Monday, 24 June 2013

Champagne with Your Hotdog, Madame?

Over the last two years, London has seen a vast array of sexed-up American fast food restaurants.  There doesn't seem to be one borough that has been safe from the onslought.  No longer the preserve of the poor, you now have to pay over the odds if you want a burger and chips.  Not even the best organic, hand-reared, preservative-free, organic grass-fed cattle can really do anything to elevate a burger, well, beyond a burger.  But every restaurateur in the land has tried.  First there came Meat Liquor, then Byron started popping up all over the place, and then even Jamie got in on the act.  Fresh from teaching Americans how to eat healthily, he came back to Blighty to serve us up the very thing he'd tried to steer them away from across the pond.  But oh how we queue for it.  These no booking restaurants thrive on queues.  Us Brits love to queue, and if we see one, we will join it.  We all want to know what the fuss is about no?  And I must admit, I was slightly interested to see what all the fuss was about about Bubbledogs.  I mean, is it actually any good?  Bubbledogs, you see, on Charlotte Street, Soho, has tried to distinguish itself from the saturated burger market by doing something entirely different.  That's right, they offer hot dogs instead.  And what is the obvious companion to a hot dog?  Yep, you guessed it, champagne.  Intrigued, I joined the queue one Saturday night.  I was instantly won over.  Yes you have to queue, which is a bit of a pain, but once inside, the restuarant itself is lovely and the food is excellent.  My Chilli Dog was delicious, extremely tasty and without any grease factor.  The sides of Tots and Sweet Potato Fries were both excellent.  But the best thing is the champagne list.  I was not entirely convinced beforehand as to the combination, but drinking champagne seems to have the desired effect that so many of the other burger-restaurants have been craving.  It immediately elevates the food, and the atmosphere.  We sipped and nibbled away quite happily, and I have never had a better "dog".

Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Hawksmoor

What better gift can you give to a man for his birthday other than the gift of meat?  I asked myself this question, could find no better answer, and so promptly booked myself and my boyfriend into the Hawksmoor, Seven Dials, Covent Garden for the Sunday Roast.  I had heard it was very good. An Observer Food Award for Best Sunday Roast in the UK surely cannot lie?  With high expectations we ordered, and waited.  We did not have to wait long.  And gosh, when it arrived, it did not disappoint.  If I could eat this every Sunday I would.  Everything was done to perfection, but the star of the show really is the beef.  They're proud of it, and so they should be.  And it makes the most mouth watering, lip smackingly delicious gravy.  Delivered in a separate jug which was most pleasing.  (There's nothing more disheartening than having your gravy poured on by someone else, all over the "wrong" bits). I didn't want it to end, and it very nearly didn't.  Come with a big appetite would be my best advice!

We then moved onto dessert.  I was going to skip this as I really did not have the room for it, but obviously, it would be rude not to look.  And so it was that I glanced down the menu only to see the first item on the list - a Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart with Popcorn Ice Cream.  I had to try it.  The tart itself was very good.  (Although I do think I prefer the Salted Caramel Tart sans the chocolate, dished up at Pizza East).  However, the Popcorn Ice Cream, was out of this world.  I didn't even think I liked popcorn that much, but this was great.  With popcorn pieces inside, it was a delicious contrast of textures, but the flavour was the best bit, almost reminiscent of Kellogg's Corn Pops if anyone remembers those.  I thoroughly recommend ordering a few scoops.  And after a truly indulgent lunch with fantastic wine also, we stumbled out, defeated but victorious.  Two very satisfied customers; one very satisfied birthday boy. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Road to El Rincon

Unassuming from the outside it may be, but this friendly Ecuadorian restaurant is a true London gem.  Situated on the Holloway Road, close to the tube, it is positioned inbetween several takeaway kebab and chicken shops.  One would be forgiven then, as I did myself many times, for walking straight past it without a second thought.  It was only when I secured myself some local knowledge and was recommended it by a friend, that I decided to venture inside.  So I entered, with mild trepidation, and, I must admit, somewhat low expectations.  However, all my fears were set aside upon first sight of my meal.  My friend had told me not to bother with the menu.  I had come here for one thing, and one thing only.  The meat platter.  (It's the first thing on the menu, and as far as I'm concerned, the last).  Still not knowing what to expect I ordered and waited.  I did not have to wait long.  Very shortly, it arrived, announced by a sizzling of most satisfactory proportions.  I was pretty much won over by this point but then I looked down and, lo, before me I saw... pork, chorizo sausage, lamb, chicken, steak, plaintain, rice, salad and the best salsa I have ever tasted.  Everything was delicious.  It's not the best meat you'll ever try but it's pretty darn tasty.  The steak was excellently cooked and very tender.  And what's more, it's bargainous.  At £26, it's easily enough for three, or split it between two and ask for a doggy bag.  (Trust me - you will need one!)  I'm now a regular as I'm lucky enough to call myself a local.  But this place would definitely be worth a trip.  Steer clear of days when there's an Arsenal home match on as it gets very busy with fans, and be prepared for impromptu live music every now and then, but come with an open mind and a hungry stomach and you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Feeding Your Inner Gooner

Football and good food are not usually associated with one another.  However, for all those lucky enough (?) to be an Arsenal fan, trips to the Emirates stadium are now much more exciting, food-wise, by the arrival of the brilliantly named Piebury Corner.  A welcome addition to the Holloway Road, this local business sells Arsenal themed pies and mash, to eat in or takeaway.  Named after legends of Arsenal football, one of the most popular, I am told, is the Thierry Henry, a French-inspired concoction of Venison and Red Wine.  He's on the menu alongside a lamb based Ian Wright, a chicken Dennis Bergkamp and a steak-ed Tony Adams to name but a few.  But despite the gimmicky names, the pies are seriously good and deserved of their match day popularity.  They're full of flavour and jam packed full of meat and at £6.50 for the full works of pie, mash and gravy, you'd be hard pushed to find anything in the stadium for the same value that is as tasty and delicious.  You can also buy the pies cold (£3.50) to take away and heat at home.  I did exactly this last week and froze mine before defrosting the night before and they tasted just as good.  I'm looking forward to trying them all in the coming months!  With its clever and inventive decor (the tables outside are actually parts of the old turnstiles from Highbury) this is a great example of a new local business that is also blending with tradition.  In the Holloway Road championship it's Piebury Corner 3 - 0 Greggs.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Get Your Buns Out!

I am told Chelsea buns originate, unsurprisingly, from Chelsea and were first created there in the 18th century.  Sticky, sweet, spiced currant buns that are light and dense at the same time and perfect with a cup of tea.  It's easy to see how these have stood the test of time and remain a stalwart of the English teatime tradition 300 years on.  However, for the best example today, one needs to look beyond Chelsea.  In the heart of Cambridge, Fitzbillies has been making and baking its' Chelsea buns since it first opened its doors in 1922.  And there is no better bun.  To get your hands on one of these, you don't even need to leave the city walls, as they take email orders and ship these out twice weekly to their loyal worldwide fanbase.  A wonderful alternative birthday teatime treat perhaps?  Or perfect for a picnic with one word of warning...knife and fork definitely required!

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Great Outdoors

At last!  The sun has finally started to make itself known.  Okay, so it's not exactly all that sunny yet but at least there's no longer an arctic wind blowing down the back of my neck.  And that, my lovely readers, means only one thing.  The pavements of London are our drinking grounds again!  And for the ultimate in al fresco pavement drinking, the Charlotte Street Hotel has to be one of the best locations in London.  If you're lucky enough to get a coveted outdoor spot, then be prepared for the genuine feeling of smugness you will feel as pedestrians pass you by.  A great spot for a pre-theatre drink and also highly-recommended for afternoon tea.
Cafe a la Paris

Mondays were made for coffee.  I do believe that it is perfectly accceptable to drink as much coffee as one needs on a Monday.  I'm no medical expert but I'm pretty sure it's okay.  And on a Monday I like to drink mine in style and pretend I'm somewhere else.  Somewhere else like... Paris, say.  Let's face it, Parisians know how to drink coffee.  They just look better doing it.  It's one of those annoyingly-shouldn't-be-true-but-just-is things in life.  Like how the French wear messy hair and look as though they've just stepped off the catwalk, whereas the English do it and look as though they've just got messy hair.  So when I want to pretend I'm somewhere across the pond, I head to Store St. Espresso on Store Street.  One of my favourite streets in London, Store Street feels like a trip down a lane in the Marais.  And outside Store St. Espresso, the tables are always occupied by some insouciant Parisian looking types sat languering.  But don't be perturbed.  Because the coffee is good.  And if you have some time on your hands it's a lovely place to while some away.