Temecula and Seattle

Since I started selling products manufactured out of a town called Temecula, situated between San Diego and Los Angeles, I’ve come across just one person who’s ever heard of the place, and so I had very limited expectations from a tourist perspective (pretty dreamy work jaunt though, so not complaining!). I was only there for a night and a half, so didn’t put too much pressure on that part of trip, expecting it to pass in an all too brief blur of sunshine and workshop. I was right. I have also never come across anything quite like it. In the midst of avocado farms, micro breweries and vineyards sits the peculiar Old Town; a miss mash of original buildings and mock-ups to resemble something straight from the wild west, complete except for horse drawn carriages, tumbleweed and the cowboys themselves. The impression I get is distinctly odd, it feels like a Disney resort town, populated with a mix of holiday makers and local youth boozing it up in awkward harmony. I wander in a daze past much merry making on sunday evening, but tiredness overcomes me on that first night, after the longest day I think I’ve endured, encompassing an early start, lengthy flight and a confusing six hour journey back in time. I settle for an easy option – a Denny’s diner take-out of philly cheese steak omelette served with hash brown, not the first time I’ll say this here – ‘looked gross but pretty much hit the spot’; it’s packed up for me, without question, like giant plane food that I just about manage to feed into my face whilst sat sloth-like in bed watching unfamiliar tellie before losing myself to zzzz’s.

The following day, I have my first, to my recollection, American sandwich shop experience, it’s one that induces a panic prickle of perspiration that pierces air con cool as I listen to the customer before me easily reel off his own complex order. My garbled attempt, whereby I’m sure I mismatch breads, fillings and dressings to much hilarity to those behind me, is delivered as an absolute beast of a plate. I congratulate myself on my half sandwich order as it’s still bigger than most UK equivalent wholes, whilst wondering how to squish it into my gob (I resort to weaponry); marbled rye with turkey, bacon, swiss, a proper plate full of salad and a bucket of diet coke.

Later, determined to experience at least one evening out in this strange town I venture out for an early dinner, taking recommendations and company, from local and owner of the business I’m here to visit. The Public House has a lively outdoor back yard which we head straight out to, bypassing whatever might be inside, headstrong in my desire to soak up as much sun before my transit to rainy Seattle as humanly possible, we perch on stools at a tall table underneath unnecessary, but cosy all the same, lamp heaters. I watch bemused as my giant plastic wine goblet is filled and then our waiter upturns the rest of the bottle rather than take it away; I must have nearly a pint of the red stuff, it lasts me all evening. We both choose a kobe beef burger, cooked correctly to order and smothered in a thick cloak of mushrooms, cheese and garlicky caramelised leeks. My only complaint is at the expense of an over large and dull bun and the slightly strangely seasoned fries. The US knows how to do a burger though huh?! A couple of hours of kip and frantic emailing session preludes a dazed flight across to Seattle.

Although I have a number of recommendations for Seattle, I’m in a similar state of lack of expectations, mainly because I haven’t had time to indulge in the sort of googling and planning I’d ordinarily prefer to bestow upon a trip, in order to whip myself into the necessary frenzied state of excitement. I do, however, have stowed tightly in my laptop bag, a printed article from Dinehard and the latest issue of Imbibe, grubby around the edges of my soon-to-be-destination section. No, my exuberance at visiting stems primarily from the simple association with that heady music of my youth and the birth of, now vilified, Starbucks; music and coffee; an evocative and soulful combo for this girl.

The most frequently and urgently proffered bar suggestion is for Canon , so with deft and cunning skill I keenly swing our party towards a visit on our first night out, reasoning that if it’s as good as I hope there’ll be time to return. An inconsequential front seems to ward off unworthy passers by, on what I’d learn is the hip part of town on Capitol Hill that’s populated by plenty more bars and restaurants sharing space as it does with University grounds. That diminutive front belies an interior that I immediately knew would win me over; an epic wall of bottles, reaching from floor to tin ceiling, shimmers and whispers behind a long bar, seeming to goad and tease the very Earth to quiver. A self proclaimed whisky and bitters emporium, I’m actually impressed with the range of other spirits, vermouths and liqueurs. Pure prohibition in style, the room is decked out in dark wood and antiques, there’s a gramophone in the bathroom that plays patchy radio stories on loop, though I can’t decipher, or forget, quite what.

The drinks menu is an impressive compilation of riffs on many of my favourites that truly challenges my powers of decision making, and in a highly unusual turn of events I’m not remotely tempted to order off menu. I start with a Fighattan that takes some beating, a mix of bourbon, cocchi torino, taverna, fig and boker’s bitters garnished with my now beloved double cherry. Move onto a silky martini; a dramatic version of the classic made with an old english gin, colin blanc, orange bitters, liquid nitrogen and a lemon twist that arrives in a flourish of ice cold smoke. I finish this session with a triplet of negroni’s (how could I not order a Negroni Experiment?!), a comparison of the drink made respectively with rum, rye and classic gin, they make me pretty happy indeed, every cocktail should come in multiples…! My friends are equally delighted with their aged old fashionds that come in dinky whisky bottles, but in retrospect would possibly have preferred a glass and ice.

Not only are the drinks here epic but the food appears to match in it’s appeal; propped up at the bar, front seats to the sometimes dramatic cocktail making action we sample a selection of those snacks. Pork belly buns with apple slaw are as good as any I’ve had; foie gras panna cotta is a playful dish that incorporates pineapple coulis, mint gel and peanut brittle; hanger tartare is a great example of it’s kind. I mourn baguette with truffle butter, marrow with smoked gremolata, carrot fritters with ginger and paprika aioli and that US menu stalwart of roasted brussel sprouts. It’s ok, I’m already engineering another trip in my head, it’s taking shape quite nicely.

Instead, we decide to move on and take our barman’s advise to lope around the corner to Quinns, a rowdy bar/restaurant with distinctly less genteel vibes and large goldfish bowl effect windows through which to observe. From either side. Taking a seat again at the bar we three order unhealthily as you like; fish and chips, wild boar sloppy joe and foie gras frites respectively. My mess of chips (not the best frankly but so obliterated with topping it’s almost irrelevant) is piled high with shaved foie gras and foie sauce, clearly not decadent enough, I request a duck egg. Oooof. No, it’s not remotely an attractive dish but, oh my, is it tasty. I can’t resist ordering us a comparatively dainty plate of cauliflower florets with capers, endive and mint, doused in meyer lemon, it’s a dish that I expect will find it’s way onto my own dinner table soon. Cocktails here are not really worth writing home about.

Of course I manage to swing a second visit to Canon on our penultimate evening, whereby we share an excellent little pizza topped with maroccan spiced lamb sausage, roasted red pepper, feta, mint and yoghurt. I go off piste with a longer and sweeter drink than I’d normally pick but am rewarded with the cutest delivery and an unusual take on the Last Word, here a Sparkling version of gin, maraschino, green chartreuse and lime. We’re accidentally brought a Swagger, or was it Hanky Panky? In any case it doesn’t last long.

Canon doesn’t feel a million miles from one of my London favourites, wine bar Sager & Wilde, with it’s lazy bedroom slatted lighting, bar seating and attentive, tailored service; I imagine this is what a cocktail bar from the pair might be like. Regardless, it’s right up my street and if we had one in London, I’d be a regular. It would be sure to vie for my attention, jostling with the likes of The Talented Mr Fox, Happiness Forgets, Satan’s Whiskers, Ruby’s, Nola and the new Pearl’s at The Cat and Mutton.

On a local recommendation for good sea food, we hit Steelhead Diner, overlooking Pike Place Market and adorned with fly fishing motifs, it seems a good choice. Whilst my companions tuck into chowder and mussels and everything I abhor, I embarrass them by ordering a very good chicken sandwich indeed, with some of the best chips I’ve ever tasted. I’m not so keen on the local gin I’ve chosen for my martini, but no worries, I’ll try again at the next joint. Following the stairs down towards the market, we chase an early dinner with drinks at Il Bistro . Although we don’t eat anything, I can highly recommend for cocktails if the guy pictured below is working. I start with a martini made with another local gin, this time a highly successful version made with Voyager, after which we decide we fancy something a bit different. Not sure quite what, this fabulous character (sorry – I’ve forgotten his name) comes to sit with us until he’s picked our brains and then delivers three well thought out, individually paired and balanced drinks.

Zig Zag bar is another I’ve been hankering after and so I’m pig headed enough to shoe horn in a trip here too on this final night in Seattle, scooting across the road, further towards the harbour and down more steps. A stern warning of a wait is in fact just 10 minutes or so before we’re ensconced in our own booth and again awaiting a new triplet of individually designed and successful drinks. I could get used to this….

Oh, and if you’re into rum then a visit to Rumba ought really to be on the cards, not ordinarily my thing but we were there for one of the many coffee parties about town that week and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a rum list remotely as extensive as the one here. I indulged in my first ever daiquiri (I know!) and a very sexy take on a rum old fashioned.

I didn’t visit nearly as many coffee or lunch spots as I’d hoped to, mainly because I was at the SCAA Symposium followed by the show for the duration of my stay. That’s not to say I didn’t try lots of coffee anyway, including many US roasts I’d never come across before, so nothing to complain about there! I did make it up to Stumptown on Capitol Hill one morning for coffee and doughnut and I was again reminded, from back to my last trip to the states, how much more slick in general coffee operations are out here. Maybe that’s unfair and it’s largely down to the grander scale? Each cafe seems geared up to cater to a far vaster audience, each one spaced out further than the tight network London has, and what I’m used to…

Dunno, but anyway, service was faultless, and delivered with what appeared to be a genuine smile, and when they mix up my filter brew, they insist my espresso is on them. Filter is served your choice; as a pour over, aeropress or self service batch. No biggie. No drama. No song and dance. My french toast doughnut is the best I have on this trip, I don’t know who makes them, but it’s a cake style, moist, spicy with a sugary glaze that is everything I want for breakfast/brunch with my coffee. They have a fancy cold brew beer tap style dispenser and also roast on site. Atmosphere is laid back and I’m joined by a mix of clientele, all the way from those taking meetings to runners gagging for a caffeinated pit stop to students from the nearby uni.

I attempt to stop by Victrola on Pike Street, but after some stern arguments with Google maps and consequently a later than planned arrival, I manage a short 5 minutes in the queue before deciding it’s time to head off to the show. Shame as I’m told it’s a great spot, I can vouch for the space, large and lofty, but sadly can’t comment on the coffee.

During my brief stay I also manage to scarf a couple of cuban sangers, a french dip sarnie at the sandwich shop underneath the Washington State Convention Centre, eat chicken potstickers, beef bulgari bowls, martini’s and tempura bacon(!) at Dragonfish across the road (great happy hour menus), some highly dodgy negronis and a cherry blossom doughnut from Top Pot that was sadly not as tasty as it was pretty looking and sounding.

My resounding impression of Seattle, after five short days, is just incredibly welcoming; nearly every person I meet, from passers-by on the street to those doing their job in the service industry, genuinely seem like couldn’t have gone out of their way to be more helpful. It feels small enough that I’d love to return to explore further, get more of a feeling as to what it’s like as a local, as though that might actually be possible.

Oh, and I fully indulged in a good old wallow through old memories watching Pearl Jam Twenty on the plane out of there.

Public House on Urbanspoon




Canon on Urbanspoon

Quinn�s on Urbanspoon

Steelhead Diner on Urbanspoon

Il Bistro on Urbanspoon

Stumptown Coffee on Urbanspoon

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Fig, Feta and Juniper Focaccia

I’ve had variations of this recipe ruminating and germinating about my noddle for a while now. It started out as a twist on a classic Italian black grape bread; I paired tiny sweet sable grapes with crushed juniper and sprigs of rosemary; it was satisfying with a good and intense pecorino, but I had an overwhelming urge to pair the ripe lusciousness of fresh figs with herbal, sweet and citrusy juniper. I almost went really sweet with a shower of sugar to carry gin evocative spice in caramelised rivulets. In the end though a balance of sweet and savoury won out, as is often the case when I’m involved.

This bread is an evocative Mediterranean mixture of sticky ripe figs, salty, creamy cheese and fragrant juniper, muddled and melded with a punchy green olive oil. I want to eat this in all the half light hours, either end of the day; with a freshly made brew am or a ripe and fruity red to toast the waning, winking sun. Almost a meal in itself, I accompanied a chunk with a juicy orange and fennel salad anointed with grassy olive oil and plenty of seasoning; all the flavours of sunshine that I crave as summer toys with us, splashing promising beams and at once withdrawing with equal, taunting ease.

It’s hard to resist something so pretty; painterly watercolour splashes of purple, bleed creeping, spilling across the bubbly bready canvas.

The following is based on the E5 Bakehouse ciabatta recipe

250g ’00′ or strong white bread flour

190g warm water

lump of leaven (I used around 60g but a handful is good)

tablespoon olive oil plus extra for drizzling

teaspoon salt

3 small ripe figs

around 75g good, barrel aged feta

10 juniper berries crushed

7g sachet fast action yeast

Dissolve fast action yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar then add leaven to this mixture along with olive oil. Squidge until the leaven is broken down and the mixture resembles porridge, add the flour and stir to combine. Leave for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the top of the dough, work in and leave for 30 minutes.

Gently knead by pulling across edges of dough and rotating and repeating until it tightens up. Leave for 30 minutes. Repeat another two to three times.

Flour a work surface and manipulate the dough with your fingers, pushing and pulling it into a rough oblong. Leave for 60 minutes to prove.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees, over the surface of the dough gently push in eighths of ripe figs, and scatter across juniper berries crushed in a pestle and mortar, crumbled feta, a generous drizzle of olive oil and sea salt flakes.

Bake for around 25 minutes until cooked through, golden, and the figs have released their juices.

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Ideas for Wild Garlic + Pancetta, Wild Garlic & Pecorino Potato Cakes

I’m such a bad cook. Completely fickle. Like each new food fad, I view each new season’s produce with fresh verve, as though never encountered before, with virgin’s eyes. I sparkle and crackle with inspiration, feverishly hunting out whatever new-to-this-season-thing-it-is I’m desperate to get my hands on, spending perhaps a full weekend in the kitchen fiddling around like a bipolar person in pure mania phase. Pairing and jigsawing flavours and methods, I forget entirely last years exact same excitement, and the year before. Each and every season in fact.

However, I fail entirely at keeping that momentum going, quickly losing inspiration as work becomes heavy or going out takes a precedence. Until I’m awakened again when the next incoming season fills me with thrills afresh, heart pumping again with the joy of the change of seasons and the promise of flavours new. Winter to Spring, Summer to Autumn, each heralds it’s own uniquely magical properties.

So anyway. Now that we’ve established I’m rubbish I’ll plough ahead. This season/months item du jour is wild garlic. It wasn’t that easy for me to get hold of, but is presumably pretty easy to grow, so I’m going to try that next year. In the end it was the lovely Itamar from Honey and Co that responded to a tweet and offered to give me a bundle. This rewarded me, with not only a quick chat with the man himself, but an excuse for lunch, and yes, it’s still one of my favourite spots in London; I had a very fine couple of breakfasts there recently, though I do struggle not to order the Fitzroy bun…..

Trouble with fresh garlic and transporting it, despite being well wrapped in jay cloths, and  paper, in a bag, is that it really, really pongs. I spent the journey home via tube and train smelling like I’d got inebriated whilst eating Nigella’s 40 cloves of garlic chicken recipe the night before, and was now emitting sweaty pungent odours. Actually, when not amongst a crowd, I really love the smell; it’s vibrant, fresh and headily garlicky, long narrow leaves a bright, lively green, but there’s no denying it permeates.

My first instinct was to make a simple dish inspired by one I’d had recently at Quality Chop House. Jerusalem artichokes chopped into halves or quarters, depending on size, boiled for around 15 minutes and then fried with a thinly sliced red onion, some sliced pancetta, a bunch of roughly chopped wild garlic, field mushrooms, plenty of seasoning and then finished with a scattering of diced smokey ardrahan cheese. Super hearty, comforting and, ahem, farty; they’re not called fartichokes for nothing.

I’ve long had a fascination with potato on pizza. It’s clearly wrong; laying carb upon carb, and yet when I finally tried it – I just understood. Don’t try and make me explain, but something about the combination just works. Since I had the ingredients left over from the previous night, and they’d worked so nicely together; nutty against smokey with fresh aromatic garlic, I assembled a very similarly flavoured dinner for a second round. Taking my regular flatbread/ pizza recipe, with a blob of leaven made the night before incorporated, I made little pizzettes, layered, starchy scale-like with wafer thin sliced jerusalem artichokes. I scattered over this a fried mixture of shallots, pancetta and wild garlic, finished with cubes of more of that delicious Ardrahan, and baked for around 8-10 minutes on a preheated baking tray at my oven’s highest setting.

My favourite of all of the dishes I experimented with was inspired by an Instagram from Lizzie – “oooooh, potato cakes, I haven’t made those for a while” and suddenly that’s all I fancied. I was originally planning on making jerusalem artichoke hash brown, rosti type things with wild garlic, served with duck hearts. But since I couldn’t get hold of either the offal or the carbs, I admitted defeat. My gut’s probably thanking me to be honest. As is the boy. Not sure how many of those ‘chokes are healthy. These are a triumphant dish to serve for brunch; super easy and packed with flavour.

I also added wild garlic this week to a soothing vegetable stew that was nothing much to look at but tasty all the same and some buttery scrambled eggs on toast that were a dream team combo.

Pancetta, wild garlic and pecorino potato cakes – serves 2 as a light brunch

250g new potatoes

50g grated pecorino

1 large egg beaten

5 rashers of pancetta finely chopped

bunch wild garlic chopped



Boil spuds for around 15 minutes or until tender (I scrub but keep the skins on). Meanwhile, lightly fry the wild garlic and pancetta. Roughly mash potatoes, then add the egg, pecorino and pancetta mixture and stir to combine. I prefer mine with a little texture, not too smooth.

The mixture will be fairly loose. Divide into 4 balls, dip into seasoned flour to coat and then into an oiled pan. Flatten, if they aren’t already, lightly press down and cook for a couple of minutes each side until they’re warmed through and have a light crust. Serve with a fried quails egg or two.

And with that, I’m probably done with cooking in April, I guess I’ll see you next month for asparagus fever ;-)




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Breakfasting in Style – Street Kitchen, Fingers Crossed & Tuckshop

Street Kitchen were clearly proud of their latest location and spanking new breakfast menu as I received a flurry of messages via Instagram and Twitter keen for me to check it out. I had no doubt it would be an illustrious affair, but as with their other locations, not so easy to get to for those of us who aren’t London town nine to fivers. Oh, but they were persistent with tales of bacon baps and an egg dish, that having called me out on my appropriation of a number of similar style dishes recently, were seemingly confident would lure me. They weren’t wrong, in the end I cracked, and called on a friend to join me in accepting their invite.

It was a balmy Friday, and we found Street Kitchen sat alone on peaceful Devonshire Square, sun beams bouncing off the silver truck, for all the world a mirage, if it wasn’t for the tantalising wafts of pig that were tickling my nostrils. I’d already heard ridiculous tales of the ‘bacon’; actually a confit rolled pork belly seasoned with rosemary, so we kept it simple, ordering one unadorned bacon roll (you can add a number of other breakfasty ingredients to this) to share, and the egg dish split into two mini portions. Wow, if only every Friday could start this way, I’d be a happy (fat. Possibly dead) girl. The bacon roll is the best of it’s kind I’ve ever encountered; squishy brioche, lashings of ketchup and that pork; fatty, juicy, herby pork that’s flavour simply shimmies with deliciousness. Or was that me on my little crate stool, having my world rocked? Eggs are poached to perfection, then caught on the griddle to create an addictive little fried crust, they bob in a pot of healthy tomato and spinach, such clean and vibrant flavours. Coffee is made using Caravan beans and not to be sniffed at, either via the espresso machine or as a regularly refreshed batch brew.

Mark Jankel comes over to check we’re happy, bringing with him dessert. Oooof. I’m stuffed, but can’t resist digging into an ample portion of sweet and tangy rhubarb topped with vanilla flecked creamy yoghurt and apple soaked granola. Seriously good stuff, I’m horrified when I hit the bottom. Oops. He spends some time chatting with us, explaining the ethos behind his business; his vision being to maintain this level of quality, as they expand and eventually find a permanent site, to grow sustainably and carefully. As he speaks in his lovely way, I can’t help finding it entirely endearing how literally each of the ingredients on his menus comes with a whole story attached, that of the producer and terroir and it’s history.

If you miss brekkie, it finishes at 10am, don’t fret, they move on to an equally epic sounding lunch service shortly after.

I discovered Fingers Crossed around a month ago after seeing it mentioned by a friend who’s local to the area. They opened at the very tail end of last year but I expect I’d never have found them if I’d not seen his mention, as they’re way up on Amhurst Road, a fair way up from Hackney Central, not on Twitter, and don’t make a lot of noise. Shame. Though I rather gather they like the laid back ease, the lack of out-of-towners (like me), or yummy mummy types; an air of insouciance gently pervades.

The exterior doesn’t present anything out of the ordinary; a black painted shopfront and slicker, graphic branding on the window wouldn’t look out of place anywhere from where we are, down to Shoreditch and doesn’t give much away. Stepping inside however, I’m immediately transported to a greasy spoon, in both aroma and decor. In fact nothing remotely shouts ‘speciality coffee’, until I clock the Linea and bags of Hasbean on the counter, quietly exhaling as I do a quiet sigh of relief. I order an espresso and settle into decidedly retro, or simply perfunctory, formica style tables with rather incongruous rustic, mismatched benches. I’m soon marked out as a coffee nerd and the barista, Luke, engages me with coffee chatter; turns out he’s many a cafe littered in his past, including the likes of The Pavillion and Elliot’s.

It slowly dawns on me that those around me on this late Saturday afternoon seem to know each other and even the staff and owners kick back at the tables next to me. I’m pleasantly surprised when my espresso reveals all the flavour notes described by Luke, a classic coffee flavour but with pure chocolate orange notes at the finish. I enjoy sitting in such relaxed surroundings that more and more remind me of student digs; punk plays loudly from the stereo, wooden wall panels are rudely painted in garish pastels and the door out to the lavs takes you back out into a home corridor, as though someone’s decided to turn their living room into a cafe. There’s enigmatic nods to coffee geekery as niche books and magazines strewn around but it’s certainly downplayed despite Luke’s skills. A friend has returned recently and found him now in their chefs role, which may explain something, he clearly picked up a passion for bread making along his journey, and produces some prototype sourdough at the end of my visit.

So maybe check who’s making your coffee…

Anyway, it’s the completely fabulous and really reasonable brunches that’ll coax me back, a menu that’s bursting with delicious iterations on my favourite meal of the day. I umm over avocado and feta on toast, aaah at the truffled mushroom, raclette and thyme toastie, almost order the aubergine baked eggs but switch to the one with chorizo and yoghurt at the last minute. It’s the perfect tonic for this time of the week. I return the following weekend to try their homemade doughnuts; not the best lookers, but with a deftness of flavour and texture that belies the eye.

Somewhere I continue to return is Tuckshop, a place that delivers that rare thing; a delightful, overall and complete package. A space that I always enjoy sitting in, whether that’s to work for a couple of hours on my laptop between meetings, or as an excuse for a slice of Bittersweet Bakers peanut butter and banana loaf with a tasty brew. Where else can you sit beneath the hypnotic patterns of a wafflefractor, listening to an eclectic soundtrack and eating tasty food, in the forecourt of a design studio. Tuckshop was a long time in the planning and construction, almost grown from the ground up as Magnus learnt, and then did, everything himself, from the structural work through to growing the plants; this lends a really organic atmosphere that’s reinforced by trailing foliage and that dizzying lighting. It’s the first of what he plans to be a series of communal, canteen type spaces, here fronting up White Rabbit studios and becoming an extension of the creative offices.

They launched with coffee from Alchemy last year, made by Sam who was previously head barista at Nude, but more recently it could be anything they’ve found and liked. I’ve had a fantastic Newtown filter and a very pleasing Climpson too over the last few months.

Perhaps the best situation for a Tuckshop visit however, is on a weekend brunch with a rumbling belly, as their avocado and poached eggs on toast, served with a wedge of lemon, drizzle of herby oil, mouth tingling chilli and and fistful of rocket is the best I’ve found in London. Soak up the casual ambience, have a banter with the staff or just kick back and keep yourself to yourself.

Just a quick note here as I’ve written about them before, that Dunnefrankowski at Sharps is always worth a visit, always for the coffee and tastings, but also for their rotation of food pop ups. I haven’t tried the latest yet, an intriguing sounding sourdough flat bread offering from Flats with selection of accompaniments, but with their impressive inaugural residency F.A.T. and second of Death By Burrito, they’re yet to get it wrong. I was in just at the weekend whereby I found them hosting The Feta Lab, what is intended to to be a once a month pop-up. I arrive late, unintentionally becoming their very last customer of the day and so am served the dregs, but oh, what very delicious dregs they are. The sort of thing to brighten any morning, delivering notions of sun drenched greek Islands and salty sea breeze. I fully intend to try their shakshuka, and arrive in a more timely fashion next time they’re back.

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Brunch Buns

Brunch is the one meal most of us look forward to the very most, due to a combination of factors, I expect. Rather than a specific time of day, brunch signifies a style of eating that encompasses a feeling of leisure, hence why it’s usually a day-off treat, as well as the type of foods that are usually synonymous. It’s the only meal that allows regression; gives license to eat like a child with adult tastebuds. All the things we want in one meal that are normally rationed, often encompassing sweet and savoury in one fell swoop as is often the case for pancakes and french toast style dishes.

When I think ‘brunch’, what springs to mind are long episodes of pleasurely dining, the constitutes usually consisting of a number of the following; bacon, good sourdough toast, eggs, avocado, condiments, cheese, doughnuts, mushrooms; and always plenty of good coffee, perhaps prosecco or a marmalade martini if I’m feeling that way inclined (usually). Put simply, it’s a feast for the senses, a flavour bomb to the palate, umami to the extreme. It’s usually hearty and carb heavy, not least as brunch is often bedfellow to the hangover.

Here, I wanted to combine all those elements that I crave, to create one ultimate brunch dish. I wanted something punchy, gooey, satisfying and comforting all at once and it was always going to come in bread form; I’m that much of an addict. I have a jar of Freddie’s F.A.T. kimchi sauce that I bought last weekend from the delightful London Borough of Jam, but you could substitute for another hot or pungent sauce to your own tastes. I’m ridiculously pleased with these, they’re exactly the sort of thing I crave when I’m after brunch, but have never been quite able to put my finger on what before; deceptively light and fluffy with a crispy, cheese enhanced crust but with an intensely flavour filled core.

A powerhouse of umami and carbs; I give you the Brunch Bun.

Makes 9 Brunch Buns

300g strong plain flour

200g ’00′ flour

50g melted butter

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons of salt

small piece leaven – about 75g

275ml warm water

7g sachet fast action yeast

100g grated Lincolnshire Poacher (or other cheddar style cheese)

75g n’duja

F.A.T. kimchi sauce (or hot sauce of your choice)

4 spring onions, finely sliced

Stir yeast into the water along with a teaspoon of sugar. Measure out flours into a large bowl. When the yeast mixture is frothy, add the leaven and break down with your fingers so it’s incorporated into the mixture. Add the yeast mixture to the flours, along with the butter and combine, giving a light knead, then return the bowl, cover and leave for around an hour.

Sprinkle the salt on top and work fully into the dough then leave for another hour, folding the dough briefly every 20 minutes.

Roll the dough out into a largish rectangle and evenly dot over the n’duja, sprinkle over the cheese and spring onions and spoon over the hot sauce (I used about half a jar). Take one of the long ends and carefully roll up, then cut into 9 even slices and place in a greased baking tin.

Leave to rest for another 30 minutes. Brush all over the top with a beaten egg and sprinkle with plenty of nigella seeds.

Bake in preheated oven at 220 degrees for around 25 minutes and let cool before removing from the tin.

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8 Hoxton Square, Quality Chop & White Lyan

I’d been keeping an ear to the ground for news on the sister restaurant of 10 Greek Street ever since I heard news that there was to be one. You see, although I quite liked the first, I’d never really warmed to it; not in the way that so many had. I’m not sure if it was the clattery, bustling, market like atmosphere, tiny perchy tables, or the food; that should have been my sort of thing but was just slightly off the mark on the couple of occasions I visited. The best thing I had was an utterly inspired dessert dish of tonic sorbet in a pool of gin that quenched so many thirsts on a sweltering Summers day. Pushing any preconceptions aside, I was more than curious to give the second location a new chance.

8 Hoxton Square is conveniently located just a short stroll from many good places to get a drink; I’m in the vicinity sadly just a smidge too late for a coffee (Macintyre Coffee & Embassy East – that would have been you) but perfectly timed for a second visit to the curious White Lyan; a cocktails bar on Hoxton Street that eschews ice and all perishables and, I think, the only place I’ve ever not ordered off menu. You can’t. The vast majority of the cocktail magic is performed in a couple of hours pre service, so that all you’re presented with as a customer is a bar and  a large fridge filled with pre mixed and diluted potions.

The concept is very love or hate and I’m still not entirely sure which camp I’m in; I love the innovation, it’s exciting seeing a bar operate in such a different way, however you do lose all of the theatre that traditional cocktail making creates. It’s a very clinical space and I actually rather like a lot of the paraphernalia that normally goes hand in hand with cocktails. I’m more than once brought to mind of the emperors new clothes; the room itself is not one I’d choose to inhabit and if there wasn’t a spot at the bar, frankly, I’d move on. However a spot at the bar *is* captivating, as the drinks, though not the making of, are very interesting indeed; there’s a certain danger in having the urge to try one of everything to see how simple descriptions are interpreted. I guess, with a group, you could. The Negroni, for example, works despite no ice and no zest, the only task the bar tender does is to fill the glass with smoke and sulphur from a lit match.

I feel very conscious that once the menu has been exhausted, there’s a danger of the novelty wearing off. I think that ultimately the bar needs to prove there’s method in their madness and legs in this type of menu by making sure they update their selection of drinks regularly to maintain a captive audience.

That said, I had a delecate little drink on Friday, named Pixie Dust (what’s not to love about that right?!) from what is to be their new menu; a combination of vermouth and lemongrass distillate that was enchantingly pretty and all of the dainty.

Now, whilst I was sat at the bar, waiting to meet my friend for our reservation at 8 Hoxton Square, I receive a phone call from said friend to say she couldn’t make it. No biggie; it was due to circumstances out of her control and really wasn’t a problem. However, it instantly changed the dynamics of the evening and highlighted the difference mood can make to an experience, especially after a mood enhancing couple of sharpeners. Ahem. I decide to honour our reservation anyway. Why wouldn’t I? I’ve long been an advocate of solo dining. But, oh! What a difference having that decision taken away makes… Rather than striding in with my head held high, proud to be able to dine alone in this wonderful city, confident of my ability not to crumble without conversion. No, I walk somewhat sheepishly into the restaurant, mutter something about being stood up (what do they care?!) feeling a little bit like a failure. Ridiculous behaviour. Don’t worry, I gave myself a stern talking to the next day.

There’s nothing worse than dining opposite an empty seat and so I request a spot at the bar. The main kitchen bar is downstairs, the one on the ground floor is more of a prep/drinks bar and has admirably large stool tops for my ever expanding behind. Once I have a Negroni to hand I allow myself a glance around the room; it’s as different to 10 Greek Street as two restaurants can be. In my mind, 10 Greek Street is all shiny, white, sharp, tight and screechy (but maybe that was my close proximity to the kitchen, sat before it on both occasions), here is a room that is languid and dark, an abundance of wood  lends a cabin-in-the-woods feel; mellow and inviting. The blackboard menu’s allow the same market vibe, there’s also white washed brick and shiny copper bar tops that mirror the former, but there’s none of the harried, frenetic air, I feel like I can breath; 10 Greek Street allowed to relax perhaps, to breath a sigh of spacious relief.

The service, I find soothing to my bruised spirit, I relax and order a slightly strange list of dishes. Just things that randomly appeal. My plan to share a number of dishes gone with my companion. I’m a slave to all things doughnut and so zepole, an Italian version, scream to me. I’m cruelly rewarded with a pungently salty anchovy filling (fish/seafood being my food nemesis – if I haven’t told you a million times before); my bad for not asking frankly, but they’re whisked from sight and I’m not billed, I certainly would have paid for MY mistake. Instead I nibble on rather good house bread, always a good sign; a bouncy corn bread and moist (sorry) onion focaccia particularly moreish.

I’m so hungry at this point that my small plate of orecchiette with n’duja and cime di rapa is hoovered up at an alarming rate; lovely and comforting; turnip tops (new kale? Seen it adorning many a menu of late….) adding savoury green to the punch of spicy sausage. And when all else fails; steak and chips is generally an easy option. Well, a version of it anyway. Chips here are aggressively salty and give just the right crunch, just the thing for my frame of mind, served with a rich aioli, as is the perfect rendition of venison tartare, topped with truffle and a dwarfed quails egg. It’s worth mentioning here that the wine I’m recommended is just perfect too, I forget now what it was (Hi potent cocktails!) but as with their first, the carefully and very reasonably curated wine menu is as much the draw as the food.

Having made myself comfortable now, I’m in the mood to finish things properly. I’m SO close to ordering the almond and marmalade cake but the bar tender nudges me in the direction of the pavlova with rhubarb and pistachio. Good move. Meringue is just as it should be; exterior shattering to gooey chewy sweetness and the seasonal additions are as delicious as they are pretty. A martini completes my meal and finishes me off in more ways than one.

In the end, once I was in the right mind set, I thoroughly enjoyed my solo meal at 8 Hoxton Square and would err towards dining there alone again. As long as I could guarantee a spot at the bar that is. I’ll definitely be adding it to my growing list of great places to grab a drink (wine or cocktail) and a bite.

Quality Chop House remains one of my favourite London restaurants, but strangely is somewhere I’ve never dined alone; I wonder if there’s any correlation? And yet, I just know that I’d have a fine time alone too, sat at one of the tiny tables at the back of the bar, with my thoughts and a few questions about the wine and the produce, maybe a little banter on their cocktail ingredients or doughnuts.

Having only dined in the bar area previously, with many different combinations of friends and family, and always to utter success, I was feeling less confident about the prospect of a fixed menu, as is the only option when booked into the restaurant, which my friend and I were. I shouldn’t have worried, the meal we had last week was one of the very best I’ve enjoyed in London and the clear choice to take someone that’s sadly leaving the country and had yet to visit.

I’ve written about Quality Chop House in more length previously, almost exactly a year ago in fact, so here’s a quick run through of what we ate for an astounding, just £35 a head plus wine.

Starters, as is common in the restaurant world these days, are simply put but deliver far more than their written words. Two spears of endive arrive unannounced, filled with soft squiggles of cheese and pine nuts; I can’t help thinking a modern alternative to that very retro celery stick. A small plate of wrinkled and folded prosciutto is quickly devoured, a salty morsel to tame our aperitif of choice (clearly; Negroni), this is followed quickly with purple sprouting broccoli sat atop a smear of bagna cauda and draped with heavenly beef lardo. A plate, simply described as ‘carrot, brown butter’ is so astonishing we dip in with disbelief, astounded that carrot could be presented in such different ways, textures and flavours delight from crisply fried through tenderly roasted to brown butter sweet daubes. My friend’s crab on toast is declared another success, as are her optional scallops, but it’s my fish friendly dish of jerusalem artichokes with cheese and bacon that is so wildly delicious it’s in danger of eclipsing anything after it.

Again – I needn’t have worried.

Another undeclared small plate arrives, just because the chef had them and thought we might like. Do we heck?! Our miniature felled forrest is made up of tiny morels stuffed with foie gras parfait. HEAVENLY. We’re stuffed, but our main starts to fill the table; tender slices of Herdwick lamb, leg and breast, sit on a celeriac mash, pearl barley and herbs makes an interesting accompaniment as does a clever little dish of salsify that’s encased in a tapenade wrap and is crisply delicious. You cannot come here and not request the confit potatoes. They’re quite ridiculous. So we have, and those turn up too. It’s sheer merit to the chef that we make it through all that food, wiping plates sparkling clean.

Dessert is another triumph of flavours, textures and temperatures; once more really clever stuff; a cool milk ice cream is paired with a kind of whipped dulce de leche, with chocolate biscuit crumbs, hazelnuts and a pair of intense little chocolate macarons.

If we think we’re done, the two little chunks of posh crunchie are just the right side of decadence and send us on our way feeling spoilt and entirely elated with our meal. Simple honest food, extremely well sourced with unexpected flourishes of brilliance and deftness of cooking that leaves me feeling this has to be one of the best set meals in London right now.

It’s worth mentioning the restaurant’s recent proliferation to the shop spaces next door where they now stock many of the products and produce served in the restaurant. I pop back the following day to pick up another bottle of the wine I’d so enjoyed the night before, a natural Pinot Noir from Alsace that has a light natural spritz and a satisfyingly ripe and fruity flavour. I also bag a little jar of whipped lardo, as you do, who wouldn’t want salty, melty spreadable pig with the texture of a cloud?! A tiny jar of red wine salt, is purchased mainly on merit of it’s colour; PURPLE SALT. Sourdough from Elliots Cafe down at Borough Market is as good as the best in London, I’ve since been back to buy more, an incredibly rich and fudgy slab of hazelnut brownie, French salted butter and that king of cheeses; Tunworth, all become mine. They also sell their doughnuts when the pastry chef decides to make a batch. I, buffoon, did not get one of these. I *did* get some streaky bacon and sated the doughnut craving the next day like this

So, anyway, there you have three, very different, recommendations. And certainly, in the case of the restaurants, a good example of how different an experience you can have, or tailer, to befit your mood and your company.

8 Hoxton Square on Urbanspoon

The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

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Whisky Doughnut Eggy Bread with Candied Bacon

You know? Sometimes, I’m not sure wether to be proud or disgusted with myself for coming up with the things I do. Am I the only one whose brain farts this sort of thing out on a regular basis? Dunno. But, I guess someone’s got to it, might as well be me…

I had Manhattan doughnut dough in the freezer (as you do) crying out to be converted into something tasty. Add to this a Sunday full of procrastination ahead, as one generally does when supposed to be working/writing, in my case this tends to manifests itself as a spot of pottering around in the kitchen. I’ve had an unusual hankering for French toast this week; sod that, actually eggy bread – I always feel like I’m letting my child self down by using it’s posh name. This is where my head does that thing it does, where it combines a couple of things I like the sound of to make something superior; or at least I think the combined effort is, at any rate, more interesting.

Since the Manhattan dough is laced with whisky soaked citrus peel and cherries anyway, it seemed to make sense to add a glug more to the egg mixture. Bacon always goes with whisky right? Or is that just me again? It seemed pointless to hold back at this stage so I candied some streaky bacon too.

No, it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but you’re not going to eat it every day are you? It *is* the sort of thing I want for brunch at home though i.e. not something you can get anywhere else and totally the sort of thing I’d serve if I had my own place. Make sure you have vegetables for dinner and don’t tell your Mum ok?!

This is completely adaptable to whatever you have to hand; be that regular ring doughnuts, brioche or even sourdough bread. The cherries in mine add an interesting sweetness which I love, and make for a juicy foil to the egg and bacon. You could add maple syrup, dust with sugar etc etc

Soak the doughnuts or bread in a beaten mixture of egg with a pinch of salt, slosh of whisky and spoon of melted butter, then fry in a little more butter for a few minutes on each side until crispy. For the candied bacon, just grill some streaky rashers topped with a layer of sugar (I use brown), and keep turning until crisp and glossy.

Really not the prettiest dish in the world, to be fair I didn’t try that hard, but oh so good!

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Third Wave Doughnuts?

I’ve been bemoaning London’s lack of many good doughnut options for too long, it got to the point where I was quite seriously rolling out my own creations in a bid to get more good and more interesting doughnuts to the good people of this City, great coffee to go with would, of course, be an added bonus.

For a long, long time St John doughnuts reigned supreme, I wrote about them nearly two years ago when they were the highlight of any trip to Maltby Street Market, if not the sole reason for the dough promising pilgrimage for many. So, the excitement at seeing these, what we all felt at the time were infallible creations, despatched out to cafes and shops across the Capital, as an expansion of the St John empire, was sorely tempered by a creeping fear that they weren’t quite what they were. My eyes would light up greedily at seeing them on a counter; “lo” coffee and doughnuts finally together! Paired with London Borough of Jam fillings, this should have been THE fairy tale ending.

However, for some time now, I’ve been left with a nagging sense of faint disappointment, that superior doughnut itch not quite satisfied on too many more recent experiences; a concern that in expanding they’d diluted their magical quality, lost an illusive but essential ingredient; even those at the Maltby Street bakery didn’t have quite the soul restoring, hangover busting effects I once so looked forward to of a Saturday morning. The dough, maybe a touch heavier, maybe not quite as fresh (certainly in the case of those delivered elsewhere), the fillings, maybe not quite as firm and rich – oh, don’t get me wrong; still far and away better than anything else around, but those clutched and treasured brown paper bags, contained just not *quite* a filling worth the trek they once were.

There was a suspicion that this loss of a certain quality coincided with star doughnut baker Justin Gellatly’s departure. A number of us have, therefore, been keeping a keen eye on his subsequent venture, a bread stall at Borough Market called Bread Ahead that he heads up with Flour Power founder Matt Jones; this weekend he launched his doughnuts along with a whole range of baking classes. Clearly myself and fellow doughnut and Negroni addict @ClerkenwellBoy were unable to keep away…..

Justin had suggested we pop by the bakery first to say hi, so after a quick espresso at The Notes coffee truck (obvs), that’s exactly what we do, battling through swathes of food tourists, waves of cheese and meat aromas and stalls groaning with tempting produce and samples. Peering through the bakery window, we’re warmed to find Justin and his wife working busily over vast crates of doughy and sugary globes, piping and inflating the already plump orbs with heavenly fillings. He ushers us in and takes a few moments to show us around his bakery, a place of which he’s clearly proud; epicly sized dough mixers and a cleverly designed doughnut prover/fryer (WANT!!!) share space with racks of bannetons, ovens and centralised work spaces (so no-one has to work facing a wall) in a bright space flooded with the natural light from large windows. The aroma of rosemary from a batch of foccacia stirs my hunger to dangerous levels and we’re sent on our merry way with boxes of todays creations; zesty lemon curd softened with cream, classic custard and a salted caramel topped with honeycomb.

It’s the stuff of (my) dreams. The sun has bestowed it’s blessing on the morning, the subsequent warmth reinforced with the rosy glow of spending time with such an honest and hard working guy as Justin, who clearly cares about his staff and products in a way that is heart-pump, life affirming stuff. We find a quiet spot for the religious moment itself, blasting Instagram first, of course, and both select a doughnut. You knew we’d both choose the salted caramel, right? Of course we did. There’s no dainty way to do this, so face first it is; a snowstorm of sugar goes flying as I tear my way into the heavy doughnut, so full of caramel cream that at the half way point I retrieve a shard of honeycomb from the box and scoop it out like the best warm, soft serve in the world. I probably shouldn’t mention here, that I caught @clerkenwellboy going in with his hands…oops! It’s a doughnut unlike any I’ve encountered before; the dough a mere breath, a whisper of a shell to surround an indecent amount of filling, light as a sugary kiss finishing in caramel snog. It finishes us off and we pack the others away to share later.

It would be rude not to indulge in the full experience, and the scent of rosemary has lodged itself in my head anyway, so we head over to the Bread Ahead stall to admire crackled rye loaves, towers of brownies, a mesh of olive and cheese sticks, slabs of focaccia and lengths of Cathedral bread.

Oh, but I can’t finish here without a mention to the other doughnuts that have quickly popped up on the scene; the last few weeks has seen me increasingly gazing at images of a yellow door and crates of square doughnuts on Instagram. Last weekend, enough was enough, and a friend and I decided to check out 1235 Doughnuts on Columbia road ourselves. A last minute tweet, late on Saturday night crushed those plans so completely that we were bereft. As quickly as a doughnut shaped hole in our lives was created, it was filled via the reassurance that we could get them at Lockhart; this excited us no end as it’s a restaurant that is high on my list of places to visit for dinner, and our reasoning was that brunch would be even better. Well, what a roller coaster of an emotional weekend this was turning out to be; brunch dreams were dashed just as quickly as they had been proffered (they were already over subscribed – should have guessed this TBH) however they could fit us in for doughnuts. We were happy to take whatever we could at this stage and headed up on Sunday morning.

And, well isn’t Lockhart the cutest place? Sweet but not twee, breezy and bright, the restaurant could easily be a country farmhouse kitchen; it certainly feels far from the frenetic London outside. Full of wooden beams and light paint, reclaimed furniture and vintage crockery, it feels Southern and spacious, homely and calming. Service is the friendliest I’ve come across for a while and we sit, all civilised at a little wooden table by the door, whilst brunches are served all around us, taunting us, just out of our reach. It’s fine, we’re here for the doughnuts anyway; it seems to make sense to order one of each, so we do; salted caramel, chocolate and vanilla.

Attempting a modicum of decorum, we carve into the diminutive squircular doughnuts with a knife, careful not to displace too much of the filling and devour; politeness stops there as cream dribbles and sugar ends up all over the place. We wash down any embarrassment with bottomless cups of batch Union brew. Brad MacDonald and wife Molly’s creations are smaller and more gnarly than their Bread Ahead cousins, dough is slightly tighter, denser, crisper and less precise. That’s not to say they’re not fabulous – they are and I would have said best in show a week ago; chocolate is reminiscent of childhood memories, grainy with the memories of Nesquick and hot cocoa, vanilla is classic done well but it’s the salted caramel that is a clear winner. Of course.

I’m now desperate to return for brunches of smoked brisket hash, buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy, chicken and waffles, *that* cornbread and breakfast martinis. Not forgetting those doughnuts. Of course.

Are we entering a third wave of doughnuts to go alongside our beloved third wave coffee? Beyond the traditional English bakery, raspberry filled and bready numbers, and their cheap and cheerful American counterparts; Krispy Creme and Dunkin’ Donuts. Will we see more interesting flavour incarnations next please? Peach melba perhaps in Summer or raspberry and rose, violet and blackberry, rhubarb AND custard. When will we get candied bacon and whisky cream? Pistachio cream and violet glaze? Yuzu curd, salted artisan chocolate cream, vermouth glazes??

Or maybe that’ll remain my domain…..Hmmmm, I say bring it on!


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Yorks Bakery Cafe – Birmingham

The last six weeks or so of my life have been a bit of an insane flurry of emails and spreadsheets, as a small gang of us, headed up by Hasbean’s Steve, have worked furiously together to put on the UK Barista Championships. The first stage of which was a mega merging of all the regional heats up at Birmingham’s Millennium Point. Yes, I understand the vast majority of the population has not the remotest interest in the very odd, super intense and focussed, world of speciality coffee and its strange competitions, but well, that’s what my life has become. I love it. Previous visits to the city have been  restricted to the NEC and the inside of hotel rooms on the less salubrious outskirts of the city, so I was keen to recieve suggestions of places to visit.

First on my list was Yorks Bakery Cafe, a coffee shop that a friend has spent the last few months raving about, brightening her own frequent visits and more than satisfactorily feeding her healthy appetite for cake. Tuesday promised a civilised starting time for the competitions and so my friend and I headed to the cafe for breakfast. Larger than I expected (in fact when I return I discover pockets of seating further and further back, in a warren-like manner) the space is pared down and basic with flourishes of canary yellow, simply laid out tables and chairs, toast and soup stations and a drum kit (after perusing the website, it appears they have a regular Monday jazz night). The coffee bar here is the clear focal point, white tiles add a touch of polished cool, and exposed hanging lights wouldn’t look out of place in central London. The feel of the cafe surrounding this bar is that of a rather casual student union space, reinforced by partly do-it-yourself food and drink stations, this is despite the suits and laptop bags that inhabit the room whilst we’re there.

A hefty menu appears to cater for all eventualities throughout the day, from breakfasts, brunches and cakes through soups and sandwiches to an intriguing pizza selection, there’s also an admirable list of drinks other than coffee including comprehensive options for beers and wine. Coffee is (for now) made using Caravan beans via a number of methods at their brew bar; I choose a V60 and my friend an aeropress; both an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that’s bursting with blueberry fruit notes. The counter is heaving with baked goods to vie for our attention, however it’s the salted caramel brownie and a rhubarb and ginger slice that we purchase to take away for lunch later. My friend’s brownie certainly looks the business but it’s my slice that’s the surprise win; rich, with an almost bakewell-esque quality and zingy ginger punch.

Our breakfast decision is easy, I can rarely resist a shakshuka; this one is meat free but with potent spicing, plenty of coriander and rich with a swhirl of yoghurt, it’s served with a wedge of lime and a great hunk of bread cleaved into almost manageable pieces. I mop up every last scrap.

The Tweeting of our clear delight attracts the attention of the owner who comes over to make sure we’re happy with our food; I feel my cleanly mopped skillet probably says more than any words could. He reveals a couple of exciting sounding plans, that I’m told I’m not able to release just yet, but keep an ear to the ground. I was truly impressed with the set up, quite a unique combination of friendly service, great food and drink, with a relaxed and casual, almost studenty/canteeny air.

I’m afraid to say the rest of our stay in Birmingham is rather less fortuitous on the food front – though, I hasten to add, the UKBC super heat was a huge and resounding success (IMHO). I had gathered via Twitter three bar recommendations; The Lost & Found, Gingers and The Church. The Church just happened to be the closest to our pokey ‘hotel’ and so, on our first night a small group of us headed expectanty to the bar that brazenly boasted a southern style food menu and modern (and dangerously cheap) cocktail list. We were a touch surprised to find, instead of a slick and funky little cocktail bar as their website suggests, a pub with a small number of tweaks; peacock blue booths replaced regular plush pub upholstery down one side, and the bar held a significantly more sophisticated booze and glass selection than you might expect from your local boozer. Odd, but kind of cute and quirky if they managed to pull it off.

Pleasantly surprised by the cocktails and an enthusiastic barman, who seemed thrilled to have an engaged cocktail audience, in these faintly unsettling surroundings, I knocked back an ok, but over diluted (or it would have been if I hadn’t stopped him stirring) Negroni, lime bombed martini and actually, really rather fabulous Boulevardier, served straight up and elegantly in a coup, spot on accuracy of balance achieved. Sadly, the food we consumed entirely to ward off starvation, weird at best and fairly inedible at worst, hush puppies were the best thing served, piping hot and fluffy. It was to be a theme for our short Birmingham jaunt. We scarpered when the clientele got boisterous and a curious mix of scantily clad girls and period drama attired locals jostled in.

The following two evenings were spent at Brew Dog, mainly due to the ease of it’s central location and generous space. I mention this so you won’t make my mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the beer was lovely, though heathen that I am I stuck to wine, and the staff were very keen and knowledgable. There’s frankly no denying though, it’s a total dive and the food – diabolical; half the menu arrived stone cold, and would remain so due to lack of heating facilities in the kitchen…hmmm. The company of coffee friends however was exemplary.

On the second night of our stay, clever Kate had managed to secure a media rate at Hotel Du Vin, a grande, castle of a building, replete with silver lift shaft, stone corridors and mirrors, cloaking our stay with an air of debauched and gothic potential. Our twin room was more of a sprawling chamber with the bathroom of dreams that I’d happily move into. It was with sad faces that we had to pack our bags the next morning, and head back to Bloc, quite literally a Tetris assortment of cuboid rooms, devoid of space except in illusion, with a mesh of pervy mirrored walls. We managed to shovel down a heavenly breakfast before doing so though, fuelled by a hunger that can only be caused by copious alcohol, I practically inhaled a slab of brioche french toast draped with bacon and drenched in maple syrup.

By the penultimate night, we, tired and vegetable starved, gave up and decamped to the pub opposite the event venue, whereby we knocked back pints of wine (due to lack of appropriate glassware) and demanded vegetables from a menu severely lacking. Bless the guy behind the bar who created us monstrous plates of cauliflower and broccoli cheese from ingredients in the kitchen. After drinking them out of Pinot Noir we decided to call it a night. Well, almost. In sudden need of a nightcap, two of us dashed to the shops, but finding nothing open sloped back to the hotel. On the way however, we stumbled upon a man closing what looked like garage doors. On asking where we might procure a bottle of wine at this hour, the man told us to follow him, opening up the doors and walking into a dark corridor. After a glance at each other, a shrug that suggested as much a relinquishment of care as wine filled bravery, we followed him.

At the other end of the corridor, he opened another pair of doors into the most insane looking room, a workshop of sorts strung with quad bikes from the ceiling, skulls on door frames, fabric, old machinery and ephemeral works of art. A few moments were spent prancing around in wide eyed delight at such a find, eyes widened further when the man stepped behind what appeared to be a make shift bar and pulled bottles of wine from a mini fridge. Money was exchanged and off we trotted back to the hotel furnished with little plastic champagne flutes and a knowledge we’d never find that place ever again. If it existed at all. It was that sort of place and that sort of trip to be honest.

You might understand then, that after the final competitor had performed their routine and all the scores had been counted and uploaded to the SCAE UK Chapter website, we hedged our bets and hot footed it right back to York’s for a spot of pizza action. Good move team. Whilst a storm raged outside and upset the trains no end (seriously – we somehow timed it ridiculously just right so as to have caught what was possibly the only train that made it back to London that night) we knocked back a beer and tucked into pizza that tasted like nectar after what can only be described as a strange week on the old food front. Spotting kale on one of the pizzas, three of us instinctively add it to another more meat heavy one to great effect, nutrient levels increasing with each, deceptively spicy, bite. The little pizza wheely cutter thingummy lending a play-with-your-food-fun, I enjoy cutting neat lines through thin dough that shatters a little towards the edges.

Thoughts on Yorks Bakery are soundly confirmed, it’s fantastic, and has immediately become my go to spot if I ever find myself in Birmingham again. You should do the same.


Yorks Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

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What to do when you’re the only one in the house that eats haggis? Why, you eat the whole thing yourself of course. Ok, I’m not *quite* greedy enough to eat the whole thing in one go, but I have enjoyed shoe horning the Scottish delicacy into nearly a week’s worth of meals. Whilst not remotely of Scottish decent myself, my Dad’s Birthday falls on Burns night and so that’s always a good enough prompt for me to toddle off and buy my esoteric food item of the year.

I was writing a short piece on Ibrik/Cezve, Turkish coffee, at the same time and so with my mind away in other lands, I was craving cardamom scented cakes and spice heavy dips and stews. One of my favourite brunch dishes, one I often have, in fact, for dinner, is Shakshuka (I included a twist on the recipe when writing about Ottolenghi’s glorious last book, Jerusalem) and this was the first dish that sprung to mind for a spot of haggis pimping, seeming to lend itself up for offaly bedaubing. Traditionally a tomato and pepper stew baked with eggs, it’s more often than not accompanied with chorizo in the many cafes and restaurants that now serve it in London. If I’m  honest, I added some other bits and pieces too, as I tend to, and it ended up a near totally different, but still very delicious, beast. It’s one of those easy dishes that can transform slightly sorry looking rogue veg with store cupboard staples, and is one I eat often. This one I eat later on in the week, it’s a wonderful variation; the haggis imparting an unexpected spice and earthy meatiness to the usual ingredients.

But then it dawns on me – Lacmuchan – surely the perfect vehicle, and complete bastardisation, for what breaks down to spiced, offal and oat laced mince. Normally made with lamb mince and topped with fresh herbs, pomegranate molasses and raw onion, my nod to the British version incorporates brown sauce; as Alex from Macintyre Coffee quips “it’s the pom molasses of Britain” – sheer genius, it cuts through the heavy, offal richness beautifully. I start with a simple yeasted flatbread recipe, whopping in a dash of olive oil and a slop of yoghurt, which I then fry for a couple of minutes on each side in a dry frying pan. This is topped with a smearing of chopped tomatoes laced with brown sauce, the pan warmed haggis scattered over the top with some fried shallots, then a drizzle of tahini, and I work a neeps and tatties element in by throwing over a handful of deep fried swede and turnip crisps, which add a lovely textural layer.

If ever at a loss as to what to make for an easy midweek supper; hash is always the answer. During my week of haggis, I simply add a little of the meat to par boiled and then fried swede, flower sprouts (my new favourite veg – so sweet and nutty and tender), some flat mushrooms and an onion, topped, of course, with a drippy, Burford Brown, fried egg.

Winner though, for ease as well as down right tastiness, is the haggis toastie, it’s far from a new idea (hi Embassy East!) but it is magnificent. I construct my sandwich carefully, optimising it by building up in clear layers; starting with white bread, ideally sourdough and buttered on exterior surfaces, I add a smear of brown sauce, then shallots and flower sprouts fried in butter, then crumbled, warmed through haggis and finally a thick layer of grated, punchy, Lincolnshire Poacher. Toasted in a sandwich press until the cheese starts to ooze out of the sides and bubble down onto the grill, it’s comfort food heaven for these rainy days.

I’ve always enjoyed fiddling around in the kitchen, inspired far more by silly ideas and quirky nibbles, brunches, snacks and bakes rather than any straight forward coherent meal (odd perhaps?!), so I’m already looking forward to this time next year and incorporating haggis into whatever it is I’m into then…


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