Sunday 25 November 2012

T&Cake, Almondbury (revisited...)

T and Cake, Almondbury
Back in January this year, I wrote my first ever blog post on a little place called T&Cake in Almondbury near Huddersfield. My husband had been admiring their logo on a design website, soon realising it was only about an hour drive from Bolton. Their identity was created by Build's Michael Place, previously of the Designer's Republic. Being a graphic design widow, I know these chaps are good. Really good. Stephen and Tracey Jackson's love of good design is only superseded by their fondness for great food.

I praised them in my original blog post, so I was interested to see how they had progressed almost a year on from our first visit. A few weeks ago we were chatting to our friends Kevin and Lucie about tea rooms and nice places to eat out which involve cake. T&Cake was an obvious choice. It wasn't long before we had planned another trip to Almondbury. 

We arrived about 11.40am, so it was still nice and quiet. We had learned from our last visit and parked on a nearby street, as you can only park outside for an hour. However, Stephen told me there was a car park round the corner at the Sure Start Centre, and we later noticed a pub car park which could be used as it appears to have shut down. 

T&Cake looked the same, but felt different. Although it was great last time, the pace seemed much more relaxed. I can only liken it to that feeling of your new job no longer being new. It's that stage where you are confident in your own knowledge and ability, and feel you can take on the world. 

Last time I only saw the specials board as we paid our bill (I was too excited to notice when we walked in...), so this time I paid special attention to it. I ordered the Boston baked beans with slow cooked belly pork, tomato and molasses with cornbread and Lucie ordered the toasted sandwich of manchego cheese, serrano ham, roast garlic aioli and membrillo. 

Paddy ordered the buck rarebit and Kevin went for the eggs benedict with black pudding. As if this wasn't enough, we ordered a side of chips to share. Just for the purposes of reporting back of course...
T and Cake, Almondbury
This is where T&Cake is a little bit special. It feels like a cafe or tea room because of the relaxed atmosphere, but remember... Stephen has worked in a Michelin starred kitchen. It shows. There is no classical French here, but these dishes are comfort food perfection. Brilliant ideas paired with perfect execution.

The toastie was as far removed from bread and cheese squished in a Breville as you can get. Sweet yet salty with melted manchego cheese. Amazing. As far as the beans were concerned, I was sold after reading the word 'cornbread'. The rest of the dish was pretty spectacular too; smoky beans with soft pork belly, served with a crisp red cabbage and spring onion salad. I was one very happy lady!

The boys didn't do badly with their choices either. Although the welsh rarebit was good last time, this one had clearly been honed into something wonderful. It was darker and richer and large enough to feed Hagrid during a period of extreme hunger. Topped with a perfectly poached egg, this was a real winter warmer. Likewise, the eggs benedict looked amazing. I didn't try this one, but Kevin assured us all that it was all kinds of ace.

At this point, we were ready to burst. Nonetheless, it was cake time. I had genuine excited belly ache at the prospect of sampling some of Tracey's baked goods. I still have fond memories of the cakes from my first visit, plus Kevin and Lucie are cake fans. I knew they would love it, so I was excited for them too.

Wow wow wow. These were better than last time.

  • Almondberry - almond sponge with a rich jam filling and covered in beurre noisette frosting. Tangy, sweet and perfectly balanced. Love it.
  • Chocolate, ginger and chilli brownie - looks really firm but is actually mouse like in the middle, moving to a chewy outer edge. Not for the faint hearted, this is enough chocolate to cure depression.
  • Carrot cake - always a good barometer. I hate carrot cake which is bland, full of hard nuts and is covered in actual cream cheese. Cheesy cheese. This was none of those things. It was packed with warming scents of cinnamon and had a perfectly sweetened frosting. 
  • Hazelnut praline and chocolate cake - this looks very heavy, but again this had a light sponge with a fresh frosted top. Something a bit different. My husband loved it.

T and Cake, Almondbury
I haven't even mentioned the teas yet. We had a total mix, ranging from chais to simple afternoon teas. All are unique house blends, but don't be afraid of asking for a recommendation. Tracey is very knowledgeable regarding what might suit you.
T and Cake, Almondbury
We even took a couple of slices of cake home for when the sugar rush wore off! These are beautifully packaged in little white cakeaway boxes, complete with the same branding. I can now say hand on heart that their malt loaf is perfect with a hot cup of tea for breakfast!
T and Cake, Almondbury
T&Cake have clearly worked hard to improve everything they put out, despite the fact it would have been fine to leave things 'as is'. They love what they do, and I doubt they will ever settle for 'good enough'. As Stephen put it 'we've got rid of a few rough edges'. They cook what they enjoy making, and have fun with specials rather than have a ten page menu.

If you enjoy good food, a relaxed atmosphere and a huge slab of something sweet, I urge you to visit T&Cake.

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Thursday 22 November 2012

Il Toro, Horwich

Il Toro Horwich
Five years ago Il Toro gave new life to the building which was once home to The Black Bull pub. For months my dad refused to go, as he found it too upsetting to see his local turned into an Italian restaurant. Our family had gone there almost every Sunday afternoon for years. It's where I learned to play pool, and became rather good with the arrows too. I may only have been ten, but I could hit a treble twenty on demand. Life skills. I digress...

Il Toro is where the Horwich Fine Dining Society was born. It's within walking distance of our house, so it was an ideal place to go on a Friday night. It went a little something like this. A few drinks and parsnip or chilli crisps at our gaff, then we would walk round to Il Toro for a fantastic steak and amazing pudding. It was eating here that gave us a thirst to try other places. Three years later we would be sat in Noma. 

Horwich didn't have any smart restaurants at the time, and Il Toro was the perfect balance between feeling a bit special yet being totally relaxed. It lost its way a little a couple of years ago, but the new manager Florindo appears to have given it a much needed kick up the back side. 

A couple of weeks ago, my husband I decided to pay Il Toro a visit on our wedding anniversary. 
Il Toro, Horwich
Picture from iltororestaurant.co.uk
We were welcomed into the comfortable lounge and offered a drink whilst we perused the menu. To start, we decided to share the Antipasto della casa and a garlic bread with cheese (class act, I know...). What we hadn't bargained for was complimentary bruschetta, the antipasto being a massive platter of meat and the garlic bread with cheese being a full sized twelve inch job. It was fantastic! I'm going to be honest with you; we ate pretty much everything (bar a few evil olives), meaning we were a little full when our mains arrived! It mattered not...

I couldn't help myself. I had to order the sirloin in pepper sauce. This is what I had every time we went to Il Toro in the past. My husband ordered meatballs with spaghetti, again because he used to have a smaller portion of this as a starter. Both were legendary dishes in our memories. They don't believe in skinny portions at Il Toro, so go hungry! My steak was cooked just the way I had specified and the meat was tender and full of flavour. The meatballs were just delightful! No bland mince here, just tasty balls of beef seasoned well and placed on a mammoth pile of spaghetti with a tangy sauce.

The side vegetables were always phenomenal. They didn't disappoint either! A slight hint of pesto of fresh vegetables creates an illusion of 'just plucked from the garden' because they smell so fresh. Everything was just beautifully cooked.

One thing that we both noticed was the military precision of the service. A nod here. A glance there. Drinks were offered when just a few sips were left. Plates were cleared promptly. We liked this.
Il Toro, Horwich
Despite the fact we were morbidly full, we couldn't leave without sampling the desserts. We picked the cream filled profiteroles to share. I say share... I ate them. These were light as a feather and filled with real cream. I hate it when they are pumped full of custard or chocolate cream. Nooo! Cream is the only way.

We don't know who the original pastry chef was at Il Toro (I have tried to track him down via social media, but failed miserably...). Whoever he was (and we know it was a man...) he was some sort of dessert Jedi. Although the desserts are good now, years ago they were amazing. This is the only thing I would change about the current set up. Find him. Bring him back. Make him recreate the treacle tart and white chocolate and raspberry mousse. Please.

How did we ever forget about this restaurant? I think we had one bad meal here years ago when it was under different management and wrote it off forever. Until now. We enjoyed it so much, we booked the family in for Christmas Day! 

Thank you to Florindo and the team for a great anniversary meal!

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Wednesday 21 November 2012

Mince Pie Muffins

Mince Pie Muffins

Picasso had his blue period. I did muffins. Before bundts, I was all about the muffins. No, actual muffins. I made them in batches of at least 36, generally meaning my colleagues were being force fed these bulbous baked goods at least once a week. Then I discovered bundts. Hallelujah.

A couple of years ago our department held a mince pie bake off. For the previous five years, I had made mince pies using the same recipe. Orange pastry topped with stars and cinnamon sugar. I was well bored of that malarky! Plus, I detest mince pies. For the competition I tried a recipe from a well known cookery book without a test run. It was rubbish! The pastry went hard without colouring and the texture was something similar to an old boot. Why did I stray from my trusted recipe? Goon.

I decided to get a little creative with the brief. This was a mince pie bake off. No-one said it had to include pastry... The devil is in the detail! Mince pie muffins were born. After all, I had at least ten tonnes of luxury mincemeat to use up!

Here's how to make them...

Makes 12

Ingredients

  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 350g mince meat - either make your own or get a good quality one like Cottage Delight (local folk - I would have thought that Thyme Deli will stock this)
  • 90ml vegetable oil
  • 90g sultanas
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Method
These can be made in a mixer, but it always find it better to do muffins by hand as there is very little mixing required - just a big bowl.

  1. Line a 12 hole muffin tray with festive cases
  2. Preheat the oven to gas 6/200 C
  3. Sift together all the dry ingredients into a big bowl, including the sultanas.
  4. In a large jug, mix together all the wet ingredients, including the mincemeat.
  5. Tip the wet ingredients into the dry and fold until just combined. You will see a little flour that is not totally incorporated. This is good!
  6. Divide the mixture between the twelve cases, ensuring they are no more than 3/4 full.
  7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown and well risen. 
  8. When they are fully cool, dredge with icing sugar mixed with cinnamon or mist with edible gold spray (see above).

TIP: the best muffins are made using this wet into dry method. They are very different from cupcakes - beating the mix will result in dry muffins.

Only two of us entered in the end. My friend Matt and I got a certificate each. He won Mince Pies of Excellence, and I won Muffins of Excellence. Can't argue with that can you?!

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Peggy Porschen, London

Peggy Porschen, London
Picture from www.peggyporschen.com

I first fell in love with Peggy Porschen when I reviewed her book a few months ago. Good God. A pink shop full of cake. I even tested a marble bundt from her book. Amazing. From this moment forth, I was destined to go to her shop in London.

We went to Peggy Porschen about two hours after eating at St John. It was miles away from where we were staying, and meant a crazy treck through Belgravia in the dark, but I was going to this shop if it killed me. There it was. That familiar pink shop front.

You walk through the door into a treasure trove of pastel perfection. Lamp shades are made from cake tins, labels are perfectly hand written, flowers decorate tables and there are edible goodies everywhere.
Peggy Porschen, London
We decided on a nice cup of tea with a slice of carrot cake. We were still stuffed from St John's, but couldn't leave without sampling the goods! Just for the purposes of reporting back of course... gluttony has absolutely nothing to do with this whatsoever...

Their gingerbread tea is a little bit of heaven. Not quite as strong as chai, this is a delicately spiced drink; perfect for reducing feet from actual trotters to delicate tootsies. Their carrot cake is beautifully moist with a generous helping of cream cheese frosting. Almost as good as Lucie's...
Peggy Porschen, London
 If you're a lover of cake and find yourself in London, it's definitely worth a detour to Peggy's.
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Tuesday 20 November 2012

Make Your Own Christmas Decorations - Cath Kidston

Make Your Own Christmas Decorations - Cath Kidston
A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of Make Your Own Christmas Decorations by Cath Kidston. I was thrilled! I've been looking for an excuse to do a bit of the old Christmas crafting. About a week later, my friend Nicola asked if I fancied going to the Cath Kidston store in Manchester for a festive crafting evening. Do dogs pee up lamposts?! This was the perfect opportunity to try some of the projects included in the pack.

The book comes with all the materials you will need to make the decorations, except tracing paper, a needle and stuffing. It contains:
  • Six sheets of felt in different colours
  • Skeins of embroidery cotton in three different colours
  • A selection of little pom poms
  • Some waxed cotton cord for hanging

There are twelve little hanging decorations to make:
  • Christmas Pud
  • Angel
  • Stocking
  • Holly
  • Present
  • House
  • Reindeer
  • Robin
  • Christmas Tree
  • Father Christmas
  • Dog
  • Snowman

They range from the ridiculously easy to more challenging items, so there is something for all abilities. These type of decorations actually look good if your sewing isn't up to much, so don't worry about it being perfect. The book does talk you through running stitch, straight edging stitch, blanket stitch and French knots, but most things can be done without any fancy needlework at all. 

The book then gives to step by step guides to making each of the decorations, including a pattern. I decided to make a robin. Granted, I didn't finish my robin on the crafting evening, as I became unfortunately side tracked by shopping. A hundred pounds lighter, I decided to finish my robin at home... see below... 

From start to finish it probably took me about an hour and a half, and I haven't sewn much since second year technology at school! I'm just hoping I get the time to make a few more!
Make Your Own Christmas Decorations - Cath Kidston
This is a great little book because it won't frustrate the hell out of you if you are a little less than crafty, but the finished products are fantastic. I can't wait to put my little robin on my tree!


Publisher: Quadrille, 2012
Paperback, £15.00
Disclaimer: I reviewed this book because I fancied a spot of Christmas crafting, and I am a huge fan of anything by Cath Kidston. Proper fan boy...

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Saturday 17 November 2012

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Wherever I May Roam...

Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Wherever I May Roam...

What a day. I had a killer headache. Then I had about 15 cake cancellations, mainly because the inhabitants of Bolton are riddled with the lurgy. When I arrived at the venue, more problems arose. They hadn't realised we were using the room, so there were no plates or cutlery and no bar. Just as people started arriving... CRASH... cake/floor interface.

However... the show must (and will) go on. Luckily, I had done all the required panicking before people arrived, so it was all out of the way and dealt with toot sweet. Ella (Duty Manager and lover of cake) pointed me in the direction of the kitchen where I could help myself to whatever was available. Plates, forks, knives and napkins acquired. Next, drinks! Beauty and the Beast was on upstairs (we were at the Albert Halls) so there were refreshments. Ella brought some cold drinks down stairs and hot drinks were available upstairs. I quickly mobilised the cakey troops; Deborah taking one tribe up to the refreshments counter and Adam leading another regiment to Costa across the road. Now I did mention a cake/floor interface. Having dealt with such abhorrent incidents in the past, both layers were quickly retrieved from the lid of a tin and pushed back into position. Crisis averted. And breathe...

And so business as usual. Our theme for this month was 'Wherever I May Roam'. I asked our members to bake cakes inspired by their travels; whether it be the cafe down the road or some far flung shore. We also had Sharon from the Pudsey Club and Emma from Manchester in attendance. Corinne and Michelle landed in Manchester at 7am this morning, and had a cake ready for 1pm. Now that's cakey dedication!

As per usual, there were some amazing cakes with a really creative interpretation on the theme. We also had six bundts, much to my utter delight! There were twenty two cakes in total, which is amazing considering how many people were unable to make it. They were big too... They included:
  • Key Lime Bundt - Florida
  • Easy Peasy Holiday Chocolate Cake - New Zealand
  • Banoffee Cake - USA
  • Guinness Cake - Ireland
  • Pina Colada Bundt - Cuba
  • Cornish Cream Tea Scone Cake - Cornwall
  • Banana Bread Cake 
  • Root Beer Bundt - Florida
  • Trinidadian Nutmeg and Rum Drizzle Cake - Trinidad
  • Plum and Marzipan Cake - years as a student...
  • Sunken Apple, Pecan and Bourbon Cake - Prague
  • Buddah Good Tropical Cake - Thailand
  • Gateau Basque - France
  • Torta di Riso al Profume D'Arancio - Italy
  • Dandelion and Burdock Bundt - trips to the chippy as a youngster
  • Anchor Porter Beer Bundt - San Francisco
  • Banana Cake - dad took it to work
  • Poppy Day - Remembrance parade
  • Caramel Chocolate Cake
  • Caraway Seed Loaf

Without further ado, here are the pictures from today's event...
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Wherever I May Roam...Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Wherever I May Roam...
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Wherever I May Roam...
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Wherever I May Roam...
Clandestine Cake Club Bolton - Wherever I May Roam...
Thank you to Ella at the Albert Halls Bolton for saving my bacon, and to everyone who came!

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Friday 16 November 2012

Honey and Ginger Bundt Cake

Honey and Ginger Bundt Cake
Honey and Ginger Bundt Cake. Honey picture from crossmoorhoney.com
This week I finally received my Holiday Tree Bundt® tin. I have wanted it for over a year, but it seemed weird buying it in the summer months. It's getting chilly outside, Bonfire Night has been and gone and the Coca Cola advert is now on the telly. This means one thing. Christmas bundt® time boys and girls!

I decided to make a new spicy cake. Not quite Christmas-o-rama, but a winter cake none the less. This one has a moist texture with chewy bits of crystallised ginger and sweet honey. Perfect for nippy nights! Try to get some nice local honey too. I used Crossmoor's because it's only from down the road and is absolutely delicious! They even do a cinnamon variety...

Anyway. On with the show!


Ingredients:
  • 225g butter
  • 450g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 350g plain flour
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200ml thick honey flavoured yogurt 
  • 50ml local honey
  • 100g crystallised ginger cut into small chunks and tossed in flour

Method:
  1. Grease and flour a regular sized bundt tin (2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch). 
  2. Soften the butter and then cream in the sugar in stages.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time on a slow setting.
  4. Add all the remaining dry ingredients to a large bowl.
  5. Measure the yogurt, honey and extract in a jug. Give it a quick mix.
  6. Sift in 1/3 of the dry ingredients followed by 1/2 of the liquid. Repeat until all the flour and liquid is used up. Fold it in gently... I said gently... 
  7. Scatter in the crystallised ginger.
  8. Give the whole thing a quick mix for about 10 seconds or until well combined.
  9. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin.
  10. Bake at gas 3/160 C for about an hour and 15 minutes. 
  11. It should be shrinking from the sides and a skewer should come out clean.
  12. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out.

BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

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Thursday 15 November 2012

Craft Beer Bundt

Craft Beer Bundt
Every year on 15th November, America celebrates National Bundt® Day. This year I decided to team up with Nordic Ware to promote the very first National Bundt® Day UK. This just so happens to coincide with my Clandestine Cake Club meeting on Saturday. I set the theme 'Wherever I May Roam', inspired by my own travels (and Metallica...)

I decided to make a Craft Beer Bundt® for two reasons. I could use the beautiful blossom tin I bought in Williams Sonoma and craft beer from Anchor; both in San Francisco. We had been on a tour of the brewery whilst on holiday, so this beer holds happy memories! I chose their Porter because of it's thick texture and spicy scent. 

This cake is beautifully moist, has a delightfully crisp sugar crust on the base and a spicy undertone. And no... it does not taste like beer! This is a perfect cake for winter, served either with a nice hot cup of tea, or a pint of your favourite ale...

Ingredients
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 100g of vegetable fat 
  • 650g golden caster sugar
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 250ml your favourite ale or beer

Method
  1. Grease and flour a regular sized bundt tin (2.4l, 10 cup, 10 inch).
  2. Soften the butter and vegetable fat and then cream in the sugar in stages.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time on a slow setting.
  4. Add all the remaining dry ingredients to a large bowl.
  5. Add the vanilla extract to the beer.
  6. Sift in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/2 of the liquid. Repeat until all the flour and liquid is used up. Fold it in gently...
  7. Tip: at this stage it will look a right tip! Don't fret! Fizziness makes batter look a bugger. It will magically change shortly...
  8. Give the whole thing a quick whizz for about 10 seconds or until well combined. It will no longer look curdled.
  9. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin and give it a good whack on the worktop. Because the cake has fizzy stuff in, it will hold a lot of air bubbles. Too many may mean the tin design is lost.
  10. Bake at gas 3/160 C for about an hour and 45 minutes. Just turn it after about an hour.
  11. It should be shrinking from the sides and a skewer should come out clean.
  12. Let it cool in the tin for ten minutes then turn it out. 
  13. Allow to cool fully before dusting with a little icing sugar mixed with ginger. 


BloggersPlease respect the fact I am sharing my own ideas and recipe. Blood, sweat and many tears have gone into getting this right, so you may enjoy a perfect bundt. If you wish to re-blog a recipe from these variations, please credit my blog and link to this original post rather than pasting the recipe on your own page. 
Please see my Creative Commons Copyright information for more details. Thank you.

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Sunday 11 November 2012

St John Hotel - Chinatown, London

St John Hotel
Last year we visited the iconic 'Nose to Tail' restaurant, St John in Smithfield, London. I'm not a fan of offal myself, but my husband loves it. However, I have to say that our meal at St John was one of the best we have ever had. I had pork with simple vegetables and parsley sauce. The desserts were also fantastic. When My husband wanted to go back, I didn't put up much of a protest!

I knew that Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver had opened a new St John in Chinatown, complete with its own hotel. It was awarded a Michelin star in this year's guide, so I booked us in. This restaurant doesn't follow the usual starter, main, dessert format; rather they encourage you to pick around four smaller dishes to share. 

On the way down to London my husband excitedly looked through the day's menu, only to find a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen stating that St John Hotel was in administration. A little concerned, we decided to go anyway as there was nothing online to suggest that anything else had changed. Caterer Search published an article on 26th October explaining that the hotel had cost much more than anticipated, and opened way after it was scheduled to.

When we arrived there was the usual warm welcome you would expect from the Smithfield restaurant. Everything looked in order. The kitchen is open so I got to have a good nosy at what was going on, home made breads were piled high on shelves and blackboards were filled with specials and one off bottles of wine. 
St John HotelSt John Hotel
Our waiter explained how things worked, and made some excellent recommendations too! We picked the devilled pig's skin, roast bone marrow, snails with duck hearts and the bacon and beans. This is a true culinary tour of what the restaurant is all about. I had also made a mental note of the puddings...
St John Hotel
Now don't get all freaked out by the duck hearts. Yes, they look vile, but actually taste a little bit like fillet steak mixed with venison. I have eaten other hearts before, and quite frankly I cannot stomach them. These are much milder. They came with snails and some wonderfully chewy croutons in the best sauce I have tasted in ages. This bright green lovage sauce went down a treat with the artisan bread brought to the table. We were given more to mop up the sauce by our waiter...

The pig's skin was very much like a pork scratching, which was nice dipped in the runny yolks. I left my husband to the bone marrow. No thank you! The highlight for me was the bacon and beans. A fantastic piece of pork belly with crispy bits, served with St John's version of baked beans. If only Heinz did beans like these...
St John Hotel
After last year's pudding escapades at St John in Smithfield, I had high hopes. I picked the ginger loaf with butterscotch sauce, whilst I ordered my husband to have the custard tart! I could ramble on for at least twenty three pages about how good these desserts were. Mine was a sticky ginger cake with a sweet sauce served with thick ice cream. Not too sickly, this was a tour de force. Texture and taste were both bob on. One of my all time favourites. Forever. The custard tart was equally as sensational. The pastry was crisp and biscuit-like (no soggy bottoms here Mary...) whilst the custard filling was smooth and creamy with a generous portion of nutmeg on the top.

The best thing about St John Chinatown is that while it has a Michelin star, it is very much a laid back affair. We booked, but I am sure it is not necessary. Whilst we were there a lady came in for just a dessert and a cup of tea, another just for a coffee. It's that kind of place. They cater from everything from a single cuppa to a many-plated banquet. 

We're definitely going back here, perhaps next time for breakfast... 

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Saturday 10 November 2012

Dabbous, London

Dabbous, London
Every year we mark our anniversary by having a few days away. This year was slightly different.

Several months ago, our good friends Wayne and Vicki (Mrs Petticoat) went to a little known place called Dabbous. Ollie Dabbous has worked at some of the world's most highly regarded restaurants, including Le Manoir, The Fat Duck, Mugaritz, Hibiscus and Noma, so he really has learned from the masters. A good chef really becomes great, when he takes inspiration from his mentors, but does not imitate them. Many chefs have passed through the academies of the greats, and attempted to emulate their idols. After all, no-one wants to go to 'something like Noma'. They want the real thing.

So is Ollie Dabbous the real thing? Fay Maschler loved Dabbous so much she practically shouted it from the rooftops. More raving reviews followed from the likes of Giles Coren and AA Gill. Next thing he knows, Ollie Dabbous is rubbing shoulders with Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria at Downing Street, winning awards left, right and centre and being presented with the coveted Michelin star.

What does this mean for us, the humble diners? You guessed it. Tables are like rocking horse poo. We rang in May after Wayne and Vicki had such a great time, mainly out of curiosity. I think it was a major fluke, but there was a table available for lunch early-November. Only a couple of days after our anniversary, so we booked it. I believe you cannot get a dinner reservation until well into 2013!

Since then we have heard some really bad reviews. Bothered. I have this theory. I have seen it in action many many times. Some people love to hate popular things for no other reason than they like to go against the grain. With restaurants, there is often an air of 'everyone says it's great, but it's still not good enough for my high standards'. I'm sure some people have genuinely had bad experiences at great restaurants (as have we), but folks, I urge you to go to a restaurant with an open mind and with the aim of enjoying yourself.

On that note, we were off. Although we contemplated the lunch menu, we quickly binned that off in favour of the tasting menu. I love a tasting menu because it gives you the opportunity to try a selection of dishes picked by the chef. When allowed to be, I can be quite a fussy eater, so tasting menus often force me into trying something new. For example, I would never order fish from a menu, but the stone bass from Le Gavroche will remain one of my favourite dishes of all time, as will the now legendary 'razor role reversal' from L'Enclume.
The interior of Dabbous is far removed from the quintessential 'one Michelin star' experience. No table cloths, casually dressed staff and music in the background. It feels a little like walking into All Saints, although there are no vintage sewing machines in the window here.  The people dining here are diverse; ranging from businessmen to Le Gavroche chef Monica Galetti (yes, we were exceptionally excited...).

Our waitress was friendly, and explained the menus as she took our drinks order. She added that we could change things around on the tasting menu if there was anything we didn't like. The last time we were offered this was at Gordon Ramsay's Royal Hospital Road. This assures me that they want to you enjoy your food. Being a total cake-face, I swapped the chocolate dessert for the apple cake off the À la carte. Cake and apple? Of course. Rude not to try it really...

Within a few minutes a cute little brown paper bag appeared with some butter. No, he hasn't gone quite mad (although if anyone starts serving brown paper and butter, I predicted it first...), the bag contained two large slices of soft seeded bloomer. It also has the date on so doubles as a nice keepsake.

Ollie Dabbous' food is pretty. He is also very fond of seeds and nuts. Nearly every course served to us had some form of seed or nut involved, and vegetables were generally served in their simplest form but with maximum flavour. It reminded me a little of Frantzen/Lindeberg in terms of getting masses of flavour from something relatively uncomplicated.

For example, the celeriac with muscat grapes with lovage and hazelnuts was packed with flavour, despite it's rather insipid appearance. The liquid which surrounded it was clear but tasted strongly of celery, whilst the couple of sliced muscat grapes scattered over the top were very sweet. The celeriac was firm and the hazelnuts were toasted and crunchy. This was like nothing else I have ever eaten. An epic collection of flavours and textures. 
Dabbous, London
My favourite dish was the coddled egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter. Hell's teeth this was fantastic! The texture, the flavour, the presentation... it was all going on! Similarly, the iberico pork with acorn praline was just amazing. The caramel of the praline brought out the sweetness of the barbecued pork.
Dabbous, London
The apple cake was everything I hoped it would be. The milk curd dessert was a little too rich for me, whereas this small cake served with fragrant frothed milk was beautiful. Very light despite its appearance, my only concern was that I wanted more! (Pig).

Our tea came in a fantastic-handled pot and was served with two beautiful petit fours topped with cherries. I liked these a lot. Little chewy, nutty cakes. Yum. I also forgot to mention that my husband was absolutely thrilled to see Anchor Steam on the menu too! Dabbous - we salute you!
Dabbous, LondonI am not a restaurant critic. I am just someone who loves food and likes to share my experiences with other people. I love it when someone tries somewhere I have recommended, and loves it too. I'm not interested in writing scathing reviews. That's not what my blog is about. I like to write about happy times in the hope that you will enjoy it too. Therefore, my opinion of Dabbous is purely as someone who went in with an open mind. I enjoyed the dining experience, the food was different to what I have tried elsewhere and some of the dishes truly stood out as being spectacular. Is this restaurant going to change the world? No. Does it matter? No. Just go and have a good time.

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Ladurée, London

Ladurée, London
I found Ladurée when flicking through my Tea and Cake London book a few months ago. Within days of reading about this magnificent place, lots of people started to mention it on Twitter. Ever get the feeling that you're being pushed to go somewhere? I'm so glad we did...

Finding Ladurée is your first mission. It's nestled at the back of the ground floor of Harrod's, but you have to go through the watch section to find it. Alternatively you can reach it from the street via the back of the shop. There are three others in London, but I particularly fancied the one in Harrod's. 
Ladurée, London
The entrance alone is spectacular. It reminds me of some fantastic toy shop, only it is filled with cakes rather than teddy bears. I have a little confession... there were massive 'no photography' signs everywhere. Oops! How on Earth could I eat somewhere so spectacular and not document it? It would have been a crying shame... so... on the sly I pretended to text!

Ladurée combines classical French service with some of the finest examples of cakes I have ever seen. Their menu is vast, with a wide variety of cakes, teas and coffees. My husband picked the Marie Antoinette tea, which was a mixture of black tea with rose petals, citrus and honey. This was sweet but not over powering. I had the Thé Mélange Spécial Ladurée; a mixture of black teas, rose petals, orange, bergamot, vanilla, cinnamon and caramel. Amazing! 

To accompany our drinks we had a selection of macarons in raspberry, almond and pistachio and a wonderful towered meringue, raspberry, cream and almond cake. I could eat one of these on the hour, every hour. Unbelievably good! The macarons were chewy with a crisp shell. There was nothing here that I did not love. 
Ladurée, London
I think Ladurée will become our new pit stop whilst staying in London.

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Friday 9 November 2012

Tea Hive, Chorlton

Tea Hive, Chorlton
A few weeks ago, we were having our morning cuppa before work when something caught our eye on the BBC news. We heard the key words 'tea shop' and more importantly 'cake'. Sold! The BBC reporter was live from the Tea Hive in Chorlton.

We are always really busy at the weekend, so when our plans changed on the last minute we decided to pop over to Chorlton for a spot of breakfast. Breakfast which involves cake.
Tea Hive, Chorlton
Picture from www.teahive.co.uk
It's a really pretty little shop with old dressers and baskets packed with home made preserves and pretty floral teapots. The counter is packed with plates of brownies, jars full of scented tea and cake stands piled with a wide variety of home baked goods. Needless to say I liked it here. They were busy as a bugger, but the staff were always polite and helpful and didn't mind a nosy parker like me taking lots of photos like some weird cake paparazzi...
Tea Hive, Chorlton - Breakfast
We both decided on a bacon butty on thick doorstep bread. The bread was soft and fresh and the bacon was perfectly crisp. I added brown sauce and my husband had his with cheese. Fancy. They have lots of different teas to choose from, but because there was a bit of a nip in the air I decided on a nice house chai. Not too spicy, just the right amount of heat to warm the cockles. I don't take sugar in my tea, but this was served with honey. Couldn't resist... Turns out it's lovely in chai!

I was not leaving this establishment without sampling some cake. After much stalking of the counter, I picked the almond and cherry cake and my husband had the sunken orange and chocolate cake. These slices are massive! There are no skinny portions here ladies and gents! Saying that, don't share one. You have to try at least two! Mine was a nice firm sponge with real cherries and cream cheese frosting. My only criticism was that I would have preferred more sugar in the frosting. But that's just my preference. The orange and chocolate cake was really dense and moist; the perfect amount of cake clagginess to accompany a hot drink. Lovely.

Go to the Tea Hive for a relaxing morning with good food, tasty cakes and a lovely bit of chintz...

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Le Gavroche, London

Le Gavroche, London
We have been fine dining for a long time now, so how is it that we never quite got round to Le Gavroche? Every time we go to London, we have a huge list of places we want to try. I made the executive decision that our anniversary trip this year would see us visit Michel Roux Jr's two star restaurant. 

Le Gavroche was the young street urchin or ragamuffin from Les Miserables. A painting of the young man hangs in the restaurant bar, the crockery bears his logo and most of the cutlery has the little chap on the handles.

Deep in the heart of Mayfair is a shiny door with a 1970s style illuminated sign with the 'Le Gavroche' script over the top. You are taken through the plush bar down some stairs to the restaurant. First impressions of Le Gavroche? I cannot believe we have waited until now to come here! The dining room is dimly lit with deep reds and golds, the tables are well spaced and large flower arrangements adorn the alcoves. Tables are decorated with small lamps, personalised chargers and silver ornaments made form cutlery. Comfort is key. Le Gavroche feels homely and warm. 

We decided to have the Menu Exceptionnel to get the full Le Gavroche experience. 
Le Gavroche, London
Before the menu began, we were brought a selection of breads to choose from, along with some canapes. Fresh and delicate, these were the perfect start to the meal. They accidentally brought us two servings of these. Oops... happy accident!  
Le Gavroche, London
Starting with their signature dish; the Soufflé Suissesse, this is an opulent but well proportioned menu. The soufflé is one of the richest things I have ever eaten in my entire life. A cheese soufflé cooked in double cream. I am convinced this must have been about 6000 calories! Absolutely divine. I'm sure this is tactical. If you have ever had a large tasting menu, you know that by around half way through you are praying for it to end, even though the food is amazing. Dishes might be small, but tend to be incredibly full bodied. This leads to both physical and mental going-to-burst-ness. By starting with the richest dish in the world, everything else seems much lighter in comparison!

Next came the foie gras, served layered with confit carrot layers and ice wine vinegar jelly with pomegranate seeds. Yes, foie gras is very heavy, but this was served with sweet juices and fruit, which lightened the dish. I am not a fan of the fluffy livery stuff so I made my husband eat it! On the up side he loves it, so we were both happy!

Next was the standout dish of the night for me. Wait for it... it was fish! You know that fish is generally one of my mortal enemies (ME number three in fact), but this was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Stone bass with Arabian spices and red rice. It reminded me a little of the beautifully spiced monkfish we had at Purnell's in Birmingham, but a million times better! This really whipped Glynn's backside.

Sat reeling from the wonderful flavours in the stone bass, I saw my husband scowling. I then realised he was looking into the large mirror behind me. I got him with a 'what's up with you?' look only to realise what he had seen; the reflection of Michel Roux Jr in the mirror! He was less then three meters away from us. He moved to the table next to us and summonsed the waiting staff to bring more bread to the chaps who had just finished their venison dish. He insisted bread was needed to mop up the remainder of the sauce! When he came to our table for a chat, I was sure my face would explode! Luckily the dining room is dimly lit so hopefully he thought I was just fond of blusher. He stayed and had a chat about the bass, before moving on round the room. What a nice fellow! Made my bloody day.
Le Gavroche, London
The langoustines and snails that came next were served in a buttery Hollandaise sauce with a grilled cheese top. Perfection! The black pudding, crumbed egg and crackling sounds heavy, but actually wasn't at all. It was served with a zingy tomato chutney which made the dish seem much lighter. By the time the venison turned up, I actually felt okay! By this point I am normally cursing my greed, the size of the menu and complaining that part of my dress is digging in. We were both feeling remarkably perky! The venison dish came with sprouts, cranberries and a thick red wine sauce. A real taste of winter.

Earlier in the night we had seen (smelled) the amazing cheese trolly. My friend Heather would have soiled herself at the mere sight of this beauty. It smelled vile, which is usually the sign of an outstanding cheese selection. I remember years ago getting my first whiff of the L'Enclume cheese trolley. I was sure that something was deceased under that cloth. However, I am now conditioned to know that that pong means a decent selection. We wanted everything from the strong and firm to the gloppy and stingy. Nothing compares to a cheese that stings the inside of your jaw bone...

Heather, the first photo is for you. Look at the size of that bloody trolley! The chap next to us told us that the old cart had a dodgy wheel and needed a three point turn to get round the dining room! This one wasn't much better. The poor girl pushing it around looked in agony! She has a brilliant French accent which reminded me a little of our friend Lumière from L'Enclume (aside: this was not his real name - he just reminded Vicki and I of the talking candle stick from Beauty and the Beast).
Le Gavroche, London
We selected a crop of cheeses covering blue, goat, hard and soft. They were served with fruit bread thins, tomato chutney and quince jelly. I refuse to eat cheese from now on without said sharp jelly. I am normally verging on decay by now. In fact, it's sometimes touch and go as to whether I can manage cheese at all. We were both still ok...

Then came the babas. Yes cake fans, they served me a mini bundt! They even popped a little candle in for our anniversary. Drizzled in Calvados, it was an interesting twist on the standard rum version. Now we were full. Still not dying, but happily full. That's when the line of petit fours occurred. Carrot cake, macarons, caramel fruits and sesame tuiles. Tea and coffee is served with a wooden box of nougat and chocolates. Beautiful, but killers. The devil is in a sliding wooden box.
Le Gavroche, London
We had a fantastic time at Le Gavroche. We agreed that this was down to three factors; the food (obviously), comfort and atmosphere. Not only is the dining room a comfortable place to sit for several hours, but the friendly staff and decent gaps between courses meant that we were never over-faced. Everyone here is having a good time; smiles and laughter fill the room and there is no stuffiness whatsoever. We had a lovely chat to the chaps next to us who recommended a few places for our next London visit too. It's that sort of place. Fellow diners get excited when they see you are about to eat something they really enjoyed. A great experience!

I found this short video created by Michel Roux Jr on the Le Gavroche website which explains the restaurant's ethos. Definitely worth a watch!

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