Sunday, 25 May 2014

Gordon's Wine Bar

One of the things I have always loved most about London is its diversity. Old, new, up-market, laid back, quirky, subdued... no matter what sort of mood you're in, you will always find something to suit it. One place that I have been to time and time again is Gordon's Wine Bar. This hidden gem is a down-to-earth establishment based in a genuine old wine cellar along the Embankment. The interior is cave-like and cosy, making it perfect for a date but is lively enough just to go for food and drinks after work with friends or colleagues. Being a home counties girl, I love the simplicity and rustic vibe that Gordon's Wine Bar offers; it tops that of any country pub I've ever been to! 

Its popularity speaks for itself. No matter what time you go, you will more than likely find yourself sharing a table with others which, if you want complete privacy, isn't exactly ideal but I'm yet to come across anyone who has ever found this a problem. Lit by candlelight and with low, arched ceilings, maneuvering around the seating area can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you've got your hands full with wine (and why wouldn't you?!)

Throughout the year, there is outside seating which runs the length of Watergate Walk. It is lovely to sit here on Summer evenings but it gets just as busy as inside. We arrived at 6pm on a warm Spring evening but were forced to sit inside as the entire length of the outside terrace was rammed already! This outside area has its own grill menu permanently during Summer months and on selected days during Winter months. The drinks on offer are just the same though! 

Speaking of drinks, this place really does do what it says on the tin. Wine (lots of it), sherry, Madeira and port is available in copious variety. Ask for a beer or a gin and you'll probably be laughed out the door! 

Food wise, Gordon's Wine Bar keeps to its rustic concept, with down-to-earth prices to match (quite rare for central London)! The design is like a deli-bar. You can select cold plates (eg: smoked salmon, pork pie, scotch egg) with unlimited use of the salad bar, or you can opt for a hot meal which tends to alter on a regular basis. However, no wine bar would be complete without a cheese board and Gordon's does not fail to deliver! You can pick your fancy of numerous cheeses from behind the deli where generous portions are given, along with huge chunks of fresh bread and free reign of pickles and relishes. This really is back-to-basics stuff and I love it!

The staff here are amazing. Incredibly friendly and always seem calm despite the chaos that can occur during the busier hours. On this particular occasion, my partner in crime for the night ended up getting all her food for free due to the fact they'd run out of smoked salmon! She was quite happy to choose something else regardless but got the added bonus of a cheeky freebie alongside it. 

Gordon's Wine Bar is a must. So easy to miss and yet so hard to ignore once it has been discovered. I'll see you there!


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Butternut Squash & Harissa Hummus

Summer is fast approaching which can only mean one's BBQ season! That means pimms and burgers aplenty and the chance to show off your culinary "skills" by taking along some of your own creations to your friends soirées.

I therefore present you with the most AMAZING dip you'll try this summer (I love a good condiment). This butternut squash and harissa hummus is low fat, vegan and can be stored in the freezer for later use. It is also deceptively simple.

You will need:
1/2 a butternut squash
(peeled and cut into 2cm pieces)
3 - 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp harissa
400g chickpeas, drained

Heat your oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Put the butternut squash and garlic in a roasting tin, season well, and add 100ml of water. Cover with tin foil and bake for 45 mins, or until the butternut squash is completely tender. Leave to cool (if you're impatient like me then tip the contents of the roasting tin into a heatproof bowl, then sit that in cold water. A bit like a back-to-front bain marie!)

Once cool, put the butternut squash and any remaining juices into a food processor. Squeeze the garlic out of their peel and add to the butternut squash along with the olive oil, tahini and harissa. Season well with salt and blend to a course paste. Scrape into a bowl, drizzle some extra harissa over the top and serve with pitta bread, carrot sticks or whatever other dippable items take your fancy!

This lasted all of 10 minutes in my house because it is so moreish. Be sure to make plenty; you'll need it!


Thursday, 8 May 2014

Crab House Café

In general, the reviews in this blog will be of places in London seeing as that’s where I’m based. However, exceptions will be made in instances where I feel the need to share with you my non-London discoveries and, OH BOY, is this one worth sharing!

This little gem is known as the Crab House Café and is located on Chesil beach, overlooking Portland. I discovered this a few years ago when my parents moved down to the area and, as a seafood/fish lover, it has quickly become my firm favourite.

Now, I should point out that if you don’t like seafood or fish then this probably isn’t for you. They really do stick to their guns which is part of the reason why I like it so much. I have seen vegetarian options on the menu once or twice but it isn’t a permanent feature (probably worth a phone call in advance if you are planning to go with a veggie!)
In Summer, it gets booked up very quickly due to the location. Placing a booking a month ahead is wise as it is a pretty small
restaurant so tables get filled easily. The staff don’t try and rush you so tables can be occupied by the same group for a number of hours.

The building itself is more of a “shack” than a café/restaurant. Its wooden exterior gives it an almost rustic, beach-washed feel which is perfect for the setting. Since I first came here, they have slowly built up an outside seating area with heaters and blankets as well as wooden trinkets and maracas dotted about the place. All a bit random but it somehow seems to work! The inside is simplistic; white washed walls, wooden tables, framed photographs and some fishing accessories hung from the ceiling. The kitchen dominates as it is entirely open with a showcase of the days catches on display. You can even sit and watch the chefs shucking oysters through a glass partition wall (someone’s gotta do it).

The menu is full of surprises in that you never know what might be on offer! The chalk board on the wall above the kitchen shows handwritten menu options which are all based on what has been caught that day. The later you book, the fewer options you have as they simply get wiped off once they are gone. There is a seasonal printed menu which has options of items that are in plentiful supply due to fishing trends, so it’s not like you’ll be left to go hungry. The only staple items which have been there every time I’ve been are oysters and crab (they pride themselves on being an oyster farm as Portland Oyster beds are located right in front of the restaurant). You literally cannot get fresher food than this!

We had oysters to share as a “pre-starter” (a posh term for being greedy). At £9.50 for a half-dozen they are an absolute bargain! I’ve had some very questionable oysters in London which have been almost double that price so I would definitely suggest that you make the most of these if you do go.  I’ve tended to have the half-crab to crack for a starter every time (its become a tradition) but I try and have something different for my main every time. On this occasion, I had hake which was a first for me. It was AMAZING! Served on a bed of roasted veg and topped with Chinese greens and a hollandaise sauce, it was so full of flavour. This was an option from the printed menu but my Dad opted for the chalk board option: whole seabass with a herb-stuffed belly, roasted in a salt-crust. Considering how quickly he hoovered (sorry, “politely ate”) it, I’m assuming it was good! All the above topped off with a bottle of wine from their VERY extensive wine list and you’re winning.

I hate to be a brown nose but there isn’t much I could criticise the Crab House Café for. This particular visit seemed to take longer service wise but I’m willing to accept that considering they are serving the most amazing food. All the staff are incredibly clued up on the menu (trust me, I asked enough questions) and the atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly that a minor wait for food on this occasion really doesn’t even seem worth mentioning!

I’ll leave you with this summary: It’s a nice plaice with a lot of sole! (I'm here all night guys).

They even make their own flavoured vodka and gin..... Worth the trip, just for that!


Sunday, 4 May 2014

Burger & Lobster

Due to today’s general lifestyle, it’s fair to say that the majority of us are all “GO GO GO!”, rarely stopping to take a breather. So when it is time to sit back and relax, the location is paramount.  I can’t think of a better place to catch up with good friends than Burger & Lobster…so that’s exactly what I did!
The concept is pretty simple. They serve burgers and lobster (surprise surprise!) all for the bargain price of £20. The burgers can only be described as MASSIVE whilst the lobster option can be either in the form of a 2lb grilled/steamed lobster in the shell or, for those of you who don’t want to get your fingers messy (although in my opinion, that’s part of the fun) they serve a lobster roll. All topped off with a decent side salad, fries and the most amazing lemon and garlic/plain butter dipping sauce. What’s not to love?!
Simple, yet effective! 
The tricky part is actually getting in. Reservations are available for up to 8 people, although this is limited to a certain number of bookings per day. Basically, the majority of people end up turning up at the door with their fingers crossed. It’s not all bad though…. The restaurant bar has enough options to keep you entertained for a while and, as long as you’re willing to wait, you will certainly get a table.

The branch we dined at was the City location on Bread Street. I’ve tended to go here more because it’s convenient from work but I’d also worry that the wait time at some of the other locations, such as Soho, would be ridiculous. When I want lobster, I want it now! The interior is designed to give you the feel of being inside an old ship, with dark wood panelling, exposed cables, and old lobster traps hanging from the ceiling. In my opinion it’s a perfect date location. It’s fun, atmospheric, relaxed, but also a little bit special. I admit, I went there on girl-date and, as beautiful as she is, I wasn’t exactly looking at it from an intimate perspective but, ya know, the premise is there.

Now, here’s the best bit. THE FOOD! The offer of having the menu explained to you is there but, for me, it’s a quick “2lb grilled lobster with loads of garlic butter please”….no questions asked, thank you very much. Don’t get me wrong, the burger looks good too but let’s be honest, you can get a good burger anywhere. Accompanied by a glass of wine or a mojito, the lobster wins for me hands down. You even get to fashion a very attractive bib…who would say no to that?!
If you have a larger appetite, you'll need to dig deeper into your pockets

For me, the meal is perfect but if I had to be super critical, I would say it is not the most ideal option if a) you’re ridiculously hungry and want to eat quickly and b) you have a large appetite. The lobster is pretty fiddly. You get all the tools you need but it is time-consuming to say the least. The fries are a necessity as well as, personally, the standard size lobster and salad isn’t the most filling meal. If you’ve got eyes bigger than your stomach (like me), you can browse the chalk board for the daily catch of different sizes and prices. However, as much as I love lobster, I am not willing to pay £162 for it!
For the first time, we ordered a dessert. I’m not usually a dessert person but was intrigued to see what they had to offer. Turns out - not much. The choice was either an Eton mess or a salted caramel cheesecake, both served lovingly in a cardboard cup and a teaspoon. Tasty, yes, but not something I’d feel the need to have again. Having said this, Burger & Lobster doesn’t try to pride themselves on their desserts. For anyone going there specifically for the dessert then, it’s safe to say, the concept has been lost on you!

Sickly sweet

Overall, my love affair with Burger & Lobster continues to grow. It’s quirky, a bit different, inexpensive and, most importantly, DELICIOUS! It’s a thumbs up from me.



In Case You Wanted To Know....

What made you want to start this blog?

In all honesty, it's something I've been meaning to do for a while. A little nudge in the right direction from a friend recently is what made me finally pull my finger out! Firstly, I love writing. I was one of those geeks at uni who genuinely loved writing essays no matter what the subject was on. I'd spend more time cutting down the wordcount than actually writing the essay in the first place. Secondly, I have a genuine interest in health & nutrition and love trying new places to eat; the weirder, the better. Therefore, I thought I'd combine the two voilà!

What do you do in the real world?
I'm a food safety manager for a company in London. My degree was in Nutrition and Food Science, so the food science part of that comes into the job quite a lot.

What's been your favourite food experience?
Tough question considering the extensive list to go from! (I love food!!) I think the weirdest experience would've been years ago when we went to a restaurant in Germany called Sydney's. The menu consisted of shark, emu, kangaroo and alligator so not exactly a typically British offering! I love seafood though so anywhere which has a decent seafood menu is always going to win in my eyes.

Any kitchen disasters?
Too many. The first time I tried to make sushi a few years ago, the rice ended up in a congealed mess stuck to the pan. Fail. I've baked many cakes which look more like flatbread than cake. Fail. However, I do make an amazing lemon cheesecake so it's not all bad.

Do you have any secret superfoods?
OK the nutrition background in me doesn't believe in the term "superfoods" for a start! However, I tend to carry around a pot of raw mixed nuts and some dried fruit during the day at work as a healthy alternative to crisps or chocolate. Nothing mind boggling...I generally think the simpler you keep foods, the more naturally healthy they tend to be.

What is your fitness routine?
I try to go to the gym at least 3 times a week. I'm a creature of habit so tend to stick to the same routine which I probably need to change now! However, one of the things I love best about living in London is how easy it is to try random exercise classes that you wouldn't normally think of. I'm currently on a bikram yoga trial and am doing an aerial silks class in a few weeks. I'll probably break my neck but at least it'll give me something to write about!