Sunday, 23 December 2012

Celebrate this Christmas at Camden’s Comedy Christmas Party 2012

As the Christmas party season sets in, so too does that all-important search for a special experience that’s guaranteed* to deliver the most memorable package possible. But as we know, finding an event that’s perfect for friends and family or even work colleagues can be as tiring and emotionally trying as wrestling an elf. Thankfully, just like Santa, tried and tested solutions really do exist!

Christmas offers an abundance of comedic highlights, but few compare to the spectacle that’s on show at the centre of Camden Lock Market. In terms of entertainment, the Highlight Club is something of a national treasure. With fully booked venues across the UK, it’s hard to argue with the company’s proven appeal, but it’s Camden that really knows how to get the party started.

With the availability of bronze, silver and gold packages to choose from, your otherworldly Highlight experience is sure to leave you awe-struck. You can wine, dine and have a whale of a time at any old Christmas shindig, but exclusive VIP packages are available and bespoke packages can be arranged at Highlight, so whatever your requirements you can get them down on your wish list.

Comedy Christmas parties feature the following array of festive treats:

- A party themed night set in a white Christmas wonderland
- The warmest welcome in town with mulled wine
- Your table decorated with balloons, hats, crackers and party poppers
- Appetisers on your table for when you arrive
- A two course festive dinner**
- 2 drinks vouchers***
- Table service so you can sit back and enjoy the comedy
- Christmas prize draw
- A side-splitting show with four comedy acts that will have you rolling in the aisles Dancing ‘til the early hours

Like so many comedy marvels including Alan Partridge’s Mid Morning Matters, Camden’s Comedy Christmas Party is sponsored by our fun-loving friends at Fosters, a brand that really know how to pack the Christmas punch. Fans will already be familiar with their infamous and refreshingly funny videos that feature far more than a fistful of festive spirit in the 2012 countdown to Christmas day.

Both established and up-and-coming comedians feature at Camden’s 2012 Comedy Christmas Party, including Curtis Walker, David Ward, Geoff Norcott, Gina Yashere, Ian Moore, JoJo Smith, Kerry Godliman, Kevin McCarthy, Mark Maier, Mike Gunn, Nick Page, Pete Johansson, Phil Nichol, Roger Monkhouse, Sean Meo, Stefano Paolini and Steve Gribbin (to name but every last one of them!).

With such a dynamic display of comedic talent on offer, you can rest assured that all tastes are catered for. So if your idea of comedy cuisine and claret roughly translates into laughs, lobster and lager, there’s something for everyone, whether they’re suave and sophisticated, strange and savage or even snow-covered and Santa-shaped!

With a number of Camden comedy nights on offer throughout December 2012, booking the right dates for your party should be a (cold wintery) breeze.

*Alcohol renders any such memory-based guarantees null and void
** Only available with Silver and Gold packages
***Only available with Gold package

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

I don’t know how to put this, but the new Adventure Bar on Clapham High Street is kind of a big deal

By Claire Williams.

Ron Burgundy (in Anchorman) said: “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal”. I’m not going to lie, I sometimes have that same mentality. So imagine my usual disappointment when, on entering the bars and nightclubs of London, I don’t get treated like the big deal I feel I am when I’ve got my full face of make up and little black dress on. Where are the admiring glances? The people wanting to talk to me? The hordes of men at my stilettoed feet?
Stepping out of the party bus at the opening launch of the new Adventure Bar in Clapham, I got the reaction I’ve always wanted. Photographers crowded around the door of the bus, trying to get a sneaky snap of us as we piled out and assembled on the red carpet. As we queued outside (clutching VIP tickets under our coats), photographers continued to take our pictures while a crowd of screaming females (okay, members of Adventure Bar staff) surrounded us. Now that was an entrance.
I’m a fan of the Adventure Bar chain. There are currently four different bars around the capital – in Covent Garden, Clapham Junction, East Dulwich, and now Clapham High Street – and each one is slightly different from the other. The Covent Garden bar is the closest to me, and I go there monthly with my girlfriends to drink cocktails and dance on the tables. But I’ll be changing my route and be going home via Clapham as of now.
The new Adventure Bar is trendier than the other three, with a New York-style exposed brick loft feel. It’s more daring, with tongue-in-cheek cocktail menus contained within risqué old-school VHS covers. There’s a new food menu and a refreshed and exciting cocktail selection. I hadn’t realised it before, but the Adventure Bar chain needed a facelift, and a facelift it got. The Clapham High Street venue is the younger, hotter, sexier sister that you slink off to meet whenever possible.
My favourite of the new cocktails is the Lemon Cheeseshake Martini. It’s essentially pudding in a glass. With a salted biscuit rim and a whole load of mascarpone cheese, it’s the naughtiest and most satisfying cocktail I’ve probably ever tasted. If I wasn’t so concerned about early heart disease/fitting into my tiny black dress for the work Christmas do, I’d have ordered enough of the lemony cocktails to bathe in. Another stand out cocktail is the Morning Glory, a tequila and lime based cocktail served in a saucepan and decorated with mozzarella and chorizo on a cocktail stick. Now, I’m not sure about you, but that is better than any greasy fry up.

Okay, so I’m not really that much of a big deal. But the words of Ron Burgundy have never been so fitting than when applied to the new Adventure Bar on Clapham High Street. I don’t know how else to put it, it’s kind of a big deal.

Friday, 14 December 2012

London’s Top 3 Festive Afternoon Teas

By Nathalie Bonney.

Mad Hatters afternoon tea with Luna And Curios, Sanderson Hotel
Although not strictly speaking a yuletide afternoon tea, there is more than enough magic and whimsy at the Sanderson’s Alice in Wonderland-themed tea (pictured above) to secure its place in our festive countdown. A riddle straight from the Cheshire cat’s mouth, is wrapped around each napkin and menus are vintage books with tea details in the middle.

This attention to detail is thanks to the hotel’s collaboration with Shoreditch based design collective Luna and Curious, where as much effort has been put into the crockery and tableware as the food and tea. Card deck king and queen teapots, trapeze artist, zebra and birdcage teacups, side plates, and carousel-design cake stands are all great fun. Sugar cubes are served in musical jewellery boxes, complete with a ballerina twirling to ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ when you open the lid.

All this wonder and we haven’t even got to the food. In keeping with the Alice theme, a miniature glass bottle, labelled ‘drink me’ serves up three layers of flavour: passion fruit jelly, coconut pana cotte and an exotic foam; marshmallow mushrooms, carrot meringue, mini clock face Victoria sponges and giant white chocolate encased mango mousse tear. Divine. Scones, sweet and savoury, exquisitely presented sandwiches, (thin strips of bread rolled up) and a jelly trolley, serving extremely fruity gelatinous delights round things out.

The tea is served at the Sanderson’s outdoor Courtyard Garden. Under cover with heaters, trees, fountains and candlelight when it gets dark, it’s a suitable wonderland.

Tea available from 11am-5,30pm. £35 or £45 with a glass of champagne.

Royal Horseguards hotel Festive Christmas afternoon tea
Fancy a Christmassy stroll along the Southbank? Time it so you either start or end your walk at Embankment and enjoy the Royal Horseguards hotel festive afternoon tea. Served up in its cosy lounge, complete with Christmas tree and festive garlands, afternoon tea at this hotel is the perfect way to thaw out after London shopping. Its Indian spiced chai tea, with Ceylon and aromatic spices, creates a "teatotal" mulled flavour and is the perfect winter warmer. For ultra relaxation, a harpist even plays some dates.

Pastry chef Joanne Todd is known for her creativity and willingness to change what’s on the menu and while scones and finger sandwiches will always figure, Todd is also adept at changing up the menu with seasonal afternoon teas covering everything from Halloween to Wimbledon and the Queen’s Jubilee.

Savoury mini bacon muffins with melted cheese on top and choux pastry filled with egg mayo are welcome savoury extras.

Delicate pastel–hued peppermint macaroons, shortbreads, cute-looking Christmas pudding cake pops, white chocolate, coconut and chili snowballs (my fave) and Valrhona chocolate baubles are all bitesize enough to balance out the heavier flavours of typical Christmas fare. Time for another mince pie then…

Limited edition menu available until 1 January 2013. £35

Festive afternoon tea and carol concert tea, The Dorchester
The daddy of Christmas-hued afternoon teas, the Dorchester doesn’t just serve up Christmas pastries and mince pies, but carols too. Its, admittedly pricey, weekend teas are served up to the accompaniment of a local school choir singing carols.

To cut the cost and Aled-Joneses in the making, go for a weekday tea. Start things off with the Dorchester champagne and turkey, cranberry and sausage meat stuffing sandwich. Among others.

Extra sweet treats (definitely not to eat) this year include a Gingerbread Hotel (pictured above), made out of 2000 individual pieces of gingerbread, constructed by the Dorchester’s pastry team and measuring 5.5” wide by 4.5” tall. It has nine floors, six replica balconies and even includes the hotels famous front doors.

A ‘sweets in the City’ emporium meanwhile is perfect for children and sweet tooths alike; chocca with giant lollipops and chocolate coins and retro sweets, such as flying saucers and dolly mixture.

Christmas carol afternoon tea on 15 and 16 December and 22 and 23 December at 2pm and 4.30pm. £64 per adult and £35 per child. Limited availability and can only reserve over the phone. Call 020 7319 7147.

Festive afternoon tea until 1 January 2012 at 1.15pm, 2.30pm, 3.15pm, 4.45pm and 5.15pm. £51.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Taking The Pisco: London’s Latest Trend

By Imogen Rowland

Until recently, my knowledge of all things Peruvian amounted to one solitary reference point: a scruffy brown bear named Paddington who had a penchant for marmalade sandwiches. However, I'm happy to report that, thanks to a recent influx of new restaurants in London, that list (it's a list when there's more than one, right?) now has a new addition: Pisco.

Pisco, for those of you unfortunate enough not to have tried it yet, is an aged grape-based liquor from deepest Peru, much like my aforementioned teddybear friend. Once distilled, it is often infused with fruit or flavourings dropped artistically into the storage jars in a Damien Hurst-esque style.

Head to Ceviche restaurant (pictured above) on Soho’s Frith Street to see them lined up in all their glory, with nine infusions including divine fruity options (apricot, cherry, physalis), the unique (eucalyptus leaf, cinnamon bark) and the downright dangerous (a hot peruvian chilli pepper – not for the faint hearted!).

When it comes to Pisco-based cocktails, the stalwart and my firm favourite is a Pisco Sour; a blend of traditional Pisco, lime juice, sugar, egg white and bitters. Try it tangy and tart, you won't look back.

The new crop of Peruvian restaurants across London has brought a new range of Pisco cocktails, the best of which can be sampled at Lima restaurant (above) on Fitzrovia’s Charlotte Street. Try the Kantuta if you fancy something fresh and virtuous (cucumber infused Pisco with beetroot juice and agave syrup), or indulge in the Pia instead of dessert (vanilla infused Pisco, banana, crème de cacao, Frangelico, cream and egg yolk – it's naughty but oh so nice).

After something more daring? The Cuento del Diablo looks every bit as devilish as it tastes: chilli infused Pisco, Cointreau, strawberry juice and lime, with a devil horn of chilli wedged to each side of the martini glass.

Of course, if you need the excuse of washing something down with your cocktails, then the ceviche offered at all good peruvian restaurants (raw fish 'cooked' in the acid of limes with chilli, onion and coriander) is a delicious way to go. It might even stop you from getting absolutely Pisco'd…

Pisco bottle image courtesy of Flickr user J Pod (Share Alike). Ceviche image courtesy of Paul Winch Furness.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

YO! Sushi Battle: DuckGyoza Vs RamenWins

By Nathalie Bonney.

Thanks to its conveyer belt of delights, YO! Sushi took fast food to a whole new level; serving up small plates of sushi and sashmi, not to mention hot dishes and those weird sweet cakes that you wish you hadn’t picked.

The simultaneous challenge and delight of the Japanese sushi chain is knowing how much to order/when to stop. Like a child told not to touch a hot stove, it’s all too easy to stare at the stream of dishes going past and before you know it your hand has reached out and selected a particular dish that you shouldn’t have.

Trouble is, while you can eat a lot, sometimes small plates are just too small. Enter THE RAMEN; its sizable bulk makes the mini portions of avocado maki etc quiver in its shadow.

Five different ramen bowls, priced at £7 or £8 are now on the YO! Sushi menu, with a choice of chicken and miso, pork, beef, vegetable and fish. Steaming bowls of broth and noodles are garnished with hard-boiled egg, spring onions, a chic crispy seaweed rectangle, scallion and sesame seeds.

Pretty and delicious looking, and big. The Twitter hash tag and ad campaign #RamenWins certainly makes sense. After all the teeny tiny plates that I usually deal with I feel a little like a Borrower trying to get my head (and appetite) around the seemingly insurmountable size of the ramen bowl.

I am also worried that I won’t be able to order plate number two: duck gyoza. Time to think tactics. I decide to eat the noodles, fishcakes and egg in my Kaisen Ramen and leave most of the broth. Admittedly this isn’t too hard, despite smelling extremely fishy (not a date soup), the broth doesn’t have much flavour. On another occasion this would be disappointing and I suppose the sesame oil, garlic puree and chilli oil that you can choose to add to your broth would alter the taste anyway.

In conclusion: eat the ramen noodles if you like simple, clean flavours to your food, as a child liked tearing open sugar sachets and mixing into your dinner, and can’t be bothered staring at the conveyor belt your whole dinner. #RamenWins but (in this humble blogger’s own opinion) #DuckGyoza wins more.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

6 Best Gentleman’s Afternoon Teas In London

By Christian Rose-Day.

The afternoon tea: a tradition from the early 19th century involving fine china and elegant hotel settings that is today synonymous with Mother’s Day treats, posh hen parties, and the opportunity to wear your best pearls. In short, it’s women’s business, and us men are rarely to be seen taking part. And if we are, we never really feel entirely comfortable picking up those tiny pink fancies anyway. They’re called fancies, for crying out loud! Butch, they are not.

I have, on occasion, sampled the tasty treats of an afternoon tea: I’ve enjoyed burlesque afternoon tease; I’ve proved that afternoon tea is not just the privilege of central London; and I’ve even tried to win back an ex with an afternoon tea (epic fail, but the tea was smashing). Yet, on every one of these occasions, I was accompanied by someone of the fairer sex, thus almost legitimising my presence at the afternoon tea.

Over the weekend, however, I entered a new realm, a world devoid of doilies and fascinators, that provided a manly pastime for myself and a teammate from my sports club: the Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea.

Chapters Brasserie in Blackheath is one of those rare establishments flying the flag for chaps across London. Gone are the dainty finger sandwiches, bite-sized cakes and floral patterns. Lads, say hello to macho portions, served on slates, flanked by beer.

That’s right, the Gent’s Afternoon Tea at this Michelin Bib Gourmand/2 AA rosette restaurant doesn’t actually involve any tea, just lashing of hearty, locally-brewed Greenwich Meantime Wheat Ale or Chocolate Porter.

Once the libations were settling our weekend nerves, it was time to move on to the first round of comestibles, which included the exquisitely greasy, deep fried herring melts with garlic and parsley croutons (easily the winner in the battle of the snacks), warm duck croquettes with plum chutney, and venison bresoala with toasted sour dough. A twee champagne glazed oyster took up space on the slate where, in my opinion, thrice-cooked goose fat chunky chips should surely reside instead and the treacle tart beat the warm chocolate brownie to the gold medal in the dessert stakes. Despite the size of the portion provided, we still adhered to our manly duties and made sure our slates were completely cleared.

Whilst we put the worlds of sport, politics and culture to rights, The White Stripes ‘7 Nation Army’ joyfully massaged our lugholes, and it was nice of the management to arrange several tables of attractive ladies to sit throughout the restaurant whilst we were enjoying our Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea, although we weren’t entirely sure if this was included on the menu.

Chapters’ Gentleman's Afternoon Tea is available for the last week in November and will continue in the New Year, Friday-Sunday, 3pm-6pm, for the reasonable fee of £32. You must pre-book though, don’t just turn up and expect immediate greatness you ruffian!

Lads who do natter on an afternoon, business blokes who conduct meetings during the week, sons who treat Dad like a superhuman, you brutes need not always look to the original format for afternoon tea in London, although we do recommend checking them out if you have a wife/girlfriend/galpal/sister who can accompany you. Instead, a new type of afternoon tea is born, so here are a further 5 Gentlemen’s Afternoon Teas in London you might like to book.

No 20 Sanctum, the Best Hotel of the Year at the London Lifestyle Awards two years previous. Different versions of the Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea are available but there’s only one you really need to note: The Ultimate Indulgence for £50pp available daily 2pm-6pm. Booze, nicotine and meat; all whilst sat upon snakeskin upholstery five floors above Soho. The man’s menu includes poached oyster with bloody Mary relish; seared steak on sourdough; smoked salmon, caviar, and watercress bagel; lamb and potato hotpot; rabbit pancetta and leek pasty; roast beef and Yorkshire pudding; twice baked chocolate fudge cake with Jack Daniels ice cream; a tankard of Jack Daniels Gentleman’s Jack; and, naturally, a cigar.

Drink, Shop, Do in King’s Cross. The Man’s Afternoon Tea (£22pp) here is perfect for a group of lads who are looking to hang out with lots of lovely ladies because this venue is essentially a woman’s domain. The afternoon tea includes a beer or ale, pork pie, organic Scotch egg, pickled onions, posh pork crackling and a Yorkie bar. It’s available 7 days a week, 10.30-10.30 (reservations for groups of 5 or more only), and, for a small extra fee, there’s the option of Afternoon Tea and a ‘Do’ - an informal activity class which you’ll need a minimum of 6 people for - such as hair fascinator making (errr), pantie embroidering (ummm), vintage hair and make-up (dude!), or wine tasting (yay!), ukulele lessons (much more like it), and learning how to bend balloons (most definitely!).

The Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank. This Gent’s Afternoon Tea will suit visitors to London who are taking the essential walk along the south side of the Thames. Fish finger sarnies, macaroni cheese and smoked bacon, Berkshire bangers, chocolate brownie and brandy cream, and a bottle of Globe ale or stout are on offer for £22.50. Monday-Saturday, 2.30pm-4pm.

Reform at The Mandville Hotel, Marylebone. Are you a gentleman who is planning to cram all your Christmas shopping into one day, centring your efforts along London’s Oxford Street? Then you will need a break at some point. On the Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea here, British sandwiches - cucumber and goat’s curd; Yorkshire ham and piccalilli; egg and cress; and smoked Scottish salmon - sit side by side of Welsh wagyu burgers, pork pies, a HUMONGOUS selection of teas, Eccles cake, Black Forest gateau, Batterburg, fruit scones, and a classic Lagavulin whiskey cocktail all for £26.50.

Chiswell Street Dining Room, City of London. A classy retreat in the quiet streets behind the iconic Barbican, where you and your hirsute colleagues can let go of the spreadsheets and Blackberries for a short time and, for £20pp, tuck into Welsh rarebit, buttered toast with Patum Peperium relish, assorted finger sandwiches, homemade scones with Suffolk jam and Devonshire clotted cream, all rounded off nicely with a pot of Jing tea.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

5 London Restaurants That Offer Cooking Classes

By Sophie Marie Atkinson.

We’ve all been there; hammering on the kitchen door of a particular restaurant demanding to know how they made the chicken THAT DAMN SUCCULENT. No, just me?

Well, even if you won’t admit it, I’m sure you’ve walked away from more than one London restaurant wishing you could have had even just a few minutes with the master behind the meat (or veg, chutney, corn bread, or whatever tickles your taste buds).

So, from Mexican street-food to high-end Indian fare, here’s a look at some the London restaurants bold enough to open their kitchens to the hoi polloi.
Franco Manca, classes currently only available at the Chiswick branch.
If you've never paid a visit to one of the four Franco Manca branches of these now-cult Neapolitan restaurants, you've never truly experienced pizza. The pillowy dough; the organic, locally-sourced toppings; it's no wonder Franco Manca is often hailed as the best pizza in town. And now, NOW, they are prepared to share their much-lauded secrets. Fools!

Learn how to correctly kneed the slow-rising (20 hours!) sourdough; what toppings to use and where to get them (broccoli on a pizza? Who’d a thunked it?) and how to replicate the effects of their wood fire 'tufae' brick ovens - in which the pizzas in question are cooked for a mere 40 seconds – in your own home.

A bargain at just £20 per person, and you won’t walk away even remotely hungry, trust me.

To book, call Franco Manca Chiswick on 020 8747 4822.
Theo Randall at The InterContinental, 1 Hamilton Place London W1J 7QY
On the other end of the price spectrum, but very much worth the expense, lies the Theo Randall masterclasses, which take place within the realms of Theo Randall’s restaurant, in the chi-chi Inter Continental London Park.

Famed for his simple, rustic cooking that utilises seasonal fare, the man himself allows a handful of lucky guests an insight into his kitchen every Saturday morning. Each week he explores a different theme such as pasta and risotto, or seafood, demonstrating how to make up to five mouth-watering dishes.

Once the lesson is over, guests are treated to a wine tasting session with the Head Sommelier; a three-course lunch and a copy of Theo’s book, Pasta. Well worth the £200 price tag.

To book, call Maria on 0207 318 8747 or by email her at
La Porte des Indes, 32 Bryanston Street, London, W1H 7EG
Boasting the accolade Ethnic Chef of the Year 2012, Mehernosh Mody – head chef at multi award-winning La Porte des Indes – offers guests the opportunity to witness him in action.

La Porte des Indes offers up a unique style of Indian cooking inspired by the French Creole cuisine of Pondichéry and other former French trading posts in Southern India, and dishes here include Cassoulet de Fruits de Mer, a rich seafood stew simmered in 'vindai' spices, and Poulet Rouge, shredded chicken marinated in yoghurt and red spices served in a creamy sauce. Dribble.

Held on the last Friday of every month, the classes, priced at £45 per person, take place from 12pm with a 3-course lunch from 1.30pm onwards. Guests will also receive a signed copy of the best-selling La Porte des Indes cookbook, a complimentary spice mix and a certificate.

Along the way, Mehernosh will offer indispensable advice and tips on the huge array of herbs and spices that are the mainstay of Indian cooking, including how to source, prepare and store them. Suggestions will also be given on the best food and wine pairing options.

For details visit
Benito’s Hat, various locations around London.
Despite scoring highly on the cheap-and-cheerful front, Benito’s Hat serves up my absolute favourite burritos in London. And they know how to mix mean margarita too. What’s not to love?!

And now, with the help of founder Ben Fordham and his trusty cohort/head chef Felipe Fuentes Cruz, punters can learn how to whip up their own spicy salsa, make delectable tortillas from scratch and even how to recreate the divine cocktails.

Ben and Felipe are as enthusiastic and approachable as they are knowledgeable. They even dish out awards (in the form of great gifts) for the best team effort. At £15 a head, including food and drink throughout the evening, these classes are an absolute steal.

The next class takes place on November 27. Miss it at your peril. Email for details.
Mon Plaisir, 19-21 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9DD
Eager to please high-brow dinner party guests? Then the monthly cooking classes at Covent Garden's Mon Plaisir French restaurant might be for you.

A purveyor of some of the finest French cuisine found this side of the English Channel (Charles de Gaulle himself dined here in 1942), on the first Monday of every month the owner of Mon Plaisir throws open his door to share with diners the secrets behind what is often said to be the best steak tartare in the city.

For just £29.50, guests will enjoy Champagne on arrival, followed by an appetiser and demonstration by the brains behind the outfit, owner Alain Lhermitte or chef Frank Raymond. And then – Pièce de résistance – your chance to make the famed dish yourself. Then sit back, enjoy a glass of wine (or an extra two for just £10) and sample your wares, served, as it should be, alongside chips and salad. Dessert and coffee are also included in the cost. Mon dieu!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Lordin’ Over Gordon: Love For London’s Best Kiwi Chef

By Philippa Morton.

As an ex-pat Kiwi, I can hardly hide my total and utter delight when I see my fellow Antipodeans making our mark successfully in London. It was with a proud heart I lifted my wine glass on Wednesday night, (it was full of Kiwi spirit: Waitaki Braids Pinot Noir) to cheer the success of chef Peter Gordon’s new cookbook Peter Gordon Everyday.

New Zealand’s ‘Down to Earth’ reputation couldn’t have been better portrayed in this treasure trove of recipes. For example, spaghetti on toast, meatballs and soft-boiled eggs make cameo appearances in the book. I just love how it brings cooking basics to the fore. Best of all, every ingredient can be sourced from a supermarket. Jeeez…it sounds like I’m back in student digs! To the contrary though - the recipes are fit for a King – Peter was off to cook for Prince Charles in a few days’ time.
Peter Gordon has gone from strength to strength over the years and spoke passionately about his love for fusion cooking. As for me, I am just delighted with his perfect fusion of Kiwi food and wine in the UK. But mostly it’s the ‘Kiwiana’ of his practice that I love: the great Kiwi attitude that finds its way into each dish. Take Kopapa restaurant, for example, which is set in the heart of Covent Garden and surrounded by neighbourly friends such as Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian and Indian restaurant Dishoom. If you’re in a group and cannot decide on a food genre for the night, just mix it all up and go for Kopapa, where a feast for all tastes can be had.

Peter has left a taste of himself all over London; The Providores and Tapa Room in Marylebone as well. Not only that, but he is the meat behind Kiwi founded GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) restaurants. That burger you love, it’s Peter’s!

Whether it be burgers and beans, soup and stews, restaurants, books or cooking for Princes, Peter Gordon, you really have made me proud. Cheers bro!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Cookbook Gifts For Christmas? Go For An Italian

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

This Christmas give your friends and family the gift of cooking. Cookbooks are an invaluable source reference, inspiration and make the very best Christmas gifts. This year, Italian cookbooks are dominating the food section in bookshops. Nigella Lawson’s latest book, Nigellisma: Instant Italian Inspiration (£26), has been a huge hit and shows that Italian cooking can be simple and speedy and still produce no-fuss feasts. Then there’s Antonio Carluccio: A Recipe for Life (£20) by the larger than life TV chef and successful restaurant owner. The book details his life from his humble beginnings to the success he is today. Included in the pages are recipes that have shaped his life. Here are a few more cookbooks to look out for and may be just the thing to fill your stocking.

Eat Like An Italian: Recipes for the Good Life by Catherine Fulvio (£19.99)
Catherine Fulvio is one busy woman. As well as being the proprietor of the Ballyknoken House Cookery School she’s also one of Ireland’s top TV culinary stars and a cookery writer. In her latest book, she embraces all things Italian. Having a Sicilian husband, Catherine has gradually been seduced by the Italian way of life. In Italy, people live to eat, instead of eat to live. With the belief that Italians have the answer to long-lasting health and happiness because of their Mediterranean diet and so her latest cookbook encourages readers to adapt to the leisurely Italian lifestyle attitude. Recipes include lasagne rolls, plum and chianti soup, lamb stew with olives and lemon and unique ice-cream recipes such as fig, cappuccino and olive oil. A great touch to each recipe is that Catherine explains how the Italian recipes can be tweaked using local produce; for example, a risotto can be used with pear cider instead of wine.

Versatile: Cooking and Living Italian by Grazia Guliani (£25)
This book encapsulates all that is great about traditional Italian cuisine. Recipes encourage cooks and diners to eat, drink and be merry while also adopting the Italian philosophy that food is nourishment for the spirit as well as the body. Traditional recipes such as orecchiette (pasta shaped like an ear) with broccoli and agnello with salsa gialla (lamb in a yellow sauce) are presented with optional ingredients to be added or removed according to the various palates and tastes of family and friends. It’s an approach that reflects the heart of Italian cuisine.

Limoncello and Linen water by Tessa Kiros (£25)
Tessa celebrates the heritage of Italy, the country she’s chosen to call home, in her latest book. It’s a rather whimsical book that pays tribute to the women in our lives – mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers etc. (in Italy, women are considered the heart and soul of the home). Important lessons in life are noted throughout the pages that every woman of any age will learn from. With recipes ranging from robust dishes for the family to quirky cakes and preserves, this book will become a precious heirloom to treasure.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The World’s Hottest Chilli Menu: Is It A Weapon Or Meal?

By Claire Williams.

I always thought of myself as pretty hard when it comes to spicy food. I grow a number of different chilli plants in my little makeshift window conservatory at home, and I put them – seeds and all – straight bang into my food. I’ve been known to eat a chilli raw for a bet (granted, after I’d cleared the alcohol cabinet of its contents). I mean, I’ve even attended a chilli festival for fun. So when I was presented with the task of trying out the World’s Hottest Chilli Menu at critically-acclaimed Pan Asian restaurant, Gilgamesh in Camden, I didn’t think twice.

“Just how hot can it be?” I naively thought to myself.

Well, the resounding answer to that question is: bloody hot.

On entering the restaurant, we were ushered to a table by a waitress.

“Two of your hottest chilli menu meals, please.”

The waitress looked at us. “You want to try it all?”

“Yes, please. And a bottle of wine, to go with it, if you may.”

She looked at us for a minute, and then dutifully went through the menu, explaining the origins of the chillis used and how they are spread throughout the dishes. I’m a massive fan of Asian food – especially from Southern and Eastern regions – so her warnings about the heat of the food fell on deaf ears. All I was listening to was green mango, papaya, monkfish…

“And we suggest you try a refreshing, milky cocktail to go with it. Really brings down the heat.”

“No, no. We’ll be fine.”

The waitress looked at us again. “I’ll bring you one, anyway.”

We went back to our conversation after she left, talking about god knows what, when Chef Ian Pengelley (the chef who once co-owned a restaurant with none other than the famous gutter-mouthed chef Gordon Ramsay) came and sat with us at the table.

“Guys, these are hot chillis. No joke.”

I looked over at my dining partner. Two people warning us of just how hot the food is, and one of them was the chef! Perhaps we weren’t fully thinking this through.

Ian went on to tell us about the types of chilli used in the dishes – the Naga, the Scotch Bonnet and the Trinidad Scorpion – and the fact that they are all 400 times hotter than Tobasco. In fact, the Trinidad Scorpion measures up to 1.4 million on the Scoville scale (the scale they measure a chillis heat). To put this kind of heat into comparison, the trusty Jalapeno chilli measures a measly 3,500 and US Grade Pepper Spray measures 2 million. So we were about to eat a chilli that measured closer in scale to a weapon than a normal chilli.

It slowly dawned on me just how hot this food was going to be. And when the waitress came out with a disclaimer form, telling us we’d receive a certificate at the end of the meal if we managed to get our way through the food, I realised this wasn’t going to be the walk in the park that I had expected it to be.

And I wasn’t wrong.

Our dishes came out all at once. We started off with what we thought would be the easy option: the dish of stir-fried cashew nut, chicken, dried red chilli and holy basil. The waitress came up with our cocktails that we greedily gulped back, dowsing our mouths and our taste buds in milky, cooling liquid. The red wine lay untouched.

“It’s… a bit… hot,” I gasped.

My partner nodded back at me. He was busy gulping down water.

“Actually,” the waitress said, “that’s probably the hottest of the dishes.”

We spooned the green mango and papaya salad onto our plates, hoping for some refreshing relief from the now burning sensations in our mouths. But we were offered no such respite. Every dish was as hot as each other. But as we continued eating (we didn’t talk, we didn’t even touch our wine) the flavours started to zing around our mouths. The heat was almost addictive. Just when I thought I couldn’t manage anymore, I reached in and spooned another piece of chicken onto my plate.
For those of you who’d like to try a dish from the World’s Hottest Chilli Menu but have some reservations: firstly, grow some balls. It’s called the World’s Hottest Chilli Menu for a reason. Secondly, I’d suggest going for the monkfish and physalis jungle curry. Yeah, it’s hot. But it’s not as intensely hot as the other two dishes on the menu.
Three tips for you, though. Firstly, listen to the waitresses. They’re right when they suggest you need a cooling cocktail. Don’t bother with the wine; your mouth will be on fire and the wine won’t put it out. They’ll also suggest you order coconut rice; again, do it. The creaminess of the rice sates the chilli somewhat. Secondly, don’t be fooled with the chilli berry sorbet (pictured below) for pudding. It’s delicious, but it packs a punch, too.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

By Natasha Lunn.

There are some days when a vodka tonic just won’t do. When a glass of champagne feels too light-hearted and a cognac feels too heavy. When you cock up at work, when you’re caught unexpectedly in the rain, when a relationship doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to.

For one of those days, there’s always Absinthe. Otherwise known as the green fairy, Absinthe is the heralded emerald spirit, which bewitched Hemingway, Picasso and Degas. Oscar Wilde compared it to a sunset. Raymond Queneau said it was like a hot-air balloon that “broadens one’s imagination as the balloon broadens the view of the earth’s sphere.” What better antidote could there be to a day-gone-wrong?

First time round, the ‘Absinthe elixir’ had a bad rep. Initially banned in the US, it was labelled as an addictive, hallucinogenic drug. But these days if you’re looking for a Hunter S. Thompson style acid trip then you might be a bit disappointed. When my brave friend and I performed an Absinthe ritual at Brasserie Blanc in Covent Garden, we needn’t have been hesitant. Half an hour in, after dripping water over sugar cubes into Pernod’s Absinthe, we were setting the world to rights sip-by-sip.

We didn’t feel drunk. But by the time we’d reached the bottom of our ‘Green Beasts’ - which blurred Absinthe, cucumber and lime - life plans were afoot and lovers were understood. It seemed like Absinthe really did make the heart grow fonder.

As well as Brasserie Blanc’s selection, you can also find the elusive spirit below Brompton Bar and Grill in west London. Or, if you ask very nicely, the bartenders at Viajante in Bethnal Green might just serve you Hemingway’s favourite cocktail: Death in the Afternoon. (Ernest recommended 3-5, but 2 is my limit.)

Every now and again, we all have a day that we’d rather forget. It might be on the Monday you accidentally send an email to a client labelling them a tosspot. It might be on the Wednesday a downpour leaves you with panda eyes and hair like Monica off Friends in the Las Vegas episodes. It might be on the Sunday you realise you’ve lost someone who could have been something.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Top 4 London Restaurant Cookbooks

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Been there, dined on that. But you want more, don’t you? Don’t be bashful. London restaurants are meant to come up with a winning menu that will entice you into going back through their doors. You can identify your favourite starters, mains and desserts simply by sniffing the air. The aroma of hot bread rolls fills your nostrils as you weave your way through the crowd of diners and reach your table. It’s becoming a regular habit. It’s your mid-week treat to dine out in your favourite restaurant. But although your stomach is saying yes, yes, YES, your wallet is saying no, no, NO. Your tummy may be rounding off nicely but your bank account is starting to look as emaciated as a nineties heroin chic catwalk model. We are all still poop deep in a recession after all. The cheapest thing to do is dine-in rather than dine-out. But you’ve perfected your basic pasta dishes while at uni and your granny showed you how to make the perfect roast before you could even spell potato. The reason you go to these restaurants is because you want that kind of food. Marmite on toast is all very well but a meal from a top London restaurant it is not.

So, what’s the solution? Well, thankfully, some of London’s best restaurants have created cookbooks so we can all dine on their signature dishes. It’s all due to popular demand. Here are our favourite recipe books from the London’s best restaurants and cafés. Christmas presents: sorted.
Tibits, Heddon Street, Mayfair: Tibits at home, (£25)
Today sees one of the UK’s leading vegetarian restaurants launch its own cookery book. Tibits at home is a sumptuous cookbook, split into four seasonal sections, containing 50 recipes. Mouth-watering dishes to try in your kitchen include the hearty leek and quinoa soup, a scrumptious apple and ginger salad with tofu, and the luscious coconut chocolate pudding. Wash it all down with tibits’ famous ginger lemon punch and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were sitting in the fashionable Heddon Street food quarter in Mayfair rather than in your own dining room. Influences from around the world, from Asia and India to the Mediterranean and good old Blighty. All the recipes cater to vegetarians, with many that suit those with vegan, gluten-free and nut-free diets. Staunch carnivores, tibits at home will prove to you that veggie dining need not be dull.
Polpo, Beak Street, Soho: Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts), (£25)
One of the most anticipated cookbooks from this year came from the man behind London's hottest restaurants. Russell Norman's Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) is without a doubt some kind of luscious love letter to the city of Venice. His string of hit London restaurants: Polpo, Polpetto and da Polpo are based on the tiny bars you find in the city of bridges and water that serve snacks, named bacaros. Diners who love Polpo (polpophiles) will find the answer to the daily question: what should I have for lunch today? The first in what must be a series of cookbooks (a recipe book for Mishkins must be on the cards, right Russell?) include recipes for a pretty pizzetta bianca, the popular pork belly radicchio and hazelnut dish and the signature warm octopus salad.
Wahaca Mexican restaurants: Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home, £20
MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers (or Tommi as she’s often called) spiced up our summer with her latest cookbook, Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home. It’s a gorgeous new collection of recipes inspired by her everlasting love of Mexican cuisine. Tommi’s aim is to make people realise that Mexican cooking is not as daunting as it looks. As well as simple snack recipes there are also some delectable dinner dishes for those who want to get stuck in and fully explore Mexican cooking. The breakfast chapters are fun and include a recipe for Mexican hot chocolate, sweet buns and avocado milkshake. Every page is so fresh, full of colour and promises meals with the Yum-factor.
Ottolenghi, Notting Hill, Islington and Kensington: Jerusalem, £27
When Ottolenghi first graced the capital, the place did much to change Londoner’s perceptions of Deli dining. Owned Yotam Ottolenghi with the kitchen run by Head Chef Sami Tamimi, it’s one of the most successful food chains in London. Now the guys have taken over the cookbook world too with Jerusalem: A Cookbook. Both Ottolenghi and Tamimi share their knowledge of the tastes and flavours from their native country that blend together to make some delectable dishes. The recipes are inspirational and you can almost taste the fusion of flavours simply by turning the pages and reading how to make meals such as the saffron, date and almond rice and the comforting yellow pepper and Jerusalem artichoke soup.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Don't Play With Your Food, Toy With Technology: Dining With Digital Style

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Decadent drinks are getting a digital design overhaul. Think 3D art installations, touch screen menus, and credit-card shaped waiters that actually make cocktails. Tis the future of London’s bar and restaurant scene, Fluid friends. Embrace it.
Graphic, 3D bar, Soho
From September 2012 for six months, Graphic, Soho’s highly popular gin bar, has a new art installation designed by the renowned and innovative 70s 3D artist, Jim Sharp. Collaborating with Bombay Sapphire, Sharp has produced a set of thought-provoking 3D paintings. On first sight the works have a mesmerising yet simple depth to them. Gaze at them through 3D glasses and the perception alters adding new layers of intrigue. Even the menus have had a 3D facelift. Graphic’s signature gin cocktails are as great as ever. The paint pot punch range is phenomenal: Paint the town blue (Millers gin, Briottet blackberry liqueur, fresh lime juice, orange bitters, Fever-Tree ginger ale) or pink (Bombay Sapphire gin, Briottet apricot liqueur, peach bitters, fresh lime juice, pomegranate syrup, Fever-Tree lemonade).
Inamo, Interactive Japanese restaurant, St James
Inamo is insanely brilliant. Even if you don’t know the name you’ve definitely heard of its innovative and interactive concept. The oriental food and bar uses E Table, the world’s first interactive food ordering system. Customers have complete control over their dining experience. The steps are simple: run a finger around a laptop-like mouse pad to bring up a cursor and some icons. Click on them and pictures of menu items are projected on to the table. You order your food. It arrives. You eat it. As well as being able to order food, customers can opt their preferred virtual tablecloths, view the chefs in real time using Chef Cam and take advantage of some fun and practical facilities such as games taxi services and local information. I think the only thing the table doesn’t do is go to the toilet for you (but it does give you directions to the facilities).
Vapiano, plastic credit card waiter Italian restaurant, Fitzrovia
Italian interior design, food and wine combined with a German chip-card ordering system creates a winning foodie formula. Vapiano is one chain that’s definitely worth visiting. Serving pizza, pasta, a selection of Italian wines and iced tea arrived in London following its phenomenal success in Germany. Besides the high standard of food, it’s success is down to a switch: waiters have been replaced by a bit of plastic. The system is simple. Diners arrive and are presented with a white chip card. Order what you fancy and with everything you order you swipe your card. After your meal, the total's totted up and you pay on the way out. It’s a time-saving and money-saving (no waiters means no service charge). Take advantage of the vibrating Pizza Pager that buzzes when your food's ready. 

And if you think that’s cool, you should read about Thai restaurant chain, Busaba Eathai and their leap into the world of the future.

Friday, 28 September 2012

When It Comes To The Wine Glass, Shape Really Matters

Riedel Vitis Comparative Wine Glass Tasting, by Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

I drink wine in any vessel I can get my hands on, be it the typical wine glass at a trendy wine bar or my favourite mug from my kitchen cupboard. Hell, I’ve even just pulled the cork out with my teeth and glugged away from the bottle itself.

So, I was curious to hear what Georg Riedel had to say about wine glasses and how the shape of them can affect the aroma and, more importantly, the taste.

Everyone from polished and prim Penelope to raucous rah-boy Rupert is there. One dude has really dressed up for the occasion and is wearing a boating jacket. The event is being held at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The room smells of red wine and the private education system. It’s a little too much for me so I resort to sitting outside the ladies loo with a steward for the next 30 minutes until the tasting class commences.

When it does I’m ushered to Row R, Seat 330 (right on the end). Before me is a paper mat with three Riedel Vitis glasses (0403/07, 0403/30, and 0403/0), three plastic cups of red wine (Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet), and a bottle of water. “Today you are going to learn very little about wine but a lot about wine service,” Mr Georg Riedel, our host for the evening, informs us. The tasting commences with everyone drinking from the (water) bottle because we need to cleanse our palette completely.

“We are dealing with physics, ladies and gentleman,” continues Georg Riedel. The right shape of glass can make all the difference to how the wine tastes. The Vitis glassware is designed on the basis that each grape variety have their own exceptional characteristics and it aims to translate a wine’s message to the human senses. The shape, size and the rim diameter of the bowl is taken into account. Machine-blown in Bavaria, Germany, Vitis glassware is executed in lead crystal. They are rather magnificent glasses before me. But do they really change the taste of a wine?

The answer is a big fat wine splotched yes. Testing each of the three wine in each of the glasses there is a significant difference. Here’s the results table:

Wine – Pinot Noir 0403/07 (winner) 0403/0 (loser)

Wine - Syrah/Shiraz 0403/30 (winner) 0403/0 (loser)

At this point it’s obvious to us all that glass 0403/0 is a troublemaker – so far it’s proven to be only good for drinking water as the narrow rim of the glass makes the liquid fall every part of the tongue. I think a good Cabernet wine also suits this glass (I’ve hastily had to pop to the loo at this point so I may have missed something).

I gather that glass 0403/30 is a good substitute if you don’t know what glass to use or indeed you don’t have the right one. Georg stands at the front of the room. Everyone gazes at him with slightly glazed eyes. Any cynics who doubted his beliefs have converted. We all much munch on pieces of Lindt chocolate while he takes questions from the floor.

Why have we looked at red wine and not white wine asks a young chap. “Because I wanted to look at red wine,” Georg responds. No further explanation is required. This man is a modern-day Dionysius. Forget the lords and ladies. I’ve just been in the presence of a merry-making God.

To discover the best wine bars in London, click here.