Tag Archives: cheese

Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly

A few months ago, Afternoon Tea was something I’d never experienced…out of choice. Brunch I could handle, but an over priced feed that disrupted lunch and dinner? No thank you.

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But then I tried it and fell in love. Little did I know how much I’d enjoy the decadence of Afternoon Tea. Little did I know about how much I could indulge. Yes it is expensive, but it’s also unlimited.

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The Afternoon Tea that broke me took place at Fortnum and Mason one Saturday before Christmas. There was a beautiful tree, a man serenading us on the piano and more cake than any little lady could eat. It was glorious. My sister even wore pearls.

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We sat on plush green chairs as waiters glided around filling endless cups of tea. I ordered a savoury tower of gorgeous treats (£44 per person) and a magnificent bottle of Champagne. I felt like Alice in wonderland and could have sworn I saw Mary Poppins laughing on the ceiling.

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The top of my savoury tree was adorned with a stunning Oeuf Drumkilbo, Carpaccio of Venison, Smoked Salmon Blinis and Goat’s Cheese on Walnut Shortbread with Beetroot.

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Then it was a selection of sumptuous scones – Wholemeal Cheese with Walnut & Raisin Butter (the butter was the best bit) and a Caramelised Onion variation. And it didn’t stop at that as I moved onto sandwiches fit for a queen – Coronation Chicken, Cucumber, Egg and Roast Beef. Yum Yum Yum. Give me more.

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After a couple of rounds, I moved onto a large slice of chocolate cake with the smoothest ganache. It was a classic choice for me and one I didn’t regret from the first to the last bite.

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So I went from being an Afternoon Tea virgin to an Afternoon Tea junkie. I couldn’t get enough, so now must restrict myself to one sitting a year. It’s for the best and at least I have the memory of my day of decadence.

Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER

Food 5/5 – Price 5/5  (it’s unlimited) – Staff 4/5 – Atmosphere – 5/5

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Cafe Murano, St James’s

Cafe Murano appeared in almost every 2014 ‘best restaurant’ list. Everything from the olive oil to the cocktails were praised, along with the light and breezy price tag. Angela Hartnett had done it again and I wasn’t going to waste another Saturday night without experiencing it for myself.

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What struck me on arrival was the smart, sophisticated dining room. The prices might be easier on the eye than nearby Murano, but that certainly wasn’t reflected in the decor. This is the place to impress a date, whilst secretly high-fiving yourself for not breaking the bank.

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Over a glass of Champagne (dry January eat your heart out), we nibbled on my favourite Sicilian olives (£3) and a couple of light, aromatic truffle arancini (£4). A perfectly simple way to start.

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We both choose starters from the Antipasti menu, not that the Primi options weren’t crying out for attention. I went with an Octopus salad with potato, preserved lemon and parsley (£9). The flavour was lovely, but it confirmed something to me. Cold octopus is not nice, it’s slimy.

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Up next was cod with romanesco and an Italian cured meat called Guanciale (£17.50). I loved the simplicity of this dish. Tender white flakes of cod were boosted by the meat and nutty romanesco. It also went well with our sides of buttery polenta and wild rocket (both £3.75 each).

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I had a cheese plate for dessert (£12) served with yummy London honey and biscuits. As for L, the Amalfi Lemon Tart (£6) proved too tempting and disappeared in an instant.

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It’s rare to find a central restaurant serving near perfect food at a reasonable price in a gorgeous setting, but that’s what you get at Cafe Murano. I will go back and I will recommend. This really is a ‘best restaurant’.

Cafe Murano, 33 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1HD

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

Cafe Murano on Urbanspoon

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

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

Fika, Brick Lane

‘Magical’, ‘authentic’ and ‘darkly seductive’. Ambitious adjectives used to describe Fika. Adjectives I chose to ignore, putting them down to pure PR drivel.

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Turns out, the PRs are spot on – Fika is a charming, Scandinavian restaurant that’s well worth a visit. The interior perfectly captures the delightfully unique nature of Brick Lane and the food looks good enough to be served at a banquet for fairies, elves and goblins.

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Em and I sat upstairs on the restaurant’s quirky roof terrace. We drank Prosecco and ate like Queens of an enchanted land, starting with Beetroot & Birch (£5) and Tre Sorters Sill (£5.50).

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Served on a round slab of wood, Beetroot & Birch was made up of a warm, miniature loaf of savoury beetroot bread, goats cheese, foraged wood sorrel and a shot of birch tree water. The flavours were earthy, simple and – even though I left the somewhat superfluous shot – really rather wonderful.

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Across from me sat Em’s Tre Sorters Sill – three flavours of pickled herring on crushed purple potatoes with blobs of dill yoghurt. The potatoes were deliberately cold, so not particularly tasty on their own. But, the overall effect was again very good.

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We chose completely different mains – I went for rich, sweet Swedish Elk Meatballs (£10.20) that I now want to replicate at home (pass the Elk please). As for Em, it was Foraged Salad with Goat Cheese (£12), which combined some unrecognisable leaves and flowers, along with quail eggs, samphire and black truffle potato. Calorie wise, it was nice to know you could be very good, or very bad when dining at Fika.

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My Kladdkaka was hands down the best chocolate brownie / cake / whatever you want to call it I’ve ever had (£4.60). Chewy on the outside, melting on the inside, it was beautifully presented as a flower (in case you were wondering…) with an equally pretty floral shaped scoop of Vanilla ice cream on the side.

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Em had Fresh Mint Granita, which was luminous on arrival (£5). I wouldn’t have traded my Kladdkaka, but the mixture of beetroot, fresh fruit and berries seemed to go down well.

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Fika proves you should never judge a book by its cover (or prologue). It oozed charm and made our eyes light up with every dish (example below). So for that, it gets a LLE Rating of 7.5/10.

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Fika, 161 Brick Lane, London E1 6SB

Fika on Urbanspoon

Blanchette, Soho

Blanchette was a dream come true. The waiters were my friends, the food comforting, and the drinks? Well, they just kept on coming. And let’s not forget the company – Crump Eats, The Edible Woman and handsome Steve Jones (sitting on the table next to us).

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I loved it from the start. The pretty dining room was filled with quirky French ornaments, colourful tiling, brushed wood and exposed brickwork. The memory will inspire when I decorate my dream home.

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Everyone had that Thursday feeling, so we started with a round of cocktails, olives and baked St Marcelin with bruchetta and large caper berries. An indulgent start that couldn’t have been more tasty.

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The menu had a ‘French Tapas’ theme as everyone in our city loves to share. We ordered as we ate, starting with succulent Braised Octopus with radish, tomato and a Verjus dressing (£7.50), along with a Roast Quail, Jamon Sec & Herb Croquette (£7.50). The dishes were totally different, but both were matched in impeccable presentation and taste.

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Steamed Mussels were juicy and enormous (£6) and Roasted Beetroot Salad with girolles, Fleur de Marquis and a tarragon dressing (£5.75) was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

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Frites and Béarnaise was a must at £3.75. We all remarked on the flavour of the chips and how well each golden wonder went with the sauce. Could Ketchup and Mayo be a thing of the past?

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At dessert, we were so impressed with Chocolate Marquise, salted caramel puffed rice and pistachio ice cream (£5.95) that we ordered a second pudding – Lemon Pot with Strawberry, Gin & Parsley Sorbet (£5.25). It was a modern take on a traditional French Strawberry Tart, brimming with beautiful creme patisserie and served with thin, crisp shortbread.

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Our last surprise came with the bill. We were stuffed and had drunk more than our fair share, yet only faced a charge of £46 each with tip. There is no doubt in my mind – I will experience this dream again and, for now, leave Blanchette with a LLE Rating of 9/10.

Blanchette, 9 D’Arblay St, London W1F 8DR

Bistro Blanchette on Urbanspoon