Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Listing Launch Party - Drake & Morgan, London

The Listing - Drake & Morgan
27 Bush Ln,
Cannon Green,
London, EC4R 0AA

0203 948 9820

The Listing is the latest (19th) Bar & Restaurant from Drake & Morgan, that has just opened near Cannon Street. I was lucky to be invited to join Joanne of Love Pop Ups London and Steve for the launch party on the 9th of November .

The lines to get in seemed really long which just goes to show how popular this spot is going to be. The process was pretty fast though and I was inside in under 10 minutes where my friends were already waiting.

The space is huge and absolutely stunning. With a two storied glass frontage which wraps around the building. The party was being held downstairs in the bar and restaurant section, but we also went up to where the Deli will be and that section was so warm and inviting, I just wanted to curl up on one of those chairs with a blanket, a book and a cup of coffee. All of which they provide.

There was quite an assortment of canapes being served and as we walked around the open kitchen, we saw how hard they were working to keep the food circulating. This was the first time that I was watching an open kitchen for this size of an event and I was thoroughly impressed at the efficiency of the chefs and serving staff.

The desserts were decadently delicious and I hope that they will continue to offer those brownies and mint marshmallows (were they gin and tonic marshmallows ?) on the menu.

The bar tenders were also working very hard to keep up with the demand. I did not get the opportunity to try one of the drinks at the bar, given the crowd around it. But there was a kiosk run by The London Essence Co. that served up some amazing cocktails. Plus we go to try a new flavour of Rekoderlig Cider - Premium Spiced Plum - very Christmassy flavours.

There was a glitter station, where we got ourselves glammed up - all shimmery and sparkly. Such fun. Being London, I was able to travel home by bus with all the sparkles still on my face, without any stares or questions. I just love living in this city!

The Listing is a great venue, very beautiful. Modern interiors below at the pub and warm comfortable tones upstairs at the deli. What we ate, isn't likely to be on the regular menu, but the chefs and bartenders know what they are doing, so I'm sure this place will be very popular.

Do take a look at some of their special menus for the upcoming Christmas season. They are quite ideal for office parties. The Listing will be open on weekdays from 7:30am and weekends are available for private hire.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mam, London

16 All Saints Rd
Notting Hill
London W11 1HH

Phone number 020 7792 2665

Looks like Mam has opened recently, but they are offering delivery through deliveroo.

Home delivered pho on a cold and wet night when I had no intention of stepping outside, sounded just what I needed.

The Cha Gio (5.8£)- Vietnamese Fried Chicken Spring Rolls with wood ear mushrooms was lovely. The optional chicken with the papaya salad Goi Du Du Chicken (7£), made it it a very filling dish. Not as spicy as the Thai version, but nice and crunchy and light.

The beef pho (11£) had delicate slices of beef and a very fragrant pho. The cinnamon in it was very soothing. I had also ordered a Bun Heo (11£) - BBQ Pork with rice, for lunch the next day. The pork was absolutely delicious and I wish they would offer just the pork as a separate dish. I would order just a couple of plates of that pork and be a very happy person indeed.

I have varieties of bottles of chilli sauces and pastes at home to spice up my food, but you can order extra sauces from them if you like.

The food is good and they deliver home which is a huge advantage in the current weather, but I felt the lack of herbs in the pho (just a few spring onions) I'm not sure if this is because it was a takeaway/delivery order and you get more seasonings if you eat in.

Food was very well packed and I appreciate the broth being packed completely separately. It means you can reheat the soup if you don't eat immediately and not end up with a soggy glutinous mess.

Rating : 3.5/5 for Home Delivery

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Halloween Filipino Supper Club with Pepe's Kitchen, London

I'm embarrassed to admit, that after almost THREE whole years in London, I had never attended a supper club. Given my love of good food and a particular passion for the authentic flavours of home cooking, this was a huge oversight on my part that needed to be corrected quickly.

I've seen a lot of great looking supper clubs, but since our schedule is so last minute, by the time I'm ready to confirm that I can attend, the places are all taken up.

So last week when Joanne of Love Pop Ups London told me that Mae of Pepe's Kitchen was hosting a Halloween themed Filipino Supper Club and had space for a few more guests, I was very excited. This would be my first supper club and also my first experience of a Filipino meal.

A quick scan of the menu for the day, showed that there was no shrimp on the menu (which meant I could eat everything being served) and so I promptly signed up for three of us.

The whole process was very smooth and Mae was very welcoming and extremely prompt in her replies. She also said the Haloween costumes were optional and we could bring our own alcohol.

On Friday, we got to her place by 7pm and were served beef lumpia (like a spring roll, but canape sized) and an alcoholic cocktail as soon as we walked in. That beef lumpia was so good, I could not wait for dinner to start.

We hung around getting to meet the other guests and taking in the stunning views from their balcony, while waiting for the last of the guests to arrive, so we could all sit down together for the plated meal to begin.

Supper clubs are really intimate dining experiences at peoples homes and capacity ranges from 8-20 depending on the size of their homes. This one had nine of us at the table. Each of us came from different parts of the world, were well traveled and shared a passion for food. So the conversation at the dinner table was fascinating. The group was small enough that we could talk to each other across the table, rather like a large family dinner.

The only thing I felt bad about, was that while we were having so much fun at the table. Mae and her partner were busy working on the next course in the kitchen. But I guess, that's what happens even if you are visiting friends or family for a home cooked meal. She did invite us to join her in the kitchen in between courses if we wanted to, but the conversations at the table were too interesting to leave half way through.

The table was spookily done up and there were gums, teeth, fingers and eyeballs that we could eat off the table if we were  too hungry to wait.

Once we sat down, our first course was menudo tartlets. Mae's twist on a traditional Filipino chicken recipe. As we got ready to tuck in, she explained how she got her love for cooking from her father - Pepe and to introduce Filipino food to the London audience, she started catering canapes, so the food was bite sized and hence more approachable.

Mae gave us an introduction to Filipino food and a brief glimpse of the staggering variety of regional variations. Given that the Philippines is a set of islands, each island has their own take on dishes with the same name, as well as their own special dishes.

At the table, we had a round of conversation on how some of us crave spicy food when traveling and find that some countries, just don't serve food that is truly spicy. So we discussed tips, like carrying tabasco bottles in purses and the different spice pastes available as a topping in Asia.

As she had heard this conversation, Mae told us that Filipino food wasn't spicy. It does have spices, it just doesn't use as much Chilli as Thailand or India. She told us she could serve us some chillies on the side if we wanted.

Our main course was Dinaguan and I was very excited when I first saw this dish on the menu. Pork stew in pork blood served with homemade steamed rice cakes or jasmine rice. A quick google search said that Dinaguan was mostly made with pork offal and I was expecting something like our Manglorean sannas and sarpatel.Obviously, when you have such high expectations built around a dish you have never tasted before, there will be disappointment.

To be honest, I loved the texture of the dinaguan, the blood had been well blended into the gravy and I much prefer that to the black clumps that I normally pick out of my sarpatel. But Mae had skipped the offal, to make the dish less scary for the diners, so I missed the crunch of the offal and obviously the spice levels were very different. The gorgeous green chilli that she included in each dish did help and I finished my whole plate. But I was constantly missing the heat and sour tang of sarpatel and my cravings are just amplified enough that I may just set out on a treasure hunt to find a butcher who can provide me with cleaned offal and attempt to cook it myself.

The next course was Bulalo - a beef and bone broth simmered for a few hours. This was soul food. It just felt like one of the soups grandma used to make us when we were sick and only wanted hot liquid for sustenance. My cousin who was with us, also agreed that it brought back warm memories.

For dessert, we were served Ensaymada at Sorbetes -  Freshly baked sweet butter bread served with homemade coconut ice cream. This was heavenly. I'm not a big bread eater, but I could live on those Ensaymadas. They went into the oven while we started on our soup and were warm and buttery and absolutely delicious.

We loved the whole set up and are ready to try out more supper clubs. I'd like to explore Filipino food a bit more, this was a good introduction for me. I've heard there are a few more Filipino supper clubs in London and a restaurant or two where service is a bit hit or miss.

Also when Mae explained the different varieties of Adobo's in Philippines, I know that if she has a supper club with only adobos on the menu, I will be there with my stretchy pants on.

Mae only has a supper club about once a month or so. If you have the opportunity, I would heavily recommend it. Try a new cuisine, cooked and served with love by a passionate chef who will patiently answer all your questions about her cuisine and culture. Step into another world with a wonderful guide, right here in the center of London!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Darjeeling Express, London

Darjeeling Express
Top Floor
Kingly Court
London W1B 5PW

020 7287 2828

Absolutely fantastic and authentic home style Bengali & Hyderabadi cooking with a few dishes from the rest of India.

I rarely rave about Indian restaurants in London, but Darjeeling Express is absolutely brilliant.

Run by the lovely Asma Khan who started out with Supper Clubs at her home and has recently moved to this permanent location in Kingly Court. The food on the menu reflects her background from Calcutta, Hyderabad and UP. So don't go here looking for tandoori chicken, paneer tikka, butter chicken and rotis. Indian food is much more than just that. What you will find on the menu are dishes that you would get if you were lucky enough to be invited for a home cooked meal at an Indian friends home.

None of the cooks in the kitchen are professional chefs, they are all talented home cooks who take pride in their cooking. And its an all woman kitchen where the the food tastes like "Maa ke haath ka khaana" - mum's cooking. When we had a quick chat with Asma, she told us that her chefs, only have to put in half a shift either for the noon or the evening sitting. 4-5pm is sacrosanct so that they can either go home to pick up their kids from school or pick them up before coming over for the evening shift. What a wonderful concept! This option gives opportunity to a lot of women who otherwise are unable to work and restricted by work timings and home responsibilities.

The menu itself keeps changing every 8 weeks, so I'm not sure you will find the same food when you visit.

The puchkas/paani puri/golgappas were better than any that we have had at a London restaurant. Husband loved the tangra chilli garlic prawns which he said were extremely fresh and very delicately flavoured.

We had absolutely outstanding shikampuri kebabs with luchchis/puris. We had FIVE plates of the shikampuri kebab! 3 to takeaway, but even then...

The Degh Ghosht - beef stew was brilliant and the gobhi, gajar, aloo - cauliflower with carrot and potato tastes like my best friends mum makes it. The mains all come with a very light pulao. But we also ordered a side of luchchis (Bengali style puris) to go along with it.

They serve India's favourite sodas - Limca and ThumsUp, but they also have a licence to serve cocktails, beer and wine.

Sundays are for biriyani and I look forward to making a booking there very soon.

We loved the food so much that we wanted to order some more to take away. They aren't really equipped for that, but when they heard us gushing over the food, they did their very best to pack it all up for us and I'm happy to report that every single item that we packed reached home in perfectly pristine condition!

Go, go, go. Don’t miss out on this amazing experience.

Rating : 5 / 5

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Rum Masterclass at Cottons, London

Rum is my normal drink of choice. If I have to have alcohol, (my frequency and quantity has been drastically reduced voluntarily. I know friends who knew me from before, may not believe that I barely drink alcohol once or twice a month now) in the summer its cider or beer and in the winter its rum.

I love my alcohol sweet without being too fruity. My absolute favourite is Old Monk and Thums Up. Yes! Still! Even after 22 years! I also prefer rum based cocktails like dark & stormy, mojito, bushwhacker, daiquiri, caipirinha and hot buttered rum in the winter.

So when Joanne from Love Pop Ups London mentioned that Cottons at Vauxhall (the newest of four branches - opened last month) was looking for some bloggers to sample one of their Rum Masterclasses, I jumped out of my eating/writing ennui and applied.

The setting of the restaurant itself is absolutely serene and beautiful on St George's wharf. And I suspect their outdoor tables will be heavily coveted on warmer days. They also have a huge indoor area which is well lit and very comfortable with bar seating and table seating.

We started the masterclass at the bar. Barry was in charge. The wealth of information that he has regarding rums is mind boggling. Rum tasting is as complex and complicated as single malts. Their origins could be from anywhere, where sugarcane is grown.

Then its a matter of distilling, fermenting, ageing, shipping etc. This branch of Cottons has over 250 varieties of rum, their Notting Hill branch has 372+.

We started with a 5 year old Plantation Rum from Barbados. This was aged twice. First in Barbados for 3 years and again in France in Cognac casks for 2 years. Plantation Rum, are originally from different Caribbean islands (original island clearly marked on the bottles), but the company is based in France. This particular rum had its own sweetness from its contact with the cognac casks.

We next sniffed at a Goslings Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum. 151 proof makes it an overproof rum with 75.5% alcohol. Barry recommended that this one would go best with ginger beer and its also a great rum to flambe with.

The Angostura 1919 is a Trinidadian Rum. After a fire in 1932, which destroyed the Government Rum Bond, the master blender of Fernandes Distillers, bought the charred casks, only to discover they had been filled in the year 1919. The prized rum was skillfully blended and called "1919 Aged Rum." Even today this rum is aged in charred Jack Daniels casks. So while the rum itself is fruity with vanilla flavour, the undertones are markedly woody. This particular one is aged for 8 years.

This limited edition Venezuelan Rum from Diplomatico has won best rum 4 times. This rum is made from sugar honey which makes it sweeter than the other rums that we tasted and is aged for 12 years. This was my second favourite rum of the evening.

Barry also produced some lovely home made dark chocolate chunks which added so much to the flavour of the following rums. I suspect that I may have enjoyed the chocolate much more than the rum.

We next tried a Demerara Rum from Guyana - El Dorado. The rich soil and Demerara river lend their name and flavour to these rums. This particular one is aged for 15 years. While it had a lovely taste, I found it a bit on the heavier side. More suitable as a liqueur than for pre-dinner, for me.

Since we specifically asked about rum agricole (we were in a Caribbean bar after all) which is made directly from sugarcane juice (rather than its molasses), Barry recommended the Clement XO from Martinique. This is an Extra Old 7-8 year old rum and because it has been aged for so long it can be drunk on its own, unlike younger agricole rums. Given the smooth seductive tastes of the the other rums that we had sampled, this one tasted lovely, but felt much harsher on the throat and in its after taste.

The 20th anniversary Plantation Rum was our last taster of the evening and also my absolute favourite.This rum is blended from 12-20 tropically aged rums from Barbados and then aged again in cognac casks in France. While I could taste vanilla and citrus, there were also hints of cinnamon, cocoa and other christmassy spices.

Every single rum that we tried was amazing enough to be drunk on its own. The experience has forced me to rethink rums as just an alcoholic base which needs a mixer, to something that can be savoured on its own. They are great in cocktails and some rums go partuicularly well with certain specific mixers - like Ginger beer. But a lot of them can be slowly sipped on and enjoyed for just what they are.

There's such a large variety out there, that an experience of a masterclass like this one really helps start you down a wonderfully interesting path. Priced around £20 per person for rum masterclass only or £35 per person which includes a 2-course dinner after the class, its money well spent.

After we were done with the class, we were allowed to choose a cocktail from their menu. This was a tough choice as the menu had some of my favourites, but also some very intriguing new ones. My curiosity won out and I ordered a Strong Back - with dragon stout, Jamaican Wray & Nephew Rum, condensed milk and nutmeg. This was like a lovely iced dessert. I was surprised at how much alcohol was in the cocktail and everyone else at the table said the same about their drinks too.

We also had some nibbles to share at the table. Caribbean food served in style. I've previously eaten Caribbean food at the Notting Hill Festival - a disaster, and some really tasty places in Brixton which focus on food rather than seating / atmosphere etc.

The salt & pimiento squid was lovely and really did not need the accompanying pesto sauce. The pork ribs with the rum and molasses glaze was outstanding as was the ebony wings. I've had much better salt fish fritters made by Vanessa Bolosier, so I found these a bit dry and too tightly packed to enjoy the flavour. But the others at the table did like them and also raved about the whole grilled prawns (I'm allergic)

The sweet potato patties and the chick pea patties were lovely, so I'd say the vegetarians could enjoy the food here too.

Great rum, exciting cocktails and finger licking food. Definitely a place to bookmark and visit. The Notting Hill location is much closer to me, so maybe I'll try that one next. But I'm definitely returning here on a warm sunny day to enjoy the outdoor location.

Joanne has made a lovely video of our experience and its up on youtube.

Cottons -Vauxhall.
Unit 12 Flagstaff House,
St Georges Wharf,
Vauxhall, SW8 2LE
T: 0207 091 0793

Friday, October 13, 2017

Thai Cottage, Berkhamstead, UK

Thai Cottage
149 High Street
Berkhamsted HP4 3HH

01442 870808

After spending a couple of days at Ashridge University, I wanted to explore Berkhamsted town and grab a hot lunch before catching the train back to London.

I avoid chain restaurants when I can and this one had a good rating on yelp.

It was a fixed lunch offer only (no a la carte) with one soup or starter and one main course served with rice for 10 Pounds.

I ordered the sticky pork ribs as a starter - they were very well cooked and were almost falling off the bone, but the sauce on them was sickly sweet.

My main course was a beef stir fry (I asked for a spicy option and the server recommended this) Again the meat was well cooked, but it was so salty!

While main courses are normally served with rice, I requested if I could substitute the rice for noodles. The egg noodles that were served with the beef was very tasty (and they weren't even on the menu)

The place was quite full in the noon and most people in there were locals.

The staff was really sweet and obliging.

However the food was a disappointment. I just ate the noodles and picked at the beef and pork. Even mixed with the noodles the sweetness was cloying and the saltiness overwhelming.

Next time I think I'll just eat at Ashridge before leaving, the buffets there were amazing.

Rating : 2 / 5

Thai Cottage

Thai Cottage Menu

Friday, June 16, 2017

Camden Coffee House, London

Camden Coffee House
30 Camden Road
London NW1 9DP

Phone number 020 7428 9477

Given the high rating of this place, I've been trying for awhile to grab a coffee here, but they shut quite early (last orders around 16:45), so yesterday was the first time I actually managed to step in by 16:30 and order some takeaway coffee.

The people at the counter were really sweet and polite and it looked like they had a lovely garden area downstairs.

When we arrived, they warned us that they would be shutting in 20 minutes, in case we wanted to linger over our coffees. After 4 hours wandering around the warrens of Camden markets, We just needed to sit down for 5-10 minutes and get our caffeine fix before carrying on, so this wasn't a problem.

The reason I haven't given the place a higher rating is
1. The seats were low and slightly uncomfortable. (We sat upstairs) I understand the tighter fit (think economy seats on budget airlines) as their space is limited in a small shop, but they were really low or maybe it's just my bones growing older.

I could ignore this completely as I mostly take my coffee to go and don't bother with sitting down.

2. We ordered 2 iced coffees and my mum got a nice iced latte type coffee, but mine barely had a spot of milk in it. Mums looked and Tasted like it had been well blended, mine looked like a black coffee poured on ice and a spot of milk added to it.
I had to go back and request more milk in my coffee as I couldn't drink it the way it was served.

Unfortunately, we were so hot and tired that mum finished her coffee before I even got up to add more milk to my coffee, so I didn't have the chance to click a comparative picture.

Dad's hot latte was fine. I'm not sure if this was a shop / machine closing time problem, but if I order 2 of the same thing, I do expect them to look and taste similar.

We had a lemon white chocolate muffin and that was good too, but for a coffee shop to not make my coffee right? I really wanted to like this place and was sadly disappointed.

Rating : 2/5


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