Chicken Forestiere

Chicken Forestiere is your new favourite dinner party dish. The French pronunciation makes you sound elegant and cultured, and the rich, indulgent flavours make you look like you know how to work a kitchen – but you won’t even break a sweat.

This is a slightly tweaked Viner version – technically Chicken Forestiere is cooked in a big pot with chicken thighs, but this recipe involves separately cooking Chicken Supremes, which are more succulent and special occasion. The Chicken Supremes that I use are from Springfield Chicken Farm – a wonderful organic, free range farm that I grew up down the road from in Herefordshire.

Without getting all preachy, I’d like to stress the importance of buying and eating free range / organic meats. ‘Why does it matter – it’s only a STUPID chicken!’ you might be thinking. Maybe, but just think about how much you’d like to be stuffed into a tiny box all day with a single light bulb and forced to push eggs out of your bum.

A farm like Springfield ensures the best quality product as all of their chickens are reared to Soil Association Organic standards. This means they live in smaller flocks with the freedom to roam, a natural diet where they forage and graze on Organic pastures and no growth – increasing hormones. Basically the happiest life a chicken can have, producing the best quality meat that you can eat. For a few extra pounds, it’s a no brainer.

Chicken Forestiere 

Serves 6

20g dried wild mushrooms

salt and pepper

6 chicken supremes

2 small onions, diced

75 mls Madeira or sherry

3 small carrots, peeled and cut into batons

200 ml chicken stock

150 ml double cream

150g mixed mushrooms (Morrisons do a good mixed pack)

A Pack of lardons

Large handful chopped parsley

Begin by heating your oven to 180 degrees.

Put the wild mushrooms in a bowl, then cover with boiling hot water and leave to soak.

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Heat some oil in a pan until it’s nice and hot, then season and sear the Supremes on both sides until they’re crispy and golden. Pour out the oil from the pan, saving some of the juices in a bowl.

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Put your chicken in the oven for 25 minutes – this timing is KEY to ensuring your meat is juicy and tender. Dry chicken will only end in dry conversation around the table, so don’t risk it.

Whack up the heat, add a spoonful of butter and sauté the onion until they start to sizzle. Turn the heat down and let the onions soften and go pale and caramelised. Patience is key with cooking onions the right way…you want them to collapse together to be extra soft and sweet.

Deglaze the pan with the Madeira / sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to free all the oniony, juicy goodness. Add the carrots and the stock, followed by the wild mushrooms with their soaking water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 mins. Next stir in your cream and let it bubble for 10 minutes with the lid off, or until it thickens up.

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In a separate pan, heat around a table spoon of the reserved chicken juice and sauté the mixed mushrooms until they’re cooked through and dark – keep cooking until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated. Toss these in with the sauce, then use the same pan to quickly fry up your lardons until they’re nice and crispy (bacon is also non-conventional in a Chicken Forestiere recipe, but my mum does it this way and who doesn’t love a lardon). Add these to the pan (sieve out the fat by spooning them out) and stir so everything combines – the sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Add a good grind of salt and pepper, then taste and add a bit more if needed.

I served mine with buttery mash potato and peas. I make my (EPIC) mash by boiling potatoes, then ricing them into a big bowl whilst hot and mixing with plenty of butter, milk, salt and pepper. If you haven’t got a potato ricer then please drop everything and buy one NOW – your mash (and your life) will never be the same again. Serve by placing a piece of chicken on a plate, then covering with a generous ladle of sauce, and topping off with a big spoonful of creamy mash and peas. Obviously you can add more veg if you want – roasted carrots or sautéed cabbage would be nice – but this is definitely a ‘less is more’ kind of dish. A simple and delicious crowd pleaser.

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You can buy Springfield Chicken on their website and have it delivered, but they also stock their products in London butchers (see below). We get our Christmas Turkey from Springfield every year and you can get one of these online too.

LONDON SUPPLIERS

Walters Butchers – Barons Court, Monday to Saturday

Grahams Butchers – Finchley East end road, 7 days a week

Boucherie Gerard – Mill Hill, 7 days a week

Jago’s Butchers – Chelsea Market, Monday to Saturday

Stanton Butchers – Hammersmith, Tuesday to Saturday

Highland Foods – Mill Hill, Tuesday to Saturday

Nopi

Apologies for the long silence between now and my last entry, but now is finally the time to put you all out of your misery (yes I’m talking to you Mum, Dad and Grandma) with a brand spanking new review.

In all honesty I’ve been waiting for a blog-worthy place to write about, and nowhere I’ve eaten at lately has been memorable enough to write a review. Enter Nopi. For those of you who don’t know (you should be ashamed of yourselves), Nopi is Ottolenghi’s arguably most stylish London restaurant, with a more cutting-edge feel than its sister delis, and a seasonal, experimental menu showcasing the best of Yotam’s Middle Eastern inspired repertoire.

Just like Otto himself, Nopi is effortlessly cool. The first thing that impressed me was the space itself; unlike many of its neighbouring Soho restaurants, Nopi is light, clear and somewhat calm – the spotless white marble floors and copper plated surfaces are reminiscent of a stylish art gallery, all the more enhanced by the black and white art-house projections playing on one of the walls, the trippy hall of mirrors in the loo, and the therapeutic beat of Jamie xx. Not to say that Nopi doesn’t suit the hustle and bustle of its Soho location – service is slick and fast-paced and despite going with my Dad & Grandma on a Monday at 6.45pm, there’s a real ‘Saturday night in the city’ vibe.

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The menu is divided into sharing plates of vegetables, meat and fish, with a small selection of individual main courses available for those who can’t deal with the whole sharing thing. Unusually, Nopi’s vegetable dishes are its most famous; a collection of unique flavours that prove that meat doesn’t always have to take centre stage.

We began with a couple of nibbles – my dad chose the vegetable crudites with avocado and I chose the Cecina smoked beef with pequillo peppers and crispy garlic. To make what is essentially raw vegetables and mashed avocado worthy of £5.90 is an impressive feat, but of course, Nopi succeeded – the colourful plate of radishes, carrots, and two other unidentifiable vegetables were peppery and deliciously cold and crunchy, perfect with the slightly spicy avocado dip.

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The beef was thin and pink, much like parma ham, with a salty, smoky aftertaste, served with sweet and juicy roasted peppers that we soaked up with chunks of warm brown bread.

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The dishes that follow are staggered so that you’re not overwhelmed by a tidal wave of exotic flavours; our waitress broke our order down into 2 parts so that the dishes that complement each other the most arrive together. The courgette and manouri fritters are one of Nopi’s specialities, three perfectly crispy bread-crumbed balls containing a creamy mix of parmesan, courgette and spices, served with a little pot of pink thick cardamom yoghurt.

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A highlight of this course was the valdeon cheesecake – I can only describe this as a savoury crème brulee/cheese soufflé hybrid; a dish of baked blue cheese with a thin, golden brown surface, sprinkled with toasted almonds, vinegary beetroot and generous lashings of thyme honey. The flavours in this dish were right up my street – punchy strong cheese and tangy beetroot infused with hints of sweetness…needless to say, we scraped out every last morsel.

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The mackerel with lovage puree and pickled crab apples was more like a piece of artwork than a plate of food…I could almost hear it whispering ‘Instagram me…’

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Next up was the venison plate, served with caramelised yoghurt, peanuts and blackberries. Not your conventional combination of ingredients – the sweet yoghurt and blackberries could’ve easily been on a dessert plate – but surprisingly turned out to complement the juicy slabs of pink venison very well. Who’d have known?

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We mopped this up with a bowl of DELICIOUS polenta truffle chips. Until recently polenta seems to have been considered a fairly tasteless ingredient, but I’ve seen it popping up on menus everywhere; with the right seasoning, its grainy texture lends itself very well to a real variety of dishes, particularly in replacement of breadcrumbs for a lighter, crunchier alternative. Anyway, these chips were delightful – symmetrical blocks of fluffy potato rolled in polenta, with earthy aromas of truffle and a bowl of creamy garlic mayo. Lip-smackin’ stuff.  We also had a bowl of ‘Grilled mashua, Jerusalem artichoke, apple’ with this course but even after eating it I don’t know what it was – some sort of crunchy root vegetable. We’ll just skim over that one.

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Last, but certainly not least, the highlight of the meal. Dessert. I’m not even really a pudding person, always choosing savoury over sweet, but as the saying goes…when in Nopi. My coffee and pecan financiers with maple cream were the stuff of dreams; 4 little spiced cakes with a rich and gooey centre, chopped pecans, and a ceramic bowl of thick and gloopy caramelised maple cream to dunk them into. Serious. Business. My dad ordered the spiced quince with sour cherry and walnut crumble which looked like a mini trifle, but I was too busy floating on financier cloud 9 to notice much more.

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To sum up, I had a very unsatisfactory evening at Nopi and would definitely not recommend it to anyone.

Joking, get on the phone to them at once because this place fills up fast. Granted, it’s not cheap, with plates ranging from around £9-£13. The sort of place you should go to celebrate a payrise, or when your dad offers to take you out for dinner, or if you’re showing off on a first date. And before you ask – yes, thank you, I would love to join.

Easy Peasy Pesto

Homemade pesto is one of those things that requires minimum effort for maximum effect. The result is a creamier, nuttier version of the stuff you buy in shops, with the fresh basil adding so much more flavour. It’s a really versatile sauce that will keep for a few days in the fridge, and no doubt filled with more goodness than if it were from a jar.

As usual, the quantities are vague thanks to my trial & error cooking methods, but I’ll give you a rough outline and you can adapt as you please – it’s hard to go too wrong with this one.

As well as a blender, you will need:

  • 2 pots of fresh basil
  • 1 large handful of pine nuts (use the majority of these in the pesto, and save a little handful to garnish)
  • 1 medium handful of cashew nuts
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 handful of parmesan (I just used one of the little pre-grated bags that you can buy in Sainsbury’s, although this was a tad on the generous side so don’t use it all)
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-3 tinned anchovies (optional)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

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First, toast your pine nuts over a medium heat. This should only take a couple of minutes, make sure you keep tossing them in the pan otherwise they’ll burn very quickly (like mine). Toasting pine nuts releases a charred, much nuttier flavour that will come through in your pesto.

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Whizz the basil leaves in the blender with a splash of olive oil until they’re a nice fine consistency. Add the pine nuts (saving a handful to sprinkle on at the end), the parmesan and the garlic and whizz again with another glug of oil. Next go the anchovies and lemon juice (you can keep adding oil depending on what the consistency looks like – I prefer mine slightly creamier/thicker and also as extra virgin olive oil is a powerful flavour, you don’t want to overdo it) Have a taste and season with a good grinding of salt and pepper. Lastly, throw in your cashews. This was a tip I picked up from a food stall at Borough Market last weekend, as cashews don’t disintegrate in the same way as pine nuts and therefore create a crunchier texture. Give these a little blast on the mixer to break them up and hey PESTO you’re done!

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The traditional partner to pesto is of course pasta, and I had mine with a delicious trofie that I’d been waiting to use, specially imported from the Italian hills of Gragnano (the perks of working in food PR). If you don’t have access to especially imported Italian pasta then you’ll have to just slum it in your local supermarket. I do recommend eating pesto with trofie – it’s a pasta that not that many people have heard of, shaped in little tight twists, with a slightly chewier texture like gnocci allowing it to hold the sauce really well.

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Obviously, how you eat your pesto is up to you – with pasta, on toast…you can spread it on your face for all I care. A delicious quick fix that makes a perfect midweek dinner or lunchtime treat. This pesto is the besto!

Sorry.

 

Jimmy’s Popup: The Lodge

Something glorious has happened in South London. Just a stone’s throw from Clapham North tube, The Lodge has appeared: an alpine themed restaurant here to warm our bellies over the winter season.

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One of the reasons I love winter is the guilt-free indulgence that comes with it. Let’s face it: the only way to make it through the colder, darker, rainier days is by treating ourselves to some good old-fashioned comfort food. Out go the crop tops and in come the baggy jumpers. A layer of puppy fat is crucial in order to keep warm in the chilly weather…it’s what’s best for our health.

The Lodge provides just the ticket. Warming, indulgent comfort food – the kind that elicits a deep sigh of satisfaction after the first mouthful. Anyone who has been skiing will know that it’s the holiday for ultimate gluttony (I did an entire season and was able to prove this by the lack of trousers that fit me by the end), and The Lodge doesn’t fail to fulfil these expectations – head up the staircase, down the corridor and prepare to be transported from rainy Clapham to a three-valley mountain restaurant with a calorific menu that will make your eyes sparkle with greedy delight.

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The décor of the restaurant is spot on. The team at Jimmy’s Popup (the organisation that run The Lodge) have gone all out in their efforts to recreate a cosy alpine haven – faded oak panels make up the walls and the chairs are padded with checked cushions giving a snug and homely feel, made all the more atmospheric by the low mutter of voices and clinking of glasses. Hung on the walls are retro skis, poles, ice skates and fur skins, creating the illusion of a traditional alpine restaurant. The place is so convincing that for a split second you gaze out of the window expecting see snowy mountains and a chairlift sailing overhead…only to find flashing road works and a pissed homeless man shouting at a lamp. But you can’t have it all.

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Ellie, Becca and I snuggled down into our cosy corner to dig into the menu. In true festive spirit we ordered a big thermos of mulled wine to share for the fairly decent price of £20 – although I was momentarily tempted by the selection of ‘hot cocktails’ (the hot espresso martini sounds dreamy), we decide to keep it traditional.

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Deciding what to eat was a quick process. The menu boasts a collection of heavenly seasonal produce such as wood pigeon, guinea fowl and artichoke risotto, but for us it was a no brainer: mountain restaurant = fondue. There are two types to choose from, comte and colea or wild mushroom – we went for the classic cheese and also ordered a plate of charcuterie (£12) for a meaty fix.

The fondue costs £16 per head, which might initially be considered a little bit steep for the low-earners among us – but have faith, for the vast quantities that are soon to arrive will totally justify the price. Along with the traditional fondue pot full to the brim with melted cheese, our spread consisted of two metal buckets spilling with buttery, herby potatoes, another two full of fluffy French bread, and two large bowls of colourful salad. Already faced with enough food to feed an army, we almost forgot about the charcuterie – but it soon arrived in all its splendour on a classy grey slate. Time to gorge.

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If I were to picture what heaven looks like, I would imagine a giant bowl of melted cheese, and we could all sail around in little cheese boats and drink straight from the cheese lake with from straws made of cheese. Unfortunately our fondue pot was too small for me to swim in, but you get the idea. It was bloody delicious. The best comfort food is, as my mum likes to call it, peasant food: simple, no hassle, hearty grub. And this was peasant food at its finest – perfection in simplicity.

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The potatoes were crispy on the outside and glistening in a buttery glaze, the bread was soft – a perfect vessel to soak up the gooey cheese. Even the salad was delicious – a punchy dressing and a refreshing palette cleanser between mouthfuls. The Lodge supplies you with traditional skewers to dip your carbs into the pot, but I soon became impatient and started spooning it straight on to the plate (I realise this was probably poor fondue etiquette but I was too busy eating cheese to care). The charcuterie was definitely a necessary addition for us; the saltiness of the cured meats and the vinegary cornichons perfectly complimented the cheese, and the range of meat was of delicious, truly artisan quality.

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The only danger with a meal like this is the bottomless effect. No matter how much we ate there still seemed to be some left – it was a case of eyes being bigger than our stomachs and eventually we had to stop for fear of spiraling into a fondue-induced coma. Sadly this meant we had no space for pudding – I would’ve liked to try the chocolate mousse with banana and hazelnut but if I had, I probably wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale.

Unsurprisingly, The Lodge is massively popular, so I suggest that you get on the booking bandwagon as soon as possible before all spaces run out. Our entire meal plus drinks cost about £26 each, which we felt was money well spent. It’s the perfect place to shelter from the harsh winter night, by snuggling into an authentic alpine experience, warming yourself from the inside out and relaxing with a giant bowl of melted cheese.

http://www.thelodgeclapham.com/the-lodge-clapham/

 

Lamb-Stuffed Aubergines

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe, but if you ask me, these lamb-stuffed aubergines are worth the wait. If you’re in the mood for delicious comfort food that can be whipped up in under an hour then look no further; think Levantine-spiced bolognaise sitting in a charred aubergine boat, with a crispy cheese topping. Drool.

For two people, you will need:

  • 2 aubergines
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, de-seeded and roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of paprika
  • A pinch of dried chilli (this is enough to give it a little kick – use more or less depending on how much heat you like)
  • 250g minced lamb
  • About 1/3 of a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 200g Manchego cheese (I think feta would also be a nice alternative)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of chopped parsley

Pre heat your oven to 200 degrees c.

Start by making a simple tomato sauce. Empty your tinned tomatoes into a pan over a low heat. Add plenty of seasoning, a teaspoon of sugar and some chopped parsley, along with a little splash of vinegar if you have any. Let the sauce simmer and thicken and then leave to one side.

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Liberally pour a few glugs of olive oil into a shallow pan on a high heat, and throw in your onions. After about a minute of letting them sizzle, turn the heat right down – you want your onions to caramelise slowly over the next half hour. A lot of recipes often tell you to throw the onions in at the same time as the other ingredients, but I think it’s always worth slow cooking them – it may take longer but you get that delicious sweetness as they collapse together, which you can’t achieve from quick-frying them. Add the peppers to the mix too as they take a while to soften. Remember to stir this every so often.

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Next, slice your aubergines in half from the top of the stalk to the bottom (I accidentally cut off the stalk on my first one – not the end of the world but doesn’t look as pretty), and then score the flesh in little criss-crosses, getting as close to the skin of the vegetable as possible without piercing it. Lay them side-by-side in a baking tray and spoon a few glugs of oil over each half – aubergines tend to soak up oil very easily so don’t be shy! Then pop them in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

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Once you’re happy that your onions/peppers are soft enough, you can add the lamb. Whack the heat up so that it gets a good sizzle going, and add a little more oil if the pan looks dry. Chuck in all of your spices/chilli flakes and your tomato sauce, then push the mixture around the pan with a wooden spoon until the mince is cooked through. Season to taste with a fairly generous amount of salt and pepper (salt in particular is key to transforming any dish as it brings out so much more flavour – anyone who says you don’t need it is lying to you).

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Check on your aubergines – at this point they should be looking nice and charred around the edges – if so, take them out of the oven. The flesh should be incredibly soft by now, so spoon it all out to carve your aubergine shells, and add it to the lamb pan. Stir it all thoroughly and then spoon back into the aubergine skins – you should have enough mixture to fill them right up to the top so that they are spilling with meaty goodness.

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Sprinkle your creation with the grated cheese (I only say sprinkle to sound restrained and ladylike: in reality we drowned those helpless aubergines in a Manchego tsunami) and pop back on the top shelf of the oven for about 10 minutes until the cheese on top is golden brown.

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Remove from the oven and serve as you please – we kept ours simple, with a dollop of home made houmous (basic recipe for this will be up soon) on a bed of rocket. You really won’t need too much more because this meal is surprisingly hearty and filling.

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There you have it – easy peasy. And the result? A gooey, crispy, cheesy, meaty, melt-in-the-mouth dish oozing with flavour. Bon appetit!

The Modern Pantry

I love brunch. It’s my favourite meal to go out to, hands down. In fact, it’s become a common favourite; I feel as if I’m part of a national brunch club – walk through London on a Saturday morning and every café will be spilling with people feasting on pancakes/eggs of some description and a Bloody Mary. ‘Bottomless brunches’ are the new happy hour (what better excuse to drink at 11.30am?) and mid morning menus have become increasingly lavish.

If you’re still not convinced, I should raise the point that it’s probably the only meal where it is socially acceptable to order a side of bacon. For there is no judgement in the brunch club, only acceptance. Here we eat, we drink, be merry, and eat some more.

So you can imagine my delight when my friend Laura organised a birthday brunch at The Modern Pantry, a well-known foodie spot in Farringdon. I leapt out of bed on Saturday morning (feeling confusingly fresh after my first Friday night in for a while) and headed towards the City in the crisp September sunshine with Becca.

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The Modern Pantry is reminiscent of a charming patisserie in the South of France: the terracotta bricked building sits in a beautiful cobbled square, with stone-grey shutters and vibrant pink and red flowers tumbling from little stone pots on each windowsill. Written on a classy panel along the top of the building reads ‘The Modern Pantry’ in pale yellow letters – with the cloudless blue sky as a backdrop, the place looked idyllic.

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The inside of the restaurant is just as welcoming – simple but elegant, with long white wooden tables, duck-egg washed walls and light flooding in through the large windows. The space is very airy and contemporary but still maintains a rustic charm; the restaurant occupies the entire building and has three whole floors, but each room is unique in size and layout, creating the intimate sense of being inside someone’s home. Even the loos were enticing – spacious, light and comfortable – I could’ve happily eaten up there but I suppose that may have raised questions among the staff/my friends downstairs, so I did the right thing and returned to my seat at the table to peruse the menu.

In the past, I tend to find it hard to go for anything other than Eggs Royale at brunch because it’s always a winner– but there was something about the exotic twist in this menu that filled me with a new sense of audacity. The Modern Pantry offers traditional brunch classics with, indeed, a ‘modern’ twist – plantain fritters with the chorizo and poached egg…’macadamia dukkah’ with the eggs royale. Perhaps it was because I’d had one too many glasses of prosecco come decision time, but in the end I went for the one dish on the menu that was completely foreign to me: an Asian themed breakfast described as ‘Confit girolles, pickled shemeji & umboshi buttered puffball on cornbread, fried eggs, crispy shallots, chive miso crème fraiche.’

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After asking our waitress to translate this exotic dish for me, I was slightly disappointed that her response was ‘its basically just mushrooms.’ But I stuck with my decision regardless, and waited with anticipation for the arrival of the meal that I could not pronounce.

Our food soon arrived and was greeted with ooh’s and ahh’s of joy; being the classy joint that it is, The Modern Pantry’s presentation was spot on. Our table looked like a spread in Delicious magazine – toffee sauce drizzled over caramelised waffles, golden halloumi on buttery spinach. In other words, brunch perfection.

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Unable to bear my curiosity for any longer, I tucked in with gusto. As promised by my waitress, the foreign components of girolles, shemeji and umboshi were indeed an assortment of mushrooms of different shapes and sizes – but there was certainly an exotic kick with the flecks of chilli and the refreshing chive crème fraiche on the side. The fried egg was perfectly cooked, its runny yolk oozing over the mushrooms as I cut into it.

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Surprisingly, the highlight of the dish for me was the corn bread. The carb is usually the part that I’m least fussed about, but this slice of heaven was the perfect sponge for the juices from the yolk and the mushrooms, with a grainy consistency of polenta and a crispy edge surrounding a softer middle – more like a fluffy piece of cake than bread.

Unfortunately I failed to identify the ‘buttered puffball’. That shall forever remain a mystery.

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Without wanting to butcher the exotic Asian language, I have to admit that what I ate really was just a glorified version of mushroom and eggs on toast – so you could argue that parts of the menu were verging a little on the extravagant/misleading side. Or perhaps my palette just isn’t well trained enough to differentiate between a pickled shemeji and your bog standard mushroom.

Mushrooms on toast or not, it was delicious, and my debut at The Modern Pantry was a successful one. I suggest any other brunch club enthusiasts out there try it immediately.

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Hook

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The only time I’ve ever really felt in the mood for fish and chips is at a seaside town, like Cornwall or Blackpool, where it’s the obvious dish of choice. Ultimate comfort food in the form of battered cod and mushy peas on the beach, straight out of a greasy paper bag. Apart from that, it’s something that I never really crave – if you’re not right by the sea then it’s a meal that’s easy to get wrong; when I think of ‘urban’ fish and chips I picture an over lit, slightly run down looking shop with a depressing selection of unenthusiastic customers picking at soggy batter and stodgy chips doused in too much vinegar.

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So when I heard about Hook, this supposedly fantastic fish and chip restaurant in the heart of London (where the only nearby water is the murky Thames) my curiosity got the better of me and I arranged a visit. The main restaurant is in Camden, but there’s also a mini version nestled on the balcony of POP Brixton – the edgy new space set up on Brixton station road to support local enterprises. There’s nothing flashy whatsoever about the set up – the restaurant is built in keeping with the eco-friendly architecture of POP inside a converted iron shipping container, glass doors flung open to welcome guests into the appropriately nautical themed interior, with two friendly male waiters at the counter. Visually, Hook doesn’t promise anything particularly spectacular, but I was soon to discover that this is the place that will redefine fish and chips forever.

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How so, you ask? The traditional charm of the meal is still there – the basic components of the menu and the fact that it’s served on paper (I once had an argument with my ex in Brighton when I refused to eat my fish and chips from a plate – call me stubborn but it’s just not the same), but there’s an un-traditional twist in that the fish is marinated and served in exotic herbs and spices and cooked in a way that your local chippy could only dream.

It gets better. Hook’s produce is entirely fresh and delivered daily from Cornwall, and they also ensure that the fish is sustainable, using only what is available to catch from the boat that day. Everything is made from scratch – the spices that they marinate the fish in have been roasted and grinded together and the sauces on offer have been originally created. As if gourmet fish and chips weren’t enough, we’re now talking about ethical gourmet fish and chips.

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The POP menu remains pretty minimalist in comparison to its Camden cousin, with just 4 types of fish to choose from (small menus work in my favour thanks to my uncontrollable indecisiveness) : classic cod, cajun-style hake, Jamaican jerk hake, and lemon & basil tempura of black seabream.

I went for the latter because of its poetic description, and my friend Fred went for the jerk, because he is one.

I jest – he’s actually very nice.

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Our meal arrived in a classy wooden box lined with branded paper, containing a bed of crispy, deliciously charred looking wedges and a fillet of fish in a glistening coat of golden batter – no grease, no soggy grey flesh, just a seriously excellent looking meal. Very seaside chic. A little pot of garlic truffle mayo came with mine, and Fred’s was accompanied by chipotle sauce.

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(NB: apologies for my lack of photos – it’s a testament to the food that I was enjoying it too much to remember to take any more!)

Visual admiration complete, it was time to dig in.

The batter passed the test with flying colours – a perfect crispy texture, with a satisfying crunch and a zesty kick as I eagerly bit into it. The fish itself was also of A* quality – white and flaky but not at all undercooked, a juicy flesh that also carried the fragrant flavours of the lemon and basil. The chips, unsurprisingly, proved to be top notch – described on the menu as ‘twice cooked seaweed salted’ these little babies were salty, herby wedges of potato joy. Fred’s choice was just as much of a hit – more heat for the spice enthusiasts among you, and coated in a thicker crunchy layer that was sprinkled with dark flecks of seasoning. There were sides on the menu that I would’ve loved to try – I’ve heard great things about the minty mushy peas – but alas, my non-existent income cannot afford such additional luxuries. (Yes, squashed peas are a luxury for me these days.)

The menu isn’t cheap – I paid £12 for my sea bream – but you get what you pay for, and I couldn’t find any reason to complain…except maybe for the fact that I won’t be able to enjoy fish and chips from anywhere else ever again. Congratulations Hook – you’ve caught me.

Baked Feta


Now that I’m living in London, I relish coming home for the weekend more than I ever have before. As yesterday’s train sped away from the city, the scenery rapidly merging from industrial greys and busy motorways to muddy footpaths and green fields, I realised quite how much I was looking forward to the peace and quiet of the Herefordshire countryside.

I may be the only one of my friends not to be enjoying the bank holiday weekend by partying at SW4/Carnival, but I am beyond content right now as I sit on the sofa sipping on a gin & tonic, inhaling the blissful Sunday lunch aromas that have filled the kitchen.

Thanks to the dedication of my talented mother, the Viner roast often involves a rather vast variety of components, but I’m going to stick to just one recipe in this post to keep things simple. I’m a huge lover of cheese and have a particular thing for Feta, although I find that I’m not particularly creative with it and generally just sprinkle it over salads. This is a recipe that my mum told me about this morning; it allows the Feta to be a central feature rather than just a topping – perhaps with toasted pitta bread as a Greek-style starter.

You will need:

  • 2 blocks of Feta (bear in mind this is to feed 5 of us)
  • A few sprigs of thyme or rosemary
  • Black pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Honey (preferably organic!)

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees c.

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Place the block(s) of feta in an ovenproof dish, and cover with a good grinding of black pepper, a sprinkling of thyme and a drizzle of olive oil. Put the dish into the heated oven and leave it in there for about half an hour.

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Take the Feta out of the oven and spoon a generous amount of honey over the top, then place back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove the dish when the Feta is golden and bubbling around the edges and serve hot with salads or crusty bread.

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It’s a ridiculously basic recipe – perhaps you’ve already heard of it, but I’ve only ever really been aware of baking heartier cheeses like Brie or Camembert. Baked Feta is a much lighter alternative – it has a similar ‘squeaky’ texture to grilled Halloumi and really brings out all the flavours, with the saltiness of the cheese and the sweetness of the honey complimenting each other perfectly.

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We ate ours with a feast of Kadai-barbequed chicken, bashed potatoes, tzatziki and honey roasted carrots and parsnips – 10/10 for my bank holiday Sunday lunch. For those of you with the hangover munchies tomorrow, I suggest following the above steps if you want to make your day significantly feta (sorry- cheesy joke)…

Bukowski

When I reached for my phone yesterday morning, it took me a matter of seconds to realise that this was no average Thursday. My inbox was spilling with emails from restaurants that I’ve subscribed to offering burger deals, my Twenty Something London app was tantalising me with its top 10 city burger joints, and my Instagram feed had evolved into a cornucopia of juicy patties of all shapes and sizes. It could only mean one thing: National Burger Day.

I’m not sure who came up with the idea that there should be a day dedicated to celebrating the burger, but whoever it is, I would like to meet them and give them a heartfelt embrace. The UK has a thriving burger culture – pop up joints are filling up festivals all over the country, and the streets of every major city are inundated with burger shops galore – GBK, Five Guys, Honest Burger…you’d think people would stop making new businesses but it seems to be that we’re addicted. Even the meat-haters out there can’t resist because veggie burgers are all the rage – a burger is no longer defined by the classic beef patty but by a filling of any variety, to suit any age and any mood.

Where, then, to choose?! I narrowed down my options by sticking to the Brixton vicinity, finally settling on a trendy looking grill called Bukowski on Market Row – the second branch of the original restaurant in Shoreditch – where I headed with my friend Josh for a catch-up and, more importantly, a burger.

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The restaurant is fairly small with a buzzing atmosphere, with rows of small wooden tables seating happy diners. The décor is what you might expect of a Brixton Burger Grill – the ‘unfinished’ urban rustic look, with exposed brick walls and naked light bulbs hanging from wires on the ceiling. The drinks menu boasts a variety of cocktails (£5.75), bottled beers and wines, along with a very tempting selection of ‘spiked’ milkshakes (the peanut butter, banana and bourbon caught my eye) – but we went with the recommendation of the pair next to us and ordered 2 frozen margaritas. These were nice although slightly reminiscent of a sour slush puppy – perhaps one for a hot summers day rather than a rainy evening.

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Bukowski offer a small selection of ribs and chops, but the main feature of the menu – and of the day – was the burgers. There are 7 to choose from, with comical names that give away nothing about the content apart from its size (e.g. ‘The Fat Gringo’ versus ‘The Obese Gringo’). I was pleased to see that ‘The Purist’ is made from Hereford beef (my home town), but I went against my loyalties and chose ‘The Californian’ – a beef patty with Montery Jack cheese, crispy bacon, chipotle mayo, tomato, red onion and avocado. Josh went for ‘The Smokey Beast’, which was similar, except for the pulled pork topping.

The burgers arrived in a little iron dish sitting on a piece of baking paper, a meaty feast between two soft brioche buns. I like to think of myself as a bit of a burger connoisseur and my many experiences have set the bar pretty high, so although I hate to admit it, Bukowski failed to exceed my expectations.

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There was nothing wrong with the beef – in fact it was perfectly cooked – a juicy pink medium rare patty that had clearly been cut from a quality piece of meat. It would have been ideal if this had been more of a feature but unfortunately it was smothered by the overload of fillings that were soaked up by the brioche, making the overall effect a little soggy. I did enjoy the meal – despite its faults the burger was still undeniably ‘gourmet’ – but there was a missing element of satisfaction in its lack of heartiness. The side that we ordered was also slightly disappointing – not the crispy fries that we hoped for, but thick, fluffy, oven-style chips with no crunch. There were alternative sides that I spotted on other people’s tables that looked much nicer – I imagine that the crispy fried onions and chilli cheese fries made much better burger accomplices. Bukowski’s menu also offers its ‘home made tomato sauce’ which arrived in a little glass bottle – but as Josh pointed out, the acidity of the after taste makes it seem less home-made and more Tesco Value.

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The meal was not un-enjoyable, but it was certainly un-outstanding, and with the amount of rivals that Bukowski faces, I don’t think I’ll be going back to give them a second chance. The restaurant visually suggests a promise of an authentic, quality burger, but the harsh reality is that it simply lacks the oomph of its competitors. It looks like I’ll have to create a repeat of National Burger Day in my quest to find something better (what a shame); as the saying goes, you win some you lose some – so onwards and upwards I march with the burger revolution.

Dalston Yard: Street Feast

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I’ve been religiously stalking the instagram page for Street Feast (@streetfeastlondon) – a food market that has a summer pop up in Shoreditch, Lewisham and Dalston. I‘m a confessed ‘food porn’ addict and will happily waste hours salivating over photos, and the Street Feast account is a particular gold mine for food snaps that make your whole body tingle. After weeks of dreaming about juicy burgers and lobster rolls, I decided enough was enough – I had to go and see it in the flesh. So on Friday, I headed to Dalston Yard with my trusty companions, Ellie, Becca and Moni, to dig in to what we anticipated would be some serious street food.

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The set up of the event is impressive in itself. It’s been built around a sort of open warehouse with a corrugated roof and food stalls made from wooden slats, with fairy lights strung randomly across the ceiling and various signs painted in bright lettering or hanging from big neon lights. Outside are long, communal tables with a blazing fire pit in the middle, and in huge letters on glowing red and yellow cubes are the words ‘STREET FEAST’. The overall effect has a rustic and organic feel to it, creating a chilled out atmosphere and an ideal Friday night hang out spot.

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We headed for the bar to ponder over drinks, but as soon as we saw a fellow street feaster drinking from a straw out of a giant carved out watermelon, we were sold. The cocktail was a combination of gin, watermelon, citrus, mint, and grapefruit soda – a tropical delight with a nice alcoholic kick (we approved of our bartenders liberal pouring of the gin) that came to a very reasonable £15, which we split into two’s. A very cool idea that had clearly taken some time and commitment to achieve – I pity the watermelon carving team, but I applaud their effort because the fruity vessel definitely enhanced the flavour and aesthetics of the drink.

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The food – and I had braced myself for this – was more of a challenge. I couldn’t begin to guess how many stalls are on offer at Dalston Yard but it’s a good twenty to thirty – all equally inviting, with delicious smells coming from every direction. I’m a long-term sufferer of food envy and had to really take my time over the decision that could make or break my evening.

Moni went for a simple smoky wood fired pizza and Becca chose a Vietnamese noodle dish, and in the end, like two moths to a flame, Ellie and I were drawn to the glowing TACOS sign – a pop-up that’s run by the well-known ‘Breddos Tacos’ who have a permanent place in Shoreditch. The menu was very simple – a relief, because I don’t think I could’ve handled another wave of decision-making – 1 taco for £4, 2 for £7 or 3 for £9, with a small selection of sides. There are 3 tacos to choose from: 10-hour chipotle beef short rib, Baja fish and Buttermilk fried chicken. Obviously, I had to go for all 3 for research purposes – although I have to admit that gluttony prevailed over research because I wolfed them down with such gusto that I’m actually struggling to think of a way to describe them.

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The tacos were served open; 3 little dark corn blankets each full to the brim with a selection of meat, garnish and tangy sauce. The Baja fish was fried in breadcrumbs and served with a creamy pink dressing and a lime wedge, and the chicken was also coated in a crispy shell, with a succulent tender flesh that was complimented by a dollop of sour cream. The beef was hands down my favourite of the trio – slow cooked to perfection with an intensely rich taste and topped with a mild salsa – the kind of flavours that cast a silence of appreciation around the table. The tacos are pretty dinky (Ellie and I agreed that we could easily have eaten another round), but all in all a heavenly combination that sent my taste buds to cloud 9.

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The phrase ‘street food’ has always been music to my ears and this East London pop-up confirmed why – great people, great vibes, and a celebration of quality, authentic cuisine. Sadly, Dalston Yard’s Street Feast is only running until the 26th September, so if you’re yet to visit then I strongly recommend that you get involved.

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