Category Archives: London

Nordic Inspiration

Today is a bit of a special offer, as I’m going to share not just one but two recipes on an autumnal theme. This all seems very fitting, as my morning walk to the local underground station had definitely changed from being warm or even just cool, and is now decidedly crisp with a little prickle of cold in the air.

I’ve been busy in the kitchen making cinnamon buns. I actually make them quite often, and took a batch to work last week for my birthday. I think they lasted less than three minutes, and I got five requests for the recipe. The lesson? If you’re keen to be a much-loved co-worker, fresh and buttery baked goods will always go down well. However, this time I’ve add a twist to my standard recipe. In addition to the buttery cinnamon filling, I’ve added a rich seam of apple jam running though them, with the seasonal flavours of apple and spice joining forces.

My inspiration came from an event at the Nordic Bakery in London a few days ago. In celebration of Cinnamon Bun Day on 4 October, they are offering five daily specials over the course of this week. I think it’s a great idea to put a twist on the classic, and I find it rather amusing that the Swedish idea of celebrating them for one day has been taken by people from Finland, extended to a week, and thereby made better. Below you can get a bit of an idea of their tasty Finnish wares from a visit to their branch near Piccadilly Circus during summer.

Nordic Bakery 1

The five flavours on offer are lemon and raisin, blueberry, almond and custard, apple jam and finally chocolate buttons. As we’re just heading into day five of five, I’m afraid you’ve missed most of them, but you can still nab the apple jam version on Friday.

I also had a chat with Miisa Mink, the lady behind the Nordic Bakery, and she shared her ideas about selecting flavours. The apple jam ones were a traditional Finnish ingredient and a favourite of her father. My verdict on the five flavours was that the blueberry and chocolate versions were good, but the apple jam was a bit of a star for me (maybe something to do with a strategic selection of the piece that had the largest pieces of jammy fruit peeking out from between the layers of pastry?). You can see some of them below – yes, they’re cut into pieces, but really, who could eat five whole buns and remain standing at the end of it all? I mean, I tried my best, but I did have to admit defeat eventually!

NordicComposite

So, if you’re a cinnamon bun fan and want to try these specialities, head to the Nordic Bakery. Otherwise, do as I did, and draw on them for a bit of inspiration.

Yes, after I had tried those apple jam buns, I decided that I would try to make something similar. My first task was to make the most of a few organic apples that were languishing in my kitchen and starting to look just a little bit forlorn. OK, that is perhaps a bit harsh – they actually looked more like real apples should look, with varying colours, sizes and a few little bumps and bruises.

autumnapples

Unlike some of the other jams that can involve a fair bit of work to prepare the fruit, this one was easy. Peel, core, chop, add sugar and boil. Very easy, and the apples were transformed into something sweet, sticky and delicious with a rather pretty soft pink colour. If you’re only looking for a way to use up apples, then you can just make the jam, and look to flavour it with whatever spices you like – cinnamon and apple is classic, but you could get good results with cardamom, star anise or cloves (just be sure that you get the amount of spice right – with cloves in particular, a little goes a long way!). And there you go…first recipe of the day!

However, the real fun comes when you add the apple jam as a filling into cinnamon buns. I tweaked my standard recipe by omitting the cardamom that usually goes into the dough, and replacing it with nutmeg. I also swapped out the white sugar for soft brown sugar, and instead of the usual sprinkling of white pearl sugar, I gave them a shiny coating of brown sugar glaze. The result? Pinwheels of warm, delicious, apple-infused goodness.

applejamcinnamonbuns1

As you can see, not a bad result! And thanks have to go do Nordic Bakery for giving me the idea to have a go at them at home. I urge you to try them, but if you’re feeling a bit lazy/desperate but still want to get into the celebratory spirit of Cinnamon Bun Day, you can still hot foot it down there and nab the apple jam buns today!

applejamcinnamonbuns2

Full disclosure: I didn’t get paid for writing this post. I just positioned myself next to the table when the five types of bun were revealed and ate A LOT of them during my visit!

To make Apple Jam Cinnamon Buns (makes 12):

For the apple jam:

• 450g peeled apples, finely chopped
• 250g jam sugar (with pectin)
• 1 lemon, juice only

1. Put the apples into a saucepan with some water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until soft.

2. Add the sugar, and simmer gently until it is dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil, then cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, then test from time to time for a set. You want a slightly soft set – the fruit should be “jammy” but it should not be thick or stiff.

3. Once the jam is ready, put to one side and leave to cool.

For the filling:

• 70g butter, soft
• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• all the cooled apple jam

1. Mix the butter and cinnamon until smooth, then fold in the apple jam.

For the dough:

• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 50g brown sugar
• 60g butter
• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 1 egg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 generous teaspoon nutmeg or mace
• 325g strong white flour

1. First thing – whisk the egg and divide in two. You need half for the dough, and half for the glaze.

2a. If using a bread machine: put one portion of the egg and the rest of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2b. If making by hand: put the flour and butter into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until the butter has been incorporated. Fold in the salt, sugar, cardamom and yeast. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and one portion of the egg, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (at least 5 minutes). Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

3. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Roll into the largest rectangle you can. Spread with the filling, then roll up into a sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut into 12 slices.

4. Lay each slice, cut face up, on a bun case. Cover with cling film or a damp teacloth and leave to rise for at least an hour until doubled in size.

5. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Take the remaining egg (remember that?) and mix with a tablespoon of water. Brush the buns with the egg wash. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden. If they are browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

6. When the buns are done, remove from the oven and brush them while still warm with the hot glaze.

For the glaze:

• 50g soft brown sugar
• 50ml water

1. Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil for about a minute.

Worth making? Utterly delicious! These are like compact apple pies and add a whole new dimension to making cinnamon buns. I’m a convert!

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On Location: Waterhouse (Shoreditch, London)

A few weeks ago, after a tough spell almost chained to my desk, I was really quite relieved to have been released for the weekend and to be going for dinner on Friday. Blinking as I walked out, the sun on my face, I will freely admit there was a real sense of freedom.

And a few short hours later, via an Aperol spritz on a terrace, I found myself sitting next to a canal and with bikes whizzing past on the other side of the water, with the vague feeling that I was somewhere in Holland. It is this stretch of canal that gives its name to the restaurant – Waterhouse in Shoreditch. This place also prides itself on an eco-friendly ethos, seasonal ingredients and giving local people opportunities in the restaurant trade.

I got to know about this place a few years ago through friends who worked with the trustees, and it’s the sort of place that might be difficult to find unless you know exactly where it is. It’s in an unassuming building, tucked down a quiet side street just off Kingsland Road and could be incredibly easy to overlook. You need to keep your eyes peeled for the water droplet symbol.

While the restaurant has glass windows and canal views from one side, the kitchen is brightly lit at the back. I’m a bit of a fan of places where you can see the kitchen staff cooking away in the background. I don’t mean that I need to have things sliced-and-diced in front of my face, but scenes of business being done on the other side of the room provide an assurance than things are being cooked from scratch.

My starter was chilli paneer on lemonade bread with raita. I have no idea what makes this lemonade bread – it seemed to be something like a small, puffy pita. Maybe some lemonade in the dough? I didn’t know, and a post-dinner check via Google didn’t illuminate me much. If anyone out there can enlighten me, then please do!

This confusion about ingredients aside, this was a delicious starter, possibly one of the best that I have had for quite a while. First off, there was a really generous amount of paneer, which I love. This was all coated in a sweet, spicy, fruity, sticky sauce with a goodly amount of chilli too. It was rich and lightly fiery but avoided being too hot.

My main was that veggie staple, the mushroom ravioli. However, I don’t think that really gives a true flavour (ha ha!) of this dish, for the secret was in the sauce. I spied that this was served with wild garlic. I’ve been rather frantically busy recently, and have not come across any of this stuff, either in markets (having not been to any) or in the forests around London (again, due to a lack to time to go walking, and little inclination due to the recent cold/wet/damp snap).

I had in my mind that this would be a pasta dish served with some sort of wild garlic pesto. When it came, it was a buttery sauce with wild garlic added to impart flavour, so it was delicate rather than vampire-repelling strong. For the sake of my fellow diners, probably a good thing, but a little ramekin of wild garlic puree to add to the ravioli would not have gone amiss.

I really liked this. The filling had a rich, earthy mushroom flavour, and a bit of texture – finely chopped fungi rather than the more familiar paste that you so often get. The sauce was buttery and had an agreeable mild garlic flavour. All in all, very tasty, even if it wasn’t the plate of bright emerald green I was expecting.

So…would I go back? Yes. I go here from time to time anyway, and I like the variety of the menu – the dishes, in particular the veggie dishes, tend to be somewhat different to the usual suspects (I have yet to experience risotto here) and for that, we all need to be grateful. It’s also got a certain charm from being stylish but also somewhat secret, another rare treat in this town. The staff are also fantastic – fun, friendly and unpretentious. In Shoreditch – who’d believe it?

Waterhouse, 10 Orsman Road, London N1 5QJ. Tel: 020 7033 0123. Tube: Haggerston.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: Kipferl (Angel, London)

Everyone like a bit of Austro-Hungarian grandeur now and then, and I was really rather excited when I learned that one of the nicest little streets around Angel has acquired Kipferl. If you know your baked goods, this should be saying “Austrian” right now, and this little café brings a little hint of Viennese life to the area. It’s located on Camden Passage, a lovely little pedestrian lane just off of busy Upper Street, with a great mix of independent antique shops, art stores, jewellers (think original 1930s art deco a la Wallis Simpson) and vintage clothing stores, so it’s a welcome addition.

A friend had mentioned this place to me, and I went there one Monday in January. I had a free day, and fancied that something noodle-focussed with cheese, a piece of chocolate-and-apricot-jam-rich Sachertorte and a cup of Wiener Melange would be in order against the cold weather.

Too bad – it’s shut on Mondays. Firmly shut. Ho-hum.

Well, finally, finally I manage to get myself together and go there for dinner, and I’m very happy to have discovered that it’s really a rather lovely little place. Given this is a short bus ride up the hill from my place of work, all in all this works out rather well.

The style is what I recall from my visits to Austria as “new Viennese” – white walls, lots of wood, and veering towards the Nordic (but there are nods to history – can you spot Mozart up on the wall?), and everything in a modern, functional font. It’s a clean look that does work rather well in a café, as I have a bit of a fear that lots of dried flowers and ruffles probably hide nightmares made of dust.

So, all things equal, if you’re looking for chintz, baroque and lots of Empress Sissi, this probably isn’t the place to come. Of course, you’ve got a riot of purple and decadence across the street in the Paul A Young chocolate shop, and I’ve no doubt that their sweet treats would have made the French (but in reality Austrian) Queen Marie Antoinette really rather happy. Would she have tried the Marmite flavour? Doubtful, but she would have love the salted caramels and truffles.

However, I digress. Back to Kipferl. The name is German for croissant, and it offers a simple, modern take on Austrian food. I’ve got a soft spot for this cuisine and the Austrian people after spending a few holidays in Styria in the south of the country, where the local specialities are white wines and pumpkin oil (of which more below), both consumed on terraces in the middle of small vineyards that cling to the sides of steep valleys. In Vienna, I’ve been to excellent chic restaurants that served traditional food prepared simply but well – memories of fried Spätzle noodles with cheese still linger.

It’s fair to say that this is all good, solid fare for people who would be doing a lot of walking up mountains. Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp children might have enjoyed singing up the side of a mountain, but I would wager that it was a plate of Kaiserschmarrn or Spätzle that powered them up there and helped them recover after the hike back down.

During my visit, we tried a goat cheese and lentil salad, spinach dumplings and the classic – cheese Spätzle noodles!

The first two were delicious, but the latter – oh my! The picture doesn’t really do the dish justice, but it was delicious – substantial, with lots of cheese and a side of fried, golden-brown onions. I wolfed this lot, then picked the pan clean.

After all that hearty food for a main dish, you might think there was no room for a dessert, and you would be right.

Except…those Austrians have a knack for cakes and sweets. Think about it – Danes don’t eat Danish pastries, they call it wienerbrød (Viennese bread). The French nibble on Viennoiseries (“thing from Vienna”). And at Kipferl there is a decent selection of bakes to have with coffee as well as a choice of traditional goodies – rich Sachertorte cake, Kaiserschmarrn chopped pancakes with fruit compote and apple Strudel. With a beaming waitress egging you on, it is sort of difficult to say no…

Both desserts were delicious. On balance, I have to plump for the Kaiserschmarrn which were rich, lightly sweet and came with a dark cherry compote and fresh berries. It was a calorific way to round off a meal, but very pleasant.

Just room left for the coffee, and I loved how the different options – from very milky to black – are explained with this little colour chart. Rather nifty!

After dinner, I had a little wander over to their display shelves, where you can pick up Austrian wine and pumpkin oil. It’s the latter that I was delighted to see – it’s made from pumpkin kernels, which give up a thick, dark green oil that has a rich, nutty flavour. It works wonderfully on simple green salads, drizzled over noodles, stirred into risotto or mixed into thick natural yoghurt for a dip. It tends to be on the pricey side, but if you do happen to see some, it’s well worth picking up a bottle.

So…would I go back? Most certainly. This place has a nice, relaxed feel to it, and it’s just that little bit hidden away so as to stay special. In particular the staff were very charming – I suspect they were Austrians, and could not have been more polite or helpful, yet maintaining a distance when you were mid-meal. You might not be able to work out how to solve a problem like Maria, but you know that you would at least be able to have a heart-to-heart with her over a decent Wiener Melange in London town.

Kipferl, 20 Camden Passage, London, N1 8ED. Tel: 0207 704 1555. Tube: Angel.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: Skylon (South Bank, London)

Having recently waxed lyrically about the neo-gothic splendour of St Pancras station, it’s a trip south of the Thames to the very 1950s Royal Festival Hall, and in particular, the bar at Skylon. As you might expect, there is a Modernist twist to the bar, and that retro feel of “the future as seen from many years ago”, which I am rather fond of.

First of all – the name. What is a skylon? The name is taken from a futuristic sculpture that used to grace the Southbank. It was installed as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, and the logo and coasters recall what it looked like – a long cylinder, tapering in at either end. It was installed in a way that gave the impression that it floated effortlessly in mid-air.

While the original is long gone, the name now lives on in the bar. There has even been a campaign to get it re-built – so who knows, it may yet come to take its place again in skyline. It might look rather at home with the London Eye, the Gherkin and the Shard.

The “view of the future from the 1950s” theme runs through the decor – sleek seating banks and lounge chairs that have the vague air of a UFO about them. One of the things that I love about this place is that it benefits from being a large space with windows along one side – offering fantastic views across the river to some rather grand buildings, and the BT Tower hovering in the distance. All very serene by day, but at night, like in so much of London, the view really comes into its own. Sitting in the bar with a sophisticated drink, mellow lighting and the city by night – it’s great.

While Skylon is a good place for a drink, I was – unusually – there in the early afternoon, and in the mood for a cup of tea and little something sweet. As you can see below, the sleek “50s futuristic” look continues even down to the napkin holder and the bespoke chocolates. I loved these touches. They looked good in their brown-and-bronze colours, and I think this might finally have explained why so many of the more ghastly 50s and 60s buildings in London are brown – it probably looked rather nifty back in the day!

Tea arrived – a cup of Assam, which is my favourite, and in a decent china cup. It makes a difference. I like the strong flavour and intense colour, and yes – I spoil it all with a dash of milk. I’m British – it’s what we do!

However, tea was only half the story. I had anticipated that my “something sweet” would end up being some sort of standard fare – a chocolate brownie or a cupcake. But no. No, no, no. Skylon came into its own, as it had a rather intriguing item at the bottom of the menu – a selection of four mini-desserts. For a tenner. Frankly, it had to be done.

I’d gone for those, and when they arrived – well, see below, but wow! Proper dainty little dessert-like cakes. They looked absolutely beautiful – perfect and brightly coloured, the reds and yellows contrasting with the deep blue Japanese plate.

This little selection comprised a dark chocolate cake with dark chocolate cream, a raspberry and passion fruit cake, a pear, caramel and chocolate mousse  and a fruit cheesecake. A good selection, a nice balance of fruit and chocolate, and quite frankly – perfect to share between a few people if you’re after a rather informal but still swish express afternoon tea. Each was delicious in its own way, and it was nice to have quite a bit of variation in flavours and textures. Like a gastronomic mini-tour through the world of cake.

So…would I go back? For sure! I know this place for drinks, and it really does offer a unique view of the river and the site by night, making for a perfect place to meet up before going for dinner. However, I’m also pleased to have discovered that this place offers a simple alternative to a full-blown afternoon tea, so you can assuage the need for a little something sweet and a cuppa without going overboard. A real gem.

Skylon, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 8XX. Tel: 020 7654 7800. Tube: Waterloo or Embankment.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: The Gilbert Scott Bar

I’ve been incredibly busy at work recently, and I’ve come to appreciate the pleasures of a drink at the end of the day. We’re not talking the usual way that Brits seem to unwind together “down the pub” over multiple rounds of beer. No, I lived in Brussels for too long to pick up that habit. But a chance to unwind with a colleague in a classy bar, now that is appealing.

I happen to work near to fairytale-like St Pancras station in London, and so it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the Gilbert Scott bar.

I love it. I actually love it. It was a touch too busy when it first opened, but these days, it’s still buzzy but you can usually wander in and get a table.

A big part of the attraction is the decor – it’s all quite elegant as far as seating arrangements go, then it goes crazy – lots of carved stone, gilt and an elaborate painted ceiling in gold, rich reds, deep blues and luxurious greens. I always think that the ceiling has a rather glamorous “Arts and Crafts” feeling to it. It also has that sort of subtle lighting that makes you want to huddle round the table and share stories – whispered, and not shouted. All very Victorian and discreet.

The drinks menu is great – interesting cocktails, which change by the month (juleps in January, flips and fizzes in February, mojitos in March…get it? On tenderhooks to see what April will offer – advocaat or apero?) and the classics are pretty darn good (my drink of choice is a Negroni for the time being). For those that love a touch of fizz, the award-winning English sparkling wine is also worth checking out.

Now…let’s talk damage – it’s not cheap, but this is quite a classy place with a classy crowd. I love that it still has the feeling of a grand station café, where people next to you could be about to travel up to the wilds of Yorkshire, dash to the Eurostar to travel to Paris, or are waiting for the Caledonian Sleeper to take them up to the Scottish Highlands.

This is the sort of atmosphere that lends itself to ordering something sophisticated and then having a good old catch-up with friends. If you’re not quite taken with the cocktail list in any given month, they also seem to be willing to go off piste – the staff are friendly and know their stuff, and when I was there, my friend spent most of the evening raving about a rather interesting creation that included red wine and cocoa nibs.

In addition to a decent cocktail selection, there is a nice line in bar snacks, including fat chips with Sarson’s mayo, and my favourite – Countess Morphy’s potato croquettes.

Countess Morphy? You don’t know her? Well, neither did I, but it turns out she is the author of “Recipes of All Nations”, a tome from the 1930s that brought glimpses of exotic lands to the British kitchen. She sounds like a foodie aristo that could have some straight out of Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs, but it is rumoured that the Countess did not actually enjoy a title, and may in fact have been Marcelle Azra Hincks, a native of New Orleans. Whatever her story, I had an admiration for a lady who clearly understood the value of branding and turned that to her advantage. I want this book, and I will be keeping an eye out for it when I pass vintage bookshops. And she has a darned good recipe for croquettes too.

And if you’re hungry but not quite ready for the ware of Countess Morphy, I love these little silver containers with salt-and-pepper popcorn. An interesting touch instead of plain old nuts or crisps.

So…would I go back? Well, I tend to end up here at least once every couple of weeks, so I hardly count as an objective source. But I think this is once of the nicest bars in the area, and a really special place to enjoy a drink while you want for that someone special to arrive on the last train from Paris. They’re about to launch afternoon tea too, so I get the feeling I’ll be back just a little more often too.

The Gilbert Scott Bar, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London NW1 2AR. Tel: 0207 278 3888. King’s Cross St Pancras Tube.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Get Oaty!

You may or may not have appreciated from past posts that I’m Scottish (see here, here, here and here). Our cuisine is, in many ways, quite curious. On the one hand, you have fantastic products like wild salmon and fabulous fresh fruit (like these), but it’s also a nation famed for the deep-fried Mars bar. Contradictions. We love our sweet things (tablet and macaroon bars) but we also love our porridge.

In fact, I think this last comparison is one of the most contrary of all – tablet is about the sweetest things you can imagine, whereas porridge is just about one of the healthiest things you can eat – low GI, higher protein than other grains, low-fat and plenty of fibre. That, and it’s quick, easy and tasty.

I have always been a porridge fan, and it’s the perfect way to start the day when it’s nippy outside. This week we’ve been hit by a cold snap, so I’m grateful for a warming bowl of the stuff before I venture out onto the frozen pavements of Olde London Towne. But last week, I went along to a very intriguing evening, where the world of oats would be lovingly folded into the world of chocolate, thanks to Rude Heath and Demarquette Fine Chocolates.

The evening kicked off with a few wise words about all things oaty and porridgy from Nick Barnard from Rude Health. I would go so far as to say that what this man does not know about oats can be safely assumed to be not worth knowing. How serious is he? Well, he regaled us with tales of his participation in the World Porridge Championships in Carrbridge near Inverness, where he competed against a collection of “gnarly Scots” for the coveted Golden Spurtle. There were two parts to the competition – a “classic” round where participants made porridge from oats, water and salt, and a “creative” section where all manner of fantasy and whimsy could be deployed, provided that the results included porridge.

Now, first things first…if you’re wondering, a spurtle is a special implement (basically, a stick) used to stir porridge. Some people swear by it. I’m inclined to the view that it’s probably one of the silliest things that you could use to make porridge, and you’re far better off using a normal wooden spoon.

We started off with the “classic” version – porridge made from a mixture of course and medium oats, made with milk and water with a dash of salt. Having been identified as a Scot, I was asked what sort of oats I used. I told him I went for pinhead oatmeal, and I think that earned me some serious brownie points – for it seems this is the really hardcore stuff for, eh, gnarly Scots like me…

Now, I should confess that by this stage, having walked all the way from South Kensington tube station in the cold, we had been warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate made with oat milk, whipped cream and whisky (which was delicious, by the way). We’d also been able to nibble on a selection of chocolates and caramels. So by the time Nick had made his porridge, it’s fair to say that the version hearty, savoury porridge was actually rather welcome.

We were also offered some sugar, honey or cream to top it off. As a gnarly Scot, I stood there, skulking, and ate it unadorned…and I’ll let you muse on the idea of me standing in a shop, full of luscious chocolates, eating porridge…

Once we’d sampled the classic version (and I was shocked to see that not everyone devoured their bowl), it was time to see the “creative” section. Now, this was pure fantasy, combining decadence with Dalí: a dark chocolate cup, filled with warm porridge and salted caramel. The trick is that the filling is warm rather than hot, so that everything combines and melts slowly, such that the cup slowly collapses into sticky deliciousness. Think of those melting watches, but tastier.

As Nick made more porridge with an admirable focus of purpose, the resident master chocolatier Marc Demarquette got to work on the salted caramel sauce. In true Blue Peter fashion, everything was laid out ready for work!

I’ve made salted caramel before, but I have to admit that it tends to be a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, and it has, in the past, taken more than one attempt to yield the desired result. Helpfully, Marc shared some tricks of the trade with us, and mercifully for me, in clear and simple terms that I could understand!

Firstly, how to make the base caramel? It’s sugar with a dash of water, heated until lightly golden (too dark and it gets bitter) and you’re looking for “champagne bubbles” – that is to say, the small-ish bubbles you have once the initial larger bubbles subside. Next, adding the butter – the trick here to have it at room temperature, not straight from the fridge, and then drop it into the caramel and then let it sit without stirring. The butter melts, and then you are stirring hot melted butter into the caramelised sugar, which should help to stop things from seizing up. Then move onto adding the cream and salt (or, in this case Halen Môn vanilla salt) and you end up with a lovely, smooth, sticky salted caramel…

…then you fill the chocolate cups with a little porridge (or as the French probably call it to seem fancy – crème d’avoine) and top with a generous amount of salted caramel. As you can see, this causes the Dalí-like slow melting of the cup. Just lovely!

As the cup melts, you get to enjoy all three flavours together. All in all, a fun and very different little dessert. I’m pretty sure that chocolate and salted caramel have never been enjoyed in such a healthy way!

Now, a little damper on all this excitement – Nick told us a sorry tale. He’d fought the good fight last year to win the Golden Spurtle, but he was pipped at the post. Having just tasted this fantastic little dish, I was stunned. However, Nick assured us all that he’s going to have another go – and we all wish him good luck!

If you want to get some idea of the day, check out this film on Implausibleblog.com.

If you’re interested in getting hold of these chocolate cups, either for the porridge-caramel recipe, or for something of your own imagining, they’re available from Demarquette’s boutique in Chelsea, which I can highly recommend. I say this because below you can see some of the other chocolates that we sampled that evening. I know, after all that porridge and caramel (not forgetting the hot chocolate) I should have been full, but they were so tempting.

These little domed chocolates are a range of caramels with exciting flavours like winter berries, festive cinnamon and apple, Scottish raspberry and Cornish sea salt caramels. We also got to try the Medina chocolate, an award winner based on a whipped ganache filling. Given that this was the server’s first day in the boutique, we all think she did pretty well in guiding us through the display and served those chocolates with great aplomb!

Demarquette Fine Chocolates, 285 Fulham Road, London SW10 9PZ. Tel: 020 7351 5467. Tube: Gloucester Road or South Kensington.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: The Lido Cafe (Brockwell Park, London)

“South London” and “Miami Beach” are not terms that you would usually expect to find in the same sentence. However, there are times where you can get the feeling of being in the latter while actually being in the former, and one of those times is when you’re at the Lido Cafe in the lovely Brockwell Park on a warm, sunny day.

No, really! Sitting next to a 1930s-style building next to a bright blue pool, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, a table laden with healthy brunch items and fresh fruit juices, you can just about imagine you’re lazing somewhere on South Beach. This is how we enjoyed it during the summer when we had a few warm weekends.

Anyway, that was all six months ago…I was there again yesterday, and let’s be honest – when it’s three degrees in London and you’re wrapped up in a thermal jacket, scarf and gloves, that Miami-vibe is not quite as obvious. But fret not – it might not feel like SoBe, but the cafe is thankfully still pretty darned good.

First things first is the building, which alone is worth a mention. At its heart is the lido itself – a large open-air swimming pool, which is great for a dip in summer. The structure is a 1930s construction (I lean towards calling it art deco in my naivety, but I get the feeling I might not be right on this). This all means the cafe is a large, airy space with lots of windows to allow light to flood in. It’s bright during the day and all summer, and as the sun does set, you catch glimpses of the sunset over Brockwell Park. As you can see, the look is quite simple and stylish, and very relaxed.

On previous occasions, we’ve enjoyed breakfast here, and it’s pretty good – delicious pancakes, mushrooms on sourdough toast, exotic fruit juices (and – bonus – they serve Marmite with the toast if you want it!). However, on a chilly January day, following a long and bracing walk in the park (which offers some great views towards central London), we veered towards coffee and cake. We plumped for a slice of the tasty, lightly spicy carrot cake with a generous spread of cream cheese frosting, and a slice of orange, almond and polenta cake.

We hit the place just before it was time to collect toddlers form the local nursery, so it was pretty much kid central for around an hour. If you appear around 3:30, be quite prepared for a series of small child to appear behind you, to tug your clothes and then ask you questions. All part of the charm. And if you’ve got a couple of small folk in tow, this place is a pretty safe bet to make them happy, especially when the pool is open in the summer. You’ve also got the park outside if the energy from all those cakes needs to be burned off.

Finally, I just want to draw your attention to the funky wallpaper that adorns the back of the cafe. Amazing, isn’t it? I have a vague recollection that we had curtains like this at home when I was growing up. Ah, memories…

So…would I go back? For sure. I love this place – the 30s building, the bright, open space and the delicious food. It’s pretty much kid central, but just sit back and enjoy the ride. In summer, it is fantastic sitting outside by the pool, and there aren’t a lot of places in London where you can do that.

The Lido Cafe, Dulwich Road, Brockwell Lido, London SE24 0PA. Tel: 020 7737 8183. Brixton Tube or Herne Hill Rail.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Tom’s Kitchen (Chelsea, London)

That’s kitchen, not diner. Much as we all love the Suzanne Vega hit, try to resist the urge to hum it. Because if you do…it will be stuck in your head by now, and will stubbornly stay there for at least the next 20 minutes…actually, in all likelihood, already too late…

I’ve unexpectedly found myself with a couple of weeks of leisure time in London in the middle of January. I could have gone somewhere, but actually…and this is the big secret…London is a great place to hang out it when you’ve got time off. Sure, the weather isn’t guaranteed, but that doesn’t matter – you’ve got cafés and restaurants galore, and more culture than you can shake a large stick at. I love in particular that so many of the galleries are free, so you can pop in and consume culture in bite-sized chunks. Now, I realise that sounds terrible gauche, but in saying that, I mean you can see a few pieces at a time when your mind is fresh and clear, and really enjoy them. When you’re starting to flag, just step out side and do something else. Our great galleries contain some superb works, and really, seeing them should not be a chore. Hence – bite-sized chunks!

Yesterday I got a call from my friend Kristine to meet up. She proposed Chelsea, late breakfast and some art. The sun was shining and the morning air clear and crisp. A perfect day out.

The venue was Tom’s Kitchen, her suggestion and somewhere that is apparently well-know for its breakfasts, especially the American favourites of pancakes and French toast.

I was due at 11:15, but of course I was not on time. Stoke Newington to Chelsea is not quick at the best of times. Then factor in the randomness of London’s transport network, a seemingly endless wait in the tunnel (which was probably a minute but felt longer) and helping a couple of people with prams, and of course I ran late. So when I emerged above ground I called ahead and asked her to order me some pancakes.

Rushing through the streets of Chelsea, I felt rather happy that I’ve dressed smartly for the day. People probably think I’m going somewhere important to do important things. Of course, the reality was more mundane, just that I didn’t want to arrive to cold pancakes. Depending on what matters, I suppose that is rather important. Still, I enjoyed my little mystery dash down Onslow Square and the very picturesque Pond Place.

I arrived, hot and flustered, and settled down. The place is lovely  – all white tiles and wooden tables, and while it clearly gets busy at weekends and for lunch or dinner, if you get there during the morning of afternoon lull, it’s really quite peaceful. My pancakes were on the way, but we decided that as it was approaching lunchtime, we would order a little more. My timing was bang on – breakfast runs until 11:45, and I had about two minutes to spare. Kristine opted for the Bircher Muesli with fresh berries, and I ordered the beans on wholemeal toast with cheese.

The beans – they are very, eh, ‘huge’. The waitress told us this while at the same time gesturing with her arms that we could expect something rather massive. She was clearly aware that the pancakes plus the beans would be a challenge, and that’s always a piece of advice I’m happy to receive. Suggests they are thinking about you. But, I was hungry, and after this mammoth late breakfast, we were up for a long walk in the fresh air then some culture, so fortification was needed.

The beans came, and they were indeed huge. Lots of toast, lots of baked beans, lots of cheese on top. This was marching food in terms of portion size, so I have to credit our server for giving due warning about the volume of food we had ordered. They were fantastic. Lots of bread, loads of beans, and a lovely great big generous topping of melting cheese. Having stepped inside from the chilly streets of Chelsea, this was all very welcome.

After making short work of those beans, it was pancake time. I’d had in my head that I would be tucking in to a pile of many small pancakes, artfully arranged in a stack. It wasn’t like that. Instead, it was one thick pancake, with lots of blueberries hidden underneath. I mean lots. I can’t stand when you get only a few pieces of fruit in a dish that has the name of that fruit in the title. So today – I was very happy! The thicker, slightly spongy pancake reminded me of the German Kaiserschmarrn. A serious pancake, to provide a solid foundation for later. I probably drowned the poor thing in too much maple syrup, but it happily soaked the stuff up. A sweet, sticky, messy, fruity treat. Delicious!

Our lunch consumed (for we finished late, and well past midday, so it was getting a little silly to pretend it was still breakfast), we had a little wander through the side streets of Chelsea. Now, how posh are the street signs, enveloped in wisteria? We also took in the culture at the Saatchi Gallery just off the King’s Road. All in all, this confirmed that I really am really rather good at enjoying having time off.

So…would I go back? Definitely. Tom’s Kitchen offers some very good food and a relaxed atmosphere. Simple as that, and a great way to set yourself up during the week for sightseeing or shopping in and around Chelsea and South Kensington. But as we left, it was getting seriously busy with the lunch crowd, so booking ahead is probably no bad thing!

Tom’s Kitchen, 27 Cale Street, London SW3 3QP. Tel: 0207 349 0202. Tube: Sloane Square or South Kensington.

LondonEats locations map here.

PS…you might also notice that the pictures today are a little different – yes, this is all thanks to Instagram. Now, you may wonder why I am doing this when I am also the proud owner of a DSLR camera? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, whipping out the bad boy at the dining table is cumbersome and I think really annoying for other diners. Click, click, flash, click. I think it’s annoying, and thus don’t do it to others. The iPhone is far more discrete (well, OK in a cafe or when eating somewhere informal…I think I’ll be keeping it firmly in my pocket when it come to fine dining experiences). Plus – I like the “Polaroid” effect on these shots too, simple as that. If you’ve got a view on the subject – do share!

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On Location: The Library Lounge at County Hall

Psssst! Fancy going for afternoon tea with a great view?

I’m always on the lookout for somewhere to go for afternoon tea. Tea, finger sandwiches, cakes, scones and maybe a glass of something. That, and visitors love doing something so thoroughly British, and when there is a great view to boot, who could resist?

Recently I went to the Library Lounge at the Marriott County Hall. This is somewhere that offers fine views and some interesting history. The County Hall building is located on the south bank of the Thames, next to the London Eye and just across the river from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. So the view is one of the great views in the world. Yes, in the world. It does not fail to excite – show it to anyone, and they know what they’re looking at straight off.

County Hall was the home of the former Greater London Council until the 1980s, when the then-government got rid of it. There were a series of spats, but one of the things that annoyed the government of the day was the propensity of the occupants in County Hall to drape banners with inconvenient political truths down the side of the building – which was not something the occupants of Parliament were keen to see across the Thames when looking out of their offices! You still see extracts of this history – the walls are dotted with old political cartoons based on the battles between the Government and the Greater London Council.

While the location is stunning, it can also make it easy to overlook – locals might avoid this part of the Southbank given that it gets busy, and visitors tend to walk along the riverbank and then turn  straight onto Westminster Bridge and head towards Big Ben. So, time to change that!

Since the 1980s, County Hall has since been redeveloped, and you are now able to wander in and enjoy afternoon tea in the former library. This is a truly lovely space, living up to its name with books lined up on heavy wooden shelves. I think this is what makes the atmosphere so nice – the shelves break up the space, so it feels really rather very private – you could imagine the politicians of days gone by in this place, gossiping, making plans and scheming!

You’ve got a number of options in the Library Lounge, and faced with the selection, we plumped for the champagne tea. It just had to be done. I was there just before Christmas, just having completed my gift shopping. It had been hard work, and heck, I felt I had earned it.

I had arrived around 3 o’clock, on a clear evening as the sun was beginning to set. And I have to admit that there is a real thrill sitting there with a glass of chilled fizz, looking out over the Thames towards Parliament, and seeing Big Ben light up against the twilight sky. As a (pretend) local, it’s actually such an unusual thing to do, so easy to overlook, but it’s also a simple pleasure really worth enjoying. It’s one of those sights that makes you remember how great our city is. I know, I keep going on about the view, but it was lovely!

When it came to the tea, there was the usual wide selection, but a little touch that I rather enjoyed was receiving a tray of samples to test.

You unscrew the sample jars, and can then take in the aroma of the teas on offer. There was a good combination of classic teas (Darjeeling, Lapsang Souchong and my own favourite, Assam) as well as herbal teas including rooibos with orange and cinnamon and a nice blackcurrant and lavender. Helpfully, the server was also able to offer some tips on which teas to take as well as sharing her own favourites.

As I was there just before Christmas, afternoon tea came with a festive twist. Following a section of finger sandwiches (a veggie selection was not an issue – hummus, cheese, avocado), we had Christmas cake, cranberry tartlets and tree-shaped cookies with edible pearls.

However, the highlight for me were the truly delicious scones. Light, fluffy and still warm. Yummy!

As you can see, I eat my scones the “Cornish way”. That is to say – split, spread with jam and then add the clotted cream. Apparently if you eat them with the clotted cream first and then the jam, that’s the “Devon way” – fine if you’re in Plymouth, but frowned upon if you’re in the Cornish town of Penzance.

So, would I go back? Definitely. The afternoon tea was lovely (as evidenced by the fact I managed to demolish three scones, in addition to the plate of finger sandwiches and all the cakes), and the view is breathtaking.

If you’re got a visitor to entertain, it works out a treat as you can take in the sights around Westminster, then nip in and enjoy the calm with an appropriate vista. My tip? Call to book, and check whether you are able to get a table near the window!

Library Lounge, London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB. Tel: 020 7902 8000. Tube: Waterloo or Westminster.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: Vertigo 42 (The City, London)

When I go out, I have a strong, strong preference for down-to-earth places that serve great food and are a relaxed place for a drink.

But…every now and then…it is nice to go to something of a landmark bar. And this is very much the case with Vertigo 42, located at the top of one of the tallest buildings in the City. As you can see, from street level, it’s a long, long way up. A whole 42 floors.

Now, this is not the sort of place that I would normally drop into for a casual drink. This is in part because you need to book ahead, but also because this is a champagne and cocktail bar, with the sort of prices that you would expect from this sort of venue in the middle of London’s financial centre. You get the point…

All that said, the whole reason for going is that it does offer some of the most amazing views across London, especially on a clear day as the sun is setting. You can gaze at the Shard of Glass that is being built on the south bank of the Thames, admire the sun setting over west London (and really understand what prompted to Kinks to write their famous hit) and take in the London Eye, Tate Modern and Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral. Towards the east, you can see the towers of Canary Wharf and the nearby 30 St Mary’s Axe (better known as the Gherkin).

You can see below why I recommend getting there as the sun is setting – you’ll see London in the daylight, then enjoy the sun setting and seeing the city light up in front of your eyes. Even at these prices, the views are stunning.

After all that boozing at the top of the tower, a little wander through the chilly streets was much-needed before going off to dinner. To put it all in context, this is the more familiar view of St Paul’s Cathedral at night.

Would I go back? Well, as I said, it’s not a place for a casual drink, but great to visit or impress guests. Just be aware that the best views are for twos or fours (towards Waterloo – sunsets! landmarks!) so be sure to extract a guarantee about where you’re sitting if at all possible. Be prepared for a hefty bar tab, but remember – those views!

Vertigo 42, Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, London EC2N 1HQ. Tel: 0207 877 7842. Tube: Bank or Liverpool Street.

LondonEats locations map here.

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