Wednesday, September 10

Blues Kitchen: Another day, another BBQ

As part of my BBQ hunt around London for The Independent I dropped into Shoreditch's Blues Kitchen — aka the heart of London's Texan blues and BBQ scene. I haven't been in since the launch party at which the only thing I remember from the launch party was having to order a plate of chips because I was so hungry and all the canapes were very meaty. Warning: this place is very meaty. Not as much so as Barbecoa — there definitely are some great veggie options on the menu here — but meat is definitely the focus.




We cycled down early one Saturday evening and there was already a queue outside. The thing with Blues Kitchen is that it's definitely more of a 'place to hangout' than just a restaurant per se. It has good drinks, good casual vibes and great live Blues. That said we were all about the food. We were seated in our booth in the dining half of the room, with our neighbours comprised of smoochy couples and big, rowdy groups of youths — an interesting mix. With beers ordered, we looked over the menu; the giant menu which was divided in to Mains, Burgers & Sandwiches, Barbecue, Salads and On The Side. I tossed up between the seafood jambalaya and the lobster before deciding given the success of Big Easy, I couldn't resist the latter, which came with fries (yum) and salad (needed). Ed got the bacon cheeseburger, which along with a mighty stack of fillings came with fries and slaw on the side. In keeping with our BBQ eating out habits, we felt obliged to get BBQ beans on the side. 

We had to clear aside condiments, cutlery, empty drinks etc to make room for the massive portions. And I mean massive portions — nowhere near as big as as Big Easy, but certainly bigger than Barbecoa and Pitt Cue. My lobster was lush: fresh, meaty and as a novelty as ever. The skinny, salty fries were perfect and polished off in no time, along with the sprig of balsamic-dressed greenery. Ed's burger was tall. In between two soft buns was 7oz of juicy ground brisket, crispy bacon, melted cheese, lettuce, sliced tomato, red onion, zingy pickle and mustard. The slaw — I love slaw — I stole most of, and the BBQ beans had meat in so he ate those instead.



Though full we came to the joint conclusion it would be silly to come to an American-themed place without trying an American-themed dessert so we indulged in a very large, very chocolatey, very OTT toffee sauce ice cream sundae. The quarter of it that we managed to squeeze in between us was absolutely disgustingly decadently delicious. And probably about three times our calorie limit for the week. But who cares? I'd go back just for that. But next time will be sure to time it better (later) so we get to hear the sweet Blues everyone told us about. 

Blues Kitchen, 136-146 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3AR; 020 7729 7216.

Saturday, August 30

DF/Mexico: My new favourite diner

Guacamole, refried beans, sour cream: the winning algorithm for satisfaction and happiness, right? Oh, how I do love Mexican food. The choice. The taste. The mess. The guac. Did I mention, THE GUAC? In aid of serious, sombre research for a foodie piece I was doing for Grazia, I had to make a visit DF/Mexico — oh, the chore. A hungover Ed, his equally hungover brother and I cycled down early one Sunday evening from Clapton, narrowly missing the rain as we tied our bikes up outside Old Truman Brewery, the location of new Mexican diner, DF/Mexico which opened at the start of August. You've all heard of Wahaca, right? Well DF/Mexico is the sideline project from Wahaca founders, Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers and her business partner Mark Selby — i.e. you can assume great things about it already. It's a big open-plan space with standard East London vibes — aka exposed AC units, recycled wood, concrete and no ceiling covers, dressed up with zingy neon graphic splashes. 

Thirsty from all of the cycling, we hit the frozen margaritas straight away. After learning there is a Nando’s-style ‘get up and order’ system, we decided the best way to approach this would be to study the menu and order all at once instead of being up and down, up and down all evening. 


Before I get on to the food, I need to mention the the margs. More specifically: the raspberry and hibiscus frozen Jose Cuervo margaritas, which, though small and innocently pretty on appearance (white to pink ombré!) are strong, sweet, brain-freeze inducing and dangerously, dangerously downable. I merrily made my way through two before realising I should probably slow down (seriously drinkable) whilst the boys, feeling fragile, sipped and savoured theirs.



Then to the food. The menu has all of your usual Mexican contenders with burritos, tacos, tortas etc. but the USP here (and the thing every table around us was eating) is the DIY Mexican boards — wooden trays with tortillas, slaw, chipotle salsa, corn chips and guac, ready for you to make your own tacos. We started with some veggie loaded nachos, which were piled admirably high with guac, cheese and salsa, and were demolished within minutes. I, having developed a soft spot for them, opted for the fish tacos and the boys got 'carne con chile' DIY boards.

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Whilst the boys got waylaid in their taco making process (a very cool idea, allowing you to have as much slaw/ salsa/ meat as you fancy) I made my way through my readily prepared but equally fresh and wholesome tacos — two giant things full of zingy slaw, spicy chipotle mayo and two large pieces of crispy panko crumbed cod. So very delicious. Whilst I pretty much licked every panko crumb from my plate (or, specially made taco-holder to be precise) the boys suffered defeat from their boards, unable to squeeze in the tortilla and scoop of slaw, which proves just how big these boards are! 



After cycling home we got home still stuffed and very satisfied. Two weeks on and I'm still daydreaming about the winning flavour combo of the tacos and of course those sweet, sweet margs. Think it's about time I made another visit. 

DF/Mexico, Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL.

Friday, August 29

T.E.D: Not as pretentious as 'green gourmet' sounds

[Originally written for Grazia]

The concept:

T.E.D, or Think.Eat.Drink is Jamie Grainger Smith’s first restaurant. Functioning as a consultancy firm which encourages restaurants to act more responsibly and ‘green up’ (if you will), now with its own establishment T.E.D vows to serve only ethically-sourced food in an environmentally-friendly setting, all the while aiming to give diners “a stylish and relaxing restaurant experience” where Modern British food is served. Here here.

The décor:

Arriving, I was surprised to see no hanging plants, no compost heap blocking the entrance, no harem pants even. It looked perfectly normal, cool in fact, with its sleek and modern Scandinavian-designed furniture, leather booths, mirrors on the shabby chic wall panelsand pretty flowers in vases. It’s a nice fresh and airy space with lots of natural light and the doors left open to give a bit of an ‘al fresco’ air.

The service:

No complaints. We arrived and were at our table with bread within minutes. Two minutes later our olives arrived and the wine. We were helpfully guided through the menu’s highlights and made our decisions accordingly. The waiters know their stuff too – one overheard me making yummy noises over the bread and didn’t hesitate to let me know their supplier. Catering to our demands, my partner was in the market for a non-alcoholic summery cocktail and they had no trouble whipping up an off-menu Virgin Mojito (which was better than the actual mojito I’ll add). 


The food:
I’d made the general assumption before arriving that ‘green gourmet’ was synonymous with fresh and healthy, so could put money on the fact that the dishes here wouldn’t be laden with oil or doused in greasy sauces. Fortunately I was right; T.E.D’s dishes are all about clean eating, though not in an OTT way. More in the sense that you can happily eat your starter and main (and maybe share dessert) without feeling like you should hit the gym on the way home. Likewise, you can guarantee all the food is guilt-free in the sense of where it's come from. T.E.D conciously sources its ingredients from responsible local suppliers, including the likes of Neal's Yard Dairy, Natoora, Fresh Direct, Cobble Lane Cured and Fish For Thought.
My Burrata starter was delicious. The creamy ball of mozzarella exploded once my fork hit it and the milky centre flooded the plate, mixing well with the fresh tomato and balsamic salad. The Cornish crab on toast is also a winning starter with its very generous serving of fresh, meaty crab, toped with shaved radishes. 


Our main dishes were equally wholesome. A pan-fried fillet of sea bass was served on a chunky carrot and orange puree, which was zingy and unexplainably Christmassy, not to mention far more exciting than your standard white wine sauce.  The English Lamb was perfectly tender and delicious. Instead of being outweighed by carby sides, it was served on a bed of white beans in a light but flavoursome vegetable sauce. As for the sides, I do struggle to see chips on a menu and not order them so the fried Maris Pipers were our little bit of (extra delicious) naughtiness, with the perfect ratio of crispy to fluffy.
Too full to justify a dessert each, we merged our dessert and after-dinner coffees into one and shared the affogato with pistachios. Delicious it was too, and the perfect finale to a meal of sophisticated flavours. Next time though, we’ll make sure to leave room for the trifle because it looked mouth-wateringly brilliant.

T.E.D, 47-51 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London, N1 9BU; 020 3763 2080.

Bumpkin: Summer food, summer vibes

In the 13 months that I’ve lived in London I swear I could count my trips to Chelsea on one hand. Then this month came along and I ventured West twice in one fortnight, seeking, err you guessed it, food. Bumpkin was the first trip; I made the pilgrimage on bike all the way to Sydney Street to check out the kitschy summer garden and new summer menu. Fortunately, I’d picked an appropriately summery evening, so my friend Chloe and I were able to sit outside. Trooping through the dark dining room of the three-story Georgian townhouse we made our way out the back to a much brighter and far cuter al fresco space, which was complete with outdoor metal furniture, astro turf, , plant troughs, foliage-covered fences and fairy lights.


Having gotten started with a bottle of Rioja and a cheesy ‘firebread’ (posh name for a slab of delicious thin stone-baked pizza) to share, we soon realised a good 45 minutes had passed and we hadn’t even browsed over the menus yet. With fear of pissing off the waiters (it must be annoying when diners do that, right?), we hastily ordered our starters. Though when they came I sort of wished I’d given the menu a little more attention. Chloe’s pan-fried Scottish king scallops were to die for. Big and juicy, they came with a chilled pea soup and crispy bacon bits, and had my green eyes all over them. My Virgin Mary crayfish cocktail wasn’t not good, it was just not a good choice for me. I hate Bloody Marys with a passion so a Virgin Mary dressing was never going to be a hit with my taste buds. I would argue there was too much dressing (though I probably wouldn’t say that if I loved it) but the crayfish and crispy sourdough served on the on the side were very fresh and tasty.

Now I could have got Chlo’s scallops as my main (they offer two portion sizes) but I thought it would be better to explore the menu a little more. Rather like a posh pub, the menu at Bumpkin’s is resolutely ‘classic British’ with various meat pies, beer battered fish and chips, roast chicken breast and so on. Keen for fish, I continued with the evening’s summer theme and opted for the poached Scottish salmon with summer beans and peas, whilst Chlo made the most of the Specials and got the ham hock pie. I, as usual, felt obliged to order chips on the side (I could pretty much write a guidebook to London’s best chips now) and boy, am I glad I did. It would be sad to say the chips which didn’t arrive until halfway through our mains were the highlight of the evening’s food, so I won’t. But I will say they were pretty high up there – and that’s not because the food wasn’t good.


My square fillet of salmon was well-cooked but still tasted very fresh; the huge vegetable medley it was served on was at least three of my 5-a-day and as ‘summery’ as it promised, with green beans, broad beans, petits pois, chopped tomatoes and a flavoursome pea puree. Chloe’s chicken and mushroom pie was not only a big pie but more importantly, a good pie – the sort with a nice shortcrust lid, and the one you’d wish to be served in a country pub on the middle of your day-long hike instead of the soggy, tasteless version you usually end up with (where I'm from at least). But back to the chips: huge slabs of Maris Piper potatoes cut into quarters before being triple cooked and generously sprinkled with salt and chopped parsley. Massive, each one needed cutting in half before attempting to stuff in your mouth – a feat I didn’t struggle in doing with the whole pot.


After a digestive pause we successfully left just enough room for a bite of something sweet and shared the poached rhubarb, hazelnut crumble and vanilla custard concoction. So delicious that we had to fight over the last bite, don’t take my word for it, go and try it for yourself – while the summer menu is still available. 

Bumpkin, 19 Sydney Street, Chelsea, SW3 6NR; 020 7594 4944.


Wednesday, August 27

Big birthday adventures to the Lake District

22 was a big year for me. Among other things, I got a job, I lost a job, I quit a job and I got another job. I moved house – twice. I holidayed- twice. I followed my passion. I fell in love. I found new friends and most recently, I found that cycling in London isn’t as scary as it seems.

When I turned 20 I got upset that my teenage years were over; I was loving life and living in New York when I hit 21; turning 22 was a pretty quiet affair after just moving to London; but 23 was brilliant. I spent it thoroughly relaxed in the Lake District with Ed, which we travelled to for a long weekend of fresh air, fine food and absolutely zero stresses.

Besides being dragged up mountains as a child and to Wales and back camping (okay, it was a lot nicer than I make it sound) I haven’t done much exploring in England but this weekend served as a reminder that I definitely need to do more. Plus, you need to visit the Lakes if you haven’t been. The weekend was pretty much perfect spent in two beautiful, plush hotels with unexpectedly good weather, excellent food, giddy exploring, early nights, long lie-ins and only the tiniest bit of bickering (a four-hour standstill traffic jam does that to you). Instead of spelling out all of the details which would result in a lot of frothy writing and you getting bored, I’ll share the highlights of the trip through visuals with you instead.

Birthday smiles and far too excitable for this to be a good idea. Loving taking the wheel in our rented Peugeot 2008

Stretching the legs at Lyzzick Hall after a long drive up to the Lakes. Imagine if this was your garden?

Very happy to have arrived (or maybe just to be relieved from my driving...)

The very beautiful Lyzzick Hall: aka, home for Saturday night

Pulling up to Lyzzick Hall after a long drive from my parents' house; Ed admiring the view and imagining life as an aristocrat

Still find this a novelty. Birthday wishes on my dessert plate at Lyzzick Hall

Climbing Catbells: it ain't that grim up Norff

Obligatory selfie from Catbells peak

Driving and hiking: two hobbies that don't get enough anywhere near enough practice in London

 My best attempt at a professional Peugeot photoshoot. Not really, but looks like one, huh?

 Pre-breakfast spa session at Lyzzick Hall. I would never tire of waking up to that view. Add to wishlist: pool up mountainside.

Wet and soggy after a couple of hours in the outdoor hot tub (dreamy) at Low Wood Bay

More hill hiking...

...and a much deserved dinner at Waterhead Hotel, Windermere, starting with an even-better-than-it-looks halloumi and pomegranate salad

Market fish of the day (salmon) with fondant potatoes and shards of roasted vegetables with a very cheesy cheese sauce

Exploring and stumbling upon Stock Ghyll Force waterfall 

 Pretty much the view from our window at Waterhead Hotel, Windermere



Our last day and last dining spot and home to easily the comfiest, best dressed lounge I've ever been in: the Gilpin Hotel and Lake House, Bowness-on-Windermere; fresh crab in a carrot 'case' with tempura oyster

 My delicious shelled pea, ricotta and truffle risotto (note, the diameter of that bowl was pretty much the length of my arm), followed by a very indulgent, very delicious sherry trifle with gold leaf. 


 As you'll probably gather I spent pretty much all of it feeling seriously high on life and subsequently am still grinning today. A big old thanks to Peugeot for our very lovely, very shiny, very spacious and very smooth-to-drive Diesel 2008. I did give it back today – very reluctantly.

Tuesday, August 26

Breddos Tacos: So good, one visit wasn't enough

I’ve told you previously how easily I get obsessed with things, so let me introduce you to my latest obsession: Breddos Tacos. Discovered during research for a piece I wrote for Grazia, I’m such a fan that I went twice in one week – and daresay that I’ve already planned my third trip. What was once a roaming street food stall has now taken up a more permanent residence in Haggerston’s TripSpace – aka a random East London canal arch that you’ll have to walk around the block twice to find. Raw and understated, you can expect simple tables and chairs, minimal décor and exposed AC units, but also epic frozen margaritas and seriously good grub.



My first visit was for brunch with my sister. It was a sunny Sunday so we sat outside and it was late enough (midday) to justify ordering fruity frozen margaritas. That said it’s never too early in my books, the boozier the brunch the better. The exciting food menu offers so much more than your usual avocado on toast (though they do that too if you want something simple). Having got up early to go for a run we were starving when we got there so we got the triple cooked potatoes to nibble on so that we didn’t keel over. Fluffy on the inside, extra crunchy on the outside and with a burn-your-tongue spicy sauce on the side, they definitely got the digestive juices flowing.  
  

I ordered a personal favourite of mine, the Huevos Rancheros which came and was much lighter and more ‘deconstructed’ than some of the versions I’ve had which are just smothered to an oblivion in melted cheese. This was more minimalist; a flour tortilla was swiped with rancheros sauce then given a hearty sprinkling of ricotta cheese, dollops of guac and tomato salsa, and a poached egg on top. Chorizo should have gone on there too but I obviously asked for it without. It was light and tasty, and though the versions smothered in oodles of cheese are good (for hangovers particularly), this was definitely a more refined option which won’t put you in a cheese-coma. Em’s Southern breakfast looked and reportedly tasted equally delicious. A little heavier (and probably a magic hangover cure), a slab of toasted sourdough was piled up with pulled pork, Breddos’ special butter beans, a fried egg and onions. After another marg, we called it a day and headed off – well energised – on a sunny walk along the canal to Victoria Park.



My next trip was dinner and was just as much of a success. We got there at 7ish on a Saturday and though pretty empty when we arrived, by the time we were chowing down on tacos, the bar area was pumping. My friend and I were well overdue a catch up so we gassed over mango and chilli margaritas, which were sweet and spicy and as awesome as they sound.

I’ll be a little shorter and sweeter with the dinner write up though don’t assume paragraph length is by anyway reflective of enjoyment levels as dinner was even better than brunch. The fish tacos deserve a medal for their size, crunch and flavour; the buttermilk chicken is – my friend tells me – great enough to bend friends’ ears about for the next week; and the guacamole is hands down the best I’ve tried in London – coarse, with a spicy kick and plenty of it. Served with blue corn chips, Breddos executes the perfect ratio of chips to guac: i.e. more guac than chips for extra loaded dips. 


From the menu which is split into Shack Favourites, From the Plancha, Sides, Vegetables and Desserts, the aioli-drenched Triple cooked patatas bravas also deserve a menu, as does the Pork belly with crackling and for desserts, the dangerously indulgent Key lime pie, which you won’t be able to eat all of but somehow just will.

My tummy has been rumbling as I’ve been writing this and subsequently I’ll be dreaming about fish tacos for the rest of the day. Fortunately I only have to wait until tomorrow because it’s where I’m heading for my birthday party. Yes, I’m still having birthday parties at 23, though it’s just another excuse to go back really.

Breddos Tacos, Arch 339-40, Acton Mews, E8, 4EA.