Review: Sakura Festival at Saka no Hana

Cherry blossom around Hikone castle

Cherry blossom around Hikone castle

Sakura season – otherwise known as cherry blossom season – spreads like a fever for a couple of weeks in April. For those who haven’t been to Japan during this period, you will be unprepared for the sheer decadence of the scenery and the sheer reverence with which it’s treated. You should probably see my blog post here.

In honour of this time of year, upmarket and rather swanky restaurant Sake no Hana held their own sakura festival with their very own sakura menu. The interior was decorated with some rather realistic and beautifully lit cherry blossom trees, and with delicate sakura painted along the counter at the bar.

Photo: Betty Chen

Isn’t this gorgeous? (Photo: Betty Chen)

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Review: Holborn Dining Room

Roast Rib Eye

Roast Rib Eye

The stretch of road from Holborn station towards Chancery Lane is a bit of a no man’s land. You’ll find the standard lunch time take-out shops, a stationers targeting students and… not a whole lot else. Once the sun goes down, sleepiness properly settles in. It seems strange given that the area is a stone’s throw from Covent Garden and Tottenham Court Road. Of course, there has to be a divide somewhere… but perhaps it shouldn’t feel so much like a provincial town. Some people, somewhere, obviously agree as the area is currently part of a ‘Go To Midtown‘ campaign  – an effort to rebrand and invigorate the area.

Perhaps cottoning on this, or perhaps just trying their luck, Rosewood Hotel opened in October 2013. Naturally, this also entailed an restaurant – the somewhat functionally named Holborn Dining Room.

Holborn Dining Room appears every bit the well-furnished modern brasserie in its style – bare bulbs on metal frames throw shadows over the dark wood counters and tables that are surrounded by plush red leather seating. It’s tastefully done and consistent.

Swish interior and dim light aside, on entering the restaurant, we found the atmosphere to be relaxed – Holborn Dining Room could easily be a place to go for drinks and a catch-up with friends but it would equally work for a date. So far, so good.

The staff were on their best behaviour, probably because we were visiting for the soft launch; they attended to us with wide smiles, and created the illusion of automatic doors. Service was just below the overbearing mark, and they’ve probably all calmed down a bit by now.

Hello beef!

Hello beef!

My dining companion and I are FIENDISH meat eaters so there was only one thing on the menu that we were going to be ordering: the Roast Rib Eye ‘Club Cut’ with pepper sauce and crispy onions (£26.50). This is a giant chunk of tender roast beef served up like a steak, topped with thin onion rings. The flavour of the meat was beautiful, but it was a tad overcooked: I asked for mine medium-rare and it came medium, whereas my companion’s came medium-rare, despite asking for it rare. Nevertheless, we happily devoured our chunks of meat with some sell-executed chips (£4.25) and some delicious steamed spinach (£5.50).

Valhrona chocolate

Valhrona chocolate <– order this

For dessert, I tucked into an absolutely brilliant Valhrona chocolate pot with sweet cream (£6.50), which was essentially a very rich chocolate crème brûlée with a fantastically crisp top.

Bakewell tart - modern style?

Bakewell tart – modern style?

My companion was less lucky with her Bakewell tart and raspberry ice-cream (£6.50). In an attempt at a modern twist on the classic, the chef had produced a giant puff pastry version, which inadvertently created the game of ‘hunt the filling’ in the midst of a desert. Thank goodness for the ice-cream.

Holborn Dining Room 3/5 – Whilst the food is of decent quality, it is far from exceptional and, at those prices, it can’t really afford not to be. It made us very grateful for the soft opening offer!

Food 3/5
Value 1.5/5
Atmosphere 4/5
Service 4/5

Website: http://www.holborndiningroom.com/
Where: 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN
When: Mon – Fri 7am – 11.30pm; Saturday 8am – 11.30pm; Sunday 8am – 10.30pm

Choccywoccydoodah, off Carnaby Street

BrownieHow many of you will be giving or given chocolate this Valentine’s Day? It’s a pretty standard gift that ensures that February 14th is sickly sweet in more ways than one. Not that there’s anything wrong with chocolate, of course. Just why not give your special someone a little bit more of an imaginative, full-on chocolate experience? You know, a bit of a cocoa thingamabob? Or a sugary whatsit?  Or maybe, some… Choccywoccydoodah?

Yes, Choccywoccydoodah does exist and it will excite even the most chocolate-apathetic among us. Hailing from Brighton, they have now set up a shop and café just off London’s Carnaby Street.

Bunny girl bath
Imagine what would happen if Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory got it on with a fine lady’s boudoir. You get extravagance, flamboyance, weirdness and wackiness all rolled into one. In fact, entering Choccywoccydoodah for the first time will visually overwhelm you. There is too much to take in – it’s an Aladdin’s Cave of all things yummy.

Cartoonish models of bunny girls are interspersed with giant marshmallow lollies, strawberry chocolates, hearts and flowers. It’s so over-the-top and playful that I defy you not to grin and squeal, and start examining all the treasures.

Mantlepiece
Up the stairs, you will find a small café split on two levels. The centrepiece is a table covered with cakes that are just as extravagant as the décor. At Choccywoccydoodah, the request of ‘just a small slice, please’ is seriously frowned upon. At Choccywoccydoodah, size is everything.

Now that you’ve impressed your loved one with such opulent and ogle-worthy offerings, take a table and order the hot chocolate (£3.50). This is one of London’s best – you can choose from milk, dark or white and it comes with marshmallows, plenty of cream and a chocolate straw. Also on the menu are milkshakes, chocolate fondue and the dangerously sumptuous Choccywoccydoodah sundae.

Hello hot chocolate
There is enough here for your love affair to weather several repeat visit – and it may also be a teeny-weeny bit addictive. A word of caution: the café does get busy so allow yourself plenty of time as you may have to queue. Just remember that all good and pleasurable things are worth waiting for.

So if you really want to impress your loved one for Valentine’s Day, off you trot to Carnaby Street. Choccywoccydoodah will give you all the choccy woccy you need… please save the doodah for later 😉

Website: https://www.choccywoccydoodah.com/
Where: 30-32 Fouberts Place, off Carnaby St, London,W1F 7PS
When: Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm; Sunday 12pm – 5pm

Article originally published on Tryum.com, which you check out for loads more London food news.

 

Semla Season – A Quick Trip to Bageriet, Covent Garden

Sweet treats

Sweet treats

I’ve decided to do something rather mad. I’ve decided to have a sugar-free February. The reasons for this are two-fold and I won’t elaborate on them here. Instead, I’ll cut to the important part – the part about what any dessert-loving person might do when faced with a sugarless February: eat a shed-load of sugary desserts.

As it so happens, it’s semla season. For those of you who have never heard of a semla or semlor, they’re a cardamom-spiced bun with the top sliced off, filled with an almond paste and whipped cream, and they’re eaten across Scandinavia for Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras. Last year, I went on an epic hunt for semlor across London and tried three different semlor.

Semla

Semla

Daniel Karlsson, pastry chef of one of the semla I sampled previously, has since set up a tiny, quaint Swedish bakery/café in Covent Garden called Bageriet (you can read about my previous visit here). I took a trip with a friend who had never tried a semla and was desperate to get their Scandinavian/Swedish sugar fix.

Now being a tiny specialist bakery, this isn’t the cheapest dessert rampage in the world, but we’re oh-so-cultured, so we ordered our semlor at over £4 each. I got mine with cinnamon milk, which is apparently the traditional way to eat semlor. Personally, I found it was a little thin and that it detracted from the bun, but I quite enjoyed drinking it separately.

Semla with cinnamon milk

Semla with cinnamon milk

The semlor themselves are CREAMY. Be warned. But the texture of the bun is beautifully light and the almond paste is fantastic.

Not content with just cakes, we got the home-made hot chocolate. This was way too mild for me on the chocolate front, but my partner-in-sugar-munching was delighted with its gentle spiciness. It certainly warmed us up on a cold day.

Hot chocolate

Hot chocolate

As for the sugar-free February, the following day was the February 1st and my resolutions fell epically flat. I went to a friend’s birthday meal at Wagamama, where out of their excessively long menu, there was NOTHING that didn’t contain sugar. I was offered raw vegetables without dressing, declined and ordered whatever. On Monday we begin again, I vowed.

To be continued…

Bageriet

Website: http://www.bageriet.co.uk/
Where: 
24 Rose Street, WC2E 9EA
When: Monday – Friday 9am-7pm; Saturday 10am-7pm; Sunday – closed.

Some more Swedish treats…

009

008

007

Review: House of Ho, Soho – Vietnamese by Bobby Chinn

Molton Marou Chocolate Cake

Molton Marou Chocolate Cake

When writing a review, or indeed anything at all, Wikipedia is an invaluable source of information. However, I’m a little perplexed by the Wikipedia page for TV chef Bobby Chinn, who is the man behind trendy Soho opening, House of Ho. The page [last accessed: January 11th, 2014] is sparse on information and opens with the golden line: “Bobby Chinn, born 3 April 1964 in Auckland, New Zealand, is a restaurateur and a curt and at times a disrespectful television host in Hanoi, Vietnam of mixed Chinese American and Egyptian heritage.”

Unflattering description or no, the arrival of Chinn’s House of Ho has been causing quite a buzz on the food scene in London. Chinn already has successful restaurants in Hanoi and Saigon, and expectations were high. All I can say is that, if the description of him is accurate, I pray he doesn’t read this review: despite being really, really excited, I left House of Ho extremely underwhelmed.

Oooh
Located on Old Compton Street, House of Ho is sleek, modern and beautifully decorated. Simple, sharply cut wooden tables loom through the dimly lit restaurant. The layout is particularly interesting with the space divided into corridors and alcoves for those wanting to dine in a more intimate setting.

Service was warm and friendly. One of the waitresses either did not have enough English or enough knowledge to describe items on the menu, but such hiccups are to be expected in the soft opening.

We settled ourselves down and contemplated the menu, which is divided into ‘Light and raw’, ‘Hot and grilled’, ‘Ho’s dishes’ (the house specialities), ‘Sides’ and ‘Desserts’.

Ceviche

Ceviche

It is only when we started tucking into the dishes that disappointment began to sink in.  We first tucked into Seafood Ceviche with Mangosteen Coconut Dressing and Truffle Oil (£9). Undeniably, it looked completely stunning. It included a mix of sea bass, squid and shrimp and should have been light and refreshing. However, none of the flavours settled together; it ended up overly tangy and haunting our mouths for an unpleasantly long period afterwards. I far preferred the rendition I recently had at Chotto Matte.

Pho Cuon Wild Mushroom

Pho Cuon Wild Mushroom

The general theme of the evening, however, was blandness. We worked our way through Pho Cuon Wild Mushroom (£4) (rice noodle rolls), which were completely unmemorable, followed by possibly the most unexciting pork ribs I have ever tried (£6.50). They were tamarind barbecue. Apparently.

These made me so very sad

These made me so very sad

Depressingly, my dining partner who is about as keen on food as cats are on swimming, turned to me and said, “If I’m picking up that the food here is unexciting, then there is definitely something wrong.”

Shaking beef

Shaking beef

Shaking beef - shake it and it vanishes!

Shaking beef – shake it and it vanishes!

Fortunately, there were a few dishes that broke away from this. Like the ‘Shaking Beef’ (£14) which is simply wok-fried beef with soy, but had just enough umami flavour to hook us. However, it was so small that I was afraid that a violent sneeze might vanish it.

Chicken wings

Chicken wings

Morning Glory - don't you look like this in the morning?

Morning Glory – don’t you look like this in the morning?

The Grilled Chicken Wings with Chilli and Oyster Sauce (£6) were sticky, gooey and really quite tasty, but the stand-out dish was the Morning Glory (£4) – water spinach. Yes, we couldn’t quite believe that our favourite dish was a vegetable side.

The Moulton Marou Chocolate Cake (£6.50) was also really delicious – both rich and intense – although the lemon and coffee sauce on the side jarred horribly.

Chocolate landslide mmm

Chocolate landslide mmm

It’s a shame the service slowed down towards the end of our meal. It took a while to get dessert and ages to get the bill. When it did arrive, we were so very relieved that we went during the soft opening with 50% off. I think I would have been shaking more than the beef if I’d paid full prices.

House of Ho 2/5 – Underwhelming, bland and overpriced. So very disappointing.

Food 2.5/5 – Hit-and-miss flavour-wise.
Value 2/5 – It may be Soho but I am perplexed as to why House of Ho is being marketed as affordable dining. Maybe the average customer has a very small appetite?
Atmosphere 2.5/5 – Loved the décor but the music was intrusive and completely incongruous.
Service 3/5 – Friendly, but a little slow (potentially soft opening issues).

Website: http://www.houseofho.co.uk/
Where: 57-59 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 6HP
When: Lunch and dinner, every day

Happy New Year & Festive Food (incl. Paul A Young + Konditor & Cook)

Got beef?

Got beef?

Happy New Year! Hope that you’ve all had a lovely time and – most importantly – that you’ve all eaten lots of delicious food!

Food is the most important aspect of family life in my household and it takes on extra importance at Christmas. Our meal isn’t the traditional turkey: my parents did make turkey one year and I was mildly (read: very) disappointed, not because they’d cooked it badly, but because turkey just isn’t beef. And if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know how much I love beef.

So our Christmas dinner, cooked by Dad, looked like this:

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

That’s a whole lot of beef, seven vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and lashings of gravy and horseradish sauce. Incidentally, the dinner prompted a discussion about some really great home-made horseradish that we’d had recently… and that would be from Beard to Tail. Worth ordering).

Roast ham with parsley sauce

Roast ham with parsley sauce

On boxing day, our tradition is to have roast ham. With a sugar, mustard coating with cloves. And parsley sauce. All prepared by Mum (yes, my parents take turns at cooking if they aren’t doing a kitchen double act).

I love my parents’ cooking but there’s one thing they don’t do – dessert. But this is no problem at all – not when there are so many tasty sweet treats to be had. I was lucky enough to win some Konditor and Cook goodies from The Little Loaf, a beautiful baking blog where every recipe looks so edible I want to gnaw the screen (seriously, you should check it out). You may know I’m a big fan of Konditor and Cook’s brownies so I was thrilled to try their mince pies, which had gorgeously firm pastry and a rich filling.

Cinnamon stars

Cinnamon stars

Big loves goes to their cinnamon stars. Imagine eating a hot cross bun in a soft biscuit format. That’s what their cinnamon stars are like. They’re probably all off the shelves by now, but if not, go grab yourself a packet and try to stop yourself from eating them all at once.

Chocolates!

YES!

This Christmas, I was also lucky enough to be given some Paul A Young chocolates. I have been wanting to try these for ages so discovering the box sent me jumping around the room with excitement.

Chocolates!

Admire them

Chocolates!

Admire them some more!

Paul A Young is particularly famous for his salted caramel chocolates and I can confirm that yes, they are very good. You want to eat them now. Oh yes you do.

I also very enjoyed this cinnamon chocolate, which was beautifully smooth (possibly the orange and cinnamon dark muscovado caramel and gold).

Cinnamon choc

What a cheeky little poser

Cinnamon choc

Cinnamon yummyness

But my heart fell for the Marmite truffle. You read that right – Marmite. I was actually sceptical about the flavour combination because Marmite is not something I’ve ever wanted to put with chocolate. However, Mr. Young’s recipe dispelled all doubts – the Marmite’s tangyness blended seamlessly  with the dark chocolate. So addictively good. I guess you either love it or you hate it 😉

Marmite truffle - love it or hate it

Marmite truffle – love it or hate it

That wasn’t the end of my food-related Christmas presents. My mother bought me a fantastic, top-notch casserole dish from Le Creuset. So far, I’ve only made sweet potato and red pepper soup in it but I’m hoping to branch out and bring you some more recipes soon.

Le Creuset casserole dish with sweet potato & red pepper soup

Le Creuset casserole dish with sweet potato & red pepper soup

I also took a very disturbing selfie with a Heston Blumenthal meat thermometer in which I look like I want to insert it into humans.

Helloooo. I'll take your temperature.....

Helloooo. I’ll take your temperature…..

And aside from being creepy, admiring kitchen equipment and stuffing my face, I did all the usual things such as…

…danced badly round my house to dubstep with my ultimate geek T-shirt – ‘What does the Vulpix say?’…

What does the Vulpix say?

What does the Vulpix say?

…shot a short film in which I aptly played a mad woman with a labradoodle…

My name's Elaine and I love my doggie, Princess Primrose

My name’s Elaine and I love my doggie, Princess Primrose

…and just generally admired nature in the beautiful New Forest.

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Review: Biscuit Ceramic Café, Greenwich

CAKE TIME

CAKE TIME

I love Greenwich market. It is crammed full of beautiful jewellery, clothing, leather bags, art and other crafts, and upmarket food produce. It basically screams “Hello, I’m a middle-class shopping haven” and I absolutely, unabashedly love it.

I am, of coruse, blaming it for making me buy loads of stuff for me instead of presents for others. In fact, it was so tempting that my sister and I had to drag ourselves away from it fairly sharpish. We settled into the adjacent  Biscuit Ceramic Café for a (not so) well-deserved hot drink and cake.

Biscuit has a great vibe – always bustling and with friendly staff, it normally has a fair amount of kids covered in paint as they decorate various ceramic shapes, although there are always a fair amount of ‘grown-ups’ having a go. There are shelves lined with white ceramic items begging for colour.

Disco santa

Disco santa

Paint me!

Paint me!

My sister Macadie and I managed to quell our inner children and resist painting a whole army of Santas (although she spotted a kid with a Dalek and was looking a little too eagerly for some more). Instead we took advantage of their wonderfully reasonable offer of £4.25 for any hot drink and homemade cake.

Chocolate torte

Chocolate torte

Mac tucked into a generous slice of chocolate torte, which was very dense but a little dry. I got myself a mocha – slightly too sweet for my liking – with a toffee pecan cheesecake. Oh, this was a very good cheesecake. Not too sickly. Base perfectly biscuity. I had to pace myself.

Toffee pecan cheesecake

Toffee pecan cheesecake

The only slight mishap was my nut-allergic sister thinking she could get away with trying a bit of my cheesecake minus any pecan chunks. Well, as it turns out, she is slightly more allergic than she thought and sent one dedicated Phoebe running to Boots for antihistamines as her lips swelled up. Who needs implants eh?

My superhero mission did, however, earn me forgiveness from the fashion police as I was wearing eye-watering triple-patterning, topped off with a purple sparkly scarf.

Fashion baby

Fashion baby

We spent over two hours sitting at the back of Biscuit, sipping our drinks, munching cakes and generally have a sisterly catch-up. I have a feeling we’ve found a new favourite haunt.

Biscuit 3.5/5 – Perfect for relaxing as well as indulging any creative urges. Take advantage of their great value hot drink and cake deal for £4.25.

Website: http://www.biscuit-biscuit.com/
Where: 3 – 4 Nelson Road, Greenwich, SE10 9JB
When: Mon – Fri 10am – 5.30pm; Sat & Sun 10am – 6pm