Monday, 5 August 2013

The Underground Supper Club

Having spent the day pedaling round London on a beer bus, what better way to end the day than to
have dinner aboard an old Victoria line tube?

The Underground Supper Club is the creation of Basement Galley originally set-up by Alex and Tom in a flat in Brixton as a way of making a little extra money and to create a sociable environment to fuel conversation and feed hungry appetites.

Since then they have now progressed to hosting a 6-7 course tasting menu aboard a decommissioned Victoria line tube carriage within Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. 

In keeping with the Underground theme, the menu is presented within "service information" with each tube line colour representing a course on the menu. After a quick briefing and introduction by Alex and Tom, we take our seats on board. 

Seated and ready to start our edible journey we were served an appetiser or "amuse bouche" of a medjool date confit served on smokey squash, shortly followed by a smoked salmon tartare starter. Both dishes gave a little teaser of what was to come: a spectacular array of beautifully presented, gorgeously flavoured food.

I think I should probably add at this point that we were currently experiencing a torrential downpour outside which meant that the waiters and waitresses had to dash across from the kitchen to the carriage ensuring no dish was spoiled. I really did feel for them. They even went to the driver's cabin (which we had a pre-dinner peek at, GEEKS) to activate the sliding doors to keep us dry, adding even more to the underground dining experience.

So two dishes down, and eager to try more, our pallet was then vibrantly cleansed with a cold pea and rocket soup with strawberry sorbet which provided a beautiful contrast of green and red, and mixing these two together tasted like a garden in your mouth (minus the mud and worms) - I'm not really sure there's any other way to describe it with the taste of the garden greens and fruitiness of the strawberry!

Pallet cleansed, we moved onto our mains: rich lamb stew served with greens and rosemary polenta. Anyone who knows me, knows that if there is lamb on the menu I will almost always go for it. And what a treat. My favourite kind of lamb: tender, juicy, slow cooked lamb. A very welcome dish on a stormy summer night! 

Having done a little googling before hand there was one dish that I knew was almost 100% going to be on the menu, and I could not WAIT to try: Fizzy G&T jelly. Simply sprinkle some of the white powder onto the tiny cube of jelly and place in your mouth and wait for the explosion. Incredible and a real talking piece. 

Done with the savoury and now several glasses of wine down, we awaited the arrival of something sweet and something sobering (by this point the beer bus session and wine MAY have been catching up with us). 

And what a treat we were presented with. A chocolate Grenache tart - delish! - and a white chocolate smoothie. Promptly followed by cup of strong coffee and a gift bag of Dolcezza biscuits (these I snuck into my handbag - had reached my limit!)

The verdict? Amazing. I really urge anyone to try this experience, whether you are are tube geek, food geek or looking for something a bit different. They've added two more dates this month: 15th and 17th August at £39pp. What's more is the BBC have obviously got wind of this fabulous experience and will be filming there on the 15th! Get your tickets now - they sell out super fast!

Yelly-fi-food-belly x

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A lovely little bit of Greek

OK, so may be not a little bit. A whole lot of Greek, with some satin drapes and an attentive, friendly waiter thrown in.

Let's be honest, you think of Greek food: olives, hummous, halloumi... and you think healthy right? But the fact of the matter is, Greek food was made for sharing, but sharing in the sense that you order as many different types of dishes as possible to have a taste of everything and then once it's all in front of you, no matter how much you say to yourself that you're only going to try a little bit of everything you end up stuffing it all in your face. And I definitely did.

And where did I feast? At a Greek restaurant less than 5 minutes walk from Camden Town tube station called Andy's Taverna. The outside decor of this little Greek restaurant is a pleasant white wash of walls with blue shutters encased by decorative railings. In fact on the day that I visited the weather was so hot you could be mistaken for actually being in Greece.

Walking into the restaurant we were greeted by our very friendly waiter, who escorted us to a table just inside where the big doors opened on to the front terrace. The waiter was obviously keen to please and with such a charming and warming character you instantly felt welcome.

Inside the decor is heavy on blue and white with photos of past guests lining the walls, one of which I am told by my boyfriend was the Greek football team - obviously a good sign! The white satin "wedding chairs" may not be to everyone's taste and may seem slightly garish, but this to me only added to it's charm and they have obviously been doing something right given they have been open since 1967!

Whilst we looked over the menu, our friendly waiter brought over some olives and pickles with some soft, warm sesame bread. To be honest, I could have left the olives and pickles as they were fairly bitter, but the sesame bread was scrumptiously soft and served warm, delish!

There was so much to choose from on the menu that we decided to opt for the chef's mixed grill: loucanika, pastourma, lountza and halloumi. This was basically varying types of Greek sausage (spicy, garlic and smoked respectively) served with possibly one of my favourite cheeses, halloumi. The portions were perfect size and good value for £7.25, but of course being the perfect portion meant that of course we ordered more including some tasty Tzatziki and kalamari. At which point I was definitely full.

But then came our mains, so I had to put my full stomach aside and tackle my Lamb Kleftiko, a traditional Greek dish of slowly cooked lamb with vegetables, basically a Greek stew, served with a Greek salad. The lamb was a hefty piece of beautifully cooked meat which even by the touch of my knife slid easily off the bone. So tender and flavoursome with every mouthful that I'm ashamed to say that I could not finish my plate, I was just too full!

To end an already wonderful meal (and an equally wonderful price at £31 for two including beers - thanks to a Tastecard discount), the waiter came over with an on the house dessert of Galaktoboureko, a semolina based custard in filo pastry, simply gorgeous. And yes I finished it all.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Perils of Groupon

The invention of the various discount dining websites means that now more people are able to dine in restaurants that otherwise they may have drooled at from the window outside (I swear I don't do this).

I have used many of these discount websites with varying degrees of success. Top Table I think is perfect for the "on the night choice", Tastecard for planned meet-ups with friends and then there's Groupon where you often buy months in advance and sometimes forget about your voucher, or as someone I knew once did, fail to read the small print and realise that the voucher is for one person only... ahem, you know who you are.

So where has Groupon taken me? I think before I spiel into the less than satisfactory experiences of Groupon, I should at least start with a positive. That positive is Kyashii, a Japanese restaurant placed in the centre of a fish bowl in Covent Garden. OK, so not actually in a fish bowl, but you are surrounded by fish tanks whilst you feasted on seven courses of sushi and the surrounding fish thanking their lucky fins it's not them.

The portions were healthy, varied and were served at just the right intervals to allow us to enjoy each and every delicious dish. The pre-dinner cocktails (not included in the voucher) were served in a funky bar upstairs, before being led down into the brightly lit blue and white dining rooms.

The voucher itself of course was very appealing at around £23 per person, obviously a steal right? Wrong. I know I said I would start positive, but this is probably a recurrent theme with all Groupon vouchers, once they get you there that's when they make their money with the drinks and service charge to the value the meal should have been! And some, Kyashii an exception, do not really deserve the charge for the service they provided.

I'll give you an example here, and this is my second experience of Groupon at the Malaysian restaurant Awana in Chelsea. You arrive, you're ushered to a busy section of the restaurant, a poor excuse of a menu is put in front of you, and you are left to yourself. You then look around you and see you have been grouped with couples and friends clasping the green voucher with a barcode on. You're in discount corner, and while you receive your chosen courses (choice being limited), you look over to the other side of the restaurant where the waiters are tending to their full price customers and really earning their service charge. So why should you then pay service charge to the amount the meal would have cost if the waiters don't give you the same level of attention?

So you can imagine that having these bad experiences I would learn from my mistakes? No. Well at least I did for a while as it was some time ago I visited the above two restaurants. But I thought, you know what I'll give it another shot, and when a local seafood restaurant that I had wanted to try came up I thought why not?

Bad idea. Mar Azul the Portuguese seafood restaurant on Clapham road definitely did not deliver. Firstly when I called to book they wouldn't accept bookings on a Saturday... there was no mention of this on the voucher. Secondly the dish that we chose was originally worth £50 for two, well the one we received certainly wasn't. It was a "fresh" seafood platter of lobster, crab claws, king prawns, oysters, mussels, clams and potted crab.

Quantity yes, quality no.

The mussels and clams were far from fresh and were basically non-existent in the flesh department. The lobster looked and tasted like it had been sat waiting to be eaten for a while, and possibly even prepared days before. Granted I enjoyed the crab claws but that's about it. So we wondered whether perhaps because they knew we were Groupon customers that they didn't go the full hog with it, and if this is the case how is this ever going to bring in more customers I ask?! Especially with corked wine served by a waiter who could hardly crack a smile in an empty lifeless restaurant. I'm being honest and brutal but no one is ever going to tell their friends to visit a restaurant which serves overpriced, tasteless fish in a location that lets be honest isn't great so they're hardly going to pick up passing trade either.

So, will I do it again? Probably. But more to prove myself wrong (and maybe a teeny bit because I will always give the benefit of the doubt, I'm a sucker).

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Sunday, 28 April 2013

You had me with the olives.

Not many restaurants you can say you'd be happy with just the bread and olives, but Barbecoa, I salute you!

Barbecoa is Jamie Oliver's steak and barbecue restaurant overlooking St Paul's cathedral, which if it wasn't for it's truly amazing beastly olives, buttery breads, and a boyfriend willing to treat me on my birthday by ordering the mouth watering tender chateaubriand, then I'd probably not be starting on such a positive note!

Not to seem fickle, as I could just say how amazing the food was, and true the bread and olives were just beautiful, which it should be paying those sorts of prices, but good food alone isn't enough for me.

So I'll just get this out of the way... On arrival we were greeted by a man with a headset which had clearly given him some sort of self importance making him forget basic customer service skills, and then proceeded to tell us our table wasn't ready, but not in an apologetic sort of way. In a sort of well we are pretty shit hot so it's to be expected sort of way. But to be honest it then meant we were able to sit at the bar sipping prosecco. And I do love prosecco - swings and roundabouts right?

We were then led to our table and left to feast our eyes over the menu. And left to it we were. They were clearly very busy, but if they couldn't cope with the number of tables then they shouldn't fully book!

Anyway I started on a positive note, so back to the food, and more importantly those big beautiful olives! Clearly they were the king of all olives sat showcased on a bowl of ice. They were so juicy, so flavoursome, and so very, very big. Truly delicious. To accompany the olives we had an assortment of breads including a buttery sesame seed naan, which I would describe as not your typical naan as it had a slightly different thinner texture, with a buttery, salty goodness leaving you wanting more. The bread board consisted of two other breads, one of a typical, but again very buttery loaf, and the other a German bread coated in treacle. Incredibly rich and almost dessert like, but in small quantities was very scrummy!

For the main we opted for the chateaubriand cooked rare - the only way it should be in my eyes! This was so tender and full of flavour, and cooked just the way I like it; crispy, almost burnt, like the outside bits of a good old roast beef, and then rare in the middle. However at £72 for two, it is rather pricey, and I am a lover of small restaurants which are also small on price but big on flavour. Obviously at this sort of price you do expect amazing results, which it did deliver, so I can't really complain (about the food that is)!

The only downside was that because everything else was on another level, the duck fat chips were a little disappointing - but not because they weren't very nice, but because everything else hit a whole new level of deliciousness, they fell short at being just really very nice. Sad, but true.

My overall opinion? A nice restaurant to go once if you have the chance. It has a lovely view of the cathedral, and does offer some amazing food. However it is very pricey, busy and the staff treat you as if you are on a conveyor belt. I'll stick to the smaller restaurants with a personal touch.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Friday, 29 March 2013

Crispy Pan Fried Sea Bass with Chilli, Coriander & Ginger

This recipe is really simple and once you've cooked this version, it's really easy to adapt the recipe to use different kinds of meat and fish.

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 sea bass fillets
4 savoy cabbage leaves, sliced into strips
1 red chilli, sliced
1 inch ginger, cut into small sticks
2 spring onions, sliced lengthways
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp honey

For the rice...
1 cup rice
2 cups water
1 tsp sushi vinegar
A couple of sprigs of coriander
1 spring onion, cut into discs
A sprinkling of sesame seeds

1. To make the perfect rice, place the rice and water into a saucepan with a lid, then cook as per the time given on the pack, on a medium heat avoiding lifting the lid off until time is complete. In theory, you should have enough water in the pan to let it simmer for the set time without burning the rice producing lovely fluffy not overcooked rice.
2. Whilst the rice is cooking, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and score the skin of the sea bass fillets 3 times, and place into the frying pan skin side down and fry for 5 minutes, then for 30 seconds on the flesh side, then remove from the heat and cover.
3. In the same pan, turn up the heat and add the remaining oil, cabbage, most of the chilli, ginger, garlic and spring onions that were cut lengthways, fry for 3-5 minutes.
4. Now add the soy sauce, fish sauce and honey and fry for a minute.
5. Remove the veg from the pan leaving behind the sauce and continue to simmer until reduced to a syrup like sauce, and then pour a little over the veg, placing the sea bass on top.
6. Once the rice is cooked, if you fancy making a rice tower, find a small bowl and line with cling film. Then if you have any sushi vinegar coat the cling film with it and put the remaining tsp of sushi vinegar in the rice. This gives it a lovely glossy texture and slight sweetness. The rice then is placed in the bowl and turned upside down on the plate, and then remove the bowl and voilĂ !
7. Finally, decorate your rice with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, the spring onion discs, a couple of slices of chilli and coriander. Enjoy!

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Chicken & Lemon Tagine with Lemon & Coriander Couscous

Before visiting Marrakech, I always thought that the typical tagine was made using lamb. In actual fact the most common tagine I came across was made using chicken, in particular chicken and lemon tagine.

Since coming back from Marrakech I have made this dish time and time again and think I have finally perfected it and now even have a tagine pot to cook it all in!

Like any casserole, once all the prep is done you let the time in the oven to really intensify the flavour and produce meat that just falls off the bone. Simple, but delicious!

Ingredients (serves 2):

For the tagine...
Chicken thighs and wings (2-3 per person)
Large knob of butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed
1 inch root ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp saffron
1 tsp ras-el-hanout (you made need to hunt this one down - I bought mine in Marrakech!)
1 lemon, both lemon zest and juice
1 tbsp honey
1/2 pint of chicken stock
Large handful of chopped dried apricots
Salt and pepper to season
A sprinkling of flaked almonds

For the couscous...
100g dried plain couscous
100ml boiling water
Juice of half a lemon
Handful of chopped coriander

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees
2. Melt the butter in a frying pan, adding the chicken and cook until the meat in browned
3. Remove the chicken and on a lower heat, soften the chopped onion in the same frying pan, and once almost ready add the ginger and garlic
4. Now add all of the spices, followed by the chicken, and ensure that the meat is thoroughly coated by all of the spices
5. Next add the honey, stock, chopped dried apricots, lemon zest and juice and season with salt and pepper
6. Transfer the tagine into your tagine pot (or casserole dish) and place in the oven for an hour and a half
7. When the tagine is almost ready, place the dried couscous into a bowl and add the boiling water. After 5 minutes stir the couscous with a fork and add the lemon juice and coriander, adding more boiling water if required
8. Serve the tagine with flaked almonds and enjoy :)

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A burger so good, I've already been for seconds!

If I was a well known blogger, I'd probably ditch the long blog and just simply say...


End of.

But I feel I may have to earn your trust first, so if you're not convinced by that, I will share with you my experience...

For most foodies in London, you will no doubt have heard of Brixton Village. A collection of pop-up shops with market stalls selling fresh produce and rather unusual looking vegetables during the day. In the evening Brixtonites and food tourists gather to the many restaurants from Mama Lan serving a small selection of Bejing street food, to the original Franco Manca, a very well know and raved about pizza place.

I however only had one place on my mind: Bukowski Grill. Mainly for one reason and one reason only which was for their burgers. I have to say I was tempted by what else was offered on the menu including grilled pork back ribs and Chicano pulled pork... but I just love a burger and my luck was in. It just so happened that the Bukowski Burger of the Month was Black & Blue - blackened beef patty, creole mustard mayo, thick cut pickle, blue cheese and onion. I'm salivating as we speak. Blue cheese and beef is like salt and vinegar, they just go together.

I ordered my burger medium rare with a side of their famous triple cooked chips fried in beef dripping which I have been dying to try! Plus a bottle of their Kentish beers, Green Daemon, to wash it all down with.

Picking up this mountainous burger with both hands I really wasn't sure how I was going to tackle it. With the first bite my mouth was filled with an array of flavours: the strong blue cheese punching through with the tang of the mustard and the sweetness of the onions, beautifully complimenting the juicy beef patty with a soft toasted bun to go with. I made SUCH a mess, and my dining buddies didn't hold back pointing and laughing at the cheese smeared across my face. Attractive.

And the chips. The gorgeous, wanna-bite-right-now, roast potato like chips. Crisp on the outside and fluffy in the centre. Beyond tasty, they were mouthwateringly moreish!

And what was the cost? A respectable £16 for a burger, chips and a beer topped with a great atmosphere. In fact it was so good that I went again last night and had the February Burger of the Month: The Wise Guy. This amazing creation consisted of a beef patty with smoked mozzarella, sense coppa (pastrami) and balsamic onions. Although this time I made less of a mess (probably due to not having melted gooey cheese to contend with), I still could not recommend it enough and could have probably eaten two! This however may have been down to the ginger beer and basil mojitos consumed shortly before at Seven across the way...

But be warned all the above does mean you will have to queue - for up to an hour at peak times! But well worth the wait!

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Deviate from the norm, you might surprise yourself!

Growing up in a village in Somerset, restaurants were a few and most of the nearby towns only had Italian chains, Indians, Chinese and a Weatherspoon. And still with this limited choice you always had the same Indian or Chinese that you went to, and very rarely deviated from the norm.

Since moving to London although I am presented with so much choice, I still have my favourite Indian:  Tayyabs in Whitechapel - check it out!!! However I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant to be loyal to. So when told of a restaurant in the nearby unsightly Elephant and Castle that even Jay Rayner sings its praise, who was I to say no?

It's true, Elephant and Castle is extremely run down and opposite this restaurant in question stands several ex-council buildings completely boarded up bar the odd tenants who still refuse to leave. Whilst a bit of an eye sore on one side of the road, on the other there stands a bright red door guarded by two dragons: very in your face and perhaps out of place, but hey something needs to stand out in that ghostly part of town!

Entering this Cantonese restaurant, Dragon Castle, you are greeted by a lavish water fountain and a waiter to take you to your table through a set of red draped curtains. I find Chinese restaurants all quite the same, in decor that is, but also I am guilty in ordering the same old dishes wherever I go: beef chow mein and some sort of prawns in a ginger sauce with a side of prawn crackers. This time I was determined to choose something completely different, and something completely different is what I went for.

To start: seasoned jellyfish with cucumber and scallops with garlic and vermicelli, and for main: wok fried eel with coriander and soy sauce and sizzling beef fillet in black pepper sauce (OK, kind of standard, but de-lishh). Where do I start? The scallops were beautifully presented in their shell, full of flavour and so very succulent and the garlic although seemed to be plentiful, did not overpower the flavour of the seafood. Now... the jellyfish. I have NEVER eaten jellyfish, and really did not know what to expect. A stark contrast to the scallops with a chewier texture, these strips of seafood were beautifully complimented with strips of cucumber and chilli. Having these two dishes as a starter were a great combination providing different textures, flavours and temperatures, with the jellyfish being served as a cold starter. Simply delicious.

How do you lead on from that? Well gorgeously tender strips of beef fillet, more tender than any steak I have ever had, served in a black pepper sauce, as well as wok fried eels... Oh the eels. They in my eyes are the rats of the sea. Sorry but there is something about them which makes me squirm. And I was shocked to discover that the dish was actually quite scrummy! Wok fried, they had a crispy skin and beautifully flakey flesh served in a tasty sauce of coriander and soy. I'm actually salivating now thinking of that wonderful experience...

A nice Cantonese is hard to come by, so as you can imagine that comes with a price, costing about £65 for two courses for two, plus a couple of beers each. However it is well worth a visit, and definitely deviate from the norm, you might surprise yourself!

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Get yourself down to your local!

Personal touches go along way in my books when it comes to serving your customers. Dining out isn't just about the food, it's about the experience. This is more often than not lost when it comes to many of the big restaurant chains, which is why it is always great to try out your local restaurants.

Having recently moved to another area of South London, there was one little place which clearly stood out: Bar Lenuccia. Set on the corner of Camberwell New road and Vassall road in an old pub, this pizzeria seemed a little out of place among the kebab shops and builder's cafes, yet it seemed friendly and inviting and a shame not to try it out given it was just around the corner!

So for my housemates birthday and 14 tummies needing to be fed with no where booked, it was decided that we would give our local a try. When we arrived they had clearly made an effort and put up balloons and banners around our table. A simple and welcoming touch which was even more appreciated given that we had only booked earlier that day - the birthday girl was very pleased!

The restaurant walls were filled with wooden musical instruments and local artists' work, quirky and interesting surroundings which one of my friends called it Ramsey's worst nightmare. I think this made  for an interesting setting and far better than the odd picture here and there. An added bonus which Bar Lenuccia offers is a ballroom at the rear with comedy acts, theatre and dance classes throughout the week, which if you eat in you are able to join in for free! 

Having worked in a restaurant for many years, there's nothing more intimidating than a large group of mouths to feed. However the lady that served us did so without panic and made her way down the table taking our orders, and names, so that not only would they know who took the orders, but also saving hassle when it came to billing at the end - even if she did take my name down as Ealy?!

The menu offered a vast array of pizza and pasta dishes as well as a few meat dishes, however no one does pizza and pasta quite like the Italians, so they were definitely on the cards! My choice (after much deliberation) was Tagliatelle al Pistacchio: freshly made gorgeous pieces of tagliatelle, served in a creamy sauce with smoked lardons and laced with crumbled pieces of pistachio. This according to the manager was new to the menu, and I hope it stays as I have to say this was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. True I am a big fan of Zizi's Pollo Picante, but the surroundings and service made for a far greater experience!

Service was swift, although a few dishes were slightly delayed, but the waitress was very apologetic and we were all in good spirits, so all in all there was very little to fault. Even to the end personal touches were being added, with a birthday Tiramisu complete with candle and a pre-recorded birthday song, was very much a welcomed touch!

Bar Lenuccia, expect to see me more often!