Grain Store, Kings Cross

It’s been a while since I last posted as the last couple of weeks have been a little crazy.

I’ve migrated from East London to South West. And I’ve started a new job. So I haven’t really been up to much except working and sleeping….And drinking very large glasses of red wine in front of iPlayer. 

But don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you about that (as much as I love discussing Great British Bake Off). So, I’ll rewind a couple of weeks to brunch at Grain Store…

Grain Store is the sister restaurant of Bistrot Bruno Loubet, a French restaurant on Clerkenwell Road, adored by critics and foodies. Although not a vegetarian restaurant, the Michelin starred chef’s new offering is described as “the culmination of years dedicated to his beloved vegetable patch”.

As a self confessed carnivore, I can’t say this inspired me tremendously.  When I think of French cuisine I think of steak. And moules.  And duck confit. 

But my skepticism was pushed aside as we were welcomed – by a very charming waiter – through the restaurant’s stunning interior to our table. And I caught a glance of the cocktail menu.

Light fittings

Light fittings

Grain Store

Grain Store

The converted warehouse space has been designed around the idea of an “exploded kitchen”: the kitchen itself taking centre stage, with storage jars lining the walls, copper pans hung decoratively from the ceiling and colanders as light fittings.

But onto that cocktail menu….

Cocktail Menu

Cocktail Menu

Devised by Tony Conigliaro (who runs 69 Colebrook Row in Angel), the menu offers diners a choice of six “savoury cocktails” and four “house”: from the classic Death in Venice Campari, grapefruit bitters, prosecco and orange), to the less typical Granary Martini (Mustard Vodka, dry vermouth).

I was intrigued by the savoury cocktails and ordered the Pumpkin & Maple Syrup Bellini. It was delicious and – as much as I love a classic peach bellini – refreshing to try something different. 

Pumpkin & Maple Syrup Bellini

Pumpkin & Maple Syrup Bellini

The food menu, I felt, was less inspiring. 

From the publicity surrounding the opening, I expected the menu to be creative and experimental. Instead, what we were presented with was a choice of classic dishes with a twist. 

I ordered “Creamed chestnut mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts, fried duck egg” (considering how hungry I was, I should have foreseen this was not the best idea) and Jack ordered “Spinach welsh rarebit, sourdough toast, onion jam and cornichons” (a much better idea).

Creamed chestnut mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts, duck egg

Creamed chestnut mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts, duck egg

The duck egg was delicious, and the dish in it’s entirely perfectly executed. 

Jack’s was good, too – hearty and rich. Oh and a lot bigger (cue serious food envy). 

Spinach welsh rarebit, onion jam, cornichons

Spinach welsh rarebit, onion jam, cornichons

I was still feeling hungry so I decided to order “White chocolate crispy, dark chocolate mousse, almond ice-cream”…and I’m glad I did. 

White chocolate crispy, dark chocolate mousse, almond ice-cream

White chocolate crispy, dark chocolate mousse, almond ice-cream

The chocolate mouse was perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted: rich and dense, yet not too heavy. The almond ice-cream contrasted wonderfully and you can’t go wrong with rice crispies in chocolate, can you? 

All in all, I enjoyed it…but was left feeling a little discontent. 

The size of the portions needs rethinking (for Sunday Brunch, at least…). If I go back, I’d order three or four to share between two people.

From a restaurant with Loubet’s name attached to it, I expected more flair. The dishes showed thought and were put together beautifully but in London that’s really not enough to set you apart. 

 

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Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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I’ve always taken birthdays very seriously.

Everybody deserves to be spoiled for a day and this should always involve a big cake!

It was Jack’s birthday at the weekend so I decided to bake his favourite – carrot cake.

This recipe is wonderfully simple, although it does take a bit of time…but trust me, it’s totally worth it!

It doesn’t take very long to make the cake itself, but you’ll need to wait until the cake is cool until you ice it. This is really important, otherwise the icing will melt and you’ll be left with a sloppy mess! (I speak from experience…although it does taste just as good this way, so if you’re hungry and don’t care about points for presentation, don’t worry too much…).

You’ll also get the best results if you ice the cake in stages and refrigerate it to allow it to set.

I’ve tried different recipes but this one’s my all-time favourite.  The fruit in the sponge keeps it really moist and the cream cheese frosting is seriously yummy.

Expect to be asked to bake it again and again…

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Serves 14-16

Ingredients

  • 300ml vegetable oil
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 300g carrot, finely grated
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 90g raisins
  • 90g sultanas
  • 90g chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 200ml milk

For the frosting:

  • 1kg icing sugar
  • 400g cream cheese
  • 100g soft, unsalted butter
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 100g finely chopped toasted nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans are all good)
  • 1 tsp good quality vanilla essence

Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees / Gas 4. Grease a 23cm springform tin and line with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl mix together the vegetable oil and sugar. Add the eggs separately and whisk together each time.

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Add the grated carrot, fruit, walnuts and coconut and mix.

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Sieve the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg into the mixture and mix thoroughly.

Add the milk until the batter is a pouring consistency and pour into your cake tin.

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Place on the middle shelf of your oven and bake for 1 hour and 40 minutes, or until a skewer is inserted at the centre of the cake and comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 15-20 minutes then transfer to a wire rack and leave until cool (usually takes around 2-3 hours).

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Sieve a third of your icing sugar into a bowl and add the softened butter (make sure the butter is really soft or you’ll have lumps!). Mix together and then add the cream cheese and vanilla essence. Continue to mix in the rest of the icing sugar in stages until fairly stiff. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a knife with a perforated edge (e.g. a bread knife), carefully cut across the middle of the cake to create two layers. If your cake is domed, use the same technique to cut off the top half inch of the cake so that it’s level.fd-115

With a butter knife, then spread a thick layer of icing on top of the bottom layer. Add the top layer to the cake and using your knife to smooth any icing that spills out.

Then, spoon a large dollop of icing onto the top of the cake and spread across the top and sides. This is your crumb layer. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Spoon another large dollop of icing onto the top of the cake and repeat the process. Refrigerate again.

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Decorate your cake with the chopped nuts.

Enjoy!

Pizza Pilgrims, Soho

I’ve decided that Mondays are the new Fridays.

I don’t know about you, but my Friday nights are never that exciting. They’re always fraught with tension from the week, I’m tired, and all I can really think about is a large glass of rioja, a bath and an early night.

Monday nights, however…

When the weekend is so far away, they can help banish the Monday morning blues and get you through the day. I might have to drag myself into the office at 8am, but fast-forward to 5pm and I’m usually brimming with energy (thanks to a few too many cups of coffee).

And possibly the best thing about Mondays (especially in London) is that everywhere is so quiet.

That new restaurant you’ve been desperate to try with 3 hour Friday night queues? It’s empty on a Monday.

Yesterday, Jack and I had a theatre date. He’d bought us tickets to see Chimerica after my friend Ella practically insisted that we go.

We didn’t have time for pre-theatre, so decided to grab a pizza at Pizza Pilgrims. They don’t take bookings, so it was the ideal night to go.

I’d been planning a visit since they opened in July, while Jack has already enjoyed their pizza a few times. He works in Soho and his agency have started delivering it to the office at lunch. Jealous, much? (The closest “pizzeria” to my office is Papa Johns…strictly reserved for hangover days).

There’s a great story behind Pizza Pilgrims:

After a few pints in the pub, James and Thom Elliot decided to quite their “professional jobs” and pursue their passion for pizza. However they realised that, apart from being keen eaters, they knew nothing about pizza. So they embarked upon their “Pizza Pilgrimage” – a pizza discovery tour of Italy. On their return they began to sell pizzas from a van in Regent’s Park….

…then came the book deal; the TV show and a restaurant in Soho.

Pizza Pilgrims, Soho

Pizza Pilgrims, Soho

The interior is small, with the pizza oven and a window ledge table upstairs and more seating below. Downstairs, the walls are lined with retro Italian film posters and the tiled floor is strewn with blue and white chequered tables.

Jack looking forward to pizza

Jack matched his shirt to the tablecloth.

The pizzas are “Neapolitan style”. The base of an authentic Neapolitan pizza is pillowy and slightly charred around the edge and wet and soupy in the middle. You can’t pick them up like an American or Romana style pizza – in Italy, Neapolitans will fold them to eat them.

The toppings are usually very simple. In Da Michele, one of the best pizzeria’s in Naples, they offer two varieties only: a margarita, or a marinara (both delicious).

At Pizza Pilgrims, there’s slightly more choice, with 10 different varieties to choose from. True to the Neapolitan style, they’ve very simple and focus on one or two key ingredients.

We ordered the Artichoke, Ricotta & Smoked Garlic Oil and the Nduja (£9) – a margarita with spicy Calabrian Sausage (£9).

Artichoke, mozzarella and garlic oil (£8)

Artichoke, mozzarella and garlic oil (£8)

Nduja (£9)

Nduja (£9)

The artichoke pizza was delicious, although the base was slightly undercooked. The Fior de Latte mozzarella was incredibly fresh and the sweetness of the artichokes cut through the creaminess of the cheese so it wasn’t too rich. For me, the marinara sauce was disappointing. In Naples, the sweetness of tomatoes hits you straight away and carries the other flavours.

The Nduja fell short of expectations – the sausage was good, but the subtlety of the flavour was entirely lost to the marinara sauce.  I would’ve enjoyed it more if it was less tomato-y.

To drink, Jack had a Birra Morretti (£4.50) and I had a glass of red wine (£4.50).

We skipped on pudding as we were running late for the theatre, but next time I’ll definitely be trying the Blood Orange Sorbet (£4.50).

The bill came to £27.50 excluding tip, so around £15 per head – which is really good value when you consider that’s the same as Pizza Express.

Pizza Pilgrims is ideal for a quick supper. Everything you order comes at the same time and the wine isn’t great (vino da tavola) so it’s not the kind of place you linger.

The atmosphere is kind of missing something, too. As Jack said: “I’d rather have one of their pizzas off a van and eat it in the middle of Soho Square”. It’s as if they’re trying to be a bit like Polpo, when really they should probably stay true to the simple, Napoli-inspired philosophy that has made them so popular.

For me, the pizzas weren’t as authentic as those at Franco Manca and the quality of the ingredients wasn’t as good. It’s also clear they haven’t been open long and are having a few teething problems (the under-cooked base), but I expect it won’t take them long to sort this out.

Rating

Food: 7/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Staff: 7/10

Oh, and the play….10/10 (brilliant!)

Where? 11 Dean St, Soho W1D 3RP.

Green & Blacks Butterscotch Chocolate Brownies

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I’ve had dreams about Green & Blacks chocolate.

Specifically Green & Blacks…not Cadbury’s or even Montezuma’s (although I do like their truffles).

My absolute favourite is the butterscotch variety  (if you haven’t tried it yet, you’re really missing out). I love the contrast in flavours between the creamy smooth chocolate and the crunchy, treacly toffee.

I hardly ever buy it though because it’s so moreish I struggle to make it last any longer than 3 seconds. I usually buy their dark varieties and limit myself to a square a day. Sometimes this satisfies my cravings…sometimes I end up stockpiling the confectionery aisle of my local Sainsburys.

This recipe is perfect for those days when a square of dark chocolate simply won’t do.

Seriously rich and decadent, with chunks of melted chocolate and butterscotch, these brownies are best served warm from the oven with good quality vanilla ice-cream.

It also works with any variety of Green & Blacks, so you can easily substitute your own personal favourite (white, ginger and spiced chilli are next on my list…)

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Ingredients

You will need…

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  • 200g of dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa mass), broken into small pieces
  • 200g of Green & Blacks butterscotch chocolate, broken into small pieces
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking bowder
  • 250g dark muscovado sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Preheat the over to 170 degrees / Gas Mark 3. Grease a square baking tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Melt the (plain) dark chocolate and butter in a bowl over a saucepan of gently boiling water. Be very careful to ensure the bowl isn’t touching the water and raise it every now and then so the steam escapes (this stops the chocolate from splitting).

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Whisk the eggs and sugar in a separate bowl until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla essence. Fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs and sugar mixture and combine until well blended.

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Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture and mix throughly. Fold in the butterscotch chocolate and mix until evenly distributed.
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Pour the mixture into your baking tin and place on the middle shelf in your oven.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the surface has begun to crack. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin.

Divide into squares and enjoy!

The last BBQ of Summer

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Ever since I moved to Shoreditch a year ago, my flatmates and I have been talking about having a BBQ.

We all take our food (very) seriously…Andre is from Brazil and cooks the best steak (I’ll also be eternally grateful for him introducing me to cassava). Sol’s originally from Cyprus and, from what I’ve heard, her family dinners are legendary.

Sadly, I’m moving out in a few weeks because of my new job. And with the skies gradually darkening and the temperatures falling, we realised we were fast running out of time.

On Sunday I was woken up by the sunshine creeping through my blind. It was perfect BBQ weather. We decided what to buy and set off for ingredients.

A couple of hours later, the inevitable had occurred:

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And then it rained.

I arrived back from the supermarket, cold, shivering and a little bit grumpy.

I pulled on my boyfriend’s jumper and (for the first time in months) switched on the heating and began preparing our salads with typical British stoicism…

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Potato Salad (recipe below)

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Quinoa with roasted veg

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Beetroot Salad

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Houmous

Luckily, an hour later when Andre returned from Waitrose with half the meat counter, the rain had stopped…I was feeling a bit cheerier, too (thanks to a can of Red Stripe).

He sharpened the knives…

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Andre, the BBQ king

…fired up the BBQ, and started grilling the meat.

We had pork ribs and chicken…

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Pork Ribs and Chicken

…steak (fillet, rib eye and rump)…

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Fillet steak

…and king prawns with garlic, chilli and lemon.

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King Prawns

And then the sunshine came out…

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Completely stuffed, we squished onto our tiny balcony with our drinks and enjoyed the weather (while it lasted).

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And decided we still had room for pudding…

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Plantain

…and a bottle or two of Montepulciano.

You know you’ve had a great BBQ when you collapse into bed at midnight, questioning whether you’ll ever be hungry again…

Recipe: The best potato salad

This recipe is inspired by the Whole Foods potato salad which incorporates egg and mustard to make it really creamy and rich. I love the vibrant yellow colour – ideally add some fresh herbs (basil, parsley or dill), too.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg new potatoes, halved
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
  • 4 heaped tablespoons of mayo
  • 1 small tub of sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon of English mustard
  • 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Method

  1. Bring your new potatoes to boil in a large saucepan of lightly salted water. Simmer until tender (about 15-20 minutes), drain and allow to cool.
  2. Hard boil your eggs (around 6 minutes). Mash the egg yolks with the mayo, sour cream and mustard until well blended. Roughly chop the egg whites and set aside.
  3. Add the egg yolk mixture to the potatoes and mix until the potatoes are well coated
  4. Add the shallot, onions and egg white to the potatoes and mix.
  5. Season to taste.

Giant Robot, Clerkenwell

When I lived in Notting Hill, Tiny Robot on Westbourne Grove was one of my favourite places to begin my Saturday night.

A relaxed vibe, a seriously yummy menu of small plates and great cocktails, it was the ideal place to meet friends and have a quick catch up before tipsily stumbling to our (questionable) nightclub of choice.

They also did epic brunches.

But I’ll stop there because sadly it’s no more. I have no idea why because it was always ridiculously busy, but anyhow…

All is not lost as Giant Robot on Clerkenwell Road, still remains.

I’d been there a few times before for small plates and drinks. It’s a cool venue.

With exposed brick walls and a tin ceiling, on first glance it appears a stereotype of East London cool. Yet, quirky attention to detail ensures it still retains a semblance of personality.

This time I was there to celebrate my friend Ella’s birthday.

There was a large group of us and the staff were attentive (although, for change, the restaurant was largely empty).

A couple of us ordered cocktails, while the rest shared a few bottles of wine. The wine is OK, but having tried the cocktails before, they’re definitely the better choice. They do an excellent Brooklyn (Rye stirred with Martini Extra Dry, Amer Picon and maraschino liquer), or if you like bubbles, try the Nicola Six (raspberry Stoli, strawberries, cucumber and rose prosecco).

The menu is an eclectic mix – it’s a great place to go with a fussy eater because there’s something for everyone, from the classic “Rotary Burger” to Italian-inspired dishes, such as arancini (fried risotto balls).

I ordered the veal meatballs with porcini cream, parmesan and tarragon, with mash (you can choose spaghetti, mash or salad). There was a little mix up as the waitress brought them over with spaghetti, but she sorted it out really quickly with no fuss.

After a busy weekend, I was in the mood for comfort food and this completely hit the spot.

Veal meatballs with porcini cream and parmesan, £6 for 3

Veal meatballs with porcini cream and parmesan, £6 for 3

My friends ordered beef meatballs, crab spaghetti and sliders.

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Sliders, £8.25 for 3

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Crab spaghetti

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Beef meatballs with spaghetti

The food was slightly inconsistent and the simpler dishes seem to be the most reliable choice.

We celebrated with birthday cake for pudding.

A relief as I’ve ordered pudding once at Giant Robot and it was probably the worst I’ve ever had (the “famous” baked alaska for 4…a giant plate of uncooked meringue with one small scoop of vanilla ice-cream in the middle).

If you’re planning a trip to Giant Robot, my 3 tips would be:

  1. Don’t go when you’re in a rush
  2. Order the meatballs
  3. Skip dessert and have a cocktail instead

Rating

Food: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Staff: 7/10

Where?: 45-47 Clerkenwell Rd  London EC1M 5RS

In search of the perfect burrito

A few years ago, it was hard to find a decent burrito in London. After a year studying in the US, my brother came back raving about the burritos at an American chain called Chipotle. I was genuinely excited when I heard they were opening their first UK site on London’s Charing Cross Road.

Since then, 6 Chipotle’s have opened across the city, along with other imitators such as Tortilla, Chilango and Benito’s Hat.

Chipotle is still my favourite so far, although I’m also a big fan of Daddy Donkey on Leather Lane (the best hot salsa and within close proximity to my office) and Tortilla (burritos always tastes better with a frozen margarita).

Poncho 8 is the latest contender in town. They opened their first branch in Spitalfields and have quickly expanded with 4 new branches across The City. Awarded the prestigious accolade of “Best Burrito in London” by The Evening Standard, the lunchtime queue at the St. Pauls branch regularly spills out onto Paternoster Square.

I decided it was time to try it for myself and brought along my brother for the “expert” opinion.

We arrived at the bright, modern (and completely empty) St. Paul’s branch around 6pm – the staff were friendly and super fast (clearly on autopilot from lunch).

The "expert"

The “expert”

You have the choice of a burrito, skinny box (a burrito without the tortilla, served on salad), nacho box or taco. Meat-wise, there’s chicken, pork, steak, barbacoa (marinated, then slow-cooked beef) or vegetarian (vegetables and tofu). The toppings are standard: mild, medium and hot salsa; sour cream; cheese; jalapenos; salad and guacamole (extra 90p).

There’s also a selection of ‘light bites’ including mini burritos, quesadillas and nachos.

I ordered a burrito with barbecoa with guac and my brother, the same, but with chicken.

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Burrito with barbecoa & guac, £7.10

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Burrito with chicken, £6.30

It’s a great burrito – the quality of the ingredients is exceptional. The barbecoa is probably the best I’ve had, tender and well-marinated.

They don’t skimp on the meat either so you’re not left with a sloppy burrito that you can hardly pick up and guac on your face (is that just me?)

My only complaint is the toppings are on the mild side – I ordered a medium salsa but could barely taste it so next time I’d ask for hot. My brother also commented that the way they’d wrapped it meant there was a slight imbalance of ingredients, with all the rice on one side and all the meat on the other (first world problems, huh?).

Either way, he reconciled, “it’s probably better than Chipotle”. And from my brother, praise doesn’t get better than that.

Rating:

Food: 8/10

Ambience: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Value: 8/10

Where: 11 Queens Head Passage, London EC4M 7DZ