For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, you might have missed the fact that I was lucky enough to win a box of cupcakes!
There’s an awesome website called Tryum, which recommends fab places to eat in London. Just Tweet/email them if you want to know a good place for eating XYZ, and they’ll give you a recommendation. Their food features are really fun too!
They ran a Valentine’s competition for Crumbs and Doilies cupcakes and I was lucky enough to win! Being single, this was an excellent Valentine’s treat!
When I took a trip to Crumbs and Doilies Covent Garden stall to collect my cupcakes, I got very excited and you can see why…
Later that evening it was time to tuck in, although these cupcakes are almost too beautiful to eat! (I said almost!)
I enjoyed them all, but my favourite was the chocolate cream cupcake, which was lovely and moist and, of course, chocolatey! However, I’m also developing a worrying obsession with Red Velvet. My friend linked me to this article Everything You Need To Know About Red Velvet, and it has dangerous sayings such as “A red velvet cupcake makes the heart young again and wipes out the years.” Uh-oh, I better eat more!
Thanks to Crumbs and Doilies for making such gorgeous cupcakes and thanks to Tryum for running the competition!
I have a confession. I don’t really like pizza. It’s true that I’ve never eaten pizza in Naples, as several Italian friends of mine have insisted I do. And when I go to Naples, I’ll be sure to do so.
But the non-Neapolitan pizza I have had to date has been underwhelming. I struggle to get excited over thin crispy bread, smeared with tomato sauce and splattered with cheese. It seems comforting at first, but rapidly becomes dull. That’s when paying £12 for a slab of bread seems like a really bad idea.
However, a few weeks back I found myself at Fire and Stone in Spitalfields with a lot of other people. This was for three reasons: 1) I’d discovered Meet Up, a website where you meet people based on similar interests – and so this had opened up a new world of foodie friends, 2) I live next to Spitalfields, and 3) we were taking adavantage of the Tuesday £6 deal.
Fire and Stone Spitalfields has that modern feel – large glass windows, simple tables and not a lot of space between them. It’s the kind of place that when full seems warm and welcoming, but when empty, it’s soulless.
Fortunately, it was buzzing and we squezzed around a table for eighteen that stretched out through the restaurant.
Their menu is really fun. Not only do their pizzas offer a range of genuinely interesting and appetising toppings, but they’re also named after cities, which gives you the illusion of being a cosmopolitan citizen, casually browsing your next destination (I was in travel fantasy mode anyway!). I fought a long and hard mental battle between Mexico City (£10.25) – spicy chicken, guacamole, chunks of roasted potatoes, red onion and coriander – and Cape Town (£10.95) – spicy beef, pepperoni, mozzarella, fresh green chillies, topped with sour cream and parsley.
The latter triumphed and I was pleased to see a pizza with a relatively generous amount of topping (I’m sure you all understand what I mean about the pizzas that make you play hunt the toppings). The meat is never of the best quality on pizzas but the pepperoni and beef were tasty, and sour cream and parsley is a winning combination. The crust was not too doughy nor too crispy. My main criticism is one that I launch at many pizzerias – their inability to chop up chillies. The green chillies were chopped into chunks, which meant some mouthfuls of my pizza were scorchio, and others were more tame than Grandma’s cat. Let’s have some balance please. However, overall I was impressed.
Buffalo (£10.25) – hot and spicy torn chicken, roast potatoes, mozzarella and celery strips in a blue cheese dressing – proved very popular among my dining companions and they were all satisfied. Can’t say it would be my cup of tea – blue cheese and celery are both on my evil items list.
The the brownie with vanilla ice-cream (£4.95) looked very yummy indeed (although it’s hard to make chocolate brownies not look yummy). My co-diners were less impressed with the banoffee pizza, that was part of a Sweet Slider (£11.95) – a sharing tray of 5 desserts.
Would I go again to Fire and Stone and eat my way through more cities? Yes, I would. They’re running the Tuesday £6 deal at Spitalfields, and at Westfield and Covent Garden there is a two pizzea for £12 deal, available at certain times and if booked online. For non-Londoners, there are branches in Oxford and Portsmouth.
Multicultural. The buzz word for policies, companies, employment opportunities and that sort of thing. It’s also a fairly apt description of human life in London. I’m currently studying a Master’s at LSE and, out of the 200+ in the department, I’ve so far encountered three Brits. We are rare specimens.
German, Taiwanese, Chinese, Puerto Rican, American, Thai. These were my companions and I found myself in a karaoke booth at the back of a Japanese second-hand manga store, wailing down a microphone and murdering every song I attempted.
Afterwards, it was time to eat and time to give poor India some representation: we’d reserved a table at Dishoom, self-described as a Bombay Café.
Things didn’t exactly get off to a smooth start. We were twenty minutes early so we were given a buzzer to wait at the bar whilst our table was prepared. However, we could clearly see our table, beautifully laid, across the gigantic and completely empty restaurant. We pointed this out and were very reluctantly seated, but the incident left a bad feeling like they were just trying to push drinks at the bar. To make matters worse, when our waitress for the evening arrived, she’d apparently been instructed to inform us – in a very friendly manner – that it was their policy not to seat parties until everyone had arrived, but it was OK today because the restaurant was empty. Which made no sense, because a reserved table is a reserved table – or so one would hope.
Rant over! We didn’t stay disgruntled for long and had a really good evening all round. In fact, Dishoom is the kind of place where it’s impossible not to have fun. Its décor is bright but not loud, and apparently it doesn’t stay empty for long. We were seated in an alcove table, which is perfect for groups of 6 to 10 people, and it made dish-sharing wonderfully easy. It’s the kind of place which encourages relaxed munching and much laughter with friends.
I found the menu a little strange. It focuses on Bombay snack food, grilled meat and naan bread, and includes very few vegetable side dish options. There are only three wet curries on the menu, which is bizarre given that naan bread, in my opinion, needs to be eaten with some kind of sauce or relish! However, I’ve not been to Bombay or a Bombay café so I can’t comment on how usual it is.
First off, we ordered a range of exciting drinks. I chose a chocolate chai (£2.70), which I absolutely loved. I wasn’t sure how the combination would work, but the flavour balance was perfect and they’d avoided the temptation to make it too sweet.
Also worth mentioning was the rose and cardamom lassi (£3.50). Subtle but delicious. Highly recommended.
Next up, we tucked into a range of “small plates, to be taken lightly”. We tried Pau Bhaji (£.390) – “A bowl of mashed vegetables with hot buttered pau bun, Chowpatty Beach style” – which made me want to research flights to Bombay (or should I say Mumbai?) straight away. Thick, rich and delicious, we kept on scooping the vegetable mush after the slightly-sweet bun was finished.
We also tried Vada Pau (£3.90) – a potato patty in a bun. Pleasant but unmemorable.
However, do not fail to order Dishoom Calamari (£5.20). They’re light, crispy and so moreish. They’re served with a dubiously named “Dishoom drizzle” – I don’t know what it is, but it’s seriously good.
Next up, we tucked into our grilled dishes. The Spicy Lamb Chops (£11.50) were tender and tasty enough, but fell short of being spectacular because there needed to be more effort put into the seasoning.
Similarly, the Masala Prawns (£10.50) were more salty than anything else. I didn’t feel compelled to fight with my co-diners over the last one.
Because we felt we should have a wet curry, we ordered the Chicken Ruby (£7.90) – “a mellow curry in the South Indian Style” – which I remember to be tangy, and a little dull.
Compelled to finish the meal in style, I ended with Cinnamon Ice-Cream (£2.90), which was reasonably priced for the portion-size but it was a little salty and not as smooth as I like ice-cream to be.
An enjoyable experience and enjoyable food, but it could have been executed with greater skill. I hear the Shoreditch branch is the place to go.
Food 3.5/5 – All tasty! But we weren’t bowled over.
Service 2/5 – As well as the above-mentioned saga, we had to wait a really long time in between visits from our waitress.
Value 3/5 – I paid £20 for three-courses, a drink and service, and was satisfied. But the grilled meat is pricey for what it is.
Atmosphere 4/5 – It’s Dishoom and it’s Covent Garden. It’s lively and fun!
Fortnum and Mason are currently hosting a pop-up bakery, with famous bakers rotating every two weeks. Currently holding fort is Edd Kimber, AKA The Boy Who Bakes. He was the winner of The Great British Bake-Off in 2010 and has since released two cookbooks, in between various appearances on TV, and in magazines and newspapers. He’s baking all kinds of sweet treats, from flourless chocolate cakes to Battenberg cakes, from lemon cakes to passion fruit tarts.
And there were also semlor. But-
“No more?!” I cried incredulously.
We were only making them on Shrove Tuesday, Edd patiently explained. And they were all snapped up by lots of Swedes.
“I’m sorry to have missed them!” I wailed.
“Well, I’m sure we can tempt you with something else,” Edd replied.
Actually, my brain had already been doing some super-fast calculations and I had clocked the salted caramel brownie before I’d even entered the bakery. I promptly ordered one (£4) and sat down.
Oh, how divine it was! A thin layer of liquid caramel set off salty and sweet tangs through mouthfuls of rich, moist, chocolatey brownie. It was heaven. And I must confess that I didn’t miss semlor at all.
The pop-up bakery means long hours for Edd but he’s enjoying being busy and, of course, satisfying customers with delicious, yummy things. You’ll find him on the first floor of Fortnum and Mason until Sunday 24th February (details here). Amazing cakes are waiting for you. Don’t miss out.
A semla is not the South of England Men’s Lacrosse Association, as a cursory Google search might suggest. It is a cardamom-spiced bun with the top sliced off, filled with almond paste (similar to marzipan) and whipped cream, with the top of the bun placed back on top. They’re traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday in Swedish. They’re found across Scandinavia, but as I first sampled them in Sweden, I always think of Sweden. I think they might be most popular in Sweden too (any Scandinavians want to offer your opinions on this?).
Given that I wasn’t going to be in Sweden this Fat Tuesday, I decided to seek out what was on offer in London. This quest wasn’t without some hiccups. I tried the Nordic Bakery, which I found to be gloomy and depressing, perhaps in a bid to reflect Scandinavian winters. I was greeted by an equally gloomy lady, who said that there were no semlor in the Nordic Bakery this year. So much for Nordic. I also took a trip to a pop-up bakery in Fortnum and Mason but missed the semlor by a day (look out for a fab feature tomorrow though).
Several trips and much essay-procrastination later, I had three candidates and three semlor. The competition was on.
This is a fun, cosy place café with plenty of Scandinavian supplies lurking in the back. I was extremely happy to find a Moomin guiding customers to Odin’s Throne (AKA the toilet).
The café serves lots of open sandwiches on crispbreads, which look a little fiddly and small, but their cakes are eye-grabbing – apple and cinnamon cake, chocolate brownie cake… mmm….
I forced myself not to get distracted and to stick to the task in hand. My friend and I ordered a semla each (£2.95).
Sadly, we were distinctly underwhelmed. The semla tasted of nothing. We could not detect any almond flavour at all. The dough was chewy and stodgy, and the cardamom did nothing to enhance it. I tried my hardest not to think about the other cakes. I began humming the Abba tunes that were playing in the background.
Very disappointing, but the café has a chilled atmosphere and the other cakes definitely look like they’re worth trying, so I may return.
Next candidate was Daniel Karlsson of Bageriet (‘The Bakery’ in Swedish). He came to London 6 years ago and has been baking tasty things for a lot longer than that. For Fat Tuesday, he had baked loads of buns and was stacking them high in Totally Swedish, a store that, unsurprisingly, sells lots of Swedish produce.
I got a box of two for £7 and hastily carried them to a friend’s in order to share them.
Mine got a little squashed in the voyage but it still tasted great. The almond paste had a much stronger flavour than Scandinavian Kitchen’s, and it complimented the dough, which had a firmer texture. Very pleasing. I almost regretted sharing.
Bageriet will be opening a shop in Covent Garden next month so look out for it. I will definitely make a visit.
Situated on Brick Lane, Fika is trendy by virtue of its location. Inside it is dimly lit and contains a few fake grass-covered seats. We visited at 1.30pm on a Friday and found no-one at the counter or serving. Eventually, a guy emerged and told us to wait because there were lots of customers and there was only him in the kitchen. We were distinctly unimpressed at the set-up, but took a seat. At £3.50 for a hot chocolate, we weren’t going to be ordering drinks whilst we were waiting.
Eventually, my semla arrived. It was neat and beautiful. But it was TINY. And it had just cost me £3.50. I approached it with scepticism.
The bun had the most bread-like texture of the three, which I really liked. The cardamom was present but not overpowering. The almond paste had a full, rich flavour, although there needed to be more of it as it was slightly smothered by the cream. However, overall, Fika’s tiny semla snuck into first place in terms of flavour. If they weren’t an outrageous £3.50 each, I’d be stocking my room with them.
So yesterday was Pancake Day / Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras!
I’m going to call it Fat Tuesday for a very good reason. I got fat.
The Breakfast Club was running a challenge: eat 12 pancakes in 20 minutes and have them for free; or lose and pay £17.50 (which they then give to the charity Rays of Sunshine).
Given that I’d very much enjoyed my previous visit, and given that this challenge was so ridiculous, I just had to give it a try.
I have a confession though. I don’t like pancakes that much and I can’t eat tonnes of sweet stuff (even chocolate). This was going to be difficult and I had lots of pre-eating nerves. Plus I had a craving for bacon, and was trying hard not to back out and order a bacon-pancake lunch instead.
However, I hate losing – I didn’t want to be thought of as some silly girl who thought she could take on some manly pancakes in her puny stomach. So, on behalf of my gender if nothing else, I was gonna bloody well eat my hardest!
Watch the video of how I got on. (I didn’t have time to edit it so use the annotations to skip to relevant parts. If you want a summary, watch from 18 mins onwards.)
It was a struggle but I tried to remain cheerful through my chomping.
However, having made it with seconds to spare, I ended up a little like this:
The main problem was not the quantity but how the pancakes absorbed all of my saliva leaving me unable to swallow them, hence the copious amounts of water I drank. For the first five, this wasn’t an issue. But the next seven were tough. On completion, I didn’t feel euphoria. I felt zombiefied. And I really wanted something savoury. In fact, I still fancied some bacon.
Whislt I’d like to pretend I was triumphant all afternoon, I actually crashed and sat around in a sugary stupor until 8pm at night, when I dragged myself to muay Thai and tried to sweat those pancakes out of myself.
Happy Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or whatever you want to call it!
When I found out that The Breakfast Club was running a pancake challenge – eat 12 in 20 minutes – I couldn’t resist. After a lot of chomping, swallowing and embarrassingly some retching, I completed it with less than 10 seconds to spare (and to avoid the £17.50 forfeit – although the money goes to charity).
A full report with video footage is coming soon, as is a special report on Swedish buns traditionally eaten at this time of year – semlor (a semla). Watch this space!
I don’t do dating. I’ve had three strikes at it – enough to know that it’ll end badly. Like that time I slammed a door in a guy’s face when he tried to kiss me. (I was too shy to say: “Actually, I’m really sorry, but I just don’t fancy you.”) I now firmly believe in what I term the “friendship-evolution” method.
The worst date I’ve ever been on was with a guy I barely knew. He called me up and was evidently nervous.
“Hi Phoebe, h- h- how-er….” he stuttered.
“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?” I replied quickly, wanting to smooth over his embarrassment. I was a little taken aback, but shyness can be endearing, right?
He said he had free tickets to see a movie and would I like to go? Well, I didn’t know him and I didn’t fancy him, but there was always a chance that something might develop. He might have a dazzling personality and provide thrilling flirtatious conversation.
My hopes were cut short, however, because he was too nervous to organise meeting me for a drink beforehand. We met 2 minutes before the film and hurried into the cinema. We spoke for 5 minutes during the adverts, watched the film and then began the 10 minute walk back. There was zero rapport and zero time to strike up any rapport. It was hopeless and I was annoyed. If attraction were rated on a scale from one to ten, I was hovering around two.
We reached the street where our routes home separated. He paused and there was a very awkward silence. It was so awkward that I was trying very hard not to squirm.
Bravely, I thought it was time to acknowledge things.
“Well, this is awkward,” I ventured. I felt sorry for him – always a bad sign – and this made me generous. I intended to steer him down the path of “Maybe we should meet for coffee so we can get to know each other better.”
He, however, had other ideas. He looked directly at me.
“Shall we just kiss now and get it out the way?”
My face must have said it all. I couldn’t contain my horror at the proposal. I tried to recover my facial muscles but it was too late.
He steeled himself. “Perhaps not then,” he muttered.
I absolutely love this recipe for several reasons. Firstly, not only is it really, really delicious, but it’s so ridiculously cheap that I feel justified eating out for dinner if I’ve had this for lunch (I was obviously never meant to live life as a student). Also, forget vegetarian – this dish is vegan! So super-healthy and a step towards eating a more sustainable diet. I eat so much meat after all… Finally, the dhal takes only 40 minutes to cook, most of which time you just have to keep an eye on a boiling pot. One-pot meal = one-pot to wash up.
All in all, this recipe is a gem.
I’ll give the recipe from the original book and my alterations in brackets.
Taken from: Kris Dhillon – The New Curry Secret
Serves 4 (as a side) or 2 (as a main)
Cooking time: 35 – 40 mins
4 heaped tbsp split red lentils
425ml water (I find 375 is adequate. Add with caution – you can always add more)
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tomato, chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped (I used ‘lazy chillies’ in a jar – I add 1 tsp but this is very mild. Experiment to find your level)
1 level tsp salt (I don’t add this at all. Season to your taste)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander (I use 2 tsp coriander paste – I think this also adds adequate salt)
Any vegetable you feel like adding. My mother recommends cauliflower. I add petit pois.
Rinse the lentils thoroughly and place in pan with all ingredients, except the salt, garam masala, coriander and any extra vegetables. Be cautious with the water. Any extra veg thrown in later will add moisture.
Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover the pan and simmer for a further 20 minutes, stirring two or three times. 10 – 15 minutes before the end, throw in any extra veg.
Stir in garam masala and half the coriander. Season to taste.
I have a friend who is really annoying. He doesn’t like food. It’s amazing we’re friends actually, but somehow we’ve persisted in hanging out for four years or so.
He is a stick, who might not eat for a couple of days. I, on the other hand, might not eat for a couple of hours.
He calls me Pig; I call him Sparrow.
He often comes to mine after work. His visits are almost always preceded by a text like this:
“Just to warn you, I’m not very hungry x”
However, this boy is fickle and occasionally he turns round at about 8.30pm and says, “I’m hungry! Let’s go out to eat.”
And this is how I’ve ended up dining at Byron Burger and Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Spitalfields.
Byron Burger, Spitalfields
We arrived there fairly late on a weekday evening so I wasn’t expecting the place to be buzzing, but it somehow had a cheeriness that belied its emptiness. It was probably because our waitress was super-friendly without being overbearing and that always creates a relaxed ambience.
There wasn’t any question about what I would order. It was always going to be the Byron Burger (£9.25), which comes with cheese and bacon like all good hamburgers should.
It was nicely presented, and the salad was very fresh.
The burger was cooked still pink in the middle, which all burgers should be. By itself, it was a little dry and not exactly bursting with beefy flavour. Still, with the appropriate relishes, it was enjoyable. However, I have no idea what the Byron sauce is – can’t say I detected it, although I presume it’s the white-looking sauce on top.
I took a side of onion rings (£2.95), which are some of my favourite things in life. The batter wasn’t the most well-seasoned in the world, but these were seriously comforting nonetheless.
The chips were unremarkable (£2.95) – neither great nor terrible.
Overall, they could do with putting a bit more effort into producing a more succulent and tasty burger, but Byron Spitalfields made for a quick but pleasant dining experience.
Byron, Spitalfields (E1 6FQ) – 3/5
Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Spitalfields
In contrast, GBK was packed on a weekday evening. We squeezed onto a table and hurriedly made our order. With counter ordering and collect-yourself condiments, GBK is going for more of a fast-food feel than Byron. I don’t remember anything about the service so our food must have been developed without incident.
We were taking advantage of the Capital Burger promotion – two cheeseburgers for £10. The burgers arrived and looked… very sad indeed. And very far removed from “gourmet”.
The bun was burnt. The burger was burnt. Inside, it wasn’t totally overcooked, but it suffered from being dry and lacking flavour, similar to the Byron burger. The difference is that Byron actually put some effort into the cooking, the other ingredients and the presentation.
I ordered a small portion of fries for £1.50 as I wasn’t terrible hungry (I’d eaten before my friend had arrived so this was my second dinner!). These were just the right size and would have been good value if they hadn’t been akin to eating air. I found myself shovelling 6 into my mouth at one time to try and detect some kind of potatoey flavour. Alas, my efforts were in vain.
I have had a decent Taxidriver burger at GBK Soho, but Spitalfields was a poor show.