So I found myself organising a lavish food and booze-fuelled couple of days in London. This was for a man. A surprise birthday celebration for the man that I’m dating in fact. It’s been ages since I made such a gesture, and I rather enjoyed it. So it started with champagne in proper flutes (of course) on the train up. Then lunch at The Ember Yard in Soho (him being a fan of tapas). Fantastic Cava, excellent, interesting and perfectly executed small plates. Highlights were chargrilled prawns, shaved lardo, pan con tomate (toasted bread with garlic and tomato) with chilli, lemon and parsley (£9.50), and grilled delica pumpkin with buffalo ricotta, charred sourdough, salsa verde and toasted seeds (£8). The only slight disappointment was the cheesecake but then I’m very specific about what a cheesecake should be (baked, vanilla, biscuit base, New York style). With great service and location too, I heartily recommend this place.
I then endured a matinee performance of Glen Garry Glen Ross (I could at least ogle Christian Slater) so that the man could enjoy some ‘theatre’ before we hit the bars and worked our way back to Soho. Dinner was at a proper Chinese place on Romilly Street, Bar Shu, specialising in Szechuan cuisine. I cannot recall everything I ate, but I do recall hot fried green beans with crumbs of pork, ginger, garlic and, of course, chillies; some amazingly fresh spring rolls without a hint of greasiness (as is so often the case) and a stir fried pork mince in lettuce, fresh, hot, sour. This was all washed down with a crisp Chablis, a great accompaniment and a fitting birthday tipple.
The following morning after brekkie at Dean Street Townhouse (always great, comfy chairs in period London elegance, albeit with slightly patchy service), we meandered around London and slowly made our way to what is perhaps one of the best places for a hangover lunch – the famous Duck and Waffle at the top of the Heron Tower. We decided to walk to its City location via Covent Garden and the Embankment, a glorious walk bathed in winter sun (why do people insist on getting tubes? They miss so much), and once we’d located the correct tower, we embarked on our ascent, gliding up in the purpose-built glass lift (not unlike the i360 actually!), to reach a fabulous bar with breathtaking views. There we enjoyed the famous huge ox cheek doughnut (£12) with our cocktails. This is one of the ‘filthiest’ most wonderful things I’ve eaten in a long time.
Then at our fabulous corner table with almost 360 views over London, we ordered the foie gras crème brulee with marmalade brioche to start (£13). Totally sublime. Then followed a roast chicken to share, with wild mushrooms, ratte potatoes and truffle (£35). Pretty much most of my favourite things in one dish. We argued over whether a Cabernet Franc or a Morgon Beaujolais would go better (the latter, I won). We took our time and dined on this dish all afternoon. And having vowed not to drink that much on account of my hangover, three hours later, a bottle of wine and two cocktails down, I was feeling gloriously out of it.
Desserts just had to be ordered and so it was to be the chocolate fondant with peanut butter ganache, vanilla ice cream and praline crunch (£10) and the white chocolate and chestnut mousse, vanilla shortbread and clementine sorbet (£9). Just writing all this down makes me want it all again, it was such a perfect meal. We watched the sun set over the city as we finished our drinks. All we needed now was a teleport, how bloody inconvenient that it hasn’t yet been invented. So, reluctantly, off we went to London Bridge in search of a train home.
The following weekend I was in London again with my girlfriends and discovered the most fantastic brunch place; Bistrotech, in the achingly cool Hackney, where my achingly cool girlfriend lives. Bistrotech is so hip it wouldn’t be out of place in the meat-packing district in New York. A huge industrial warehouse made glam with a swanky bar, live pianist and a huge floral arrangement. The menu was pretty special – one of those brunches where you are meant to have three courses, with interesting seasonal dishes as well as the more obvious brunch options. Coffee was excellent as was the quality of the food. I was a little jealous not to have this place round the corner from me. The only downside is that we had a 90 minute slot and we weren’t quite ready to leave. Shame. It’s a 15 minute walk from Columbia Road flower market – so this would make a lovely Sunday excursion.
And what of places closer to home? Well, my new favourite place is LOST in the Lanes café in Brighton. The best breakfast I’ve had in Brighton in a long time, daily changing interesting salads, sandwiches and hot meals. The cake counter has tripped me up on more than one occasion and the chai latte is fabulous.
The other foodie highlight and discovery was the Lickfold Inn near Petworth. Read my review on page72.
And as you read this I will have just returned from a hiking trip in Mallorca, making room for a whole new year of culinary adventure.