January is finally over and we’re moving into the month of love – so what are we loving in February?
Well, February will start with a bang – a really loud bang, as Her Majesty The Queen’s accession to the throne 68 years ago is celebrated with gun salutes in Green Park and at the Tower of London (6th).
There’s also half-term to contend with and weary parents looking for ways to entertain their offspring may want to consider the many family-friendly activities put on in London’s museums and art galleries. Alternatively, head to the Southbank Centre for the Imagine Children’s Festival (12th-23rd), for children aged up to 12 with face painting, family singalongs, a pirate themed party and a puppet version of The Hungry Caterpillar, plus you can meet a dinosaur, go on an adventure with Pippi Longstocking and sit in a giant garden to watch slug and caterpillar fight over the last leaf!
In the art world, Tate Modern opens a major exhibition of Turner prize winning artist Steve McQueen’s sculpture, film and photography and The Queens House in Greenwich puts the private art collection of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford on display in Woburn Treasures (both open on the 13th). It’s also worth a trip to the wonderful Dulwich Picture Gallery to blow your mind with its exhibition of British Surrealism, which celebrates 100 years of the birth of surrealism with over 70 works by artists such as Henry Moore, Conroy Maddox and Francis Bacon (opens 26th).
And if you’re gearing up for the Tokyo Olympics later this year, the Victoria and Albert Museum is discovering the design and beauty of the kimono their Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition (opens 29th) which features traditional robes, designer robes from the likes of John Galliano and Yves Saint Laurent and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi robe from the original 1977 film, Star Wars IV: A New Hope.
However, the biggie for February is the opening of Meet Vincent van Gogh, the amazing multisensory experience that takes you on a journey through his life, at the South Bank (opens 7th).
With Valentine’s Day looming, how about a bit of romance at the theatre? Pretty Woman: The Musical opens at the Piccadilly Theatre (13th) and the French farce La Cage aux Folles (The Play) translated by Simon Callow opens at the Park Theatre (12th).
Of course, if you fancy a little indulgence before Lent kicks in and we all abstain, well there’s a huge pizza party at Slice World (21st and 22nd) with every slice just £2 and BrewLDN offers you the chance to sample beers from 150 brewers at the Old Truman Brewery (27th-29th).
Which brings me onto Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday (25th), to give it its proper name which heralds the start of a 40-day period of fasting in the lead up to Easter in the Christian calendar. Traditionally, a day to use up foods that were given up for Lent, it has morphed into a day to stuff our faces with sweet or savoury (or both) pancakes. Before you do so though, you may want to take part in one of London’s pancake races to work up an appetite, or just cheer one on. Races can be found down on Bankside and at Greenwich and Leadenhall Markets.
Historical anniversaries this month include the opening of the first gentlemen’s public toilet in Fleet Street (2nd in 1852), the marriage between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (10th in 1840), Lady Jane Grey’s execution in the Tower of London (12th in 1554) and Catherine Howard’s execution, also at the Tower of London (13th in 1542), diarist Samuel Pepys was born (23rd in 1633) and Sir Christopher Wren died (23rd in 1723).
Finally, it’s your last chance to see the Mary Quant exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (closes 16th) and Cyrano de Bergerac at the Playhouse Theatre (closes 29th).
Oh, and this is a leap year, so we all get an extra day on Saturday 29th – what are you going to do with it?
#lifeofaguide #PancakeDay #HalfTerm #VincentvanGogh #Kimonos #BeerFestival #ValentinesDay #MaryQuant
Congratulations! You’ve passed the midweek slump of the first full week back at work since Christmas and…it’s cold, it’s wet and it’s depressing! So, cheer yourself up by doing some fun things in January.
Of course, you may be trying to hold onto that festive feeling, in which case you might want to take a last turn around one of London’s outdoor ice rinks before they close – both the rink at the Natural History Museum and the one at Somerset House are open until the 12th.
If you’ve recovered from your new year celebrations but feel you can tackle another, then head to Trafalgar Square and Chinatown on Sunday 26th to celebrate the start of the Year of the Rat. London has one of the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of China with a massive parade that wends its way from Chinatown to Trafalgar Square. There are dragon and lion dances, music, stage performances and tasty dim sum. You’re a Rat if you were born on or after Chinese New Year (the exact date varies according to the lunar calendar) in 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 or 2008. I’ll be there – even though I’m the Year of the Dragon!
Loved London’s Christmas lights? Then wrap up warm and make a bee line for Canary Wharf between the 16th and 25th to see their Winter Lights – last year’s were fabulous, so I’m expecting great things again this year. There’ll be over 25 light installations to enjoy, plus street food stalls if you’re feeling peckish or need a hot toddy to warm you up.
Perhaps your new year’s resolution to put a bit of zing in your life? Well then, head to The Adventure Travel Show at Olympia Exhibition Centre (18th and 19th) and see where 2020 takes you. Or maybe it was to invest in some new art to brighten up your home? Well, you’re in luck as the London Art Fair takes place at the Business Design Centre in Islington (22nd-26th).
Fancy taking in a bit of culture? The English National Opera’s Carmen opens at the London Coliseum on the 29th, La Boheme opens at the Royal Opera House (10th) and the English National Ballet celebrates its 70th anniversary with gala performances at the London Coliseum (17th and 18th). And as one door closes at the Royal Academy, another opens with Lucien Freud’s Self-Portraits closing on the 26th and Picasso and Paper, which explores the artist’s work with and on paper, opening on the 25th.
Need a bit of peace and quiet? The 44th London International Mime Festival has just started across a variety of venues, including the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells. However, if you want to be amazed by twists, turns and acrobatics, Cirque du Soleil’s new show Luzia opens at the Royal Albert Hall (12th). Plus The Queen of Pop, Madonna, is in town with her Madame X tour at the London Palladium (opens 27th).
Forget the January Sales (who needs more stuff anyway?), soak up some history and grab a bargain with a visit to Hampton Court Palace, who are offering half-price tickets when you book online. Or head to Banqueting House on Whitehall on the 30th for the Feast of the Martyrdom of Saint Charles, which commemorates the one and only time we’ve executed a king of England for treason (Charles I back in 1649).
In terms of other historical anniversaries in January, Madame Tussaud opened her first waxwork exhibition in Gray’s Inn Road (4th in 1834), Henry VIII married wife number 2 Anne Boleyn (24th in 1533) and wife number 4 Anne of Cleves at Greenwich Palace (6th in 1540), Lord Nelson was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral after being killed at the Battle of Trafalgar (9th in 1806), the world’s first underground railway opened between Paddington and Farringdon (10th in 1863) and Income Tax was introduced (9th in 1799) – which reminds me, I must do my tax return!
Finally, it’s your last chance to see the Gauguin Portraits exhibition at the National Gallery (closes 26th), Northern Ballet’s Dracula at the Royal Opera House (closes 16th), and the wonderful Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (closes 26th), and don’t forget to pipe in your haggis and raise a glass to Scottish poet, Robert Burns, on the 25th!
#lifeofaguide #ChineseNewYear #CNYLondon #CanaryWharf #WinterLights #LondonArtFair #MimeLondon #BurnsNight
I had planned to sample a Nepalese restaurant for the letter N, but my plans had to change so I took the opportunity while Christmas shopping to treat myself to lunch at a London institution.
My Old Dutch (www.myolddutch.com) is well known as a pancake house and was established in London back in 1958! I remember seeing the branch on the King’s Road in Chelsea as a kid, (it’s still there) but had never been in. So, when I realised there was a branch on High Holborn, and I was at Oxford Circus at the time (there’s also a third branch in Kensington), it seemed perfect.
Being honest, I’d never thought of pancakes as being a typical ‘Dutch’ dish, but it seems they are, although, they’re usually larger and thinner than American style pancakes and thicker than a French crepe. However, I fancied two courses and didn’t feel like a savoury pancake followed by a sweet pancake – too much pancake even if they do come with a large variety of toppings. Choosing a savoury pancake topping is a bit like choosing a pizza topping – seafood, chilli con carne, chicken curry, lamb stew, four cheeses, Greek, Roma……., and the sweet pancakes (they also do waffles) range from the plain sugar and lemon variety to a compote of berries and, of course, Nutella.
But being as this is all about sampling different foods and I wanted to sample some traditional Dutch cuisine, I ordered Bitterballen with a side of fries followed by Poffertjes.
Bitterballen are basically a Dutch snack, often had as a starter and I understand they are particularly good accompanied by a beer or two. Meatballs deep-fried in a crunchy breadcrumb coating, mine were delicious with each bitterbal crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The meatball mixture consists of beef, beef broth, butter, flour and spices, so it’s like a sort of ragout inside the crispy coating. Served with mustard for dipping, they went down very well.
My poffertjes arrived, which are like baby pancakes and, just as with sweet pancakes, you can have a variety of toppings. Their name comes from the way they are made as the dough ‘puffs’ up when they are cooked. Poffertjes are often eaten on national holidays and at festivals.
I ordered the ‘Traditional’ version and these came served with a lump of butter (that seemed a bit odd to be honest) and lashings of stroop (maple syrup). Wonderfully fluffy, they soaked up the syrup and were yummy – just the thing for a cold day.
The restaurant itself is light and airy, with the walls covered in murals of enormous tulips – what else?! The staff were friendly and all around me people were enjoying the most tempting looking pancakes. I left the restaurant with a full belly, and a desire to go back time and time again and work my way through the entire menu of pancakes, waffles and poffertjes.
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #Netherlands #MyOldDutch #Bitterballen #Poffertjes
Oh my goodness! How on earth have I never tried Korean food before?? Steamed buns are just amazing!
But I digress…….this culinary experience happened on the spur of the moment, when I was killing time in the King’s Cross area, needed to eat and stumbled across Kimchee (https://kimchee.uk.com/) in Pancras Square as the rain bucketed down. Fate had stepped in and offered me the chance to tick K off my list.
Kimchee is a modern / contemporary restaurant and bar, which I imagine is very popular with office workers in the area – they have another branch in Holborn. As it was late afternoon when I arrived, the restaurant was pretty empty with only a few tables taken, and I was greeted warmly. Upon asking for a table for one, I was shown to the counter at the window, which I really liked. Now I often eat alone and have no problem in doing so, but I do know that some people can feel awkward in restaurants when dining alone and, let’s be honest, there are some restaurants that make you feel like a pariah. I’m not sure why, but some restaurants think it’s odd that people on their own are hungry and want to eat??? So this made a lovely change – a restaurant that actively welcomes lone diners, and having the counter at the window meant I had a view and could watch the world go by as I dined.
As is my custom, I ordered a drink, spurning the wines (not Korean), the Korean beers (I don’t generally drink beer) and the traditional drinks, and opted for a ‘Korean cocktail’ – who knew this was a thing?? My Lychee Love was a delicious mixture of vodka, sweet lychee, pomegranate and mixed berry vinegar Hongcho. From what I can gather, Hongcho is a fruit based red vinegar, which can be used in a variety of drinks. Often diluted with water or milk., trust me, Hongcho goes very well with vodka!
From friends, I knew that fluffy steamed buns are a treat, so I ordered chargrilled beef buns to start. And I was so pleased I did. Two fluffy buns arrived stuffed with beef and a spicy sauce and, quite honestly, I was in heaven! Well, the buns do taste like little fluffy clouds of deliciousness! The perfect starter, although you could just have these as a filling snack and I know that people often buy then from street food trucks for lunch. The beef was tender and the ‘buns’ just melted in my mouth.
Now for my main, I had ordered a chicken dolsot bibimbap – which as the menu said was a ‘hearty mix of sticky rice, vegetables, egg, red chilli paste and sesame oil’ topped with shredded chicken and served in a sizzling in a stone pot. Bibimbap literally means ‘mixed rice’ in Korean, with bibim meaning mixing various ingredients and bap being rice.
Luckily for me, there was a lady (I’m assuming she was Korean) sitting a couple of spaces along from me at the counter and while enjoying my steamed buns, she had been served a similar dish and I’d watched how she tackled it. Observing how she’d separated her chopsticks and then rubbed them together to ensure they were nice and smooth. Now I know that this is an insult in Japan, because it suggests the chopsticks are cheap and you are smoothing them out to get rid of any splinters, but maybe it’s different in Korea (chopstick etiquette is a minefield to the uninitiated). Then she took the spoon and her chopsticks and vigorously stirred the contents of her bowl, before using the chopsticks to scoop the bibimbap onto her spoon and eating it off that.
My bibimbap arrived and the waitress reminded me not to touch the boiling hot stone pot and to ensure I stirred its contents to mix it up. The egg dissolves into the hot sticky mixture and the whole dish was just superb – filling, tasty and 맛 있은 (which according to Google translate means ‘delicious’).
Bibimbap is a very symbolic dish, and must be good for you as the colours of its ingredients represent different parts of the body, with black or dark coloured ingredients representing North and the kidneys (e.g. shiitake mushrooms), red or orange representing south and the heart (e.g. chilli, carrots), green for East and the liver (e.g. spinach), white is West or the lungs (e.g. rice) and yellow being the centre, or stomach (hence the egg). They say food is good for the soul – well, Korean food literally is.
By the time I’d polished off my bibimbap, scraping the bottom of the stone pot to get to all the crispy bits at the bottom, I had no room for dessert – a good reason to return!
As I ventured back into the pouring rain, with a satisfied smile on my face, the restaurant was filling up, so booking is probably a good idea if you want to be certain of getting a table. I’ll definitely be going back to try more of those fluffy steamed buns – after all, there’s still the pork, chicken and soft-shelled crab buns to try, and as they say in Korea: 건배 (geonbae) or Cheers (empty glass)!
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #Korea #Kimchee #Bibimbap #fluffybuns
Hot on the heels of Lebanon, I was out with another tour guiding friend to sample Mexican food for the letter M, and headed to Santo Remedio in Tooley Street (www.santoremedio.co.uk). Santo Remedio is a popular Mexican expression, meaning Holy Remedy, and the restaurant apparently chose the name because food is so important in Mexico they consider it to be a remedy for almost every problem. I suppose the British equivalent would be ‘let’s put the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea’!
This popular restaurant and cocktail bar is based on traditional Mexican cantinas – painted in bright colours with wooden tables and chairs made comfortable with cushions. Booking online for a Monday evening, I was a little disappointed to see that we only had our table for 1½ hours. As someone who likes to linger over a meal and chat with friends, a time limit always makes my heart sink slightly, but we went ahead figuring a Monday should be quieter so it wouldn’t be a big issue.
It got off to a good start with tap water was freely offered as we were seated, with a bottle being deposited on the table and we both ordered a Margarita de la Casa while we decided what to eat. The restaurant serves traditional Mexican dishes, with a modern twist.
Our starters arrived; soft shell crab tacos for me and tuna tostadas for my friend. My crab tacos were delicious, and came with serrano mayo. Made from serrano chillies, the mayo was a little spicy but not too hot that they blew my head off (I’m not good with very spicy food), although I did need to gulp down some water with them!
Before we’d finished our starters, we were taken aback to have our main courses placed on the table?! The restaurant was filling up (surprisingly busy for a Monday evening, but there are lots of offices in the area), but found this odd as we didn’t think we were taking overly long and were well within our time limit. However, we gobbled up the rest of our starters, ordered more Margaritas, and tucked into our main courses.
My friend enjoyed her Chicken Enchiladas Suizas; two rolled tortillas stuffed with chicken and smothered in a creamy bechamel style sauce. The term suizas means Swiss-style, and derives from Swiss immigrants who established dairies in Mexico to produce cream and cheese. She’d also ordered a side dish of Cactus Slaw, which consisted of grilled cactus (thankfully minus the prickles), slaw and fennel – a different take on coleslaw, but really tasty.
I went for the Meatballs al Chipotle, a classic Mexican dish served with Mexican rice (arroz rojo – red rice cooked in a tomato sauce or paste) and a chipotle sauce. Chipotle being a smoke-dried chilli pepper, used to make barbecue style sauces and marinades for meat. The name coming from an old Nahuati word (Nahuati is an Aztec language spoken in Mexico since at least the 7th century) literally meaning ‘smoked chilli’.
Although both our dishes were tasty and we did enjoy them, we both commented that they weren’t overly hot. Whether that was because they’d sat on the table for a few minutes while we finished our starters, or weren’t that hot in the first place, who knows? But they certainly weren’t piping hot, which was disappointing.
We enjoyed our evening and left at the end of our allotted time – I have to say the restaurant wasn’t pushing us out though. But conscious of the time limit, we forewent a dessert, paid the bill and went to the pub for another drink and to finish our conversation.
Every table was taken when we left, and although I’m not inclined to return, maybe I should give it another chance as clearly Santo Remedio is a popular place. If I did go back, well, it would be for those fabulous Margaritas!
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #Mexico #SantoRemedio #Margaritas #Tacos #Tostadas #Enchiladas #Chipotle
Well for the letter ‘L’ I enjoyed a fun evening with a couple of tour guide friends discovering Lebanese food in the heart of the West End at Levant (www.levant.co.uk), which feels like a little secret.
As you leave the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street behind, you find it hiding down a tiny courtyard off Wimpole Street, got through the entrance door and immediately head downstairs to emerge into a Middle Eastern oasis. The décor is sumptuous; luxurious silken fabrics cover the chairs, low sofas nestle in draped corners and filigree style lamps provide subdued lighting.
We ordered drinks, a Beirut cocktail for me (vodka mixed with lychee liquor, lychee juice and a sweet and sour mix), and perused the extensive menu, with my friends laughing when I admitted I don’t really like chickpeas. Let’s face it, chickpeas are a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, but that is of course the purpose of this challenge – to explore new cuisines and try new foods!
Rather than choose dishes from the a la carte menu, we ordered the Lamb Shank Feast menu, which the waiter altered slightly for the non-meat eater in our party.
Starters were a mezze that we all shared. First the flatbreads and a selection of traditional dips arrived – a smooth and spicy hummus, koosa bil tahina (yoghurt and mint paste with fried courgettes) and moutabal (fried aubergine dip), plus a tabbouleh of chopped parsley, mint, onion, tomatoes and bulgur wheat. Then came the hot mezze dishes of batata harra (spiced sautéed potato cubes with red pepper, coriander, garlic, cumin and chilli), falafel (chickpea patties) and sambousek lamb (bite-sized pastry parcels filled with minced lamb and pine nuts).
Next up were our individual main courses. Two of us drooled over the succulent slow-cooked lamb which literally fell off the bone accompanied with bulgur wheat, chickpeas and spiced tomatoes. While my non-meat eating friend enjoyed a vegetarian moussaka consisting of an aubergine, tomato, onion, garlic and garlic chickpea stew, topped with creamy yogurt and served with vermicelli rice.
By the time we’d finished all of that we were absolutely stuffed, but there was dessert still to come. A fresh fruit platter of grapes, melon, watermelon, and pineapple, and a selection of baklava, Turkish delight and Arabic sweets with mint tea which came in a cute little silver teapot and was served in shot glasses. Although they probably used to serve tea in mini glasses long before they were used for shots! But as if that wasn’t enough, one of my friends (whose eyes are clearly bigger than his belly) had ordered an extra dessert of orange and almond cake!!
Extra drinks had been ordered throughout with my friends drinking beer, whilst I enjoyed the house red wine from Lebanon. And we all enjoyed watching the belly dancer who shimmied, twisted and spun her way around the restaurant. Belly dancing has been performed for centuries, particularly in the Middle East, with slightly different styles performed in different countries, with the Lebanese dance today being a version of the traditional classic style with fast layered shimmies and subtle hip movements.
Levant is a great place for a night out with friends, or even a romantic date, as the prices are reasonable, the authentic food cannot be faulted (if anything there was too much and we didn’t do it justice), and the atmosphere is exotic. All in all, an impressive hidden gem, and as the restaurant’s founder says “Sahteyn!” (Enjoy!)
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #Lebanon #Levant #LambShankBurghul #Hummus #Tahina #Falafel #Tabbouleh #BellyDancing
When looking for a venue to do the letter I, I was veering towards Italy as, if I’m honest, I’m not a big fan of Indian food. I would never choose to go to a curry house, have never eaten in Brick lane (I know, I know, as a Londoner I should be ashamed) and only go to Indian restaurants when I’m with a group of friends so just go along with the crowd.
Knowing that chicken tikka masala always features towards the top of those lists of the nation’s favourite foods, and urged on by a friend who promised that I would not be disappointed, off I went with said friend to The Cinnamon Club in Westminster for a girls’ night out.
Now, The Cinnamon Club did appeal, especially as it is housed in the Grade II listed building that was once Westminster Public Library and, since it opened in 2001, it has amassed a great reputation for Indian fine dining. Located close to the Houses of Parliament, it is often frequented by political figures and many a famous face can be seen there. However, not on the night we went because Parliament is on summer recess – actually that was a bit of a relief in the current climate as the sight of politicians would be probably be guaranteed to put me off my food!
Things started badly when, despite being familiar with the restaurant’s location on Great Smith Street, I walked straight past it. I was already running late due to an incident on the underground and was hurrying along the street expecting to see a neon sign, or a flag, or something that proclaimed the name of the restaurant. It was only when I realised that I’d passed a Victorian building that kind of looked like a library that I turned back, crossed the road, and peered at the discrete brass door plate that was inscribed with the words ‘The Cinnamon Club’.
However, first impressions were good as I was greeted the moment I entered and they confirmed the table reservation before I hurried downstairs to meet my friends who were already relaxing on the comfortable sofas enjoying their Mango Gimlets (Beefeater gin, green mango, thyme and lime). I ordered a Spiced Apricot Bellini (Crème D’Abricot, club spice mix and prosecco spumante). Priced at £13 and £12 respectively, these were normal cocktail prices and my Bellini hit the spot – although I was a little unsure as to why I had a leaf (thyme?) attached to my glass with one of those little pegs that I use to hang up Christmas cards (it was popped in my bag to use again during the festive season)!
Heading up to the dining room, we were shown to our table which was a lovely little booth on the far side of the room, that afforded a great view of the beautiful décor. They make the most of the fact that the restaurant (they refer to it as a club) is in a historic library, and the walls contain thousands of old books. It’s a real treat to dine there for booklovers such as myself, as the room just sparked joy within me – I wanted to browse the walls and fondle the spines of those wonderful tomes (just as I always want to whenever I see a library in a stately home!)
We chose from the main dinner menu, with my friends offering advice as to what someone who ‘doesn’t like their food too hot’ should try. The plethora of menus here offers a wide variety for every occasion, including a tasting menu, lunch menu, Sunday menu, Slow Sunday menu (?), vegan menu, early and late dinner menu (which is very reasonably priced at £30 for 3 courses), a breakfast menu and even a breakfast with books menu!
We decided to share starters so we could sample different tastes, and then each ordered an individual main course. Now as someone who is not keen on hot or very spicy food, I was a little worried about what to order. In fairness I could have gone for the either a crab risotto or a seared rump steak that are offered on the menu ‘for those challenged on the spice front. But the point of my challenge is to try new dishes and foods, so I ordered the shrimp crusted coley fillet with green curry sauce.
I was a little taken aback when I asked the waiter if the curry sauce came on the side, and he brusquely replied ‘it’s on the plate’. Not really understanding what he meant, I checked if the sauce covered the fish or was separate so that if I found it too spicy I could just leave it, and he brushed my concerns aside (a little rudely, both I and my friends thought). Not wanting to make a fuss (I know, how terribly British), I went ahead and ordered it.
We then turned to the drinks menu, with one friend ordering a Kingfisher beer (as she believes you should always drink beer with Indian food) and my other friend and I sharing a carafe of red wine. Be warned, the wine menu is extensive, but expensive. Whilst you can get a 125ml glass of wine for as little as £5.50, most of the wines are pretty pricey, with a 125ml glass of Barolo costing £29.60 and prices rising to £8,800 for a 1947 bottle of Chateau Cheval Blanc!
An amuse bouche of a lentil dumpling was delivered to the table, then our starters arrived and we shared grilled tenderstem broccoli with rose petals and spiced almond flakes, crisp fried long aubergine with baby aubergine chutney and spiced almond flakes, and char-grilled organic kingfish with carom seed and carambola pickle. All of which were delicious, but the kingfish was incredible. The firm, ‘meaty’, white fish had a buttery taste, and it just melted in the mouth.
My main course arrived and the green curry sauce was indeed ‘on the plate’, spooned around the coley (if only he’d explained properly). The sauce was creamy and not too spicy, the fish was cooked to perfection, and the basmati rice accompanied it beautifully, although I couldn’t really taste the shrimp crust. To my (probably) uneducated eye I couldn’t even see a shrimp crust, it just looked and tasted pan-fried. However, the fish was lovely and I enjoyed it.
One of my friends also enjoyed the coley, while the other opted for tandoori chicken breast with a rich onion crust which sat on top of a mix of toasted buckwheat and brown lentils. Personally, I don’t like lentils, but the chicken looked moist and delicious.
We forewent a dessert and called for the bill, which arrived inside an old book – a lovely nod to the venue’s history.
All in all, the evening was a success. The setting was gorgeous, the food was beautifully presented, and of course the company was excellent. I’m still not a huge fan of Indian food and it still wouldn’t be my first choice for dinner, but if you want an impressive venue and fine dining, then this is the place for you. Just remember, you won’t find chicken tikka masala on the menu!
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #India #TheCinnamonClub #FineDining
After a little break on my Foodie A-Z (well my waistline can only take so much), I restarted today with J for Jamaica and, for those of you who have been following my culinary journey you will be wondering what happened to I? Don’t worry, I haven’t missed it out – just delayed it slightly so a friend can do India with me in August.
But back to J, and with London’s temperatures reaching 38º today it was hotter than Jamaica (only 32º), so when I spotted the Lunch Market after I’d finished a tour of the Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London it seemed like fate to hit the Caribbean food stand Rummanco and sample a little Jamaican cuisine.
Rummanco (www.rummanco.co.uk) has been serving up home-cooked, fresh Caribbean recipes since 2005 and offer both an on-line delivery service and food stalls at a number of markets across London.
As I approached the stand, the spicy smells were tantalising and it was clearly very popular with regular local City workers who were snapping up the curry goat, jerk chicken wraps and patties. I perused the offerings and plumped for a traditional Jamaican jerk chicken meal, which came with rice n peas.
The lovely man who served me kept up a stream of jolly banter and when he asked if I wanted coleslaw and I replied yes, as long as he could find space in the container, he said it was like the TARDIS and we then chatted about our love of Dr Who. Both commenting that our ‘doctors’ growing up were Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. Nearly went off him though when he asked if I remembered the first Dr Who, William Hartnell!!!
To escape the searing heat, I took advantage of a shady spot in Guildhall Yard, sitting on one of the red metal chairs that the City of London Corporation handily supplies and tucked into my steaming lunch.
The jerk chicken was moist and the jerk sauce spicy with a bit of a tang, which was offset by the sticky rice n peas, and I wolfed it down while I also gulped down loads of cold water – although I’m really not sure if I was sweating because of the heatwave or the spices?
Jerk is a cooking style that is native to Jamaica and there are various theories as to who first created it – it could have been escaped African slaves in the 17th century who developed it when they mixed with the local tribe and introduced a marinade and cooking pits to the Tainos tribe’s cooking style. The name ‘jerk’ is said to come from a Spanish term, charqui, which is a type of dried meat, but it also comes from ‘jerking’ which means poking holes into meat so that flavour from spices rubbed into the skin can be more easily absorbed.
Whatever its origins, my jerk chicken hit the spot today and, if I closed my eyes and blocked out the sounds of the City, well I could have been on Montego Bay!
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #Jamaica #Rummanco #JerkChicken #RicenPeas
Who knew that the letter H on my challenge would prove tricky to do. When I started looking for restaurants, I quickly realised that Haiti was a no-go, and I couldn’t find any Honduran restaurants. But I wasn’t too worried because The Gay Hussar in Soho was the most famous Hungarian restaurant in London….only it closed down last year!
A plea for help went out on Facebook and one of my friends suggested a lovely pub in Cricklewood that had a Hungarian chef….only it had just switched to become an Irish bar! Starting to despair that I might have to skip H, I came across The Rosemary. An organic Hungarian restaurant in New Cross and, on closer inspection, it had great reviews plus a colleague confirmed that it was well worth a visit. So off to New Cross it was for lunch with some friends who just happened to live around the corner from the restaurant but who had never been there.
Sitting on what is essentially the main road from London down to Kent (the A2), the restaurant looked lovely from the outside, all adorned with flowers, and the inside did not disappoint – the décor being a rustic, peasant look with wooden tables and chairs and comfortable booths. Flower pot lights hung from the ceiling, and a large fish tank sat next to the counter with an ingenious aquaponics water system (just ask – it’s brilliant) that channels water from the tank through pipes to water the plants dotted about that provide some of the vegetables for the menu.
We were greeted by the owner, Mihaly Herczeg, who showed us to a window booth and perused the menu, which was in both Hungarian and English (thankfully). The dishes are all traditional Hungarian fare and are cooked fresh on the premises, including the bread, using the finest ingredients. I wanted to try a proper goulash. As a Brit, it doesn’t get more Hungarian than that! However, it’s not on the menu as a main course and, although we tend to think of it as a hearty main course, in Hungary goulash is often a starter served as a soup. I was worried it would be too filling, but Mihaly helpfully offered me a smaller portion so I would have plenty of room for my main course.
I was expecting a thick stew, but this Gulyasleves (goulash) was much lighter. A delicious tomato-based broth with vegetables, pasta and succulent chunks of beef. I was pleasantly surprised and am not ashamed to say that I mopped up every last bit with the rough brown bread that came with it. My friends enjoyed their starters of Rantott brie afonyaval (breaded brie with a blueberry condiment), which weirdly came on a bed of chips, and a Hortobagyi husus palacsinta (pancake stuffed with chicken and smothered in a tomatoey sauce).
Whilst one of my friends opted for Lazac steak with rizibizi (salmon with a pea pilaff), which looked gorgeous, myself and my other friend both went for the Ciganypecsenye steak burgonyaval (Gypsy roast). No one’s really sure why it’s called a gypsy roast, and it certainly doesn’t consist of cooked gypsies, but this pork steak dish was wonderful. Two thick slices of pork cooked in spices and topped with crispy bacon, served with paprika potato wedges and a side order of cabbage salad – this is Hungarian, so there has to be paprika!!
I was glad I’d had a lighter starter as the gypsy roast was very filling……but not too filling that I couldn’t squeeze in a dessert of Csoki Mousse. An amazing concoction of creamy chocolate mousse on a layer of thick strawberry puree – ahhhh! My friends both went for the Somloi galuska (a toffee trifle), which was not stodgy at all with light and fluffy sponge.
The meal was complimented by a decent Hungarian red wine, which was recommended by Mihaly, and I liked that he didn’t steer us to the expensive wines but suggested a light red at the cheaper end of the wine list. And what a wine list – extensive doesn’t really cover it. Over 70 Hungarian wines – white, red, sparkling, dessert, and…..orange? I have no idea what orange wine is, and was enjoying my meal so much that I simply forgot to ask – good excuse to go back another time though!
One of my friends wasn’t drinking though, so asked for a Coke. At which point, Mihaly shook his head and said “No. We don’t serve coke. We have Hungarian soft drinks”. Actually, it was refreshing to see an authentic restaurant stick to its principles and serve only the types of drinks you’d traditionally get rather than the mass produced sugary crap that so many of us drink. My friend ordered a pear juice (luckily, one of her favourite drinks) and said it was fresh and tangy. A bottle of water (with a picture of Mihaly adorning it) was brought to the table without the need to ask, and I finished off the meal with a pear grappa.
The Rosemary (http://therosemary.london/) may be the only authentic Hungarian restaurant in London (well, at least that I could find), but it’s wonderful. A lovely atmosphere, great food, and a knowledgeable and friendly owner who seriously cares about reproducing delicious Hungarian dishes, using quality and organically farmed ingredients, at reasonable prices. On a Sunday lunchtime we didn’t really need to book in advance, but I understand they get very busy in the evenings, particularly when they have live music.
As they say in Hungary: Jo étvágyat!
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #Hungary #TheRosemary #Goulash #GypsyRoast
Doing a recce for a walking tour in the King’s Cross area, I stumbled across a wonderful street food market in Granary Square and decided they had the perfect food truck for the next letter on my Foodie A-Z – G for Greece and The Grilling Greek.
The street food market is operated by KERB, who launched their innovative and tasty business in King’s Cross in 2012, and now operate in various locations across London, as well as providing catering to events and functions. KERB’s philosophy encompasses four key elements; amazing food, talented people, professional practices, and transforming city spaces.
And The Grilling Greek fits the bill perfectly as one of their traders. They were the first food truck to start offering Greek food in London, and they’ve been cooking up their family recipes since 2013.
The Grilling Greek’s blue and white food truck stood out amongst the other street food traders, who were serving an array of cuisines – Italian pizza, Vietnamese noodles, Jerk chicken, Taiwanese rice bowls. But it was the temptation of a Greek souvlaki, and the letter of the alphabet, that swayed me.
The menu consists of simple freshly cooked Greek food that really does remind you of holiday evenings lazing in local tavernas, minus the ouzo. No alcohol here, as this is all about delicious street food for a quick and tasty lunch, where you can choose from a chicken, pork or halloumi souvlaki served in a handmade pita with tomato, red onion and ‘Mama’s’ tzatziki. You can get side orders of chips and Greek salads, but the souvlaki’s looked pretty generous so I opted for just the chicken souvlaki.
The guys on the food truck were friendly, but confused me by asking if I wanted it to take away or eat in??? I mean, it’s a food truck……outdoors???? Clearly this was street food code (not something I’m overly familiar with to be honest), as they laughingly clarified by asking whether I wanted the souvlaki fully wrapped (to take away / back to the office) or half-wrapped (to eat in / now).
They did have a blue metal table and two chairs just by the truck, but there are plenty of places to sit in Granary Square and along the nearby Regent’s Canal, and it was a sunny day so I took my souvlaki and found a spot near the water feature known as 1,000 Squirts.
The souvlaki was good, really good. The pita was soft and warm, the chicken moist and the tzatziki sauce just oozed out (I even managed to drip some down my front!). Delicious and filling, as I sat in the sun I could almost have been in Greece (if I’d closed my eyes and ignored the noise and bustle of local office workers and the students from Central St Martins art and design college). And at only £6, it was great value for money too.
You’ll find The Grilling Greek at KERB King’s Cross, which operates Wednesday to Friday weekly, or at one of the other KERB locations. Traders change location from day to day, so check the website (www.kerbfood.com) to see where they’re going to be.
As for me, I’ll be visiting KERB and The Grilling Greek again, and plan to try another of their street food traders – although it’s a little while until I get to V for Vietnam!
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #Greece #TheGrillingGreek #Souvlaki #Kerb #StreetFood #FoodTrucks #KingsCross #GranarySquare