Category: Review

Cooking and some cookbook recommendations

We’ve been cooking again, really cooking. It has been glorious. Finally trying new things, creating delicious dinners, odd but tasty leftovers and everything in between. Partly this is because we’re trying to be a little more frugal so cooking at home is the way forward. Partly this is also because for my birthday this year I received three wonderful cookbooks. I love cookbooks and often flick through them for inspiration but I recently realized that I was getting into the habit of falling back to cook what I knew, rather than trying new things. So new recipes from new cookbooks it is.

The Jewelled Kitchen by Bethany Kehdy This is a beautifully written book with fabulous images to accompany the recipes. Recipes from across the middle east which I really like and inspiring flavours and colours.

The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage Β This is almost as much a reference book as a recipe book. Full of a huge number of recipes, some variations on a theme but all simple, straightforward and most importantly delicious. I made a lamb and aubergine stack last weekend which was yummy.

Ottolenghi by Yohan Ottolenghi and Sami TamimiΒ  I’m sure everyone has already heard about this but this cookbook is a delight. Full of great flavour combinations in the recipes, straightforward, good instructions and beautiful mouthwatering illustrations.

Ottolenghi
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2012 in review

2012 was a year of travel, a lot of it. It was another busy year, I remember feeling incredibly positive at the beginning of the year, I think because 2011 had been such a tough year in many ways. By mid-autumn admittedly that positivity had dropped, it felt like we were mired in just getting stuff done and dealing with crap.

In short I did the following travel:
2 trips to South Africa
1 to Australia
1 trip to France and the UK
4 trips to the UK
1 trip to Canada
1 to San Francisco
A few nights in New York

All of the above coupled with an incredibly busy work year and no proper holiday meant that by the end of the year I was exhausted, physically and mentally. If nothing else 2012 has taught me how much I really need to look after myself and what a work-life balance is not.

2013 starts with a huge change, we move back to London and have to work out living in somewhere we know so well but which will be different from before. I am hopeful again for next year. I am planning holidays in my head already, we have a friend to visit in Istanbul, we have Italy to explore and we have time to spend together on a beach doing sweet f.a.

I am also looking forward to reconnecting with old friends, keeping new ones and taking the next steps in J and I’s life together. We want to buy a house at some point, we’d like somewhere of our own, who knows maybe that’s what 2013 will hold for us.

Polpetto – Review

J and I went to Polpetto on Saturday night, I had managed to book a table for the preview evening and was super excited to go having been to Polpo a few times and absolutely loving it there.

And so we arrived, to this little room about the French House on Dean Street which had sweet simple tables, lovely big mirrors and the same light bulbs as Polpo. Luckily enough we got a table next to the window so enjoyed the breeze coming through as we ate.

Deciding what to eat wasn’t easy, it all sounded yummy and there’s a fair choice (although not quite as many dishes as Polpo). In the end we went for a mix of Cicheti, breads, meat and fish dishes and some vegetables.
As we had a few dishes I’ll list them and highlight the ones I really really loved:

Melanzane Parmigiana (small bite)
Smoked Swordfish, lemon and dill ricotta (small bite)
Fig and Salami bruschetta
Zucchinni friti
Pea, Fennel and Ricotta salad
Sliced flank steak with white truffle cream
Pigeon Saltimbocca
Soft shell crab in parmesan batter
Pannacotta and blackberries
Tiramisu Pot

Those in bold were the ones which really got me excited, especially the steak, that truffle cream made me a very very happy girl. (On the right in the photo above, it was amazing!)

The food overall was all great, I love being able to eat a selection of smaller dishes and so having a different meal everytime which is flexible to what I feel like that evening. I could keep going back just to try all the dishes.

Plus I would keep going back because the atmosphere is lovely. It’s relaxed, attentive and fun. We were able to enjoy ourselves, catch up, relax and then just make mmmmmm noises with each mouthful without feeling self-conscious or stupid.

In brief I would recommend it, it’s a lovely place for dining in. Either at Polpetto or Polpo, both have that great atmosphere and fabulous food which keeps you going back for more.

Review: Byblos Art Hotel – Verona

We stayed at the Byblos Art Hotel, a leading small hotel of the world, and boy is it a leading hotel. Not only is the setting absolutely stunning, on a hill just outside of Verona in an old villa but then inside is a delight. The service was great, breakfast was a feast and dinner was fab. Plus they provide a shuttle service in and out of Verona making staying a little further away not a problem at all.

Our room was a riot of colour but put together beautifully. I love bold colours so this suited me to a tee. The bed was big, and comfortable plus the bathroom huge and really well equipped (bar the hairdryer which was like all hotel hairdryers I have ever experienced, pants).

All around the hotel are various artworks, I have a whole other post about the artworks because they really were stunning and exciting to see too! but below just a small example of how the fabulous old architecture was mixed with modern art.

And then there was the pool… Oh sweet delight when it was nearing 40C (over 100F) on Saturday and Sunday! We spent most of Saturday afternoon relaxing in the sunshine and frolicking in the pool.

The gardens were beautiful, so verdant and full of fabulously scented herbs which left the air smelling sweet.

Finally one of the art pieces, a painted bronze orchid by Mark Quinn. Truly beautiful, the colours popped out.

In short a hotel I would absolutely recommend, for it’s service, for the luxury, for the beauty and for being such an escape from the humdrum of normal life, which was really just what I needed right now.

Manon at the Royal Opera House

Last night papa and I went to the opera. We were off to see Manon at the Royal Opera House. This is not an opera I’ve been to see before, in fact I’ve not seen any Massenet operas before and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was therefore delighted by the first few strains coming from the orchastra sweeping through the house and transporting me away from dreary life. The opera was stunning, Massenet’s composition is just fabulous and I was so pleased to be seeing an opera I hadn’t seen before and really enjoying it. Plus the new production by Laurent Pelly was pretty good, the set a little dreary but the costumes amazing!

We were incredibly lucky with the cast, Anna Netrebko as Manon and Vittorio Grigolo as Des Grieux. Plus a host of other very talented singers. I was especially impressed with Vittorio, as a tenor his voice flows over the orchestra and has a power and richness to it which I often feel is lacking in other tenors. My favourite singers are generally deep male singers, bases and britones.

If you have the time and are quick there might be tickets left, I would highly recommend it. And of course if you do go let me know!

A walk in London…

Last weekend J and I were at a loose end on Saturday and hungry. Struggling to decide where to go for lunch we ended up heading off to the Hawksmoor on Commercial Street for lunch. This was to continue J’s quest to find the best burger in London. In my opinion great meat but far too heavy and the cheese which came with the burger was too overpowering. Not sure I would entirely recommend it but the Hawksmoor I would recommend, especially the cocktails πŸ™‚

So both of us feeling rather heavy after the thumping burger we decided to walk home from Commerical Road to Pimlico. Which meant a walk along the river. I hadn’t been along a lot of these sections of the river for a long time and really enjoyed strolling along reminding myself of how lovely London can be.

The roof of old Billingsgate market with the fish detail which caught my eye.

The Monarch’s entrance of the House of Lords. And then we were home ready to relax on a Saturday evening instead of going out and about for a change. (Although we did have to watch the England game).
Oh what joy weekends are…

Ashburton Coookery School

The real reason for going to Devon was to spend a day on the Gastro extra course at Ashburton Cookery School. This was a one day course which we thought might be fun to do before middle sister has her baby and we’ll not be able to escape together so easily.

And it was fun! We started with making a starter of curried mussel soup. A nice light soup packed with flavour. Although neither of us were too keen on muscle so it was a bit more of a curried veg soup with the odd mussel in it! Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it. We also made yummy bread, which came out really well. A lot better than my bread normally does! I felt like I learnt quite a bit from the bread making bit as it’s improved my confidence a lot and taught me a couple of tips.

Our main was pork medallions with braised fennel and a creamy taragon and haricot bean sauce. My only criticism of this was that the haricot beans weren’t quite right with the meal to me but the sauce was lovely and the pork good to cook as it’s not something I normally cook. Oh and this also came with a shallot tarte tatin! Yummers!! And another thing I’ve always wanted to make (tarte tatin that is) but haven’t quite had the confidence to.

For pudding we griddled pineapple, peppered it, added passionfruit sorbet (which they showed us how to make) and a spiced syrup, which was lovely and had a great chilli kick. Plus a couple of extra bits. Although by this time a little full as we were eating all we made πŸ™‚

Finally a picture of me and of instructors. On the right is Phil who was lovely and really helpful, on the left James, equally lovely and you might recognise him from the Restaurant on BBC2 or ‘Out of the Frying Pan’.
Highly recommended, even if you are relatively confident just to pick up a few tips. I now feel much more confident about my seasoning as we were told that our seasoning was good πŸ™‚ I would definitely go for it also if you have no confidence in the kitchen as they do all levels of teaching and the instructors are great.

Polpo Soho – Review

On Sunday J and I went to Polpo in Soho for the first time. We were joined by a couple whose wedding we went to in January and who we hadn’t seen properly since. They had agreed to be our willing companions to our first foray into this Italian bacaro. And I think they were pleased with what they found…
The Pizzette Bianca.

We went for about nine dishes between four, a couple of meaty dishes (fabulous lamb), some fish (Octopus salad and Fritto Misto), some vegetables and a little bit of bread. Plus a couple of little starters to warm up us. Each dish was well presented, appetising and colourful. It’s my kind of food, simple, full of flavour and not fussy. Don’t get my wrong I love haute cuisine every now and then but on a warm Sunday afternoon I want food which simply tastes good.

We also had puddings, and after that all of us felt just right. Full but not stuffed, the ideal balance.

But Polpo is more than just great food, it has a friendly atmosphere and a relaxed feel. From the phone call to book the table to the welcome and the waiting staff all were just right. Attentive but not overly so, friendly, willing to give advice but not without asking first.

So in a very simple conclusion I would thoroughly recommend Polpo. If you’re with people who don’t mind sharing and want great food, a lovely atmosphere and a good meal – Go!

Tales from a wasted lunchtime…

J and I had a plan, formulated earlier this morning, that I would pop over to Soho and we would meet for lunch. It seemed perfect, he wasn’t too busy, I wasn’t too busy and we like opportunities to see each other when you wouldn’t normally. Soho being such a hive of great cheap quick eats we had quite the choice but had narrowed it down to two. Yalla Yalla and El Camino. Lebanese or Mexican respectively. We’d had mediterranean yesterday so decided to go Mexican.

Arriving at just before 1pm the restaurant was relatively busy but not a cause for concern and we were seated pretty quickly. After ordering we then sat back, both starving to wait for our food. We’ve eaten there before and it was quick and tasty so hopes were up.

After half an hour I was beginning to get really angry, I don’t do well when I’m hungry at the best of times but this was the on the verge of tears, shaky, angry hunger I get which means I really really really need to be fed. So we asked the waiter where our food was. Another few minutes more than the asking should have taken and we were told we were next. Okay I thought I’ll have a slightly extended lunch hour but we’ll be getting food soon so no need to dash just yet.

Then about five minutes later we heard the food bell ping, finally, but nope it was another table. And then another table got their food. And then I snapped, up I leapt coat in hand. And we left without food because we had been waiting far too long by that point to wait any longer and see the ‘next’ food order be delivered.

So I guess the moral of this story is don’t go to El Camino if you want to get your food anytime within about an hour. It’s pants. And I hate it when you don’t have any form of communication from the waiting staff and the kitchen are clearly s**t. And in case you haven’t guessed we won’t be going back… Nor would I recommend you to!

Apologies for the rant, I have since been fed and am much happier but I feel it is my duty to warn you of pants restaurants so if you were thinking of trying them you can hopefully go somewhere with better service and quicker food!

And on to the next one…

Last night was fun. The skating was pretty, although not on my behalf, more wobbly there but it’s beautiful skating around at Somerset House as the light fades. My only complaint would be that there are a few too many people on the rink but you can’t win them all!

Then glammed up we went off to Orso. No photos yet I’m afraid, a colleague was taking them and didn’t bring in her camera today. But when I have pictures that are shareable I promise I shall share. Our meal was lovely, Orso is a very good restaurant with great service, good food and lovely wines to choose from. Expensive, but then I wasn’t paying this time πŸ™‚ Plus it’s quite a cosy restaurant so one I would recommend for an intimate dinner with a loved one.

I left at the right time, drunk but not awfully so, happily drunk shall we put it. Got home on the bus to a very drunk J. This morning neither of us were so pretty!

And tonight we are celebrating Christmas with our friends. It shall be another night of revelry which I’m not sure my body can cope with but we’ll see.

Hopefully your Friday has been more productive than mine. Although one final tip, Itsu Detox Zinger is just the best thing when you have a hangover, ginger lime and apple all in a lovely drink. Yummy!

Have lovely wintery weekends. M x