Best Bites of 2015

Well, hello there. Yes, yes, happy new year. How much longer must we go on saying this? But really, when is it socially acceptable to stop wishing people a happy year, because I don’t want to get half way into February optimistically encouraging peoples’ vibes. Basically, I hope your year is happy, healthy and successful, but I’m probably not going to say it again.

Now that it’s a new year, it’s fun to look back on memories close to the heart. Yes, I’m talking about those fond moments of foodporn. All those resolutions you made to eat healthier, get to the gym and steer clear of the sugar? I wish you luck, my friend, because by the end of this post, you’ll need something substantial to come down off the filthy high of discreet foodporn browsing. Last year was indeed a gluttonous one, so join me in looking back on some of my best bites of 2015.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 It started on a sweet note, indulging in the expert confectionary of Yauatcha‘s dessert counter. An assortment of my favourite macarons, and some of the most beautifully intricate and flavourful pastries and cakes. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015East London gem Lyle’s, serving up elegant British cuisine, hosted Parisienne chef James Henry, with a menu of cured meats, perfectly prepared fish and noteworthy veg. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Bone Daddies previous pop-up joint that now permanently resides in Soho, Shackfuyu, had heads turning and instagrams posting. Prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki topped with bonito flakes was particularly great, but we all know this mention is about the best dressed on the menu. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 The kinako-style french toast with a stacked side of green tea soft serve stole the limelight of social media channels in a paparazzi-like frenzy. Lime green swirls atop pretty blue china appearing in every frame of each drawn out scroll. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 The Clove Club, claimed to serve often overlooked ingredients with British flair, stirred the pot with their buttermilk fried chicken topped with pine salt. This arrives nestled amongst pine needles, cushioning the crispy morsels of tender meat. A moreish treat, indeed. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Inspired by the changing seasons, Claridge’s resident Fera serves a sensational tasting menu of expertly executed dishes in stunning receptacles. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Although my passion for food involves tasting, judging and critiquing dishes to myself and amongst my dining partners, I have often been told I’m much more judgemental when it comes to dessert. Now, I don’t know that this is due to my significant sweet tooth, that I feel the need to seriously scrutinise the sugary details, but it’s rare that I’m pleasantly surprised by pudding. However, I must admit, Fera’s aerated yoghurt and rhubarb dessert is a sensational treat – both complex and flavourful, leaving a memorable impression.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Worldwide, Japanese hotspot Zuma creates some of the most visually appealing plates of expertly prepared meats, fish and vegetables. This particular masterpiece had delicately combined pieces of lobster, wagyu, crab, truffles, broccolini and peppers.  Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Three Michelin-starred Epicure, the masterpiece of Chef Eric Frechon, served another most memorable dish of the year. Caviar from Sologne topped ratte potato mousseline flavoured with smoked haddock and served with a buckwheat crisp stuffed with sourcream and chives.Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 A luscious bite indeed. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015The spotlight shone, however, on their most popular dish: foie gras filled macaroni with black truffle. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Three of the most perfect macaroni served with a heavenly filling. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Last year it was decided that fried chicken topped Belgian waffles with truffle salt and maple syrup should be a mandatory brunch item (by me). Luckily, London’s Hot Box feels the same way. This perfect combination of sweet and savoury is what brunch is all about.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Yashin Sushi, my favourite sushi spot in London, touts their delicious sushi as best consumed “without soy sauce”. However they serve it, I’ll eat it, because this fish is beyond phenomenal. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Taiwanese street food place, Bao London, served up a threesome you want to be involved with. Lamb shoulder with jalapeño, confit pork with sticky sweet sauce and fried chicken with sichuan mayo and golden kimchi were unbelievable bites worthy of the overindulgence. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Although their Taiwanese take on blood pudding wasn’t the tastiest bite of 2015, it was certainly foodporn popular. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 This beauty was one of my favourite bites of 2015. Rabbit Restaurant’s pickled mackerel with potato and anchovy is a flavour and texture combination I’ve since craved on numerous occasions. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Ottolenghi’s Nopi creates a myriad of phenomenal flavour combinations topped with stunning spices, but the simplicity of this burrata and peach with coriander seeds and plum wine was a definite winner. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015

Another dessert worthy of a shoutout, Polpetto‘s chocolate flan with freshly made crème fraîche. Simple, clean flavours with a powerful punch of chocolate is enough to make you swoon.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015

Camden market resident, The Frenchie, turns heads with its duck confit sandwich, topped with crispy duck-skin scratchings, rocket, mustard, red-onion chutney, goat’s cheese and truffle honey, all piled atop a brioche bun. A proper mouthful. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Whilst galavanting ’round Europe this summer, a particularly memorable meal was that of a picnic in Budapest. The air was thick, sun was hot and our feet growing heavy with each step. We soon stumbled upon Nagyvásárcsarnok, or the Great Market Hall, a restored neogothic hall where food traders now sell products and ingredients from their stalls. We picked and pondered over each stand, leaving with our arms loaded with goodies, before finding a shaded bench near the Danube. Sweet knotted bread, spicy meats, milky Hungarian goat’s cheese and sour cherries warmed by the sun made for the most enjoyable snack. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015King of the world of pastry (sounds like a fairytale land I’d like to reside in) Paris has long since been crowned for its patisserie production. Established in 1903, Angelina’s signature pastry, the mont-blanc has been creating queues as far as the eye can see, and stomach can bear to stand. But it’s all worth the wait for a bite of this sumptuous combination of meringue, whipped cream, chestnut cream vermicelli. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Another moment of picnic perfection involved lazily lounging in the Jardin du Luxembourg nibbling on meats, pâté, goats cheese, Brie, cherries, peaches, figs, fresh baguette and the pièce de résistance, an excessive amount of Pierre Hermé macarons. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Amsterdam is internationally known for its Indonesian fare, and I have to say that Kantjil & de Tiger is the best I’ve ever had. Each dish more flavourful than the last, the tender meats and saucy vegetables combined for an enjoyable feast.  Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Upon recommendation, another delightful find amongst the picturesque canals of Amsterdam, lies the little gelateria IJscuypje. With hazelnut, speculoos and milk chocolate gelato piled high, I uttered a statement I never thought would escape my lips so far from the Italian motherland. This is the best gelato everBest Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015One of my favourite sky-high spots is the much loved Duck & Waffle. With sugar spiced ox cheek stuffed doughnuts served in apricot jam, what’s not to love?  Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 This grilled asparagus with smoked buttermilk curd, dandelion and pickled walnut was a special I won’t soon forget. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Another one of my all-time favourite brunch dishes, silky Turkish eggs served with yogurt and chilli oil, can be found tucked away in Covent Garden at KopapaBest Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Only in America’s capital, Washington DC, can something this indulgent be found. Good Stuff Eatery’s toasted marshmallow and red velvet milkshakes are worth slowly sipping into a caloric coma.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Bring on the brain freeze! Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Switch coasts to California for a cult-like love of burger fanship. In-N-Out may not be the best burger on earth, (calm down, burger snobs) but the freshness of the ingredients and addition of salt-scented ocean air beats your fine dining fat feast any day. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 I finally made it to Los Angeles’ star-studded Gjelina last year, and man was it worth the wait. The quality of ingredients are incredible, with a pretty awesome kale salad representing the Californian flair. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 The wood roasted cauliflower with garlic, vinegar and chilli really makes you want to eat your veg.  Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015And the eggplant caponata with burrata on toast, as well as the gruyere and caramelised onion pizza were dough-topped delights worthy of the after effect.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015At Manhattan Beach Post, there’s a mandatory order of bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits with maple butter. Promise me, should you ever visit MBP, you will not leave the premises without trying these biscuity bad boys? Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015The pomegranate couscous with lavender feta, Marcona almonds, grapefruit and mint is really special, as well. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015With my casual burrito obsession flexed to the fullest whilst residing on the West Coast, I popped into Lucha Libre Taco Shop to see what all the fuss was about. The Surf & Turf burrito comes with steak, shrimp, rice, potatoes and secret chipotle sauce. A tip of the hat to you, you absolute burrito babes.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015We then kicked it old school at El Indio, the family owned Mexican restaurant that’s been serving San Diego for 75 years. This California burrito is quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever had.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015

Why have one burrito, when you can have three? Yes, it’s a bit absurd to have three burritos on my list of highlighted dishes. But if you think about it, is it really? The final tortilla encased bliss can be found tucked away in a seaside town in Baja California, Mexico. At this little side of the road taco shop called Magañas, you can find the quesotaco, a burrito filled with succulent rotisserie chicken, beans, onion, cilantro, and a salsa so fiery, you’ll sniffle your way through every bite.

That’s it people. Your diet is over, goals squashed, and resolutions railroaded. Rather than wish you a happy new year, I wish you a happy food year. Happy eating and good luck with those resolutions! Let me know any must-try dishes for 2016 and where you’re most looking forward to eating in the comments below, or tweet me @Alessandra_LDN 

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London Daze

As the harsh a’s, slipped like’s and occasional misuse of the term fanny are detected laced throughout my conversation, I’m often asked, “Where are you from?”
America is assumed. They probe deeper, faces lighting as California rolls off my tongue. The story of that time they visited LA during their gap year quivers at the ready, before furrowed eyebrows and sinking corners of the mouth interject. “Then, what are you doing here?!” is almost bellowed at me as their eyes bulge a little in their bewildered sockets.
I tend to insert a nervous giggle here, to diffuse the tension and prepare my defence. But, I shouldn’t bloody have to! Yes, California is full of beautiful beaches, gleaming rays of sunshine and people with sparkling, white smiles – and London, is full of crowded streets, grey, cloud littered skies and questionable grimaces on the pale faces of commuters… but there’s so much more to it!
It’s a European metropolis of diverse culture, epicurean delights and endless activity. It’s truly one of my favourite cities in the world and I’m reminded all the time of how lucky I am to live in such a cool place. For those of you that do not live in London and even for those that do, I love getting to share my adventures around this sweet city with you. So snuggle up, grab a cup of tea and maybe even a snack. It’s time I catch you up on my latest escapades.

London Daze

This particular Sunday started as most should: with brunch. There are few things as perfect and decadent as baked eggs to start your day. These from Eelbrook are served with yoghurt, harissa and grilled flatbread for a deliciously Middle Eastern touch.
London DazeWhen the weather is nice, or at least when the skies aren’t threatening imminent rain, the best way to get around is to walk. This way you always encounter things you may never have expected to find.
London DazeChristopher was rather taken with this model in the window. Quite a striking resemblance, don’t you think?  London Daze Speaking of models in the window, no stroll through Knightsbridge is complete without a little window shopping at Ferrari Atelier.London Daze And the predictable Rolls spotting, complimented by a casually purple Bentley.
London Daze If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have hopefully already laughed along with me at this. Scroll up again and tell me you don’t at least let out a giggle. Someone took the time to ensure that ended up on a card. Brilliant. London Daze Somerset House is always stunningly decorated this time of year, complete with an ice skating rink and Fortnum & Mason Christmas tree. London Daze Do you think there are treats inside the hampers? I definitely should’ve checked.
I didn’t get a chance to ice skate this year, but you should try and go. Whether or not you’re a seasoned pro, it’s so much fun in such a Christmassy atmosphere. Hopefully there will be no one like me around, overcome with uncontrollable giggles at anyone that hits the ice.

London Daze

King’s Road had a visiting reindeer to help get everyone in the Christmas spirit. Although he was fuzzy and adorable, I wanted nothing more but to send him back where he came from so he could frolic freely with his friends, rather than being flashed at by a bunch of posh cameras and grabby kids’ hands.

London DazeOn Saturdays, Duke of York Square turns into a mélange of marquees. The piazza is transformed into an international melting pot of stands selling delicious smelling dishes from all over the world. With an insatiable craving for Mexican food, I scurried over to the grill where Tamales UK were cooking up pork pibil tacos and ordered tres con todos, por favor! London Daze A browse of Saatchi & Saatchi gallery is always amusing. You never quite know what you’re going to find. From golden prints of nature.. London Daze To walls of flower shaped profanity… London Daze To caviar covered rooms.. London DazeTo pornographic pop art. It truly is an eclectic, but entertaining mix. London DazeI popped into Bentley for a sneak peak of Vertu’s latest creation. They’ve teamed up with Bentley to create a customisable phone, with diamond knurled titanium side rails and a quilted calf leather back to match your Bentley’s interior. All I know is for $17,000 it better come with someone that dials the phone for me. London DazeTo my fellow American expats, do you still make the attempt the celebrate Thanksgiving abroad? I decided to go for it again this year, making the sweet potato casserole, chilli garlic brussels sprouts, pomegranate salad and stuffing. Although I usually manage all the sides, I even attempted my first turkey! A 5kg whopper which soon became equivalent to what I can only imagine it must be like having a toddler. I spent my day having to lift, adjust and baste the monster every 20 minutes. It was all worth it in the end as the bird came out beautifully and was completely devoured.  London DazeI absolutely love when people come to visit. Showing a tourist around London is one of my favourite things to do. I just love seeing the city through someone else’s eyes and getting to share some of my favourite bits with them. So, when Tyler came to visit from San Diego, we hit the town walking. London DazeWe visited the Queen. London DazeMet some residents with fowl manners. London DazeStrolled through the park. London DazeLondon DazeAnd visited the ever handsome, Benjamin. Tyler is an amazing photographer, by the way, and you can see more of his shots here.  London DazeHe’s even mastered the selfie. London DazeWe changed course and wandered up past Trafalgar where I showed him our big, blue cock.
London DazeAnd into Soho for an obligatory purchase of my favourite macarons in London. If you are ever in Soho or even dining at Yauatcha, promise me you’ll try one (or all) of their incredible macarons. London DazeWe popped into Polpetto for a snack. I told you about this place before, when I met up with lovely blogger Rachel. It’s the perfect place to share simple dishes with stunning ingredients.  London DazeWe started with an attack on a mound of luscious burrata topped with tender pumpkin and marjoram. London DazeFollowed by grilled octopus with chickpeas and tomato. London DazeAnd a show stopping finale of pink duck breast paired with blueberries and pickled walnuts. London DazeWe ended up dancing the night away at Home House, who had an awesome DJ mixing 90s with current charts. This ended in an equally cool manner, curled up in the early hours of the morning in hotel sheets watching Ratatouille. (It was the first time I’d seen it! I know, I know.)

London Daze I recently enjoyed a rather delicious breakfast meeting at the Dorchester’s CUT at 45 Park Lane. The setting is beautiful and beyond perfect for a meeting, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Damien Hirst’s butterfly pieces on the wall. London Daze M Restaurant hosted an appropriately massive launch party for their massive new space located in Bank, complete with concert provided by Tinie Tempah. London DazeBeing so close to one of my 24-hour favourites resulted in a midnight snack in the sky. London Daze Complete, of course, with some duck & waffle! London Daze No London post would be complete without a nod to Britain’s resident badass. How hot is this Aston? I’m not normally a fan of matte paint jobs, but there’s something fitting for Bond’s perfect getaway ride spotted in Notting Hill. London DazeSee? There is literally something for everyone in London, don’t you think? Where’s your favourite place to go, thing to see, or food to eat? Is there somewhere particularly amazing I ought to try? I always love a suggestion. Tweet me or leave a comment below.

Polpetto

Uh oh.
I forgot to tell you about Polpetto.

I squirrelled away the photos knowing I’d tell you all about my lovely lunch date, and then one thing led to another and now we’re here. But never mind, a little food porn and you’ll easily forgive me. Won’t you?

I met up with hugely talented, fellow foodie of food blog Rachel Phipps at 5pm. That’s right all you late dining Europeans, we ate dinner at the ungodly hour of 5pm. Not ones for queuing and both having Polpetto secured highly on our FBL’s, we agreed to meet at a time surely no sane Briton would arrive for dinner.
And we were right.

PolpettoWe entered Polpetto to find beautifully designed tiled ceilings, worn wooden floors and deep red banquettes encompassing the bacaro, peaceful and undisturbed, save for a few servers chatting around the measured bar top. I say measured because restaurateur and Polpetto owner, Russell Norman, is famously known to measure bars and barstools for optimum height. This fun fact makes my future restaurateur heart flutter.

Polpetto’s kitchen is run by young and seriously talented Head Chef Florence Knight, who obsesses over good quality food and suppliers. Having outgrown their initial space due to popular demand, they shut down shop and regrouped. After a year of hunting for a new location, researching the market and what I can only imagine to be an incredible amount of eating, they chose Polpetto’s new home nestled behind the food market on Berwick Street.

Polpetto Rachel and I were seated in our own private restaurant and soon greeted with a big glug of beautiful, Italian olive oil to be soaked up with fluffy pieces of focaccia. PolpettoThe good thing about dining with fellow foodies is that no one will dig in before all obligatory food photos have been snapped.
Silent nod to all of you that have indulged my snap happy dining rituals and patiently waited before starting to eat 

One last thing before we get to the food. A little disclaimer, if you will.
Chef Knight’s menu focuses on the simplicity of good quality ingredients. If you don’t bare this in mind, you will be underwhelmed and leave thinking you could have whipped up something more exciting at home. Think of Polpetto as providing a thoughtful, simplistic combination of quality ingredients reminiscent to those you would enjoy stumbling upon a hidden cicchetti bar in the backstreets of Venice.

With this said, we started with a tomato. 
Polpetto
A perfectly ripe, Sicilian tomato with a glug of that beautiful olive oil and sprinkling of sea salt to really bring out the flavour.
PolpettoThis was followed by a bowl of clams with wild garlic. One of my favourite dishes and another perfect representation of the simplicity that is Italian cooking. I could’ve easily ordered five more portions of this, but instead happily slurped the white wine and garlic sauce with my clam shell whilst waiting for our next dish. A dish I feel I need to prepare you for as it is what the term ‘foodporn’ was made for.

Are you ready?

Polpetto

A beautiful, glistening mound of burrata topped with agretti and finely chopped chilli. Burrata, in case you haven’t met, is mozzarella’s cooler, sexier cousin that captures the room’s attention with style and ease, breaks the boys hearts with a single glance and has everyone at the party laughing at her subtly inappropriate jokes. With the italian name of ‘buttered’, burrata has an exterior shell of mozzarella guarding a luscious centre of mozzarella mixed with cream. The addition of agretti, a mediterranean succulent and chilli cut through the richness of the cheese and left me in a genuine state of bliss. Although this doesn’t enlist much culinary talent, to source such fabulous quality burrata is a skill in its own in my book. Polpetto Photo opp pre savagery: trying my best to act civilised in front of Rachel and not lift the whole thing with my fork and take a bite.  Polpetto

The scallops with cauliflower purée and slices of lardo was last and I’m sad to say, least. It was good, but that’s about it. The very small scallops were sweet and well cooked, but I wanted more flavour from the cauliflower. The subtlety of the purée and lardo left me wanting more. It was a great dish texturally and I do admire the delicate flavour combination, but it needed just a bit more oomph.

Rachel and I then had a bit of a debate amongst ourselves, deciding whether or not to order all of the desserts on the menu. Don’t give me that look, there were only five. When our server arrived, we composed ourselves with adult-like restraint and instead ordered two desserts to share between us.
This didn’t stop me from being incredibly naughty immediately after, but I’ll tell you about that later.

PolpettoI initially shied away from the chocolate flan, having had my fair share of it growing up so close to the Mexican border. But my chocolate addiction and some prompting from Rachel drew me in last minute and I couldn’t have been more pleased to succumb to my vice. Polpetto This was nothing like traditional, gelatine-like flan soaked in booze. This was more like a silky chocolate ganache with a deep chocolatey flavouring cut by tart, cold spoonfuls of créme fraîche. PolpettoOur other sweet treat was green apple sorbet served with green apple cubes and sultanas soaked in mead. This is the kind of treat you want served poolside on a hot summer’s day scooped high in a gigantic cone. It was smooth and tart with candy-like sweetness, which was balanced by the tangy mead.
Polpetto

At the end of our meal, I snuck downstairs to the open kitchen and other dining room. Chef Knight was there prepping for the night’s service with the rest of her team. I thanked her and the team for a beautifully prepared meal and told her how much I admired such a simplistic, but meaningful menu.

I wonder if you enjoy dining this way as much as I do? A leisurely meal of dishes, presented one after the other to share with a friend or loved one. It’s as if you’re waiting for a surprise that you get to experience together, both visually and in the edible sense. Commenting on flavours, textures and ingredients intermittently between musings. I’d take this form of entertainment over the theatre or afternoon in the park or a festival any day. Combine all four and maybe we’ll talk.
But maybe this is just me! Maybe you’re more the ‘eat to live’ kinda guy/girl. In which case, you’ve probably left the blog in search of some sustenance.

As soon as Rachel and I parted ways, I wandered down Soho alleyways and ended up having a cheeky snog. Not that kind, weirdo. This kind…
Snog

I know, I know. But it says guilt-free? That makes my post dinner, post dessert frozen yogurt piled high with brownies and berries perfectly excusable, right?

I thoroughly recommend a dinner date at Polpetto. I will definitely be back and have since heard I’ve missed out on the genius that is the bacon chop, whitty pear butter and walnuts. If you get there before me, promise you’ll tell me how it is? Pop your thoughts in the comments or send me a tweet @Alessandra_LDN. I don’t bite, I promise.