Sunday, 10 July 2016

Food: Curio x Ta Ta - Haggerston

It's a little too much when the new food craze is to suggest that rice must be eaten with the dishes served. What a revelation.  The curiously named Curio x Ta Ta is the collective brainchild of Zijun Meng and Ana Gonçalves (ex-Viajante and Chiltern Firehouse).  For three nights a week, they transform the small space at the Curio Cabal cafe in Haggerston into a capsule kitchen where the chefs entertain and delight with an interesting blend of Portuguese and Chinese dishes.  

What I loved about the meal was the non-ironic charging of £2.50 for a bowl of rice with 'house dressing' (aka soy sauce) but at least it served as a good vehicle to soak up the delicious smokey juices of the braised aubergine dish (not pictured as devoured too quickly).  

The "day catch" of white fish in a light dressing was perfectly delicious, consumed in between large mouthfuls of slightly sticky Japanese white rice.

Judicious use of micro herbs and flowers give an instant visual appeal to pork and black bean sauce.

Congee, is treated as comfort food in Chinese cuisine: it is the porridge, the chicken soup, mum's home cooking dish.  Boil rice, add water, cook to sloopy gruel like consistency.  Add ingredients, and in this case, an authentic blend of chicken stock, ginger, crunchy Chinese 'doughnut' (or croutons, I suppose), and with an inventive Ta-Ta style twist, crispy chicken skin and herby goodness. I could have eaten several bowls (because the bowls were really quite small).

What was less successful was the tofu dish. A big hunk of firm tofu needs a firm understanding of the beast itself.  Keeping it simple is fine, but it needs lashings of something, whether it be sauce, grill, smoke, braise, to give it either flavour or texture to lift it out of its cold, bland, original state.  

On the plus side, the coffee ice-cream with mascarpone and brown butter was served in a classic 1980s style dessert glass.  Better still it had the surprising element of tapioca balls ordinary found swimming at the base of bubble tea drinks.  As a topping on the espresso flavoured ice-cream, this is a stroke of minor genius.

Curio + Tata
258 Kingsland Road
E8 4DG
Open for dinner Thursday to Saturday

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Travel: The Temple House Hotel, Chengdu, China

En route to Tibet, and a mere 11 hour flight away from London on British Airways, the Temple House Hotel in Chengdu opened its doors a few months ago. I landed in Chengdu in the middle of a steamy 38 degree summer.  After being jolted around like a sock in a tumble dryer, the taxi driver promptly deposited me on the sweeping entrance to the hotel, and screeched away.  From there on, everything became so, so, much better.  A friendly greeting from the doorman, bags whisked away, I was settled into the quiet, tranquil lobby - and then introduced to the gracious luxury that is the Temple House.

A noble entrance leading to an oasis of calm

The Temple House was designed by UK-based architects, Make. The focal point of the hotel is upon the restoration of a traditional Qing dynasty building, Bitieshi.

Mixing the modern with traditional
The swimming pool with a futuristic sunroof
The hotel itself combines contrasting modern elements in a minimalist fashion, which in turn enhances the natural elements of the materials used throughout (timber, bamboo, brick).

The rooms are generously appointed and provide for every possible comfort. The inclusion of a delicate Chinese teapot with a selection of Chinese teas is an elegant touch, especially given that Chengdu is a city renowned for its tea culture. A black tiled bathroom with separate shower and free-standing bath, complete with a full bath kit (loofah, bath salts, and bubbles) beckoned. A king size bed, black-out blinds and comfy bedding was enough to send me straight to la la land on the first night.

Each room with a Chinese tea set, perfect for unwinding and gazing out the window over Chengdu
Luxury bath goodies

The hotel has a range of restaurants and bars, of which I sampled the fare at the Temple Cafe. Breakfast involved tucking into a seriously perfect looking (and tasting) omelette on fresh sourdough toast.
There is a skill in making a perfect omelette. Exhibit A - perfect omelette.

The Temple Cafe

The Mi Xun Spa is run by the delightful Kelly (from England!). The spa provides a range of luxury beauty treatments of which I was invited to try a massage. After a busy day visiting pandas (I will insert random cute photo of pandas, I can't resist), the massage was incredibly relaxing and I left feeling like a newborn baby. The Mi Xun Spa, in tune with Chengdu's tea heritage, uses products from the Themae range, featuring antioxidant ingredients found in red and green teas.

the MIXUN spa

Beautiful details everywhere.

The hotel also features a Tea House, located in one of the renovated Chinese buildings. The Tea House design is beautiful. It combines the traditional apothecary environment of an old-style tea house with modern touches, including Tom Dixon-esque bronze light fittings.  It was perfect for sampling some of Chengdu's variety of delicate teas, all served in pretty porcelain cups.

The TEAHOUSE - tranquil settings

The TEAHOUSE opens into a beautiful courtyard.
Travelling alone, and feeling thoroughly lost in the hustle and bustle of China, the staff at Temple House really went out of their way to look after me, especially when I accidentally left a whole outfit in the wardrobe, which they collected, dry cleaned and saved for me to collect two weeks later. This was one of a series of thoughtful and friendly encounters that I had during my stay, something that I will remember above all else at this beautiful hotel.

The pride of Chengdu.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Food: Hoi Polloi (Rooftop) Brunch Club, Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

The clever folk at Hoi Polloi have been holding rooftop brunch clubs at the Ace Hotel over the summer, collaborating each time with a different fitness concept.  It is held on the 7th floor rooftop of the hotel, with sweeping views over the city. 

On the menu:

Stone fruits, goats curd, elderflower, nuts and seeds
Crispy duck egg, girolles, asparagus
Hot smoked salmon hash, peas, spiced creme fraiche
Strawberries, creme fraiche ice cream, almond crumb

All of the food was excellent, combining fresh ingredients and impeccable presentation. The goats curd and plum dish in particular was delicious. 
Perfectly ripe plums with a light, light goat's curd
I've been twice to this gig already. The first class, led by 1 Rebel, a high-intensity RESHAPE class, made us work hard for our brunch, which, being lazy as hell, left me hugely resentful and furious every time the lovely, lithe and (obviously) super-fit instructor cheerily yelled out the command for more burpees.  This is not an indictment against 1 Rebel, as the rest of the group seemed to thoroughly enjoy the hour of pain.  

Crispy duck egg, girolles, asparagus
More to my style, yesterday's brunch was hosted by the Stretch Dynamic Yoga studio, and it was brilliant. Oliver took us through a gentle Sunday morning paced yoga session, with wit and clarity. 

Hot smoked salmon hash, peas, spiced creme fraiche
The brunch is held in the Britannia room, on long communal tables, inviting conversation amongst new friends. Our group tumbled into the room noisily, crying out for immediate refills of Bloody Mary's after our work-out. Convivial laughter, fresh flowers, endless slices of buttery toast and bottomless filter coffee. The perfect Sunday afternoon.

Strawberries, creme fraiche ice cream, almond crumb


Hoi Polloi Rooftop brunch, contact them directly for details but they do the brunches about once a fortnight. Sign up to their mailing list for updates here.

Ace Hotel: 100 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JQ

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Travel: Food and Shopping in Paris - walking from the 10th to the 3rd arrondissements.

In my imagination, I am a chic Parisienne popping to my favourite bakery on a Saturday morning, Du Pain et Des Idees, treating myself to a tarte aux pommes, brushing the buttery, flaky pastry from my perfected painted and insouciant red lips, before strolling down to my favourite shops.

Du Pain et des Idees - Tarte aux pommes. Quite possibly may make it onto the menu on my last supper list.
Fresh, thinly sliced apples encased in buttery puff pastry, with chewy, caramelised bit where the sugar granules and butter have melded together to add that extra bit of oh my gosh deliciousness.

In reality, I've just had a few French lessons and have managed to make myself barely comprehensible at ordering a "une baguette, s'il vous plait". Nonetheless, I proceed with my fantasy and skip down Boulevard Magenta, past the Place de la Republique, and onwards to the Merci store at 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais. The remaining photos in this post will be in black and white, to reflect the Marion Cotillard-like state that has suddenly overcome me.

John Lewis on Oxford Street doesn't have a cute vintage car parked in a cobblestone courtyard to greet its customers, but I (I mean, Marion), breeze through the glass fronted doors in search of notebooks from Khadi and Co, and then into the kitchen department to pick up some wine glasses for the dinner party I am hosting with my BFF, Vanessa Paradis.

Wine glasses purchased, I place them safely into the adorable straw pannier that is attached to the vintage bicycle that I have all of the sudden decided forms part of this fantasy.  I adjust the jaunty silk scarf around my neck and head into La Maison Plisson.

La Maison Plisson is a deluxe, all-in-one, grocery, butcher, fromagerie, boulangerie, and bistro for discerning, tasteful Parisiennes like myself.

I pick up a few special treats for the dinner party, including a variety of cheese and fruit to round off the menu (with Vanessa Paradis, remember?). I almost forget to buy a bottle of Madagascan vanilla extract, made by the Thiercelin, a 7th generation French company.

As a side note, I love any shop that has its own manifesto:

Food shopping done, I scoot back up to Maison Kitsune, to pick up a crisp white shirt.  I'm not sure whether Maison Kitsune is actually a French label, but their little fox logo makes for a modern twist on classic tailoring. I really love Maison Kitsune's playful and colourful attitude to design and it comes as no surprise to find that one of the founders is Japanese. The t-shirt and sportswear collections are especially 'kawaii', especially when matched with their gabardine, school-girl pleated skirts.

Finally, I head downstairs for a well-deserved coffee break in Cafe Kitsune, as I am meeting  my Director to discuss the next art-house film that I shall star in, alongside Jake Gyllenhaal. Et Voila!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Food:"The Temple of the Golden Pavilion" at Cooke's Pie and Mash, Broadway Market, E8

A little bird flew into the apartment today. It was probably trying to escape the noisy din from three days of music in Victoria Park, bringing festival-going interlopers into the neighbourhood.

We walked to Broadway market late in the afternoon, following the path along Regent's canal, joining the strollers and cyclists lolling about. Sundays at Broadway markets are much nicer than the market day on Saturdays. This is when the cafes are free to breathe and spill tables onto the footpath.

The pie and mash shop has been taken over by a Japanese chef, but only on Sundays when the pie shop is closed. I cannot think of two things more incongruous and therefore more interesting.

"The Temple of the Golden Pavilion" at Cooke's Pie and Mash.

Handpainted watercolours adorn the exteriors
It runs every Sunday from 12pm to 9pm, serving either a set menu for £13, or takeaway bento boxes for £5.

Today's set menu: Tekkadon -- fresh tuna with rice, salad with rocket, cress, vine tomato, Hijiki with carrot and beans, Miso with clam, Pickles, Iced barley tea, or soba tea.

Isn't this the loveliest menu? 
Temple of the Golden Pavilion - set menu £13

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion specialises in Japanese home cooking. Every dish was fresh and crisp, presented beautifully. The clam miso soup was exceptionally tasty, the stock clear and sweet from the clams and not overly salty. A large bowl of soy-seasoned rice with large meaty slices of tuna sashimi. Cucumber pickles to round everything off beautifully.

Japanese wooden bowls.
It was quite a novelty for us to be having Japanese food in a pie and mash shop but the gentle, nonchalant ambiance inside the shop seemed to suggest that it was the most natural thing in the world.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion also does catering and events. Contact details on their website.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Food: Bistrotheque, Bethnal Green E2

Last week, I decided to revisit Bistrotheque in Bethnal Green to try their 'one night only' menu based on produce that the chefs had personally hiked all the way to North Yorkshire for.  They brought back lamb from Swaledale Foods, a brilliant concept developed to connect chefs and farmers.

Bistrotheque has been around long enough and reviewed often enough that I need not repeat what others have said. In the constantly evolving dining landscape that is London, it is comforting to know that if I want a good roast chicken, I can get it at Bistrotheque and not worry about what sort of new Korean friend chicken coating (don't get me wrong, I do love the stuff) awaits me. It's been the scene for meeting new friends, catching up with old ones, Christmas carols, and memorable performances in the downstairs cabaret area.  I digress but years ago there was an amazing drag performer who did a Britney Spears/Judy Garland mash up that was intensely beautiful.

Anyway. Even though it is great at the classics, Bistrotheque recognises that it needs to adapt to changing times and of late have introduced a few new tricks. The Swaledale menu is one foray into perhaps redeveloping their menu.  The kitchen presented five new dishes, which could be ordered separately, or as a tasting menu for £35. We of course opted to try the latter, and here is the low-down on what we had:

St James, broad bean, broccoli puff
Two bite-sized puff pastry parcels to whet one's appetite, with new season broad beans, broccoli and shavings of St James cheese.  It was light and fresh, but to be fair, this was probably the least successful of the dishes and could do with some tinkering as the pastry to vegetable filling proportion was unfavourably leaning towards the pastry side.

Smoked Swaledale lamb belly, peas, Wensleydale and pickled red onions.
Aside from looking a treat, the smokey, crisp lamb belly was perfectly cooked. Clever use of pickled red onions to cut through the rich belly fat, and accompanied by fresh as can be peas. This one can go straight to the main menu.

Slow and pink Swaledale lamb, fried marsh samphire, heritage carrots in Settle Brewery No. 4 ale, land cress

The main course relied heavily on the freshness of the Swaledale lamb, which was cooked beautifully. The chefs have turned away from traditional lamb flavourings and opting to add some Asian spice to the dish by introducing a chilli sambal type paste, which worked well for my palate, although my friends reported it to be a bit to spicy for their liking, but, they're wrong. Ha. I thought the spice and heat kicked it up a notch on the interest ratings.

Brown butter scone, berry jerry, elderflower cream
This was the pre-dessert, a tiny and delicate scone filled with fresh cream and jam. Great for afternoon tea but I'm not sure how this fits in on a dinner menu. Although, it was very pretty to look at and if Bistrotheque decide to open up for afternoon tea service I'll be there, first in line.

Gooseberry summer pudding, apricot brandy and milk ice-cream.

Initially I wasn't going to order the set menu because I have an irrational aversion to soggy bread, which means I have a tendency to steer clear of bread-based puddings. A difficult phobia given I now live in England.  The ridiculousness of this came into full view as my darling friend attempted to explain my so-called 'food allergy' to the waitress, and the shame of this public airing forced me to give the summer pudding a try.  I came away from the experience unscathed, still not loving soggy bread, but with a new love and respect for fresh gooseberries.

Bistrotheque: 23–27 Wadeson Street, London E2 9DR. 020 8983 7900

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Food: Fika, 414 Roman Road, E3

Trundling home on the 8 bus last night, an oasis appeared in the midst of shuttered shops and takeaway on Roman Road. Perching sprightly on the corner of Roman and Lyal Roads, Fika, a Swedish cafe and stalwart on Brick Lane, has now opened a new branch.

Being a Swedish cafe, the decor is unabashedly and predictably all light wood and industrial fittings, but the adorable motifs on plates featured by UK designer Donna Wilson match perfectly with the Scandinavian aesthetic.

Cinnamon buns on Donna Wilson plates
I cannot explain how happy the sight of fresh cinnamon buns makes me, especially when they are available for purchase on the way to work. Fika's cinnamon bun is a bundle of light brioche folds with the perfect amount of spicing and sugar.

Stuart the barista hard at work
 It is almost de rigueur nowadays to have an Antipodean barista and hooray(!) Stuart is our man.

Granola and yoghurt bar

As the Swedes are hearty, outdoorsy types, Fika provides a DIY granola bar, complete with jaunty flags perched in jars like hiking markers.

Want to Fika at home?
Fika: 414 Roman Road, E3. Open for breakfast and lunch. See also their Facebook page for more information on their crayfish festival coming up soon!