E&O, Notting Hill

Notting Hill is the embodiment of a juxtaposition. It’s a place where the obscenely wealthy, loafer wearing, clientele saunter among the white lightening swigging street folk, working the classic ‘plastic bag for shoes’ look. This breadth of demography makes Notting Hill’s E&O perfect for al fresco dining and invisible curtain twitching. With its dimmed lights, dark wood and beautiful staff E&O is cool; creating a gravitational pull felt by all model-esq diners in the West London vicinity, where they go to be seen and eat little.

Luckily E&O also offers a broader menu for those of us who need sustenance beyond a thimbles serving of edamame beans. With a pan Asian menu spanning dim sum, sashimi and curry’s. All dim sum plates were served with a liberal dose of salt, although still proved to be decidedly delicious.  The ribs, smothered in a sticky black bean glaze, fell of the bone with ease. As with all good spare ribs I consume, my face was left with a suspect sticky residue, a clear indication that there was no time wasted for delicate nibbling. As always the addictive salt and chilli squid went down well but the surprise hit was the tempura mushrooms; full of earthy flavour, with a light and herby batter.

E&O duck salad

The mains continued to hit the spot with watermelon and mint acting as the perfect fresh sidekick to deliciously fatty duck and cashew salad. The curry’s served also delivered a punch with the rendang creamy and warmly spiced, and thai green curry fragrant and fresh, with the required chilli hit. To finish a jar of sticky banoffee pie was defiantly licked clean.

E&O banoffe

As I recall this trip my tummy starts to rumble with a yearning for the duck salad…a mark of a place that I will revisit many more times. Our meal came to roughly £40 a head, first-rate people watching not included.

14 Blenheim Crescent  London, Greater London W11 1NN
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Baltzersens, Harrogate

In the sleepy, quaint, Yorkshire town of Harrogate we stumbled upon Baltzersens, a bakery and café with a Scandinavian inspired menu. Like a cake magpie it was a sticky cinnamon bun, glistening brightly in the window, that initially caught my eye and tempted me in. On entering its clear that the Scandi influence has not only touched the menu but also the look & feel with white tiling, sleek furnishings but still warm and comfortable in style. It seems Baltzersens check list was the exact opposite of Harrogate’s famed Bettys Tea Room; which draws in afternoon tea pilgrims from far and wide, normally sporting macs, bum-bags and blinding sandal/sock combinations.

baltzersen window

It was only when exploring the menu that I realised I had very little clue about Scandinavian cuisine beyond the odd Smorgasbord and Ikea meatballs, revealed recently to neigh rather than moo before reaching the plate. The bakery selection was intriguing; buttermilk sponges, Nutella smothered cakes, cardamom buns and custard pastries. The fragrant taste of aniseed that the cardamom brought to the sweet buns was a revelation; something that will definitely lead to kitchen experiments over the coming weeks. The Skolebrod, a cardamom bun oozing with custard and sprinkled with coconut was a particular favourite.

baltzersen cakes

Baltzersens is everything you wouldn’t expect from Harrogate, which in my book, is all the more reason to love it. I can say with wholehearted conviction that there is no need to join Bettys Tea Room queue. A greedy visit for four came to approximately £20.

22 Oxford St  Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 1PU

Shake Shack, Covent Garden

For those of us who live in London, love eating out or are just blessed with a pair of working ears, the story of  Shake Shack and Five Guys coming to town has been well relayed; two US burger juggernauts landing within touching distance in Covent Garden, let the duel commence. I’ve already diligently queued for Five Guys and found a solidly performing, yet nothing out of the ordinary, burger which left me near on £20 lighter by the time I rolled out the door. With Shack Shake next on the to do list, I approached with a sinking heart as a capped employee extended the ropes to shepherd the growing line outside. In all honesty, this marathon queuing for London’s ‘fast food’ is becoming as tedious as it is ironic.

I, of course, am master of my own destiny and willingly chose to join the now 50 strong crowd, hoping that Shack Shake would come out trumps against its competition. To distract us, we were given the menu to peruse, finding, well, burgers, hot dogs and chips. The remainder of the menu dedicated itself to Shake Shack’s ‘custards’ both in the guise of flavoured shakes and ice creams, or ‘concretes’.

shake shack burger

As we moved off the pavement and into Shake Shack it was less ‘shack’ more ‘ant farm’ as a legion of employees flipped and fried. With an order of the cheese burger, cheese fries and chocolate milkshake sorted I was then ushered further along the conveyor belt to ‘the hatch’ to pick up my goods.  The burger was nicely charred and, all in all, pleasant with the fries well seasoned with a very bad, yet good, thick gloop of cheese sauce that developed an impressive skin on cooling. The milkshake meanwhile went down a treat, although I defy anyone not to enjoy a cocktail of chocolate and cream. What was less enjoyable was the rather steep £4.50 price tag. I can’t claim to be a regular milkshake consumer, but I’m sure I’ve previously spied a whole array of Frijj’s at my local newsagent going at a much more reasonable rate.

shake shack fries

It seems, though, that the hype of a burger ‘duel’ has become somewhat of a damp squib. There is no denying that Shake Shack successfully filled a hole craving the sugar, carbs and grease that only fast food can deliver – but ultimately it falls short especially for around £15 per person. Evidently the real contest is between the US juggernauts and London’s creative interpretation of what a burger should be by the likes of Patty and Bun and MEATmarket. I know which camp gets my vote.

24 Market Building, The Piazza, Covent Garden WC2E 8RD

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Polpo, Covent Garden

Great tapas was recently devoured at Polpo with a favourite friend of mine. Polpo claims to have a specific passion for Venetian tapas. Having never been, I can only trust that their wares are as quintessentially Venetian as gondolas or…blinds? In any case, the menu is good, always offering crowd pleasing dishes.

photo from http://londoneater.com/2011/06/04/da-polpo-a-new-hope-in-maiden-lane/

photo from http://londoneater.com/2011/06/04/ da-polpo-a-new-hope-in-maiden-lane/

Polpo is low key with a slightly staged yet stylish ‘worn’ look. After being advised of the 20 minute wait, the night began near the door with decidedly PG soft, but tasty, cocktails. A table found, our first tapas delivery was a healthy portion of calamari salad with a capers and radish and the classic combination of melon, prosciutto and basil. Both were fresh and flavourful.

Appetites wet, we were surprised to greet the sausage cassolette with luke warm reception. In all honesty there was a pedigree chum appeal (i.e. none at all) to the dishes appearance with its brown slop presentation. The taste was nearly there, but ultimately the texture wasn’t right with the sausage edging away from a desired meaty ‘melt in the mouth’ towards a less pleasant ‘dissolve’… Back on to brighter notes and the courgette, parmesan and rocket salad was simple but tasty. The bruschetta was the real highlight with earthy, sweet fig, a tang of goats cheese and peppered salami.

photo from http://caviarandcocktails.com/london-eats/polpo-enoclub/

photo from http://caviarandcocktails.com/ london-eats/polpo-enoclub/

A good deal of umming and ahhing took place as we narrowed our way down the dessert options; I congratulate Polpo on their ability to make each one sound enticing. Ultimately we went for the childish joy of a Nutella pizzetta. Make no bones about it, this dessert is a glorified slice of toast slathered with Nutella. It was, however, pimped to new delectable heights; with the warm soft dough creating a pool of molten chocolate, sprinkled with roasted hazelnuts, and topped with a heavy-handed dusting of icing sugar. All that was left as evidence of its existence was a tell-tale chocolate ring of shame around our lips and two pot bellies.

I like Polpo. They don’t serve tapas in the realms of Opera Tavern or Bocca Di Lupo but it is easy, not fussy, offers attentive service and is always tasty. I will treat the sausage cassolette as a menu blip and move on, hopefully as will Polpo. We paid £30 each.

6 Maiden Lane, London WC2E 7NA

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Five Guys, Covent Garden

On Thursday evening I went to a lecture held by Professor Stephen Emmott, a scientist/town crier who is currently setting out the scary ticking time bomb us humans are creating through our unsustainable ways of living in his ‘Ten Billion’ works. Did you know that it takes 449 litres of water to make a quarter pounder? Or that the ‘glass and a half of milk’ used to make a dairy milk is dwarfed by a terrifying 317 litres of H2O? Me neither.

Although scared witless I have to be honest that, due the lecture finishing close to 10pm and no prior chance for dinner, we committed the cardinal sin of heading to Five Guys shortly after in search of a juicy burger; reasoning  that the burgers made were going to be enjoyed by others if not us.

I’m not fond of queues, especially those that snake outside onto a busy theatre land street, for a seemingly simple take away burger. But intrigued after reading the swing of hype through to condemnation on this place, I swallowed my bug bear, and joined. Happily it moved pretty quickly and we were inside its white and red tiled interior, deafened by the classic American rock tunes blasting out, with a tray of free monkey nuts in hand before we knew it. A nice freebie of course but, I concluded, not featuring on any of our weekly essentials shopping list for a reason.

photo (6)

Two ‘little’ burgers, that is a burger with one rather than two patties, were ordered at the counter – one ‘all the way’ with a pretty normal concoction of salad bits and sauces and the other with cheese, fried onion and relish – with spicy Cajun fries to share and a ‘refill’ drink. As we waited the unlimited refill drink station provided plenty of school time entertainment with 100′s of e-numbers and flavours on offer from cherry vanilla to raspberry.

five guys fries

High on sugar, by the time our number was called we were ravenous and delighted with the size and weight of the bag handed over – with the regular portion of fries spilling out of their container ready to feed a family. It was a shame the Cajun spice was so salt-laden that we only ate a handful each. On a brighter note, the equally hefty ‘petite’ burgers performed solidly with the toppings adding the desired fanfare. To say though that these burgers are a revolutionary addition to London’s burger craze is a stretch, in my opinion, with Patty and Bun still firmly wearing the crown.

At 10pm, with a grumbling belly, Five Guys is satisfying; providing the perfect refuelling we were after. Our pit stop was, however, £18 and I can’t help feeling Burger King would have done the same thing or thereabouts with a more satisfying bill…

1 – 3 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LH

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Sharrow Bay, Ullswater, Lake District

A family celebration earned us a trip to the Lake District’s Sharrow Bay for a refined afternoon tea. It’s not often that you put on your Sunday best to eat cake in the sunshine with such breath-taking views as the below, so this trip garnered much excitement.

sharrow bay view

On arrival, there was a feeling of visiting elderly relatives for tea at Sharrow Bay, if you happen to have great-uncle and aunt that own an elaborate countryside manor that is. The place felt lived in, full of trinkets and elaborate ornaments, and draped in frills. The interior designer had clearly set themselves a challenge to see how many floral patterns that each room could hold, with the loo’s in particular making me feel like I’d fallen into an old lady’s knicker draw.

As we sat down and the afternoon tea arrived it was clear that ‘delicate’ offerings weren’t on the menu. Our finger sandwiches were ample sized for the B.F.G and a mound of buttered tea cakes had echoes of a man v food carb challenge. That said the majority of items tasted great. The tea cakes were squidgy with a swirling of cinnamon, the scones were light and fluffy with fresh homemade raspberry jam. The cake plate also brought top-notch banoffee pastry bites, fresh fruit tarts, and a zingy lemon cake.

sharrow bay tea

Could Sharrow Bay’s spread done with a bit more colour and freshness? No doubt. The sandwiches in particular suffered from a lack of culinary creativity with only a slab of protein whether it be ham, chicken or smoked salmon in the middle. In a sense though, we didn’t mind. After all, we were at the house of our imaginary great, great, aunt and uncle twice removed, and therefore an afternoon tea that was clearly made with love and a purpose to fill our hollow bones was actually quite nice. After being fed until fit to burst we took ourselves to the beautiful rose garden to walk of the feast, which was truly gorgeous.

sharrow bay garden

I have warm affection for Sharrow Bay. Even though there were missteps with the food, the service, the feel and the view made it a worthwhile trip. For each person, afternoon tea is just under £30.

Lake Ullswater, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2LZ

Gelupo, Soho

To enjoy the warm weather whilst also trying to combat its parching effects, I went on a late night quest for good ice cream. Apparently quite a few Londoners had the same idea as we snaked around the dinky interior of Gelupo, waiting patiently, to get our fix.

As we queued we laughed at the irony at which Gelupo’s temperature sat, comparing ourselves to a pair of Alsatians in a warming Volvo begging for air. Seemingly a perverse employee had turned the heating dial to ‘inferno’, perhaps to exaggerate further the cooling effects of their gelato. Whatever their reasoning, I can’t pretend that I didn’t open their freezers pretending to admire the ‘ice cream cakes’ on offer when I really was after some emergency, cool air, relief.

As usual Gelupo’s ice cream was delicious. A quick taste of the watermelon, cinnamon and jasmine was fresh and well-balanced but maybe a little too complicated for my dehydrated taste buds. Instead the honey-dew melon hit the spot, as did the salted caramel and pecan. In particular, the ‘black forest gateaux’ option of milk chocolate with cherry swirls was creamy and soothing with an addictive sour note cutting through the rich chocolate base. Need I say I’ll be going back for more.

7 Archer Street, London, W1D 7AU

Gelupo on Urbanspoon

BAO, KERB market, Kings Cross

BAO offers a concise selection of Taiwanese street food treats – three to be precise – tallying up to a £8 ‘meal deal’. Although seemingly a tad steep for a weekday lunch, luckily its about quality rather than quantity for BAO with the steamed buns in particular done to a fine art.

BAO now pitches up at KERB, a 30 strong group of high quality street food vendors, based behind Kings Cross train station. The concept of street food is often not particularly well executed in the UK. In Borough Market I’ve more than once ended up trying to find some kind of solace by loitering next to the market  bins to try and eat a venison burger without interruption, cursing the slop of sauce that falls off my chin and onto my dress ready for a return to the office. At KERB, however, there is the plentiful provision of seats and benches to make you feel a tiny bit less feral.

All of BAO’s snacks were tasty. The bun was soft, sweet and pillowy in texture, enveloping juicy shredded pork belly, pickles and peanut shavings with a freckling of fresh coriander. The soya milk fried chicken was succulent with the crust well seasoned although a sauce, to my mind, was slightly lacking. Thankfully a piling of the fresh slaw with crispy wontons and zingy ginger heavy dressing gave the chicken just the lift it needed.

Sadly even with the table and chairs provided I still failed to avoid the dribble of meaty juices from the bun and I left KERB covered in food; a good sign, I suppose, of just how good BAO wares are.

Kings Blvd, London N1C 4AH

 

Oddono’s, Hampstead Heath

A recent stroll on Hampstead Heath began with a large scoop of Oddono’s gelato. I say scoop, there were three in total, and they were more shovel sized which was fine by me.

A mix of salted caramel and banana in one cone made me fondly recall the out of this world salted caramel crème brulee and banana split ice cream concoction I was treated to at Zoilo. The velvety banana gelato was natural in flavour, the salted caramel a perfect balanced of syrupy sweet with a hint of salted savoury. The tub of the mango sorbet was creamy and surprisingly rich yet with a hit of sweet, fresh, mango.

Oddono’s itself is kind of nondescript in décor and feel, which matters not as I rarely go for an ice cream to sit and admire the shop’s interior and ambience (Gelupo, in Soho, aside). So off we went, slurping our treats before we even got the edge of the Heath. I fear Oddono’s will feature heavily in my sustenance over the coming months…

8 Flask Walk, London, NW3 1HE

Oddono's on Urbanspoon

10 Greek Street, Soho

I’ve eaten at 10 Greek Street before and loved its relaxed and simple feel with a real focus on delicious food. They produce a frequently changing tapas menu where everything looks yummy; they even manage to package lamb’s brains in an appetising way, demonstrative of the lofty heights at which their cooking skills reside. Unfortunately Greek Street hasn’t bucked the trend for Soho’s no reservation policy but as our visit was made on an early Monday evening we were promptly shown to a table.

The night started with strawberry bellini’s. I don’t often drink on a Monday evening, but somehow a friend/conversational wizard persuaded me and they didn’t disappoint. On to the democratic exercise of tapas selection. The quandary of all options inducing drool is that the risk of over-ordering becomes a fully fledged issue. Luckily I was held back from saying yes from everything and we went for the queenie scallops with sea purslane (a coastal shrub) and pickled broad beans, grilled asparagus with a rich parmesan cream and fried sweet cod cheeks with a tart mustard dipping sauce. All three were faultless. We also decided to say yes to a main portion-sized ricotta gnudi, wild mushroom, truffle & rocket dish which was amazing. Gnudi, otherwise known as light pillows of air, are ricotta dumplings with a texture similar to good gnocchi but ten times more delicate. Muddled with the butter sauce and earthy mushrooms the dish was perfect.

As it always happens, the desserts were too good to miss. Two chocolate pots with blueberry compote and a lemon posset with rhubarb were ordered, both of which were flanked by a wedge of shortbread. The pot turned out to be more of a butter dish and by the time I had finished the challenge, delicious as it was, I was ready to roll home.

10 Greek Street is small but perfectly formed. There’s a bar at the kitchen pass which I’m sure would be a great date night choice or in fact ‘any night you fancied a treat’ option. The food is exemplary, service on point and bill reasonable for such full and satisfied bellies, we each paid £30. A must.

10 Greek Street, London, W1D 4DH

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