Tag Archives: London

Farewell to Food for Thought…

Food for Thought is the oldest and longest running vegetarian restaurant in London. After more than forty years of service, it will close its doors on Sunday 21st June – Father’s Day.

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My father has been a regular since it opened in the 1970s. He took me when I was young; I too fell in love with the alternative vibe and hearty, homespun, delicious and low priced food.

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As the team from Food for Thought put it, “It has been a remarkable venture. That such an awkward, cramped and unconventional set-up could have survived so long is, in no little measure, due to the commitment of our staff and the loyalty of our customers.”

The news that it’s shutting in a few weeks because of escalating rent prices is incredibly sad, but my dad and I will always smile at the fond memories we’ve had here over the years. I love the food scene in London and how there’s always an exciting new opening, but the flip side is seeing historic stalwarts like Food For Thought shut down more than they should.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy – thank you for sharing memories with me over the years, including our last meal together at Food for Thought.

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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.

Crab

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

COMPETITION: win tickets to the 10th anniversary of Foodies Festival, 23rd- 25th May 2015

Syon Park is one of those magical places that makes you fall in love with London – how can such a magnificent estate with fine rooms, lush gardens and a stunning conservatory exist in zone 4 of the Big Smoke?

Sure, I’m biased (I got married at Syon Park last year), but it’s one of my favourite spots in the whole city. I’m thrilled for an excuse to return – particularly one that involves food!

The people behind the UK’s biggest celebration of food and drink are getting ready to transform Syon Park into a foodie heaven for the 10th anniversary of the Foodies Festival this year. During 23rd – 25th May, the grounds will welcome celebrity chefs, new tasting theatres and more street food than you can shake a satay stick at.

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TV cooks, Michelin starred chefs and MasterChef champions will share their favourite summer recipes and tips with visitors in the Aga Rangemaster Chefs Theatre.

In the New Wine and Champagne Theatre, experts will guide visitors through the best bottles from around the world, while the New Craft Beer Theatre will show you how to match foods with locally produced craft beers.

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Whatever your tastes, there’s sure to be something to appeal from the huge range of masterclasses. I’m keen to learn ‘How to Sniff Chocolate like a Rockstar’ with chocolatiers in the new Tasting Theatre, as well as topics such as Raw Food, Japanese Soul, Oyster Shucking and Bee Keeping.

The Cake & Bake Theatre is an inspiration for passionate bakers with top local cake makers and bakeries sharing their tips for baking delicious summer cakes. Visitors can also enjoy 3D cake modelling, Chocolate Making and Sugar-Craft masterclasses and a complementing Chocolate, Cake and Bake Village selling bakes, jams, gadgets and baking essentials.

Cake & Bake Workshops

A new Chilli Food Market will excite those with a love for spicy foods with a range of chilli growers and artisan producers of sauces, sweets and jams. For those who can handle the heat, there’s a Chilli Eating Challenge each day!

Street Food 10

The Street Food Avenue will offer a huge selection of hot and cold dishes from around the world. Japanese, Thai, Brazilian, Argentinian, Mexican, French and African are just some of the cuisines visitors can tuck into at communal tables in the Feasting Tent this year.

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Over 200 producers will be exhibiting the Artisan Producers Market, offering samples of award winning food to visitors browsing for treats to buy and enjoy at home.

After a day of food and fun, foodies can relax and soak in the atmosphere with live music from the entertainment stage and a refreshing drink from the Pop-Up bars and cider farm – with the beautiful Syon Park as a backdrop. What a perfect occasion to renew our vows…

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Tickets are on sale now at www.foodiesfestival.com or by calling 0844 995 1111.

Good news though – I have a pair of tickets to give away! Just leave a comment on the blog, and I’ll pick a winner at random by Monday 11th May. Best of luck!

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

Bah Bah: a Persian pop-up at The King & Co

Usually I would start off a blog post with some sort of a pre-amble but I’m so excited to tell you about this that I’m going to cut to the chase. The quicker you get the message that you must go as soon as possible to Bah Bah, the Persian pop-up at The King & Co pub, the better.

It’s only on until the end of March so time really is of the essence.

If you need some more reasons as to why you need to head over to Clapham Park Road quick-smart, behold the menu:

Bah Bah at The King & Co - menu

Bah Bah at The King & Co – menu

 

For those of you who don’t know, “bah bah” is what Persians say when something is especially appetizing; it’s the equivalent of “mmm” or “yummy” and a very apt name for the cooking from Bah Bah’s founder and head chef James Nicholson.

Like me, James has an Iranian mother and grew up on Persian food. Middle Eastern and Persian cuisine is finally starting to get the recognition and reputation it deserves which is brilliant. James is flying the flag in an innovative way; as he pointed out, you can get excellent Persian food in London if you know where to look, but never in a pub! Or in Clapham!

The King & Co is a relatively new independent freehouse, launched in September 2014. It’s a great place with a diverse selection of craft beers and interesting food; the pub hosts lots of different kitchen residencies. After Bah Bah there is word of a Ghanaian pop-up moving in.

The food served by the Bah Bah team definitely has a bit of a British accent; it is a more modern adaptation of traditional Persian dishes, often done in a very clever way.

If you go to an old-school Persian place you will be served huge mountains of buttery saffron rice and vast platters of chelo kabob with bread the size of tablecloths.

James and his team have a more refined approach and serve small plates inspired by classic bright, fragrant Persian flavours.

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The best small plates are the kufteh (lamb and dried fruit meatballs with pomegranate and pistachios) – addictively moreish and juicy. The kookoo sabzi (a sort of frittata loaded with herbs, walnuts and barberries) is really good, as is the bademjan (smoked aubergine with yoghurt) – although I do think James should use the traditional kashk (whey) instead of yoghurt for the distinctive tangy flavour.

Pirashki, crepes filled with spiced beef, was new to me. James said the dish is actually Russian in origin (quite a few Persian dishes are originally from Russia, such as salad olivieh, a rich potato salad) and that this was a family favourite. I thought they were a little on the oily side but my partner in crime gobbled them up.

Bah Bah ghormeh sabzi

Bah Bah ghormeh sabzi

Bah Bah’s showstopper is the ghormeh sabzi, a hearty khoresh (slow cooked stew) I was practically raised on, made with small pieces of meat, kidney beans, dried limes and masses of herbs (usually a mix of parsley, fenugreek, chives and others) – it’s always served with fluffy basmati rice. James’s version is one of the best I’ve ever had; he uses beef shin with roasted bone marrow which gives an amazing unctuousness. So inspired to use this cut rather than the more typical lamb neck – it’s rich, full of flavour without being overly fatty, and perfect in a slow cooked dish like this. I am simultaneously thankful to James for giving me the idea, and kicking myself for not thinking of it first!

Luckily there are still a few weeks left before Bah Bah moves on to new pastures – James is considering a few opportunities for the future and is definitely one to watch.

I will be back again soon for more of that incredible ghormeh sabzi and to try the regularly changing specials such as roast quail, which had sadly sold out when we were there. The team is planning specials for Nowruz (Persian New Year aka the first day of spring) which will be an excellent time to visit.

Nush-e-jan!

@bahbahlondon

Bah Bah’s residency at The King & Co ends Sunday 29th March 2015. To book a table or reserve an area, email hello@thekingandco.uk

http://www.thekingandco.uk

Baijiu Cocktail Week in London for The Holborn

Pop over to The Holborn to read a piece I wrote about Baijiu Cocktail Week in London:

http://theholbornmag.com/2015/02/18/taste-fire-in-london-with-baijiu-cocktail-week-this-chinese-new-year/

Stay in this Valentine’s Day! Romance is “in the bag” with a delivery service from Brompton Food Market

Look, obviously I love eating out at restaurants, but there’s one day of the year it is best to avoid them at all costs.

Restaurants on Valentine’s Day are invariably horrific: the overpriced set menus, the gaudy decorations, the forced phoniness of it all. No thank you! Chefs, waiters and kitchen staff hate it too; it’s much easier to cater for a restaurant full of friendly groups of 4 and 6 than dozens of lonely little tables for two.

If only this celebration of love and romance was in midsummer and we could revel in outdoor picnics, feeding each other strawberries and snoozing in the sun.

Best to stay in, get cosy and enjoy a genuinely intimate, relaxing feast together. The lovely, talented lot at the Brompton Food Market agree, and have come up with the brilliant idea to deliver a Valentine’s Day meal kit to London’s lovebirds. It’s not just for smug married types – they’re also offering the deal for one, AND a bottle of house wine thrown in for singles. All the prep is done to very high, cheffy standards so all you have to do is cook it as per the instructions.

The bags arrived with all the components and instructions to put together a classic, elegant, aphrodisiac-packed four course meal for two.

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Food is definitely the way to my heart, and this menu is the type of thing that would get me shouting undying love from the rooftops:

Lobster cocktail, blood orange dressing, romaine lettuce, baguette –

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Peppered rare breed fillet steak, truffled mash, creamed spinach and nutmeg, red wine gravy

Or

Monk fish, truffled mash, creamed spinach and nutmeg, butter chive sauce

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Lemon and passion fruit posset, tropical fruit salad

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La Tur soft cheese with truffle honey and oat cakes

You can also order specially selected wine as part of the kit.

The starter was luxurious yet light enough to save room for the rich courses to come. Generous chunks of beautifully firm, juicy lobster meat were enrobed in a silky sauce, offset by a crunchy salad and a punchy dressing of seasonal blood orange.

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The only bit of cooking required is to get a heavy pan very hot and sear the peppered fillet steaks briefly on each side.

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The sides of truffle mash and nutmeggy spinach just needed to be reheated – they complemented the meat beautifully.

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We managed to find room for lemon posset for pudding…

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And polished off the final course of ripe La Tur cheese, oat biscuits and truffle honey snuggled up on the sofa. You can’t do that in a restaurant!

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Everything was very easy to put together and the portion sizes were well judged. Even though my artistic plating up skills could do with some work, it all looked, smelled and tasted fabulous. Every component of every dish was restaurant quality; excellent ingredients prepared with skill and seasoned to perfection.

Whether you’re in a new relationship or have been together for years, this was the perfect Valentine’s Day date. It’s fun getting everything ready together and honestly, we felt the same sense of satisfaction as we would have done if the meal had taken hours of work. Best of all, we didn’t have to schlep home after the meal. If things do escalate romantically as one would hope after such a gorgeous meal, the bedroom is just down the hall… nudge nudge, wink wink!

The Valentine’s Day kit is available from Brompton Food Market, £70.00 plus delivery. Place your orders now in time for V Day this weekend!

@bromptonfoodmkt
http://www.bromptonfoodmarket.com

I was invited to review the service by Brompton Food Market.