STK, Westminster

I rarely crave meat, but when I do, only the best will suffice. I was having a ‘carnivore moment’ just as an invite to dinner at American steakhouse STK arrived in my inbox. My foodie fairy godmother was working her magic once again.

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The dinner had a name and that name was RED on RED. Three courses of red meat paired beautifully with glass after glass of glorious Penfolds – one of the best things to come out of Australia, along with Macadamia nuts, Tim Tams and Liam Hemsworth (I’m a bit of a Hunger Games fan).

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We sat in the private dining room, entertained by Head Chef Barry Vera, who enthusiastically introduced us to each dish as they arrived. For him, it was a real treat to experiment ‘off menu’. We also heard from the charming Penfolds Ambassador, who explained why the wine tasted so darn good, especially when savoured with a spoonfuls of the yummy food in front of us.

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The three meat courses were outstandingly good. Steak tartare was topped with a  pretty poached quails egg and caviar. It was drunk with a 2009 Pinot Noir that had notes of dried fruit, adding an extra layer to the delicate meat.

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Next was a gorgeous Japanese Wagyu Ceviche with poached pear puree and large slices of truffle. This was followed by the most substantial of our dishes – USDA sirloin with smoked bone marrow, crispy parsley and caramelised garlic.

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STK is the only place in London to use this cut of prime beef. Take it from me, this steak didn’t need chips, mac ‘n’ cheese or any other steakhouse side to beef it up. It was fantastic on its own.

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Before dessert, a plate of creamy Cornish Yarg, salt bread and cherries were served. It was Vera’s take on a Black Forest Gateaux and one I enjoyed very much (even if my stomach screamed ‘please Sarah, no more!’).

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But I didn’t listen to my stomach and instead ate Head Pastry Chef Sarah Barber’s fabulous Chocolates BFG and ‘Sweet Treats’, whilst sipping sweet Penfolds Grandfather Fortified wine. I was in heaven and nothing was going to take that away from me.

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Now I realise I was getting special treatment that night, so I’ll briefly tell you what STK is like outside the realms of our private room. It’s boisterous, fun and – from what I’ve heard - allows dancing on the tables if the mood takes you there.

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As for the food? Well Vera’s daily menu doesn’t disappoint. Even if you don’t feel like a heavy steak, you can take it from me that the fish dishes are delicious. Scallops were delicately cooked to perfection and Coconut Fried Halibut melted in the mouth.

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The Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese is also worth a try, as are the Wild Mushrooms with Truffle. But I will leave you with this – don’t take anyone hard of hearing. The music is LOUD, which is brilliant for a night out with friends, but inappropriate for dinner with the grandparents.

STK London Steakhouse, ME London, 336-337 The Strand London, WC2R 1HA 

STK London on Urbanspoon

Cicchetti, Covent Garden

The Cheers theme tune sang in my head as I entered Cicchetti last Friday. Everyone was smiling and everybody knew our naaames. We were family. It was the Italian way.

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There were plenty more treats in store when it came to the food. Just like a good steakhouse parades its cuts of meat, our waiter / brother / friend showcased Cicchetti’s beautifully bulbus truffles.

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We smelt them long before they arrived at our booth, located to one side of the bright, marbled dining room. Two black funghi and one, rarer, White Alba truffle that would be used to make my dish of the night.

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Plates of antipasti, primi, carne and pesce appeared in front of us over the course of two and a half hours. I was struck by how fresh the ingredients were – tomatoes that sat like jewels on top of crisp Bruchetta (£4.85) could have been flown in from Italy that morning, and as for the creamy Burrata (£9.95), well I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a buffalo downstairs in the kitchen.

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Most impressive was the White Alba pasta, which came from the daily list of ‘specials’. Homemade ribbons, golden butter and large shavings of truffle were all this dish needed. It melted in my mouth, transporting me to my ‘happy place’.

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That’s not to say the Lobster Risotto (£12.95) and Squid Ink Ravioli stuffed with crab (£8.95) wasn’t divine, but when you taste nectar, you never go back…

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I couldn’t resist ordering a bowl of crisp, sweet, Zucchini Fritti (£4.90) and a couple of Queen Scallops (£10.95). Sitting pretty in their shells, they were lightly fried in olive oil with just a few, simple accompaniments – garlic, lemon and breadcrumbs.

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We weren’t all that impressed by dessert – probably our fault as we greedily ordered a mixed plate of puddings, which were far to heavy for our already overwhelmed stomachs.

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So, to finish on a high, I’ll leave you with the Funghi Crostini, also knowns as my second favourite dish of the night. The dark, meaty mushrooms glistened with butter, perfumed by fresh parsley. It was begging to be demolished, which is exactly what happened.

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If you want good, Italian food that you can afford on pay day, but not by the end of the month, Cicchetti is for you. It’s not as cool as Polpetto, or as pretentious as Bocca di Lupo, but it does serve lovely Italian food with a bright, friendly smile.

Cicchetti Covent Garden, 30 Wellington St London WC2E 7BD

Food 4/5 – Price 4/5 – Staff 5/5 – Atmosphere 4/5

San Carlo Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

The Pig, Brockenhurst

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Sometimes – when you’re really lucky – you can get away with excuses like ‘the dog ate my homework’‘my three alarms didn’t go off’, ‘there was a wild pony in the way’

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I used the latter last weekend when driving to The Pig in Brockenhurst. You see, there really was a wild pony in the way. A stubborn, brown wild pony that didn’t want to move, so just stood and stared, enjoying the power. Were we, or The Pig, surprised? Of course not – this is what happens in the New Forest.

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We were there for lunch, which started with a cocktail in the opulent bar of a magnificent country house. Our jaw dropping menus were stuffed with food that either came from The Pig’s walled garden, or anywhere within a 25 mile radius. Garden to plate is The Pig’s delicacy.

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A large, bright, rustic conservatory housed the dining room, which was packed with guests staying in one of The Pig’s 26 rooms and people like us that had battled wild horses to be there for lunch.

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A handful of honey covered, rosemary almonds kept us going at the bar, but didn’t stop us ordering from every section of the menu. ‘Piggy Bits’ were our appetisers (£3.75 each) - dense, crisp Black Pudding Balls were lightened by a side of piccalilli and long strips of crackling looked too scary for my teeth, but were happily munched around the table.

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When I heard they’d been foraged that morning, I immediately ordered the New Forest Mushrooms & Black Garlic Mayo with a crispy Burford Brown egg as my starter (£6). Dripping in parsley butter, the mushrooms had the most beautiful flavour and texture, made all the more special by the runny, golden egg.

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The Pig’s Extraordinary Bath Chap was the only main for me (£15). Our smiley, attentive waitress tested my squeamishness by mentioning that this Bath Chap came with his teeth. But that didn’t bother me, I was going in.

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When I lifted the vast side of crackling off my massive pig’s head, I found the cheek, which couldn’t have been more succulent, and the teeth, which made me feel sick.

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A simple turn of the plate soon sorted that out and I continued my hearty meal, smothering all meat in homemade apple sauce and enjoying the occasional piece Roasted Crown Prince Squash and our side of purple sprouting broccoli (£3.75).

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We shared a Garden Tarragon Cheesecake for dessert (£7). We weren’t hungry, but the sweetcorn sauce sounded interesting and I’m a sucker for anything with popcorn. This was accompanied by Fresh Mint Tea (to aid digestion) and Piggy Fours (£5.50) – bright pink lumps of deliciousness that almost looked too good to eat.

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I’d go back to The Pig in a heartbeat and am now dying to try The Pig on the Beach in Dorset. I hear they may be planning to expand nearer home – a rumour I very much hope turns out to be true.

The Pig, Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, Hampshire SO42 7QL

Food 5/5 – Price 5/5 – Staff 5/5 – Atmosphere 5/5

Fette Sau, Brooklyn, NYC

My stomach deserved nothing but the best on its last day in New York. A final treat before all meaty, carby goodness was replaced by a vegan health kick back home.

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Fette Sau came highly recommended by bloggers, NY ‘must eat’ lists and friends. We were told to get there early to avoid the crowds, which suited our timings well as a 9pm flight sat on the horizon.

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One way to describe the interior is an ‘all-American meat canteen’. You queue, you order, you pay, you sit, you eat. Seat wise, you can either enjoy the dark, man-friendly, no-frills interior, or the sunshine filled wooden tables outside.

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For just $20, the meat man gave us enough slow cooked slabs for three people, minus the chicken and sausages (they were irrelevant to us). We also had spongy, buttery brioche buns, BBQ beans and our ‘desperate to be healthy’ cold, not particularly tasty, broccoli (these men know their meat, not their veggies).

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Our ribs were covered in sweet, glazed meat. The brisket fell apart on the fork and the pork belly? Well that just melted in the mouth. Oh yes, it pays to slow cook meat between 12 and 18 hours.

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We didn’t drink (although there were some interesting wines and local brews on offer) and we didn’t order dessert. We just filled ourselves with enough BBQ’d meat to help us refuse revolting plane food at 33,000ft.

Fette Sau 354 Metropolitan Avenue (Havemeyer Street), Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Food 4/5 – Price 5/5 – Staff 4/5 – Atmosphere 4/5

Smorgasburg, Brooklyn, NYC

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If you’re in New York on a weekend, Smorgasburg is the perfect place to while away the hours. Think Street Feast, KERB and Urban Food Fest, but on a larger scale with a fantastic Manhattan backdrop.

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Smorgasburg is a street food festival that attracts 100 street vendors to Williamsburg on Saturdays and Brooklyn Bridge Park on Sundays.

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We walked / taxied our way to Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday 14th September and wandered round the stalls twice before deciding what to buy. We’d read about the Milk Truck Grilled Cheese bar, so kicked things off with a Three Cheese Sandwich.

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Oh yes, this wickedly tasty treat combined aged Gruyere, aged New York State Cheddar and Wisconsin Blue with caramelised, Granny Smith apples on Rosemary Pullman Bread. Cheesy, oozing, deliciousness.

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2nd course was a delightful cheesecake ‘bite’ from Gooey & Co. (the name says it all). We asked the owner where to go next. ‘Simple’, he said, ‘I’m looking right at it’. And so, we turned our heels and marched to Schnitz for a Grumpy Russian.

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The Grumpy Russian was pork loin schnitzel topped with Schnitz Greens, pickled cherries and gorgonzola. It was rich and satisfying, but could have done with a few more cherries to cut through the strong gorgonzola.

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Dinner was two hours away, so we stopped there. Had we stayed another weekend, I’d have gone back without hesitation. Smorgasburg is a place to eat, smile and laugh. Something this grouchy fella will learn as he gets older…

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Smorgasburg, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5

momofuku, New York

momofuku means ‘lucky peach’ in Japanese. As there’s no fruit to be seen in this popular restaurant, I can only assume the name refers to its customers – happy, juicy peaches that are lucky to be eating its noodles.

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We went to the original momofuku noodle bar on 1st Avenue and waited around an hour for a seat, guzzling wine by the window. Long wooden tables surrounded the busy bar and kitchen. The atmosphere was fun and lively.

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Some friendly New Yorkers recommended what dishes to choose from the menu, starting with one of the specials – yummy pork buns that made me want to cry with joy ($12).

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They came with a plate of Shrimp & Grits with Benton’s bacon, a poached egg and scallion ($14). This rich, buttery dish was a first for me and one I’d like to relive soon. I hear the Lockhart in Marylebone does a very good version (*dials reservation line).

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Big bowls of Spicy Miso Ramen came next ($15). Filled with smoked chicken, noodles, scallion and sesame, there was also a poached egg that delightfully broke with one prick of my fork, flooding the bowl with bright yellow yolk.

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We didn’t have room for dessert, but our waiter turned us with tales of the momofuku Milk Bar – a standalone bakery that produces weird and wonderful treats for each of the restaurants.

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This month’s focus was cookies, so we ordered a Milk Bar medley – ‘the ritz’ cookie, pretzel cake truffles and strawberry sweet cracker soft serve. I couldn’t eat the truffle - it was too sickly for my very sweet tooth. But the cookie made a perfect scoop for the creamy, sweet ice cream (she wonders why her jeans are too tight).

I’d go back to momofuku in an instant; it’s the original Ramen bar that made me feel like the luckiest girl in New York.

momofuku noodle bar, 171 1st Avenue, New York, ny 10003

Price 4/5 - Atmosphere 4/5 - Staff 5/5 - Food 5/5 

Provence, Summer 2014

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A couple of months ago, I went on a much needed holiday to the South of France. For me, it was always going to be about the food. So if you’re already planning your 2015 getaway (the thought has crossed my mind), perhaps this post will tempt your tastebuds to Provence.

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We stayed in a pretty village called Le Rouret, which just so happened to have its own Michelin-starred restaurant (she says). Le Clos Saint Pierre serves delicious dishes on a magical terrace, which keeps it packed every night. It’s so charming, made all the more special by Head Chef Daniel Ettlinger, who enthusiastically chats food and France with his guests.

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Renting a car was essential for us to explore the surrounding countryside. The Gorge du Verdon is spectacular, whether looking from above the clouds, or pedalling across the turquoise water to its many waterfalls. This ‘Grand Canyon of France’ also gave us an excuse to eat yummy snails and wickedly good creme brûlée at La Table de la Fontaine in Rians.

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Antibes was our number one stop for sea, sand and sunbathing, along with a mooch round its daily food market. Le Marche Provencal is filled with beautiful fruit, vegetables, flowers, cakes, pates and hungry Frenchmen. It made us wish for a villa so we could stuff our baskets with local produce and cook up a feast for dinner. Maybe next time.

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One town we couldn’t miss was Medieval Mougins. Famed for its restaurants, art (Picasso lived there) and undeniable prettiness, it’s also home to a lake of Lotus Flowers that will literally take your breath away.

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We also went to Tourtour, Vence and Nice, which all have qualities you’d be mad to miss. In fact, you’d be mad to miss any of Provence, so go, explore and enjoy. I promise it won’t disappoint.

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