Taste of London Winter 2015

Nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit more than an afternoon of great music, buzzing atmosphere and festive feasting. This year, Tobacco Dock played host to another round of Taste of London Winter (can we please go back to calling it Taste of Christmas?). The halls were decked with tinsel, Christmas trees lined railings, lights and decorations hung from the rafters, and it was characteristically freezing – an element I would’ve happily sacrificed. Nevertheless, we bundled up and soldiered on, fuelling ourselves on this year’s gastronomic fare.
Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015The Truscott Arms started the afternoon on a delicious note with several winter warming dishes.
Taste of London Winter 2015This take on colcannon was filled with creamy ragstone and topped with basil oil and fried kale – an edible hug in a bowl.
Taste of London Winter 2015Moreish bites of crispy pig’s head were served with a sweet apple puree. The meat was really flavourful and paired perfectly with the tart contrast of the applesauce, bites I could happily replace popcorn with whilst watching a film.
Taste of London Winter 2015 Their icon dish was the most tender piece of beef cheek, served swimming in a pool of smoked mash, topped with crispy shallots. Taste of London Winter 2015 Over at The Bandstand, some really talented bands kept the vibe cool as we wiggled our way around the stalls. Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015The Laurent-Perrier Champagne Room was stunningly decorated and filled with minglers slowly sipping their bubbles before braving the cold again.
Taste of London Winter 2015Over at The Fire Pit, Mike Lecouteur from Mews of Mayfair was barbecuing meat fit for a monster, alongside a creamy bowl of lobster macaroni and cheese. Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015 Gordon Ramsey’s Maze played ring around the Big Green Egg, with a wrapping queue of BBQ fiends eager to get their paws on slow cooked BBQ pulled beef on a brisket bun. Taste of London Winter 2015The perfect combination of sweet and tangy of BBQ sauce and tender beef rested on a fluffy bun ready for a bite, after removing the pickle, of course…
Taste of London Winter 2015 Kurobuta served their famous BBQ pork belly buns with spicy peanut soy sauce, one of my favourite flavour combinations, despite the cold weather getting the best of the chilly bun.

Awesome charity Action Against Hunger teamed up with five star chefs to create 5* kebabs.Taste of London Winter 2015We opted for Francesco Mazzei’s spicy veal meatballs with Grana Padano and salted padron peppers.  Taste of London Winter 2015 Having experienced a feast fit for a queen, it was time I took my place on the throne… Taste of London Winter 2015 I think it rather suits me, don’t you? Winter is coming… and so is hibernation at this rate. Taste of London Winter 2015 The HBO stall even had a gingerbread scale of King’s Landing! I considered attempting my own form of attack by taking out the towers and eating them one by one… but resigned to a hunt for less destructive dessert.
Taste of London Winter 2015

Glistening in the glow of winter light, Club Gascon was serving some winter-themed treats.Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015We went for the oversized black forest macaron, filled with brandy soaked cherries, dark chocolate mousse and chestnut cream.
Taste of London Winter 2015 We watched, mesmerised, as Pan-N-Ice chopped, slathered and rolled ice cream into rolls. Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015 This Thai-style method was enticing, but I was too cold to even consider a frozen treat. Taste of London Winter 2015 Sari Cakes hand-decorates each fruit cake inspired by ancient henna creations.
Taste of London Winter 2015 Vicetti’s homemade tarts were beautifully presented, with great flavour combinations. Taste of London Winter 2015The much loved Meringue Girls hosted Saturday’s dessert bar, but were sold out of the good stuff hours before closing. I really wanted a Nutella Cookiemuff topped with vanilla ice cream and salted hazelnut honeycomb crumble, ya know? Taste of London Winter 2015Instead, we waddled our way back to Maze for fried doughnuts swimming in a beautifully tart clementine curd.
Taste of London Winter 2015Taste of London still sits firmly atop my event list. This year saw the least amount of restaurants, but the venue looked beautiful, food was all delicious, atmosphere was amazing, and overall I’d have to give it an A… ^ get it?

I can’t wait to see who turns up to Taste of London 2016! Who’s ready for Christmas?

Advertisements

Bao

You’re hungry.
You want copious amount of food that will comfort your stomach, ease your mind and soothe your soul.
I hear you’re dealing with a tube strike in London (I’m on a beach in California, not sorry), so now, more than ever, you need an edible hug.

Take yourself to Soho, get your bum on a seat at Bao – thank me later.
(You can do this via twitter, instagram, or carrier pidgeon – should they be able to make the cross-Atlantic, cross-country trip to my beach-lounging bodyBaoThis could be you right now ^
This is also what I looked like a few weeks ago – on a Saturday afternoon, after being at the front of the queue, ready to consume some Taiwanese deliciousness.
Yes, there’s usually a queue. BaoI’ll let you have a perusal, mentally make your order before you view the influx of food porn.
BaoWe started with some 10-year aged, coal baked oolong tea. A very civilised accompaniment for the savagery that was to ensue.
BaoThen it became a free-for-all. Taiwanese fried chicken with hot sauce kicked off the feast with a lovely crunch and welcome spiciness. Bao Trotter nuggets are worthy of a foot fetish – tender fried pork ready to be dunked in a fiery chilli sauce. BaoWhether or not you can take the heat, a sip of iced peanut milk is a palate pleasing refresher.

Prepare to BAO DOWN BITCHES. BaoLamb shoulder bao is incredibly tender, with a citrusy sauce and bites of jalapeño. Bao Confit pork bao was ever the winner with a sweet, sticky sauce and delightful crunch of fried pork scratchings. BaoAnd fried chicken bao, with sichuan mayo and golden kimchi.
Bao This is a threesome you want to be involved with. BaoThis dish is the thing food porn dreams are made of.
Pig blood cake is a Taiwanese take on black pudding, topped with a charming looking orb of egg yolk – ready to be satisfyingly burst, causing an attractive ooze of golden yolk.
Bao Bao *Angels sing*BaoThis, my now starving friend, is 40 day rump cap with aged white soy sauce. Tender beautiful bites of meat that truly melt in your mouth – worthy of ordering twice should your dining partner be skilled with their chopsticks. BaoObligatory order of sweet potato chips with plum pickle salt – as I can never deny my mouth the sweet taste of this confused tuber.
Bao Guinea fowl Chi Shiang rice is a bowl of comfort. Again, hope for the downfall of your dining partner’s chopstick skill.

Should you still have the ability to move, let alone consume something sweet, vacate this daring little joint and head for Crosstown Doughnut’s new Soho spot. Bao Given your travel predicament, order them all, share with stranded Londoners, and maybe moan slightly less about your four hour journey home given your sugar high state.Bao BaoHowever you choose to deal with London’s lovely shut down, be sure to make your way to Bao… and tell me all a-BAO-t it.

Bone Daddies | Shackfuyu

Bone Daddies bad boys have done it again.
You sort of want to tell them to knock it off – we get it, you’re particularly skilled at cooking up Japanese street food, serving it in a rock’n’roll location and flooding our senses with absurd cravings at all hours of the night.
If you’ve been to their latest pop-up, Soho love child Shackfuyu, you already know what I’m talking about. A certain swirled something with vibrant colouring and a wickedly naughty twist: the ‘most instagramed dish’ as of late.
(This is no joke, go search #shackfuyu on instagram – oh, and whilst you’re there, give @alessandra_LDN a follow)
But, no dessert before lunch!

We began with an admirable assortment.
There’s no civilised order to this affair. It all arrived in a flurry of rising steam, sizzling meats and a spicy sweet scent filling the air. A jar of homemade yuzu mayo and angry looking chilli oil decorated the gaps between the onslaught of china and dish ware.

P1020853

Note my dining partner’s commendable attempt at food styling with subtle insertion of logo…

Shackfuyu

Fiery, fried chicken wings were more crispy batter than meat, in a good way, and the sauce is finger-licking delicious.

Shackfuyu

Miniature tostadas were ordered as a reminder of home. Fresh, fleshy chunks of yellowtail placed atop a smooth guacamole, topped with jalapeño and a dash of hot sauce. This gave me a pang of homesickness for the kind of Mexican-Japanese fusion California has so lovingly abused and embraced.

Shackfuyu

A cast-iron skillet of marinated beef arrived angrily hissing, topped with sour snaps of kimchi to accompany each perfectly cooked bite. (medium-rare, obviously)

Shackfuyu

This thing, controversially placed on its decorative dish, is actually prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki. Japanese street food at its finest. An indulgent bite served with tobiko, yuzu mayo and chives.

Shackfuyu

A steaming miniature cauldron (okay fine, it was a stone hot pot, but cauldron sounds cooler), announced its arrival with billowing steam and an intoxicating smell. A steaming pot of hot stone rice, continuing to fry at the bottom from the heat of the bowl, was mixed with chargrilled sweetcorn, beef and goma butter. This is the kind of dish you can’t stop picking at, with nibbles being snuck between conversation.
ShackfuyuWho could resist this?

ShackfuyuFinally, there she is. A thing of beauty.
Matcha soft serve with Kinako-style French toast. I won’t go on about it, because you’ve read about and seen its neon green presence flooding your social media channels. But you must admit, it is good looking.

Shackfuyu

I’ve had a stroke of genius. French toast is a breakfast food and matcha is a super food, so technically you should be consuming this for breakfast daily for a super lifestyle.
You’re welcome.

In need of a walk following our casual carb-fest, we strolled London streets away from Soho towards Holborn’s hipster hotspot, Hubbard & Bell.

Hubbard & Bell
Here I attempted to undo the afternoon’s damage with a green juice, packed with kale, cucumber, celery, lemon, spinach, ginger, apple, pineapple and parsley, whilst watching bearded cool kids click away on their MacBooks. Having reached my fill of delicious food and conversation, I left my date and wandered down to China Town.

Guess what I found?
Sriracha

This isn’t any old Sriracha… it’s SUPER HOT CHILLI SRIRACHA. This is no joke, just as delicious drizzled over just about everything… but to be used with a bit more caution than my regular Sriracha smothering, as it is seriously fiery.

Royal Academy of Arts

Before ending an ideal day in lovely London, I spotted Rubens sculptures decorating the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts.
Great food, good finds, cool company and attractive art – London truly is the best city in the world.

Chop Shop

There’s something about a place that doesn’t even pretend to be good for you that I openly, unashamedly appreciate. A blunt show off, proudly catering to your filthy desires in a confined space of misbehaviour and indulgence. With a New York-cool façade, imported from our neighbours across the pond, Chop Shop is the Haymarket heartthrob tempting you to act upon your lustful inclinations.

Start at the bar, where Vlad will help you pick your poison and shake up a house cocktail, spiked with sweet and sour accompaniments.
P1020795The Passione Arrabiata is a sinfully sweet combination of chilli-infused tequila, tart passion fruit and a generous squeeze of lime. Ask nicely and you can have yours altered to be less naughty – or more! Chop ShopHaving sipped your liquid courage, venture past the wall of embedded butcher’s knives into the New York-inspired, London-embraced interior; a world of contradictorily edgy comfort. The obvious, exposed brick walls are lit by immense, reclaimed tiles, softening the warehouse feel.

P1020798P1020799But, you’re not here for the cool interior. You’re here for an indulgence of impressive scale with thoughtful twists on satisfying classics. And that’s exactly what you’ll get.
The menu is dominated by a tantalising list of chops and steaks, accompanied by a selection of jars, crocks, planks and other cutely named serving styles we’ve grown annoyingly fond of. IMG_1584A pretty pot of white onion mousse with parmesan and chervil oil is easily slathered on toasted chunks of grilled sourdough.

P1020804

As well as duck liver mousse, cut with fruit mostarda. These were a comforting introduction to the evening’s feasting, a toe in the pool before diving head first into gluttony.

P1020807

Crispy hot wings kicked in protest with their addictive, fiery sauce, made even more irresistible when drowned in Cashel blue cheese dip.

P1020808

The showstopper of all starters, if such decadence can even be labelled as such, was a wicked dish of cottage pasta pie. Hidden beneath a molten layer of cheese were tiny, tender bites of basil gnocchi accompanied by tender pieces of braised oxtail. This was one of those dishes you pine for once finished.

IMG_1602Temporary sorrow was soon replaced with predatory instinct as a carnivorous dream arrived at the table. A veritable feast fit for a table of ravenous kings and queens, complete with 35-day aged Cumbrian bone-in sirloin for two, a patty melt sandwich of dry-aged beef burger smothered in onions and cheese, market fish with pea and pancetta, and an immense pork chop.

P1020813

American-sourced Creekstone USDA hanger steak was tender perfection, an easy winner, which was subtly fought for with rapidly darting forks across the table.

IMG_1595The steaks and chops can be excessively topped with things like fried eggs, roasted garlic, red wine bone marrow sauce, and even a vodka bacon peppercorn sauce. However, none of this is truly needed for such finely sourced meat. An obligatory order of fried onion rings and rosemary chips played accessory to the mass consumption, as well as honeyed carrots and creamed spinach.
P1020815Even the vegetables are impure in this place.
P1020816Tempting coronary implosion, we stuck around for dessert. A glass of butterscotch custard with salted caramel and Chantilly cream was sweetly satisfying, but gobbled up too quickly for me to snap a shot. Chop ShopSticky date pudding was a necessary evil to end the feast, each bite a decadent squeeze dripping with warm toffee sauce.

Chop Shop is the cool kid on the block, looking to lure you and get you hooked. Service, lead by the charming Alastair Gallichan, is welcoming and knowledgeable, with friendly staff willing you to succumb to temptation. Give it a visit and tag me in your food porn @Alessandra_LDN so I can ensure you’re sinning correctly.

Italian Cooking Masterclass at Novikov

Early on Saturday, I made my way to Mayfair.
I couldn’t possibly turn down a media invite for an Italian Cooking Masterclass at the beautiful Novikov. The restaurant is massive and is separated into the dark Asian room serving Chinese & Pan-Asian delicacies and the light and airy Tuscan designed Italian room serving traditional Italian classics.

We met in the Italian Room at a large round table in the centre of the empty restaurant. The table was topped with a stunning bouquet of orange tipped roses and had a delicious spread of fresh croissants, chocolate & hazelnut crostata and a crostata filled with fresh cherry jam – all of which were divine.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWe munched on baked goods, observed the beautiful kitchen, and got to know one another over coffees & teas.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThen it was time to get our hands dirty.
Chef Whites and aprons on, we were separated into three groups: antipasti, lamb and sides & desserts.
I was on sides & desserts.
You can call me Chef Alessandra ’cause I was made for those Chef Whites.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe class was led by head Chef Carmelo who was referred to as Chefona. (big chef in Italian)
All three of the chefs hailed from different parts of Italy and playfully bickered at each other in dialects throughout the day.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe first crew set off to tackle their antipasti.
The first dish out of the oven was a Cavolo nero tart with Pecorino cheese.
This was a beautiful puff pastry topped with pesto, Pecorino, cherry tomatoes, chili and cavolo nero Italian cabbage. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWouldn’t you love to have such a beautiful basil plant in your kitchen?
And how about these mortar & pestles for the salt & pepper? Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Working with Chef Carmelo, the lamb group began the task of cooking lamb three different ways.
First was butterfly roasted Sardinian lamb. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Then slow cooked lamb shank in chianti red wine.Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovWould you like a napkin?
You’re drooling… Italian Cooking Class at Novikov And last, slow cooked lamb in clay.
For this, Chef Carmelo placed lamb chunks in parchment paper and surrounded the paper in a fold of clay.
And you thought Arts & Crafts and Cooking didn’t mix.
This was then baked in the fire oven and cracked open to reveal perfectly cooked, tender lamb. Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovMy group took on the sides.
First we whipped up some polenta in boiling water. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov Chef Micheli was busy laughing at one of Carmelo’s jokes about Northern Italians as he added a dash of pepper to the boiled polenta. 
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe polenta was then shaped however we wanted in a dish.
I made a sort of polenta tower which was layered with salty chunks of Taleggio and topped with grated parmesan and a glug of olive oil.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe creamy, cheesy mixture was then sent to the oven to bake until all the cheese melted into a gooey, beautiful mixture.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWhilst our polenta baked, we made a salad of pan-fried aubergines with sautéed shallots, fresh rocket and toasted almonds.

Italian Cooking Class at Novikov Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

I’m sure you’ve always wondered how a giant would season his dinner.
Mystery solved.

Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

To finish off the feast, we made Sicilian ricotta mousse with amaretto and oranges.
Chef Carmelo was excited to tell us that these blood oranges had been imported all the way from Sicily. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

First we segmented the oranges, which were beautiful in colour and resembled stain glass windows. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Then we zest the peel of the orange.
Instead of grating the peel, Chef taught us to slice and remove the white from a strip of peel and then cut it into slivers. This helps the zest maintain its flavour.
A vanilla pod was scraped in and the mixture was combined.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

In a pot, Chef brought water and sugar to a boil and then added the orange pieces, juice and zest from the blood oranges. These were then fished out and left to cool. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

The mixture continued to simmer whilst we cooked and reduced down to a sweet, tangy marmalade like syrup to top the dessert. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

We then whipped together ricotta, double cream and icing sugar to create a fluffy, creamy base for the dessert.Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

We layered the desserts with the cheese mousse, cooked orange segments and crushed pieces of amaretto cookies and then placed them in the fridge. Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at Novikov

After hours in the kitchen, we gathered round the table to taste our creations.
An Italian feast ensued.
We started with the antipasti.
Marinated radicchio with oranges and honey balsamic vinegar, fregula salad with peas, mint and olives and Cavolo nero tart with pecorino cheese.
Fresh bursts of flavour in every bite!
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Whilst we nibbled away, the Chefs plated up a lamb feast fit for the kings.
Platters and bowls of the three different types of cooked lamb were piled high before being brought to the table.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovTo accompany our lamb feast, we shared sides of pan fried aubergine salad and baked polenta with Taleggio cheese.
These were absolutely delicious, if I do say so myself. 
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovTo finish our feast, our Sicilian ricotta mousse with amaretto and orange was served in little Italian silver ice cream dishes. This was absolutely delicious, tangy and sweet from the orange, cookies and mousse topped with the incredible reduction. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Now what I tell you next needs to stay between you and me.
After polishing off my dessert, I spotted an enormous, stunning meringue looking cake sitting on a table behind me.
The Sommelier spotted my greedy eyes and came over to tell me that this cake was “The Heartattack.” Apparently it is Arkady Novikov’s favourite dessert and is on the dessert menu of the restaurant.
Jokingly I asked if there were any samples and he disappeared as I continued to laugh to myself. Thinking he was offended by my greed, I sipped my fresh mint tea in silence.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Moments later, in front the entire table of stuffed foodies having eaten our weight in Italian dishes, this was placed in front of me.
I was mortified and delighted simultaneously as everyone laughed. I took a bite and passed it around the table. My moment of shame was definitely worth it. A bite of sweet, fluffy layers of Chantilly cream and meringue was like biting into a vanilla cloud. I fully understand why this is the Russian restaurateurs favourite dessert.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

It was an incredible day filled with great food and great people.
I thoroughly enjoyed cooking a feast fit for the Kings and enjoyed even more getting to taste it all.
Lucky for you, the class is now going to be offered on the last Saturday of each month. Grab a friend or family member, treat someone special, or spend the day getting to know yourself and the kitchen in this beautiful Italian room with incredibly talented Chefs leading the way.
Don’t worry if you’re not the next Mario Batali, the Chefs will talk you through each step. Best of all, you’ll be asked to taste test along the way.

If you’d like to spend a Saturday in Chef Whites in this famous Mayfair haunt, book here. Give the lovely staff a call and I’m sure they’ll be happy to book you in.

To see some behind the scenes action, click here for a video of the class.

Buon Appetito!

Naughties

Put down the carrot stick, it’s time to be naughty.

Sometimes we all need to be a bit naughty. You don’t need to tell me your reasons, I’m sure you deserve it.
Naughtiness is only truly enjoyed when it’s easily accessible, and let me tell you, these Naughties are easy.
However, easy isn’t the only requirement for naughtiness… it needs to be worth it. So worth it, that the waves of guilt that arrive after finishing the entire batch are overcome with, “whatever, they were damn good!

Now that I’ve convinced you to abandon that diet* that you weren’t really sticking to anyways, I’m sure you’re wondering what naughty, self-control destroying treat could possibly be worth “after batch” guilt.
(*the only diet you should be on is eating balanced meals with occasional naughtiness and exercising…step away from the laptop)

Naughties are a magical combination of chocolate chip cookies and brownies sandwiching any candy of your choice.
Imagine your favourite candy bar: Snickers, Kit-Kat, Milky Way, Twix etc, sandwiched between chewy cookie and gooey brownie.
Naughty, right?

For this post, I decided to share with you two of my favourites: Naughty Reese’s and Naughty Nibbles

Ingredients:
1 box brownie mix
1 box chocolate chip cookie mix
1 egg
4 tblsp vegetable oil
Candy bar of your choice (I used Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and Cadbury Caramel Nibbles)

If you want to go all Martha Stewart on your Naughties, go ahead and make any cookie dough and brownie batter from scratch. Or… you can be naughty and make it from the box, because life’s short and it’s just one of those days.

To Create Your Naughties:
1) Preheat oven to 350F/175C
2) Prepare your muffin tray by lightly coating with butter or spraying with PAM (a magical non-stick spray that ensures baked goods pop out easily, I’m sure there are Brit alternatives…I just prefer smuggling PAM back from the US as it’s the best)
3) Follow instructions on the box to create your cookie dough
Or get out the apron for your from scratch batch, you little Martha Stewart you
4) Squish about a tablespoon of dough to cover the bottom of each hole
5) Place candy bar of your choice in the centre of your dough
6) Follow instructions on the box to create your brownie batter
7) Spoon about a tablespoon of brownie batter to cover the candy, leaving the hole three quarters of the way full
Bake for about 15 minutes – 18 minutes

Serve warm and squishy from the oven with a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream for a full blown Naughty.

What candy bar will you make even more naughty?