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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Dishoom Covent Garden - 6 Years Together!?


One month and a few days ago Dan and I celebrated our 6 year anniversary together at Dishoom in Covent Garden! How it's been 6 years I don't know (not in the I don't know how we're still together way...I do know how and Dan is excellent!), it doesn't feel like it was that long a time since we were giddy teenagers and I was meeting his parents for the first time. Who, coincidently, we went to visit last weekend and are pushing for us to get married in 2016 the idea of us being anywhere near this stage is crazy (houses before marriages). However, 6 years on I'm still head over heels for him (forgive the sap) and to celebrate this cartwheel turning romance we decided to go to Dishoom for our anniversary. 

In dangerous of being seriously overemotional and revolting a few of you let's move on to Dishoom because Dishoom is excellent. However, I cannot guarantee that Dishoom's excellence won't make you emote if you visit them. 


Dishoom self-describes themselves as a take on the cafes of old Bombay in India. Despite it not being a small restaurant with its large open plan ground floor and high ceilings, the black wood panelling, exposed duck egg brick walls, dark wood floors and the busy hurry of customers in and out give you the impression of it being a bustling cafe smaller than what it is. And having never visited India myself, I think the decor captures the exotic atmosphere I would expect with chandeliers of hanging lights and gold guilded picture frames containing 70s Indian family portraits, which transport you into that family's dining room.




I have been lusting after the menu at Dishoom for over a year and am glad that we finally managed to get to try it out. Serving street style Indian food, their menu of small plates and larger sharing dishes really caters to the way Dan and I eat out (Tapas style!). Alot of restaurants are opting for small plates on their menus and I personally love them because it means I get to try double the amount of dishes I would if we ordered separate meals (we RARELY order separate meals). 


There are so many great dishes on offer at Dishoom and we struggled to order a select few. However, we managed to make our choices in the end and the dishes that made the cut included fragrant Dishoom Calamari, Spicy Lamb Chops (not pictured), Chick Berry Britannia Biryani and Gunpowder potatoes with raita and garlic naan on the side.


The Dishoom Calamari was surprisingly refreshing from the lime juice and fresh herbs despite it's crispy cornmeal-like crumb coating. If not one of the best calamari I've ever had (with squid cooked to perfection!) then it was certainly the most original.


Of the four dishes we ordered I couldn't pick a favourite. But if there is one dish that I recommend you try at Dishoom, and indeed it is the dish I'll definitely be getting again next time, try the Gunpowder Potatoes. For meat lovers and vegetarians alike these potatoes were very spicy from the green chilli, sharp from the lime, and smoky from the charred potato skins and various toasted whole spices. It was absolutely delicious but I was very grateful that we ordered a soup bowl of raita (just visible on the right in the photo above) to go alongside it. Definitely not a dish for the faint hearted.

The Spicy Lamb Chops are not to be missed by lamb lovers, black and charred from the tandoori oven and succulent on the inside from the marinade their gorgeous alone but accompanied with fresh lime juice and pomegranate seeds it's a tastebud extravaganza. These came later on in the meal and unfortunately we'd already eaten them before I realised I'd forgotten to grab a photo, but really that's just a testament to how good they were.


Don't be fooled by the pretty appearance of this biryani, lurking just underneath the top layer of rice are huge steaming chunks of moist chicken. With the chicken, earthy rice and sweet cranberries it's a great dish. As a Chicken Berry Britannia I was expecting more berries in the biryani as opposed to on top as a garnish because the rice and chicken alone, though cooked well, did need the sharp sweet lift of the berries. 

All the food was great and we dined with a crisp citrusy bottle of white wine recommended to us by the waiter which really cut through the spices.  garlic naan bread, it was greasy, tough and did not make for pleasant eating.


For dessert we shared a Kala Khatta Gola Ice and a pot of green tea. The Kala Khatta Gola Ice was an Indian version of a granita with large ice flakes and a rich syrup made from kokum fruit, 
blueberries, chilli and lime, sprinkled with salt. Dishoom's description really hits it on the head the first mouthful is weird and you're not sure whether you like what you're eating but the second makes it sweet, salty and delicious all in one. The only other thing I'd add is that by the fifth spoonful it's sickeningly sweet as the syrup collects at the bottom of the glass.

Overall the food and service was beyond my expectations. We were not the easiest customers that day but they accommodated us really well (moving us upstairs from the den downstairs, filling water bottles and answering all our questions) and we spent the good part of an afternoon there. 

Now to plan our next anniversary meal...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

DIY Pineapple Cross Stitch Racerback T-shirt


I have been so excited about sharing this DIY with you. I won't lie, it's taken about 3-4 weeks of drawing out the pattern in the evening, sewing on the design and then finding the right time to pounce on Dan to take some photos of me in it (if you want to know this was during half time on Soccer Saturday) to bring this DIY to you. But it was 100% worth it!



Since seeing this pineapple t-shirt over on The Working Girl earlier this year, I've been needing a statement pineapple t-shirt in my life. And after shopping around, I just haven't been able to find one that I like, or I have and it's been out of my pineapple budget. But then I saw this pin, which I may have accidentally pinned onto my Cakes Galore board, and got so excited about cross stitching a pineapple that my other cross stitch project was demoted as I tried to copy the cross stitch and make my own pineapple pattern.


Can you tell I'm really proud of myself and this DIY? Does my pride sicken you a little? It kind of sickens me but I also don't really care because I made my dream pineapple t-shirt! And so can you!


You might be thinking this girl is just too crazy about pineapples, and I'd like to tell you you're wrong. But then I painted my nails with pineapples so I can't.


I drew this pineapple pattern straight onto the t-shirt but have made a pattern for future use as it is a lot easier copying it onto tracing paper than drawing it onto the t-shirt. Feel free to use my pattern to make your own pineapple cross stitch T-shirts or other creations. Options include, pineapple curtains, pineapple cushions, pineapple dresses, pineapple pineapples?! If you do use the pattern I'd appreciate it if you could link it back to me and send me an email/insta/tweet so I can check it out, but onwards to the DIY!
 
Pineapple Cross Stitch Racerback T-Shirt

Racerback T-shirt
Gold thread
Embroidery needle
Pencil
Pineapple pattern
Tracing paper
Sewing pins
Piece of cardboard as your shirt

Step 1. Print the pineapple pattern to the size you want and tape to the cardboard, then using the pencil trace the pattern onto the tracing paper.

Step 2. Once you've got your tracing paper pattern, pin it to the front of the t-shirt. Double or triple thread the gold thread through the needle, I used double thread and am happy with how it appears although if you want it to be more prominent you may need to triple thread it. Cross-stitch over the pattern, if you don't know how to cross stitch you can just criss cross sew over it OR take this as an opportunity to learn a new skill (I found this video tutorial to be really instructive!). 

Step 3. As Paul Hollywood said tonight on Great British Bake Off, 'Be patient'. I separated this out into 4 (it was a lot more than 4) sewing sessions to prevent too much sloppy stitching and bunching of the thread in my rushing to complete the task.

Step 4. Once you've finished sewing and the end is in sight, carefully tear off the tracing paper and remove the pins. The stitching on this t-shirt is delicate but it can be machine washed with care, my advice would be to wash it on the hand wash setting putting the t-shirt in a white pillowcase to prevent the strings catching on anything in the machine drum.

Step 5. Plan your pineapple outfit. Whether it be shorts and a trilby like me. Blazer and trousers. 

If you make this t-shirt or use the pattern, I'd love to see how you styled it via Instagram, Twitter or email!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Eat Minted Asparagus and Courgette Summer Tart


I am a huge lover of Summer as I think most Britains are (there's only so much rain we can take!). And for me, alongside the classic barbie, this tart is possibly the epitomy of what I love so much about food in Summer (except there is no ice cream in sight). Minted courgette strips with my favourite green vegetable, asparagus, salty Greek feta cheese and mellow lemon zest, it's like tasting a garden in the height of Summer. 


I like to cook seasonally and right now this is, but it doesn't mean it can't be cooked seasonally all year round. You could swap out the asparagus for chard in Autumn or try it with Brussels sprouts in Winter, there are lots of opportunities to be had with this dish. And grilling the vegetables till charred before you bake them adds a great depth of flavour with their smoky taste.


I may have also used this dish as an excuse to trim back my mint plant and use its leaves. As the large window in our living room acts like a green house, our herbs are growing out of control, especially the mint and Vietnamese coriander. When we bought the Vietnamese coriander he was the same height as all our other plants, but no word of a lie he's not far after a metre (I've had to trim and repot him twice!). I'm not entirely sure why he's a he...


Minted Asparagus and Courgette Summer Tart
(serves 4 for lunch or 2 for dinner, both with salad) 

250g puff pastry
100g young asparagus spears
Half a courgette sliced lengthways
50g feta
A handful of mint leaves
Zest and juice from half a lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle and place on a lined baking sheet.

Step 2. Heat a griddle pan on a medium to high heat. While heating the pan take your courgette and with a peeler, peel half of it lengthways so you have long thin strips (I turned the courgette as I did this so I would have the skin on every strip to add some colour colour). 

Step 3. Season the courgette strips and asparagus spears with salt and pepper  (if your spears look a bit woody at the bottom you can cut that section off, alternatively you can always cut the spears in half lengthways) and toss them in a little olive oil. By lightly coating them in oil and not adding it to the grill pan you are preventing the vegetables from sticking but not frying them. 

Step 4. Once the pan is hot place the vegetables in it perpendicular to the direction of the griddle marks, making sure the vegetables have enough room between each other. You only want to grill the courgette for less than a minute on each side till you get the black griddle lines on them, likewise you don't want the asparagus to be completely cooked or lose their snap so only cook them till their stripy. 

Step 5. Finely chop half of the mint and mix it by hand with the courgette, asparagus, and lemon juice and zest. Arrange the asparagus spears and courgette on the rolled out pastry leaving a 1cm edge on each side. Crumble the feta over the tart, drizzle with a little olive oil and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Step 6. When cooked, remove the tart from the oven and serve hot or cold with the remaining torn mint leaves and a large pile of salad. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Hampton Court Palace & Henry's Kitchen


Hampton Court Palace, home to King Henry VIII, the RHS Flower Show and the BBC's Good Food Festival (on the 23-25th August), is an English Rose. By this I mean it is one of the most stunning buildings in terms of architecture and interior design, is rich in English heritage and has beautifully styled gardens where even the kitchen garden is pruned to perfection.


Dan and I took the day off work on the Monday to visit Hampton Court Palace and Gardens in the very first week of July. Unintentionally, it was the day before the RHS Flower Show opened so unfortunately we missed out on the show and a stroll through Henry's old hunting grounds (Home Park) but actually this worked out quite well as the grounds were largely empty of people so it meant more exploring for us and less forcing our way through crowds round the palace (be aware you will most likely be faced with this task at the weekend!). 


You don't need to be told you're visiting the home of Royals past looking at Hampton Court, at a size that dwarfs Dan in the photo above, the palace has an opulent exterior with romantic scenes above large archways that would make the Romans want to stake a claim to it. And while the palace itself is beautiful it's the gardens that blew me away.






It may come as a shock to some of you but I am a self-proclaimed foodie. If you are also a food lover, then the Kitchen Garden at Hampton Court Palace is the one thing you have to visit if you go, and  you literally can't miss it as it is right by the entrance. With such a variety of different herbs, fruits and vegetables to look at, you could stay there all day. And if you haven't had enough food by now, you can always take a stroll around the orchards, grab a bite at the restaurant or find out the history of Henry VIII's chocolate kitchens, that's right whole kitchens devoted to chocolate!

(You may find the chocolate kitchens too much to bare as chocolate is no longer made there, our greatest British travesty.) 




While we were at Hampton Court we had to try out Dan's maze theory after he read that if you keep your right hand on the maze wall at all times you would make it to the center and not get lost. And I hate to say this, but he was right, it worked!



Walking through this gorgeous vine clad tunnel to emerge in front of Hampton Court Palace felt like we were walking the path of where the old great romantics had trodden, perhaps where Henry wooed one or two of his wives.




The quads inside of the palace remind me of the university I went to and the architecture is very similar, with both borrowing ideas from French Chateaus of the 1500s. The Chapel Royal has the most beautiful gold gilded ceilings and in the halls the enchanting biblical scenes extend from the walls onto the ceiling which is also something to be admired.  





Did you know Hampton Court Palace has the largest grape vine in the world? No, I didn't either!


Wisterias probably have my most favourite smelling flowers, with an overwhelming fragrance that's a cross between Jasmine and Freesias it's a beautiful scent. 


After visiting Hampton Court Palace, we went for a spot of lunch that turned into an afternoon in Henry's Kitchen with teas, coffees and a bottle of white wine.




For lunch we had a selection of small plates including the crispy duck, cucumber and watercress salad, griddled breads and haloumi served with hummus, guacamole and aubergine caviar (baba ganoush by any other name), and wild boar and thyme scotch eggs with mustard mayo.

The scotch eggs were by far the star of the meal and I smeared the creamy mustard mayo across everything I could (no dish was safe!). The salad was good with a really tangy Mediterranean dressing, which was not what I was expecting but was really tasty. And I am a sucker for baba ganoush, so all in all it was delicious!

As part of the Sustainable Restaurant Association I couldn't even feel guilty that we also had dessert (i.e., cake, lots of cake)!

Just looking at this last photo, makes me wish everyday was spent outside in gardens and inside whiling away an afternoon at a Henry's or somewhere similar.  



Tuesday, 29 July 2014

STAX Diner



STAX Diner is the newest creation from Bea Vo, owner of Bea's of Bloomsbury which is famous for it's afternoon tea. However, as the name suggests this is a bit of a jump from Bea's dainty cakes and sandwiches. 


Let's face it American style diner food is not a new trend in London - there have been a lot of diners cropping up, focusing on doing a certain diner favourite well (I'm thinking of the successful niche restaurants here i.e., Bubbledogs etc). However, STAX Diner in Kingly Court off Carnaby Street serves up literally all of the good old All American Classics. They're not serving just one American favourite several ways, they're serving many. Think fried chicken and waffles, shrimp po boys and burgers a-plenty. And if we had to give a name to it's American style you'd have to call it flipped or fried as almost everything on the menu (drinks and deserts excluded) is.

We snuck in on the rainy Saturday of the Gay Pride Parade at lunch time and were surprised to be seated at once with how many people were milling about (the rain definitely didn't deter Gay Pride). In addition, STAX Diner only opened at the end of June and it's got a small number of seats so I was expecting us to wait at least half an hour (something quite typical with London restaurants and that I conveniently forgot to mention to Dan when I said we should go!).



The place has a semi open kitchen next to the bar and seats in the windows, which open out onto Kingsly Court. The decor is laissez-faire chic, with black metal tables, scuffed yellow stools, an array of coffee tin light fittings and a drum kit come chandelier. The walls are covered in a wallpaper of old band tour posters everywhere except the blackboard wall at the entrance which displays the entire menu, hard shakes and all. And if you can't see the menu clearly from the back why not have a fan menu, perhaps designed so you can better waft the smells from the kitchen to your face.


Having been running around all day, we were in serious need of hydration so we ordered their freshly squeezed lemonade (making mine a pink one of course), which was very refreshing.

We had visited the Wild Food Market in Brook Green just before, so we decided to not overdo it and ordered four sides between us; apple and poppyseed coleslaw, popcorn shrimp, fried pickles and the 'must have' onion blossom. It has not escaped my notice that three of these were deep fried - I won't lie to you, this isn't a healthy post.


The apple and poppyseed coleslaw with it's different textures was really interesting and had a good tang to it. 


I loved the popcorn shrimp and the accompanying Spicy Comeback Sauce! It was spicy cajun style and the shrimp were juicy with a crispy coating. I realised I'd eaten almost all of them at the last one, and I felt really bad for Dan. But I still ate the last shrimp..


Dan's favourite were the deep fried pickles, which says a lot because he's normally a fickle pickle pleaser. These were more like deep fried pickle chips they were so thick and the accompanying sauce also had pickles in, with this in mind it's a wonder he liked it, but they were delicious.


I was so excited by the 'must have' blossom onion and when it arrived it looked amazing. Like the blossom from my dreams (this post by Emma over on A Beautiful Mess), when it showed up on the table it was golden brown, covered in spices and smelt amazing but 'must have' it was not. I'm sorry to say the onion was raw, sharp and really greasy. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be, but for me my dream must have onion was a must not. 

It makes me sad just looking at this picture.


Moving on, overall the food and service were good, and I will be going again if only to grab the hard shake (alcohol meets ice cream soda) I missed out on and some more popcorn shrimp. And maybe some waffles? Or a burger. Or a duffin sundae! 

Yay duffins!