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

Dum Dums Donutterie, Shoreditch Boxpark

Hello

Hey there, doughnuts!

There are some new doughnuts in town…..but they’re not just any doughnuts. Oh no, these are doughnuts from artisan doughnut chef (yes, that’s what the website says!) Paul Hurley, who has been making doughnuts since 1997. These are breaking away from the stereotype of fat American cops munching them police cars. These doughtnuts are not fried; they’re baked. Apparently, this means only 6 grams in a jam doughnut compared to an average of 17g of fat in their American counterparts.

Rows and rows of O's

Rows and rows of O’s

That’s quite impressive – but what do they taste like? The dough is like a soft roll – almost like the texture you’d expect from an ice-bun. As a person who usually finds doughnuts unpleasantly heavy and chewy, this was perfect.

We also sampled their zebra cronut, which was far lighter than I expected – the chocolate cream was the perfect balance to the pastry. I’m still not what sure I make of cronuts but this was definitely one of the favourites I’ve tried.

Ey ey

Ey ey

Can you think of the problem of healthy doughnuts? Well, they’re in Shoreditch and when doughnuts are hip, they come at a price…

Pricey

Pricey

For all doughnuts fans out there, Dum Dums Donutterie is definitely worth a visit.

Head to Shoredtich Box Park or from March 27th, find them at King’s Cross.

Dum Dums Donutterie at Shoreditch Boxpark

Dum Dums Donutterie at Shoreditch Boxpark

The Breakfast Club’s Pancake Day Challenge 2014

Pancake Pheebz

Pancake Pheebz

It’s Pancake Day! Rejoice! Finally, we can give these simple floury, eggy, milky creations the full appreciation they deserve.

Why then, am I looking so anxious at the giant stack of pancakes in front of me? Because I had to eat them ALL in 15 minutes – that’s why.

Every Mardi Gras, The Breakfast Club really does take the day at it’s literal meaning – ‘Fat Tuesday’ – and presents customers with an ego-massaging, or ego-destroying, Man V Food eating competition. The rules are as simple as the ingredients: eat all the pancakes within the time limit and pay nothing; fail and pay £17.50 to Rays of Sunshine children’s charity (so basically, it’s a win-win situation).

Last year, I wolfed down 12 pancakes in 20 minutes, earning myself some applause and this wonderful footage of me gagging bravely struggling.

This year, the challenge was tougher: just 15 minutes for 12 pancakes. And they were definitely bigger and eggier than before.

The monster portion

The monster portion

I knew before I started that defeat lay ahead of me, but how much did I enjoy getting dirty?!

Concentrating on chewing

Concentrating on chewing

Kissing the cream

Kissing the cream

By ten minutes in, I settled for defeat. Quantity was not the problem so much as sweetness and dryness, and swallowing pancakes mixed with water was not agreeing with my stomach. By taking the sensible decision to quit, I a) didn’t feel ill all afternoon and b) got to take away what I didn’t finish – win! Pancake Day is lasting that bit longer for me and I’m looking forward to breakfast!

Apparently, there is no such thing as too many pancakes…

Pancakes in London: The Functional, The Fancy and The Foreign

Plum and cinnamon compote at The Delaunay

Plum and cinnamon compote at The Delaunay

Original article posted on Tryum.com.

Pancake Day. Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Whatever the term… the day of pancake goodness approaches!

Simple though they are, pancakes are a comfort food that can insistently transport you back to your childhood days. They come in many different forms and many different guises. So if you want to branch out this Pancake Day, here are some top tips for shaking things up a bit…

The Functional: My Old Dutch

If you want pancakes, My Old Dutch has pancakes! The Holborn branch is a favourite haunt of LSE students, and it keeps things simple. It serves up a range of sweet and savoury treats at pitch-perfect prices – you can get a pancakey fix from £5.95. Or if you go for the Monday Madness, all pancakes are just a fiver. Bargain!

Pancake with vanilla ice-cream = winning

Pancake with vanilla ice-cream = winning

Try the apple/pear and cinnamon for the perfect amount of sweetness and the ability to smugly claim that you’ve just eaten one of your five-a-day.

Pear and cinnamon

Pear and cinnamon

Where: Kensington, Holborn, Chelsea
Website: http://www.myolddutch.com/

The Fancy: The Delaunay

Sitting on the Aldwych, The Delaunay is a fixture on the London dining scene for serving up good quality European fare in rather swish settings. However, The Delaunay is definitely not above serving the simple delights that are pancakes. On their brunch menu, there are the classic delights of bacon and maple syrup (£9.75) and blueberries and crème fraiche (£9.95), or the more unusual plum and cinnamon compote (£10.50). I’m not going to lie though – it’s all about the bacon. Who can resist that saltiness cutting through the sweetness, cushioned with some soft dough? Not me, anyway.

Bacon and maple syrup

Bacon and maple syrup

The atmosphere is far more laid back than you might expect from a place that has doormen and two people working front-of-house. Settle in and get your pancakes on order. Also, fear not: at the Delaunay, poshness does not equate to portion poverty. The pancakes are some of the heaviest we’ve ever sampled and they’re huge. You may well be defeated.

Where: 55 Aldwych, WC2B 4BB
Website: http://www.thedelaunay.com/

The Foreign: Japanese Pancakes

Savoury – Okonomiyaki by Sho Foo Doh, Pacific Social Club

Stop with the sushi stereotypes! There are pancakes in Japan too, and they’re delicious enough that you should definitely put them on your food radar. Famously un-Japanese in aesthetics is the incredibly messy okonomiyaki. This is a savoury pancake, made from the standard eggs and flour, but with cabbage, topped with a sweet sauce, mayonnaise, fish flakes and seaweed. It can have various fillings – most popular is squid or pork. Yes, it sounds like a catastrophe but trust us, it works.

For some seriously delicious and messy times, head to the Pacific Social Club on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night where Sho Foo Doh cooks up Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (£8) which include NOODLES!! You can then add a range of toppings priced between £0.50 and £3.

Okonomiyaki Hiroshima-style!

Okonomiyaki Hiroshima-style!

Where: Pacific Social Club, 8 Clarence Road, E5 8HB
Website: https://www.facebook.com/shofoodoh

Sweet – Dorayaki at Japan Centre

Chocolate dorayaki

Chocolate dorayaki

If you absolutely refuse to take your pancakes savoury, then you need to get stuck in to dorayaki. These are similar to Scotch American pancakes but come with a gorgeous sweet filling sandwiched in between. In Japan, the filling tends to be azuki bean paste or custard, but a whole range can be bought from the Japan Centre, just round the corner from Picadilly Circus. Like this red bean and cream cheese mix. There’s also a really genius matcha (green tea) and mascarpone mix. Warning: these are addictive.

Red bean & cream cheese dorayaki

Red bean & cream cheese dorayaki

Where: 19 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 7ED
Website: http://www.japancentre.com/

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…

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