Tag Archives: ham

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

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

The Hand & Flowers, Marlow

When Tom Kerridge opened The Hand & Flowers, he put pretty Marlow on the map. It’s a gastropub with two Michelin stars. A gastropub that’s been on my restaurant bucket list for well over a year.

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We booked at Christmas and went three weeks ago – something the hungry punters at the bar should have done. Our square, wooden table was at the back of the charming restaurant, complete with exposed beams, white-washed walls and wild flowers.

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We chose from the Michelin priced menu, whilst munching on complimentary white bait and bread. The homemade sourdough and soda was delightful and the lightly battered fish was dunked and devoured in an instance. We were off to a great start.

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Pumpkin soup from the very reasonable set menu (two courses for £15, three for £19.50) was velvety, nutty and made all the more special with aromatic truffle.

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Crab Ravioli (£11.50) had a wonderful flavour, but the best part sat on top – sweet, chargrilled calcot onion smothered in smokey butter. Delicious.

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Mains were Cornish Monkfish smeared in a peanut crumble and served with roasted cauliflower (£29.50) and a Half Beer Roast Chicken with Glazed Celariac and more of that tasty truffle (£28).

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The chicken was succulent and, much to my surprise, blew the monkfish out of the water. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the fish – who knew it went so well with peanut?

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Across the table sat pork belly from the set menu. The verdict was clear from the mmms, ahhhs and ‘this is the best crackling I’ve ever had!’ statements. Another hit.

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We couldn’t refuse a couple of sides (all £4.50 each), so chose Curly Kale with Crispy Ham Hock (a meal in itself) and the Hand & Flowers Chips – a staple for any good gastro.

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Dessert was a must. Sweet Malt Gateaux with Malted Milk Ice Cream (£9.50) wasn’t my usual choice, but Lent made chocolate off limits. It was presented beautifully, but for me, didn’t have as memorable a flavour as the other courses.

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Tom Kerridge – aka Mr Gastropub – deserves a handshake and a bunch of flowers. This bloomin’ marvellous pub gets a LLE Rating of 9/10 and a strong recommendation to anyone visiting or lucky enough to live in Marlow.

The Hand & Flowers, 126 West Street, Marlow SL7 2PB

Berner’s Tavern, Fitzrovia

Berner’s Tavern is one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve ever seen. I know I’m gushing, but it’s worth the hype.

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The magnificent room is decorated in an insane number of gold framed paintings that reach up to a dramatic ceiling and magnificent chandelier. To the side, a grandiose bar shines in the eyes of its customers, tempting them to ‘just one more drink’.

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We were there for a late lunch and had all the time in the world. So, we made each course of Jason Atherton’s award winning food count, starting with freshly baked bread and a glass of Ruinart Brut (£12).

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Egg, Ham & Peas (£8.50) was the only starter for me. The deep fried egg sat on a bed of mushy, minted peas, overflowing with golden yolk. Next to it, crispy Cumbrian ham acted as soldiers, adding salt and texture to the egg. I couldn’t fault it and – despite L’s tempting Potato & Parsley soup with black pudding & Dorset snails – would choose it every time.

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Roast Cornish Sea Bass came next (£24.50). All the mains were on the small side, which suited me, but might leave a man wanting. The fish was quickly drowned by the waiter, who poured too much mustard sauce on top. Perhaps he was hoping to revive the poor creature, but for me, it was overkill.

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I envied L’s Atlantic Halibut with Squid Ink Risotto (£24) and H’s South Coast Cod (£19), but we all agreed that the starters showed up the mains. That said, the Duck Fat Chips (£4) couldn’t have been better.

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Chocolate Filled Doughnut (£7) and Chocolate Rice Pudding (£7) weren’t the most attractive, but each mouthful filled my heart (and stomach) with joy. The Caramel Apple & Calvados Eclair was quite the opposite – incredibly pretty, the pastry felt dry and I’d have preferred a creme patisserie filling.

The infectious atmosphere and glorious surroundings forced us to the bar for a cocktail. We didn’t want to leave, and why would we? The food was almost perfect, the staff friendly and the drinks expertly made. So for all of that and more, I’m giving Berner’s Tavern a LLE Rating of 8/10.

Berner’s Tavern, 10 Berner’s Street, London W1T 3NP

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon

Panino Giusto, Nr. Bank

Italian paninis – or paninos – are not as we know it. They are tall, not flat. They are cold, not hot. The cheese is solid, not melted. Or so I’ve been told…

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Newly launched Milanese restaurant Panino Giusto serves 30 different types of panini to the people of London. You’ll also find less ‘bready’ dishes on the menu, along with a substantial list of organic Italian wines.

I was there for a panini dinner last week, starting with the Giusto (£5.80), filled with 24 month aged, cured Praga Ham (specially made for the restaurant), anchovy, mozzarella, tomato and mustard.

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It was a far cry from the warm, oozing panini I’d grown accustomed to, but I was open to change and couldn’t deny the fresh, fragrant flavours of the Giusto.

Next up was the Garabaldino (£6.80), featuring a lean Braesola from Valtellina, flat and large leaf rocket, our old friends tomato and mozzarella, black pepper and a good drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

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This panino certainly had gusto, due to the aromatic rocket that permeated all other ingredients. Clearly the large and flat rocket combo was working.

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The best was definitely left ’til last. Two year aged Proscuitto, tomato, rocket, brie and Alba truffle oil made up the Tartufo (£7.80), the smell of which filled my nostrils with every bite. It was the panini for the greedy Londoner. It was the panini for me.

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After three paninis, came Tiramisu (£5.80)…and a hot chocolate. It wasn’t the prettiest pudding I’d seen, but it was light as air, with a well thought out coffee to cream, chocolate and sponge ratio. The hot chocolate was divine. Possibly the best I’ve tasted. I’ll definitely be back for more.

If you’re a fan of paninis, paninos, sandwiches (dare I say it) or hot chocolate, this is the restaurant for you. They also do takeaway, making it a perfect pitstop for a lunchtime bite.

Panino Giusto, 1-3 Royal Exchange Building, EC3V 3LR

Berry Bros. & Rudd Bar, Royal Albert Hall

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Berry Bros. & Rudd is Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant. So old its shop opened on St. James’ Street 314 years ago. So old it received a letter from White Star Line Services apologising for a shipment lost when the Titanic struck an iceberg and foundered at 2-20am in 1912 – see exhibit A.

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Exhibit A can be found in the six month old Berry Bros. & Rudd Bar in the Royal Albert Hall basement. The bar is elegantly old fashioned, filled with leather sofas, black & white photos and a long, impressive bar that curves to the shape of the hall.

The bar fed and watered us on Maundy Thursday before we went upstairs to watch Foals in our box (la de da). I use the word ‘watered’ loosely as there wasn’t a drop of H2O in sight, just a Negroni (£9.50), French 75 (£11.50) and a Rhubarb & 3 (£9.50).

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These No. 3 London Dry Gin Cocktails share the menu with Classic Cocktails, wines and spirits. I was sad not to see my favourite White Lady gin cocktail on the menu and even sadder to hear it wasn’t part of the bartender’s repertoire. But hey, I wasn’t holding it against them.

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There was also a list of oh so important bar snacks on the menu. Split into Light Bites, Sharing Boards and Pudding, we chose the Spanish Charcuterie Sharing Board with Teruel ham, Salchichon De Vic, Chorizo Magno Teruel Lomo, Torta de Acelle, almonds and caper berries (£20 for two people). All that, and just one ‘light bite’ – Rillettes of Pork, Scotch Egg, crackling, celeriac remoulade, cornichons and sour dough (£8.50).

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As bar snacks go, these were up there with the best. The portions were substantial and the combinations far from flat. Standout for me were the sweet Rillettes of Pork and the crunchy, non-greasy crackling. The Scotch Egg also had a lovely flavour, even though it lacked the runny centre I’d hoped for.

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The bar was busy by the time we left, so I’d definitely recommend booking if you’re after a seat. It’s the perfect place to eat, drink and be merry in anticipation of what you’re about to see, so I’ll give Berry Bros. & Rudd Bar a LLE Rating of 7.5/10.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Bar, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP

British Carbonara

I think it’s fair to say we’ve all had enough of leftovers now. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the plethora of delicious goose and ham that has graced my plate over the past five days, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing so for last night’s meal, I decided to experiment with something new that still adhered to my Dad’s Christmas rule – ‘we will not buy ANY more food until EVERYTHING is gone’.

Spaghetti Carbonara is simple to make and even easier to adapt, so below I give you my British equivalent, which uses leftover free range ham –  ours was cooked with mustard, cloves and demerara sugar – Burford Brown eggs and Davidstow Vintage Cheddar. The only thing Italian is the pasta, which happened to be Bucatini on this occasion as it was the only type in the larder. From the silence that fell over the dinner table, accompanied by the emptied plates at the end, I can only guess my alternative Carbonara went down well. So, if you too find yourself in leftover hell over the next few days and happen to have the four simple ingredients that make up this dish, I urge you to give it a try as I’m sure your family will thank you for the change.

Serves 4-6 adults (depending on how piggish everyone’s feeling)

Ingredients

  • 500g of Spaghetti (you can really use any kind of pasta, but long and thin is best)
  • 250g of grated mature/vintage Cheddar (this isn’t a meal for someone on a post-Christmas detox)
  • 4 or 5 large slices of ham, torn into bite sized pieces (honey roasted or mustardy ham works best as it adds to the flavour)
  • 6 eggs, beaten

Method

  • Add all the pasta to a very large pot of boiling water, sprinkled with salt
  • In a bowl, add the cheese to the beaten eggs, stirring well
  • When the pasta is cooked, drain loosely so it retains a little water, before putting it back into the pot over a low heat
  • Pour the cheese and egg mixture over the top of the pasta and start to stir
  • Add the ham and keep stirring until you can see the egg starting to cook – the aim is to end up with a creamy sauce, not egg fried pasta
  • Add some salt and pepper to taste, then ladle into bowls and serve