Category Archives: London

rambling restaurant

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The Rambling Restaurant launched on Sunday after a wild flurry of activity with friends and neighbours. The precarious table I’d made out of a volume of Renaissance Drama, a Tom Wolfe tome, chest of drawers & filing cabinet was deemed unsafe, so I borrowed Mary and Edward’s garden table from down the road. My mum spent an entire day hemming material (wonkily self-cut in Ikea and some from neighbour Elspeth) to make tablecloths and napkins. Her friend Hilary provided candles and ivory bedsheets to go under the table cloths, which they both expertly pinned and sewed until they hung perfectly. My friend Emily cut down roses, created a suitable playlist on her ipod and ran off to the shops for extra cream and cava, while Michelle and Mei – the star sous chefs and hostesses of the evening – chopped, grated, wrote menus and generally got things organized. I used strength I didn’t think I had to shift my bookshelves across the room to create a room divider between kitchen and dining room and we hung up a curtain to shield diners from the cooking frenzy within.

By 7.10pm I had finished most of the food prep and left Michelle making toast, while I went to change. The first guests arrived shockingly (well just 10 minutes) early at 7.20pm (Chris and Helen must’ve been rather hungry…), so I just had time to scramble upstairs and make some Rambling Cocktail (gin and homemade elderflower cordial topped with cava and a mint leaf). For the next 40 minutes, as I pootled away in the kitchen plating up chicken liver pate and frying streaky bacon, I could hear people arriving and there seemed to be a cocktail party sort of atmosphere. People popped their heads in to say hello and take a peek at the cooking. One pair dropped in to say sorry, they couldn’t stay as they thought they had food poisoning, but they had come along to see what it looked like and they very sweetly insisted I take their donations – thank you! With the two cancellations we were still full, with 15 for dinner (not including myself, Mei and Mish).

mei & liver, bacon, pea starter

Here is Mei with the liver, bacon and mushy pea starter (photo by Michelle). The main was trout on a bed of fennel and parmesan, potato rosti and rocket. We were so busy plating it up – a rather labour intensive process – that we forgot to take any photos.

homemade lavender ice cream

Lavender icecream before the arrival of the chocolate fondant (photo by Mei).

intense conversations

Looks like some rather intense conversation going on. Thanks to Andre (of The Worm and Antic Banquet festival) for making coffee and to Horton (of The Secret Ingredient) for finding it…

Check out Boo in London’s review of the launch.

Rambling Restaurant hopes to be a weekly event and opens its doors again this Sunday for a Moroccan feast on a rooftop terrace in Bethnal Green! To book please contact ramblingrestaurant@googlemail.com

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Filed under restaurants, Underground restaurants and secret supper clubs

‘rambler’s gone to iceland

Eating Eurovision – one continent under a groove: 25 food bloggers try to eat the cuisine of all 25 finalists in 25 hours within the confindes of the M25! This challenge was thought up by food journalist Andrew Webb and I discovered it through London Food and Drink Bloggers. When the 25 Eurovision finalists for tonight’s song contest were picked on Thursday night (just think how bad the 17 entries who don’t get to sing tonight must be…), we each lucky-dip-picked a country.

My challenge was Iceland and I had 25 hours to find out about Icelandic cuisine. This is a country with a population of about 320,000 people, so it’s no wonder it was hard to find Icelanders, let alone their food, in London. I began my Friday morning at Portobello Road, where there were rumours of Icelandic meat being sold…

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Here at Kingsland, The Edwardian Butchers (140 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2DZ, Tel: 020 7727 6067) I asked friendly butcher Hayden Field if he could help with the Icelandic quest. He was pretty surprised, as he had stopped stocking Icelandic smoked lamb four years ago. His description of it did make my mouth water though: leg of lamb, salted for two weeks and then oak-smoked. It sounds like one of the food traditions of this North Atlantic island that would be most akin to English taste buds.

Some of those dishes I’d love to try include: blueberry soup, moss/lichen soup, velvet pudding and sheep’s head jam. I’m not so sure about puffin in milk sauce – aren’t they endangered species? ‘Nuked fish’ and ‘putrified shark’ just sound wrong.  Fruit and vegetable dishes include pickled beetroot, red cabbage, stewed rhubarb and caramelized potatoes – hearty, richly coloured, heavily cooked foods. Puddings, pancakes, cakes, doughnuts and biscuits seem popular. I particularly like the sound of wedded bliss and pepper cookies. Icecook (formerly Jo’s Icelandic Recipes) is a great recipe blog.

The antipodean lady at the Icelandic embassy was as helpful as possible, but with only eight people at the Icelandic embassy, two of whom aren’t from Iceland, there doesn”t seem to be much native banqueting going on. There was some Icelandic chocolate for sale there at £1 a bar, but unfortunately it had run out. She suggested water and yoghurt (skyr) from Whole Foods on High Street Kensington. I thought she said yoga at first, which led to some confusion. She also mentioned Icelandic cod in Waitrose, but I’m not quite sure what she meant by “but that might be a bit smelly for you.” “They have to bring food with them when they come back from holiday,” she said sadly. “Lamb is a particular favourite.” She was the second person to mention Kinglsand butchers.

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I rang up Nordic Bar (25 Newman Street, London W1T 1PN, Tel: 020 7631 3174) to see if they served any suitable food or drink. Manager James Dutton had a rummage around and discovered some snacks. So I said I’d pop down later that afternoon. In the meantime, I rang The Warwick (1-3 Warwick Street, London, W1B 5LR, Tel: 020 7734 4409), which was rumoured to be the meeting place of the Icelandic Society (unfortunately I couldn’t find any details on this mysterious group). The barmaid at The Warwick didn’t know if they had any Icelandic customers and they certainly didn’t serve any food, but there was a Scandanavian party on tomorrow night – I wonder if that’s something to do with Eurovision.

I sent out Facebook and Twitter pleas for help. Predictably, the Facebook query received a supermarket response and went something like this:

– Iceland’s fish fingers are boss. They used to do something called a ‘crackpot’ which I loved but they discontinued it. True story.

– What on earth is a crackpot?!

– Its an ice cream pot…was mint ice cream with layer of choc on top you had to crack to get to the ice cream. WAS SIIIICK.

– Sounds amazing. Maybe I’ll end up making that…

– Yes I went, they eat lots of herring and cod, go to Ikea and buy their Scandinavian food, which is basicaly the same thing.

Hmmmm. On Twitter I’m now following Bjork, the Republic of Iceland and someone called LaughingPuffin. But no food tips unfortunately.

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Another bike ride away and I was down at Nordic Bar. There were plenty of  photos of Iceland on the walls…

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And a sort of glacial feel to the decor, with a veritable Aurora Borealis of cubic, colour-changing lights and animal furs on the walls. The place was empty bar a raucous hen party yelling at some poor man to get his kit off and three men perched at the bar. “It’s not usually like this…” said one of the bar staff. I’m not sure if she was referring to the screaming hens or the three besuited men who offered to take me to a Spanish strip party. Bill, aren’t you doing Spain?

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Here I am with some Icelandic snacks: snowflake-shaped crisps and popcorn-shaped popcorn. They taste much like English crisps and popcorn. James also gave me some exciting chocolate lollipops. My dad, who likes to think of himself as a viking, particularly liked the viking ship:

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Continuing on the snack theme I decided to bulk up my catch of popcorn, crisps and chocolate with a fishy snack. Iceland is known for its fish:  fresh, dried, salted, pickled, smoked,  not to mention nuked and putrified. Cod, haddock, halibut and herring seem to be the main fish eaten. Hayden the butcher talked of dried fish snacks, which are eaten with butter. Yum. I went for British honey flavoured hot smoked mackerel from Sainsbury’s, served on Scottish oatcakes. Oats are quite Icelandic – see Wedded Bliss cake.

I served this with some caraway-infused vodka, which was actually rather tasty. I put a good shake of caraway seeds into a tumbler of vodka and within about a minute the alcohol had taken on the flavour. This is an imitation of the national drink Brennivín, also known as ‘Black Death”.

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This morning I refreshed myself with some Icelandic water from Nordic Bar. It tastes remarkably like my tap water. Great novelty value, but I don’t think it’s environmentally sound…

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So, thank you Andrew for the challenge, and GOOD LUCK TONIGHT ICELAND! The music isn’t quite my cup of tea, but I think Yohanna might be a winner.

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Filed under bars & pubs, Iceland

'rambler's gone to iceland

Eating Eurovision – one continent under a groove: 25 food bloggers try to eat the cuisine of all 25 finalists in 25 hours within the confindes of the M25! This challenge was thought up by food journalist Andrew Webb and I discovered it through London Food and Drink Bloggers. When the 25 Eurovision finalists for tonight’s song contest were picked on Thursday night (just think how bad the 17 entries who don’t get to sing tonight must be…), we each lucky-dip-picked a country.

My challenge was Iceland and I had 25 hours to find out about Icelandic cuisine. This is a country with a population of about 320,000 people, so it’s no wonder it was hard to find Icelanders, let alone their food, in London. I began my Friday morning at Portobello Road, where there were rumours of Icelandic meat being sold…

DSC00893

Here at Kingsland, The Edwardian Butchers (140 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2DZ, Tel: 020 7727 6067) I asked friendly butcher Hayden Field if he could help with the Icelandic quest. He was pretty surprised, as he had stopped stocking Icelandic smoked lamb four years ago. His description of it did make my mouth water though: leg of lamb, salted for two weeks and then oak-smoked. It sounds like one of the food traditions of this North Atlantic island that would be most akin to English taste buds.

Some of those dishes I’d love to try include: blueberry soup, moss/lichen soup, velvet pudding and sheep’s head jam. I’m not so sure about puffin in milk sauce – aren’t they endangered species? ‘Nuked fish’ and ‘putrified shark’ just sound wrong.  Fruit and vegetable dishes include pickled beetroot, red cabbage, stewed rhubarb and caramelized potatoes – hearty, richly coloured, heavily cooked foods. Puddings, pancakes, cakes, doughnuts and biscuits seem popular. I particularly like the sound of wedded bliss and pepper cookies. Icecook (formerly Jo’s Icelandic Recipes) is a great recipe blog.

The antipodean lady at the Icelandic embassy was as helpful as possible, but with only eight people at the Icelandic embassy, two of whom aren’t from Iceland, there doesn”t seem to be much native banqueting going on. There was some Icelandic chocolate for sale there at £1 a bar, but unfortunately it had run out. She suggested water and yoghurt (skyr) from Whole Foods on High Street Kensington. I thought she said yoga at first, which led to some confusion. She also mentioned Icelandic cod in Waitrose, but I’m not quite sure what she meant by “but that might be a bit smelly for you.” “They have to bring food with them when they come back from holiday,” she said sadly. “Lamb is a particular favourite.” She was the second person to mention Kinglsand butchers.

DSC_0119

I rang up Nordic Bar (25 Newman Street, London W1T 1PN, Tel: 020 7631 3174) to see if they served any suitable food or drink. Manager James Dutton had a rummage around and discovered some snacks. So I said I’d pop down later that afternoon. In the meantime, I rang The Warwick (1-3 Warwick Street, London, W1B 5LR, Tel: 020 7734 4409), which was rumoured to be the meeting place of the Icelandic Society (unfortunately I couldn’t find any details on this mysterious group). The barmaid at The Warwick didn’t know if they had any Icelandic customers and they certainly didn’t serve any food, but there was a Scandanavian party on tomorrow night – I wonder if that’s something to do with Eurovision.

I sent out Facebook and Twitter pleas for help. Predictably, the Facebook query received a supermarket response and went something like this:

– Iceland’s fish fingers are boss. They used to do something called a ‘crackpot’ which I loved but they discontinued it. True story.

– What on earth is a crackpot?!

– Its an ice cream pot…was mint ice cream with layer of choc on top you had to crack to get to the ice cream. WAS SIIIICK.

– Sounds amazing. Maybe I’ll end up making that…

– Yes I went, they eat lots of herring and cod, go to Ikea and buy their Scandinavian food, which is basicaly the same thing.

Hmmmm. On Twitter I’m now following Bjork, the Republic of Iceland and someone called LaughingPuffin. But no food tips unfortunately.

DSC_0128

Another bike ride away and I was down at Nordic Bar. There were plenty of  photos of Iceland on the walls…

DSC_0130

And a sort of glacial feel to the decor, with a veritable Aurora Borealis of cubic, colour-changing lights and animal furs on the walls. The place was empty bar a raucous hen party yelling at some poor man to get his kit off and three men perched at the bar. “It’s not usually like this…” said one of the bar staff. I’m not sure if she was referring to the screaming hens or the three besuited men who offered to take me to a Spanish strip party. Bill, aren’t you doing Spain?

DSC_0121

Here I am with some Icelandic snacks: snowflake-shaped crisps and popcorn-shaped popcorn. They taste much like English crisps and popcorn. James also gave me some exciting chocolate lollipops. My dad, who likes to think of himself as a viking, particularly liked the viking ship:

DSC_0136

Continuing on the snack theme I decided to bulk up my catch of popcorn, crisps and chocolate with a fishy snack. Iceland is known for its fish:  fresh, dried, salted, pickled, smoked,  not to mention nuked and putrified. Cod, haddock, halibut and herring seem to be the main fish eaten. Hayden the butcher talked of dried fish snacks, which are eaten with butter. Yum. I went for British honey flavoured hot smoked mackerel from Sainsbury’s, served on Scottish oatcakes. Oats are quite Icelandic – see Wedded Bliss cake.

I served this with some caraway-infused vodka, which was actually rather tasty. I put a good shake of caraway seeds into a tumbler of vodka and within about a minute the alcohol had taken on the flavour. This is an imitation of the national drink Brennivín, also known as ‘Black Death”.

DSC_0132

DSC_0135

DSC_0127

This morning I refreshed myself with some Icelandic water from Nordic Bar. It tastes remarkably like my tap water. Great novelty value, but I don’t think it’s environmentally sound…

DSC00902

So, thank you Andrew for the challenge, and GOOD LUCK TONIGHT ICELAND! The music isn’t quite my cup of tea, but I think Yohanna might be a winner.

14 Comments

Filed under bars & pubs, Iceland

the secret ingredient

 

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One dark and wintery Wednesday after work I made my way to Newington Green. It took me a while, some unnecessary rattling of a locked gate and the asking of a couple of passers-by before I found the entrance to The Secret Ingredient. One of my friends was equally confused and we had a couple of exasperating mobile phone conversations:
– Well where are you?
– I’m here, where are you?
– I’m here…
– Well you can’t be because I’m here and I can’t see you…
– What direction are you facing?
– Ah, there you are.

Strangely, the other four didn’t seem to have any trouble finding it, but hey, it was living up to its name so far for two of us. At ground level, around the back of a block of flats, a turquoise sofa finally drew me to the right place. From outside I could see into the kitchen, where our host Horton Jupiter was rushing about in a cool stripey apron, chopping, mixing, plating and gesticulating wildly at a girl in a chic flowery dress. This turned out to be his lovely girlfriend Rachel, who welcomed us in and was our gracious waitress for the evening. She led me through to the dining room, where two other guests had already arrived and were chatting about naked bingo or something similar. 

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Our party of six had a table for four and a sofa for two. Although we appreciated being able to sink into the cushions and liked the small home-made circular tablecloth laid on a mini-table on wheels, the two of us on the sofa did feel a bit left out. However, Rachel was happy to let us turn the wheelie on its side, use it as a chair and squeeze in around the bigger table. The whole restaurant seemed to join in and had suggestions on the re-arrangement of the furniture too.

We cracked open the bubbly we’d brought and toasted several things – two new jobs and one successful CRB check (don’t ask). Meanwhile, in the kitchen… Horton, who had originally announced:
– I’m more organised than I’ve ever been tonight! I really do feel rather relaxed about it all…
…was becoming increasingly frenzied as the time ticked by and the food wasn’t quite ready yet. He popped his head around the door every once in a while to check that we were okay and we certainly were. The dining room was cosy – softly candlelit with tea-lights and three tables of excited diners.

The menu was a vegetarian Japanese feast. We began with a small starter of pickled onion each. Some didn’t eat much of this at all for fear of onion breath, while others ate two portions and could’ve eaten more. Next came a dish stunningly presented on a mirror: crunchy cabbage maki, sesame-flavoured carrots delicately tied in seaweed, a beautifully cut radish with a mini lemon slice and some raw apple chutney. I won’t spoil the rest of the seven-course menu for those that want to go there, but it was good.

There was a second sitting after ours and the diners arrived as we were still eating our star fruit. Luckily for us, and unluckily for the hungry arrivals, these were friends of the cook, so he sent them packing to the pub down the road while we finished the last drop of hot sake and ambled out.

Not only a talented cook, Horton Jupiter is also in pop band They Came From The Stars. I met him at the opening of The Underground Restaurant a few weeks ago, another private dining room which is opening its doors to the public once a week. These two super supper clubs might be just the start of something new on the London restaurant scene and I’m definitely going to be keeping my eye out for more popping up. But get in there fast, as the prices are rising. The Underground Restaurant (every Saturday) is already charging £25, while the minimum suggested donation at The Secret Ingredient (every Wendesday) has gone up to £15.

Personally, I think this one is worth every penny.

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Filed under restaurants, Underground restaurants and secret supper clubs

beard papa’s

dsc_01061This Japanese-founded chain makes Oxford Street bearable. When surrounded by hoards of  jostling elbows and face-swiping department store doors, when you’ve tried to walk the wrong way up the escalators or are boiling hot from being togged up in scarf, coat, hat and gloves and from squeezing in and out of clothes in sweaty changing rooms… remember there’s always a cream puff at the end of the tunnel. This humble fast-food joint might not look like much, but it produces cream puffs to die for. The choux pastry is fresh and crisp, and as you bite into the puff a cool, creamy vanilla custard oozes into your mouth. Mmmmmm.

143 Oxford Street, London W1D 2JB

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the underground restaurant

I haven’t posted anything up here for nearly four weeks and feel somewhat shamefaced about it. But, thanks to MsMarmitelover and her inspiring living room, now known as The Underground Restaurant, I’m back in the posting saddle. In the chic, chandeliered home of this photographer/writer/cook I met two fellow food bloggers – the lovely London Eater and the infamous Bellaphon. They both gently persuaded me that it really is best to keep up with the blogging.

dsc00767The concept of a restaurant at home is a good one, fully explored by Jim Hayes, an American in Paris who hosts up to 120 people for Sunday dinner every week. You get the thrill of eating out, but at less expense, less choice and the bonuses of nosying into someone else’s home environment and of meeting new people.

I went with my friend Michelle, someone equally excited by new eating experiences as I am. Our evening didn’t get off to the best start. We hurried for the Silverlink from Camden to Brondesbury only to see it chugging out of the station a minute early, leaving us stranded on the platform with a couple having an increasingly violent domestic, resulting in police, tears and threats of being sectioned.

We finally got to MsML’s Kilburn abode at about 8pm, with the help of an equally confused Bellaphon, found wandering about the street, and some clueless passers-by. It was a joy to be welcomed in to her warm house with a glass of kir. We stood around chatting, admiring the white wooden floorboards, beautifully laid tables, black & white photos and a stylish daughter/waitress in a black & white dress to match, until MsML’s sister heralded the meal with a call to take our seats.dsc00770

So, what was dinner chez MsMarmitelover like? We had fat, juicy kalamata olives to nibble on before the arrival of the starter: an intense tomato soup with plenty of garlic and a deliciously thick texture, as the seeds were left in. This was served with homemade rosemary and garlic focaccia. For mains we had a generous portion of creamy potato and smoked salmon pie with shredded carrot and celeriac (or at least I thought it was celeriac after a couple of glasses of BYO wine…)

dsc00772Then came the fresh-tasting palate cleanser of elderflower jelly, brought along by Bompas & Parr.  And finally, there was a divine bitter chocolate pot, topped with candied orange.

At £10 a pop, this was a bargain and something a bit different.  It will be on every Saturday and I highly recommend giving it a go. Contact theundergroundrestaurant@gmail.com to book a table.  Please note: the price may be going up.

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Filed under restaurants, Underground restaurants and secret supper clubs

eat while you shop

This year I’m trying to have a more recycled Christmas, so no more trawling over-crowded shops for brand spanking new toys, books and kitchenware. Instead, I’m wandering through markets, attending car boot sales and making the acquaintance of a whole range of enthusiastic collectors of obscure old stuff. Someone will be lucky if I can resist buying them a taxidermied leopard from Spitalfields‘ Thursday lunch-time antiques market… Continue reading

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Filed under markets