Monday, 23 July 2012

Where (& Where Not) To Breakfast Like An Olympic Champion

Claire Roberts looks at two options for an Olympic breakfast at London's Westfield Stratford City shopping mall.

July 2012 and finally the Olympics is here. Well it’s nearly here anyway and things are certainly revving up in London town. The Olympic torch is about to go past my road in a couple of hours, I’ve got an email from an American couple who want to stay in my flat. Westfield Stratford shopping mall seems to be attracting some very well-honed looking visitors, could they be athletes? And there’s a buzz of excitement in the air.

Now we all know that Olympic athletes need a serious breakfast for their Olympic mission and in the interests of helping our international guests, I venture to Westfield to find out where these well-honed visitors can find serious sustenance to start their Olympic days.

First stop is Franco Manca, one of several restaurants on Westfield Stratford’s first floor World Food Court. Brilliant for satisfying a wide array of international palates. Though Franco Manca usually spend their time perfecting pizzas, they’ve put together the London 2012 Burning Torch Breakfast for people who don’t eat pizza for breakfast.

Various combinations of bacon, eggs, ham, sausages, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms are available, all served with homemade sourdough bread freshly baked in Franco Manca’s pizza ovens. I have a couple of the English fruit juices and a creamy cappuccino made with buffalo milk. The portion sizes aren’t huge but I can feel the protein surging through me; not enough to get me on the Olympic track and definitely not enough for Michael Phelps but sustaining enough for a day at the Olympic park. The team is tight; quick off the mark and it’s all served with the assurance of winners. Team Franco Manca does good; they get a gold.

Next day with energy running low again, I head off to Balans, on The Street section of Westfield Mall, for breakfast. I’m looking forward to Balans; I know Miami is shrewd with food and that’s where Balans started out. I find out though that while Miami may be shrewd with food and US Olympic teams may be winners, it doesn’t necessarily lead to success in Stratford. It turns out if you ask the Balans team of waiters to get a US baton, aka Balans’ Breakfast of Champions, round the restaurant, it’s not going to get to its destination in good shape, if at all. My breakfast did get to me eventually, albeit not in good shape and not as ordered. I think they were just glad to get anything on to any table. I don’t want to watch an amateur team during the Olympics though and I don’t want clueless service however passable the breakfast.

To breakfast like an Olympic Champion, bypass Balans, therefore, and head off to Franco Manca inside the mall, or take advantage of all the other food outlets within the Westfield Stratford City shopping complex.

Images courtesy of Flickr users jbcurio, Simonlangley92 and myretailmedia.

Friday, 13 July 2012

One Girl’s Mission To Link Literature & London Bars & Pubs

By Sophie Marie Atkinson.

The following is a record of an actual conversation that recently took place between my boyfriend and I before our first (and potentially, last) holiday together.

Me: ‘What books are you taking with you on holiday?’

Him [blank stare]: ‘Huh?’

Me: ‘What. Books. Are. You. Taking. With. You. On. Holiday?'

Him: ‘What do you mean?’

Me [exasperated]: ‘I mean what bloody books are you taking with you when we go to Thailand?! To, you know, read?!’

Him [rolls eyes]: ‘God, you’re so British.’

1) Thank you dear boyfriend for noticing – after almost one (long) year together – my nationality, and...
2) What the hell is that supposed to mean?!

He went on to explain that they – Australians – consider the act of stockpiling literature to take with you on vacation a very ‘British’ phenomenon.

This entire incident took place in our local pub, where I spent all of 30 seconds sulking before deciding that I would not be insulted be his ignorant ways and instead would embrace both my bookishness and British-ness. And booziness. For what is more British than a passion for a pint, a glass of vino, a gin and juice?

Paris may have Les Deux Magot (the café-cum-bar-cum-bistro where Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus wrote) and Cuba may have its Hemmingway bars – where the American author sank Papa Dobles and penned some of the best literature known to man – but we, we, spawned Shakespeare and Dickens, gosh darnit!

And so I decided to celebrate London by taking a sweeping glance at some of the best bars and pubs that combine books and booze; coffee and culture; places that feed the mind as well as the belly (*groan*, I’m going to quit now while I’m ahead…)

First stop: the highly-lauded Quo Vadis on Soho’s Dean Street. This charming dining room offers up a daily changing menu of sumptuous fare as well as Champagne and cocktails, and it resides in Karl Marx’s former home.

Dylan Thomas and George Orwell both drank at The Fitzroy Tavern on nearby Charlotte Street when they worked at the nearby BBC in the 1940s and 50s, and Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw were just some of the artists, intellectuals and bohemians who frequented this pub as well.

The Lamb pub on Conduit Street is where Charles Dickens used to drink (handily located very close to Dickens House; a must for literature and museum buffs alike) and The George Inn in Borough, which can be traced back to 1542, was potentially frequented by Shakespeare, as the Bard lived and worked in the area.

The Dove pub in Hammersmith is not only the smallest bar in England, but it was also said to have been a favourite of both Graham Green and Ernest Hemingway. James Thompson, the 18th-century poet, reputedly wrote the words to ‘Rule, Britannia’ here.

Rumour has it that Keats, Shelly and Byron, no less, all wrote at Hampstead’s (supposedly haunted) The Spaniards Inn while others whisper than Dick Turpin watched carriages go by from here as he waited to rob them. Dickens also includes the pub in his Pickwick Papers novel.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street is another historic pub that has hosted many famous figures including Dickens, Dr Samuel Johnson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Once again, Dickens name-checks a pub in a novel, this on appearing in A Tale of Two Cities.

Agatha Christie and Rudyard Kipling were both regular visitors to the 170-year-old Browns Hotel. Rumour has it that Kipling wrote The Jungle Book here.

Moving away from where these awe-inspiring authors drank and onto bars themed by or dedicated to works of literature; Lewis Caroll, my personal favourite author, must get a special mention, simply for the number of bars and restaurants that doff their hats to his most famous work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Situated in the boho neighbourhood of Stoke Newington lives the newly-opened White Rabbit, an Alice-themed pub with split-level setting that includes a basement club called, of course, The Rabbit Hole, and an outdoor space complete with Victorian inspired walkway, street lamps and seating areas. Cocktails include the thoughtfully named Aztec Ruin and English Garden. Don’t leave without trying the Espresso Martini.

Lewis can also be thanked for the gorgeous Callooh Callay cocktail bar in Shoreditch. Named after a line from his poem, The Jabberwocky (‘O frabjous day! Callooh Callay!’), this cocktail bar/club is packed with references to the playful, surreal world of Lewis Carroll, from the décor to the cocktails, such as Afternoon Twee or the Mad Hatter’s Punch, served out of a gramophone. Callooh Callay even goes one step further and segues into CS Lewis: to enter The Jubjub Bar – a small, secret candlelit room – you have to convince the staff to give you a key and then to step through a Victorian wardrobe and climb the stairs. It’s all very Narnia.

Image courtesy of Flickr user shimelle.

Monday, 9 July 2012

How (Not) To Make Your Own Dim Sum

By Nathalie Bonney.

1) First prepare the pastry by mixing together wheat starch, potato starch and hot water. Add vegetable oil last then knead into dough.

2) Flatten pastry with a Chinese cleaver to 2mm (3mm if you’re feeling lazy) then cut pastry into round circles (approximately 8cm diameter)

3) Prepare your filling next. Dice mushrooms, water chestnut, celery and carrot. Crush some garlic. Now prepare your seasoning (a looooong list of ingredients).

4) Meanwhile cook the funghi bunch gang in a wok for a few minutes on a high heat. Add in the seasoning ingredients and celery and carrot and turn the heat down to low. Add potato starch mixed together with water to the mix and stir quickly and thoroughly.

5) Decant to cool. Finally add in sliced mange tout, spring onions, coriander and green chilli plus vermicelli noodles.

6) And after all that work, if you’re lucky, you’re now ready to assemble your little parcels of goodness. If you fare less well in your kitchen attempts you’re probably now looking at a pile of flaccid glutinous ‘pastry’ that wobbles like the (pre-St Tropez) thigh of a heavyset Geordie gal dancing to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, plus some veggie mix no amount of pastry can hide.

There’s a reason Dim Sum isn’t often made in UK homes: it’s a lot of work.

Ping Pong restaurants, however, are now offering diners Dim Sum master classes. For £40 (minimum groups of ten) each person receives an arrival cocktail, Dim Sum demo, the chance to make and take home what is made, plus a set menu and another drink with dinner. The filling is pre cooked and pastry circles thinly rolled out so all diners have to do is assemble.

I have relatively fine fingers. Not quite pianist hands, but nonetheless suitably elegant and capable of creating exquisitely folded Dim Sum parcels. At my master class I sat next to someone who regularly makes Cornish pasties; I like to think his method and expertise rubs off on me.

Below are pictures of my efforts and the professionals’. Working out which is which is like asking someone to choose between Hockney and Emin. One set look beautiful, the other is a bold statement of ‘I can’t do Dim Sum folding very well.’

In spite of my spindly fingers, my Dim Sum were not great. Chef number three came over to show me what I was doing wrong. Thankfully my Morello Cherry Sambal Thai (with just the right amount of savoury kick) cocktail took the edge off my growing embarrassment and I was finally allowed to use an easier method, the under-arm serve of Dim Sum pastry tending. It was then that the class got a lot more fun. And the best part, at the end of the masterclass, was that we got to take our efforts home to eat. Cocktails, food to take home and no homework; that’s my kind of lesson.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

London’s Most Favoured Vegetarian Restaurants Amongst Celebrities

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Forget about Olympic gold. Everyone’s going for green these days. Vegetarianism has grown in popularity in recent years, aided, in part, by a huge celebrity following, as this video demonstrates (apologies for the naff music).

Everyone from Buddha to The Beatles ditched meat and opted for fruit and veg instead. Some celebrities became very active in promoting vegetarianism (have you downloaded Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday song yet?).

Celebrities become vegetarians for different reasons: a young Christian Bale read Charlotte's Web and since then has said no to a platter of pork and all things with a face. Gwyneth Paltrow opted for vegetarianism for a healthier lifestyle (it does add to her alternative health and yoga-loving lifestyle doesn’t it). Morrissey refused to play a gig because he was appalled by the smell from a nearby barbecue.

I am a meat eater. I tried to give it up in my teens. I failed after three days when it dawned on me that if I opted for this lifestyle I would never be able to order a 1/4 duck with crispy pancakes. However, I have decided to make my Mondays meat free and as I live and work in London I’ve hunted around for the best veggie restaurants. I’ve discovered a lot of them have a celebrity cult following. Well, if it’s good enough for the media mob it’s good enough for me.

Tibits, 12-14 Heddon Street, Mayfair, London, W1B 4DA
Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus
My personal favourite vegetarian restaurant in London (pictured above) happens to be a regular haunt for the Regent Street rich and famished famous. It’s low lit but the interior is still bright and vibrant on account of the large windows. With the philosophy of using fresh seasonal ingredients of the highest quality so the food you love actually loves you back, Tibits will help all those eating there to feel virtuous. Perhaps this is why the likes of Frank Skinner, Uri Geller, Ellen Page and Dame Kelly Holmes have been spotted there.

The restaurant’s buffet boat has 40 dishes to choose from ranging from quinoa salads, falafel to vegetable quiches and risotto. The quirky twist is how to pay. The food is sold by weight and priced accordingly. My guest and I enjoyed everything about Tibits, from the warm staff, to the pleasant atmosphere and flavoursome food. No celeb spotting on that occasion but Made in Chelsea’s Mark Francis was lounging in the evening sun just round the corner.

Mildred’s, 45 Lexington Street, Soho, London, Greater London W1F 9AN
Nearest tube: Piccadilly
This eclectic and homely restaurant (pictured above) is on the same street as Lucy in Disguise – the clothing shop owned by Mrs Lily Cooper – aka TAFKALA – aka The Artist Formerly Known As Lily Allen. It’s possible that the former singer and her celeb clientele have popped in for a lunch break. Chances are if you grab a window seat you’ll definitely spot a star or two milling about after a shopping trip on Carnaby Street, magazine shoot at Hearst publications or interview at Absolute Radio. Inventive, affordable, and popular with both omnivores and carnivores alike - everyone balks at first at the idea of a risotto cake but ends up ordering it on every visit. The only snag is it has a no booking policy and queues are inevitable, so chat to a celebrity whilst you wait!

Food for Thought, 31 Neal Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9PR
Nearest tube: Covent Garden
This cupboard-sized restaurant is an institution among the London vegetarian dining world. It first opened its doors in 1974 and, unlike other vegetarian restaurants in London, has no intention of closing down! It’s mere minutes away from the dance, theatre and creative communities: nearby neighbours include Pineapple Dance Studios, the Royal Opera House and the Hospital Club (a members-only club for those in the arts and media industries and where the beautiful people hang out). The menu is like the restaurant: small but eclectic, with a variety of dishes from Spanish lentils to homemade quiches. It’s hearty and filling fare that’s exceptionally priced; £4.90 for their Thai curry and you’ll still get change from a fiver to give to one of those street performers (I’ve always had a soft spot for the mime artists). The seating can get a little cramped due to the itsy bitsy premises so you may often have to share tables. It all adds to the cosy feel and I’m sure there’d be no complaints if you were sat next to Pineapple’s Andrew Stone or Hospital Club member Jude law if they ever happened to pop in for a quick veggie bite, which I’m sure they must have done at some point.

Image courtesy of Flickr user jeckman and stusmith_UK.