Le Cafe Du Marche in London

I was taken out of London and into a very culinary focused village in France, when I stepped through the doors at Cafe du Marche. The interior is warm and friendly, coats tidied away, tabled white clothed, exposed brick work and wood working together harmoniously to bring a bustling and relaxing environment.

The French provincial menu changes every 5 weeks, with a strong focus on seasonal ingredients.

Some items are consistently available (for the routine monster in you), one worth of note is the 2 person Cote de bouef with béarnaise.

I tucked into a Moules mariniere starter- very generously served, with a lovely balance of herbs in the pots, so much so that I considered drinking from the bowl (serves me right for dining with ladies- I had to miss out on that!). Others had the
melanzane parmigianna, a delicate layering of aubergine with parmesan, and ate their way through it with full smiles.

For mains I had pheasant, which was a first for me, so this comparison is purely about taste. There was far too much for me, cooked perfectly, seasoned softly, and served on an apple choucroute. There was an odd addition though, a lone sausage. I assume this is a tradition of some kind, but I wasn’t even close to half way through my dish before I was full, so sadly I can’t say what it added to the meal.

One of the other girls had the poisson du jour, and for this day the fish was bass. She cleaned her plate, praising the a subtle flavour, and well prepared dish.

Somehow we managed dessert. My eyes lit up for the dessert du jour, a baked alaska. Having had this is dubious restaurants as a child I was really keen to see how the professionals do it. Pipped meringue crowned the dome of still cold ice cream, sitting atop of a perfect pasty base, with raspberry coulis spilling over the surface. I may never be able to eat it elsewhere!

Also worthy of note was the more sophisticated bavarois du jour. It is basically “made in a hermetically-sealed mold that was plunged into salted crushed ice to set”, as it was created before electric refrigeration. So really it’s pre ice cream, ice cream? Anyway it was tasty and well worth a try. Perfect for a romantic evening or a lazy lunch with friends.


Samarqand in London

I loved delving into the unusual cuisine in this little underground gem.

The thing is, when I was told I was off for a foody adventure into Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan delights I came up blank. I really had no idea what was going to be coming my way.

Turns out that like all other things in life, the food has some sister dishes rooted in other cultures I was familiar with. I had the chicken noodle soup- that was pretty much as you would expect, but with handmade yogurt sides. Really well balanced broth, no bitterness whatsoever, and soft noodles with large chunks of chicken. Clay oven cooked bread, to boot. I was already sold!

I also had a main of Beef dumplings. They are onion riddled- but I love that! Looking a lot like the South East Asian equivalent of dumplings, they came with a chili sauce created from scratch on the premises. This was something really unique, full of chili chunks, infused oils and something subtle but tasty that I couldn’t define.

I was also incredibly impressed with the Napoleon Cake. Reminded me of vanilla slice in the UK, but with less of the heavy custard and icing, and more delicate pasty. We also had a tea, with a special warmer, to be served by women (see? we got a bit of local culture while I did my best not to raise eyebrows at the delight of my fellow diner).


Fifteen Restaurant in London

Recently, I was in the Trattoria area of Fifteen for a lunch meeting. I love the vibe in this place, it’s rustic without being pretentious. The open kitchen is the first thing you see upon arrival, and that really says it all about the ethos behind this place. The chefs are the stars after all. They serve a variety of antipasti, patas, as well as smaller main meals, and larger ones.

Sitting with the Jamie Oliver Team meant that I could ask about what was really good and get a well informed answer. Each of them swore by all the pastas, so that was it for me!

I chose the thick Linguini carbonara with guanciale, marjoram, free range egg, garlic and parmesan. It was a small size (and to be honest I think you would really have to push to get a large in!) and perfect for me. I loved the fresh pasta and the balance of flavour in a dish that can often miss the mark.
I would definitely be keen to return and try out the downstairs dining area that is more formal in style, and pair that with the dinner menu to get the full experience.


The Hansom Cab in London

I rarely find myself in this area without a destination in mind, and in the past it’s been all about activities nearby, facials, nail salons, and more recently… indoor golf.

So as we wandered the streets post game we were all at a bit of a loss for where to have a drink and a bite, until we stumbled upon the Hansom Cab.

Quite a cute little pub, with nooks and crannies about, friendly staff and what looked to be pretty good food (my friends were eating their dinners like little orphaned children!).


Fleet River Bakery in London

Fleet is quite the no mess no fuss eatery that Holburn desperately needs more of.

Quite simply, it was Monmouth coffee that attracted me… and most of the bleary eyed office workers in the area.

Bring your good humor though, as this place feels like it was set up to be a stylistic nightmare. You queue into the oversized door that opens inward, and the staff remain equally flexible int eh way they take orders, so that you will never be sure if you are doing the right thing in the right order to get served!

The offer some lovely breakfast option (fresh fruit was in fact fresh) with bakes good and some proper meals for those hard Mondays.

Loads of space, and a delicately decorated interior (glass topped old wooden doors for tables as one effect) and a large space below is also available to hire. Now all we have to do is get a sign out front of W-spoon place to direct people around the corner!


Belgo Centraal in London

I was treated to quite the introduction at Belgo’s recently. I was invited to a tasting for their Oktober Fest 2010 menu, 3 courses each with a specially selected Belgian beer to go with it- for £33.

Great concept, perhaps a bit too ambitious to ask us to try all 3 options for each of the 3 courses though. I hear you counting up those beers… it was one between two with another before it all kicked off and tasters aftwards (it’s like a math riddle isn’t it?). Basically I had 5 1/2 beers in the end, but I know some others did better than I!

So what can you expect from the menu?

A choice of starters:
Parsnip and ginger soup served with Juniper Pilsner
Moules mariniere served with Belgo Witbier
Champagne, duck and truffle terrine served with De Koninck Blonde
I found it hard to choose a favorite here, all of them struck me in a different way, well balanced flavours and great accompaniments of the beer variety. If pushed I think I would choose the terrine as a narrow winner.

Main Courses:
Beef carbonnade served with Witcap Stimulo
Mushroom Bouchee served with Palm Amber
Moules Portugaise served with Bruges Zot Blonde
The beef was a little too sweet for me, but hearty and very filling. The muscles have roast chorizo in them, which was too strong for me (I’m not very good with very meaty flavours) so my winner was the tasty and well executed bouchee.

Poached peer served with Floris Apple
Belgian chocolate pudding served with Westmalle Double
Belgian waffle served with Mort Subite Gueuze
The pear was good, the pudding amazing, but I have to say I was properly blown away by the perfect waffle, sitting in white chocolate sauce with ice cream (I was totally full by this point- and ate it anyway).

Staff were really great, attentive, knowledgable, and you did get the feeling not only do they know their stuff, but they are eager to learn more.

One thing I learned- some beers are fermented using coriander! That is a little hidden secret for those of us that despise that particular herb- and explains why some beers just dont sit right with me- for that gem I will be eternally grateful.


Urban Golf in London

Going to urban golf is what I imagine to be the modern day equivalent of going hunting in BC times.

There were other girls there, but they were with me, so there was a distinctly man flavour about the whole experience, from the wooden flooring and leather couches, to the shouting, grunting and thrusting that went on post shot.

However, after taking the lass macho men aside and mixing them with us feeble ladies we did actually have a bit of a laugh. It interactive part is a bit hard to work out- like how to play against each other vs in a team around the course. Golf is golf, it’s not overly simple, but once you get the hang of it it’s not that hard really. Plus you have to get over the fear of hitting a tough ball as hard as you can into a wall a couple of meters away from your face (yes it looks like a golf course, but I know there’s a wall there and I’ve seen nasty rebounds in real life!).

The staff here are really good, attentive and sharp, the venue is clean and smart looking. If I had a sophisticated stag do to organise I would definitely start here- of course I wouldn’t be invited and that tells you everything.