The Fish & Chip Shop

I was lucky enough to secure a booking at The Fish & Chip Shop City soft launch this week*. This pleased me greatly as it really isn’t your average wrapped-in-paper-eaten-on-the-hoof sort of establishment. This is Fancy Fish & Chips brought to you by Des McDonald who spent his career either Cheffing or CEO-ing at The Ritz, The Ivy, J Sheekey, Scotts, Soho House, Annabels – I could continue but I have a word count. I brought my Yorkshire-born husband with me as, fortuitously, he considers himself some sort of fish and chip expert… But, God, he’s fussy. He chuntered all the way there, lamenting the lack of beef dripping used in London, murmuring about ‘posh’ fish and chips. Perhaps he’d stop moaning when he his mouth was full of fish…

FullSizeRenderThe restaurant looks picture-perfect. They’ve crafted a considered, faux-mid-century-style room out of some rather bland 21st century office space, with the kind of gorgeous open kitchen that we’re all trying desperately to recreate in our own homes. Duck-egg blue & burgundy vintage tile, ubiquitous enamelware, French linen napkins, salvaged industrial signage – you know the drill.

Despite the ‘softness’ of the launch, staff were perfectly efficient and we were soon enjoying a glass of English fizz and contemplating starters. We shared a plate of beautifully seared tuna topped with tiny dots of Japanese horseradish and strewn with fairy wisps of micro-herb and edible flowers. Yang to the tuna’s Yin were the substantial London Particular fritters – chunky pea and ham croquettes with a mustardy little dip. They were hefty for a starter – they could easily halve the size of them without worrying – but we manfully devoured the lot anyway, enjoying the very sweet peas and chunks of savoury ham hock in their crispy shell. FullSizeRender (2)Obviously my husband had fish and chips. A little jollier now (appeased by the peas?) he chose Haddock explaining this is the connoisseur’s choice – apparently only idiots choose cod, their heads turned by its bright white and flaky flesh versus meatier, tastier, but slightly greyer, haddock apparently. Either way it was very good indeed, the fish was a succulent, chunky slab encased in a burnished house of thin, Camden beer-batter with a good fish-to-batter ratio apparently…. And despite the lack of beef dripping, he swallowed his pride along with his chips and gave a very appreciative head-nod. High praise indeed.

I had the shrimp burger which was pretty special – chunky discernable pieces of juicy prawn with a perfectly-judged spicy tartare sauce in good brioche bun. We shared mushy peas which were a sort-of-gourmet version of the real thing – bright fresh-pea green but with that distinctive mushy pea texture. Faultless chips (apparently hand-cut and double-fried in rapeseed oil) and a nice old-school salad with homemade salad cream – I loved the really thin slivers of spring onion and the sweet, seedless yellow tomatoes. FullSizeRenderThere were some interesting puddings – I desperately wanted to try the East End custard doughnut but I just didn’t have the room. Instead we split a couple of scoops of sorbet – a rather bitter gin and tonic and a sherbety-sweet Amalfi lemon – together making a kind-of frozen gin and Bitter Lemon.

When the bill arrives, we’re very kindly given a couple of 20% off cards to use at either Fish & Chip Shop or the Camden Q-Grill. If you go (and I recommend you do), you’ll notice the branding is quite ‘By Des McDonald’–heavy. It’s the first thing you see on the menu, the business cards, wine list etc. But maybe when the food this good (good enough to even subdue a peevish husband), you just want to have your name all over it?

The Fish & Chip Shop City, Dashwood House, 69 Old Broad Street, London EC2M 1QS

*Review written November 2014.


Carioca in Brixton

Carioca feij

It could be said that both Brixton and Brazil have suffered in the past, with a bit of an image problem. Both had an edgy sort of cool but also a sinister past making them a little frightening to the uninitiated. Brazilian restaurant Carioca on Market Row in Brixton couldn’t be further from this perception – it is a tiny, warm, generous hug of a restaurant serving some genuinely lovely, affordable food.

Run by brothers Maurilio and Antonio Goncalves, Carioca was, until recently, called Prima Donna which was probably somewhat confusing, sounding, as it does, like the phallic-pepper-grinder-sort-of-Italian restaurant my mother adores on account of the flirty waiters.

They’ve now re-branded themselves as Carioca and I was lucky enough to be invited to their recent launch event – catered by the remarkably calm chef Lucy, who fed an excitable crowd of hungry press and bloggers lavishly, while continuing to run a very busy dinner service for ‘normal’ customers at the same time.

For me, the word that overwhelmingly describes the evening is ‘generous’. The brothers circulated with huge pitchers of limey caipirinha and brought out vast sharing bowls overflowing with cheesy pao de queijo (a sort-of-cheese-bun on steroids), there were heaps of sticky blackened Brazilian chorizo liberally drizzled in honey syrup, piles of coxinhas de frango (‘little drumsticks’) filled with chicken and herbs, like super-sized Spanish croquettas, and chunky little Bahaia fishcakes with a spicy sauce. And these were just the starters…

Carioca arepas

We moved onto my favourite dish of the evening: arepas – a grainy maize bread filled with a fiery mixture of pulled beef, peppers and onions which made me immediately question why on earth we so rarely slow-cook beef in the UK? As if to confirm this travesty, a veritable mountain of Flintstones-style beef ribs arrived – having been slow-cooked until meltingly flaky and then blackened over a charcoal grill and finished with smoked applewood salt and a piquant molho de churrasco sauce. The Brazilian national dish of feijoada appeared next – a ludicrously hearty stew of black beans, chorizo, pork and beef served with rice and a toasted flour called farofa. The dish is served with a wedge of juicy orange to eat afterwards, in order to aid digestion of this peculiarly wintery stew in the tropical Brazilian climate. Stacks of beef and bacon skewers were piled onto the groaning table with the most addictive, crispy cassava chips. Even the vegetarian sitting next to me (for whom I was initially worried, given the gargantuan quantities of beef on offer) was fit to burst, as she had been plied with beetroot, butterbean and blue cheese salad and a substantial tortilla dish.

Carioca beetroot
Beetroot, blue cheese and butter bean salad

I was beaten by the kilos of meat I’d consumed, but I saw some remarkable cakes made by the very-smiley Maurillio. The strawberry cheesecake was topped with a pool of white chocolate and there was a handsome looking carrot cake, but the killer blow that nearly had me hiding food in my handbag was an outrageous chocolate and banana cake topped with a slick of salted caramel.

If you find yourself in the latterday rather-welcoming Brixton and you’re hungry – and I mean REALLY hungry – you should try Carioca. You can BYOB if you feel like it, they also do a great prix fixe menu for £12.95 Tues –Thurs, and 20% off your food bill if you dine at the restaurant from 6pm – 7:30pm on a Friday night.

Carioca drumstick
Coxinhas de frango

Featherblade residency at The Star Of Bethnal Green


If you walk along Bethnal Green Road from end to end on a Friday night you will see all of human life. Ad-agency-types fall out of Addison Lees into Shoreditch House; Italian students confirm their love for each other by securing a padlock over the ‘BoxPark’ fence; Intellectuals scurry into Rich Mix cinema to watch obscure Argentinian documentaries; Chinese girls giggle over bowls of smacked cucumber and pigs trotters at the Gourmet San restaurant; Mariah Carey’s plaintiff wail seeps out of the Karioke night at the Marquis of Cornwallis pub and the hoards flood in, headed for Brick Lane for a night of beer, balloons and bagels.

It’s bang in the middle of this hearty, human soup that you’ll find The Star of Bethnal Green – the pub that sub-heads itself The Grown Up Ravers Boozer Of Choice. No, really. Despite this, the Featherblade pop-up restaurant team chose to launch a four month residency here with their ‘mission to make quality British meat accessible’. And having eaten their hanger steak last night, I’d say mission accomplished.

I’ll have to return and try something else because everyone in my group last night ate the same thing – hanger steak, medium rare with sauces and sides. But it was worth it. Firstly the steak. It was really as good as any I’ve had at the traditionally ‘meaty’ places – Flat Iron, Hix etc – full of flavor, perfectly cooked with a great crusty exterior and a yielding bite. Between us, we tried the Béarnaise sauce and the peppercorn sauce – both were very good – I’m not ashamed to say I used my fingers to clean up the last of my peppercorn sauce from its little ramekin dish. DSC_2542We shared a creamy gratin of leeks and Westcombe cheddar which was delicious, if artery-hardening. We ordered chips to share and had to order more as they were rather spectacular – huge crispy wedges of chip served with a great, savoury beer ketchup. The house salad was garnished with crispy shallots and walnuts and the ‘greens’ were actually old-school white cabbage softened in butter with shallots and shards of chilli and, frankly, a million miles away from the cabbage of my childhood. Some very ‘classic’ dishes but they’re all given an interesting spin.

There was only one pudding on the menu and we were all too full of steak to consider it but I will make it MY mission to go back for the malted salted chocolate cake with salted beer caramel & malted cream. Really, who wouldn’t?

We were lucky enough to take advantage of an opening-week offer which gave us half price steak and a free bottle of wine so our bill was almost embarrassingly small (4 steaks, 5 sides, a bottle of wine and 4 pints totalled a ludicrous £58). But even without that, it’s a great value dinner in the middle of a road that’s a million miles away from being middle-of-the-road.

The Star of Bethnal Green, 359 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 6LG

The Donostia Social Club at The King & Co

donostia scallops
It seems fitting that, during a week that was dominated by the Scottish independence debate, I was invited to attend an event showcasing the food of an area that have their own dreams of independence – the Basque region of Spain. The Donostia Social Club, have ‘popped-up’ not-quite-permanently at The King & Co pub in Clapham to share their Basque bites with the lucky people of SW4. Their residency kicks off a series of 3-month stints by different street-food traders at the newly refurbished Clapham pub. I gave it a whirl to see if it’s worth a Yes vote.

Paul Belcher is at the helm and he is passionate about the unique food of the Basque region, which is a delectable blend of Northern Spain and Southwestern France. Having run his mobile Pintxos bar successfully at both street-food and private events he is now trialling this ‘bricks and mortar’ venue in The King & Co’s new kitchen. And we enjoyed every mouthful of his small–plates feast starting with the savoury Gordel olives we nibbled with a glass of icy Cava. The seared scallops with a perky Spanish ratatouille, green chilli sauce and almonds were perfectly crusty on the outside and creamy within – quite a feat when cooking on a large scale. The lamb cutlets with sweet pea puree and confit baby broad beans were a clear hit – I saw evidence of bone-gnawing which suggests they were considered pretty special by all. Crab and anchovy toasts were also very moreish but my star of the night was the Iberico pork cheek with butterbean puree and herb oil – something I could have eaten an embarrassing amount of. Oh wait, I did. It’s testament to the chef that the cheek-meat yielded immediately to the pressure of a wooden chip-shop fork – just delicious.

The newly refurbished pub itself is a lovely spot for a convivial afternoon – there’s a great outdoor terrace and a nick-nack-filled interior with mixture of eclectic vintage art and furniture. They have a great selection of UK and International beers by all accounts – I wouldn’t know, I was too busy getting acquainted with a glass or two of the very creditable Albarino. It’s definitely worth poking your head in if there’s a referendum on where to go for drinks and dinner.

(I was invited to review The Donostia Social Club at King & Co).

Summer Pop-Up Terraces

Oh I do love an al fresco afternoon tipple….

Moet Terrace Le Meridien Piccadilly 2

Le Méridien Piccadilly

For a bit of French fancy, check out London’s Le Méridien Piccadilly hotel — where you can grab a deck chair on the Moët & Chandon Summer Terrace. Sit above the tourists treading the pavement, and sip back Moët & Chandon’s latest concoction: Ice Impérial — a fresh and fruity champagne specifically created to be served and enjoyed on ice.

If it’s another kind of bubbles you’re thirsting for, there’s a whole menu of sparkling cocktails to tickle your fancy — try the Rose Royale with locally grown raspberries, Chambord and Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial for a tarty number.

And if the sun tucks behind the clouds, step inside to the glass-covered terrace where you can still enjoy daylight without any of that rain malarkey. The design of the Summer Terrace takes inspiration from the Terrace Grill & Bar’s original use as home to the hotel’s…

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Pulled ray wing with fennel slaw in seeded buns

Pulled skate wings


Meet Ray.

He’s a great fish – just like Skate but not featured on the endangered list.

Ray wing is unbelievably cheap, has no annoying little bones (just obvious, easy-to-discard cartilage) and it’s really quick to prepare and tasty to eat. It flakes away in long juicy strands so it seems to be crying out for the “pulled pork’ treatment we see so much at the moment – here it’s folded through a tangy barbecue sauce and piled into buns with a sharp, limey slaw.

Pulled ray wing with fennel slaw in seeded buns – serves 4

For the ray:

4 ray wings (they vary massively in size so be sensible… some of the hefty ones will definitely serve 2)
2 lemons
Plus 4 buns of your choosing – I like something brown and seedy with this.

For the sauce:

2 garlic cloves crushed
1 red onion finely chopped
150ml tomato ketchup
2 teaspoons black treacle
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses 1 teaspoon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
I like to add a splash of Tabasco but you don’t need to

To make:

For the ‘slaw:

1 fennel bulb finely sliced
Half a red cabbage finely sliced 10-15 radishes finely sliced
1 red onion finely sliced
4 spring onions finely shredded Juice and zest of 2 limes Teaspoon of caraway seeds Drizzle of toasted sesame oil

Start with your slaw. Finely shred all the veg into similar bite-sized pieces. I try to keep my ‘reds’ (red cabbage, red onion & radish) and ‘greens’ (fennel and spring onions) in separate bowls until I am about to serve – as the red veg sometimes bleeds into the green if left to mingle for too long. Zest and juice your limes, mix with the sesame oil and caraway seeds and set aside.

Then make the sauce, finely chop a red onion and crush 2 garlic cloves and sweat down in a little oil until soft. Then add all the other sauce ingredients; ketchup, treacle, molasses, mustard, Worcestershire sauce & Tabasco and heat gently. Blitz with a stick blender until smooth. If it seems too thick you can add some of the fish- cooking-water before serving.

In a large, wide frying pan heat water and 2 quartered lemons. When it has come to the boil, turn the heat right down and add your fish. Poach very gently for 10 minutes turning the fish half way through. Remove the fish from the water and leave to cool for a few minutes.

Then shred the meat from the bones of the fish and add into the sauce, folding through to make sure every piece is covered in the sauce. Mix your red and green slaw veg together and dress with the limey/sesame/caraway dressing.

Then just assemble! Pile the ray into the buns, top with the slaw and serve with a LOT of napkins.

Jaffa cake teacup puddings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are a cute little pudding for a tea party or dinner party – pretty cups containing layers of sponge, orangey curd and chocolate mousse. They’re pretty easy once you’ve mastered the orange curd part – as the sponge base is a cheat and the chocolate mousse is ridiculously simple. You can use more or less of each of the layers depending on your tastes – I lean towards a more-mousse angle. I bought a set of mismatching teacups on eBay which I always use for these sorts of desserts – they’re also great for portion control as I can get a bit carried away…


‘Jaffa cake’ teacup puddings – makes 6


For the sponge base: 

–       9 sponge fingers

–       A little orange juice just to splash over the sponge fingers – feel free to add a little slosh of Cointreau too if the mood takes you

For the orange curd:

–       3 big oranges – juice and zest (I have also done this with shop-bought fresh orange juice – good in an emergency)

–       1 lemon – juice and zest

–       100g cold butter chopped into pieces

–       75g caster sugar

–       3 whole eggs and 3 extra yolks

Chocolate mousse:  

–       4 eggs

–       150g chocolate

–       2 teaspoons sugar

Start by crumbling 1.5 sponge fingers into the base of your tea cup. Splash a little of the orange juice (and Cointreau) over the sponge fingers – just enough to moisten (hateful word) really. Set aside in the fridge to chill.

Now make your curd. This recipe will make more curd than you need but this is a Very Good Thing as it is spectacular on top of an English muffin for breakfast. Pour the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon into a saucepan – you should have about 200ml of juice. Beat the whole eggs and extra yolks together and add to the juice, then add the sugar and heat gently. Stir constantly for about 10 minutes. The mixture will slowly thicken to the point of coating the back of a spoon. At this stage take the pan off the heat, add the cubed butter into the mixture and whisk until melted and smooth. Leave aside to cool and then refrigerate.

When the curd is cold, make the mousse. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a heatproof bowl. Heat water in a saucepan and place the bowl over the water (resting above but not touching the water). While the chocolate is melting, separate the eggs. Set the yolks aside and whisk the egg whites and sugar together to form soft peaks. When the chocolate has melted, rapidly whisk the yolks into the chocolate and then gently fold the fluffy whites into the chocolate mixture.

Assemble the puddings by layering a few spoons of orange curd over the orangey sponge base and then topping with a little heap of chocolate mouse. Smooth the mousse over and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. I like these topped with a few zesty shards of orange peel or a grating of very dark bitter chocolate.

Live Below The Line challenge day 4

I cheated. 

There, I admitted it. 

I cracked and bought a coffee before my Pilates class this morning. I’m sorry but I LITERALLY couldn’t help myself. 

And it made me think – I spent £2.40 on my coffee this morning – that would have been two and a half day’s worth budget for this challenge. Ridiculous. 

But, post-coffee the world seemed a bit jollier to be honest. I had a few spoons of Tuesday’s leftover Lentil Dahl for my lunch with a dollop of yoghurt. And tonight we had a bean soup with a slice of (very stale) bread that I made at the beginning of the week. And everything tastes pretty much the same – like un-seasoned, brown mush. Hmmm.

With that in mind, I would very much like to know which TOTAL SADIST scheduled this LBTL challenge to coincide with the bloody MasterChef finals? I have now spent the last three nights watching people preparing THE most amazing food while gazing wistfully at my brown mush. Although, to be honest, the beyond-parody ‘Vintage Beetroot with Fennel Meringue’ from last night’s programme would probably not be my first choice of post-challenge dish. 

Anyway, I’ve got a previous arrangement for dinner with friends tomorrow night so I am RIDICULOUSLY excited to be having an illicit night off. My last slice of stale bread and tasteless carrot soup tomorrow won’t seem quite as bad, knowing I can dive into Steak Frites for dinner. 

x x 

PS. I will be completing a final challenge day on Tuesday as penance for having a half-day on Friday…

PPS. If you still want to sponsor me (even after my Flat White Failure), please click here

PPPS. Yay for Natalie who won MasterChef in the end, who was my fave and who had nothing to do with the vintage beetroot…