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Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

There has been a lull in the transmission of Posh Lunch Club – apologies. The lull was only a week, but a week is a long time in politics blogging. I have been busy moving house and it has been a difficult transition. My new place is better located, and lovely and bright, but it is much smaller, and as a result I have a ridiculous amount of excess stuff. This takes sorting and dispensing, so it was lovely to escape from the chaos and indulge in a Posh Lunch with Sig of Scandilicious once more.

We had chosen to go to Texture, an Icelandic restaurant near Marble Arch. Iceland you say? You’ve heard of that recently? Well, this is possibly the star in the Icelandic crown. Forget attention seeking Eyjafjallajokull, that infernal volcano spouting puffing ash clouds all over the northern horizon and ruining everyone’s holiday plans. Forget about the collapse of the economy. Londoners, when you think of Iceland, you need to think Texture and you need to go there.

Why? Well, it’s a Posh Lunch Club bargain at £22 for 3 courses. The menu is pure simplicity, and deceptive for the food is intricate, and oh-so pretty. Each dish is like a woodland scene, I expected to spy a mini gruffalo peep out from behind a frond of dill amid Sig’s main course. I wanted to scoop my parmesan snow into a lunchbox and keep it forever in my freezer at home, like a parmesan ice queen. It’s modern yet in tune with nature, using normal ingredients (for us: chicken, salmon, asparagus, prawns) in creative ways.

Agnar Sverrisson is the culinary brainchild behind the operation. Icelandic, he started his culinary career in Reykjavik and has built an impressive CV including a stint as the Head Chef at La Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons. There he met Xavier Rousset (Sommelier), and they left to setup Texture in 2007. They’ve just received their first Michelin star, and I really think this is one to watch.

Texture

We started with a plate of crispy bits – I am sure they have a better name! Crispy sheets of parmesan, potato, bread and cod skin with wasabi and lettuce emulsion and yoghurt and barley dip for dipping. The dip was fresh, and it was perfect, save the cod skin for me which was a little too fishy, although Sig loved that. This was followed by a gorgeous little amuse of pea and mint, what appeared to be soup, but was a combination of textures and flavours, some mousse with pea, mint & I think I detected some asparagus on top. The pea was almost frozen in parts, and the whole dish was packed with flavour, and had a purity to it with very clean and sharp flavours.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

The menu offers two choices per course, we each chose one so that we could try everything. Honestly, nothing disappointed. My starter of New Season English Asparagus, Parmesan Snow, Hazelnuts, Olive Bread was stunning. The crisp steamed asparagus was carpeted with a gentle icy parmesan snow. The hazelnuts were a great complement, and the texture of the crispy bread was perfect with the melting snow.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Sig went for Greenland Prawns, Gazpacho, Avocado, Tapenade. This dish had a touch of drama with the bright red gazpacho poured over at the table. The prawns were deliciously sweet and plentiful and the dish, from my brief tasting, worked beautifully.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

For mains I went for chicken – more precisely Corn Fed Free Range Chicken Breast & Leg, Barley, Chicken Jus. Chicken is normally absent on a Michelin starred menu and I was curious. Sig went for the Organic Scottish Salmon, Sorrel, New Potatoes, Cucumber. I was pleased when the waitress advised that they don’t cook the salmon through, as this is how I love to eat it (even if it’s not my dish!).

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

The dishes were breathtakingly pretty and packed with flavour. Mine had white breast meat and dark leg meat, with nuggets of barley and tiny dark brown mushrooms throughout. It was rich but not heavy, with two delicious spears of sprouting broccoli and carrots. I knew that not only was this delicious, but it was doing me good. Sig’s salmon was tender and flaked beautifully, she was very happy with her main course.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Desserts: I chose Mango & Pineapple Soup, Lemongrass, Basil, Olive Oil. The soup was poured at the table, a nice touch, and was fragrant and fruity and a fitting end to the meal. Sig couldn’t resist the Valrhona White Chocolate Mousse, Ice Cream, Dill Cucumber, mainly to see what they would do with the dill and cucumber. Again, she really enjoyed it, and we both agreed that we would love to go again, and as soon as possible. We finished with coffees and delicious petits fours, a pretty and delicious little macaron and truffles. Just enough to satiate and not enough to feel guilty.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Overall the food showed a real lightness of touch, both in the artfulness of the dishes and a purity and sharpness of flavour. At the end of the meal, we both agreed that we were satiated but perfectly so, perhaps because Sverrisson doesn’t use cream or butter in his savoury food, and you can really feel the difference. Not that I am knocking cream or butter, but it is nice to have somewhere that goes without and produces something this wonderful.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Much has been said of the wine, of the wide variety and the keen pricing. We didn’t explore this very thoroughly as it was just lunch after all. We wanted something light, with a bit of life, that wouldn’t knock us out and that would complement the food. We requested a suggestion for under £30. A Spanish wine from Rueda was proposed at £29 (Verdejo, José Pariente, Bodegas dos Victoria, 2008), and it fitted the bill perfectly, not unlike a Sauvignon but lacking those limey/gooseberry flavours, it matched the savoury dishes nicely.

All of this wonderful lunch came to £45 each including service. If that’s not a bargain for this gorgeous michelin starred lunch, tell me what is.

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Parliamentary Waffle House – Mine’s a Labour/Lib Dem Cocktail!

Bompass & Parr have struck gold again. Not content with jellymongering and providing fantastic jellies for restaurants and funerals (true!), creating giant cocktails that you can row across and other magical and surreal food experiences, they have moved into the world of waffles and have established the Parliamentary Waffle House.

The video says it all realy. So much fun. Please ignore and forgive the very shaky start! I was laughing very hard.

Parliamentary Waffle House

Bompass & Parr

It launched last night with a screening of the live televised debate followed by a Waffle Eating Competition (in the video above)  and was tremendous fun. The menu lists three types of waffles, one associated with each party, and three types of beer plus tongue-in-cheek Prescott Punch made with Courvoisier. I had a Labour waffle with raspberries and vanilla ice cream. I just couldn’t bring myself to order Conservative, even if it’s only a waffle. The waffles were perfectly delicious and the porter light with a tingle. I loved it so much, I am going back and have booked a couple of tickets for election night.


So, if you’re in London, go! It runs right up to the election and entry is only £5. Further details are available on their website: http://www.jellymongers.co.uk/. The waffles are about £3.50 and the drinks are reasonably priced. A bit of a bargain I think, it really is enormous fun.

(More photos on flickr.)

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Posh Lunch Club at Racine

Lunch at Racine

Friends were visiting from Ireland recently and staying in Knightsbridge. As always happens these days, recommendations were requested, and I had one must visit for them in the area – Racine. I couldn’t get through to them, and when I finally did they announced that they had already happened upon it and loved it. High praise from two Francophiles indeed. I was delighted that they had had a chance to try it, I feel now that everyone should.

Racine is a classic French restaurant that serves very elegant, well executed food. Henry Harris is at the helm, with impeccable credentials having trained at Hilaire with Simon Hopkinson. I’ve eaten there a few times now and have never been disappointed. Each dish delivers what you expect and more. It’s classic French food, rich but not heavy with excellent sourcing of ingredients that are cooked in perfect harmony.

I went here for Posh Lunch Club but for the first time fell off of the horse. Posh Lunch Club is about fine dining at bargain prices, only from the set menu, no matter how enticing the main menu is. I blame my dining companion Derek, he went off piste, and then I had to. It’s all his fault you see. I have decided to include it in Posh Lunch Club anyway, if only because I am going there for regular posh lunches from now on, and they are a steal at £17.50 for 3 courses. Also, despite matching wines to each course and going off piste, it came in at the same price as The Ledbury set lunch (£50), and I enjoyed it just as much.

So, what did we have? We started with the stunning bone marrow, spring garlic and bacon toast pictured at the top of this post. It was gentle, eloquent, and just the right side of intense. The garlic distracted from the bone marrows fervor and gave it a lovely aromatic and slightly nutty quality.

Lunch at Racine

Mains were, for me, and from the set menu, confit pork belly with sauce diable. Derek had confit de canard aux lentilles. I wanted each as much as the other. My pork belly was perfect. The flesh was tender and packed with flavour, the skin was crispy but not teeth shatteringly so, it had a lovely crunch. The sauce diable was creamy but with a beautiful acidity, which was perfect with the fatty pork. The confit de canard was the best I’ve had, crispy, succulent, more-ish and the lentils were a perfect savoury accompaniment.

Lunch at Racine

I went off piste for the dessert, for I have to have the rhubarb as you know. We’re almost out of season and I am in a near panic. Poached Yorkshire rhubarb, mandarin sorbet, grand Marnier and orange curd was a beautiful tribute to my favourite fruit, the rhubarb meshed with the ice cream, bright pink and meltingly tender. I see it’s still on the menu now. Derek had the cheese board which was generous and well selected, and had the most delicious walnuts, from memory they were gently spiced and candied.

Lunch at Racine

The menu changes daily and offers great variety – it is updated on their website and I can’t resist peeking frequently and planning future outings there. This was one of my favourite posh lunch clubs by far, and it’s placed high in my affections for dinner too. A classic restaurant, driven by passion, knowledge and fierce attention to detail. If you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend you go.

Lunch at Racine

Racine Restaurant

www.racine-restaurant.com

239 Brompton Road
London SW3 2EP
020 7584 4477

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Posh Lunch Club at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

Another day, another Posh Lunch Club. This, my friends, is why none of my clothes fit me right now. I wish I was exaggerating! How can I go about continuing my lifestyle as savoury cookie monster, without putting on weight, or going to the gym? No purging either please. There has got to be an answer. Answers in a comment.

This lunch date was at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, one of the Galvin brothers numerous outposts in London. I ate at sister restaurant Galvin La Chapelle last year and really enjoyed the well executed and elegant French food. I was very much looking forward to (belatedly) trying the Bistrot. It has been recommended to me by many people for years.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

I was meeting fellow blogger and good friend, Sig of Scandilicious for lunch. I arrived first, and was immediately taken by the authentic Parisian buzz, high ceilings, low lit and low lamps, mirrors lining the walls, and lots of diners chattering surrounded by hues of brown and cream. It was a very elegant space with a charming atmosphere. I was glad Sig had suggested it, and was asking myself why I hadn’t been before.

I sat down and absorbed it all, perusing the set lunch menu, which is an absolute bargain at £15.50, running 7 days a week, including Sunday. This, in my Posh Lunch Club experience is fairly unusual. The set menu is also available in the evenings from 6-7pm.

There are two options for each course, which is normal for this kind of deal, and absolutely fine for me. It may be a bit trickier for vegetarians, impossible for those that don’t eat fish, but it is a French restaurant, and they don’t do vegetarian well. I am tempted to say Why Should They? Not because I dislike vegetarians, or vegetarian options, I often order them myself. Done well, vegetarian food can be fantastic. French food, however, is steeped in a history of rich meaty stocks and marrow, and I don’t think they should change that to suit a minority.

Sig and I chose a nice carafe of white wine, we asked the sommelier for something that would broadly suit our choices and it was a lovely one, which sadly, I can’t remember. It’s in a notebook somewhere, no doubt under a box, and in another box by now.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

For starter I had the Velouté of Pumpkin & Parmesan, which was a really perfect soup. Rich and savoury, with the fruitiness of the pumpkin playing with the umami rich parmesan, I was thinking about it for a few days. Sig went for the Mackerel Escabeche, which was perfectly nice, but nothing could extract me psychologically from my soup, sorry velouté, so I took a hurried bite and retreated swiftly to my bowl of liquid pleasure.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

We went for the same main course, Roast Pavé of Icelandic Cod, Pistou Vegetables. The cod was very nice, well cooked, nice crispy skin, but the pistou vegetables were a little underwhelming. Not bad for the price overall but a little lacking in ooomph. Grilled Calves Liver, White Polenta and Smoked Bacon was also on offer.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

For dessert, how could I resist the rhubarb? We’re almost out of the pretty-in-pink forced rhubarb season, and that sends me into a blind culinary panic. It came in the form of Buttermilk Panacaotta, Poached Rhubarb. I enjoyed the slight tang of the wobbly panacotta, but found the rhubarb a bit tough, which is a shame. Perhaps they undercooked them to retain a firm shape for presentation, but it took from the dessert. Brie de Meaux with Walnut and Raising Loaf was the other option. Once I saw the R word, I was blind to it though.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

So, overall, I really enjoyed it, after all, a meal is the sum of its parts, not just about the food, while it is very important. While the service was quite formal, it really fitted with the room and, dare I say it, it felt truly French. I really felt removed from my everyday existence here, I felt like I was in Paris. Sometimes, that’s all you need. The food was good overall, the wine a great match and a good sipper, and Sig was excellent company. What a bargain it was too. I heartily recommend it, and will be there again myself soon.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe
66 Baker Street,
London, W1U 7DJ
United Kingdom

T: +44 (0) 20 7935 4007

http://www.galvinrestaurants.com

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Posh Lunch Club at Terroirs

I have several bad habits, who doesn’t? One is not writing about some of my favourite places. It occured to me recently, and I wondered why. I suspect that it’s part not wanting to taint a lovely dining/wine-ing experience by dissecting it for a review, and part confident that I will be there again soon and I can review it then. A little greedy bit of me may not want to share, I like this part less than you do. So, I’ve decided to write a list of these places, and start ticking them off.

The first one that I will review is Terroirs in Charing Cross, for no reason other than that I was meeting a visiting friend and wine blogger (Vaguely Vinous) there, and I love it. It had the makings of a perfect afternoon.

Terroirs is a natural wine bar and restaurant in Charing Cross, French in character offering a vast selection of natural/biodynamic wines, and a great food selection. It’s bright with lots of light, and is always busy.

It’s always so lovely to find a wine bar that cares as much about the food as the wine, Vinoteca is one (review soon!) and Terroirs another. I trek there a lot, with friends or sometimes solo. I like to perch at the bar with a small plate, glass of wine and a good book, and pass a couple of indulgent hours. The food menu has a variety of snacks, small bites, plats du jour and cheese. The wine list is enormous and comprehensive and I have had the pleasure of discovering some new favourite wines there.

In the spirit of Posh Lunch Club, I had to indulge in the irresistible lunch special, which today was Chickpeas, Chorizo & Clams with a glass of Red Cuvée des Drilles, Gauillac or a glass of White Chateau Clement-Termes, Gauillac for £10. £10?! That is tremendous value. I opted for the red, which was light and very easy, a good lunch choice, and a nice match for the food.

The Chickpeas, Chorizo and Clams were lovely, served with some good aioli, there was lots of clams, with good chickpeas, no ropey tinned rubbish here. These chickpeas had a lovely nutty bite, which, in my experience you only get from homecooking. There was a fine dice of chorizo, so that each mouthful had a combination of the different flavours and textures and a gentle heat. Some bread mopped up the sauce at the end with large, guilty dollops of aioli. It was a very good dish.

Dining companions had the steak tartare, at a very reasonable £7, and really enjoyed it with some robust red wine. A plate of cheese graced the table, and while I didn’t indulge, others were very happy.

We finished with a lovely bottle of red from Bergerac, Le Combal Cahors 2006. Initially quite farmyardy, which natural wines sometimes are, it opened up quickly to reveal some fruity flavours that I really enjoyed. It was a treat at £34, but was worth the spend.

I enjoyed it so much, I almost went back for dinner. However, that would have been silly, and silly I can be, but I curtailed myself tonight. I have enjoyed several dinners there before and can recommend based on these, particularly the bavette served at the restaurant downstairs.

So, there you have it, a bargain fine lunch, in a lovely wine bar. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you check it out, as it’s marvellous. A real London gem for me.

Terroirs Wine Bar & Restaurant
www.terroirswinebar.com
5 William IV Street
London WC2
020 7036 0660

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Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I love the River Cafe. It’s so bright and cheerful. By the Thames, the room is lined with high large windows and the room is flooded with light. A big woodfired oven blazes at the end of the room, and the kitchen and bar line the restaurant. Staff buzz behind and high ceilings mean the surrounding customer chatter isn’t imposing. It’s really nice and lively. Even the toilets are cheerful with big bright doors of different colours.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

It’s at the high end of most budgets, and mine is no exception, so it’s been a while since I visited. Some years ago, pre blog days in fact. Imagine, there was a time when I didn’t blog?! I have long been a fan of their style of cooking, simple flavoursome Italian far so I was excited at the prospect of a return visit, especially as I had secured a reservation with the Winter lunch offer of 3 courses for £24.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray are accredited with changing perceptions of Italian food in this country, and many established chefs like Jamie Oliver have passed through their kitchens, crediting River Cafe as an inspiration, in terms of their food and their values. Sadly, co-founder and one of the chefs Rose Gray passed away after a long illness recently, and our reservation was moved as a result. Impressively, Ruth Rogers was there, manning the pass. I really like the fact that they never expanded or formed a chain, and stayed dedicated to their restaurant, still cooking and creating. It’s rare these days, no?

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The set menu offers lots of choice, and I wanted every main on it (there were four). We decided to forego the appetisers and to have a primi, secondi and dolce (starter, main and sweet). I was sorely tempted to go the whole hog, but that’s enough for lunch, when you’ve been eating out as much as I have been lately.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I chose the Ribolita for primi, and my friend Caroline, fellow Irish gal and market buddy dining with me that day, chose the Gnocchi di Spinaci. I couldn’t resist two of my favourite ingredients, borlotti beans and cavolo nero but sadly it wasn’t remarkable. It was too wintry for me now that we are in Spring. I would have been happy with it at home, but at River Cafe I wanted something with more vibrance and more appeal. It just didn’t have any va-va-voom. The gnocchi were much better. Light, springy and bursting with flavour in a delicious lively sage butter.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

My main promised to be better and delivered. Coscia d’Agnello ai Ferri – chargrilled leg of lamb with cannelinni beans , parsley and slow cooked florence fennel. Bright pink in the centre with a gorgeous charred exterior and a beautiful texture, the lamb was perfect. The beans and fennel were a lovely compliment, the beans had a perfect bite, these were not depressing supermarket tinned beans that I loathe so much. Beans are so very underrated, I love the liberal placement of them in the River Cafe menu.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Caroline had the Coda di Rospo alla Griglia – chargrilled monkfish with anchovy and rosemary sauce, soft polenta with butter and parmesan, and cicoria. Caroline was worried that the polenta would be heavy, but I was confident that this would be the real deal, light and fluffy having been made with great care and over time. Polenta, like risotto, needs careful handling and lots of love, and this had liberal amounts of both. She loved it.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The famous chocolate nemesis had to be ordered for dessert, it was mousse like in texture and utterly more-ish with the intensity of dark chocolate but none of the heaviness common in most chocolate desserts. We also ordered the lemon tart which was light and zingy, and a perfect end to the meal.

We had a bottle of Greganico with the meal, a Sicilian white compared to Sauvignon. I preferred it and found it lovely and aromatic with nice acidity that worked well with our lunch. It was light enough not to feel too guilty about a second glass that early in the day! It was a very reasonable £17.50, and was a good indicator for the rest of the list, being the cheapest available.

So, overall a lovely experience, even if the ribolita failed to impress. The service was charming, friendly and very helpful, even when I hopped around the wine list interminably, failing to decide. With wine it came to £40 each, which for the River Cafe is a bit of a bargain. The Winter Lunch Offer finishes at the end of March.

http://www.rivercafe.co.uk/

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How was your St Patrick’s Day?

How was your St Patrick’s Day? Mine is represented by these tights and this soup. Fun, eclectic, decadent and oh so very green with a tiny hint of glamour. I lived it up and celebrated in style and, boy, am I paying the price today… it’s not easy being green! A little debauchery every now and then is good for the soul though, it’s important to clear out the cobwebs, dance a little jig, sing a song or two and start afresh the next morning.

The soup was the start of a wonderful lunch at Racine in Kensington. It was my first visit, why did it take me so long?! I know Henry on twitter, and he knew that we were coming. We had messaged ahead to ensure that we could have the much feted bone marrow with spring garlic on toast. As a treat he also prepared this gorgeous and special soup for Paddy’s Day for us. A light watercress broth with pike boudin topped with black truffle slices which were arranged like shamrocks. It was gorgeous and very elegant and we loved it. A glorious start to an excellent lunch, which I’ll blog about when I am not quite so tired and hungover.

We won the trip to Argentina too, what a wonderful treat! I am so excited, I can barely contain myself. It was very close and I was never sure we would win it, we certainly wouldn’t have if it weren’t for all of your support. So, thank you all for the votes and for making it happen. We’re off to Mendoza in the Autumn.

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Posh Lunch Club at Kitchen W8, Kensington

Posh Lunch Club last week could only be a success, for I was to be in affable company. Oliver Thring, fellow blogger and now writer, joined me for a sojourn to the wilds of Kensington. Always cheerful and ever sharp, I knew we would have some fun.

We had booked lunch at Kitchen W8, a restaurant not on my radar at all, and for that reason, I was keen to try it. It’s like watching a film without seeing a trailer, or reading a review, and not really being sure what to expect as a result.  It can be very successful or perplexing, I wondered what I would get. En route, I spied a tweet from Ollie, stating that they had tried to seat us at the worst table in the room, even though the restaurant was empty. I sighed and speeded on, as ever a fashionable ten minutes late. Chronoptimism, my faithful stalker.

On arrival I spied a beige room, with lots of emaciated blonde older diners, lots of Ladies-What-Lunch. As a less svelte brunette, I wondered if there was a notice barring my sort that I hadn’t spied, the sort with single barreled names, and double barreled bellies. I wondered where these ladies put the food they were eating. Must have been in their handbags or down the loo.  I perused the menu, it was intriguing and I was in excellent company and ready to tuck in.

We were interested in the set menu, fine dining on a budget is what Posh Lunch Club is, as you know. There were three courses on offer for a very reasonable £19.50, two options for each course. We opted for a bottle of house red, a French Cabernet Sauvignon, to power us through it.

For starter I went for a Raviolo of Duck with Rhubarb Chutney and Trompette de la Mort. My second raviolo with rhubarb in as many weeks, I am aware. I may need to change the name of this venture to Rhubarb Club if I continue.

It was a curious dish. The raviolo was lovely, with dense full flavoured and moist duck, enveloped in extremely graceful and delicate pasta, perfect in it’s supporting role, as it should be. There was some finely minced duck on top, which was a lovely textural contrast, but the rhubarb chutney underneath just didn’t work. I really don’t think it was a chutney either, it was just rhubarb. To quote Ollie, in order to be stylish, you take one item off before you leave the house. This dish should have taken this sage advice and left the rhubarb in the kitchen, it would have been perfectly lovely with a simple jus.

The room was filling up now, and a hushed but vibrant atmosphere was developing. Maybe I was settling into the wine. We both opted for the Peppered Flatiron Steak with Pommes Salardaise, Crushed Turnip and Bone Marrow. This was a fine dish, the steak served medium-rare as suggested, with a fine wedge of bone marrow atop. The pommes salardaise were stellar, a firm slice of rich potatoes with a delicious and intensely savoury crust. The flatiron steak was rich and full-flavoured. This was a bold meal with great flavours. An extra green side salad was dressed perfectly, and a good accompaniment. The only thing was I am sure that that turnip was in fact celeriac. No matter, I prefer it and was happy. I liked this course a lot.

Rhubarb obsessed and hoping for a better interpretation than the starter offered, I chose the Poached Yorksire Rhubarb with Stem Ginger, Almond & Orange for dessert. I never can resist it, I had it for lunch today too! I expected a compote but what arrived was some rhubarb on a cake base of sorts, with jelly and icecream and some wafers, effectively. Much better and I enjoyed it, it was understated but tasty and good for the price.

Our meal was over, time for coffee? No. More wine please! A whole bottle. Why not, we thought, it had been a while and we were enjoying catching up. It is precisely for this reason that I am now the proud owner of retro jelly moulds, a new moka and a retro icing set purchased on the way home.

Overall, it really was a pleasant lunch. The service was very professional and swift, the food was well executed and there is some good if adventurous and at times misguided cooking coming out of the kitchen. If in the area I might pop in for lunch again and see if I fared better, I don’t think I would go out of my way to explore. We did have a great time though and it is a lunch to remember, if not for the food, for the laughs and stories shared over the wine. And isn’t that what lunch is all about sometimes?

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Announcing Posh Lunch Club: First Stop, Arbutus

I want to do something new. I want to do something fun. A mini project that I will want to write about, an injection of passion, an objective. As you know, I like to be fed. So, I present to you: Posh Lunch Club.

Posh Lunch Club is all about the set menus in great restaurants, wonderful food at bargain prices. There will be the occasional defection to the expensive side of the fence, The Fat Duck has got to be done, and there’s a few others that will creep in at high prices. Guest members are allowed, and most welcome. I do love the occasional solo lunch with a book, so will be sure to have a number of these. In the main though, this is about tripping about London as a gourmand, at surprising prices. It’s always possible to source a great bargain.

Where to start? It had to be Arbutus, Anthony Demetre and Will Smith’s modern British restaurant in Soho. I’ve eaten there before, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but didn’t blog it. I was lunching with a visiting friend and decided to leave the camera at home. It’s perfect for Posh Lunch Club, really good food and the set lunch and early bird menu is an absolute bargain, at £16.95 for three courses.

arbutus-set-menu

I visited on a Friday, I hadn’t booked, and got a seat at the bar with no fuss. Perched with my book, I was happy, and swiftly ordered a reasonably priced carafe of Syrah/Grenache for £6.50. Sourdough (brown or white) was offered with some butter. I knew immediately what I wanted, and was also very hungry, so I ordered swiftly and shortly after was tucking into a country terrine with fruit chutney. The terrine, served with toast, was delicate and velveteen countered nicely by the sharp chutney. Wafers of radish were a lovely fresh addition. I liked it.

Lunch at Arbutus

I couldn’t resist the caillette for mains, an old fashioned pork meatball, served atop crushed winter root vegetables, primarily swede. The swede was delicious, a much under rated and under used vegetable, I scolded myself for not using it more in my kitchen. The caillette was rich and savoury, with nice contrasting textures, chunks of pork amidst minced, with a lovely lick of what seemed to be gravy on top. Another success, I was very happy with it.

Lunch at Arbutus

Finally a warm polenta and olive oil cake with seville orange marmalade and chantilly cream, followed by an espresso. The cake was nice and light, the cream delicious, the marmalade was tangy and sharp, seasonal, but I think I would have preferred something sweeter. The espresso cost £3.50 extra, but I needed my coffee, and it was a nice rich shot of dark caffeinated goodness, which terminated the meal nicely.

Lunch at Arbutus

Service was friendly and swift, it’s perfectly quick for lunch, I had 3 courses in under an hour and a half. It’s high on my list and I highly recommend it. Next, I must get the cookbook, I am keen to try some of Anthony’s recipes at home.

So, that was it. The first Posh Lunch Club, a very good lunch for a very good price. I can’t wait for the next one.

http://www.arbutusrestaurant.co.uk/

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Girls Just Want to Have Steak! [Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor, London]

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Girls like steak, of course we do. We also like lots of other things perceived to be manly territory, so when Hawksmoor suggested Girls Steak Club, how could we not but jump at it.

I’ve blogged about Hawksmoor before, I really like it there, and it was our venue for our inaugural Blaggers’ Banquet. It’s got great steak, is buzzy and vibrant, and there’s great cocktails and a nice wine list. Service is friendly and informal. It promised to be good.

Now, it was controversial, the boys were not pleased, and organised their own night to counteract it, Blokes Eat Beef at Goodman Steakhouse, which looked great, they even enticed my favourite Irish salmon smoker Frank Hederman. However, it’s not a competition (or is it?), and much as I don’t think a proliferation of single gender events is wise, Girls Steak Club was a great night, with luscious food, delectable wine, friendly fun company, and lots of banter.

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Secured in the private room, behind a thick velvet curtain, we were treated to top notch cocktails. Starters of sublime tamworth belly ribs or chargrilled squid followed. I chose the ribs, they were excellent, with a lovely spice rub and perfect char, coating tender meat that fell off the bone. I also had a taste of the squid and it was I think, the better preliminary dish, light and fresh with lovely smoky flavours and cooked very briefly as squid needs to be (unless you cook it for a long time, there is no middle ground with squid, in middle ground there is chewiness).

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

The main event came swiftly, where was the evening going? I opted for an enormous 600g bone in sirloin, a 400g rib-eye was also up for grabs. Served with sides of macaroni cheese, sprout tops, creamed spinach, salad & triple cooked chips, I did wonder how I was going to fit it all in.

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

It was all so good, and the chips were the best that I have had at Hawksmoor, perfectly golden and crispy with a fluffy interior. The steak was perfect, served rare at my request, with a ruby centre and gorgeous charred exterior. Full flavoured, these are Ginger Pig Longhorn Steaks, dry aged for 40 days,

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Some ladies opted for dessert, I was not woman enough. Stuffed to the gills, I carried on with some wine and chatter, and went home very happy, with a steak doggy bag. The menu, including cocktail and excluding wine was an absolute bargain at £40. Hawksmoor plan to hold it again and I’ll be going. If you’re a London lady, you should look into it too.

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In the kitchen at L’Anima with Francesco Mazzei: Linguine Vongole

Vongole at L'Anima

I was very excited, and also a little hot and bothered. I had to be in Liverpool St at 5pm, but I didn’t finish work until 5.30pm, and I work an hour away. Eish! What to do?! Thankfully, Francesco and his team were patient and flexible, and unfazed when I burst through the door, earlier than I thought possible, but later than arranged, red and frizzy and ready for vongole.

Vongole? What’s that? It’s one of the best Italian culinary offerings, and when nestled with linguine, a real treat. Fresh and lively, salty and sweet, fruity and toothsome, you can’t beat it.

I’ve cooked this at home, but not for a while. It’s one of those things that has to be done right, great vongole from an even better fishmonger, great pasta and some time. That’s all. Like anything else, there are ways to do it to do it and to do it right you need to adhere to the rules, but really it’s not that complicated, and once you know the steps, it’s utterly achievable. It’s a weeknight dish should you choose it to be one or a perfect quick weekend treat.

Vongole at L'Anima

Italian cuisine is one of my favourites; it’s so fresh and full of flavour. Loaded with character and variety, how could you not love it? I love the attention to detail, the adherence to quality and the sociable nature of it all. I love that everyone is confident about food, we should be here too. Everyone has a secret family recipe, knows local wines and heartily recommends favourites. They want to take you to their favourite places, and share their culinary heritage, for they are very proud of it, and so they should be. So, I wasn’t surprised when Francesco seemed to represent all of these qualities, fizzing with enthusiasm and passion, and ready to share his knowledge.

L’Anima is a lovely space, airy and bright, perhaps leaning on stark, but very stylish. We started at the bar with some snacks and a prosecco, and then progressed to the kitchen, which was stacked with food and chefs, and while busy-busy, it was very calm. Waiting by one of the sinks were enormous and very fresh clams, that had been rinsed to rid them of any sand that they had retained from the sea bed, they were ready to become vongole.

Vongole at L'Anima

Francesco whizzed through the recipe, it really is very quick. Patient and attentive, occasionally making reference to how red I was, with a chuckle. I was at pains to explain that I am Irish and can’t cope with extremes of anything – hot or cold. Ireland is mild and temperate, and this is what my body demands, but rarely receives. So, there you go! I am doomed to have a big red face in warm environments. But that’s ok.

Vongole at L'Anima

The vongole had already been cleaned and were gleaming and ready for action. Using a bronze cut linguine, Francesco starts the dish with a light south Italian olive oil, that won’t over power the clams. The pasta is put on, and some garlic slices and chilli are gently fried. The vongole are added shortly after with a glass of white wine, and cooked gently until they start to open. The pasta is added with some of it’s starchy cooking water, creating an emulsion with the vongole sauce as it is stirred. The pasta looks to be about half cooked at this stage, and Francesco stirs it, until it it’s al dente and nestled is a beautiful creamy sauce. I love this technique of cooking pasta by absorption, a technique that delivers a much superior pasta, and costs nothing but time and a littler exertion. Not unlike the creaminess that you get from risotto rice, when you give it all of that care and attention.

The dish is finished with a handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, and is ready to eat.  We had a taste, and I was in heaven.

Vongole at L'Anima

I was loathe to leave the kitchen and that luscious linguine behind, but Francesco assured me that I would have some more soon, over dinner in the private room, where 8 of us gathered and participated in a feast.

Vongole at L'Anima

A gorgeous starter of muscles cooked in a josper oven, a powerful charcoal oven, just briefly, for a minute or so until they popped open. They retained their memory of the sea, in those last drops of sea water that they had held onto from when they were caught. These were superb, a real highlight, tasting of fire and water with embers from the josper oven and sea water, with a meaty mussel embracing it in the middle, and some delicious n’duja sausage with some fennel seeds.

Vongole at L'Anima

Our linguine vongole escapades were next. Three different types, all perfectly executed, although one fusion one, while lovely, was not to my taste. I prefer the more familiar rustic Italian flavours of garlic, chilli and tomato. We had a lovely wine with the linguine, a delicious Soave, so good, I proclaimed that it was worth going that night to discover that wine alone.

Vongole at L'Anima

We finished with a frozen chocolate truffle. An icy large truffle with chocolate sauce oozing out of the middle. Delicious. I know that word is over used but I don’t care, because that’s what it was.

And there you have it. A perfect evening. Linguine vongole is on the bar menu at L’Anima, it’s well worth a try with that glorious Soave. Francesco Mazzei is certainly one to watch and I look forward to trying L’Anima again.

I will make this dish soon and post the recipe. Give it a go, there or at home. You’ll be very happy with yourself.

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Farewell to 2009! Another Year Over [Part 5]

Picture 357

And so, not so speedily to the conclusion, the final part of the 2009 roundup.

I left you mid-way through September, where I was now becoming firmly established at the market and enjoying the camraderie, meeting customers, and they liked the food. Fantastic and heart warming, it urged me to continue, given I had the time now in the absence of work. Some lovely people came back and told me how much they had enjoyed it. Long time readers introduced themselves, including one lovely lady that was visiting from the US. I really got a buzz from it, even when up at 5am. And folks, I am no morning person.

Covent Garden Real Food Market - Week 6

The year would not be complete without speaking of the Blaggers’ Banquet. Conceived one night at an Action Against Hunger launch, we proceeded to take over Hawksmoor, some weeks later, and cook and serve all of the food, took care of the drinks, had an auction, and ran the auction online for a month following.

It was perfectly imperfect. Perfect because the diners loved it, the food and drink was great, there was such good feeling and we raised a lot of money. We’re almost there, hoping to announce the total and hand it over in the next few days. Imperfect because we had little time to do it, lots of things were rushed and we made some bad choices. Hello ebay and paypal, due to become a nightmare for those working on the auction, especially poor Kavey. They cancelled our account at one point, which meant that we couldn’t auction everything that had been donated, but we did what we could. But, more about all of that soon.

Lunch at Iberica

What else? I had a lovely lunch at Iberica, but never found the time to blog it. Eat with your eyes – lots of photos here.

I went to the Koffman popup on the roof of Selfridge’s and thoroughly enjoyed it. Review here.

Pierre Koffman - Restaurant on the Roof at Selfridge's

Pierre Koffman - Restaurant on the Roof at Selfridge's

I had a fantastic time at Ham Class at Brindisa, Borough Market.

I did a market stall in Soho, and 4 days in a row at Covent Garden Real Food Market for London Restaurant Week. I managed it all, solo, coming out the other side of it a dash frazzled.

Picture 357

A brief trip to Portugal for the European Wine Bloggers Conference, a really interesting and fun weekend which I wrote about here. I met lots of new wine folks, and learned a lot from them. Portugal itself was a revelation, the people were so generous and warm, particularly on the trip to the Douro and some wineries, which I still need to write about. Life started to get really busy after this, and I have a number of posts to catch up on.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

Time started to whizz by, and before we knew it the Blaggers’ Banquet arrived in a flurry and was gone.

And, already it was December. Life was intense, there was lots going on, particularly lots of challenges, I felt I was barely keeping up. I made a comforting Gammon & Cabbage Soup with some leftovers, wrote about my beloved lahmacun, and had a great day at Covent Garden Real Food Market, sharing my stall with Sig of Scandilicious, which was a happy accident, the market was oversubscribed that day, so we shared.

I had some fantastic bangra sausages and chilli vodka and did a spot of Irish dancing with tuition at new supper club, The Civet Cat Club. I had a very good lunch with some excellent wines at the cavernous Galvin La Chapelle.

Lunch at Roast with matched Chapel Down Wines was a lovely exploration of English wines with some very English food, overlooking Borough Market.

My last day at Covent Garden Real Food Market came around, and it was a lovely one. A busy Saturday, with lots of cheerful festive customers, lots of friends popping by, and lots of prosecco. We did the market through the snow which was mighty cold, but very pretty. We finished the evening at one of my favourote spots, Terroirs, I really must blog Terroirs soon! I hope to go back to market this year from April. I will announce here when details are confirmed.

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I had two lunches that I’ve yet to blog, a great wine lunch at Rousillon matched with McGuigan wines and a lunch at Alimentum in Cambridge.

Last recipes blogged for the year were Toasted Pita with Mozarella, Tomato, Onion & Roast Tomato Dressing and a delicious mulled wine.

And that’s it! Bye bye 2009, I can’t say I’ll miss you, we weren’t always friends. It’s taken me so long to finish this series, it was a lot of work, going through all of my photos, and tidying things up. I wanted to do it though, and I hope it wasn’t too painful for you!

2010 looks very cosy, and I look forward to settling into it. I am anticipating lots more cooking and a new camera to replace my stolen one (soon, I hope!). I plan to explore video, visit lots of new places here and abroad, and am anxiously awaiting investing in some new gadgetry, starting with a kitchenaid with some attachments, some sous vide gear and that’s just the beginning. I am excited and full of plans for food, travel, and fun.

Bring. It. On. I say, I am ready! What’s that you say, it’s already started?! Best get my skates on then.

Bringing the gear home from the stall

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Farewell to 2009! Another Year Over [Part 3]

Farewell to 2009! Another Year Over [Part 3]

A smattering of lost January, June, July and a little bit of August

Champagne Room at the Annual Bibendum Wine Tasting

I was a bit remiss in the first portion of my 2009 round up forgetting a number of things that happened at the start of 2009. Little things like an enormous wine tasting taking over the entire Saatchi Gallery from Bibendum Wine which was an amazing introduction to so many wines. The gallery was divided into rooms, champagne room, fine wines room, French room and many more.

Not content with having all of this wine to sample, we also had a Twitter Taste Live there a multi location wine tasting where tasting notes are shared online in 140 characters, over twitter. It was fantastic fun. Anthony Rose, wine  writer for The Independent joined us for a while.

Twitter Taste Live at The Saatchi Gallery

I had lunch beforehand at Scotts of Mayfair, which was perfectly nice, but didn’t blow me away, and a mention in the Independent in June 2009 as a Grub 2.0 food blogs to devour, which was another lovely surprise.

I also forgot a few little things from June. Well, that’s a lie, I just wanted to finish the post as quickly as possible so neglected to include them, as the post was starting to addle my tired brain. You see, while in Ireland, I only had mobile internet via a Three dongle, and could only get reception when perched at the end of the couch by the corner of my sisters living room. At that it was slow and constantly cutting out. Do you see how devoted I am to this cause?

Now I am en route home, via many trains, and my dongle has given up the ghost, having lost its identity after the trip to Ireland, it no longer knows its number, and I am damned if I do. So I am researching flickr on my phone, searching those photographic memories, as my actual memory just doesn’t do the job. I am stuck in a freezing cold waiting room, thanking all that is good and holy that I had the foresight to wear an enormous bulky jumper, trying to ignore the smell of pee, and the myriad selection of teenagers socialising and desperately trying to impress each other. I am trying not to snarl, but I am doing a very bad job of it. I am tired people, this is difficult.

Hot Stuff, Vauxhall

So, in June, now a proud member of the work Curry Club, I went to Hot Stuff in Vauxhall with some colleagues. A local and very popular restaurant, I had heard a lot about it, and it was high on my list. It’s been compared to Tayyab’s in the quality and price range, it also appears to have a similar cult status. We descended en masse, well a masse of 9 or 10, and ordered almost everything on the menu. It was all light and fragrant, and mostly delicious. It impressed and I want to go back.

I attended a book launch for a self published book by Aneke Spacie, Twisted Favourites, and Tony Hadley turned up! All true. It was really interesting, and inspiring to see someone who is so fired up. The food is lovely too. Further details here.

Tortilla pizza!

I resurrected the tortilla pizza with a myriad of different ingredients, this was my favourite version with smoked buffalo mozarella & oak roasted tomatoes, topped with chilli fried rocket.

Broad bean & prosciutto carbonara

I made marrow lasagne, an old favourite I have yet to blog and a good one for the veggies. I also rolled out some summer pastas, prosciutto and broad bean carbonara and crab linguine.

marrow lasagne

I experimented with Bavette from Jack O’Sheas, Mark Hix style, marinading overnight in olive oil. It was sensational.

Bavette

The next culinary stop was Tapas Fantasticas off Brick Lane, a mini festival showcasing Spanish wines and food, featuring Spanish restaurants from London and some chefs that had come from Spain. Sadly it disappointed as we had to queue for far too long, and when we got in there, I found the crowd all elbows and rudeness. Having sampled some really good food, and some ok wine, we decided to leave. I am sure there was great wine there, but I was finding the experience stressful, and was happy to go relax elsewhere. I often think that these free festivals would benefit from a token charge of even just £5, as the crowd control, queuing and competitive elements would be very much reduced. We’ll see, hopefully this year they will agree. One of my food highlights there were these little Moro kebabs which were like kebabs squared with regard to flavour. There were also wonderful little croquetas from Asador Sagartoki in Spain.

Tapas Fantastica

Tapas Fantastica

Also in June, I was experimenting a lot at home, and created a flickr photo set entitled “Experiments with Minced Meats”. I had lots of fun with this, creating a new and favourite spiced lamb meatballs in an aromatic tomato sauce, chorizo and pork meatballs, and lots of different types of burgers. I wasn’t regimented with these as they were the early stages of recipe development and so quite loose, so they weren’t blogged, but I hope to complete these soon.

Chorizo & Pork - the meatball experiment

At the end of June, I had one of my favourite culinary and London moments of 2009. I went into work very early, determined to sample the new Fernandez & Wells breakfast. So early in fact that I was too early for them, and had to go for a cup of coffee nearby. The breakfast was great, featuring Italian pancetta and a fried egg on a superb and enormous Flour Station muffin, with a Monmouth filter coffee for company.

Courgette flowers

I walked through London afterwards, edging towards my offices in Victoria, and with plenty of time to spare took a detour through St James Park, bumping into the allotment on the way. Curious, I peered my head around, and started talking to one of the allotment gardeners. I spied juicy tomatoes, bountiful herbs, and bouquets of courgette flowers. COURGETTE FLOWERS! Oh, how I want them. They are so hard to find, especially looking like as healthy and glorious this.

Deep fried courgette flowers

I asked the gardener what they did with them. I give them to a lady friend of mine, he replied, she cooks with them. Oh, I retorted, disappointed. He asked what I would do with them, and I listed a flurry of possibilities. He looked around and said, well, she won’t be in until later this week anyway, so do you want a few to take home. YES, PLEASE! I was delighted, they were so pretty and bright, here comes the vegetable bride.

So, off I went, excited and full of stories of great breakfasts, new found enormous breakfast muffins, and altruistic gardeners, but I was first in the office that day, so reluctantly I consigned my floral cargo to the fridge and uploaded my photo to twitter to share my bright yellow news. Later that evening I stuffed them with Irish cheeses Crozier Blue a bold and creamy sheeps blue cheese, and Knocklara, a sharp and tangy sheeps cheese made locally in Waterford. I battered them with tempura batter, deep fried them, and then drizzled them with honey, as they did at Dehesa and Salt Yard, and proudly presented them to a visiting friend. We devoured them in seconds. If a courgette could shriek, it would have done so that night. Blog post here.

Then July rolled in. Summer was here and I was happy as could be with long walks in St James Park soaked in sometimes sunshine at lunchtime. The only downside was the appalling lunch options in Victoria, and my lack of time to make any of my own. I was out and about too much you see.

Next, a fillet steak dinner at home with rocket and horseradish cream. I had a fresh horseradish root to play with and I fancied a change. This was followed later that week by a trip to one of my favourite London restaurants, the Peter Gordon’s Providores in Marylebone, this time to the Tapas room, the cheaper and more casual downstairs option. We munched on ginger and garlic roast pumpkin with goat’s curd, grilled artichokes, cape gooseberries, black vinegar dressing, walnuts and sumac lavosh, crispy crab and tapioca cakes with sriracha yoghurt,  Cyprus lamb and bulgar wheat köfte with orange and olive salad, Turkish yoghurt and pomegranate molasses dressing, sautéed garlic snails on chorizo mash with oloroso and parsley, twice cooked middlewhite pork belly on massaman lentils with spinach and sambal bajak and spring rolls of confit duck and chicken, shiitake and feta with green chilli jam. It was an excellent meal, and the wine list is really great, offering some lovely wines by the glass, allowing me to try a few different ones.

Now even more obsessed with courgettes than before, I was desperately seeking a courgette plant at precisely the time when nobody was selling them, they were no longer seedlings you see and all the sensible folk and the planners had snapped them all up. I had just given up, when I happened upon an unlikely supplier, a flower stand in Covent Garden Jubilee Hall market that had one courgette plant and one aubergine plant, which I nabbed immediately and proudly carted home to North East London. I am one of those people that desperately wants an allotment, but I can’t even get on the waiting list for my local one, so two little plants in my small rented garden were the height of my gardening achievements last year, and at that, the aubergine bore no fruit. I do have my herbs of course, but they hardly count. I want to grow vegetables. Some chickens would be nice too.

My courgette plant

The rest of the month I stuffed mushrooms, made salads and went home to visit my tiny new niece. Five spice duck breast was a flavoursome mid month supper.

I attended the launch of Cherry Aid at Le Café Anglais, sample lots of wonderful English cherries and wolfed down some excellent cherry based canapés from chef Rowley Leigh. That was a really interesting day, and a very worthwhile cause, cherry farmers were there promoting their English cherries, some of which are breeds which they are trying to revive. As with almost all producers that I have ever met, they were passionate and knowledgeable, and trying their very beast to succeed in a world which is increasingly dominated by blandness and chains. So, this year, get out there and try them, if we don’t they will surely disappear.

Cherry Aid
Cherry Aid

Following this I attended one of my favourite wine tastings of the year, an effervescent Italian Wine Tasting at Bibendum Wine. Representatives of each wine were on hand to tell us all about them, feed us fantastic food favourites being the Venetian nibbles to match the Bisol Jeio and Credo. We had a great night, and wandered home with a box of cherries and wine leftovers (shame? Us?). The next day, there was a trail of cherries reminiscent of the breadcrumb trail in Hansel and Gretel, it would have been easy to find us, if you could be bothered.

Bibendum Wine Tasting

Eeek, it’s still only July! Are you still with me?

Roast mushroom soup failure revealed a delicious bruschetta with chive cream, and there were many further interpretations of brunch. I roasted some pork belly for friends and paid a first strip to would be favourite Jai Shri Krishna.

Roast Spiced Pork Belly

Visiting friends gave me lots of opportunities to cook. Pea soups, spiced roast pork belly, chickpea and pomegranate salad, burnt aubergine, peppers and tomato salad, lentil & spinach soup with harissa croutons and strawberries with balsamic vinegar and honey.


We ended the month perfectly with Dine with Dos Hermanos at Casa Brindisa, a great event with lots of interesting people, good food and delicious wines and sherries. Thanks Simon!

The Spanish theme continuted with a Tio Pepe sherry & tapas evening at Camino in King’s Cross, somewhere I had frequented regularly during my many years working locally. It was a really fun evening. Charles Campion came along, and sadly (for him) had to briefly endure some sherry fuelled ranting from me.

IMG_4316

I had been approached about doing the Covent Garden Real Food Market, and thought that it might be fun. I also really liked the idea of, for once, having people taste and eat my food. What to cook though, that was the question that rattled my petite addled brain. As I was working full time, I could only commit to one time, so we settled on a date. It would be difficult, as with the project I was working on, I couldn’t take any days off around it, but I wanted to do it, so decided that I would make it happen.

What to serve, given the time constraints? It had to be high quality, and something I would be proud off. It should have some cultural relevance. I am very proud of Irish food, and am always slightly dismayed when people with no experience of modern Irish food culture disrespect it. But, I had no time.

Belvelly Smokehouse

Then, a brainwave. What about Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon? One of my favourite things in the world. In Selfridge’s it retails at somewhere around £70 a kilo, so that wasn’t an option, besides it wasn’t always in stock, but what if I went home and went straight to the source? I would love to visit and see the smokehouse anyway. That was it, a perfect plan was starting to hatch.

On Holiday In Ireland

On Holiday In Ireland in August

Fishy Cargo

So, I contacted Frank and arranged a visit on a rainy trip home for my nieces christening, and after a lovely half hour at the smokehouse, wandered back to London with an enormous box of smoked fish, that fellow passengers eyed with caution and perplexity, and airline staff ignored. Clearly I wasn’t travelling RyanAir. I felt it was only right to have an open brown soda bread sandwich with Frank Hederman smoked salmon in the airport bar which I thoroughly enjoyed, save the iceberg lettuce, but that is one of the downsides of lunching in an airport bar.

Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon on Soda Bread at Cork Airport Bar

I then embarked on a culinary adventure that would carry me through to the end of the year. What a lovely surprise. Come back and read my next installment for the details.

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And that’s it folks…

And, that’s it folks.  No more crazy early mornings filled with  intense baking sessions, vats of soup and spiced bramley apples. No more frenetic tweeting of mes petits désastres. No more waking to the intense  savouriness that is the smell of  kilos of slow roasting pork, wading through the aroma and the sleepiness down the stairs, and opening the oven to a rush of steam and porky goodness. The draining of the fat and the crisping of the crackling. Dipping my hand into the meaty cavern and pulling out the tender shreds of juicy meat.

That’s it The last week is down. A snow filled Wednesday, but cheery to the end and committed to the market, we carried on. We went out with a bang. Yeterday at market was a fantastically busy day and a perfect day to go out on.

The night before, I was exhausted, and really not in the mind for cooking. On the way home from work, I stopped at Selfirdge’s, knowing they had Brindisa chorizo which I wanted for my stew. Sadly, I was too late for Brindisa itself. Then  a quick pit stop in Covent Garden to collect my enormous stock pot, which I had loaned to Denise of The Wine Sleuth, who had taken my place at the market for the previous two days while I was at work, selling her Spicy Tortilla Soup and toasties. Finally, a quick stop in King’s Cross, to see a visiting friend from Tokyo.

By the time I got home, lugging pots, chorizo, kilos of Bramley apples, and what was left of me, I had no energy to cook.  But I had to. That pork ain’t going to slow roast itself. So, in I went, preheated the oven to 220, prepared the pork, put it in the oven, and went to wait the 20 minutes before turning it down to allow it to roast gently. Perfect, no?

No. I fell asleep. I was so very tired, and it was only for half an hour or so, but that was enough to destroy that precious crackling. Luckily I had some extra meat in the fridge, so I could start again. Although, I felt terrible, guilty and annoyed. What a *waste* of lovely meat. I could save the inner portion for my own use later, but I would not be selling it at market.

I decided against boiling the soaked dried chickpeas for the stew, as clearly, I could not be trusted to stay awake, and left this for the morning, setting the alarm a little earlier to fit it in. I went to bed annoyed and, ironically, unable to sleep, worried that I would not have enough food for Saturday, or the time to prepare it

Roll on the morning. I am tired, and it is very cold, I’ve had very little sleep. A peer out the window reveals a carpet of snow on the roof tops.  Shivering, I proceeded down the stairs, by now loathing that porky fragrance.  I sorted out the pork, boiled up the chickpeas and started the stew; sauteeing onions, garlic, chorizo, paprika and adding several good glugs of good red wine, before adding the tomatoes and the chickpeas. Things were smelling good. Bay leaves for extra fragrance, and then it was  time to start the spiced apple, peeling all of those apples, how I’ve come to dread it! Some time later, they’re bubbling in the pot,their sturdy mass  slowly giving way to the water, the spices and the sugar, and transforming to the sweet and spicy condiment that would nestle next to the pork, conspiratorial in their bread blanket later that afternoon.

All done, it’s time to turn my attention to me, and get ready. Bolstering myself with layer after layer, fleece socks over wooly tights, thermals under polo necks under jumpers. Time to call the cab, and collect the bread, get to Covent Garden and set up the market.

At the market it’s busy, and things are looking good. I set up, ask my neighbouring Argentinian stallholder to make me a quick coffee (as that is what he does), and, lastly, as always, I reveal the pork. I’ve come to learn that once this is exposed, I get busy, and there really is no time to do anything else.

It’s the last day, and it’s nearing Christmas. There’s a lovely atmophere. Lots of smiles, is it me or the mulled wine? I expect the latter. It’s lots of fun, and non-stop for 3 hours. I am desperate for a break and a bowl of my lovely Chorizo and Chickpea stew, for I have not eaten since I got up. A girl cannot live on coffee alone.  In the end I have to steal bites in between customers, and in the end consume most of it cold. But who can complain, when everyone is enjoying what I am serving? It makes me very happy.

Several hours later, the pork is gone, and I am relieved. The stew follows shortly after, and friends arrive. We chatter, and indulge in some Bisol Jeio Prosecco. We eat gorgeous shot sized desserts from The Dessert Deli, chocolate mousse and panacotta, and follow with chocolate marshmallows from Sugar Grain. We’re indulgent and we’re having lots of fun. It must be Christmas.

It’s time to pack up! Hooray, it’s been a long day.  I hate this bit normally, but I have lots of helpers, and swiftly, the stall is deconstructed, the wash up is done, everything is put away and it’s time for dinner and wine at Terroirs.

And that’s it. No more market until mid February 2010. Hopefully, I’ll be back. Market days are rumoured to be Fridays and Saturdays next year, which hopefully is true, as I can no longer do Thursdays and I want to continue and explore further. Who knows, maybe I will learn to drive, get some equipment, try new things. I really, really want to.

It’s been a fun 5 months. 5 whole months! I can’t believe it either. Getting out there, cooking, trying new recipes, selling my food, seeing what people like, talking to people about my recipes and getting tips from them. I’ll miss the regulars, I never would have imagined that I would have lunch time queues. Most of all I’ll miss the camraderie with my neighbouring stallholders. Even in Wednesday’s snow, people were smiling, and that helped me smile too.

End of a chapter, but not of an era. Bring on 2010 and it’s culinary adventures.

PS. Photos are from my iphone, forgive the poor quality.

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A Roast Lunch with English Fizz

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Borough Market is a frequent stomping ground, and as many years as I have been going there, there are some nooks still unexplored. One of these was Roast, a restaurant dedicated to British cooking using seasonal produce. I had sampled their breakfast wares on occasion, and they do a scoffable scotch egg, but on this occasion, I had an invite to lunch from Chapel Down Wines, one of our fantastic donors for the blaggers banquet and one of the market leaders in the budding English wine industry.

Chef Laurence Keogh

Chef Laurence Keogh

I know the sparkling well, I’ve had it many times, and I really like it. I also really like the Bacchus 2006, a fine white wine, but their other wines, and new beers were unexplored territory. Roast were making a lunch with some blind matches aranged by the chef and the winemaker. I really enjoy this kind of lunch, as it gives me an opportunity to learn some more about matching, and to speak to the people that produce the wine and make the food. We’re too dissociated from our food and drink, used to viewing items on supermarket shelves and not thinking of the winemaker, perfecting his craft and tinkling with his wine recipes (if that’s what they are called :) We rarely get a chance to speak to the chef, ask him how he came up with his dish, how he sources his food and what inspires him. It’s a rare opportunity to strip the facade and get to the bones of the matter, and I love it.

Winemaker, Owen Elias

Winemaker, Owen Elias

Nothing I do is without drama and this is no exception. I was flying from home that morning, and with my camera stolen, had precisely half an hour to locate my old camera, a memory card and charge the battery. No problem! I had had a 5am start, and an exhausting few days, so was very pleased to be handed a glass of Chapel Down Brut Rose on arrival. A lovely sweetish sparkling, with lots of strawberries on the palate, a nice appetiser.

Roast is a lovely space, upstairs in Borough Market, with lots of big windows perring down to the market below and letting in lots of bright grey November  light. It’s quite busy, lots of people what lunch and the place is abuzz right unil we finish our lunch.

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A quick perusal of the menu revealed a starter of smoked Lough Etive Trout with Dorset Crab Cakes, black pepper and lemon matched with Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004 and Chapel Down English Rose 2008. The smoked trout was delicious, a revelation. Smoky and peaty, it reminded me of Frank Hederman’s wonderful smoked salmon from Cork, in that it lacked oiliness and spoke only of delicioius trout flavour and the smokehouse. The crab cakes were a real nice light addition, and my preferred match was the Pinot Reserve 2004.

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The next course was Ramsey of Carluke haggis with celeriac and oxtail sauce, with a glass of Chapel Down Rondo Regent Pinot Noir NV. I like Haggis a lot, it’s aligned with black and white pudding in that family of foods made from unspeakable things that people are afraid of. But why? Ok, so it’s offal stuffed with offal, spiced and boiled for hours, but the result, is a fantastically savoury and intense dish, and if you didn’t know what it was and just ate it, you would love it. I found that the oxtail dominated it a bit too much sadly, but it was still a lovely dish. The Pinot Noir was light and had some nice spice which went nicely with the oxtail and haggis. We also had a Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut, which was great with the dish. You just can’t beat sparkling!

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The star of the show, our main course, and favourite of mine was next. Slow-roast Wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce, served with a glass of Roast Bacchus Reserve 2007. The pork belly was crisp and unctous and the Bacchus Reserve was quite floral and had a lovely acidity which made it a great match. The mash was again, Robuchon esque, more butter than sense, but who needs sense, when you can have great mash?!

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Desserts next, two of them. A very festive one too to start. Spiced clementine custard with anise biscuits, followed by a Warm Chestnut and Conference pear cake with hot chocolate sauce served with a glass of Chapel Down Nectar 2007. The first dessert was my favourite, nice and light but still indulgent and the citrus picked up some nice citrus notes in the wine.

Roast impressed as did the Chapel Down Wines. I look forward to exploring both further. They have put together a special menu and wine deal for readers, which screams excellent Christmas gift to me. Enjoy, and let me know if you try it.

Thanks to Chapel Down and Roast for a terrific lunch.

********************************************************

Offer details:

– On arrival, a glass of Chapel Down Brut Rose

– Ramsey of Carluke haggis with celeriac and oxtail sauce, with a glass of Chapel Down Rondo Regent Pinot Noir NV

– Slow-roast Wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce, served with a glass of Roast Bacchus Reserve 2007 (NB this will be the full sized portion, not the sampler size you had yesterday)

– Spiced clementine custard with anise biscuits, served with a glass of Chapel Down Nectar 2007

– Tea or coffee

To take advantage of this menu, including the wine at just £44.50, quote Chapel Down Roast Bloggers’ Dinner when they ring the restaurant to book – 0845 034 7300.

As an extra special offer, Chapel Down have offered the fabulous Pinot Reserve 2004 for a remarkable price of £99 for a case of six including delivery to any UK mainland adddress. This wine would normally be £150 plus delivery. Christmas gifts sorted!

All you need to do is call the vineyard on 01580 763033, ask for Lizzie or Wendy and quote Blogger offer.

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Lunch at Galvin La Chapelle

The Galvin brothers have moved east and opened a new eatery in Spitalfields, or rather two, Galvin La Chapelle for high end dining, and attached, Galvin Cafe de Luxe for more relaxed dining. I’ve been pretty lax this year for checking in on new openings, so when Fiona Beckett, prolific author, blogger and twitterer invited me there for lunch, how could I say no? I couldn’t.

Housed in the former church hall of St Botolph’s in Spitalfields, on the new and spruced up Spital Square, an area once full of character, but sadly now more full of chains, Galvin La Chapelle sits on a corner. Behind an imperial grey doorway lies an arresting cavernous restaurant, with high vaulted ceilings and a glass walled mezzanine area housing the toilets at the back, and a private dining area at the front. It’s very impressive, and screams decadence. The clientele are, given the location, predominantly city types, donning designer suits and brandishing brandy. I am relieved when I spy Fiona, relaxed and smiling at a table by the back.

Fiona was perusing the wine list and in discussions with the somellier. We decided on the food and then asked the sommelier to provide matches by the glass, we also ordered a glass of hermitage to sample with the mains, which retails via an enomatic for circa £50 a glass. Mommmeeeeee, I was excited.

Fiona chose the Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle 1994 which would be matched with our mains of tagine of squab pigeon and harissa sauce for me and veal cheek for Fiona. First our starters, and again I must apologise for awful photos, my Canon DSLR was stolen (I may have mentiond), and my little camera is a disaster for me, as I have a benign and utterly harmless lifelong tremor, which means photography on less evolved devices with no flash = BLUR. Ah well.

For starter I went with lasagne of dorset crab, chanterelles and chervil which was matched with a robust glass of white from the Douro, which for me was too dominant, although a delicious white on it’s own. Fiona had the salad of red leg partridge with pomegranate and maple dressing which was deliciously sticky and festive. The Douro went really well with this so we traded our wines. Fiona’s lighter white (which I can’t recall sadly), went really well with my light, foamy and delicate starter.

Mains next, and this is where things were getting exciting. My pigeon tagine arrived. I eyed it with suspicion. My tagine is lived in and the lid is coated with tagine splutter and stains. This one was spick and span and when I touched it, cold. Eh? The lid was removed and underneath was an unexpected and very composed and deconstructed tagine with the squab pigeon in the centre squatted on a pile of cous cous. It wasn’t the unctous comfort food I was expecting but it was delicious and moreish. It went fantastically well with the Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle 1994, which, aware of how much of a treat this was, I sipped with caution and delight. The veal cheak was rich, with great depth, and served with a buttery and intense Robuchon style mash. Both dishes were great.

Next for dessert. I chose the blueberry soufflé, coulis and milk ice cream, and Fiona the pear tart tatin with crème fraîche. The blueberry soufflé was fantastic, a glorious and lively shade of lilac, which sadly the photgraph doesn’t show. It was light and very flavoursome, full of airY blueberry goodness and particularly good with the milky ice cream. I had a sparkling red dessert wine with it, Contero Brachetto d’Acqui, of which I wanted a lot more and will be seeking out again.

I really enjoyed it, and look forward to trying the more informal and cheaper Cafe de Luxe next door soon. I very much enjoyed the lunch, but Galvin La Chapelle’s prices are at the high end of the gourmands spectrum with my starter at £11.50, main at £22.50 and dessert at £8.50. The lunch set menu, however is a great deal, offering an enticing boudin noir with apple and pommes mousseline on the day we were there,and priced at £24.50 for three courses, it’s a bit of a bargain. Many thanks to Fiona for treating me to a delicious lunch.

Fiona’s Decanter Review.

Galvin La Chapelle, 35 Spital Square, London E1
020 7299 0400
www.galvinrestaurants.com

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The Civet Cat Club

Another day, another supper club. It would be easy to be cynical, but this trend of challenging the established, and the chains, and doing your own thing, utterly independent and free from any driving force but your own, is to be championed.

What’s to lose? At worst: a poor evening, at best: a fantastic experience, sometimes: in the middle, offering something utterly pleasant and different, an insight into another home, chatter with your neighbouring guests, and a warm fuzzy feeling on the way home.

Recently, I had the pleasure of an invite to a new supper club in Newington Green, London: The Civet Cat Club, nestled in the loft of a gorgeous flat, that filled me with such envy and admiration that I was happy to sit there and pretend that it was my own, if only for a few hours.  Seated at a communal table with the ever charming Gastrogeek, we tucked into our prosecco (you know I am a fan!) and stole a few moments to catch up, before chatting to  our neighbors, sharing lots of laughs and wine (from a vineyard local to a co-seatee from Italy). Much fun.

The food? Lovely. Particularly the delicious Bangra bangers, which I woke up on Saturday mornng with a craving for that could not be satiated. BANGRAS! I wanted them. Beautifully spiced and deliciously firey pork sausages from a recipe that has been handed from grandfather to grandson. I am told that they will be available soon for the public, of which I count myself a patient member.

Otherwise? Expect a charming hostess, good food, chilli vodka. And… if you’re lucky, a drunken Irish lass may teach you to Irish dance after said chilli vodka… but that costs extra. Namely, you have to bring me ;)

I really enjoyed it. The informality, charm and friendliness, the lovely food and the banter with new people over shared food and wines made for a really pleasant evening. They promise variety, a different combination of friends will cook each time, offering a unique experience. Time will tell what these will be, but doesn’t that make it interesting?

http://thecivetcatclub.wordpress.com/

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It’s time for an Ode! To Lahmucun

Lahmacun

Ah, sweet Lahmucun. Gorgeous woodfired crispy flatbread, slathered with minced lamb, spices and onions, and crisped to curvy perfection. Lined up like gorgeous crusty soldiers, waiting for me and I am waiting for them.

LAHMACUN!  How I love you. Saviour of my Wednesday market ingredient shop. Laden down like a packhorse I creep into Antepliler, lodge my request, and patiently await, 120 seconds, maybe 180. It feels so long!

And then, we are one. Crispy, crispy goodness meets frazzled overworked senses. Rolled around salad and wrapped in paper, I tear the top and tuck in.  And I trot geefully up the street, cargo in tow, lahmacun in hand. I am happy.

Lahmacun @ Antipliler, 46 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay, N4 1AG – £1.30.

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It must be time for a market update?

Isn’t it just! I have now been at the market for 15 weeks. 15 WEEKS!  That’s kind of exciting, isn’t it? It’s time for an update.

Life has been rather busy, I don’t exaggerate. Nor do I seek sympathy as it was good busy. Isn’t it good to be busy? However, the downside of this busy-ness is that normal service of recipes and randomness on this blog wasn’t possible. Mainly because I didn’t have much time to cook, and if I did, I didn’t have time to write about it. Then there was the sad day that my lovely DSLR camera was appropriated by someone else. I do have a tiny point and shoot but it just doesn’t cut the mustard for me and sadly, nay stupidly, it wasn’t insured, and I am not yet in a position to replace it. I miss the sharpness, the focus, the colours and the depth. I miss my camera.

So, after all that guff,  how has the market been? I’ve been diligently baking those blaas, week after week. Thursday 5am after Thursday 5am. Blaa after blaa. Trayful after trayful. Ovenload after ovenload. I’ve managed to increase my output, although this is not down to me, this is down to the hardest working member of the team, my trusty KMix.

Some months ago, the folks at Kenwood asked if I would like to try one. At this stage my wrists ached, my fingers sobbed, but dedicated as ever, I persevered with the bread. Aren’t I just the martyr?! All jest aside, it was very important to me that I make it and that I prove that I could. It seems silly now, but that was what I was thinking. Back to the trusty KMix. I knew that I needed a mixer for the bread, but I had yet to purchase. So, after a little internet research, I could only say yes, as it looked perfect for the Thursday morning bake offs for the stall.

So this gorgeous, sturdy piece of equipment graces my kitchen counter in a glorious red, and every Thursday morning churns and kneads. The yeast gurgles by the warm oven in snug anticipation. Its companion, a peppercorn blender, awaits its load on the weeks I have time to do a soup.

Testament to it’s sturdiness, was the morning when I, excited and over eager, loaded it to the max, nay beyond the max, and left it mix unsupervised in the corner on the table. I missed it slowly vibrate to the side of the table, and cascade to the floor.

SHRIEK! I plugged it out, picked it up, and, mildly panicked. Peevishly, I plugged it back in and attempted to turn it on once more. Unphased, it recommenced its job, and I, impressed with my hardest worker, returned to my soup.

Now, however, I must reconsider. The market is 2 days a week since mid-November, Thursdays and Fridays, and I can’t continue to bake the bread two days in a row and maintain my sanity. I want to do something different and I can’t help but feel that all of the time and enery the KMix and I put into the bread, could be spent trying new things and enjoying the adventure.

People love the pork and spiced apple sandwich, and they come back week after week for it (which is amazing – thank you). The slow roast lamb and aubergine relish is also a go-er, and I usually offer both. I know that if I make them, I will sell them, and this is a very important factor. If I don’t sell my produce, well then, it’s game over. But, at the risk of a strop, I also want to take risks and try new things and some old favourites. I want to try the salt beef from October again, I want to make more of the black bean chilli from November, the delicious spiced chickpea and feta salad with pomegranate molasses dressing, some more smoked salmon.  I want to have several things on offer every time. Choice and colour, variety and vigour. The problem is, there’s only me to do it, and in order to deliver something must be sacrificed.

So, what to do? Why not be normal and buy the bread from a good source like other people do? Well now, I hate to be normal, it sounds so dull, but it does make sense. Why has it taken me until now to consider it?  I’ve bought in before for the Soho Market with those gorgeous bagels from Carmelli’s in Golders Green in October. I’ve bought bread from Sally Clarkes one day where I just couldn’t bake. They were great! So, the decision has been made, and I feel liberated, and quite excited for the next few weeks.

So, what to expect? Soup, meatballs, maybe savoury muffins! I intend to burrow around my cookbooks and savoury inclinations, and dig out some new recipes, and bring them to you at the stall. I will be back to write about them.

So, until then, I’ll get back to my research and see you soon!

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Auction fever

Will she every shut up about the blaggers’ banquet? Will she?! Afraid not folks, at least not for the short term, until we’ve finished our online auction in a couple of weeks and raised lots of money for that fantastic charity Action Against Hunger, I guess we could call this Auction Against Hunger (boom boom!).

But seriously, even if this were not for charity, and you’re of a scrooge like disposition, which I am positively certain you’re not, we’ve had some fantastic donations, and lots more to come. Make your xmas shopping fun and eclectic!

Instead of buying your sister that goat again, what about a Sashimi Masterclass with 7 course tasting menu at Feng Sushi and it’s ALL for charity. It’s a gift for your conscience as well as them. A little too much? Well, I’m serious.

A kitchenaid for your other half? Did I mention it’s pear green. Afternoon tea at the Ritz for your Mum? A Selfridge’s Gordons Choice Hamper, or the delectable White Christmas Tea Collection from our favourite tea lady at the Rare Tea Company.  Did you miss the amazing Chocstar prize of a visit to your home with lots of gorgeous chocolate desserts? Well, keep an eye out, we have many more wonderful tricks up our many sleeves.

Have something you’d like to donate?? We’re still blagging, I mean accepting donations. Please get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.

Want to donate some cash? We’ve had some requests so you can do that too. We’ve setup a page on Just Giving.

Ebay Blaggers’ Banquet Auction (bling, bling!)

Just Giving page – please donate anything, small or big, for this worthy cause. It’s just been setup so is at zero, but we have raised over £6K already. A *huge* thanks and big smile for all who’ve supported us and everyone who donated.

We’ll be blogging about everything in detail here: http://blaggersbanquet.wordpress.com/

Diner reviews, blagger reviews, donor interviews. Every little thing! Keep watching.

http://shop.ebay.co.uk/blaggersbanquet/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=25