Sunday, 18 September 2016

London Open House - we took part!

Photo stolen from the architects Instagrams account
We've taken part in London Open House before as visitors, but this year we had our home open to the general public. It's mind blowing to think we have a house worthy of opening to the public. We're an incredibly lucky couple.

Ten days ago I didn't think we'd be ready for open house, but thanks from a huge push from everyone at Gurff and Silverpoint we were complete! We even managed to get the living room curtains hung on Friday and had time to unwrap the sofas. It was much harder than we expected to get the legs onto our new corner sofa late on Friday night and I have a couple of blisters to prove it.
Front of the living room
We had a queue lining up at the door ready for us to open at 10am and we were never without a queue until we shut the door at 16:45. (We turned away a few people who arrived after this time too.)

We had four of the Gruff team with us throughout the day and they were troopers at helping to control the crowds and keep an eye on everyone as the wondered round our house.

We had a lot of neighbours pop in during the day, some we knew but lots we didn't. It was lovely to start to get to know some of the people in the street and pick up a few facts that we didn't know before, including that an MP used to live in the 1950s house that stood before our house. He was called something O'Brien, but neither Rebecca or I could find out any more when we did a quick search online.
Wood burner
In addition to the neighbours and a few friends and colleagues that popped in, we also had a lot of strangers! Thankfully they were nearly all respectful of our house and there is no damage or missing items (that we have seen yet). Some people sat our our sofas before we've had a chance to use them and there was definitely a minority that wanted to open our cupboards / wardrobes. Some people also thought it appropriate to lock themselves in the bathroom and use it without asking. What is it with people?

We also had a lot of questions. By far the most common question was about the kitchen floor with people wanting to know what it was made from. The second most comment question was about the solar panels, why we had them sitting in the garden and whether they generated enough electricity for the whole house. Third were questions about the windows, both the wooden sashes and the Velfac units at the back. Some people asked for a demonstration of the big sliding doors and others just took it upon themselves to try them out.

I had someone who I'm pretty sure was angling to rent a room and another person offering their garden design services. There were less questions about money that I expected and the ones I did receive I refused to answer.

I didn't pick up on it, but apparently a lot of architects came through too.
Back of the lounge
Nearly everyone's comments were positive, and I'm pretty sure genuine, about how lovely the house was. We only had a couple of haters, one pair who seemed horrified at our choice of grout colour in the bathrooms and another who really didn't like the blue engineering bricks we've used at the back and side of the house.

It was a long and tiring day, with the practicalities of having lunch quite difficult as there were never less than five people in the kitchen watching you make a sandwich. Overall though it is was quite rewarding.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Gutsy Chutney popup at the Barmouth Kitchen, Earlsfield

Keema simla mirch
A couple of weeks ago we went for dinner by The Gutsy Chutney who were hosting a small pop up dinner at Barmouth Kitchen in Earlsfield.

The menu filled with lots of interesting regional dishes, mainly from Kerala where our host was born, but there were also some dishes from the north of India / Rajasthan too. It was food that excited the palate with lots of different flavour combinations and a bit of a challenging chilli kick too. (In reality none of the dishes were that hot, it's just that my chilli tolerance is quite pathetic!)

The menu was filled with family favourites, a chicken curry traditionally eaten at Christmas and several street food dishes. I've only been to India once, but I recognised versions of several dishes, like the filled gol gappa which were served with a few drops of tamarind adding a pleasant sourness.

We had seven small courses and a welcome drink for £35 which was pretty stonking value. It was possibly too good value as I left a little stuffed and one less course would still have been more than sufficient. Most of the other guests at the supper club were friends and colleagues of our hosts which was a shame as more people should get to taste The Gutsy Chutney's food.
Prawn balchao golgappas

Papad salad

Chana masala tacos

Kalappam and nadan chicken curry
Coconut barfi

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Ledbury, a reprise, Notting Hill

Venison balls
During our week off in early June, Becks and I decided to book lunch at The Ledbury after our beautiful meal there three years ago (is it really that long?).

The service had the same relaxed but incredibly attentive vibe and the food was of course excellent again. My highlights being the crab and tomato soup, the guinea fowl thigh from the main and the Sauternes cream dessert. 

Last time we had wine by the glass, but this time we decided to share the the wine pairings. (I generally avoid the matching wines as they leave me wasted and take away my enjoyment of the food.) There were some unusual selections in the paired wines, enabling us to try some things we'd never have chosen for ourselves and they all matched the food brilliantly.

Entertainment came from the table next to us who were out celebrating a birthday. The daughter was down from Leeds Uni for the day and was proudly telling the rest of the family about her extensive international travel plans. Does she do any studying? Where does the money come from? All the father wanted to make sure was they the chef knew he considered his main course "historic".

The food and service may have been as excellent as the first time, but some standards are slipping at The Ledbury: the gents' loos no longer have Aesop hand wash and moisturiser. What is a man to do?
Crab and tomato soup


Stream broccoli with mussells and a mussell bisque

Guinea fowl with white asparagus and almonds

Sauterne cream with apricots and an apricot ice cream

Petit fours and mint tea

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Rd
W11 2AQ

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Noak Bakehouse and Brew, Brockley

Pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple
Noak Bakehouse & Brew, a Danish inspired café, opened back in November. Brockley is still under-served by good cafés and the delayed opening had definitely whipped up some anticipation and excitement from us local who were crying out for another addition to local dining options.

From my visits to Noak I've thought the food is pretty strong too. Our first visit was on their opening weekend where they'd sold out of nearly everything so we just had drinks and tried a couple of the sweet treats. The brownie, so often a disappointment in cafés, was really rather good. The flødeboller which my friend William tried reminded me of treats I used to be bought in French supermarkets when we were on our summer holidays.
Roast pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple 
On our most recent trip we tried a couple of the savoury options. Pizzas have been on the menu since they opened but seemed to have evolved over time to thinner and crispier affairs. I had the pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple. It was a tasty, if slightly messy to eat number. The pork skin had gone a bit soft and didn't have the crunch you'd expect from good crackling.
Noak brownie 
I think it would be fair to say that Noak are still working on finding their true identity. Even after being open for six months the order of service doesn't feel well drilled. The staff always seem friendly but it can be a bit chaotic which leads me at least to being uncertain as a customer. There is some definite skill in the kitchen, you couldn't cook such good sourdough and pastries without it, but there does seem to be a lack of clarity too. Fads seem to come and go with the latest being burgers, rather then sticking to the Danish bakehouse vision.
Noak makes me want to love it and pull my hair out in almost equal measure. Hopefully the local good will and skill in the kitchen keeps going and they nail the service offering so that they become a local institution that is with us for a good while yet.

Since publishing this post Noak has closed and re-opened, under the same ownership, but with a different menu.

Noak Bakehouse and Brew
209–211 Mantle Road

SE4 2EWNoak Bakehouse and Brew Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Pickled Fork at the Grosvenor Arms, Earlsfield

Asparagus with sheep's milk cheese, peas and Jersey Royal vinaigrette
Last Wednesday night I was the guest of Go Earlsfield who invited me out to dinner at the newly refurbished Grosvenor Arms on Garratt Lane in Earlsfield. The pub has only been open for five weeks following a change of ownership and refurbishment. The pub certainly looks brighter following the renovations and the new team are very friendly (with crushingly firm handshakes), but the place still needs a few finishing touches / pictures on the wall before you could call it properly homely.

We were there for a collaboration with the Pickled Fork, a local catering company, who put on a couple of pop up dinners in the upstairs of the pub last week.
Barbecued octopus with broad bean hummus
There was live jazz and a glass of prosecco to greet us in the bar downstairs before we all headed up to the restaurant on the first floor. I was very pleasantly surprised by all of the food which had subtlety and an interesting combination of flavours in every dish. Reading the menu it would be easy to think they were trying a bit hard, but everything worked together really well.

The starter was new season asparagus with smoked Sussex sheep's cheese, raw peas and a Jersey Royal vinaigrette. Are there really potatoes in the vinaigrette? There did seem to be and it created a subtle and creamy texture. If I had to split hairs, one of the spears of asparagus was cold and it would have been much better at room temperature allowing the flavours to come out more.
Pulled lamb's belly with spelt pitta and tabouleh
My favourite dish was the middle course of barbecued octopus, broad bean hummus, nduja, pickled chicory and dukkha. The octopus was tender and lifted by the spice of the nduja and pickled chicory. The balance of soft and crunchy textures worked well.

Before our mains we were treated to a song by Elsa Hackett who appeared to be a friend of the two jazz players and was also dining in the pub. A young jazz singer who is studying at the Guildhall School of Music, there was something of the Amy Winehouse about her voice. A very good singer indeed.
Strawberry pavlova with a basil syrup
When our main of pulled lamb's belly on a fermented spelt pitta, with spelt tabbouleh and roast garlic yoghurt came out I thought it was a bit on the small side for a main, but I was forgetting I was three courses in at this point and it filled me up perfectly. The lamb and tabbouleh were great. The pitta was more robust than your average pitta, but then it can't be easy making them out of spelt. I finished GE's dish which tells you all you need to know.

The dessert was a strawberry pavlova with elderflower, nyetimber and basil syrup. If I'm honest I'm still unsure what nyetimber is!

The Grosvenor Arms
204 Garratt Lane
SW18 4ED
Grosvenor Arms Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Solvang, California

Solvang, CA
It's time to return to the write up of our holiday to California at the back end of last year. Only six months ago now!

I've been to the US quite a few times now, mainly with work and to the large cities of New York, Chicago and Charlotte. Our visit to Solvang was one of my first visits to small town America. Although admittedly Solvang isn't your typical small US town, originally settled in 1911 as a Danish colony, the place has hung onto it's Danish heritage and turned it into a tourist industry.

We were staying in The Landsby which, as expected, played up the Scandi minimalism. Despite a few quirks (no light switches next to the bed and stingy breakfasts) I enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and design.
Inside the Landsby
I kicked off our day first full day in Solvang with a run across the Santa Ynez river and along Alisal Creek, past a golf course (crazily green considering the drought) and past a ranch with its own rodeo stadium before turning round and heading back into town.

After breakfast we drifted through town and across to the Mission Santa Inés. Founded in 1804 the mission is now a basic museum and Parish Church with a small garden outside the church that you can look round.
Solvang Mission
After visiting the Mission we did another loop of town to see more of the Danish style buildings around town. All very cute, but none of them really tempted us inside to look round being filled with touristy knick-knacks.

 We thought we'd head over to the nearby, and equally chocolate box, town of Los Olivios in the afternoon. Being in wine country I quite fancied the idea of lunch in a vineyard somewhere nice. However, it wasn't clear that many of them had restaurants which were open midweek in winter so we ended up buying some sandwiches and eating them in Sunny Fields park instead. So glamorous!
Los Olivios
Los Olivios is even smaller than Solvang and is another town geared towards the tourists, although it felt like we are the only visitors in town. Los Olivios seemed to be a centre of the local wine business with quite a few offices / tasting rooms for the vineyards in town. We had a look around St Mark's-in-the-valley church before leaving town.

Having failed to visit a vineyard we enjoyed some local wines during happy hour in the hotel bar before heading over the road for dinner.
Fish of the day at the Succulent Cafe in Solvang. Seared tuna on 'risotto'

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Queen's, Camberwell

Charred hispi cabbage and asparagus
We first properly met Mike, the owner and chef behind Queen's in Camberwell, at his excellent supper club back in 2012. I've had a soft spot for his great cooking and strong desire to use local and sustainable ingredients ever since.

Like quite a few other people, we joined the incredible surge of donations in the dying hours of his Kickstarter project last year to help Mike open his own restaurant. We were in New Zealand when the restaurant opened last year so exchanged our ticket to the opening party for a voucher at the restaurant that we used on Saturday night.
Flat bread and harissa oil at Queens in Camberwell
Between the three of us we were able to order all but one dish on the menu which gave us an excellent opportunity to see what Queen's was all about. As expected there were lots of seasonal ingredients with new season asparagus, peas, cabbages and salads heavy on the menu. The grill is heavily used with lots of charred dishes and in line with their street food stall there are quite a few homemade pickles on the menu.
Kent asparagus manti 
My favourite dishes included the home made flat bread, a signature from their street food stall. Charred and rubbed in spices it was a great start.

Next up was another favourite, the charred hispi cabbage and asparagus with garlic, mustard and fresh cheese. The dish might have been a little oily for some, but I really liked the new season asparagus.

The whole juicy grilled plaice came with vividly coloured beetroot borani (yoghurt dip) and an amazingly smokey spring onion. It tasted like the most intensely smoked aubergine I've ever had.

Photos of the other dishes we sampled, none of which put a foot wrong, are included above and below.

Rounding off the meal was a single scoop of dark chocolate sorbet. I'm not usually one for chocolate ice creams but I really liked this version which came with charred oranges (the grill even gets used in for the desserts!), cocoa nibs and nuts.
Rosehip and star anise marinated pork belly with raddichio
At £98 for the three of us, including a bottle of wine, I thought the meal was good value. The restaurant manager was welcoming and on top of all the restaurant comings and goings. The rest of the staff were friendly and helpful, although it was a little uncoordinated when we were asked three times if we had ordered drinks and our table could have used a wipe before desserts came out too.

Camberwell is definitely lucky to have Queen's and it seems inexplicable to me that they aren't as busy as nearby Silk Road or Theo's pizza. I'm sure it won't be long before the locals are queueing here too.
Whole plaice
Fried potatoes with harissa and seaweed aioli
Marinated lake district lamb, carrots and pickles
Dark chocolate tart and dark chocolate sorbet

45 Camberwell Church Street

SE5 8TRQueen's Camberwell Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato