The Porchester: Bayswater

On entering The Porchester in Bayswater, you’re mostly struck by the aroma – it’s like when you turn up at your mum’s on a Sunday; starving, hungover and itching for something warm and nourishing to sort you out, and the smell of a roast, or some gravy or fresh bread makes everything ok. So a good start for a cold, rainy Tuesday evening in West London.

Another of the newly made-over Young’s portfolio, The Porchester is situated on Bishop’s Bridge Road, between Royal Oak and Bayswater tubes, and is a fairly hefty site. It wasn’t overly busy on this occasion, but there was still a homely atmosphere, and as you may have gathered, some lovely cooking aromas.

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We started off with the scallops, which are served with black pudding and pea puree – a no-brainer combination, but if it ain’t broke and all that. They were completely gorgeous, tender with a bit of texture on the outside, presumably from being fried in butter. The pea puree was perfect, with some pea bits still present, and the black pudding was soft and flavoursome.

Crab with pork crackling was good, it’s a paste rather than chunks of crab and the brown meat gave it lots of good strong flavour that went well with the salty meatiness of the crackling. It didn’t quite have the skull-jarring initial crunch that I love about good crackling, and there was too much crab and not enough to dip in it – best to order some bread on the side.

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Pork belly (I seem to have a preoccupation with pork at the moment) with mash, apple sauce, greens and (more) black pudding was simple but very effective – spot-on comfort food with very creamy mash that I certainly could’ve eaten more of, and delicious meaty gravy. It was like a thick, rich pork soup – heaven.

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The shepherd’s pie was the hero here though, with its chunks of lamb in minty gravy, and more of the lovely mash and a smidge of cheese. We ignored the bit of cabbage on the side and devoured the rest with unseemly speed. A moist, date-y sticky toffee pudding was the ideal round-off.

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The Porchester’s a really good foody pub, with poshed-up comfort dishes in a nice atmosphere with sweet, attentive staff – they’re certainly ticking a whole lot of boxes and if I find myself that way again I’d definitely go back.

http://www.theporchester.co.uk/

*Prices are very reasonable but our meal was courtesy of The Porchester

Porchester on Urbanspoon

Peanut butter & jelly brownies

Let’s get the credit out of the way so I can move on to waxing lyrical about the result – these beauties feature in the best food porn collection of 2014, aka Jamie’s Comfort Food, and were pretty much the first thing I wanted to make on opening it on a very happy birthday earlier in the year. I’m a huge fan of this book (first few triumphs here) and this recipe is the icing on the sticky, rich, chocolatey cake.

I love peanut butter, especially with jam – it’s a weird, gorgeous combination that should be embraced a lot more in this country. This dish involves making a peanut butter custard, which even without the rest of the recipe is bloody lovely.

Lovely ingredients
Lovely ingredients
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Peanut butter custard

So once that’s done (just egg yolks, milk, vanilla pod, sugar and peanut butter heated gently and whisked) you whip up Jamie’s brownie mix – decent dark chocolate, butter (about half a ton), eggs, sugar  and a bit of flour. Brownie mix into a lined tray, then the fun bit – you pour blobs of the custard on top and swirl it with a knife to make the pattern, then drop spoonfuls of jam on and poke the raspberries in.  I spent longer doing this than everything else combined because I was having such a nice time.

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In the oven for 25 minutes – take it out before you think it’s done to keep them squidgy in the middle and that’s it! It would be interesting to compare it to one using homemade jam and peanut butter, but I’m not sure that’s the point – it couldn’t taste any more indulgent, or have a more delicious combination of creamy custard, rich, moist cake and tangy fruit.

I’ll be trying it with crunchy peanut butter next time for a bit of texture, and maybe cherry/blackberry jam – happily the possibilities are limitless.

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The finished article

 

Recipe: easy salted caramel

I saw a version of this on Eat Like A Girl (one of my favourite blogs) a few weeks ago and realised 1. it looked quite easy and 2. it might make a cheap Christmas present that had the ‘made with love’ factor that mums and suchlike enjoy.  So three days before the big day, here we go!

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I needed four or five jars of caramel so started with 500g white granulated sugar, 100g butter and 150ml single cream. That’s it! (Although had to do a couple of batches). You slowly melt the sugar in a shallow pan over medium heat, being careful as it burns really easily which tastes horrible. When it’s caramel-coloured add in the butter and cream and stir it until it’s all combined.

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To make it salted just add however much sea salt you like and keep tasting it, start with a teaspoon (best to let it cool though, I still can’t talk properly from severe tongue burns – it really does get stupidly hot).  Then pour into jars and voila! So easy. (But made with love, if my mum or any other recipients happen to be reading..)

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Peruvian Treats at Lima Covent Garden

“I can smell the toilet!”

“It’s just over here madam”

“Yes I know, I said I can SMELL it”

Emily’s first impression was perhaps not the most promising start to drinks and dinner at Lima Covent Garden,  as she joined me in the basement bar of the Floral Street outpost. After a couple of drinks in said bar we headed up to the (more fragrant) restaurant – the second Peruvian in London from Virgilio Martinez and follow up to Michelin-starred Lima in Fitzrovia. The menu looked great (phew – nothing like the smell of wee AND a crap menu) and we mostly went with recommendations from our wonderful Ecuadorian waiter Hector.

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lima covent garden
Sea bream ceviche and tuna nikkei

We went with sea bream ceviche to start, which was big, meaty chunks of firm white fish, sitting in a bowl of tiger’s milk with avocado and fine, crispy red onion hoops on top. Tiger’s milk, or leche de tigre is the Peruvian term for the marinade used to cure the raw fish and create the ceviche dish, and is normally made from lime juice, chillies, sliced onion and some of the juice from the fish. We were reliably informed by Hector that in Peru they drink it to cure hangovers, have it a LOT spicier, and this version had been toned down for the UK palette. Made me want it hotter to be honest, but probably wise not to go there – I’ve learned not to argue with South Americans about tolerance for heat, or ever try and get into a competition over it.  Anyway, it was so good I had to force myself not to drink the end bit from the bowl, and instead made do with rapidly scooping it into my mouth with the tiny spoon, like a desperate, hungry borrower.

Our other starter was a plate of tuna Nikkei – raw tuna, another dribble of the leche de tigre, samphire and little shavings of radish – a beautiful dish that was delicate but still packed a punch with the marinade. Small portions, a tenner each but perfect starters.

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Meat.

We balanced out the fishy first course with meat – rare, tender, juicy meat with all manner of delicious accompaniments. Beef sudado (main photo) was pieces of pink beef with a salty, herby quinoa stew, while the organic lamb rump was served rare again, and with a fresh minty yoghurt and fried potato strips. It also came with small cubes of potato in a cheesy sauce and perfectly seasoned, nutty black quinoa – all incredibly good.

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The house Spanish Grenache was light and fruity, great with the spicy fish and robust enough to still be tasty with lamb and beef.  A huge fan of sour cocktails, I meant to sample their pisco sours but totally forgot – obviously the wine was good enough to erase this intention from my contented little mind.

Lima Covent Garden was the ideal spot for a non-festive festive dinner: food is  delicious without being rich and heavy, staff are a delight and it doesn’t break the bank (although at £50 a head it’s probably not an everyday place).  I’m not surprised it’s big brother in Rathbone Place has a Michelin star, and while Floral Street is billed as an evolution rather than a copy (read cheaper and more casual) the standard is still impeccable.

www.limafloral.com/

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‘Masterchef’ Christmas canapés

It’s not often I deem myself capable of recreating anything that’s made on Masterchef the Professionals, least of all when Monica Galetti sets a skills test (you know the one where they sweat and flounder for 15 minutes while she withers them with stares of bulgy-eyed horror). However, as this one involved nothing but a few canapés, off to Tesco we went, and then set about making blinis, vol-au-vents and crostinis with a variety of toppings, to have as starters before dinner. (Apparently this is what Friday nights become after you turn 30).

So we (Ian) whipped up some blini batter with a few chives, cut little circles of puff pastry out using the lid of the spray-oil (we don’t have any cutters) and cut thin slices of fresh baguette to fashion into crostinis.

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After some frying of batter, toasting of mini bread slices and baking of vol-au-vent cases we had a veritable feast of beige vessels all warm and waiting for their bright, lovely toppings. The chive-y blinis got smothered in sour cream and a bit of mashed avocado, with slivers of oak-smoked salmon draped across the top, a sprinkling of dill and a tiny shaving of lemon zest. These we my favourites and I practically ate them all – there were about 30.

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The little cases were filled with crab meat mixed with a tiny bit of sour cream and smidge of turmeric – not something you’d expect but delicious all the same, and who am I to argue with Monica. The crostinis had goat’s cheese, a slice of fig (meant to be fresh but they didn’t have any – works with dried just not as colourful) and a dribble of honey.

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Needless to say we inhaled so many that they turned into a fairly hefty meal as opposed to a little early evening snack, but if there had been an actual party to cater for they would have been perfect. My derision of vol-au-vents is significantly lessened, and I’ve now made batter/baked things that were not only edible but delicious! (I’m crap at both these things). So an all-round success!

Catch the real chefs doing it here.

New restaurant! Dishoom: King’s Cross

Having enjoyed huge success with their Shoreditch and Covent Garden outposts, Bombay café  Dishoom has opened the latest jewel in the crown at Granary Square near King’s Cross. Based in a restored Victorian industrial building, it was once used as a trade interchange between London and the British Empire, with the workhorses under the building powering the canals and turntables.

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The place is cavernous,  with a 250 seat restaurant and another 92 in the bar downstairs, with another bar area at the front. It’s been designed in the style of Bombay cafés from the late 19th/early 20th century and there are plenty of beautiful items of furniture, sepia photos and other little details from the period – although the old weighing scales are definitely not what you need having just enjoyed dinner there, even less so the sticker saying ‘do you weigh what you should?’ Not right now, no.

And that’s because the food is beyond incredible. Even the crunchy, salty fried okra, which I normally hate. We ordered a selection to share, including the house black dahl, chicken ruby, calamari, paneer tikka, cheese naan and masala prawns, all perfectly delicious, with the exception of the calamari – tender but the coating was so sweet it could’ve just been sugar. But the prawns were huge and juicy, the chicken curry used big chunks of leg meat (I wish more places did this) and the dahl was soupy, comforting and perfectly spiced, my second favourite of the selection.

Tikka paneer, chicken ruby and cheese naan
Tikka paneer, chicken ruby and cheese naan

The best dish by a mile was the King’s Cross exclusive, Nalli Nahari, described as: ‘a robust lamb-on-the-bone stew with generous spice , for strength and protection against faintness of heart. First relished by Nawabs who then employed its fortifying properties to fuel their labourers’. The lamb dropped from the bone, the rich, dark sauce was spicy but not overly so, and was smooth and silky. It feels like it’s doing you good, although I’m aware I’ve probably been sucked in by the lovely description.

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Service wasn’t great; on arrival, although my friends were seated and had given a name, I was told to just go and find them. Our waiter was aloof at best, staff wouldn’t turn off the air-con (it was about 1 degree outside) and were very reluctant to move us, although did in the end.

The most pleasant surprise of the evening was the dessert course – I’ve never had much luck with Indian desserts so came to the conclusion that I just don’t like them – until yesterday that is. We pretty much ordered them all – cinnamon ice cream, Memsahib’s mess (Eton mess), guju chocolate mousse which was rich, velvety and incredibly chocolatey, and was the best of friends with the heavy, tangy Gujarati yoghurt it was served with.  Against the advice of our waiter (!) or maybe because of it, we also had the kala khatta gola ice – pretty much a slushie with fruit syrup, chilli and salt. It was bizarre, somewhat refreshing but not particularly pleasant, especially compared to the other choices.

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Definitely get to Dishoom – the atmosphere is great, it’s reasonable – £30 each including wine and service, and really is lovely lovely food.

http://www.dishoom.com/kings-cross/

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Turntables: Hackney Wick

For some reason I’ve always been a bit wary of pop-ups – what if there’s  no-one there? Can I pay by card? What if it’s really good and then we can never go back? All unfounded, as proven this weekend with a little trip to Turntables, situated canalside next to Hackney Wick station.

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TT5It’s a big tented area with strings of lights, three bars (one is a hot bar with mulled wine and cider), multiple gorgeous food stands, DJs and plenty of oil drum bonfires to stave off frostbite.  I made a beeline for The Cheese Truck (@CheeseTruckLDN) for a delicious melted cheese, rocket and chorizo sandwich – it was heaven, and I’ll definitely be trying to catch these guys again. Other choices included Bill or Beak (@BillorBeak) for juicy-looking duck and pork rolls, as well as hot dogs, jerk chicken and waffles.

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Amaretto and whiskey sours from the cocktail bar were perfect, and at £8 the same as you’d pay in a bar. DJs were playing loud funky house, and there’s a dancefloor area to really get stuck in. They also throw in an afterparty at Shapes next door to carry onto into the next day – it’s a fab little venue that’s well worth a trip to Hackney.

There are two more weekends to get involved, it runs from 5pm Friday-Sunday until 20th December.

119 Wallis Rd, E9 5LN

New restaurant! The Ivy Market Grill: Covent Garden

Having waited a week since the opening, and with it very close to where I work, the urge to check out Caprice Holdings’ new baby was practically overwhelming. And so to Covent Garden’s The Ivy Market Grill we went, with a booking for dinner on the Tuesday of its second week.

Little brother of dining stalwart The Ivy, it feels more accessible than the mother ship, with much of the menu pretty reasonably priced,  and half the tables reserved for walk-ins. This almost makes it feel more casual, but the menu is fabulous and the décor stunning, all dark wood panels and mosaic floor tiles.

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It was super busy on a Tuesday, nearly full. We ordered wine and Prosecco and got stuck in to the huge menu – it’s all British classics, simple and delicious. There were about 18 things I wanted to order but felt one should exercise a bit of restraint in these situations. I generally try and stick with two courses to avoid actually being a house, and this time took the risky decision to have a main and dessert (good choice – more on that later).

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We ordered the shepherd’s pie and half a Banham chicken, which came with French fries, along with extra greens. The pie was delicious, chunks of lamb rather than mince with creamy potato and cheese. My other half found it slightly underseasoned, but it should be noted he like things salty.  The chicken was juicy and full of flavour, covered in a lovely herby marinade/rub, and the veg was crunchy which I love.

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The dessert was actually the highlight for me, which is rare – I normally prefer a few slabs of cheese and/or more wine, but this was incredible. It was a ‘chocolate bombe’, a sphere of dark chocolate encasing vanilla ice cream, surrounded by milk foam and with hot salted caramel sauce poured over at the table to melt the ball and expose the middle. I love salted caramel but this was something else, so rich and perfect with the milk foam, which stayed foamy even with the sauce poured on it, and not a hint of resemblance to spit. The post-melting pic obviously doesn’t do it justice at all but you get the idea..

Ivy2They also have their own branded gin and  Champagne, which coincidently is something I aspire to.

The service and atmosphere were great, if I had to highlight small niggles they would be that I asked to swap fries for beef dripping chips but they didn’t materialise, also it was extremely hot in there – to the point that we went elsewhere rather than have another drink. I’d still go back, there’s loads on the menu I’d like to try, it’s pretty reasonable and still feels like somewhere special.

www.theivymarketgrill.com/

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Freud: Shaftesbury Avenue

We stumbled across Freud Bar whilst vaguely looking for a watering hole after a lovely dinner at The Ivy Market Grill earlier on. It’s nestled underground at the Tottenham Court road end of Shaftesbury Avenue. I’d heard of Freud somewhere before (I seem to have developed a form of Alzheimer’s since hitting 30 and can’t remember where) so headed down the rickety metal stairs into the basement bar. It was busy and lively with loud music and lots of couples and groups getting stuck in to a huge range of bright cocktails.

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The cocktail menu is truly epic. They’re all stencilled onto huge boards above the bar, which is lined with people gaping up at it attempting to make an impossible decision. My own gaping had me decide on a negroni, and the other half went for a mojito.

While delicious, they’re not pretty or fancy, most things seem to come in a pint glass or tumbler, although I did see a couple of martini glasses around.  It’s a high ceilinged industrial looking space with grey walls, bar and pretty much everything else, and antique paintings up – the place isn’t exactly pretty but it’s really lively, the staff are quick and smiley and everyone seemed pretty happy. They take cards (so annoying when bars don’t) and also do food and coffee etc in the daytime – one to add to the repertoire for sure.

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http://freud.eu/cafe-bars/

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Foxlow: Farringdon

Since my first fabulous evening at the gorgeous Hawksmoor Air Street early in the year, I’ve been itching to try ‘little brother’ establishment Foxlow in Farringdon. With talk of local seafood, shortrib to die for and Hawksmoor-worthy steaks, what’s not to like?

After a drink at the bar we were seated – it wasn’t busy but hadn’t quite reached the echo-y awkwardness of being totally empty. We went for the curried mussels and smokehouse rillettes to start – I’ll admit to looking up the definition of rillettes beforehand, which excited me a lot (pretty much meat mashed with fat – halfway to pate), and they didn’t disappoint.

Delicious rillettes
Delicious rillettes

The meat was gorgeous; rich and tender, complimented perfectly by crunchy toast, capers, strips of gherkin and cucumber.  The mussels were plump and soft, and while my mussel preferences normally default to anything with wine and/or cream, the curried sauce was salty and fragrant – heaven. One of those moments when you have to try VERY hard not to pick up the dish and drink from it.

Hotly-anticipated mains exceeded all expectations; I’d heard great things about the ten-hour beef shortrib and oh my god, it was incredible, absolutely melting off the bone. I hate the word ‘unctuous’ but it kept springing to mind, and is probably a spot-on description. It’s served with kimchi, a Korean fermented cabbage salad – not the most appetising description granted, but it was tangy, crunchy and spicy, ideal for the soft, rich meat.

Ten-hour beef shortrib
Ten-hour beef shortrib

We also had the D-rump steak served with bone marrow, and added anchovy and chilli butter, fries and some baby gem with parmesan – didn’t really need cheesy lettuce to be honest but I’m nothing if not determined. The steak was perfection (as expected) and smearing it with the butter and the meaty jelly from the bone it felt like the most indulgent dish ever.

Like Hawksmoor the service at Foxlow is great.  Our waiter (I wish I’d got his name) was a star, brought extra bread for the mussels when he noticed we’d hoovered it all up, made spot-on recommendations, drew the D-rump on his pad to explain it (it’s the inside part of the bum cheek, so doesn’t work as hard as the rump and is more tender) and was generally very personable and lovely.

At £90 for 2 x two courses with drinks and service it’s not bad at all, given the quality of the food and the fact that you feel so looked after. Will certainly be back for brunch!

www.foxlow.co.uk

*The fabulous pics are courtesy of Foxlow – mine were awful

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