Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Maltby Street Market

Maltby Street Market is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favourite places in the city. Located in the historically rich borough of Southwark, a Saturday morning in the market sees all the flavour of Borough without the relentless tourist hustle and bustle. It also hosts some of the most unique food traders I've come across in London, as well as Lassco, an incredible antiques showroom.

Fresh produce and craft vendors rent out the spaces under the railway arches. 

My favourite stalls, though, are to be found in the open market along the 'Ropewalk'. Festooned with world flags, it buzzes with traders selling everything from Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon (the best) to excellent espressos and cake, with tables spilling out on to the promenade for punters to sip cocktails and wine in the early afternoon. Yes, even if it's drizzling. We're British - what do you expect? 

Right in the middle of it all is the Lassco Showroom.

The showroom is filled with curiosities and ephemera from all corners of the world. Bunting and chandeliers, decommissioned theatre lights, antique taps polished to an enviable sheen, covetable furniture and vintage pamphlets are just some of the objects on sale here. Also on sale? The medieval monstrosity, the Hamburg Hydra, gracing the front cover of a magazine from the '80s, below.

Print typewriters...

...real typewriters...

...and early festive decorations. A far cry from the tinsel we wind round our trees or the bright lights along Oxford Street, these quaint hand-blown glasses hail from the Victorian era. Filling them with candles at Christmas would turn them into 'fairy lamps' to be hung in the windows or placed in the porch. So enchanting and simple.

After wandering around the showrooms we sat down for lunch at St John Bakery Room. Our family loves Fergus Henderson's cooking so much that my mum celebrated her 50th birthday with a private meal at St John! Above: fried sprats with a horseradish cream.

Squid in black ink. 

A kohlrabi salad.

And an old-fashioned pâté with perfectly crisp cornichons. I'm pretty sure I polished off 80% of this hunk all by myself.

For dessert, tempting brownies and pastries from the St John bakery just around the corner. And sourdoughs that kind of resemble giant chocolate biscuits in the picture below...Mmm. 

Also for dessert: a bag of these chocolates masquerading as cocktails, dusted with cocoa powder. Indulgent, rich and extremely addictive.

I love Maltby Street! Can't wait to go back again soon to visit the excellent fruit and veg grocer's at the Dockley Road end of the market, as well as pick up some of the mouthwatering desserts from Poppy Smadja. If you're a foodie at a loose end on a Saturday morning, Maltby is a must.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Hand and Flowers

One evening far too many weekends ago, my mother and I drove down the M25, escaping London for a brief excursion to Tom Kerridge's renowned restaurant The Hand and Flowers, a.k.a. the only pub in the UK to hold two Michelin stars. It's not that far away from London - just a short drive to the small town of Marlow in Buckinghamshire - but my mother being my mother, we arrived about an hour and a half before our table was ready. I was pretty pleased about this - it meant we had the time to wander peacefully around town as the sun set, marvelling at the charming, low-ceilinged houses and trying to imagine what Marlow might have been like before the ubiquitous high street took over.

Not knowing a thing about the town, my mother and I were pleasantly surprised to stumble across the house where Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein! Something to visit properly if we ever come back.

True Londoners at heart, we couldn't resist the pull of the Thames in its younger, fresher incarnation, closer to its source in Buckinghamshire.

After I'd had my fill of gazing at the way the dusky light played on the river, we meandered back to Tom Kerridge's gaff for a bite to eat. All casual, as if we hadn't waited a year for the table...

As soon as we sat down, a very polite waiter carefully laid a selection of sourdough and rye bread in front of us. But I was too busy salivating over the twist of teeny, crispy battered whitebait that had appeared at the table to pay much attention to the bread. The presentation mimicked the way fish and chips is traditionally rolled up in that day's newspapers; a nod to the standard fare on offer in gastropubs. Salty and moreish, my mother and I polished the fish off in less than a minute.

For starters, my mum chose crispy pig's head with spiced date purée, apple, plum and pancetta. The report? Succulent, sensuous and deeply flavourful. So top marks then! And I can attest to that: I had a piece of the crackling and nearly swooned.

I had the lovage soup with bramley apple, smoked eel and ham and cheese tortellini. The soup was beautifully presented and super-green; the cubes of eel and apple were perfectly matched with the flavour of lovage, which made me sit bolt upright as soon as I brought a spoon of it to my lips. The tortellini, however, was a slight disappointment - I'd have liked there to be more than one and felt that the ham and cheese filling drowned when faced with the stronger, smokier flavours that jostled for attention in this bowl. 

For mains: a medium rare fillet steak of Stokes Marsh beef with chips and béarnaise sauce for my mother. A classic choice, my mum said it was wonderfully cooked and seasoned, and the béarnaise extra special with the tarragon flavour coming through more than usual. Perched atop of the steak were two beautifully caramelised onion rings, which my mother claimed as the best onion rings she'd ever eaten. Wow.

And for me, an amazingly tender duck, its texture achieved with sous vide cooking. Nestled atop a bed of duck mousse, and garnished with the crispiest shard of duck skin, it came with chips taken to another level, cooked in duck fat, and Savoy cabbage with crispy duck. The duckiest dish I'd ever had for sure. Oh, yes, this was gastropub cooking at its finest. 

Looking around, I could see why we'd had to wait a year for a table. The Hand and Flowers is tiny inside - true to the architecture of the surrounding area with low-ceilinged rooms complete with bare beams - and can probably only seat about twenty five covers at a time. But the size means that the service is impeccable. We were waited on hand and foot, had the menu patiently explained to us. And when I described my ideal glass of white wine (pale, sweet but not overly scented), I was brought a perfect Riesling. 

And finally, pudding. You've got to have it when you go to the pub for Sunday lunch, right? But this was of a completely different class. Mum ordered blueberry soufflé with lemon verbena syrup and an extraordinary parma violet-flavoured ice cream. Tasting it took me way back to primary school, confronted by the perplexing flavours I encountered in those hated lilac sugary tablets, encased in cellophane. Only this time, my grown-up tastebuds probably appreciated it more...

I ordered a burnt honey panna cotta, bedecked with gem-like honeycomb, silky meringues, English pear and a lavender sorbet. Presented with a wonderfully delicate touch, this was the point where it became clear to me that The Hand And Flowers really deserved both of its Michelin stars. And that this wasn't just pub dining any more. 

My mother and I soothed our distended bellies with hot drinks - coffee for her for the road, and a mint tea for me. I'm a huge fan of glass tea receptacles and the teapot and accompanying glass were so covetable. I was so impressed by the design of the glass, allowing the drinker to cradle their tea without getting burnt fingertips. And that was really what summed up our experience at The Hand and Flowers for me: food that wasn't too many light years away from the familiar, homely dishes that I'm used to, but a level of considerate service that took us leagues away from the establishments on the high street. Suffice to say, I'd really love to come back some day - if I can be fitted in with the hordes of people dying to dine here!

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

November Favourites

December is here! *insert bemused gripe about time flying here.* And this is my hundredth post - can you believe it? November was packed and December is shaping up to be even more hectic, meaning I've only managed to post once or twice a week lately. Even so, I'm still enjoying this little space of mine and am thinking about how to improve it next year.

November absolutely galloped past me. Despite feeling that it was so brief, I still have lots of moments to share with you. This month I've enjoyed...

Picking up a free pumpkin from behind King's Cross the day after Halloween and spending all day transforming it into a pie! 

Missing my tube stop once or twice thanks to a certain podcast. I was a few weeks late to the Serial party, but as soon as I tuned in I was hooked. MihoLuluLisa (fantastic bloggers all three!) and I were chatting about this on Twitter and we're all unhealthily hooked. Truly compelling listening. Go and check it out for yourself! Tamsin Lim takes no responsibility for the addiction that may or may not ensue following episode one.

Discovering a quiet little rooftop lunch spot just a stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, overlooked by a monumental Ukrainian Church. How did I not know about this place? It's a bit too cold to eat outside now, but I'm keeping this in mind for next summer!

Melting over the most adorable hedgehog video from Wildlife Aid. So cute, and the graphics are beautiful! Makes me want to help urban hedgehogs (and possibly adopt a domesticated one?)

Jumping up and down with excitement at the first frost. Yes, I'll technically have been an adult for a full five years as of tomorrow, but I'll be a winter child forever! The novelty will wear off as soon as my dad needs me to de-ice the car.  

De-frazzling my brain at the end of the day with various cinematic and televised delights. In particular I enjoyed Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, which ticked all my boxes where it came to drama, sci-fi genre and a dying Earth. Noisy, with jawdropping visuals and hints of 2001, I felt as if I was in a rocket or flight simulator. I also binged on Les Revenants - not your typical TV show about the walking dead... And lately I've been watching Remember Me, another creepfest about a vengeful ghost that seems intent on wreaking havoc across Yorkshire! 

Allowing myself to be bewitched by the Christmas windows. Every year my family drive down to Oxford Street to check out the Liberty and Selfridges Christmas displays, and this year is a good 'un - with a sparklingly enchanted forest at Selfridges, and nautical-themed windows at Liberty that tie in with their history, the shop having been constructed from the timbers of two ships!

Skywatching more than usual. The morning light has been amazing this month, and the cold weather always brings interesting cloud formations with it. I thought this particular sky looked almost like marble.

Guzzling all the chai lattes I can get my mitts on. Not like proper chai tea at all but made using a chai-flavoured syrup, they're milky, frothy and sweet, and the perfect way to ease into the afternoon, I think. I find the ones from EAT, Timberyard and Gail's particularly comforting.

Noodling my way across London and the North. Yup, this was truly Noodvember. (Can you tell I'm all about the neologisms today?) I ate tonkotsu ramen at Bone Daddies, Tonkotsu Selfridges and United Ramen, and a very pleasant char kway teow at Tampopo in Manchester. Tampopo is a film about creating the ultimate bowl of noodles, so maybe finding perfect noodles will be my goal for 2015!

November, you were lovely, but December, I'm ready for you and the foodie carnage you're about wreak on my hapless, unwitting body. Because...I'm having four birthday dinners this month. That's right, folks - a waistband-expanding three celebratory meals this weekend and then another when my sister comes back from uni in a few weeks! And then, Christmas lunch, the mother of all festive foodie blowouts. Better factor some workouts into my goals post for this month...

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Roxy's Birthday At Browns

When I was at uni, my group of friends and I had a bit of a birthday tradition going. Every time one of our birthdays rolled around, we would celebrate with a slap-up meal. There wasn't a whole lot of choice in Cambridge, so we became fairly regular customers at Côte, Café Rouge, Bill's and Byron (still so much love for that place!) And if restaurants failed, there was always formal. Usually followed by getting a little bit tipsy. See below for a stereotypical example, way back on my 21st birthday. I imagine that most friendship groups do this - but it's left me feeling that birthdays with friends are not about the food, but about celebrating friendship - and silliness.

And things haven't changed. Last month we had Roxy's birthday to celebrate, so a group of us convened at Browns in Covent Garden for a spot of post-work feasting and imbibing. All I really knew about Browns beforehand was that the one off Upper Street does a mean virgin piña colada. Suffice to say, I hadn't been since I was about 14...so my expectations were nice and low.

We ordered bellinis and a bottle of white wine while we mulled over what to choose for mains. Now, the wine was unfortunately not all that palatable (not one of us managed to finish a glass) but the bellinis were lovely - exactly what the doctor ordered on a Friday. 

Apparently, pasta was also the prescribed dish for that evening.

Crab and king prawn linguine for me, with a generous helping of pesto.

Lobster tagliolini for Gisella.

And ricotta, beetroot and white truffle tortelloni for Rox and Imarin. Was so impressed at how this was plated, seeing as it's a chain restaurant! 

But as I've said, we weren't really at Browns to eat. (I mean, we were, but you know what I mean). The food was just a backdrop for all the gossip we needed to catch up on! We definitely ended up annoying our fellow diners with loud, unsavoury dinner table conversation and ensuing raucous laughter. It made me realised that I'd missed these girls a whole lot.

And of course we had to order dessert.

Gisella had three flavours of crème brûlée, served in the most adorable little espresso cups.

Roxy and I went for the same thing - an absolute mountain of meringue, cherries, strawberry sauce and white chocolate buttons. Browns' take on a classic Eton Mess. The pudding reached an impressive altitude, but was a bit too sweet for me to surmount. 

Imarin's dessert was also a beast - the biggest slab of sticky toffee pudding I've ever seen, served with a little quenelle of stem ginger ice cream. 

Suffice to say, we all had eyes too big for our stomachs and could only chip away feebly at our monster puddings.

The coolest thing about Browns is that the building it occupies used to be a courthouse - and you can still go up and see the old courtrooms, if you so wish! It's lovely that Browns have kept them more or less intact, and I reckon it'd be so cool to have a party in one...

Birthday girl holding court from the judge's seat, flanked by a benevolent Im and a rather menacing-looking Gis. Hope you enjoyed your birthday, Rox!

So...it's my birthday next week and I can't wait to see the girls again. Any recommendations on places to eat or drink (no bookings) would be much appreciated! I've got a couple of ideas up my sleeve, but would welcome your input!

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