Tag Archives: drink

The Botanist Broadgate Circle

This piece first appeared on The Holborn

London is most certainly a city of villages: whether you are loyal to the tribes of the north, south, east or west, you are never too far from a venue owned by the ETM Group, which has gastro pubs all over town. Over the past 15 years brothers Ed and Tom Martin have learnt a thing or two about adapting successful concepts according to their location.

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is the latest addition to the ETM Group, recently opened in a corner of London which has just undergone significant redevelopment. The concrete area near Liverpool St has seen a flurry of buzzy openings from big names like Jose Pizarro, artisan coffee house Beany Green, sourdough pizza specialists Franco Manca, and brand new surf&turf concept Crab Tavern.

Botanist BGC Exterior smThe Botanist Broadgate Circle is one of the latest to join this newly dressed up restaurant hub. Named after its “sister” restaurant in Chelsea, the family resemblence can barely be detected: something was lost in translation in the few miles travelled from West to East. Arriving at the restaurant is a bit of a shock if you’re expecting the genteel vibe of the original outpost of The Botanist: in this neck of the woods, you’re greeted by an outdoor terrace heaving with thumping music and braying suits fresh out of their Square Mile offices.

The familiar name is there to appeal to punters who know the Sloaney stomping ground, while the wholly new offering has been calculated to appeal to punters from the Square Mile heartland.

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Dining booths

The venue is all handsome dark wood and leather banquettes over two floors, with surprising flourishes such as exotic taxidermy in the downstairs nightclub the “Soda Room”. Unfortunately the sound system for the whole venue is connected to the club, meaning it was impossible to hear anything.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, having to strain to understand the waiter and your table-mates, and going hoarse from shouting to be heard, is not an enjoyable experience. By all means, crank up the volume when the night has moved on from dinner to dancing, but most people don’t want to dine among nightclub-level volumes – it can’t be good for digestion and unfortunately taints the whole dining experience.

The only similarity to the Sloane Square Botanist is the drinks. The waiting staff know their way around the cocktail and wine lists, recommending a bottle of South African Kanu wine with confidence that we would enjoy the unusual variety – shame there had to be so much shouting and pointing to order it.

The menu is an appealing mix of British and European dishes, with market-fresh fish sourced daily from Billingsgate and a solid selection of steaks.

For a starter, I ordered the special of salmon cured in Thai flavours of galangal and lemongrass. Slivers of fried lotus fruit, crisp radish and shiso leaf scattered on top added crunch to a pleasingly fragrant, fresh starter. Meanwhile my companion was busy piling forkfuls of her dressed crab onto delicate melba toast.

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Monk’s beard, is an underrated green vegetable which is available for so short a time each year that I am compelled to order it whenever possible. My main course of roast cod, clam chowder and monk’s beard was a showcase for the best foods in season.

Roast cod, clam chowder, monks beardIf it hadn’t been so good I would have succumbed to food envy for my friend’s Iberico pork shoulder, served with almonds, pickled nectarines and nasturtium flowers.

Iberico Pork shoulderThe dessert menu was a surprisingly long list of tempting dishes, all vying for our attention. In the end we ordered the sticky date pudding, served with a refreshing, clean-tasting cornflake milk sorbet which captured the very essence of cereal bowl dregs, in a good way.

Sticky date pudding, cornflake milk sorbet

It alternated beautifully with spoonfuls of the other dessert we shared, coconut and lime panna cotta with mojito sorbet.

Coconut and lime panna cotta, Mojito sorbet

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is a decent, dependable addition to the City, but will be vastly improved once the issue with the music is sorted out.

This restaurant’s food is commendable, and deserves an appropriate setting; it is a disservice to the kitchen’s skilled cooking to serve it in an oppressively loud environment.

While my ears recover from the evening entertainment offered at The Botanist, I will return for one of their weekend brunches: great value at £25 for three courses and surely 11am is a quiter time of day (depending on the number of bottomless Bloody Marys you order)… Until the sound system is sorted, I will have to agree with the Sloaney saying, at least when it comes to The Botanist: west is best.

The Botanist, Unit 5 Broadgate Circle, City of London, EC2M 2QS, 020 3058 9888.

botanistlondon.com
@botanistlondon

Are you Sitting Comfortably? Street Food Heroes Crabbieshack Pop-up at The Hat & Tun

Sure, street food is great, but let’s be honest – eating on the street is a bit of a drag. There’s nowhere to sit and you never have enough hands. I hate to think of the amount of precious booze I’ve spilled trying to juggle drinks, plates, cash. I know that the street food movement was all about rebelling against fusty, fancy “fine dining”, but frankly – I like to have a table when eating.

I’m not alone: park benches, low walls, street signs, steps and doorways near street food markets always get taken over by crowds of people crouching down and unwrapping their lunch, creating an impromptu (yet still uncomfortable) dining table with their knees. Near the fantastic Whitecross St Market, dozens of fully grown adults steal a march on a nearby children’s playground, repurposing the swings and climbing frames as a lunch venue – the poor kids wanting to play not getting a look in!

Trouble is, most cafes and bars frown upon bringing food in from outside. Kudos to the ETM group, who have had the brilliant idea of inviting Crabbieshack to host a pop-up at the The Hat & Tun pub in Clerkenwell – meaning punters can enjoy street food while sitting comfortably.

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For three nights only from Wednesday 13th – Friday 15th May, 5.30pm to 9pm, Crabbieshack will be serving Old Bay Batter Soft-Shell Crab Burgers (£9.50). There are enough options on The Hat And Tun’s Crabbieshack menu to keep you coming back throughout the three days of crustacean craziness:

  • Fennel, almond, avocado and harissa
  • Pickled cucumber, chilli, coriander and wasabi mayo
  • Leafy sea aster and tartare sauce
  • Sweetcorn salsa and lobster mayo
  • Nori seaweed, apple, cabbage, spring onion and Sriracha mayo

You can also go for a simple “crab and bun” without sauce and filling, for £7, or crab with salad (£7.50).

Shell out for some of London’s best burgers at The Hat & Tun this May.

The Hat & Tun is located at 3 Hatton Wall, EC1N 8HX. Find out more at thehatandtun.com. For more about Crabbieshack, go to crabbieshack.co.uk.

I was invited to a preview of the Crabbieshack pop-up as a guest, and originally wrote this post for Tiki Chris

Picture, Great Portland Streeet

Poor Mondays. They are the ugly sister of the working week; a time to hunker down and battle through.

Heads feel delicate, wallets light after the excesses of the weekend. No wonder many restaurateurs opt to close on this day.

Those who stay open often do their best to lure in trade – so actually Manic Mondays can be a great time try out restaurants and dodge the madness of weekend crowds.

Picture restaurant is where you are likely to find me shedding the last of Monday blues from now on.

The restaurant, which was founded in summer 2013 by three former members of restaurant group Arbutus and Wild Honey, is now offering free corkage on Mondays – a great excuse to crack open a decent bottle and drown your sorrows that the next weekend is four whole sleeps away.

Even better, the tasting menu is remarkable value at £35 for 5 courses. There is also a tasting menu for vegetarians (or those observing Meat Free Monday).

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When I visited, we started with a velvety squash velouté spiked with cumin – soft, earthy and rounded flavours, soothing for a frazzled soul struggling to readjust to the working week.

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The second course seemed to sense that we were perking up; creamy goats cheese curd and tender broccoli were cut with fruity plum tomatoes and piquant capers.

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Crisp pork cheek with braised celery, apple, hazelnuts was expertly cooked.

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A flaky fillet of sea bream on top of a light helping of lentils, fennel and diced turnip: juicy and pleasant.

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The bavette was the star dish. A well judged portion arrived – more generous than the tiny morsels you often get with tasting menus, but not a huge slab to trample on the courses to follow. It was a beautiful example of this underrated cut with loosely packed meat fibres, a rich umami crust and a pink, yielding centre.

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My only gripe about the dish was that the heavy handed use of cumin in both the jus and the carrot purée, which tasted very similar to the squash velouté we started with. A wider flavour spectrum throughout the tasting menu would have been more enjoyable.

After all that I was feeling rather like Mr Creosote and wondering how I could manage anything more than a “wafer thin” dessert, but the silky chocolate mousse with blackberries and peanut butter cream was not too heavy or sweet, just right.

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See you there next Monday!

Picture, 110 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 6PQ

Telephone: 0207 637 7892

info@picturerestaurant.co.uk

http://www.picturerestaurant.co.uk

Open Monday – Saturday
Lunch 12pm-2:30pm
Dinner 6pm-10:30pm

I was invited to give an honest review as a guest of Picture restaurant

On the Bab, Old Street

Ooh I do love a soft launch.

The hefty discounts, the jovial first-day-at-school atmosphere, the shyly welcoming staff – and of course the chance to give a new restaurant’s dishes a whirl. Even the inevitable delays and mishaps are part of the fun of the dress rehearsal before the “real” opening.

On The Bab is billed as East London’s first restaurant specialising in anju : the Korean custom of eating small snacks with alcohol.

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A friend and I popped into On The Bab yesterday for lunch for the second day of its soft launch. While the 50% off prices allowed us to order with impunity, the lunchtime hour stopped us from ordering booze, so we will have to return for a true anju experience.

However the food was good enough sober to ensure that we will be back soon for the lethal-sounding soju cocktails.

Yangyun chicken with soy garlic glaze. Crushed peanuts gave the crust a fantastic savoury crunchiness.

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Pa Jeon – pancakes with seafood and spring onion. Surprisingly dense and chewy, I was expecting a lighter crepe style. These were a decent vehicle for the house chilli oils and sauces.

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Bibimbab – not served in a sizzling pot like in New Malden. This version was more like a refreshing salad with its mix of crunchy veg, room temperature rice and sesame dressing.

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“On the buns” was a highlight for me. I can’t get enough of pillowy steamed buns at the moment and these bad boys had a special shape and deep pockets for a generous amount of spicy pork filling.

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Naturally, we had to order a side of kimchi, which was served clamped down in a sturdy tin, presumably to keep the dish’s famous fermented fumes in check.

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They had run out of Kimchi Jeon and Bab Twigin, an innovative kimchi & cheese arancini which was a shame, and I do think they’re missing a trick by not offering a takeaway service or a set menu for the lunchtime crowds.

At half price we paid just £8 each. I’ve heard it said that to avoid buyer’s remorse and foolish purchases when shopping in sales, you should consider whether the item you covet would really be desirable at full price before you dig out your wallet. In the case of On The Bab – absolutely.

Illy University

“I don’t drink coffee, I take tea my dear”

Like Sting’s Englishman in New York, I see away 4 or 5 cups of tea every day (earl grey, splash of milk, no sugar – thanks). While I love coffee, I don’t drink it regularly and usually only indulge in this most seductive of caffeine hits when it’s made for me by a proper barista with a good machine.

Recently I discovered that there is a middle ground between the dirty dishwater style coffee that dribbles out of the worst vending machines and the multi-thousand pound professional kit. The lovely people at the Illy University (yes, there is such a thing – this is where budding baristas come for training) invited me over for a demonstration of their at-home machines, which they promised would give me the high-quality java I craved in my own flat.

First, the drawbacks of the bulky, heavy professional machines were explained. Marco Arrigo, Head of Quality for Illy Coffee in the UK, is deeply fond of his Faema coffee machine from the 1960s, but it needs constant maintenance to be kept running smoothly.

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Marco and his team have to pull hundreds of espressos every day to ensure it stays in good nick: obviously hugely impractical for a household that requires just a handful of cups per day.

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Marco said he “fights against” the vintage, clanking machinery every day and let me have a go at grappling myself.

One of my first ever teenage jobs was at a well-known high street coffee chain, which I won’t name, but they’re known for their green aprons… There, you were taught to use spoons to control your steamed and foamed milk but Marco is a purist: it’s all in the wrist, no spoons allowed. With Marco’s help I completed a couple of shaky hearts and leaves.

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While the “third wave” coffee movement comprising independent roasteries believe freshly roasted green beans are the best, Illy prefers to let the roasted coffee beans mellow over 21 days in pressurised cans. Illy sources beans from nine different countries and has to produce a consistent, familiar Illy taste each time, so the blend has to be just right.

The capsules used in Illy’s at-home machines are similarly pressurised.

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Comparing coffees from the professional and at-home machines was a revelation: both had a lingering viscosity, a sign of high quality. Thin, watery mouthfeel is often a bad or poorly made coffee. The proper, thick stuff should be powerful enough so the flavour coats the tongue long after you sip. Sure enough, it was impossible to detect the difference between the coffee from the professional machine and the coffee from the at-home machine.

After a few more lessons (such as how to store coffee beans or grounds – NEVER in the fridge or freezer), class was dismissed at Illy University.

Which meant it was booze o’clock! We were treated to espresso martinis made by Bea Bradsell, whose father Dick invented the espresso martini in the 1980s at the Soho Brasserie, after a supermodel demanded “a drink that will wake me up and then fuck me up”.

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Bea Bradsell’s perfect espresso martini recipe:

50ml vodka
25ml good espresso, chilled (never use freshly pulled espresso because it will melt the ice and give you a watery drink)
10ml Tia Maria
15ml Kahlua
Dash simple syrup

Shake vigorously with ice and strain into chilled glass. Decorate with three coffee beans for luck. Bottoms up!

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The fun didn’t stop there: Illy let me take my very own machine home to practice my new-found latte art skills.

Say hello to the Illy Francis Francis X7.1!

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This baby is a cinch to use, looks great in my kitchen and produces excellent espresso at the touch of a button. It would be good to see Illy use more recyclable materials in the future.

As an early Christmas present I have a nifty promo code to share, which gives you 20% off new machines and coffee until 10th January 2014 (maximum of 3 items per order):

http://www.espressocrazy.com/promo/ILLYSCHOOL

What’s your perfect brew?

Returning after long-term travels and the joy of local restaurants

“There’s no place like home.” – Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

Far from being the end of the adventure, coming home after six months of travelling around the world was another whirlwind altogether.

A few weeks ago, early on a Wednesday morning, Mark and I landed at Heathrow where we were greeted by this lovely sight:

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my parents holding balloons, flowers and a “welcome home” banner

We had just a couple of days to shift all of our belongings from my parents’ attic (which had miraculously fit without causing their ceiling to fall in), down the rickety old ladder, into a rented van to battle against the traffic all the way from Zone 6 back to our flat in Battersea. The combination of heavy lifting, the sweltering heatwave and jetlag was pretty painful.

On Saturday we were off again, to the countryside for Mark’s cousin’s wedding, which wrote off most of Sunday for recovery. Before we knew it, it was Monday and we were back to work, struggling to believe that just a few days before, we had been on the other side of the world.

In a way, the whirlwind probably helped us adapt; not having time to stop meant that we simply had to get on with the routine of the Monday-Friday working week.

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me, back at work – another lovely welcome!

As a Londoner it’s easy to fall into the typical urban quick march: head down, brisk pace, tutting at anyone who dares to impede your progress. A couple of weeks in and it was almost like we had never been away. The novelty of being home, noticing what had changed since we left, going back to familiar haunts and catching up with family & friends was wonderful but was beginning to wear off.

I feared that the ultimate post-holiday blues were threatening to kick in as quickly as our tans were fading.

In a bid to hang on to our post-travel zen, Mark and I decided to live like tourists in our own city.

We are so lucky to live right among London’s historic streets, characterful buildings and interesting neighbourhoods so we vowed to take advantage of the attractions which bring millions of tourists to the Big Smoke every year.

Our first free weekend together in London was the August bank holiday weekend and we began hatching plans to go on walking tours, visit exhibitions, museums, galleries and so on. I was especially excited to check out a number of new restaurants that had opened while we were away, as well as the chance to revisit old favourites.

In true British fashion, it absolutely pissed down with rain on the Saturday of the long weekend and our ambitious plans were well and truly scuppered. With reports of serious flooding in some parts of the country, the most we could bring ourselves to do was dig out raincoats and umbrellas from still-unpacked boxes and dash down our local high street.

Luckily, Clapham Junction has a pretty good range of restaurants and cafes. When Mark first persuaded me to move to this area, it wasn’t my favourite – it can be nauseatingly “nappy valley” at times. But I have to say it’s grown on me, thanks to local gems like Mien Tay and Soif not to mention branches of the awesome Franco Manca and Byron burger.

The phrase “neighbourhood restaurant” is often used in a somewhat derogatory way, as if they are satisfactory venues to stumble into from your doorstep, but aren’t worth the effort of a longer trip. I think this is unfair – surely everyone craves that homely “where everybody knows your name” feel, especially on a miserably damp evening? And somewhere that has been around for over twenty years – no mean feat for a restaurant anywhere in London – like Osteria Antica Bologna deserves a look.

Mark started with pappardelle with chicken livers, butter and sage – apparently this recipe is a signature of the restaurant and featured in Waitrose’s magazine.
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The slippery ribbons of pasta were the perfect vehicle for the rich, herby juices and the chicken livers were tender and silky.

I started with the pasta of the day, a generous portion of cavatielli in a sausage and tomato sauce. The curls of the cavatielli pasta shape caught the hearty, robust sauce well.

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It was a great choice for the weather – my cockles were thoroughly warmed.

Mark’s secondi was the fish of the day, hake with sweet peppers and capers.

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I went for sarde beccafico, stuffed baked sardines with a crunchy coating of breadcrumbs.

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Everything was boldly seasoned to the point of being aggressively salty – but as a result the bottle of barbera nicolaoi was even more enjoyable.

With friendly service and a relaxing ambience, Osteria Antica Bologna was a great low-key date venue. In fact, it’s the kind of warm, welcoming place that would always make you feel like you’ve finally come home from halfway around the world, even if you’ve just been hanging out in your flat up the road.

Which may be just what we need to stave off those post-travel blues. I look forward to returning, again and again.

Napier and Hawke’s Bay, NZ – a food and wine mecca

Hawke’s Bay is so saturated with fine wineries, restaurants and natural produce that we barely registered that Napier, its main town, also lays claim to being the art deco capital of the world.

After devastating earthquake damage in the 1930s, the town was completely rebuilt according to the architecture & design fashion of the period. Today the distinctive graphic shapes and pastel colours of the Art Deco style can be seen all over.

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We allowed one morning for a stroll around town for a dutiful dose of culture before we got stuck in to what we had really come for: food and wine. I may not know much about art, but I know what I like…

Mini Yorkshire puddings, bone marrow & horseradish and sardines on toast (love the presentation of a sardine tin for lemon wedges) at hip Napier restaurant Mister D.

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Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s longest established wine growing area. In the 1850s missionaries planted the first vines to make sacramental wine and would sell off the excess. Before long the commercial side of winemaking was thriving and dozens of vineyards and wineries popped up. Today you can tour between them, tasting as you go.

A classic NZ sight – where else in the world would you find the grass between the vines tended by sheep?

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The organised tours which drive you around are quite expensive and often follow a well trodden route so I offered to be the designated driver, much to Mark’s delight. It was quite fun steering Gabby the campervan around the picturesque winding roads while Mark got increasingly sozzled.

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We pootled around wineries including Te Mata, CJ Pask and Craggy Range – many of the Pinot Noirs (the specialty of this region) were first rate and some of the Chardonnays were just as good. Te Mata was a real standout and we invested in a bottle or two.

The view from the top of the “craggy” bit of Craggy Range (Gabby did well to get up here)…

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We couldn’t resist a couple of frivolous purchases from the quirky Crab Farm winery: a map of Hawke’s Bay styled to look like a London Underground map and a bottle of spicy, sweet and interesting port, named “Starboard” (geddit).

We rounded off a fine day with dinner at Mission Estate, the area’s oldest winery whose name honours its ecclesiastical history. We kept hearing it was one of the best restaurants in town and were suitably impressed by the lush grounds and fancy building (it’s also a popular venue for weddings and high profile concerts).

So I was a little embarrassed when Mark asked the manager if he would mind terribly if we could park our big ugly campervan on the grounds and sleep there overnight like a couple of bums. To his credit, the cheeky request was received with true Kiwi laidback charm and hospitality. The fact that this arrangement meant we were likely to order more booze with our bed stumbling distance away may have helped…

The food was indeed lovely. Mission is known for its confit duck and mandarin macaroon starter, which reminded me of the signature dish at London’s Duck & Waffle: the same sweet & savoury, meaty contrasts were going on.

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The other blobs were mandarin jelly, braised red cabbage and duck liver praline.

Wild venison, hazelnut dumplings and feijoa chutney for main course.

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The morning after we cured our hangovers with a trip to Napier’s farmers market. Nothing like a freshly squeezed juice and bacon sandwich to aid recovery…

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This part of the world is known as the fruit bowl of New Zealand; if you’ve ever bought a Braeburn apple in the UK, it may well have been grown here.

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With produce like this, you can see why Kiwis call their land “God’s own country”.