Monday, March 31, 2014

London Guide: Brunch at Grain Store

On a bit of a whim, I ended up going to Grain Store with a few friends late Saturday morning for brunch. There was some concern that we would have to wait quite a while for a table this new(ish) venture by Bruno Loubet and the Zetter Group's Michael Benyan and Mark Sainsbury (they've worked together before - see London Guide: Bistrot Bruno Loubet), but it wasn't a problem. Grain Store is located at Granary Square, the redeveloped and restored former barge loading site off the canal.

We couldn't be seated until our full party had arrived, but this was a great excuse to sit outside on a gorgeously sunny spring day and drink good coffee. Unfortunately, the restaurant doesn't allow people to eat outside, so we moved into the large, sympathetically-restored former grain house for brunch.  

I, for one, think that brunch is always best with a cocktail.  It was pointed out to me by an Australian that drinking with brunch is a very American thing, but I'm not sure if that's well-founded. Anyway, I ordered the Campari Cooler, with Campari, carrot, lemon and orange blossom, and it was delicious and refreshing and didn't feel at all boozy (in a good way). Deciding what food to order was really difficult, but I ultimately went for the Grain Store baked beans, scrambled egg and Toulouse sausage. This was a really simple dish, but it was perfectly cooked.  The scrambled eggs were the perfect amount of moist and were seasoned very well. The Toulouse sausage was smoky and crisp on the outside. The baked beans, which were house-made in tomato sauce (British style) were definitely the best baked beans that I've ever had. With two small pieces of toast, this was also a perfectly-sized brunch.  Two of my friends ordered the tomato, grilled aubergine, cucumber, fresh herbs and boiled egg salad with flat bread, which looked great and fresh, but the verdict was that more flatbread was needed for the amount of salad.  Our other friend ordered the Korean slaw, chicken burger and fried egg on a muffin, which also looked great.

The brunch menu at Grain Store is so interesting, that I definitely want to come back just for brunch alone.  Although, there are some similarities with the lunch and dinner menu, and there is a surprise menu for £35 per head that I would love to try.

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4) 

Food: 9
Atmosphere: 8
Service: 9
Price: ££
Overall experience: 9

(Above images from Grain Store website)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Currently Craving French Toast

One of the things that I really miss about living in America, although the phenomenon is slowly coming to London brunch (although acceptable brunch has been, itself, slow in coming), is sweet, floury breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles and French toast.  A good bit of French toast, somewhat unaffectionately referred to as "eggy bread" in the UK, is very hard to come by in this part of the world.

This weekend, I am determined to make some French toast of my own. I've narrowed it down to the following recipes, but the hard part will be actually choosing one! Wish me luck.

Creme brulee French toast - Smitten Kitchen

Pumpkin French toast with coffee-dusted pecans - A Cozy Kitchen

Croissant French toast - The Pioneer Woman

Cripsy salt and pepper French toast - Food 52

Baked French toast - Martha Stewart

Nutella-stuffed French toast - Food 52

Maple rosemary French toast with creme fraiche - Food 52

Friday, March 28, 2014

Read This: My March Reading List

My March reading saw some great books and some not so great ones, although I think that I am about to divide opinion - or maybe just have it all against me - on one particular book.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

"A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don't get to choose our own hearts. We can't make ourselves want what's good for us or what's good for other people. We don't get to choose the people we are."

"That life - whatever else it is - is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch."

Where do I even begin? The Goldfinch is fantastic. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried at the end for the beauty of it, and I cannot remember the last time that a book made me cry in quite that way. I knew hardly anything about this book before I started reading it, other than the fact that other people (whose opinions I trust) had said it was amazing and it was selling so fast around Christmas that I was unable to get my hands on a copy in New York. I think I preferred it that way because, as the book unfolded, I never knew what to expect. If you don't already know everything about this book, I don't want to ruin anything, so all I will say is that the plot of this book about a young boy who survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. I found that what the book is really about is beauty, love, loss, obsession and survival. It is absolutely gripping. Go read it now.

Rating: 9.5/10

The Fault in Our Stars John Green

"What a slut time is. She screws everybody."

"Grief does not change you...It reveals you."

I think that I may have missed something with this book.  I picked up The Fault in Our Stars, partly because it has gotten such great reviews (both from friends and from the "experts") and partly because it was this month's book for a book club that I've been wanting to try out for months (more on that to come).  However, when I read this book, I thought that it was a fine read, an easy read, and it had its touching and somewhat poetic moments, but it was not at all the clever masterpiece that I had been led to expect.  This is a story about two teenagers who meet at a kids-with-cancer support group and fall in love. You can largely guess where that goes. The book is sweet and sad and hopeful in equal measure.  Yet, for me, something was missing. I have not deal with cancer personally, nor have I been around a cancer sufferer, but I am all too familiar with the loss of young loved ones, well before their time, and in one case due to a tumour-related disease.  Maybe I'm jaded.  I still plan to attend the book club next week to attempt to discover further insight (well, mostly to socialise), and I will keep an open mind.

Rating: 6/10

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

"He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it."

"People were always getting ready for tomorrow

The Road tells the story of a man and his son making their way along the road, making their way to the coast and seeking to survive another day. They have almost nothing. The world is largely vacant and covered in ash. For the good guys, the only food available is what they can scrounge up from what has miraculously yet been undiscovered. A short but compelling story about survival, hope and despair, it drives on until its end.

Rating: 7/10

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book!

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.

Now this book doesn't really need any review, but I'll include it anyway for the sake of completeness (and just in case it happens to spur you on to finally reading it). This is the first time that I've read Pride and Prejudice, and I'm so glad that I finally got around to actually doing so.  I was obsessed with the 2005 film with Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen when I was in college and used to spend many a hungover Sunday watching the DVD.  That was until I saw the BBC mini series with Colin Firth, and I now I know what's what.  Wikipedia tells me that this is a novel of manners, in which the main character Elizabeth Bennet deals with manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in the landed gentry of early 19-century England.  What it is, is a love story - one about first impressions and one we all know.  If you haven't read it yet or want to read it again, I highly recommend it. I also really enjoyed spending some time with the Penguin Drop Caps version, with a vibrant cover designed by Jessica Hische.

Rating: 9/10

PS: I've linked all of the above books to The Hive Network, which allows you to shop online but cuts your favourite local independent bookstore into the sale and even allows you to pick up the book in store if you want.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wes Anderson Colour Palettes

Since seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel last week, I have not been able to get Wes Anderson off my mind. The delightful tumblr Wes Anderson Palettes was brought to my attention today - I've looked at it so many times already.  I think one of the best features of Wes Anderson's films are the colour palettes.

Refinery 29 has also put together a list of ways that to decorate your home like a Wes Anderson film.  The combination of these sites is inspiring me to ask What Would Wes Anderson do when decorating my new flat!

Monday, March 24, 2014

London Guide: Thursday Nights at Mestizo

I have written about Mestizo before, so excuse me for sharing this restaurant with you again, but further plaudits are required. I've been here for dinner several times, for a tequila tasting last May, and for Sunday brunch back in September, but I recently visited Mestizo for its Thursday night event Downstairs at Mestizo.  

Mexican Thursday (or Jueves Mexicano) is held in the basement room next door to the restaurant. As the flyer says, tacos start from £1 and range up to £3. There is a huge selection, and they are all delicious, authentic tacos.  There is a full bar, with deals on Corona and a chosen cocktail from 7-8pm.  The night that we went, the cocktail special was the Paloma (tequila and grapefruit) and was delicious.

The atmosphere was great. This being the club section of Mestizo, there was a DJ playing latin music and everyone was dancing.  There are little booths around the outside of the room, behind which the otherwise red-painted walls feature an expertly painted mural of notable British cultural figures feasting as if in Mexico, with people like Frida Kahlo lingering in the background.

The only downside to the evening was waiting in the queue. Tacos and drinks are bought with a ticket system - i.e. you pay for the number/price of tacos and drinks that you want in return for tickets, and then you use the tickets at the kitchen counter or the bar. This means queueing twice and, at certain points of the night, this took around 15 minutes.

As far as I am aware, this festivity occurs every Thursday night as Mestizo, so you might as well head over there and get some inexpensive and super tasty tacos and tequila.

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4) 

Food: 8
Atmosphere: 8
Service: 8
Price: ££
Overall experience: 8

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

On Wednesday night, I finally went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it was everything I could have hoped for in a Wes Anderson film and more.

As with other Wes Anderson films, this film had a beautifully-written script and captivating visuals. The story manages to be funny, whimsical, tense and lonely all at the same time. The characters have so much depth, no matter how briefly they appear on screen, and are perfectly suited to the actors portraying them. The visuals transport you completely, with every shot feeling perfectly deliberate and filled with detail. Some people criticised The Grand Budapest Hotel for being "too Wes Anderson," but that just doesn't make sense to me - the complete Wes Anderson-ness of the film is what makes it so magical. 

Ralph Fiennes is brilliant in this film. His character, M. Gustave, is so charming, so politely British, and is so good at swearing very elegantly and to great effect.  Ralph Fiennes is hilarious in this role.

I also loved Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe - they suited their characters perfectly, and Edward Norton's character was reminiscent of his Scout Master Ward in Moonrise Kingdom.

Have you seen The Grand Budapest Hotel? Did you love it as much as I did? If you haven't seen it yet, I highly and wholeheartedly recommend it!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

London Guide: The Table Cafe

I tried to get into The Table cafe for brunch a few months ago on a bit of a time squeeze, and the 45-minute wait for a table for two sent me straight back out the door. Luckily, when I tried back this time, we waited only 5 minutes before we were seated and well on our way to brunching.

The Table in Southwark, located just back off the south bank of the Thames, was founded by an architect and boasts responsibly sourced ingredients on its all-day dining and brunch menus.  I like a restaurant that lists its suppliers on its website and makes a public statement on its commitment to sustainable food. The decor of the restaurant is minimal yet warm and, while I sometimes feel that this type of decor takes away from a restaurant experience, the design of the restaurant added to a focus on the food.

Brunch at The Table is served from 8:30am to 4pm, which is pretty late for London. Not a boozy brunch, I had a cappuccino and a Jump Start smoothie, with banana, strawberry, honey and spice - both were great. I had read online that the sweet corn fritters were back on the menu by popular demand, so I felt obliged to order them. The fritters are served with two perfectly cooked poached eggs, well-seasoned (and not too salty) char-grilled tomato compote, baby leaf spinach and hollandaise. I got a side of bacon, which was crispy, American-style bacon, and the whole meal was excellent. One of my friends got something else, and I can't even remember what it was - I was entirely too focused on what I was eating. Next time, I think I'm going to have to try the true blue waffles with fresh blueberries and cream or the grilled lemon, brown sugar and butter or bacon, caramelised banana and maple syrup buttermilk pancakes. How could I say no to that?

The Table's all-day dining menu looks great too, and the restaurant is now open for dinner. The all-day menu is simple but covers all of the bases with all day breakfast, burgers, salads and sweet dishes.  The dinner menu is not yet available, but watch this space.

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4) 

Food: 8
Atmosphere: 8
Service: 8
Price: ££
Overall experience: 8
(Photos from The Table website)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Here's to Beautiful Rugby Players

The RBS 6 Nations finished yesterday with a bang - a very close and exciting game between Ireland v France for Ireland to win the championship.  I have gotten really into rugby since I moved to London, and it has quickly become my favourite sport to watch by far.  I look forward to the 6 nations every year, and I am sad to see it go - I will have to wait until June to watch Wales play again! (Side note: I'm a Welsh fan due to K's influence and now I'm hopelessly devoted).

A side perk to the great game of rugby? The super fit men.  Today, I thought I would pay tribute to some of the best looking men in home nations (Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland) rugby - thanks for a great winter!

Jamie Roberts, Wales
(He's also a doctor. I'm still trying to come up with a socially acceptable way
to ask him to marry me. Ideas?)

Leigh Halfpenny, Wales

Mike Phillips, Wales

Dan Lydiate, Wales

Rob Kearney, Ireland

Chris Robshaw, England

Ben Foden, England

Nick de Luca and Chris Paterson, Scotland

(All photos from Google Images.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cook These: Easy Weeknight Recipes

I'm now living back in Central London, and I'm also currently working on a job that means that I have regular hours on a regular basis (I mean 9-5, something that almost never happens).  This means that I have a lot more time in the evenings and, unless I have other plans, I have almost no excuse not to cook dinner (something else that never happens on regular basis). The result has been a renewed desire to be adventurous in the kitchen.   

I've been pretty proud of myself for actually using some of my extra time to cook, and I've really enjoyed the new recipes that I've tried.

I used this recipe from Food 52 as a starter and then altered it. I used red onion in stead of white, mixed Italian herbs and fennel seeds instead of rosemary, added a bit of lemon juice and used baked cubes of sweet potato instead of breadcrumbs.  It was delicious and felt way more indulgent than I expected. It would be a good brunch dish if you had the time (cook time was about an hour all in).

I started preparing this dish from The Kitchn and was seriously concerned that I was going to end up with a mushy, unappetising mess at the end that was ultimately going to leave me hungry - I was proved wrong (although I did add in a bit of red pepper just to be safe). This dish was simple to make and pleasing to eat, although I did season it with a tiny bit of garam masala as well, because I don't love ground coriander as a main flavour. 

This is one of Jamie Oliver's 15-minute meals. If you're not familiar, this is Jamie's latest show and cook book (following on from 30-minute meals). While I somewhat doubt my ability to make this in 15 minutes (I don't like to rush things in the kitchen), this was very quick and easy and tasted amazing.  Jamie never disappoints me.

This recipe from The Kitchn is what I will be trying out for dinner tonight. I pre-cooked the potato a bit in the oven last night, so that it wouldn't take quite so long after work. I also like my jacket potatoes (Americans: this is a baked potato, but usually served as a meal and often with baked beans and cheddar) a bit moist, so I may improvise with some kind of sauce along the way. I'll let you know how it turns out.

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