Thursday, November 13, 2008

Latest review on 'DineOnline'

Sorry for the lack of updates lately, now I'm back at work full-time its harder to find the time to blog so please bear with me will be catching up soon!

Check out 'DineOnline' for my latest review:
Cinnamon Kitchen and Anise Launch

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Flying high at Everest Curry King, Lewisham

Everest Curry King
24 Loampit Hill
SE13 7SW
T: 020 86912233

A hidden gem in the heart of Lewisham, this Sri Lankan restaurant and takeaway offers a tasty, cheap and filling meal for around 6 pounds a head. There are several different curries and dhals, and rice to choose from plus dosas, bhajis and other snacks.

We've visited twice now and both times been impressed by the quality of food, service and general high standards. The atmosphere is pleasant and at times one can imagine you are eating in a family home. The popularity of the place with Sri Lankans is testament to the authentcity of the food; many pop in for a quick lunch or takeaway.

We chose to eat in. You select 2 curries or dhals, a rice dish and any other extras. Your plate is piled high and then heated in one of microwaves behind the counter. You can select a drink from the fridges near the back, The Veggie especially likes the green cream soda, and they also do profile coke bottles and other more recognisable drinks.

When you take a seat you are asked if you want popadums and dips, which as far as I can tell are free. You are also given a glass of water and napkins. 

I have eaten a lovely mild chicken korma, a spicy potato dish, a coconut and spinach dhal and nicely cooked pilau rice. The Veggie has tried the okra, and other dhals. I also had a lentil snack last time. All the food we tried was fresh, well-spiced and delicious.

Don't be put off by the outside, the Everest Curry King really is well worth a visit for a reasonably priced meal.

Scores on the Doors: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A celebration at VK Restaurant & Lounge, Chingford.

 VK Restaurant and Lounge

The Green
London, E4 7ES
Tel: 020 8524 8438

Although the name sounds rather like it was inspired by the energy drink, don't be put off! VK is a classy establishment. The Chingford branch is the most recently opened venue and we decided to go there for my parent's 30th Anniversary.

It was a dull and rainy evening and the place was very quiet, in fact we were the only customers!  In some restaurants this would be awkward but not at the VK. We were shown to the best table in the place; a half-moon sofa which was very comfortable. 

The decor is black and red, with pretty black flower patterned chairs and an open-plan kitchen as you enter. We were all very impressed.

The staff were friendly and welcoming. Whilst we decided what to eat, we ordered the bread and olives at 3.00, which brought us a plate of lightly toasted white bread, black olives and good oil and balsamic. 

The drinks were also reasonable, with my Peroni beer only 2.00 a bottle.

There were two choices for the Veggie in both the starters and the mains, which was good. Upon hearing that the soup of the day was Cauliflower she went for that. After craving Mussels since our visit to Zero Degrees in Blackheath, I chose them for a starter and so did my Dad.

My Mum went for the grilled goat's cheese, which looked lovely.  All the starters were between 5.00 and 6.00.

The Mussels arrived with some of the same toasted bread and a bowl for the shells. They were well-cooked and served in a creamy white wine sauce. The portion was just the right size and my Dad enjoyed his too.

The Veggie's soup was also a success, it smelt really good and although the portion was quite small it was enough and also came with bread.

For mains there was plenty of choice; a steak, pork, lamb, fish etc. All the mains were between 8 and 12.50. I thought this was good value.

I chose the Pork Belly as that is one of my favourites. Dad went for the Ribeye steak, Mum the lamb rump and The Veggie the artichoke heart, sundried tomato and mushroom risotto.

The mains were a decent size. My pork belly was lovely, had good crackling and a nice depth of flavour. It came with carrots, broccoli and what was supposed to be apple and potato mash. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any apple in it, none that you could tell anyway. It was shame as the taste of the apple would have cut through the richness of both the mash and the pork belly. The red wine jus was nice, but I just couldn't finish the meal; the combined flavours were too heavy and I felt full even when I wasn't.

My Dad said he steak was just ok, which was unusual as ribeye normally has quite a bit of flavour. Still it was cooked as he liked it and came with a nice potato rosti and the same veg I had. He most have liked something about it as he was the one who managed to finish his meal.

My Mum liked her lamb, which was cooked a bit rarer than she asked for but was fine. Her only quibble was that the goat's cheese had had a similar ratoutille style of veg underneath it as was served with the lamb. That was rather an oversight but never mind, she enjoyed her meat.

The Veggie's risotto was good, although she couldn't quite finish it either. I don't know how much aritchoke was in it I couldn't see much, but she had no complaints.

We all felt fit to burst after the second course, but were given enough of a break that we felt we could share two desserts. The Veggie and I chose the Eton Mess and my parents had the Movenpick ice cream. All desserts, which also included a chocolate fondant, sticky toffee pudding and banoffee pie, were all 5.00.

I was a bit disappointed with the Eton Mess. The cream was thin rather than the thick whipping cream I had been expecting and the portion was rather small. Still we both enjoyed it.

The ice cream was three scoops; chocolate, vanilla and an orange sorbet (an unadvertised bonus!). 

All in all I would probably go back to the VK again, and would feel confident taking a friend there. The standard of food and service was high, not amazing but high, whilst the prices were reasonable. My parent's had a great anniversary meal.

Scores on the Doors: 8 out of 10

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Interview with Theo Randall!

 Check out my interview with exciting Chef and winner of Italian restaurant of the year, Theo Randall at DineOnline!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Great food but grating service at The Gate


The Gate

51 Queen Caroline Street,
W6 9QL 
Tel 020 8748 6932 

As I was supposed to be attending the re-launch of a bar in Hammersmith, we decided to visit The Gate restaurant beforehand. After a bit of trouble finding it (it's down a side road by the Apollo), we came across a quaint little courtyard and church, with the restaurant on the first floor. The interior looks like it used to be part of the church, with high ceilings and white walls, and hardwood flooring. The room is longer than it is wide and it had a nice atmosphere, especially as it began to fill up.

Good bread and olive oil was offered as we mulled over the menu.

The menu was quite varied, all vegetarian and the prices were quite reasonable. I opted for the Halloumi Kibi to begin. The Veggie chose the the Artichokes. 

The starter was divine; a skewer of plump, well-cooked halloumi, with red onions, pepper and courgette, sat on a bed of fresh pomegrante, cous cous and herb salad. It was warming, light and bursting with flavour. 

The Veggie's dish was just as innovative and delightful; battered artichokes with a tasty dressing.

Unfortunately, the service was rather unfriendly which was the only thing that marred the beginning of the meal. 

For mains we both decided to go for the Rotolo (a gorgeous combination of butternut, goat's cheese and basil rolled in thyme-infused potato), which was beautifully presented on a bed of french beans and green pepper corn and mustard sauce. Initially I thought the dish was going to be rather heavy but the goat's cheese did not overwhelm the other flavours and everything was perfectly cooked and delicious. I have never seen a dish like this anywhere else and it was just another example of the exciting vegetarian food being cooked at The Gate. 

Aside from the dish we chose there was a pasta dish, an aubergine dish, another artichoke dish, a thai green curry and a mushroom dish. Something for everyone.

The desserts were something of a disappointment when compared to the high standards set by the rest of the meal. My Pressed Chocolate and Chestnut torte, was rather more of a cake, with very little chestnut and too little creme fraiche on the side.

The Veggie's sorbet was more promising, with three scoops of orange and ginger, apple and raspberry to be had. However, when it arrived the scoops were measly portions, and the flavours and colours were very muted. Not at all the vibrant offering she had been expecting!

Starters range from 5.75 to 6.25 and mains are rather more pricey at approximately 13.50.
Desserts were around the 5.50 mark. I would skip them and perhaps share another starter between two instead. 

I would definitely recommend The Gate for its unusual and superior vegetarian food, its just a shame the service lets the place down. I had to catch the eye of our waitress a few times before she came over, and we were more often than not ignored. Service was very slow and although the place was busy we noted some staff were standing around not doing anything or folding napkins instead of being attentive to the customer's needs.

Scores on the Doors: 7.5 out of 10

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tasty pizzas and marvellous mussels at Zero Degrees

Zero Degrees

29/31 Montpelier Vale
London. SE3 0TJ
020 8852 5619

After another lovely first part of the weekend in Lewisham we decided to head into Blackheath for a leisurely Sunday lunch. Our first stop was Zero Degrees a place we had wanted to visit a few weekends before but it had been too busy, as it is also a popular bar in the evenings. This time there were plently of tables and we were soon seated.

Zero Degrees is a microbrewery so you get interesting fruit beers to go with the Italian-flavoured food. It has a very modern black and chrome interior with high ceilings and shiny floors it feels very spacious and trendy. They do a lot of pizzas so that seemed the thing to try. 

I decided to go for the Caramelised Pear & Gorgonzola variety (Caramelised pears, gorgonzola cheese, taleggio cheese, walnuts & tomato sauce, topped with rocket & ranch dressing)
with added chicken. The Language Whizz went for the chinese takeaway pizza, well it was Peking Duck with all the trimmings. The Veggie had the Porcini Mushroom (Porcini mushrooms, red onions, smoked cheese, white wine & garlic sauce), whilst EMI Guy went for the fishy option selecting the Mussels Mariniere (a kilo of mussels served with fires and mayo) from a long list of Mussels dishes.

To wash the food down I choose the current fruit beer which was Mango beer, and EMI Guy went for a wheat ale. The others had soft drinks but the beers are definitely worth a try if you go.

Our pizzas arrived promptly, the service unremarkable but efficient. My pizza was as rich as I had expected so I was glad for the succulent chicken to break up the sweetness of the pears and the glut of cheese. The bases were nicely cooked but due to rather too much of some of the ingredients I couldn't eat it all. 

The Veggie enjoyed her pizza and managed to polish most of it off. Unfortunately, the Language Whizz had a similar problem to me; her hoision sauce drenched pizza was just too rich and overloaded with topping. This was a shame as with a slightly less generous hand the pizzas would have been much improved.

If I visit Zero Degrees again I will certainly try the Mussels as EMI Guy's dish looked so appeitising, although he couldn't manage that many of the fries - the star of the show was definitely the large, plump morsels of seafood. And with so many different styles to choose from, ranging from Creole to Thai Green Curry there was something for every lover of the little suckers.

I was a bit disappointed with my Mango beer as the fruit flavour was very muted. I much prefered the second I chose, the Black lager, which was a little like Guinness but had a nice coffee bean aftertaste.

We all managed to eat desserts, although they were far from memorable. My passion fruit and mango ice cream cake was rather too hard with a stale tasting base and could have been so much nicer. The Veggie's usual choice of Sorbet was probably the most sensible, although the mud cake that our two friends shared went down rather better than my feeble excuse for a pudding.

All in all, I would like to return to Zero Degrees to sample the Mussels and maybe visit in the evening to down a few more of those Black lagers!

Scores on the Doors: 7 out of 10

Monday, September 29, 2008

A mediocre meal on the Thames

Cantina del Ponte
The Butlers Wharf Building
36c Shad Thames
London SE1 2YE
Tel: 020 7403 5403

Having managed to accumalate 4,000 points on the TopTable website we decided to cash them in before our trip to the National Theatre last Wednesday. The nearest restaurant that did a 'rewards menu' was Cantina Del Ponte, an Italian on the thames. The reviews were pretty good so I went ahead and booked.

We arrived a restaurant a few minutes late, but it was very quiet. Unfortunately, it wasn't really nice enough to sit outside so we were shown to a table by the window. The interior was very modern and quite swish, the waiting staff were dressed very well and I was impressed. We were given the menus and left to mull over them. I had to call the waitress back to tell us what menu we could choose from. It was the set menu at two courses for £15.95 which was the free menu.

The choices weren't very inspiring but I decided on the Octopus and Spelt Wheat salad and the Veggie chose the leek and potato soup to begin. For mains we both opted for the Potato and Truffle Gnocci with sage and butter sauce. Some nice bread and oil were brought over whilst we waited for our food.

Unfortunately, an error was made and I was presented with the wrong starter, a courgette and tomato salad rather than the seafood dish I had ordered. The waitress that I called over seemed to have no idea that Octopus was on the menu but after checking they apologised, removed the dish and brought me the correct one a few minutes later.

The Veggie thought her soup was quite nice although it contained rather more potato than leek. My Octopus salad was unusual, the slightly chewy pieces of seafood mixed with slightly chewy wheat grains. It was pleasant but nothing special.

Sadly, the main dish was rather more of a let-down... Unlike the Gnocci that the Veggie had enjoyed at a previous restaurant these dumplings were heavy and bland, not fluffy and light. There was no discernable trace of the earthy taste of truffle and a disappointing lack of sage, that most fragrant of herbs, in the sauce. Instead there was potato and butter and not much else. The Veggie couldn't finish her's as she just found it too dull to eat. I was quite hungry and ate it because of that rather than because it was tasty. Rather a shame, and even though the meal was free I still felt let down by it.

I didn't really peruse the rest of the menu, so I can't even say I would want to go back to try any other dishes. If I had forked out for the set menu it would have been very annoying indeed as it wasn't even worth £15.95. I suppose if it was a sunny day it would be nice enough to sit by the thames and have a few glasses of wine but come here for the food? No way.

Scores on the Doors: 5 out of 10

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fabulous floating chinese at Feng Shang

Feng Shang Princess
Prince Albert Road
Regent's Park
T: 020 74858137

After a long, tiring but fun day at nearby London Zoo, we decided to head back to a floating restaurant we had noticed on the way there. The main appeal of the Feng Shang Princess was that it floated and was a restaurant, which is definitely a cool combination. Neither of us had ever been to such a place before so the deal was done.

The restaurant is fairly opulent and was very clean and inviting. Although we were having an early dinner there were several other diners there already. The menu wasn't too large and was more expensive than your run of the mill chinese, with mains around £9.00 upwards. However, The Veggie was pleased to discover that they had an extremely good vegetarian section and she had plenty to choose from, so much so that she deviated from her usual starter of soup.

We ordered Jasmine tea for two, a good deal at £3.60 as our teapot was refilled with hot water a few times. The teaset that we were presented with was lovely, with earthware "teacups".

I ordered my usual starter of BBQ spare ribs, as I was in the mood for them. The other starters were tempting with Duck rolls, salt and pepper squid and prawn toasts being just a few of the other choices.

The Veggie had the tempting combo of the Vegetarian wrap, which was a mixture of garlic, sweetcorn, mushroom and other vegetables in a tangy sauce served with lettuce leaves. I have had the chicken version of this dish before and this was even better. The leaves are used to scoop up the filling and it was quite a light and refreshing starter although not as small as the waitress led us to believe.

My ribs were good, quite meaty and finger-burningly hot to begin with! I would have preferred a salt and pepper version and it may be they would have done that if I had asked, but no mind they were tasty and at around 9 small ribs, a well proportioned starter.

The menu had some pictures and one of them made my choice of main course very easy. The Roasted duck with mango was quite expensive at £12.00 but I decided the description of fresh mango, duck and mango sauce had to be tried. Duck can be a tricky thing to order at a chinese as all too often you are presented with limp, grey and very fatty meat. Not this time. The dish wasn't very large but as I ate it quite slowly savouring every bite it felt larger than it was. I would go so far as to say it would be worth returning to the restaurant just for this dish.

The pieces of duck, crisp skin and tender, delicious meat was laid on the plate with a slice of mango inbetween, so duck, mango, duck, mango... and was surrounded with a lovely mango sauce which was not too sweet. The slices of mango were quite firm but well flavoured and the whole dish was a perfect blend of flavours and textures. The sort of dish that you close your eyes to moan appreciatively over.

The Veggie's Mock chicken with sugar snap peas was another triumph; succulant, golden brown what I assume was tofu, pieces which had a crispy outer skin and soft innards were served with the peas and carrots. It was a dry dish, as in no sauce, but the mock chicken was gorgeous, just the right side of tasting and looking like meat. The Veggie loved it and ate every bite.

We had our dishes with egg-fried rice to share, which was brought in a covered dish so as not to lose heat. It too, was delicious.

We finished our meal by sharing a Mint Parfait. Again, unusually for a chinese, the ice cream wasn't half frozen and was presented beautifully with a chocolate wafer, strawberry and cream. A great end to a fantastic meal.

Even though we weren't seated to look over onto the river, the whole experience was great. Top-notch food, pleasant staff and surroundings. Plus our bill only came to £54.00 with service included. If you are in the area or visiting the Zoo this place is a must go!

Scores on the Doors: 9 out of 10

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A trip to the Farmer's Market/Roasts at The Railway, Blackheath.

The Railway
16 Blackheath Village
Tel: 0871-223-8295

On the Sunday we decided to visit the Farmer's Market in Blackheath. Although not a very large market there was plenty of top quality produce about and some things had been reduced as the market finishes at 2pm. 

We bought some a lovely organic unpasteurised Caerphilly cheese, and a log of black pepper rolled goat's cheese. From one of the bakers we purchased a lovely Olive foccacia (only 1.50!), and a pizza blanco from another (pizza bread with rosemary, salt and garlic topping). Other treats included fresh sweetcorn, beetroot chutneys, orange tomatoes and organic apple juice. Even better were the free samples that we took full advantage of. But for me the best buy of the morning was the very fine ribeye steak I bought from the butcher. It was fairly thick and an encouraging dark red, with a proper marbling of fat. I have recently discovered that ribeye seems to be the most flavoursome of cuts and at only 2.70 I couldn't say no. The Language Whizz and EMI guy joined in buying the last two ribeyes the stallholder had.

After the market we walked to the nearby 'Railway' pub, a trendy local with lots of dark wood, interesting beers and a good reputation when it came to food. Being there on a Sunday we had to have the roast dinner. The three of us ordered the roast beef whilst the Veggie had the option of some sort of pumpkin and pastry tart with the full selection of veg. 

The roasts were around the 9 pound mark each but from the look of the happy punters around us they appeared to be worth it. 

After a short wait we were presented with our roast dinner platters. Although they hadn't been very generous with the beef, just two medium sized slices each, the meal was well-cooked and interesting to eat. There were good roast potatoes, green beans, cauliflower cheese, carrots and peas. The Veggie also enjoyed hers, and she even had special vegetarian roast potatoes so us carnovories could enjoy meat fat ones!  

We were all tempted by the home-cooked desserts menu, but in the end decided that as we had leftover Krispy Kreme doughnuts back at the house we could afford it skip a pudding here. 

The pub also has a separate outside smoking area and serves good beers such as Leffe and Staropramen. 

I would definitely go back to the Railway if I was in the area, its family-friendly but also retains a level of comfortable cool. It does get extremely busy though so be prepared to scout for a table.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bella food at Bella Vista!

Bella Vista Italian Brasserie
3/5 Montpelier Vale
Telephone: 020 8318 1143

We went to visit our Lewisham friends last weekend and visited nearby Blackheath for dinner on the Saturday night. Our first stop was the micro-brewary and restaurant, Zero Degrees, where we were told it would be a 40 min wait at least. Deciding that was just too long we wandered around and found the charming little Italian called Bella Vista (not to be confused with the chain Bella Pasta). We were lucky and secured the last table for four.

The menu had a range of pastas, pizzas, risottos and meat and fish dishes. Everything was very reasonably priced with the most expensive steak dishes around 17 pounds and most other mains hovering at the 11-12 pound mark. Starters were also good from 3.95 to 7.50.

Myself and the language whizz went for the Insalata Tricolore to begin (Buffalo mozzarella,with plum tomatoes, avocado and basil). Whilst the Veggie and the EMI guy chose the Asparagus alla Parmigiana (Warm buttered asparagus with parmesan shavings).

Both starters were very good indeed with the good quality buffalo mozzarella and plum tomatoes reminding us why this salad is such a classic. I've had too many versions in the past with poor excuses for the milky cheese and under-ripe and flavourless tomatoes. My only gripe was that the basil consisted of just one leaf, which was rather mean. With regard to the other starter, the asparagus was cooked to perfection and tasted very fresh, whilst the parmesan was obviously top notch.

Sticking with being copycats, and after much studying of the menu, the Language Whizz, EMI guy and myself opted for the Porchetta Veronese; Roasted suckling pig, boned and rolled, with balsamic roasted peppers, new roast potatoes and juniper berry red wine jus, as the menu waxed lyrical (also extremely good value at 12.95).

The Veggie had plenty of choice and finally plumped for the Ravioli Con Ricotta E Spinaci;
Spinach and ricotta ravioli with wild mushroom and cream sauce

When we were presented with our main dishes I initially thought that the portion was rather small but it was exceptionally filing and just right really. The pork was gorgeous, melt in the mouth and with nice crunchy crackling. The potatoes, peppers and jus all complimented the meat very well, and although we were joking about them bringing the whole pig to our table the portion of meat was perfect.

The Veggie seemed to enjoy her ravioli very much, and we all did everything short of licking our plates!

Somehow we all felt able to challenge our stomaches with dessert! The Language Whizz and I both chose the Baileys Creme Brulee with Baileys
liqueur. The Veggie had the raspberry and lemon sorbet and EWI guy opted for the Vanilla Pod Panna Cotta with summer berries compote.

The Brulee was pleasant but the Bailey's flavouring was a tad too understated. Much laughter was provoked at the end of the meal when the Language Whizz realised that her Brulee ramakin fitted into mine with room to spare! I had no idea mine was so much bigger than her's! We should have mentioned it to the waitress, who was very nice, but didn't really have the heart - especially as she stacked them into each other without blinking an eyelid!

The Veggie pronounced the sorbet as lovely and the Panna Cotta was also a hit.

The meal with drinks and service came to just over 100 pounds. I considered this good value and would definitely return to Bella Vista when in the area again.

Scores on the doors: 8.5 out of 10

The brothel at the Blue Bicycle (York part 3)

The Blue Bicycle Restaurant,
34 Fossgate
YO1 9TA.
Tel: 01904 673990
After a look around the Shambles shops and a drink at a very local pub we headed to the nearby Blue Bicycle restaurant where we had a table booked downstairs. The Blue Bicycle is so named because it used to be a brothel. The lady owner always rode a blue bicycle and when the bike was outside the brothel clients would know that the place was open for business.

The Veggie had booked us a table in one of the booths that used to be a bed. The small alcove still boasted the original headboards, although they must have been pretty short in those days!
The menu and specials looked pretty good, but first we were treated to tiny flowerpots with a small bread roll baked inside, plus softened butter and a whole bulb of garlic slow-roasted to the point of being spreadable. An unusual and delicious opener.

There were quite a lot of fish dishes on the menu, although there was a ribeye steak on the specials board. However, as I had had one of those recently I decided to have the fettucine with fresh herbs and green vegetables to begin and then the fillets of sea bass on fondant potatoes with a kind of tomato and basil tart.

The Veggie went for the specials soup which was pea and watercress. Unfortunately there was only one vegetarian main which was a lentil and chick pea dhal, with naan and pakoras.
The whole atmosphere of the restaurant was nice and cosy, and candlelit. The downstairs was defintely preferable to the less intimate and noiser upstairs area.
Our starters arrived and were very nice. My pasta was silky and fresh-tasting, the pairing of the crisp vegetables and light and creamy sauce was successful. The Veggie's soup was also good, although not as nice as the D.C.H's.

My main of sea bass presented me with a well-cooked piece of fish and the fondant potatoes were lovely. Unfortunately I didn't like the tomato and pastry 'tart'. The pastry was overcooked and puff would have been better than shortcrust with this dish. The veggie curry was quite nice, but nothing that special. It was a rather large portion which The Veggie struggled with.
We decided to order some earl grey tea and share the tempting sounding strawberry and champene trifle. The dessert came in a teacup with wafers. It was exceedingly rich, heavy with cream and custard. Even between the two of us we couldn't finish it.

Dinner for two came to around 69 pounds with the optional service charge included. Service was very good and our waitress was very sweet.

Overall it wasn't the most memorable meal ever, but the setting added a special appeal and it was reasonable in price.

Scores on the doors: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Old-fashioned fun at Betty's tearoom (York part 2)

Little Betty's
46 Stonegate
Y01 8AS
Tel: +44(0)1904 622865

After a continental breakfast courtesy of our hotel we headed out to take in the sights and sounds of York. We decided to take afternoon tea at 'Little Betty's' tearoom. Betty's was founded in 1936 and is still offering superior examples of such English delicacies such as Yorkshire rascals ( a kind of teacake), scones, cakes, teas and sandwiches. We were nearer to 'Little Betty's' so decided to stop there. The main branch in York is always packed and you usually have to wait a while. As it was we queued for 10 minutes at 'Little Betty's'. The Veggie questioned whether it was going to be worth it, but I maintained that if we were going to take afternoon tea in York it was going to be at Betty's...

Eventually we were shown to a table. Everything about Betty's is traditional from the top quality service to the quintessentially English menu and decor. We decided to share an afternoon tea - around 15 pounds for "finger sandwiches with 2 filings of our choice (we plumped for egg and cress and roast chicken), a scone with jam and cream, and a selection of miniature cakes.
All sounding lovely but a bit too much for one person anyway. The Veggie had the included pot of tea and I ordered an additional Banana milkshake with vanilla pod ice cream.

Our tea was presented to us on a three tiered display and was very good indeed. The sandwiches were literally finger-sized but totally delicious as was the filing scone which we also split. I expertly halved the rest of the cakes, a lemon cake, a small eclair and another which I think was chocolate.

Afterwards I bought some biscuits, ginger and oat and brown betty's (chocolate) in the downstairs shop.

Now playing: Wiley - Wearing My Rolex
via FoxyTunes

A diner's dream at the D.C.H (York part 1)

Dean Court Hotel Restaurant
Duncombe Place
North Yorkshire

Tel : (01904) 625082

For our sixth anniversary I was whisked away to York by the Veggie. I couldn't have wished for a better surprise - I have always loved York and hadn't been there for years. We stayed in a lovely little hotel called Marmadukes and proceeded to eat are way around the city (or at least it felt that way!).

First stop for dinner was the impressive Dean Court Hotel (D.C.H), its restaurant offering beautiful views of York Minister. I was expecting good food as the place has two AA rosettes but it surpassed even my high expectations. I can safely say that dinner here was one of the best meals out I've ever had.

The staff were charming and just the right kind of attentive. Everything about the decor and the setting was perfect.

We ordered a lovely Rose wine and mulled over the menu whilst sampling the gorgeous pesto rolls and butter on offer. The starters were all rather tempting, with duck, scallops and pigeon being just a few of the choices. I finally decided on the Goats Cheese Bavarois with beetroot jelly, walnut and chive dressing. I must confess I wasn't sure what a 'Bavarois' was but it sounded unusual and I love anything with goat's cheese and beetroot. For my main I couldn't resist the appeal of the Ribeye Steak au Poivre (cut from 21-day matured Yorkshire Beef) with marinated tomato, grilled mushrooms and fat chips. Yes essentially 'steak and chips' but if executed with style you can't really beat it in my book.

The Veggie opted for the Pea and Watercress Veloute with a ravioli of ricotta cheese to begin, followed by the only vegetarian choice (the one thing that I would alter about the place) Spinach, Yorkshire Blue Cheese and Caponatta Spring Rolls with red onion tart tatin. At least the dish sounded imaginative and wasn't the usual risotto or pasta.

Before our starters arrived we were presented with a small amuse bouche of spicy sausage with black eyed beans on toast. Although they initially assumed the Veggie was a meat-eater once she let them know that was not the case they couldn't have been more accommodating. After asking if fish was an option, they eventually offered slices of perfectly ripe watermelon with a berry coulis instead. Top marks for making an effort and the Veggie was left feeling a little bit special.

The evening was beginning to draw in and York Minister was glowingly lit up outside. As I said, the setting couldn't be faulted. A feeling that our starters were in accordance with. My Goat's cheese dish, which turned out to be mousse-like, grey and wobbly. If that doesn't sound appetising, forgive me, as the contrast of the deep purple of the beetroot and soft brown of the walnuts was perfect. The mousse itself was wonderfully rich and full-flavoured as the Veggie agreed. Undoubtably one of the best starters I have eaten, the textures and flavours blending into a moreish delight.

Not to be outdone the Veggie's soup was creamy and light, the flavours astoundingly fresh. The addition of the ravoli took it to another level, and I was pleased that I wasn't the only one raving about the food.

Would our mains be able to continue such high standards? Well they certainly gave it a good shot! My steak was beautifully cooked and was a lovely piece of meat. The ribeye has always been my favourite cut and here it was the star of the dish. The accompaniments were fine, nothing too amazing but tasty, especially the marinated tomato.

The Veggie's spring rolls also went down well and were apparently unlike anything else she has eaten. It's always nice to have a dish that surprises you and with its unusual 'fusion' of asian and british cuisine this was it!

Whilst we were both full we couldn't resist sharing the creme brulee, which was not just your run of the mill dish, oh no, this was given a asian twist too. Lemon Grass Infused Crème Brulee with
coconut and chilli sorbet, was the perfect palate cleanser. The flavour of the custard had just enough hints of lemon and I adored the hot and sweet sorbet (although the Veggie thought it was a bit too weird).

The bill came too around 75 pounds, a total bargain for such a memorable meal. I will definitely be returning there next time we are in York.

Scores on the Doors: 9.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Organic delights at Acorn House

Acorn House Restaurant
69 Swinton street
London WC1X 9NT 
t: 0207 812 1842
I booked Acorn House for a special anniversary meal for the Veggie and I. I had been aware of the restaurant for a while especially when working in the area and knew it had garnered much praise since its opening. I also wanted somewhere that was imaginative when it came to Vegetarian food.

We arrived on time for our booking and were shown to a table along the far wall. I am not a fan of restaurants where one diner sits on a chair whilst the other has the more comfortable sofa style seating, but the atmosphere was good. One thing that was apparent was that it really isn't a very large restaurant at all, as it started to fill up it did become rather crowded and the close proximity of fellow diners is slightly off-putting (after all one wants to be close enough to over-hear tempting titbits of conversation but not so close as to feel one must always look ahead to avoid appearing to stare).  I must also admit that I was slightly disappointed with the menu. It should be noted that Acorn House operates a seasonal policy when it comes to dishes so next month's menu will be quite different. In fact the July menu looked fab, it was just that I did not find the August one very inspiring. 

We ordered a bottle of champagne as we were celebrating and the organic bread and butter (at 2.00 not covered by the service charge) to nibble on. We were both very hungry and keen to order. It was therefore with some disappointment that I was told that the White peach and Mozzerella starter that I was planning to order was subject to an alteration: the mozzerella was off to be replaced by prosuitto. Now, this would alter the dish quite considerably, but I chose to go ahead (only slightly mourning the creamy cheese I was expecting) because it's accompanyments of purple basil, honey and balsamic sounded so enticing. For my main course I selected the sea trout, pan-fried with courgettes, tomatos and basil oil. 

The Veggie opted for the French Onion Soup with St Montgomery cheddar croutons, as it is one of her favourites. She surprised me by ordering the Gnocchi for her main, as she had previously disliked it when we had it at home. 

Service was pleasant and attentive and it was nice to be able to see the kitchen in full operation without having to be seated at that most annoying of current fashions, the 'Chef's table', why one would want to be in the midst of all the controlled chaos of the kitchen, surrounded by sweaty and sweary staff I will never know...  

The Acorn House cookbook was rather too heavily advertised on the menu and around the dining area. One imagines that Arthur Potts Dawson, the executive head chef, is only a hairs breadth away from his own channel 4 show. This slightly smug rake judged my previous workplace's away day tasks and came across as taking himself and the event rather too seriously. But then where would the 'celeb' chef be without the overarching ego and supportive quote from Jamie Oliver?

Back to the food and it has to be said that my starter worked very well, albeit with a rather different overall flavour than that which would have been produced by the mild cheese being present. The white peach was beautifully ripe, fragrant and shiny with its own juices; a wonderful ingredient. The italian ham was pleasantly salty and the dressing as described earlier was a thing of perfection. This was definitely the sort of culinary magic that I had come to Acorn House for and this dish delivered it in spades. 
I sampled some of the Veggie's silky, thick onion soup, it was delicious. The only negative comment received was that it was rather too large a portion. However it was judged a classic that was confidently carried off with what was obviously the finest ingredients at their peak. A big thumbs up from the Soup connoisseur.
My main course of sea trout was again perfectly cooked; the skin crisp and the flesh melting in the mouth. The accompanying courgette was succulent and the juices combined with the fish and the tomatoes and basil formed a delicately and tasty jus. The only thing that sullied the dish for me, and was purely due to how I was feeling, was that I simply hadn't really wanted to eat fish that evening. However I didn't really find the rest of the main course attractive either. As I said, a purely contrary viewpoint!
The Veggie was well and truly converted to Gnocchi by her main. The medium sized pillows of dough were lightly browned and fluffy, containing their own mixture of cheeses. She wasn't able to finish the dish due to how filling her starter had been but she certainly enjoyed this version of the dish and I'm sure would eat it again.

Neither of us were able to tackle dessert which was disappointing as the various options were tempting.

The meal would have been perfectly reasonable and worth while if it wasn't for our luxurious bottle of bubbly. As it was it came in at just over 110 pounds including 10% service. The neat touch of a packet of seeds rather than a packet of matches coming with the bill brought a smile to our face. I would return to the restaurant and recommend it but I would advise checking the seasonal menu first.

Scores on the doors: 7 out of 10

The big catch-up: Camping in New Romney, near Rye.

The Woolpack Inn
Romney Marsh
TN29 9TJ
Telephone: 01797-344321

Well, sorry it's taken me so long to update this. I have two weekends of fun to catch you up on. Firstly, camping in New Romney over the Bank Holiday weekend. 

We travelled down on the Friday morning, meeting one half of Harlow couple along the way. 
It didn't take us long to find the campsite, and put up our tents.

Then we headed back to a pub we had passed on the way called The Woolpack Inn. This delightful olde worlde pub with its cottage atmosphere, low ceilings and quaint English beer garden was a welcome treat. We chose to sit outside and ordered from a simple yet comprehensive menu.

After mulling over the spag bol, I decided to go for the pork chops. The Veggie went for the Broccoli and Stilton quiche and Country girl (she does love her chickens and ducks!) had a jacket potato with cheese.  We waited a reassuringly length of time (too soon and one imagines hearing the 'ping' of a microwave), sipping on much needed cokes. My pork chops arrived on large plate, full of salad, chips and onion rings. It was a mouthwatering sight. The pork was cooked to perfection, as were the chips. I tucked in, even enjoying the onion rings which I normally find too greasy. 

The Veggie throughly enjoyed her quiche, it looked and tasted homemade and came with a generous salad. Country girl's jacket was huge and was blanketed with freshly grated cheddar and salad. All well presented and tasty, as well as being reasonably priced. It definitely seemed popular with locals and tourists alike. I would certainly recommend it and it is well signed posted on the surrounding roads so you can't miss it.

Later that day when most of the other campers had arrived I served my Veggie chili with quorn mince to a very appreciative audience. We ate it with boil in the bag rice, grated cheese, and sour cream. It had a really nice chili kick to it and most people had seconds. I was really pleased that my hard work testing recipes had paid off. It was just what our chilly and weary band of travelers needed, along with a few beers of course!

The next day we had a breakfast at camp of bacon or egg rolls and tea. There is nothing quite like a sunny breezy day at camp permeated with the aroma of bacon frying in the pan and mugs of hot strong tea to warm our cockles. We made the most of the sun spending the day flying kites, reading and lazing on the beach at Camber Sands. Hot, salty chips, burgers and coke made up our beach lunch.

Some of us stopped off at the local Budgens on the way back to camp to pick up food for a BBQ. We decided on meaty looking ribs, good quality burgers and some speciality sausages. For starters we would have mozzerella and parma ham, golden fried halumi cheese and cheesed stuffed mushrooms. We washed this down with Coronas, cider and later on whiskey nightcaps. A tempting selection of Gu cakebites completed our meal. 

The next morning and some of us would be heading home early, suffering nasty summer colds. We opted for brekkie at the campsite cafe, which turned out to be a good choice. A cosy little place providing cooked breakfasts all day we sat down to bacon baguettes, egg on toast, the full 'Marshman' (a huge breakfast of double everything) chips, and hot tea and coffees. 

Then we headed into Rye to look around the shops. Some of us paid a visit to an old-fashioned sweet shop that was filled with jar after jar of brightly coloured confectionary. There were rubarb and custard boiled sweets, toffees, chocolate covered nuts, snowies (white chocolate buttons covered with hundreds and thousands), sour peaches, lots of different mints, laces, jelly babies, white mice... all the sweets you might remember from your childhood no matter how old or young you might be. It was a real treat and a lovely trip down memory lane. 

After a longish walk around we had a drink at the famous Mermaid Inn,which has played host to tons of celebs such as Johnny Depp and is one of the oldest pubs in the area. Afterwhich we said goodbye to two more campers and set off to find a nice place for lunch. We were going to head to the Woolpack once more but ended up at another pub as the it was packed. I can't recall the name of the place but I did have a very memorable meal there. I decided on one of my fave dishes of spare ribs. My gosh it was a huge slab of meat. There was a full rack of pleasingly tender and meaty ribs, coated in a tasty BBQ sauce, with a large pile of chips underneath, coleslaw and salad. I managed all the meat but left most of the rest of the meal!

Afterwards we picked up deli food for a dinner round the campsite and then headed back to play boules and frisby and fly our kites. The weather was still quite good and we worked up an appetite for our supper of brie, stilton, italian meats, crusty fresh bread, olive oil, nuts and olives - lovely!

We lit the other bag of coal in the greek style BBQ to provide some warmth and heat, and listened to music, chatted and drank late into the evening. 

Bank Holiday Monday came around too soon and we attempted to see Camber Castle before we said goodbye to our other camping friends. Unfortunately it was closed. We just had time to have lunch with our Lewisham friends, a nice home-cooked meal at the Ship Inn of Chicken curry, rice and popadum, Broccoli and cheese bake, Cod and Chips and Scampi and chips. All perfectly nice and reasonably priced. We finished off with traditional desserts of spotted dick x 2 (a suet and fruit pudding), sticky toffee pudding and black forest gateux for me. Very nice indeed!

Then it was only us. We spent a relaxing rest of the day shopping and browsing in Rye. Eating a deli supper once more and relaxing in our tent with a couple of good books purchased from the local bookshop.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Abeno Too again!

We ended up at Abeno Too for dinner last friday before a late showing of Mamma Mia in Leicester Square. It was a slightly rushed experience because we had to wait for space around the counter.
I think I have found my perfect Okonomiyaki: pork, squid and prawn otherwise known as the snappily titled 'Tokyo Mix' - delicious.

Once again I was soooo tempted by the desserts but we just didn't have time. I really want to try the
'Yokohama Sundae'; coffee jelly with coffee ice-cream, cinnamon ice-cream and more!

Abeno is one of my top places to eat out in the city. If you haven't been you really should try it. Don't be put off by thinking a Japanese omelette sounds weird, it really isn't and you don't have to have the toppings (such as mayo, brown sauce and fish flakes) if you don't want them. Plus there are lots of other dishes too, so even if you don't like omelettes you should go!

When you aren't rushed it is so nice just to relax with a plum wine squash and watch the friendly staff create the mini masterpieces in front of you. This time round we were with our friend, the language whizz, who was an Abeno virgin. She really seemed to enjoy herself and it made a lovely evening even better.

The good news is they are opening a new branch in October in the NW3 area, called Abeno San.

Veg chili, the best so far!

Veg chili, the best so far!
Originally uploaded by HelenFor

Veg chili close-up

Veg chili close-up
Originally uploaded by HelenFor

So I tried out the Chili with quorn recipe (see post of a few days ago). It turned out much better than the one with the lager recipe. However it still wasn't very hot so when I make my final chili tomorrow, I will be using 1 dried red chili, 1 red chili and 2 green chilis all with the seeds included. That should be better!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Red Bean and Lager chili

Red Bean and Lager chili
Originally uploaded by HelenFor

Here's a pic of the chili I made today.

I'm trying Bubble Tea tomorrow for the first time!


I am quite excited at the prospect! Check out the number of flavours (ok this is a US site but still):
Tapioca Express.

My good friend, Regina, recommends Jasmine tea with or without milk. I know I am going to find it difficult to refuse. Anyway I will head to Jen Cafe in Chinatown for a taste. Apparently the tea is quite filling due to the boba or tapioca pearls that give the drink its name.

The great Vegetarian Chili-off number 1

So, after finding the bunch of chili recipes I blogged about yesterday I 'stumbled' on a site called Veggie meal plans. After searching for chili it came back with a Red Bean and lager chili and a Red Bean and coffee chili. Both sounded really interesting and unusual.

So today I went out and bought the ingredients for the Red Bean and lager chili and the Vegetarian chili with quorn. As the Veggie had expressed a preference for the lager chili I decided to make that today.

I was hoping to make it using the mexican lager Sol as I felt that would most suit it. However, my mum was picking up the lager for me as she was getting a cab home, which meant I had Skol instead. Bless her, she didn't know that it is probably one of the cheapest and nastiest lagers around. Anyway, as the alcohol would be burnt off I hoped it wouldn't effect the flavour that much.

Well... it wasn't a disaster and will probably taste better tomorrow, but it was definitely not the best chili ever either. Comments back were that it was too watery. Personally I didn't think it was very flavoursome or hot enough. I did follow the recipe to a t. Maybe the lager I used did make a difference... anyway, I will have it for lunch tomorrow and see if it is any better.

Delicious potato and pea curry

This curry has quite a dry texture and a lovely aromatic flavour. The quantities are very approximate, so taste it as you go along.

3-4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces

A small bowl of peas, frozen or fresh

3 spring onions

1 green chili

Handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Good sprinkling of ground cumin

Good sprinkling of ground coriander

1/2 the juice of a lemon

2 tbsps groundnut oil

Good sprinkling of gram flour if you have it, otherwise use ordinary

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Half a thumb of ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp paprika

1+1/2 tsps of chili powder (or to taste)

4 tomatoes, chopped

Cup of water

Fresh coriander to garnish

Firstly, heat the groundnut oil in a deep frying pan. Then add all the dry spices to the pan along with the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry until transparent and spices cooked through.

Add a little more oil, then the chopped potatoes, the chili, the gram flour, the peas, spring onions and the lemon juice. Fry until the potatoes are becoming golden and crispy.

Add the chopped tomatoes, the fresh coriander and the water and mix well. Taste after a few mins and adjust seasoning as desired.

Cover and simmer on medium high for about 20 mins or until the curry has reduced and become quite dry. The potatoes should be tender inside and the peas should have a crispy outside.

Finish with another sprinkling of lemon juice and the rest of the fresh coriander.

Serve with chapatis or rice and chutneys.


Red Velvet cupcakes

Continuing with the Chocolate theme these cupcakes are a real winner especially when you use some imagination with the toppings. As it is an American recipe the quantities are in 'cups' - I use an ordinary teacup.

2 + 1/2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks of butter
5 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (1 tbsp lemon juice then fill the cup with milk and mix well)

1 tsp red food colouring
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mis the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl. Sift 3 times. Cream together the
butter and sugar, add the eggs 1 at a time. Add 1/4 of the dry ingredients to creamed mixture then 1/4 of the buttermilk, until all mixed in well. Add the vanilla extract and the food colouring.

Spoon into fairy cake cases or a small muffin tin.

Cook at 350 degrees for about 20 mins.

Wait until cool and then decorated with icing and toppings of your choice such as strawberries and a mint leaf, grated chocolate, kiwi fruit, chocolate buttons, hundreds and thousands etc.

You can choose to add a little less or a little more food colouring as you wish. With 1 tsp the cakes will have a slightly red tinge.

These cakes have a lovely texture and taste.


The (almost) flourless chocolate cake

This is a tried and tested recipe from Jo_Jo_Ba ( that makes a lovely moist cake that is great with vanilla ice cream.

200g milk chocolate (the original recipe uses Toblerone)

50g dark chocolate
5 eggs
200g unsalted butter

2 tbsps flour
butter icing and icing sugar to top

Melt together the milk choc and dark choc with the butter, add the other ingredients, mix well and pour into a cake tin.

Cook on gas mark 5 for about 20mins.

I haven't tried it but I think it would be fine to use orange milk chocolate or another flavour to experiment with. As long as it is good quality it should work.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The perfect vegetarian chilli

As we are going camping in a couple of weeks time I am currently looking for the perfect vegetarian chili recipe. The Veggie and I are planning on getting to the site first and thought it would be a nice idea to have a meal ready for everyone else as they arrive. Chilli seemed like a good bet as it would reheat easily, is all in one pan and can be eaten with nachos, soured cream and cheese, all of which we could bring with us. Luckily are campsite has a fridge available too, so it would all be nice and cool.

These are the recipes I am considering at the moment (see below) but I would be grateful to receive any family recipes or favourite recipes. I really want this chilli to be memorable, but not too hot. It also needs to serve 8 hungry people.

UKTV Food Veggie chilli by James Tanner

Quite standard and looks easy to make but nothing special stands out.

Harrods Creeks Fire Dept Veggie chilli

I'm not sure what 'garbanzo beans' are and I don't like the idea of Bulgur wheat in the chilli but it is certainly a bit different!

BBC food Veggie chilli tacos by Simon Rimmer

I like the sound of this one has cocoa powder in and lots of different kinds of beans.

Veggie Chilli with quorn by Mostly Eating

This is my fave at the moment as it looks interesting and the pic looks great. Also nice that it already makes enough for 8 people (lazy old me doesn't have to change the quantities).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To-by or not To-by, a carvery in Crawley

Toby Carvery
Langley Green
Vancouver Drive
RH11 7UR
01293 515 558

A lazy Sunday in Crawley with kite flying planned for the afternoon, what better than a traditional roast dinner to make the day complete. Toby Carveries are very popular in the UK and it is often necessary to wait for a table, particularly on a Sunday when it is heaving with families, hungover twenty-somethings and old folk. All are drawn to a Toby for its magic combination of your choice of roast (usually beef, gammon and turkey), yorkshire pudding, stuffing, all the vegetables you can eat, plus gravy and sauces. Many a time have we wearily entered the hallowed ground desperate for a pint of Coke and a Toby, happy to wait for half an hour for the privilege.

As we did just that for I eyed the quiz machine in the corner only to be given the 'look' by the Veggie. Fair enough, as I cannot be trusted on those machines and can easily spend a fiver if given the chance to be a 'millionaire' or play 'hangman'. The place was full of the usual Toby crowd, all eager to join the queue for dinner.

Eventually myself, the Blonde and the Veggie were shown to a good table by the window. We quickly ordered more drinks and then bags on shoulders marched off to the carvery. On offer was roast beef, gammon and turkey as per usual. I plumped for just the beef, the Blonde went for beef and gammon and the Veggie asked for 2 yorkshires and stuffing instead of the whatever lay under the suspicious puff pastry covering the 'veggie option'. The beef didn't look like the best I'd ever had at a Toby but it would do. I was given a huge yorkshire, which was fine by me, and then tried to show some restraint as I moved onto the veg selection. The Veggie bemoaned the lack of parsnips but that didn't really bother me. I added some cabbage, a couple of broccoli florets, a few carrots, some cauliflower cheese, peas and quite a few of the small roast potatoes. A ladle of gravy and some horseradish and mustard and that was me done.

Whilst the yorkshire was perfect, crisp on the outside and chewy inside, the cauliflower cheese suffered from a distinct lack of cheese. Also I found the meat a bit stringy in places but it was generally more tender than it looked. My fellow diners didn't seem to have any complaints.

I was the only one who felt able to tackle a pudding. The Veggie had already discreetly moved some of her unfinished dinner onto my plate, so it didn't look 'so bad'. She never seems to learn that her stomach doesn't have as much room as she thinks!

Anyway, I managed to persuade them to share a rhubarb and apple crumble with me. This is one of Toby's desserts that comes with a 'bottomless' jug of custard. That scares me slightly for some reason.

You can't beat a good crumble but I was glad there were three spoons attacking it rather than one. It came in quite a large round bowl, which although didn't seem to have much depth contained a surprisingly large portion. Having said that I didn't see how anyone could finish a whole jug of custard, we did! I should add that the jug is baby-sized not pimms sized! We didn't ask for more, so I do feel some sense of restraint was shown.

The total bill including drinks and a dessert came to 31.30p, which isn't bad for a decent and filling roast dinner for three.

Scores on the doors: 7 out of 10

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bubble Kitschen (Brighton part 2)

Bubble Kitschen
Kensington Gardens,

07982 660696

We needed fuel for our shopping (buying bikinis when its tipping it down is no laughing business) so headed to Kensington Gardens where many of the areas little cafes reside. The place was bustling with prams, couples and umbrellas. Finally we managed to cut through the pedestrian traffic and secure a table at 'Bubble Kitschen'. This family run mainly organic establishment was tiny inside with the small open-plan kitchen visible from the counter. Whilst I found the name a bit twee the menu looked good and was reasonably priced. Apparently the premises had changed hands and names a fair bit over the years but the husband and wife team of Miles and Lisa Heathfield seem settled here.

As you have to order from the counter we spent a few minutes deciding before sending the Veggie up to order and pay. I chose a 'Bubbles Blueberry' which was a smoothie of blueberry, yogurt, honey and banana, not bad at 2.75p. The other drinks were tea, a cappuccino and a coke, also not bad prices.

The Veggie, the Blonde and her boyfriend, the Aussie opted for the full English and the Veggie breakfast option. I decided to go for the lighter omelette with cheese and tomato which came with 2 slices of organic bread. We waited about 10-15 minutes for our food, well the others did... The very large plates of organic sausages, bacon, toast, tomato, egg, bubble and squeak (which let the other ingredients down as it looked rather artificial in its little block shape and seemed only to consist of potato) arrived but no omelette. I waited 5 minutes. Nothing. I waited 5 more. Eventually I went to the counter and said what I was waiting for. Apparently they had forgotten my order. This was a little annoying as one would have imagined that when 3 people are eating lunch the 4th normally is too... but anyway, it didn't take long to arrive and was to their credit a very good omelette. Cheesy and well-cooked it didn't take me long to polish it off although my companions had to watch me as they had already finished their dishes. The organic bread was also nice, but I'm not sure if the others noticed that their food was organic or not. I do know that the Blonde's sausage looked rather pink and she left it as it didn't seem cooked through. I would have complained but she didn't appear too bothered.

Our meals came to around 28 pounds. I felt that my omelette, plain 2.75p, 50p each for extras such as my cheese and tomato was a bit overpriced as it would have come in at 3.75p when full breakfasts were better value at 5.95p. Still it was a nice cosy place to have lunch. I think if I was to go back to that North Laines area I would try another cafe first before going back to 'Bubble Kitschen'.

Scores on the Doors: 6 out of 10

Big eats at Momma Cherri's (Brighton part 1)

Momma Cherri's Big House
2-3 Little East Street
01273 325305

You may well have heard of Momma Cherri. She was the star of a classic episode of 'Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares' in 2005, and a revisited episode in 2007.

In 2005 the then named 'Soul Food Shack' was in dire trouble, for once it wasn't the standard of food that was the problem but simply the lack of business knowhow and staff that were allowed to get away with far too much lazing around. Ramsay stepped in and helped them turn it around. Now relocated and renamed, 'Momma Cherri's Big House' still carries the celebrity baggage of the series, which isn't always a good thing for a restaurant. I had no real idea if it would live up to the hype or whether it was merely coasting on the fame. After all in the 2007 episode Gordon found he still had work to do in maintaining discipline in the restaurant and some of the reviews I had read online were less than favourable...

So it was with slight trepidation that myself, the Veggie and the Blonde (a friend from Crawley) made our way to the 'Big House'. You can't really miss the restaurant especially if you approach it going up the hill, as the exterior boasts a large and colourful design featuring Momma Cherri's cheerful face. After hours of shopping we were all looking forward to a nice sit down and this place delivered. With a cosy, if a little worn interior, looking more like a family home than a restuarant, we were shown to a table upstairs. Reggae and soul music played at a perfect level and the soft oranges and yellows of the colour scheme were warm and inviting. Little details such as family photos on the tablemats all added to the appeal.

This establishment is definitely family friendly (we were next to a rather noisy group - its probably not the best place for a first date) and although it isn't a huge restaurant it never felt cramped even as it began to fill. Our waitress, Josie, was very friendly and pleasant. We were told the specials and then handed the food and drink menus. Immediately the jug of home-made lemonade for 5 pounds stood out. We ordered one and also wine, beer and a cider. Draught beer and one of the speciality beers were off, but this didn't affect us in anyway. I suppose if you really wanted 'Red Stripe' it might, although this may have also been available by the bottle I didn't ask.

We had already decided between ourselves that the speciality 'Soul in a bowl' tapas-style dishes to share, which Gordon had helped to create as a concept, were not for us. Although you got a generous 4 starters and 4 mains for 13.50 each (this being the smallest selection), we felt that due to having a vegetarian amongst us it might be a bit difficult to have what we wanted. The menu does request that you tell them if you have any special requirment such as being a non-meat eater, but and this might put some off, you cannot select the dishes yourselves. They operate a 'Momma knows best' policy whereby you get a range of the most popular dishes. This is all very well and would suit some but as it was our first time and we weren't sure what to expect, we opted to order separately.

The choice of dishes was impressive and they cater very well for vegetarians with stuffed peppers, curried sweet potatoes, veg jambalya and a veg platter being just a few of the choices.

I was tempted by a starter of catfish goujons as I have never tried catfish before. However after some thought we all decided to skip the starter so we had some hope of managing one of the delicious sounding home-made desserts. As we umm and ahhed over the main courses (ribs, fried chicken, jerk chicken, mac and cheese etc.), we watched as other people's orders came out. They were quite large portions.

Eventually both the Blonde and I went for the fried chicken which came with sweet potato and white potato mash, gravy, cornbread and veg of the day. The Veggie decided on the stuffed red peppers with salad with curried sweet potatoes on the side. Mains ranged from around 9 pounds to 13 pounds and sides were 3 pounds. We sipped our home-made lemonade (non-fizzy as it should be but more like lemon squash than anything it still quenched our thirsts and was good value), while we waited.

Our food all came out together and we proceeded to eat in silence. It was all so good! The fried chicken was the best I've ever tasted, it was crisp, tasty and the chicken was not at all watery or greasy. The mash and gravy was lovely and the veg of the day was curried sweet potatoes, which were just gorgeous. The only thing I wasn't quite sure of was the cornbread. It came in a little square and looked like a sponge cake. It was a bit too stodgy and weird-tasting for me, but I ate it all! I'm not sure what cornbread is supposed to be like but judging by the rest of the cooking it was probably accurate. Perhaps the odd 'neither sweet nor savoury' taste was an acquired one.

The Veggie raved about her dish, consisting of two red peppers one sweet and pointed the other standard. Both with different fillings of lentils and similar. The salad came with potatoes with sweetcorn and she managed most of it. It was nice to see interesting vegetarian food being served in an establishment that you might think strongly favoured meat eaters.

The Blonde and I polished off our plates, although she left her cornbread, and declared we thought we could force down dessert. After checking what Key Lime pie was (a kind of cheesecake but with condensed milk and lime zest) I went for it. The Blonde choose Pecan pie and the Veggie the berry cheesecake. All desserts were 4.50p but well worth it. Each came with an unannounced but welcome dollop of whipped cream and small ball of vanilla ice cream and some kind of strawberry sauce. My pie was very yummy though very rich. The gingernut base and cinnamon sprinkle were lovely touches. I tried the Pecan pie which was caramelly and nutty and sweet - perfect. The berry cheesecake also got the thumbs up although the Veggie wasn't too sure about the pastry case.

All in all we had a lovely meal and 'experience'. We could have done without the screaming kid behind us (and they were provided with pens and colouring books and a kids menu!) but I would certainly go back as there are many other dishes I want to try. Our bill came to approx 65 pounds but the 'optional' service of 12.5% was already added. My only real gripe. I do hate it when restaurants do that as the tip often doesn't go to the service staff. That and we were given the wrong bill to begin with, but only a small thing really. We felt service was good enough that we wouldn't make an issue of the service charge, so paid around 73 pounds between us. 'Momma Cherri's' isn't cheap but it is good value and we felt pleasantly full not bloated afterwards. I suppose if you did opt for the tapas style dishes you could end up paying more but as a treat it definitely beats a chain restaurant. 'Momma Cherri' (Charita Jones) was nowhere to be seen (hopefully she was in the kitchen) and the toilets could use a little work, but the place has a great feel about it and I would definitely recommend it.

Scores on the Doors - 8+1/2 out of 10

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