sake flavour.

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When it comes to the main affair, the focus is – of course – on udon. The menu divides into hot noodles in hot soup, hot noodles without soup and cold noodles with dipping sauce. For many of the hot soups, diners have a choice between black and white broth (with vegetarian versions also available). The non-vegetarian broths are both dashi – an infusion of katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and konbu (seaweed) with either a little soy (white broth) or a bigger dose of dark soy added. The vegetarian versions replace katsuobushi with mushrooms for the infusion. For some of the dishes, only a white broth is recommended, to better balance with the chosen toppings.

We shared salmon miso and chinese cabbage (£9), which was full of beautifully made udon noodles, soft salmon, cabbage still with a little crunch and lots of mizuna leaves (aka Japanese mustard).

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Our other choice was a bowl of den Carbonara (£8), hot udon noodles topped with egg, katuobushi and nori. I couldn’t really detect the egg (I assumed it would be beaten and tossed through the noodles) but the simple flavours of katuobushi and nori worked well, with an added sprinkle of shichimi powder. And of course, this dish is a great way to really showcase the udon noodles, made in house.

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Diners can also order from a short selection of donburi (rice bowls topped with various items) and there are also extra condiments, or toppings, available including crispy tempura batter (£0.5), natto (£1.5) and ume (£2). I didn’t spot the natto, but would definitely order it next time – the pungent sticky fermented soy beans pack such a punch of flavour.

There are no sweet options, not even a cleansing yuzu sorbet or matcha ice cream – the stalwart endgame of so many UK Japanese restaurants, and that’s a little disappointing. We are offered a fresh fruit plate (not listed on the menu) but decline. Perhaps a future iteration of the menu will introduce some dishes for the sweet toothed?

If you’re a fan of udon noodles, Den is a great place to enjoy them, though the location may prove off-putting to some – certainly it makes me less likely to drop by regularly, during the winter months.

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Den Udon.

Den on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

 

Pete and really loved yakiniku dining during our two visits to Japan; I have written previously about our yakiniku experiences, along with the history of yakiniku.  Considered a Korean import, the Japanese version is no longer an exact copycat of its Korean inspiration, not least in the range of meat cuts and marinades and the selection of side dishes. While there are plenty of restaurants offering Korean BBQ in London, Kintan may well be the first yakiniku restaurant, as it claims.

Brought to London by a company that is successful across Japan as well as in Hong Kong and Jakarta, Kintan boasts a prime location on High Holborn, and was doing brisk business on the January weekday we visited for lunch.

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The interior is very attractive, simple but with beautiful details. I particularly loved the various tiles used on different walls around the deceptively spacious interior, and also the beautiful wooden booths, tables and area dividers. There are touches of tradition in the sake barrels and smiling Asahi maneki-neko (beckoning cat) but it’s essentially a modern style.

We were invited to try the Premium dinner menu, £44.50 per person. There are other dinner options at lower and higher price points, plus some very reasonable lunch deals (£8 to £18 for yakiniku, less for non-grill options) to appeal to the office workers in the area.

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We started with a sparkling sake, a brand that’s stocked by quite a few Japanese restaurants here. It has the distinctive flavour of sake but is lighter in alcohol, sweeter and with bubbles. A friend called it the babycham of the sake world, a spot on analogy!

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First to be served were the Kintan salad and edamame beans with salt. The beans were… well, edamame beans. The salad was delightful, light crunch from raw shredded cabbage, mixed salad leaves, cherry tomato and hard boiled egg all dressed in a light but richly flavoured mayo.

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Hot oil seared salmon was super, with blanched ginger matchsticks and a light sesame oil citrus dressing.

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Tuna tartar volcano was a highlight – a light tuna mayo with spring onions, chives and caviar on a crunchy deep-fried block of rice that was both crispy and chewy and a gentle kick of heat too. A real winner!

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There were seven dishes listed under “Mains” for the Premium dinner menu. We were served only five, though I didn’t realise until we’d left (when I took another look at the photo I took of the menu). On one hand, we certainly had plenty to eat, and enjoyed everything we were served; but on the other, a failure to deliver two out of seven dishes seems quite an oversight and one I’d be crosser about had I not been invited as a guest.

A fourth plate of (skirt) beef may not have been a big deal but the lack of halloumi, when I remembered it, was such a shame – I adore barbecued halloumi!

Most guests will look at the menu to order but can hardly be expected to memorise dishes, so it’s important for restaurants to serve all that is ordered (and charged for).

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Unlike the yakiniku restaurants we tried in Japan, at Kintan the grill is recessed below table level but that’s a good safety feature and we liked it. It did have the clever Japanese smokeless extraction system that whips away smoke before it rises above grill level, meaning you shouldn’t walk out smelling like a bonfire!

Be warned, the grill radiates a phenomenal amount of heat and you’ll certainly feel hot sitting around it. Perfect for winter but probably less appealing in the heat of summer.

What really surprised us was how long it took for the grill to heat up enough to cook our meat. Even after the elements started glowing red, it took much longer than expected to get even the hint of a sizzle when we placed a slice of beef onto the grill.

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Once it finally got to temperature, everything was good with the world. We loved the three different meats that were served – salt and pepper fillet, premium rib eye and premium kalbi short rib, the latter two in different sticky marinades, the fillet with an accompanying yuzu ponzu dipping sauce. There were also two delicious dipping sauces on the table.

The prawns were tasty too but the scallops were pitiful. I wondered, from the waiter’s instructions to make sure we cooked them very thoroughly for at least two minutes on each side, whether they’d been frozen and then defrosted but he assured me not. From the texture and lack of taste of the scallops, I remain unconvinced. A pity, when the beef was so enjoyable.

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Our miso soup came near the end, as we’d requested when asked earlier on in the meal. It’s listed as a starter, but more commonly enjoyed at the end of a meal in Japan, and I prefer it that way.

Also delivered quite late, when we’d nearly finished the meat and seafood, were garlic fried noodles. Also listed as a starter, I’d have preferred these to come out at the same time as the proteins were served. They were very tasty, but I must give you Pete’s description which sounds odd but is exactly right – they tasted just like garlic bread! And yet were chewy, like udon noodles! So strange, but rather good, regardless. I wondered if they were made in house, but our waiter thought not; he said that the company is quite a large one and most of their sauces and many ingredients are supplied by the chain.

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Mochi ice creams to finish were lovely. The salted caramel was Pete’s favourite but too sweet for me; I loved the matcha and sesame flavours.

At £90 for two, plus drinks and service, this is not a cheap dinner, somewhat at odds with the situation in Japan where we found yakiniku prices if not quite low budget, certainly very affordable. Some of that will be down to the central London (Holborn) location, but I suspect it’s also a case of charging what people will pay for an unfamiliar experience.

We had a good meal (albeit missing two dishes on our set menu) but I can’t help comparing the price to several Korean BBQ dinners we’ve enjoyed at our local Yijo restaurant in Central Finchley; we’ve been hard-pressed to spend more than £25 a head there and eaten at least as much as we did at Kintan. Of course, Yijo and Kintan are not exactly like for like – while the grill meats are very similar the non-grill dishes at Yijo are firmly Korean with lots of kimchi, pickles and spice; at Kintan it’s more of a modern Japanese mix.

If you’ve not tried yakiniku, this is a a good place to try and the lunch deals seem to offer a great value option.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Kintan restaurant.

Kintan on Urbanspoon

 

Old Tom & English is not a members club but it feels like one. By that I don’t mean stuffy, exclusive or expensive; rather it’s a hidden gem, a welcoming space that calls forth a surprising sense of belonging.  Its only frontage onto Wardour Street is an impressive but subtly labelled blue door behind which a tiny reception space leads downstairs to a sweet little bar. Seating areas for diners include several intimate corners and alcoves, affording privacy and cosiness. Lighting is subdued but not nightclub dark; design by Lee Broom is low key, retro and classy.

A reservations-only restaurant and bar, Old Tom & English is the brainchild of brother and sister team Costas and Maria Constantinou, stalwarts of the Soho dining scene. It offers modern British food, vintage-inspired cocktails and a short but carefully curated wine list. The name, for those who don’t know their vintage spirits [my hand is up!], is a nod to a popular 18th Century recipe, Old Tom Gin which is experiencing something of a resurgence.

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Light; Crash Landing cocktail

As the menu consists of small plates designed to share, dining with a small group is the perfect way to experience the many menu highlights, not to mention the well-designed cocktail list.

The Crash Landing (£9.90) is based on the flavours of classic cocktail, The Aviation but here Sacred gin, maraschino liqueur and violet liqueur are topped with Pol Roger N/V. Bartender Alex skips the lemon juice of the Aviation but wipes the rim of the glass with lemon, so the aroma is still part of the experience.

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Irn Bru Margarita and Coffee Cocktail

For Burn’s night (the day before my visit), Alex created an Irn Bru gomme (syrup) for his celebratory Irn Bru Margarita. A nice take, though I will never develop a taste for salt-rimmed glasses.

The Coffee Cocktail (£9.90) is right up my street, not least because of the much-needed caffeine. Vodka infused with fresh ground coffee, with Tia Maria. I may have had more than one of these!

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From the Veg section of the menu, egg and mushroom on toast (£7) which comes with jerusalem artichoke and an umami-rich Marmite butter.

And chips (£4), triple cooked and served with mustard mayo to dip. These are super!

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From the Fish dishes, we have pan fried king scallops (£8), with bacon, goat’s cheese foam, chervil & sorrel. Two fat and tasty scallops; I thought the other flavours would overwhelm, but they complemented nicely.

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And battered seabass (£9) with peas, watercress, spiced remoulade. Perfectly cooked fish with delightful crispy batter but oh my goodness, the star of the plate is the remoulade beneath!

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Carnivorous to the last, we try all four items in the Meat selection of the menu (there are additional choices in the Specials). First, crispy pig cheek (£7), crumbed and fried and served with cider apple and fennel. Very tasty, though the pig cheek isn’t quite as soft as it could be.

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One of the highlights of the meal, an impressive feat given the competition, is the generous plate of confit smoked guinea fowl (£9) with anchovy mayo. Beautifully tender with a deep and satisfying smoke and perfect with a dab of the butter.

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I find seared rump of lamb (£11) a little pricy for the portion but there is no denying that it delivers on flavour and tenderness. The crispy shallots are a lovely garnish.

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Another of my absolute highlights of the night is this lamb sweetbread salad (£8) served with pickled spring onions, charred leeks and crispy croutons. Sweetbreads soft and perfectly cooked. A really super salad.

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I don’t enjoy the desserts as much as the mains. They’re decent, but none of them really touch on the excellence of the savouries for me. And you know I certainly have a sweet tooth.

The top two for me are the lemon & thyme baby doughnuts (£7) with smear of chocolate sauce and pistachio crumble – a touch dry and too little lemon or thyme coming through on the palate – and the rice pudding ice cream (£7) served with almond crumble, cinnamon and salted caramel; a light and refreshing dessert.

The flourless salted chocolate cake (£7) is OK, not as moist as I expect from a flourless recipe and not as rich in flavour either. My least favourite dish of the meal is the banana bread with whisky cream (£7) which is also a little dry, overly cinnamoned (not great with whisky) and lacking in whisky punch.

Old English & Tom is a lovely setting for a tête-à-tête, though it’s also perfect for an evening with friends; go with a small group and try as much of the menu as you can. Around four dishes per person (including desserts) is about right, with a few portion of those triple-cooked chips added to the mix.

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Old English & Tom.

Old Tom & English on Urbanspoon

 

A lot of foodies scorn microwaves. They proudly announce that they don’t, and never would, have one in their kitchen and I can’t help but wonder if they imagine all those who have one subsist on microwave ready meals and reheated takeaways. I always feel a little sorry for them, honestly; their conviction that real foodies never microwave means they miss out on one of the great modern tools of the domestic kitchen.

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My latest microwave experiment, I’ll be sharing the recipe soon

Even before you consider recipes that can be made in the microwave, there are many little heating tasks at which they excel:

  • Melting butter
  • Melting chocolate without a bain marie
  • Poaching eggs
  • Steaming vegetables
  • Cooking rice
  • Reheating dishes that would tend to dry out in the oven or overly reduce on the stove top
  • Briefly heating a lemon or lime before juicing (to make it easier to juice)
  • Heating a mug of milk for a quick latte or hot chocolate
  • Decrystallising honey
  • Sterilising kitchen washcloths and sponges
  • Heating wheat packs for muscle pain relief

I’ve also heard of people using a microwave to speed proof yeasted doughs, to roast a head of garlic and to par cook jacket potatoes before finishing them in the oven. The latter we now cook in the slow cooker, and I’m yet to try the first two; let me know if you have!

It won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve always had a microwave. My parents had one through most of my childhood, they kindly bought me a small, cheap one for my student house when I was at uni, and Pete and I have had one in our kitchen for the last two decades.

Last year, I reviewed a couple of appliances designed by Heston for Sage, including my lovely Smartscoop ice cream machine (review post here).

This month I’ve been putting my Heston for Sage Quick Touch microwave to the test.

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  • Because the water content in different foods varies so wildly, it can be tricky to guestimate how long different foods need in the microwave; chocolate contains only 3% water whereas most vegetables contain 95%!. Sensors in the Quick Touch microwave sense the amount of humidity released from food and automatically adjust the power level and the cooking time accordingly.
  • There is a shortcut panel (of pre-sets) for common tasks such as melting chocolate, softening butter and heating baked beans (a personal favourite of Heston’s, apparently) – all you need to do is input the weight and touch the relevant button.
  • Of course, the Quick Touch has normal microwave functions as well – you can manually input your power (with 10 levels from 10% to 100%) and the amount of time. The maximum power is 1100 watts so it’s pretty versatile. (Older consumer microwaves often topped out at 800 watts).
  • Pete’s a big fan of the fact that the timer defaults to 30 seconds and if you don’t press any other button or enter a time, will simply start at full power as soon as you close the door. There’s also a cute A Bit More button when something is nearly done but not quite.
  • So far, we’ve been very impressed with the melting butter, melting chocolate and sensor cook functions – perfectly cooked carrots and broccoli courtesy of the latter.
  • Reheating leftovers works fine, as do all the other regular tasks I listed above. Heating seems to be even throughout a plate of food, rather than spots of scalding hot and still cold.
  • It’s a heavy beast, so best for kitchens where it won’t need to be moved regularly.
  • The price tag (around £250-270 depending on retailer) is high, especially as this microwave doesn’t have convection cooking or grilling functionality.

By the way, if you caught a glimpse of the green writing on the front of the freezer in one of the images above, you may be interested in my post on how to organise the contents of a large freezer.

I’ve also been talking to other food bloggers and writers about how they use their microwaves.

Celia Brooks, cook and cookery book author, loves her microwave. She reminds us that “it’s not an oven but a tool to vibrate water molecules” and is therefore “especially good for veggies” with their high water content. As Celia’s main food group is vegetables, it’s an essential tool in her kitchen. She loves to steam vegetables in it, and she cooks aubergine chunks or slices with a little salt before adding them to a ratatouille or moussaka – they absorb less oil if cooked a little first. She likes to “fill flat mushroom caps with cream cheese and herbs”; cooking these in the microwave forms “a luscious sauce”. She also warms milk, makes porridge and heats single portions of dishes like lasagne, for which heating the regular oven would be wasteful.

Helen Best-Shaw, food blogger and recipe developer, mainly uses hers for reheating, defrosting and cooking vegetables and grains. She says she nearly always cooks brown rice in it, which is “perfectly cooked in 14 minutes”. She also partially cooks baked potatoes before finishing in the oven.

Urvashi Roe, food blogger and baker, uses her most days, mainly for defrosting and reheating. She also uses it to melt chocolate, and for “emergency baking” when she has chocolate cake cravings. She finds it particularly useful on days she’s running late, needs to feed the children and can simply take a batch-cooked soup or dhal out of the freezer, defrost, heat and serve.

MiMi Aye, food blogger and cookery book author, loves the convenience of her microwave. She uses it to heat leftovers, cook vegetables like courgettes, warm soup and baked beans, cook ready meals and make microwave popcorn. Like Urvashi, she likes batch cooking meals and freezing them in portions. She reminds me that the microwave is also the easiest way to sterilise baby bottles. And she sent me this rather mesmerising video of blowing up Peeps (American marshmallow birds) in the microwave!

Alicia Fourie, food blogger and keen cook, uses her microwave for warming milk and reheating leftovers. She also loves it for cooking asparagus and corn on the cob, finding it “much easier than boiling” and less faff than lighting the barbecue.

Miss South, food blogger and cookery book author, originally got a microwave because, although she’s a “freezer fiend”, she lacks the organisation to take things out in time to defrost. She also loves using it to cut down on cooking times, pointing out that “microwaving takes less time and costs less than turning [her] electric cooker”. These days, she also uses the microwave to back up her slow cooker, by “batch cooking 3-4 portions of something lovely” and freezing the rest; being able to defrost and blast these home made ready meals in the microwave stops her “tiring of staples” and is also a boon when she’s ill or really busy. She is also a fan of microwaveable rice, which she pimps into fried rice with the addition of frozen peas and an egg.

Of course, a microwave isn’t a substitute for other cooking appliances. I love my gas stove top and electric oven and I regularly use my slow cooker, sous vide cooker and power blender (which can cook soups and custards).

The key is to understand a microwave’s strengths  and put it to use accordingly.

Do you have a microwave? How do you use it? And what’s the one thing you use it for that you’d hate to do without?

Kavey Eats received a Quick Touch microwave for review. Lakeland links are affiliate links, please see sidebar for more information.

 

My initial plan, when Choclette and I set our joint #WeShouldBSFIC challenge for January, was an ice cream sandwich. I wanted to make chewy chocolate chip cookies and sandwich white chocolate vanilla ice cream between them. But every time I started scribbling potential recipe notes, my thoughts turned instead to a chocolate ice cream recipe I shared back in the summer of 2012; a rich, dense and wonderfully dark chocolate ice cream. I still remember the richness of that ice cream!

Like many no-churn recipes, it has a base of condensed milk and double cream (plus regular milk). Unlike most no-churn recipes, it’s not simply a case of folding together whipped condensed milk and cream, adding flavouring and popping into the freezer. It needs the milks and cream to be boiled, the chocolate (and other flavourings) to be melted and thoroughly mixed in, and then a flour thickener added before the mixture is cooked further until it’s so thick you can only just pour it from the pan to a plastic box.

I was keen to see if I could adapt the recipe to make it in my Froothie Optimum 9400. This power blender has such a jet engine of a motor that it not only blends but heats too – there’s no heating element but the friction of the blades at top speed will generate enough heat to make your mixture piping hot. Having already made an ice cream custard base in the Optimum 9400, for my silky smooth white chocolate vanilla ice cream, I was hopeful my adaptation would work.

When I took the ice cream out of the freezer,  I belatedly remembered how dense this ice cream is and how hard it is to scoop. We ended up popping the entire block out of the plastic box and cutting a slice off the end with a knife. It doesn’t look pretty, as the photographed side shows where it slid out of the box and the other side looked even stranger, from where the knife pushed through it.

That’s when I realised this recipe would  be utterly perfect for individual chocolate ice cream lollies, or fudgesicles as Americans call them. As soon as you cut into the ice cream with a spoon, it reveals it’s beautiful smooth texture, utterly silky in the mouth and with a hint of chewiness that reminds of the wonderful mastic ice creams of the Middle East. I took a bite straight out of the slice and oh yes indeed, this would be perfect on a lolly stick! Too bad I didn’t think of that 24 hours ago!

So please use your imagination to see past my appalling photo and trust me when I tell you that you should give this recipe a try.

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Rich, Dense & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream | Made in a Power Blender

Ingredients
200 grams sweetened condensed milk
100 grams whole milk
100 grams double cream
100 grams very dark chocolate, grated or finely chopped*
0.5 scant teaspoon instant coffee granules or powder
1 scant teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
Small pinch fine sea salt
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon cold water

* Note: To save on washing up, use your power blender to “grate” the chocolate, then pour/ scrape it out of the jug and set it aside.

Method

  • Into the jug, pour the condensed milk, whole milk and double cream. Blend on high power until the mixture is steaming hot.
  • Add the chocolate, instant coffee, vanilla bean paste and salt. Blend on high power again until the chocolate melts and is fully mixed into the cream and milk.
  • In a small bowl, mix the flour and water into a smooth paste, then add to the blender.
  • Blend on high power for 4-5 minutes. The mixture should be thick and glossy.
  • Pour / scrape into a shallow freezer container, or better still, into individual lolly moulds or small paper cups, with lolly sticks inserted.
  • Transfer to the freezer overnight or until solid.
  • To serve, take out of the freezer 10 minutes ahead of scooping (or slicing).

This is my entry for the joint Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream and We Should Cocoa challenge, hosted by myself and Choclette.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I was given my Optimum 9400 along with the opportunity to be an ambassador for the Australian brand, as it breaks into the UK market. Hand on hearts, Pete and I have been enormously impressed with the blender, especially given the price when you compare it to market leaders like Vitamix; (you can read a comparison of the two, here). We’ve made super quick frozen fruit sorbets, delicious vegetable soups (which are blended and heated so quickly that they retain the fresh taste of the vegetables, an unexpected bonus), quick custards (both to enjoy as they are and freeze into ice cream), and we’ve also used it to grate, puree and blend. And yet we’re only at the start of our learning about all that it can do. I’ll continue to share my favourite Optimum 9400 recipes with you here on Kavey Eats. You can access them all via my Froothie tag.

Like this recipe? Here are a few more power blender recipes from fellow bloggers that caught my eye:

Kavey Eats received a review Optimum 9400 power blender from Froothie. Please see the right side bar for a special offer on buying the Optimum with an extended warranty via my affiliate link.

 

Created by a driven, food-loving first-time restaurateur along with head chef Kyoichi Kai (formerly of Zuma), Kouzu is the latest high quality Japanese restaurant to open in Victoria. Once a neighbourhood not much associated with fine dining, the area seems finally to be coming into its own, with lots of on-going investment and building projects creating ever more commercial space for businesses and restaurants alike.

The team behind Kouzu share a dream of creating a restaurant of which they can be proud, one that uses the best ingredients to create delicious Japanese food in a luxurious but relaxed setting. The menu is, in the main part, traditional but the occasional fusion tweak reveals Kai’s classic French cuisine background.

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Images courtesy of Kouzu restaurant

Just a few steps from Victoria Station, Kouzu is housed in a beautiful 1850s period mansion; the enormous door looking out onto busy Grosvenor Gardens gives way to a small double-height lobby dominated by a fabulous modern art chandelier. One of the staff tells me that the design is based on the pupal cases of butterfly larvae, butterflies being the (understated) motif of the restaurant. Downstairs houses the bar and a restaurant space (as well as a private dining room). Upstairs is an extensive mezzanine floor where the omakase sushi bar and additional restaurant seating are located.

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We make two visits to Kouzu in December and January, the better to sample their extensive menu. On our first we sit downstairs, on the second, we visit the sushi bar.

New Stream Sashimi is one of the less traditional sections of the menu, bringing together Japanese and European influences in all six dishes.

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As soon as Yellowtail with Truffle Dressing (£15) is served to the table, the heady scents of truffle fill the air. On the palate, the shiso, myoga, ginger and spring onion hit the tastebuds first, and for a moment I’m disappointed. However the truffle flavour asserts itself a few moments later, and leaves a deliciously earthy aftertaste.

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Salmon with Yuzu Soy Dressing (£11) is a punchy dish of salmon dressed in yuzu, soy, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and a ravigote sauce (the latter a classic French vinaigrette with shallots, capers and herbs). For me, the dressing has been applied a little too long before serving, resulting in the salmon being “cooked” by the acid and slightly too pappy in texture, but the flavours are super.

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Beef Fillet Tataki (£17.50) is beautifully cooked over charcoal and sliced, and served with what is described as an oriental sauce and julienne salad. The sauce is sharp and the little salad heavy in shisho, which I love. That said, although tataki simply refers to seared and sliced meat, I can’t help but wish for a sesame-based sauce, which I (no doubt unfairly) associate with the dish.

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For the price, I expect the Foie-Gras and Spinach with Teriyaki Wasabi (£12) to be far less generous. Instead, I’m delighted with the generous lobe of perfectly cooked liver served with wilted spinach, a light fruit coulis and a wasabi and teriyaki sauce. The combination of flavours is superb, with the bold umami of the teriyaki and mustardy heat of the wasabi complementing rather than overpowering the foie-gras.

Small Dishes and Salads offer a range of little sides that can accompany orders from any other section of the menu; likewise the short and sweet Vegetables section – the two could easily be amalgamated.

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There’s not much that can be said about Edamame (£4.50), served with a sprinkle of sea salt as we read the menu and decide what to order. I’d love to see a little inventiveness here, with a couple of options such as a spice and salt blend or even a sticky chilli sauce.

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I have to order Agedashi Tofu (£6.50), one of my staple orders when I go out for Japanese food. Kouzu’s version is another fusion dish, the blocks of fried tofu sitting not in the normal soy and dashi broth but in a glutinous vegetable and fish stock sauce. Whilst I like the sauce well enough, what I’m less keen on is how it smothers the tofu blocks, resulting in a lack of the crisp surface I usually enjoy against the pillowy interior.

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The Portobello Mushroom with Garlic Butter (£6.50) is firmly in the European camp, indeed I’m unable to detect any Japanese influences at all. Whilst the meaty mushroom, herby garlic butter and thick, glossy Madeira sauce are tasty, I find this dish a little at odds with the rest of the menu.

Items From The Charcoal Grill cover the widest price range, from £12 to a whopping £85 (though that is for 200 grams of high grade wagyu rib).

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I absolutely adore the Lamb Chops with Spicy Miso Paste (£12), which are served medium rare, with a selection of grilled vegetables. Lamb meat and fat are both delicious, the miso really works well here. The vegetables are all individually cooked to just the right level of crunch, full of fresh garden flavour and a simply foil to the main.

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Yakitori chicken (£12) is offered shio or tare – the first is served with smoked sea-salt, the second basted in a special soy sauce. I’m expecting it to come in sticks, as that’s how I’ve usually enjoyed it but here the tender pieces of chicken thigh are simply piled on the plate alongside grilled spring onions, peppers and chinese cabbage.

Tempura has a menu section of its own.

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We ask for a mix of the various different vegetables, each available to order separately. Batter is super light and crisp, just as it should be, and each vegetable is perfectly cooked inside.

The Specials section might be mistaken for main dishes, based on the prices, but as they’re not significantly larger than many of the previous dishes, I’d be wary of ordering a traditional two or three course meal and expecting to be satiated.

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Roasted Black Cod (£28) is almost a given on high end Japanese restaurant menus these days. Marinated in miso, it’s perfectly cooked – the signature soft and silky texture that is a trademark of this species of fish is shown off nicely. The white miso sauce is a thing of beauty, and I like the orange and fennel salad, to cut through the richness and lighten the dish.

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Duck Breast with Sansho (£25) is described as being served with a Japanese pepper sauce. However, this is another of the dishes that strikes us as more French than Japanese, with that classic, glossy sauce. The duck is superbly tender and beautifully cooked, as are the vegetables served alongside.

Lastly there is the extensive From The Sushi Bar selection including sashimi, nigiri sushi, sushi rolls and a few more nibbles.

For these we dine at the sushi bar, served by our personal sushi chef, Voy. He is happy to talk to us about the ingredients and I enjoy watching him as he works.

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We run through the fish and seafood we would like to enjoy before Voy starts creating our nigiri sushi, moving from lighter white fish to stronger and fattier ones.

After forming the rice (in a small sized block, just as I requested), all the fish are painted in nikiri, a thin sweet of soy, dashi and mirin, before being grilled with a blowtorch, topped with a garnish and served to individual dishes on the counter.

First is yellowtail (£6 each) with pickled jalapeños and a tiny dribble of truffle oil.

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Next is scallop (£5 each), painted with nikiri and blowtorched, topped with a cherry tomato and ume plum compte and thinly sliced fresh shisho leaf. The shape of those blow torched browned cracks is the cause of much hilarity on my instagram feed!

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Third is salmon (£4.50 each), painted with nikiri and blowtorched, topped with avocado and some minute slivers of katsuobushi.

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For nigiri sushi four, we have a split. I have ikura gunkan nigiri (£4, so named as the shape of the nori wrapper suggests a warship) filled with juicy salmon roe.

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Pete has instead chutoro (£7 each, medium fatty tuna), painted with nikiri and blowtorched, topped with a puree of sundried tomatoes, chopped chives and a couple of bright yellow kiku (edible chrysanthemum) petals.

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Next, Otoro (8.50 each, the fattiest tuna), painted with nikiri and blowtorched, topped with daikon, Japanese mustard cress and a tiny dusting of ichimi togarashi (chilli powder). The balance of rice, fish and garnish is excellent in all the pieces we have, but particularly so in this one, for me.

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We finish our initial selection of with a spicy tuna roll (£8 for six pieces) includes tuna, tobiko (fish roe), crab “miso” (the brown goo from inside a crab), avocado, spicy mayo, cucumber and probably a few more I’ve missed! Again, this has a great balance of flavours and textures.

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Voy asks us if there are any  we’d like to have again, or any new ones we’d like to try.

We pick the salmon and the chutoro to have again, plus I ask if tamago is available.

Voy rings the changes by changing the garnishes second time around, thus the salmon, once painted with nikiri, blowtorched and topped with daikon is finished with ikura and shiso leaves.

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Chutoro is served with the same garnishes as previously, at my request.

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We finish with fat slices of nori-wrapped tamago (£3.50 each), astonishingly light and fluffy. It lacks the tree-bark layers of the traditional cooking method but however it’s made, it’s fabulous.

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At the end, desserts.

On our first visit we are too full, but accept a plate of mini macarons served with our tea. Flavours are super but texture of shell enormously inconsistent.

The next time we finish with a scoop each of sorbet, mine a puckeringly sharp yuzu and Pete’s an unexpectedly creamy chilli cacao. Both are super smooth and served with a stick of light crumbly biscuit.

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Both of us agree that although Kouzu is not a budget dining option, the majority of the dishes are really excellent value for their quality; this is a restaurant we are very keen to return to, albeit most likely for special occasions. My top tip would be to skip the specials, which will quickly ramp up your bill, and select a feast from the new sashimi, grill, small dishes and vegetables sections which are very reasonable. For sushi lovers, an omakase visit to the sushi bar is certainly recommended, our deluxe sushi selection above came to exactly £97 (without drinks, desserts and service).

Service, incidentally, is helpful and friendly without being obsequious or overfamiliar and location is excellent for public transport.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Kouzu restaurant.
Kouzu on Urbanspoon

Jan 092015
 

Back in November, I was invited to a Secret Supperclub dinner by Miele. Taking place in a “secret location” that would be revealed only when our cars delivered us to the address, all I knew was that the meal would showcase what could be achieved with Miele’s steam ovens.

The location turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, being in the Miele kitchen showroom in Cavendish Place – I’ve attended events there several times before, and assumed from the hush-hush secretiveness, that the venue would be somewhere more exciting.

Still, a large dining table at the back of the showroom was beautifully decked out in a Christmassy theme and we quickly learned that our chef for the evening was Martyn Meid of INK restaurant. Our hosts were welcoming and it was a jovial evening.

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Hailing from Klaipeda, a small port town in Lithuania, Martyn grew up in a culinary culture that had access to superb fresh fish. In order to enjoy fish during winter months, it was preserved in different ways, and Martyn developed skills in pickling, curing and smoking fish and other produce. Today he is known for showcasing a very stripped back Nordic style of cooking, with strong reference to the preserving techniques of his youth. He focuses on fresh ingredients, simplicity and precision.

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Salmon roe on a two-week rye sourdough. I loved the burst and salty fish flavour of the caviar against the rich and dense rye bread.

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Cured mackerel with betroot and hay ash, served with a shot of dill vodka. The ash was a common element in several of the dishes.

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Next up was my dish of the evening – raw seabass cured in lime, pickled ginger, served on on burnt chicory, with apple vinegar. Martyn mentioned that he’d used a whopping 2 kg of butter to cook the chicory! This dish was all the more surprising for me as I’m not usually a fan of chicory, but here the buttery cooking brought out a wonderful sweetness.

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Sadly, this was my least favourite dish of the meal and indeed many of us had the same issue. Described as a salted egg yolk on a bed of potato, with morel mushrooms, the egg yolk was shockingly salty; even a tiny piece of yolk in a full spoon of potato was too salty to enjoy.

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The presentation won me over before I’d even tasted it! Crab, razor clam, langoustine, crunchy cucumber balls, grilled onions and cucumber emulsion. Marvellous!

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Next was 12 hour salted cod with textures of tomato. I enjoyed this, though not as much as the seabass and chicory or crab and onion dishes, but for my friend Gary, this was his dish of the night.

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To finish, a bread panna cotta with raw milk chocolate.

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Images of Martyn and his team at work, courtesy of Miele

We did, on occasion, get up to watch Martyn and his team at work, preparing the dishes using the show kitchen equipment just by our table. However, they were very focused (as you’d expect) and too busy to be able to talk us through what they were doing. I was frustrated by my resulting lack of understanding about how the specialist Miele steam oven technology was used and what difference it made to the cooking of the various elements of the dishes.

The ovens (and other items in the showroom, such as the zoneless induction hobs and integrated induction woks) looked amazing, but it was hard to tell for sure without actually cooking on them. As our oven at home is on its very last legs, we’ll be in the market for a new one soon, and I’d hoped to get a better feel for the advantages of a steam oven over other models, but I’m still in the dark on that front.

However, I’m grateful to Miele for giving me the chance to experience Martyn’s cooking at this intimate private event.

Kavey Eats attended the Miele secret supperclub as a guest of Miele. Additional images (any without copyright text) provided courtesy of Miele.

 

There’s something very indulgent about taking a mini city break in your own city of residence.

Holidays at home (or staycations, in the American vernacular) usually involve heading out of town; a shorter journey than heading abroad, perhaps, but further afield than the place you live. On the rare occasions we allocate leisure time to our local area, we tend to day trip, returning home to our own beds overnight. But booking a night in a hotel in your own city transforms a couple of day trips into what feels more like a proper holiday. It’s so much fun! Added bonuses: the travel is easy, and you don’t need to take much luggage.

Pete and I recently spent a night in the Citizen M Bankside hotel, within easy reach of Borough Market and Maltby Street Market, as well as other local attractions.

Read on for my personal guide to the area, plus a review of the hotel.

Borough Market

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Borough Market needs little introduction from me; a food market much loved by locals and tourists alike.

I love to come and shop here; browsing through the huge array of fresh produce – meat, fish, fruit, vegetables – and a vast selection of other food items; bread, cakes, biscuits and doughnuts, charcuterie, cheese (oh my, such wonderful cheese), honey, truffles, coffee and tea, fresh filled pasta, beers and wines…

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Some of my favourite stops include:

  • Neal’s Yard Dairy is an Aladdin’s cave of cheese – all kinds and all in perfect condition – served by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff who are happy to guide you and give a few tasters as you make your choices; I always buy some delicious Coolea plus an oozer and a goats cheese as well and often a piece of Stichelton.

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Neal’s Yard Dairy

  • Jumi is the outlet of a small and young cheese producer from Switzerland, I recommend their marvellously pungent Murgu (blue) and the creamy soft La Bouse – don’t be put off by the cowdung translation!
  • Cheese lovers will also love The French Comte stall, selling not only the cheese but other items from La Franche-Comté. And there are many more cheese vendors besides these.
  • Utobeer has a fantastic selection of bottled beers, making it a great place to buy gifts for beer lovers.
  • Turnips is one of the larger stalls at Borough, almost a mini-section of the market on its own and has a fabulous range of produce. I often find the fruit and vegetables a little pricy but I do make a beeline for their mushroom stall; there’s a fabulous selection, in very good condition and fairly priced. I can recommend the king oyster mushrooms in particular, but have bought many different mushrooms over the years.
  • Visit The Tomato Stall for full-of-flavour tomatoes and juices from Arreton Valley, on the Isle of Wight.
  • Bread Ahead Bakery has created quite a stir, most notably for their doughnuts, the creation of baker Justin Gellatly. I’ve been unlucky the previous two visits to their stall, once I was too late and the doughnuts had run out and the next visit was over Easter, and they had replaced them with hot cross buns. When I finally got to try them on this visit, I loved them so much I went back for more the very next morning! Of course, do try their other baked products as well.
  • I first discovered Caroline’s Free From Bakehouse after I met her through blogging and social media. She’s won many awards for her gluten-free range and also offers some dairy free and sugar free items in her range.
  • Tartufaia Truffles sell fresh truffles as well as truffle-infused products, including a very tasty truffle honey.
  • If you love charcuterie, you’ll be spoiled by Borough Market, as there are many stalls and shops to choose from, offering British and European charcuterie of different types. I don’t have a single favourite, but have enjoyed items from several stalls over the years.
  • Although you can sometimes now find Chegworth Valley fruit juices in supermarkets and farm shops, you’ll find an impressively wide range here, plus fruit from their farm too.
  • For fish lovers, there are several fresh fish mongers (Furness and Shellseekers are two from whom I’ve bought good quality seafood), I’d suggest checking all of them to see what appeals on the day. You’ll also often find high quality smoked fish and eel on sale; House of Sverre and Muirenn Smokehouse are two such vendors.
  • Meat is readily available too. I’ve loved the game birds and venison I’ve bought from Furness, and the bacon, sausages and various cuts of met from the Ginger Pig. There are also several butchers selling meat directly from the farm, including Rhug Farm, Sillfield Farm, Northfield Farm, Hillhead Farm Wild Beef, Wyndham House Poultry and many others. For those looking for camel, ostrich, zebra, crocodile and various antelope, try The Exotic Meat Company.
  • There are a number of stalls selling products from France, so do explore. I tend to head to Le Marché du Quartier as my first port of call.
  • Indeed, it’s not just France that’s represented at Borough Market; there are stalls selling produce from Argentina, Croatia, Grenada, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey… a lovely way to travel the world without leaving London!
  • I’ve only recently discovered Spice Mountain, but want to explore further, as based on my brief initial visit, they offer a really wide range of spices, including a selection of spice blends.

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There are also an ever-increasing number of street food vendors, selling hot and cold food to eat there and then. I’m not a huge fan of eating on the hoof, so I’ve not paid much attention to these, but there are plenty to choose from.

For more information on traders and opening times, visit the Borough Market website.

 

Cheers!

I’ve already mentioned Utobeer within the market (and there are a number of wine vendors too).

Take a very short detour out of the market proper to Laithwaite’s Wine, at the north end of Stoney Street. It’s a great shop in its own right, with a wide range of wine and helpful staff. But in the Favelle household, it’s better known as the easiest way to reach The Whisky Exchange (the other way in being through Vinopolis); a small shop space housing a truly impressive selection of whiskies from around the world.

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The Whisky Exchange

Back to beer lovers, there are several breweries to visit in the area around Borough, Maltby Street and Bermondsey Street. Look up Anspach & Hobday, Brew by Numbers, Bullfinch, Four Pure, Hiver, Kernel, Southwark Brewing Company, Partizan

Local pubs include The Rake, a favourite with lovers of real ale but frustratingly tiny inside, so best visited during warmer months or very quiet times of the day.

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Umbrella art installation just outside; Brew Wharf

Another great place to stop for a pint or two is Brew Wharf, within the larger Vinopolis complex, which offers a range of beers from London, the rest of the UK and international breweries. They also brew on site in their own microbrewery.

Wine Wharf, just in front, is the wine lovers option; another lovely space in which to enjoy a drink is Bedales Wine Bar and Shop, within the market area.

 

A Warming Pit Stop

I love to stop regularly for coffee or hot chocolate, especially during the colder months, but let’s be honest, I find excuses in the summer too.

The Rabot 1745 cafe sells a tasty selection of hot chocolates; their salted caramel is my current favourite.

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Monmouth Coffee is the best known caffeine option, but I’ve only once been able to find an inside space to sit in all the many visits I’ve made to Borough Market over the years; I’m not one for drinking on the go, nor do the benches outside appeal. The coffee is, of course, super.

Round the corner, Gelateria 3Bis offers coffee, ice cream and hot chocolate and has the advantage that there’s usually a couple of spaces free at the tables and staff are friendly.

For those who don’t mind drinking and walking, there are also a number of takeway coffee vendors within the market.

 

Maltby Street Market

About twenty minutes walk from Borough Market is the much smaller but altogether funkier Maltby Street Ropewalk Market. You might think it’s not worth the walk, since Borough is so much bigger, but you’d be missing out. The small selection of stalls, tucked under the arches or along the narrow alley are charming, and most are not duplicated over at Borough. I don’t think the vendors list on the website is up to date, but there is always a good range of high quality produce, some to buy and take home and some to enjoy on site.

My picks include African Volcano for the best peri peri sauce and delicious hot food made with the same (the sauce itself is a must-buy ingredient but save space to order Grant’s pulled pork in a bun, peri peri prawns or peri peri burger are), Monty’s Deli for pastrami and salt beef sandwiches, Hansen & Lydersen for smoked salmon, St John’s Bakery for doughnuts. There are usually also a range of beer, wine and cocktails on sale from various of the stalls and arches such as Bar Tozino, which also sells fantastic jamón and other tasty Spanish snacks. Next time I visit, I’m keen to try Gosnell’s London Mead.

Open on weekends only, and do check dates as can vary during winter.

If you enjoy rooting through architectural salvage, a rummage in LASSCO is in order, at 41 Maltby Street.

 

Bermondsey Street

Bermondsey Street is the trendy hub of a local community that clearly values good food, a relaxed vibe and quirkiness. Where once it might be have been described as up and coming, it’s now firmly “upped and comed”; gentrified but still rather hip. Deserving of a post in its own right, I’ll simply point you towards Pizzaro (and older sibling Jose) and Zucca and suggest you explore this neighbourhood on your own. Do share your favourite finds with me, though!

 

Tourist Attractions

Southwark Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral, dating mainly from 1220 and 1420, although the nave is a late 19th-century reconstruction. All are welcome to attend services. Visitors may also enter to admire the cathedral, unless it is closed for an event. Do be mindful not to disturb those at worship.

HMS Belfast is a floating naval museum within a warship permanently moored alongside Tower Bridge. Adult entry is £15.50.

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I can’t believe I’ve not yet been inside The Shard, though I’d love to enjoy the views from the higher floors and I’m keen to try Hutong and Lang for high end Chinese and afternoon tea, respectively. You can buy tickets to access the Viewing Gallery online, though be warned, it’s £24.95 for an adult ticket.
 

Eating Out

If I offered a list of every good restaurant within the area, this would soon turn into a book!

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Breakfast at Rabot 1745

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Elliot’s Cafe

Favourites in 2014 include two meals at Rabot 1745 (which offers a great breakfast menu, as well as their regular lunch and dinner offerings), some delicious dishes at Elliot’s Cafe (I did feel a few dishes were much pricier than justified; then again they’re always full!), a simple, tasty and reasonably priced menu at Hixter Bankside (but we had some frustrating issues with service which were eventually resolved by managers but not reflected in the bill), and I’ve always enjoyed Brindisa for a snack or light meal.

 

Hotel Citizen M Bankside

My first encounter with a Citizen M hotel was up in Glasgow; it was the perfect option for an overnight stop en route to Islay and had vastly more positive online reviews than other budget chains I considered. The Bankside property offers much the same and is less than a 10 minute walk from Borough Market.

The immediate vicinity is the focus of a lot of recent development, with several new restaurant and cafe openings along the short stretch between the Blue Fin Building and Citizen M.

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Exterior and internal garden area, images courtesy of CitizenM

Check in is meant to be self-service, with a bank of check in computers provided just by the entrance. It’s very straightforward, so we find it a little disconcerting that there are always at least two members of staff to assist, and they tend to step forward immediately, rather than allow guests to self-service first. It’s friendly, but somewhat negates the point of self-service over a traditional check in desk.

Lifts to residential floors can only be operated by those with a room key card, which is good as the open-plan ground-floor lobby is enormously busy throughout the day and evening.

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Rooms are small but have been very cleverly designed to maximise space, and a lot of thought has been given to convenience and comfort; these are too often overlooked in favour of funky design. Beds are huge and very comfortable (though rather high off the ground, and it’s a bit of a clamber for whoever gets the window side). Storage is minimal but sufficient for a one or two night stay. Keeping the sink outside of the bathroom cubicle makes both seem more generous; the shower is much larger than the cruise-ship-style pods often used by budget chains. Much appreciated touches include a large TV with a good selection of films available on demand (and without extra charge), power sockets that cater for various international plugs, a USB charging point and a funky lighting system that allows you to set mood with coloured lighting; I particularly appreciated the ability to keep an unobtrusive red light on in the bathroom pod overnight. Despite the small size, I find the Citizen M rooms more comfortable and appealing than many poorly designed larger rooms I’ve stayed in over the years.

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Another thing I enjoy about Citizen M hotels is the very bright, colourful and quirky design. The public spaces are a sensory overload of funky lighting and Vitra furniture, and all kinds of artwork and random objects to add interest. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I love it, and very much enjoyed wandering around peering at all the things.

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Ground floor spaces

The lobby is cleverly divided into areas for lounging around reading or chatting, for working (power sockets provided), for eating breakfast, for relaxing. The only slight issue is that, as it’s open to non-residents too, it can be hard to find space during busier times.

You may decide not to eat at the hotel, surrounded as you are by so many fantastic food options, but the hotel does provide breakfast and dinner. The former is in the form of a breakfast buffet; you can either include it when you book or pay on the day, as you prefer. The quality is better than I’ve experienced at far more expensive hotels, the pain au chocolat was superb, and the sausages and bacon good quality. For dinner there are just a handful of choices, but again, what I tried was tasty and decent value too. You are also permitted to bring food in from outside, so go ahead and buy yourself a picnic from Borough Market or order a takeaway from a local restaurant.

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Top row, breakfast; bottom row, dinner

In another nice change from other budget chains I’ve stayed in (and indeed, higher end places in the UK too), service is friendly and helpful to everyone, something we noticed at the Glasgow property as well.

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View into the internal atrium area from the corridor to our room

I’ve also now signed up for the free-to-join Citizen M club which gives me 15% off the best available rate when booking future rooms at any of the Citizen M hotels.

 

Kavey Eats were guests of Citizen M Bankside hotel.

 

One of the pleasures of a holiday in France is simple, classic meals in inexpensive local restaurants serving the same dishes they have been serving for generations. They are all about delicious food; familiar rather than innovative. Service is warm and friendly and you wish you could visit more often. You feel envious of the locals who are able to enjoy such a place as their neighbourhood joint.

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Images courtesy of Le Garrick gallery

Having often been disappointed by French restaurants in London I no longer expect to come across a place like this here in the UK. Even less so in the Tourist Heartland between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. So it was with a little trepidation that I accepted an invitation to visit Le Garrick, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The offering is simple – classic regional French food in a cosy, casual setting. Reading the menu is a stroll down memory lane for any of a hundred happy trips to France over the years.

There are a few tables upstairs but most are down a (rather terrifying) spiral staircase; the underground space is atmospheric but too dark for me, especially at our table which lacks an overhead light anywhere close by. Eating by candlelight may be romantic but when it’s difficult to read the menu, it’s time to dial it up just a notch or two.

My little point and shoot camera struggled as much as we did. The only one that could “see” at all was my SLR using my 50mm lens wide open at f1.8 – sorry, that’s for fellow camera geeks! Luckily, the wonders of technology allows me to pull the details out and make the colour less candlelight orange, so you can actually see what we ordered much better than we could!

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A basket of bread. Freshly cut so the surfaces are still soft – should go without saying but is so often not the case!

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La Soupe à L’Oignon (£4.95) is excellent. Full of all the really deep beefy flavours and dark, dark onion that you could ask for. Top marks.

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The presentation of the Foie Gras Du Sud Ouest (£8.95) could be a little slicker – I’m not looking for extra frills on the dish but there’s something a little forlorn about an enormous plate with a slice of terrine at one end and two pieces of toast at the other. Of course, that’s irrelevant next to taste and texture, which are very good indeed and I love the homemade fig jam as well.

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We both order steaks – the Onglet Sauce Au Poivre (£12.50) for Pete and the Faux Filet Sauce au Béarnaise (£17.95) for me. All the steaks can be ordered with either pepper sauce or Béarnaise, by the way.

The service is let down a little by the steaks being delivered and identified by the sauces on the plate and not the cut of steak, so I accept the one with Béarnaise and Pete the one with pepper. Since they’ve put the wrong sauce on both plates, it takes us a few moments to notice the error and swap back, which is fine when dining with your partner or close friends, but less so if you don’t know your companions quite well enough to swap once you’ve already started eating.

That minor quibble aside, the steaks are tasty and the sauces particularly so. (Be warned, the Béarnaise is made with plenty of tarragon so choose pepper if you can’t handle a heavy punch of aniseed). We assume the anaemic-looking fries must surely be undercooked but actually, they are perfect to eat.

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We stick to personal favourites for dessert with a Crème brulée (£5.50) and the Petit pot au chocolat (£6.95).

Pete’s enthusiastic about the generous layer of properly bruléed sugar on top but feels the texture of the custard is closer to what you’d usually find in a crème caramel, a little too firm for his preference. Tasty though.

My pudd has that splendid almost chewy texture of a really dense pot au chocolat. It’s a touch too sweet for me, but my chocolate tastes have changed so much over the years. I’d prefer a little more bitterness from a good dark chocolate. It’s very nice though, and we finish the lot!

Throughout, service is friendly and warm to all tables, with the staff engaging in friendly banter with everyone, newcomers and regulars alike. I like that!

The bill is more reasonable than I expected for both the location and the quality of food. With our dinner we have a 500 ml carafe of red (wines are reasonably priced for London) and Pete has a Bruichladdich whisky instead of coffee. Our bill comes to just over £80 plus service. Of course that’s more than you’d pay for the equivalent in a rural neighbourhood restaurant in France, but property rents, rates, wages and food costs are much higher here too.

We are happy to have discovered a restaurant that does credit to our familiar French favourites and will definitely be back soon.

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Le Garrick restaurant.

Le Garrick on Urbanspoon

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