London

London Love At Barrafina

Almost three years ago when we got married a friend of ours got us a Barrafina cookbook as a wedding present. Since we constantly discussed food together it was a highly appropriate & lovely gift. I did some online research and found that Barrafina is a top tapas restaurant in London and dreamed of going ever since. Once the London flights were booked it was top of the ‘must visit list’ and we did just that.

 

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Barrafina is one of these ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ places – understated and off the main thoroughfare. Thank goodness for my trusty smartphone and google maps. Arriving as their lunch session was finishing we had planned to go for dinner but both being hungry we chanced our hand and were welcomed in.

Just in case you are planning to go I’ll tell you some things that I found out in my research. One is that they don’t accept bookings, two is that it is a teeny tiny place & three is that it’s likely to be packed to the rafters. I didn’t realise quite how small it was until we got there. Seating is all along the bar and there are no tables out with this. I’d guess there’s about fifteen seats in total and I’ve heard that there is a queue most days when they open for lunch and dinner. A ledge goes along the other side of the room and is used to rest drinks on whilst you are waiting for a table. It’s not the kind of place you linger in so it works & I can imagine it’s bustling and ever so Spanish at night.

 

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There were some quick decisions made because we didn’t want to keep them back at the end of lunch (luckily another table came in after us too). We ordered bread with olive oil and then a cold meat platter, which was sliced in front of us when we ordered. Salami, chorizo, jamon Iberico… so simple yet so so good. Quality trounces fancy ever time.

 

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So far the only disappointing thing had been that they did not have balsamic vinegar. And I had over two years of expectations so it was almost a miracle.

Ham croquetas had to be ordered because I’d never make them at home. Fiddly, fried & overindulgent should be kept for restaurants. These little orange balls were crispy and moreish with a hefty amount of bechamel. The ham was strong in flavour so cut through the rich creaminess.

 

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We decided to forgo the octopus with capers for the special fish of the day – seabream stuffed with herbs and lemon. All I have to say about this dish is that it was marvellous. When we returned home we realised that the recipe is in our book and we have made it at home twice now.

 

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Our last offering was a difficult decision. I narrowed the choices down to grilled quail, milk fed lamb and chorizo, potato and watercress. After choosing the former it occurred to me that we had also chosen the meat platter but I guess you can never have too much meat on your birthday. I’m confident that we would have raved about all of the above as much as we did with the chorizo.

 

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Next time I will leave space in my belly for the pears in red wine or Santiago tart. I say next time because I don’t want to imagine never going back here. I’m in love.

 

 

Barrafina on Urbanspoon

London – A Food Lovers Paradise

I was determined to see the last days of my 20’s out in style so where better to do it than London. We decided to go down the foodie route with a bit of sightseeing on the way.

We flew with British Airways because they had a deal on flights. They let you take a handbag plus hand luggage for free so it meant I could fit everything into my little case. I was relaxed as soon as we got on the plane & were offered a complimentary drink…London Baby!

The first two nights were spent staying with friends in Wandsworth, where we had Sunday lunch at the Michelin starred Chez Bruce (read about that here).

On the Monday we arrived at our hotel in Holborn for a three night stay. I chose The Morton Hotel due to the location and because it was relatively small.

 

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The rooms also looked lovely and were fairly recently decorated because it only opened last year. We were not disappointed. Our room was gorgeous (loved the cushions) and the bed was really comfortable.

 

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We didn’t have much of a view because we were at the back of the hotel but I’d rather that than any street noise we would have got at the front. It was a powerful shower and I enjoyed using my bathrobe that they’d supplied to keep warm whilst getting ready in the morning. It was in walking distance of most places we wanted to go and right next to a tube station for anywhere further afield.

We spent much of the first day wandering around Covent Garden, the fancy shopping bit & Soho before a late lunch at Barrafina. This dinky Spanish restaurant is too fantastic to not get a post on it’s own so you’ll find that here.

 

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On my birthday I wanted to do some touristy things so we walked around, taking in sights like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace & Westminster Abbey. Then we got the tube to Notting Hill & caught the end of Portobello Market.

 

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At night we met friends in Soho & had dinner at Burger & Lobster. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Burger & Lobster is a restaurant that sells only those two things. You can choose from half a lobster, a lobster roll or a burger with chips and salad for £20. In addition to this, they have a board with weights and prices of bigger lobsters that you can share. Since it was my birthday we went all out and bought a big lobster between four of us. It cost almost £10 a head more but there was much more meat.

 

6 pound 12 ounces lobster

6 pound 12 ounces lobster

 

As you can see it was a big ol’ lobster so it took us a while to get through. Thankfully they had a refreshing cocktail – ‘winter in the city’ to wash it down with.

 

The London Eye was the morning plan so we were up and out early-ish. Luckily the weather was favourable and, being midweek, we hardly had to queue. I’d say this is a must for visiting London and make sure you buy a 360° guide to you know what you are looking at.

 

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Back to Fitzrovia for lunch at Bubbledogs, the hotdog and champagne place that kept springing onto my radar. Glasses of champagne start at £6, they all come from small champagne houses and we needed to get the full experience so we couldn’t not. Between the three of us we ordered three hotdogs (the breakie, a mac daddy and a date dog), two tots and one sweet potato fries. If you are going there my top tip would be that you don’t need a side each. We never finished the three but the tots were the favourite from the sides. All of the dogs received positive feedback and were perfect to sort our the hangovers, along with the bubbles for hair of the dog. The hotdogs cost between £6 and £8 so a very affordable meal in that area. The concept is different and they pulled it off.

 

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After much exploring of the city on foot that afternoon, we went back to the hotel for a quick change before being taken to The Shard. Having a London local with us meant that we had insider information that we could have a drink at the bar on the 33rd floor without paying the hefty entry fee. A view over the city at night is something special and the cocktails were delicious.

 

View from Hutong Bar at The Shard

View from Hutong Bar at The Shard

 

We ended the night at Pizarro, owned by Josẽ Pizarro who is a renouned chef that you may have seen on Saturday Kitchen. We had the most extraordinary pork presa – I’ve never had this before but it is like a pink fillet steak but with a flavourful pork taste like one that you’d get from Iberico. It was cooked so simply and served with meat juices & it could not have been beaten for our last London dinner.

 

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Checking out the next morning we had glum faces as we did not want the trip to end (although I’m sure my bank did). Our final treat before flying back was lunch on Bermondsey Street at Casse-Croûte. This street is a foodie paradise and also hosts Pizarro, Jose and Zucca among others. You can read about our lunch here.

 

Our London trip could not have gone better and I’d recommend all of the places we visited. I used several London blogs to help me choose where to go and they never let me down. I left feeling younger than my 30 years!

Casse-Croûte – A Slice Of Paris In London

During our time in London we were meeting friends that work in Bermondsey. On our last day we decided to meet them for lunch and when I was researching where to go in the area I came across a little French restaurant called Casse-Croûte. It immediately interested me because they don’t have a menu as such – they just update a blackboard with that days offerings and there’s only three starters, three mains and three desserts to choose from. Fresh & seasonal, I like. Sometimes no menu puts me off because I like to get a feel for a place before going, but Casse-Croûte update their Twitter with the days menu every morning so I could pour through past days food. How I wish that restaurants would use their twitter more to display daily specials. Anyway, I mentioned Casse-Croûte to our London locals and they said that it’s a great choice and near their work. The last lunch had been decided!

 

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Casse-Croûte is very small and booking is highly recommended. In that traditional French way the tables are close together and there are no low fat labels in the kitchen. It reminded me of the cute places in Paris. The menu is in French and our waitress was French but she kindly translated everything for us without asking.
We tried everything on the menu between us but I could have enjoyed any single dish that they were serving.

There was a classic tomato soup – blitzed so you get no pesky bits and with a slight acidity.

 

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A starter of smoked haddock with leek and a soft egg was another demonstration from the chef of classic cooking done well. What I would do right now to be sitting there eating this dish again!

 

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The third starter on the menu was cheese soufflé. For some reason I am always suspicious of soufflé. Puffed egg with a side flavour, I’m not too sure about this. And what if I get bored of egg halfway through and have to leave it. I tried a bite of someone else’s and clearly I’d misjudged this soufflé. I can’t speak for other soufflés because I never choose them but this particular one definitely made me rethink my self imposed soufflé ban. It was light with a crunchy outside and had just the right cheese level.

 

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By now I was feeling smug with myself that I’d spent so long researching London blogs & found Casse-Croûte. For my main I chose the baked ham with potato purée and mustard sauce. Next time I am choked with the cold this is what I will be dreaming about. Comfort food of the highest order.

 

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A simple dish of sole in a buttery and caper sauce arrived with a couple of steamed potatoes but lacked any other vegetables. It still got the thumbs up from the two gents at the table.

 

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The creamy veal stew was served with rice & was another wintery dish with great flavouring.

 

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Ordinarily we would not have eaten dessert but because this was the last London meal (and the last time we’d eat in a long time!) we had to try them. I had the Pavé De Faubourg, which was a slice of chocolate cake with mandarins in the middle & a drizzle of mandarin & black pepper sauce. I liked the idea of the dessert and the mandarin element was tasty but the cake itself was lacking in moisture for me.

 

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The tarte tatin on the other hand, was simply terrific. The apples were not hard nor sloppy and the pastry was not too thick. The sweetness level was perfect and the dollop of cream was just enough.

 

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The final dessert was visually one of my favourite things that I had been served in a long time and it also delivered on taste. The Saint Honoré started with thin pastry then there was a sturdy crème pâtissière (crème chiboust I presume) and a choux ball filled with cream and dipped in caramelised sugar on the side.

 

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Casse-Croûte was the perfect way to end our London gastronomy trip for my 30th birthday. It has a buzzy atmosphere and fine solid cooking that took me back to my Paris trip. The presentation was of a high standard and I like the personalised plates. The service was superb and speedy for those going back to work. I love the vibe that I got from the place – it was such a strong ‘this is what we are, like us or not’ with the menu and such. There were a couple of niggly negatives but the whole experience made up for them and I will certainly be back here.

 

Casse Croute on Urbanspoon

You can read more about my trip to London in other posts here:

https://girlaroundglasgow.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/chez-bruce/