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Brew Lab, Edinburgh

6 Mar

So as you know from my last post I spent a sneaky last minute weekend in Edinburgh. Pat has been working up there so I felt it only fitting to go up and pay a visit! Edinburgh is a beautiful city and we crammed a lot into such a short time – staying true to ourselves, most of it revolved around food, drink and coffee!! (Hard sessions in the gym this week to make up for it…)

One of the places which we were recommended to pay a visit to was Brew Lab, South College Street. It’s a lovely coffee shop just off the main street, close to the university and surgical museum (which much to my disappointment was closed when we were there – it looks really quite cool!)

Brew Lab looks pretty modern from the outside, but inside it retains some of its old brickwork charm. The first thing you see are the amazing looking pastries and cakes (which I somehow spectacularly managed to refrain from gobbling up), and then the smiley faces behind the counter. It’s all set up a little like a chemistry lab (in the loosest sense of the word) – all coffee making paraphernalia is on show (featuring a very high tech looking kettle type thing built into the counter) and the coffee types are arranged on the wall as though they are part of the periodic table. Appealed to my scientific side, of course! We went relatively early on a Sunday and the atmosphere was really laid back. It’s very spacious inside, with a large table in the centre of the place, perfect for friendly get togethers, and more private, intimate tables spotted around with comfy sofas, partially hidden by walls and corners. There were a few people dotted around the place but it was really quite quiet, just the ticket for a Sunday morning coffee and a relaxed lazy read of one of the many Sunday papers available (for those of you that don’t know, reading more of the news and learning more about the world in general was one of my New Years’ Resolutions…so the paper has become a bit of an old, comforting friend!).

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The coffee beans seemed to be mainly from Has Bean (they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves as suppliers! Unsurprising to me as my brief encounters with them have been more than enjoyable – the team there are just incredible), although there were a couple of other suppliers which I noticed. I chose a skinny latte and Pat had a filter coffee. My latte was made beautifully, and the flavour was quite mild and nutty, with hints of gentle vanilla. I think I would have preferred this particular one as a flat white (after a particularly strong flat white elsewhere the day before I had decided to go for something a little less intense!). Pat’s filter was a great flavour – again quite mild and mellow but lovely and nutty, with subtle deep dark fruit tones. Perhaps this choice of beans was in fact, a little too mild for our tastes. His only gripe with his filter was that it was served in a small metal jug on the side – which although aesthetically pleasing, meant that the coffee dropped its temperature pretty quickly. He is someone who normally drinks his coffee brewed at temperatures below boiling (~95C, the proper way!), but even this was a little too lukewarm for him!

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Overall the place is well worth a visit; it’s great for intimate coffee dates yet accommodates for larger friendly get togethers too. The coffee is high quality, and the baristas are lovely too! If you fancy buying any of those crazy high tech aeropress coffee making madness things, they’re on offer as well. A coffee will set you back anything from around £2.00 – £3.00 (I’m still getting my head around the steep speciality coffee prices, but I guess you get what you pay for). As prices go in Edinburgh I can’t really compare, but it’s comparable with the London prices, and the coffee is high quality. A fine coffee drinking establishment! And the cakes look amazing too….

They’ve got a fantastic and informative website which you can check out here: www.brewlabcoffee.co.uk

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Graveney and Meadow, Tooting

29 Jan

I discovered this little gem of a place during a lovely girly catch up with a couple of friends. There is a lovely ambience indoors, with big comfy sofas scattered around the place and dim lighting making it that little bit more intimate. It’s pretty huge, actually. There are tables too, for those of you who prefer a proper place to sit to tuck in to some rather fantastic sounding nosh.  The decorations are really funky – little bits and bobs of old school sewing shop type things, and odd random things you might find in an antiques shop. Now when I heard about this place,  I had my reservations; it is a cafe, a bar, a bakery and a restaurant. It all seemed too much. However, given the size of the place and the opening hours it seems to work rather well. There’s something for everyone; I spent quite a while lingering around the bakery counter eyeing up the many delicious treats which they had on offer. They looked goooood. According to the website they make most things fresh daily, and there are specific times at which baked goods are made (e.g. early morning for croissants and afternoon for chelsea buns – yes please…!).  When we visited during the day there was a large table of mums and babies (and lots of prams), but again, given the size and the layout we were able to tuck ourselves away around the other side of the bar and barely even noticed them (I have nothing against mums and babies of course, but I know that it can be quite intimidating if you’re going somewhere for a quiet drink only to be faced with the pram-squad and screaming children).

No one ever thinks of Tooting as a place to find specialty coffee, so my expectations weren’t high, so I was very pleasantly surprised when my mocha turned up looking like THIS:

photo (2)….and even more pleasantly surprised that it tasted amazing. I regretted not ordering a coffee. However, I visited again today and grabbed a take out latte on my way to my GP practice. It was a very good quality coffee; it could have been a little hotter temperature wise, and in hindsight I wish I had ordered a flat white to try to get some more depth of flavour, but it was well made. Sadly I was a little distracted today and don’t remember about the tasting notes, but with their beans sourced from Workshop Coffee I can only imagine that they must update their beans in line with their supplier. I’ll check to be certain.

My only disappointment with this place was the price of the coffee, really. With pretty reasonably priced booze, and pretty reasonably priced food, I was a bit disappointed to have to pay £2.30 for a take out coffee. I know that many people are suggesting that Tooting is the new Balham, but realistically it’s not there yet. Perhaps I am being a little harsh, because their prices do match those in Balham (apart from their take out prices – which I genuinely believe need to be at £2, max) and the coffee is matched in quality, but I just feel that given the area it is a little bit on the pricey side a little too soon. That said, I would be prepared to pay £2.3o for a sit in coffee over a relaxed brunch in such a wonderful atmosphere

I do need to also tell you about the toilets. This might be a little bit weird, but err, well, toilets are pretty important to me. If a place has a really grimey grotty dirty toilet, I am seriously put off. Definitely. Not. Here. Their toilets are SO cool! I can only speak about the ladies’, of course (I wasn’t so excited that I felt a need to sneak a peak in the mens’); it is laid out like a dress maker’s shop. There are sewing patterns on the walls, and random dresses hung from hangers. It was also really spacious, so I can imagine that on those girly cocktail nights people wouldn’t be squished up against one another fighting for mirror space to touch up the lipstick. Brownie points!

Score: 8/10 – good coffee, great atmosphere and layout, just need to drop the price of their take out coffee!

Price range: Varies depending on what you’re buying; coffee around £2.20-2.30, £1.50 for filter

Would I go back: yes, but probably not every day for penny-pinchings’ sake

Adam Simmonds, Danesfield House

4 Jan

I’ve been meaning to write about this wonderful experience for a while now, but as I’m sure is the case with all of you, Christmas planning has been rather manic! I’m back at home with the family now, and while everyone else is snuggled up in bed I am sat in the kitchen listening to gale force wind and rain outside, and tip tapping away on my little computer…instead of going out for a run. I think I’m going to wait for the weather to get at least a little bit better before I venture out – at this point I think I might take off and land in Belgium if a gust of wind hit me in the right direction.

Anyway – Adam Simmonds. I was very lucky to be taken (very generously) to Danesfield House in Marlow for a birthday treat by PD. It was such a wonderful escape from London; Danesfield House is set just on the outskirts of Marlow, smack bang in the countryside, and sits atop a lovely green hill. With around 65 acres of land (very GREEN land – not a tube or red bus in sight), it provides a perfect weekend retreat from London. Although this post is about the restaurant, I must say that the hotel itself is spectacular also. You feel sort of like royalty; the room which we were in was vast, with beautiful views of the landscape outside.

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But the restaurant is the focus of the review, so here we go.

Taken from Danesfield House website:

“Earlier this year, Adam retained a Michelin Star in the current edition of the Great Britain and Ireland Guide, which is one of many accolades achieved by Adam and his Brigade in the last few years. The Good Food Guide rates the restaurant with an impressive 8/10, placing it as the 13th top restaurant in the country. The AA Restaurant Guide 2012 confirmed four prestigious rosettes, for the fifth year running.”

The restaurant itself appears rather unassuming from the outside – mainly because all you see past the hotel reception is a door. There is no pompousness associated with Adam Simmonds, bar a few framed accolades on the wall next to the smartly presented person checking reservations by the door. The room is small, it must seat only around 5-6 tables of 6-8, but it’s high ceilings and Renaissance designs make it feel much larger. It was decorated beautifully, and had an incredible sense of grandeur (I must admit, I did move my seating arrangement a little closer to Pat, as I felt a little far away on our 6 person table – it seems that there weren’t any tables only for two, but perhaps this was only on this particular day).

The servers made us feel very at home straight away, and had the perfect balance of friendly and familiar versus leaving us to enjoy our special night. It wasn’t intrusive at all, yet very attentive. The first course was an amuse bouche of a tomato mousse with a vodka granitee. It was a wonderful introduction to the tasting menu – light, but full of flavour, and presented beautifully. We chose to have the matching wines, which had been very cleverly matched the particular flavours in the food. It definitely added another dimension to the meal (and possibly a few tipsy giggles by the end of the many courses!).

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The second amuse bouche was an interesting rendition of what I think of as thick pea and ham soup (erwt soup, back here in Holland), it had all of the flavours of a pea and ham, but was light and frothy. Again, a lovely introduction to what was going to be a fantastic meal.

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The first course was langoustine and caviar, with mackarel, anchovy, pickled cucumbers and English wasabi. The flavour combinations in this dish were absolutely wonderful, and complemented each other perfectly. The only nitpicky criticism we could come up with, would be that the pickled cucumber could have been a little more thinly sliced. As the langoustine was quite a delicate flavour, matched with the milder English wasabi, the pickle came through a tinsy winsy bit too strongly at times. It was matched with a 2008 Pinot Cuvee Silver Lake Willi Opitz from Austria.

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The second dish was confit foie gras with frog legs, a duck consomme, compressed apple and pickled turnip.  The consomme for me was the highlight of this dish – it completely lifted the flavours, and the apple added a slight sweetness against the very savoury duck. Beautifully cooked, and wonderful flavours. This was definitely one of my favourites taste-wise. Again, it matched the wine (same as above) perfectly.

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The following dish was by far the stand out dish of the night. Cod was served with shavings of truffle, leek puree, goat’s cheese and a truffle bouillon.  The flavour combination was fantastically memorable, and matched to the wine (2010 Chablis Domaine Colette Gros) the dish was one of my favourite dishes of all time!

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The following treat was roasted breast and leg of chicken prepared in various ways, with onion puree and yeast potatoes. It was all wonderfully prepared and beautifully cooked, and was served with a 1998 Urbina Rioja, Reserva Especial from Spain.

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We opted for the cheese course, and when the trolley rolled round I was initially a little disappointed. Having been completely overwhelmed by the size of the cheese trolley at Le Gavroche, I was rather underwhelmed by the size of this one. How silly I was! The cheeses had all been very carefully selected (both French and British), and each came with a very carefully thought out and designed accompaniment. Do not miss this dish if you’re going; the flavour combinations were so clever in this course, and although each was so different, the matching wine (a 2011 Gruner Veltlinel from the Kremstal region of Austria) complemented each flavour. This course made it particularly clear that Adam Simmonds puts a great deal of thought into his dishes. The highlight of this plate was the cheddar with chocolate coated hazlenut – delicious, yet a little bizarre on paper…!

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I think this dish was probably one of PD’s favourites. In my mind it was a bit of a modern take on banoffee pie, but so, so much better! This wasn’t even on the menu…it was a ‘pre-dessert’. In my opinion, pre-desserts should be served with every meal as an excuse to eat more dessert. Yes please!

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The first actual dessert appeared a little like a deconstructed lemon meringue. It was lemon parfait, fennel pollen ice cream, lemon curd and some very accurately cubed olive oil jellies (or pate de fruit if we’re being posh). It was a very refreshing dish; all light flavours, and lovely variances of texture. The two desserts were matched to a 2009 Monbazillac, Domaine L’Ancienne Cure.

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The final dish (sob) was a frozen white chocolate mousse (methinks liquid nitrogen may have made an appearance in the kitchen for this one), blackberry puree and dehydrated white chocolate. I’m not sure what the dehydrated white chocolate was to be completely honest, as it was just like a very thin slice of white chocolate…however, I had had an awful lot of wine by this point so it may just have been that I wasn’t paying enough attention (and not that I was complaining, of course, I love white chocolate!). I didn’t want this dish to end – the frozen white chocolate mousse was absolutely divine!

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Finally we finished off with some coffee and chocolates. I don’t quite remember which coffee I ordered, but PD and I had two different types. They both came in a nice individual cafetiere, and I was really quite taken with my coffee. It had subtle chocolatey undertones and was really quite delicious. PD’s only slight criticism was that the coffee had been brewed with boiling water, whereas it should really be around 95C to preserve all of the flavour qualities. Apparently there is only one hot water tank in the kitchens with no way to regulate temperatures, so I’d advise the purchase of a temperature controlled kettle! (yes, these do exist…I wondered what on earth had replaced my much loved standard kettle which changed colour from blue to red when the water boiled – simple things – but it is a very clever new kettle. Despite the fact that it doesn’t change colour).

All in all this is a real treat for anyone looking for a fantastically intimate night out with incredible food, wine and service. I would most certainly recommend the weekend package; it was such a memorable weekend made all the more pleasurable with the countryside surroundings and beautiful scenery (not to mention the very relaxing spa!). I am unable to comment accurately on the price as I don’t know exactly how much it was (PD kept this from my prying eyes), but I know that the prices are available on the website…and from what I understand, it was great value for the quality. The wine arrangement wasn’t cheap, but it certainly added a spectacular dimension to the meal that we would have really missed out on had we decided not to go for it.

Danesfield House and Adam Simmonds – definitely my foodie highlight of 2012!

As a side point, if you do decide to follow in our footsteps and make your way over to the Danesfield, I can heartily recommend a nearby pub called the ‘Dog and Badger‘ which we visited on our second night (review below).

Dog and Badger, Marlow

We were looking for a good local country pub as we were spending a weekend at the Danesfield. The hotel recommended the Dog and Badger, and we’re so glad they did; upon walking in the atmosphere was cosy and familiar, with an open fire and beautiful comfy chairs. The bar is nicely laid out so that one has to pass the bar to reach a table, meaning that no one can be missed! The service was wonderful – friendly and warm from the moment we entered. Even the locals struck up a friendly chat; we felt very at home.

Having had a michelin starred dinner the night before, our food expectations were high and we were not disappointed. The duck spring rolls were incredibly tasty and presented wonderfully (lots of duck, too!). My boyfriend and I both had the steak to follow – great meat, tender and perfectly cooked as ordered. The chefs (I believe to be the owner’s son and friend) had been very thoughtful in the way in which the food was both prepared and presented, with little gems of bacon wrapped green beans which had been crumbed and fried, and delicious chips. Much to my dismay I popped to the ladies and returned to find that my other half had ordered dessert (thought I might be rolling home at this point…) however I am rather grateful that he did as the sticky toffee pudding was one of the best I’ve had out. The toffee sauce was perfect, and the pudding was spongy and light. The ice cream served alongside was a perfect accompaniment and very tasty (we were even given another scoop as we liked it so much!). 

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The experience surpassed my expectations and was the perfect end to such a wonderful weekend away. Everyone at the Dog and Badger is so lovely, and I was surprised to find out that the pub had only been running as it is for 20 months. It seems so well established and thought through, from the trivial pursuit cards on the table (provided hours of entertainment!) to the layout of the pub itself, and the fantastic food, this place is definitely worth a detour if you’re ever in the area and I hope to return again soon. 

I have also fallen in love with their beautiful and wonderfully well behaved 17 year old family ‘pup’, Judge, who came to make friends with me after a lot of coaxing. But don’t worry if you’re not too much of a dog lover – he’s small and quiet with a fabulous temperament, and only made a timid appearance after everyone was completely finished up with their meal!

Pavlova (with a healthy twist)

27 Oct

The subject of pavlova is one which divides the dinner table if you’ve got guests from both New Zealand and Australia. In fact, I’ve witnessed many a heated debate over this subject so I tend to try and avoid bringing it up as much as I can! After having a rather delicious version of it last night however, I thought I should post it up – and hope that chaos will NOT ensue (take note all my Aussie/New Zealand friends!).

Just as a little bit of interesting fact for you – according to the Telegraph it is named after Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina, who toured both Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s.

I always think of pavlova as a bit of a retro dessert, but there’s no disputing the fact that it’s jolly delicious when done well. It’s also a perfect dessert to make the night before, as you can leave it to cool in the oven overnight and then just put your topping on before you want to serve it, minimising the amount of time you need to spend away from the table. My mum used to make this a lot when I was growing up, so it always reminds me of home!

The problem with pavlova is that I don’t really like cream, so when PD suggested it I wasn’t hugely looking forward to the cream bit. However, being the clever and creative man that he is, he suggested using Greek yoghurt instead of cream and topping it with lots of delicious fruit. Obviously it’s not the healthiest dish in the world (let’s be honest – it’s all sugar really!), if you’re going to the trouble of having a dessert there’s no point trying to make it all low fat/kcal/sugar/cholesterol/etc. because otherwise there’s no real point in having a dessert! But by using the yoghurt at least we were making it that tad bit healthier, and it was actually really lovely. We were going to drizzle some Greek honey over the top of the fruit, but as the meringue was so sweet it really didn’t need the additional sweetness, and the yoghurt added just that little bit of bitterness to complement the sugary sweetness of the meringue perfectly. It was beautifully crisp on the outside and wonderfully spongy and cloud-like (did I really just say cloud-like?) on the inside. It was really, reallllllllly nice!

This recipe is taken from abc.net.au, and it is another from Bill Granger. We seem to be cooking a lot of his recipes recently, so hopefully that’s testament to how great flavoured and straight forward his recipes are. I can really recommend both his Everyday Asian and Bill’s Basics books; he writes incredibly well and his recipes have always turned out fantastically. I also love the fact that he often takes some of our favourite dishes and tries to make them a little bit healthier, but never loses the wonderful flavours.

Recipe

6 egg whites*
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11/3 cups (310g) caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
2 tablespoons arrowroot
2 teaspoons white vinegar
300ml thickened cream, lightly whipped (optional)
300ml plain yoghurt (or Greek yoghurt if not adding to cream)
2 punnets fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
Runny honey (optional)

*Yes, you’ll have yolks left over. I’m going to try to make some Hollandaise sauce with them later, so I’ll let you know how that goes. You can also make custard, or mayonnaise…or…<comments on a postcard please!>

– Line a baking tray with baking paper and draw a 20cm diameter circle on the paper.

– Place the egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla into a clean dry bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.

– Add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until all the sugar is incorporated and dissolved and the mixture is thick and glossy.

– Stir in the cornflour, arrowroot and vinegar.

– Pile onto prepared tray and spread evenly to the edges of the circle.

– Turn oven to 150C.

– Place in oven and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, then turn oven off and leave in oven until completely cool.

– Meanwhile, slice the strawberries and any other fruit you fancy. If you want to make the yoghurt cream, whip the cream and fold the plain yoghurt through it. Otherwise simply keep your toppings until your meringue has cooled, and then pile the yoghurt onto the meringue, topped with the fruit.

Thai Fish Cakes

7 Oct

If anyone likes Thai food…this is a recipe you will absolutely love. Both PD and I love Asia; I spent a fair few years growing up in Taiwan, and was lucky to have the opportunity to travel around Thailand quite a bit. The flavours are immense, and most of the cooking is incredibly healthy. I treated PD to a Thai cooking course for his birthday a couple of years ago, and one of the dishes which we learned how to cook was Thai fishcakes. I don’t mean to sound bigheaded, but they really were the best fishcakes that I’ve ever tasted (it was of course, all down to the authenticity of the teacher!), and I’ve generally been disappointed when eating them at restaurants since. I think the secret is that they need to be fresh and they need to be served straight away. With the likes of high street stores such as Sainsburys/Tesco selling Kaffir lime leaves now, there really is no excuse not to give it a go. Try them, I can assure you, you will NOT be disappointed. This is one of my absolute favourite dishes; if you’re ever at my house and I serve these up, you better be quick. I have a genuine problem when it comes to these little amazing nibbles – I just eat them until they are gone. Rapidly. With sweet chilli sauce.

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They are fantastic as a starter, or if you’re having some drinks and fancy a good nibble to go alongside. This dish will make you VERYYYYYYY popular – your friends will be raving about it forever. It’s seriously impressive, and surprisingly easy to execute. Try it with a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer – something crisp and dry but with a little bit of sugary goodness really works well with the Thai flavours. Nom nom nom……

If you need to, you can prepare the mixture and shape them into little cakes the night before, then get a couple of pans of oil on the go on the night to make sure they’re all ready at the same time. As long as they are served fresh out of the pan, they should still taste as amazing!

This recipe comes from Bill Granger’s ‘Everyday Asian‘ book; PD has cooked a couple of things from this book now and they’ve always turned out really nicely. The recipes generally use ingredients which you can actually procure locally, not bizarre ingredients which you’d need to drive around for hours and/or understand the intricacies of the Thai language to be able to find! Definitely a thumbs up for this book.

Recipe (makes 24….I can almost guarantee only 20 will make it to the table, ahem…..)

  • 500g boneless, skinless fleshy white fish, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp red curry paste
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 6 Kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced (or finely grated zest of 2 limes)
  • 60g green beans, thinly sliced
  • 80ml light-flavoured oil (e.g. rapeseed or vegetable)

Blend fish in food processor until smooth, scraping the sides down once or twice. Add the curry paste and pulse with the sugar, fish sauce and lime leaves.

Scrape into a large bowl, add the beans and stir to combine. Take a handful of the mixture and throw against the side of the bowl to firm the proteins, repeating a few times until the mixture is noticeably firmer (this does actually work!).

With moistened hands, form slightly heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture into discs. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat, and fry in batches until browned and cooked through (use the picture as a guide if you’re not confident about how brown they should be).

Drain onto kitchen paper and serve with sweet chilli sauce, or cucumber relish.

Milkbar, SoHo

6 Sep

Monmouth coffee is undoubtedly one of the best places to grab a coffee around the Covent Garden/Leicester Square area, but unfortunately it wasn’t open on a Sunday so I had to look for other options. Interestingly it seems that many of the more popular coffee haunts are ‘ferme’ on a Sunday, however I stumbled across Flat White Cafe during my excitable googling, and it had good reviews. Good start! It actually comes in two parts – its other cafe, Milkbar, is just round the corner. On the website it said it was for people who liked ‘coffee, food, art and music’, so Milkbar it was. I met my friend A at Leicester Square and it was an easy 5 minute walk to find the place. It looks pretty cool from the outside, modern big windows and a couple of nice benches for people to perch and enjoy their coffee outside should they wish. Walking inside it was ever so slightly reminiscent of an upmarket dairy parlour (my mind does work in bizarre ways); benches with comfy cushions and tables and chairs lined the left of the long room, and an almost clinical counter sporting glass cabinets of scrummy looking cakes rested atop. The boys appeared to be cooking all the food freshly just behind the counter (I’ve heard good things about the eggs), as I couldn’t spot a separate kitchen.

A and I had a lot of catching up to do and managed to find a nice comfy table tucked around the back of the counter, giving us a bit more privacy. We ordered our drinks; I had a skinny latte and she had a mocha. Prices were relatively reasonable for a speciality sit in coffee in the heart of Soho (though my frugality still can’t come to terms with the spectacular rates of inflation) at around £2.50 each. The coffee I had was … good. The flavours didn’t blow me away, but the coffee itself was incredibly well made with a smooth, silky texture, and perfect temperature. The coffee was a blend of Columbian and Brazilian beans (Capao and Bella Vista), with almond and hazelnut flavours, sweet undertones of chocolate and a mellow richness. It wasn’t particularly bold and I wonder whether it would have been better enjoyed as an espresso. I’m not a big mocha drinker but the mocha appeared to have been made with actual dark chocolate (yum). There wasn’t much of the coffee flavour coming through, but I personally enjoyed the chocolatey-ness!

When I spoke to the guy behind the bar, interestingly he didn’t seem particularly excited about this blend either, and he actually mentioned that they had some new blends coming in very soon. They change their beans seasonally (supplied from Square Mile), so seem to get a fair few different flavours in. They also sell beans in 350g bags (prices on website – I think it’s around £7).

Overall I did very much enjoy the atmosphere – the music was very laid back, there were random painted skateboards covering the walls, and there were comfortable tables. The coffee was very well made but the blend on this particular day didn’t blow me away – the fact that they’ll be changing the blend makes me intruiged to go back and try it out again. The one thing I am a bit puzzled about is the advertisement on the website about it being the place to be for lovers of coffee, food art and music. The coffee I get, and from what I hear about the food I can understand that too, but the music seemed to be pretty standard relaxed sound tracking – there didn’t appear to be any links to local musicians or what-not (which would add a nice touch given such an artistic area), and there didn’t seem to be much reference to art either (apart from the ten or so skateboards). The website does mention that the art changes, so perhaps I missed something, but as a keen artist I was hoping for more of a story behind some of the art, and again, perhaps some local artistry. For a catch up over a very decent cup of coffee in the heart of Soho though, it’s a no-brainer!

Score: 8/10 – I would like to try a different blend of coffee, and also feel that a bit more of a story behind the art and music would give Milkbar a bit more of an edge. Overall it was a good, laid-back atmosphere, friendly service and well made coffee.

Price range: ~£2.50 (cheaper for t.a.)

Would I go back? Yes, if I was in the area.

A good tipple

17 Aug

I don’t normally review wines, I know, but I’ve not been cooking anything new and exciting, so the kitchen has been rather quiet whilst I get ready for our ‘relaxing’ trip to Barcelona…….cue emptying all drawers/cupboards/storage spaces hunting for passports and lost euros, spending the morning in A&E because of a terribly painful ear, trying to find a new bikini in three hours and losing hope when the only five shops near me are completely sold out and only have mismatching tops/bottoms in completely the wrong sizes (can I go to Barca with no bikini?) and having to splurge on the only one I can find because, well, it’s the only one I can find, cycling frantically back home to empty desk drawers/filing cabinets to try and find all car details necessary to cycle frantically to the parking office to buy parking permits for the new car, to cycle frantically back home again to check in for flights and make sure all is ready for our early am departure, to double and triple check that the taxi company will definitely wake up in time to come and pick us up to take us to the airport, and ‘can I really get everything in a bag for under 20kg??’, and the upsetting realisation that I don’t actually have a suitcase to pack any clothes into so I may well look like bag lady when I turn up to the airport tomorrow morning, and THEN PD tells me that the boarding cards I have just printed out say that our flight left TODAY. Not tomorrow, TODAY. As in, THIS MORNING. Then came the wobbly lip as I nearly burst into tears, and he rushed over to tell me that he was joking. Ha. Ha. Ha. NOT a good time for pranks. So he has now poured me a glass of wonderfully chilled white wine and I am taking a little bit of time to write this and let the wine work its magic to relax my pre-holiday stress levels.

And this wine is good. So I thought I’d share. Just in case you’re ever in the same situation and need a nice little tipple. 

I don’t really like sweet white wines unless it’s going alongside a dessert, and even then I can only take a little. I much prefer slightly drier whites, but it’s often difficult to find a white which excites me but which also doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket. This bottle comes in at around £8-9 from Majestic, or £6.99 per bottle when buying two. At that price, I’ll have two please. It’s ‘The Ned Black Label Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Marlborough’, and it actually won a decanter trophy this year for being the best New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for under £10. The tasting notes suggest that it has a ‘nose of nettles and grass which lead to generous gooseberry flavours with a smoky herbal twist on the palate.’ There is also apparently added complexity from a ‘subtle gun flint minerality’. Personally I get hints of grass and grapefruit on the nose, with zesty, warm tones on the palate, filled with notes of pineapple, gooseberry and yes, a touch of grass and herbiness. I don’t know what flint tastes like so I can’t vouch for that one, I’m not often in the habit of going around and licking rocks, but perhaps I ought to from now on to improve my tasting notes? If you’re looking for something a bit more complicated than your average sauv blanc, something easy on the purse and definitely enjoyable, I’d definitely recommend trying it out. Do let me know what you think. It would go really well with a light salad or light, lemony seafood I reckon. Or just on its own, when you need a little glass of something to bring you back to that holiday mood, once you’ve found the passports and the euros, and you’re feeling somewhat reassured that no, your flight did not leave without you this morning, and yes the taxi driver has a perfectly good alarm clock and will be at your door at 4.15am to pick you up, and that hey, it’s okay to chill out on the sofa with a glass of wine sometimes. Especially when it’s as tasty as this one.