Contemporary British food at Native in Neals Yard

Today I’m heading to Native in picturesque Neal’s Yard in my favourite part of London – yes it’s time for lunch in Covent Garden.

Neal’s Yard owes its name to Thomas Neale who created the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden where it’s located. It wasn’t always the beautiful oasis it is today – in fact it had been a dark, rat infested, derelict yard behind the Covent Garden fruit and veg market. It didn’t even appear in the London A-Z until the mid-70s! This was after Nicholas Saunders started the Whole Food Warehouse there and the Yard became transformed into the secret Covent Garden space it is today.

In the courtyard you’ll find a collection of bars, restaurants and cafes set in a cute and colourful surrounds. Native is tucked away in the corner, a mini, stylish establishment with an open kitchen and small bar upstairs. We went down to the little dining area with its whitewashed walls and rustic tables. It’s a calm and relaxing sort of space.

Native’s dishes are all made from ingredients that are native (well, obviously!) to the UK. They focus on game, foraged and wild food which leads to a menu of delicious and somewhat exciting choices.

On Native’s Menu

There’s a choice of three dishes for each course. My Dorset crab was the prettiest plate I’ve seen for a while and came with thinly sliced Wye Valley asparagus. It’s asparagus season in England – so any excuse to eat as much of it as I can! The bitter herb veloute was poured over my dish at the table adding vibrancy and zest.

The beautifully delicate crab dish

The veloute adds a vibrant green-ness

The wild boar ragu was served with buttered satisfy, native curds and pickled walnuts. How’s that for an intriguing-sounding combination. Wild boar simply makes the best ragu – it was rich, packed with meatiness and oh-so-satisfying. You eat the root of the salsify plant which is sort of like a parsnip but different! It has a creamy sort of texture and a good bite to it.

The richness and depth of a wild boar ragu

Today we went for the special which was mutton served with sweetbread, garlic and jus. And an order of carrots and mushrooms on the side. It’s very rare to see mutton on menus – or even in shops – these days. I remember eating it all the time as a child on the farm. So I was very keen to have another mutton taster. It didn’t taste anything like I remembered – and I don’t think that’s anything to do with my memory! Certainly the chefs at Native have more skills in the cheffing department than our family cook (though he was very good). This tender, flavoursome mutton was served medium – medium/rare and I savoured every mouthful. Do love an occasional sweetbread, too.

Mutton, sweetbreads and a luscious gravy

A plate of multi-coloured roast carrots made for the perfect companion for the mutton. I love that carrots come in so many hues these days. They certainly brighten up any meal.

A cornucopia of carrot colours

And then there were the deeply earthy English Portobello mushrooms that were roasted with garlic. Portobellos done properly are almost like eating a juicy steak – simply delicious.

Earthy, juicy mushrooms with garlic

Neal’s Yard couldn’t be more removed from its history of dereliction. It’s the sort of place I could imagine living – right in the heart of much loved Covent Garden, surrounded by great eating! What more could anyone want?

The colourful warehouse-style buildings of Neal’s Yard

Today’s price point

It’s £25 for a two-course lunch or £32 for three courses.

White wine starts from £21 a bottle and red from £20. There’s a selection of English wines on offer, too.

Native is at 3 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, London

Recipe book review: Great British Cooking

It’s time to continue my series reviewing recipe books. I guarantee to make three recipes from every book I review, so I get a good feel for what it’s like.

Despite a lot of disparaging remarks when I was trying it out:  “Great British Cooking, that’ll be a short book”…I found this book inspiring to cook from and there’s plenty in it to try. The recipes are easy to follow, don’t have huge ingredient lists and cover all the best British dishes, some of which have a twist added for that little something extra.

There’s a fantastic chapter on breakfast which includes bubble and squeak, Cornish potato cakes, marmalade, coddled eggs and kippers – and the full English, of course.

Other chapters look at The Pub Lunch, The Sunday Roast, The Nation’s Favourites and The Queen of Puddings.

The Nation’s Favourite section includes several of my own personal favourites, like Lanacashire hotpot, shepherds pie and steak and kidney pudding. Plus this hearty beef and mushroom stew which is made with dumplings, though I decided to leave them out this time for a lighter meal. One of the best beef stews ever, with beer and juniper berries making the flavours richer and more satisfying.

stew

A beautifully rich and hearty beef stew

And then there’s toad-in-the-hole, served with a beautifully sweet and rich red onion gravy. I must admit I’d never tasted toad-in-the-hole before, let alone made it. It’s one of those somewhat miraculous dishes that comes out of the oven beautifully risen and browned with tasty pork sausages nestling in the middle. I made small individual ones for something different, don’t they look cute. Tasted wonderful too, with the gravy poured generously over.

toad

Toad-in-the-hole, marvellous because it’s both crispy and fluffy

onion gravy

The beautiful red onion gravy and the broccoli I served with it

Growing up we had a cook who made the most fabulous Welsh rarebit, our whole family loves it. This is called English rarebit in the book, is so quick and easy to make and tastes truly spectacular. I’m going to be making it regularly.

rarebit1

The rarebit bubbles on the stove

Spread on toast and quickly popped under the grill, the rarebit goes wonderfully brown on top and tastes rich and indulging.

rarebit2

The perfect cheesy lunch time snack

There are plenty more dishes that I’m going to be cooking from this book…Great British cooking, indeed.

book

Great British Cooking is published by Frances Lincoln and sells for £12.99.

Living it up at the movies at One Aldwych

My latest Covent Garden discovery is a fabulous night of film, fizz and dining at the stunning five-star hotel, One Aldwych.

Settle down into luxurious Italian leather armchairs in the private cinema that seats 30. This is the way to go to the movies, not only a large flatscreen, great HD picture and Dolby surround sound, but you get to enjoy a glass of champagne and a box of fresh, warm popcorn. And there’s no ads or boring preambles.

film-and-fizz

After the movie we were escorted by the charming, smiling staff through the somewhat maze-like hotel to Axis restaurant. The welcome here is, well, very welcoming.

axis-orange

Axis restaurant: modern and marvellously moody

The restaurant’s all very modern and stylish and the food turned out to be fabulous. It’s the creation of Executive Chef Dominic Teague who offers a modern British menu with three choices for each course, in this case, and Sommelier wine matching suggestions. The restaurant doesn’t have natural light so is beautifully moody as you can tell from my pictures. Love the pinkish glow.

The chilled cucumber soup was beautifully fresh and came with salty John Ross smoked salmon, radish and creme fraiche. A wonderful summery starter and one I’m tempted to try making at home.

cucmber

The prettiest bowl of cucumber soup with the pinkness of salmon

This is one of my favourite starters, and here’s a truly superior version of it. It’s Teruel P.D.O ham and Charentais melon with a midori dressing. Teruel ham comes from white pigs born and bred in the province of Tereul in Aragon in Northern Spain and it’s beautiful, delicately delicious and melt-in-the-mouth and the perfect complement to the sweetness of the melon. A clever touch was to serve both the ham and the melon in thin strips. Just wonderful.

ham

The best ham and melon starter ever? Possibly

This spring/summer has been very much about green ingredients for me. I find myself ordering vegetarian dishes (like this one) in restaurants because the produce has been so tasty this year. This potato gnocchi came with girolles, peas, broad beans and Parmesan. A wonderful mix, with the earthiness of the girolles, the sweetness of the peas and beans (they just work so perfectly together) and the salty depths of the Parmesan. Soft food to delight.

gnocchi

A dish that captures the gardens of spring and summer

The Brixham plaice was served with fennel, kohlrabi and mussel jus. Fresh and light with delightful flaky chunks of fish and crunchy veg.

fish

A wonderfully light and flavoursome fish dish

A thoroughly lovely and different way to spend an evening in Covent Garden. The opportunities seem to be endless in my favourite part of London.

Oh, nearly forgot, the movie we saw was The Monuments Men which was interesting and entertaining with a good performance by Cate Blanchett, who I didn’t recognise until halfway through. And it had George Clooney in it…what can I say, nothing wrong with a bit of George Clooney. And it’s given me an excuse to post a picture of him, too! Go Gorgeous George!

George-Clooney-headshot

Film and fizz night costs £47.50 for your movie, champagne, popcorn and dinner. Wine at dinner is extra. Find out more at www.onealdwych.co.uk

One Aldwych is at 1 Aldwych, Covent Garden WC1. (Obviously!)

 

My London Top-10 for 2013

2013 has been a fabulous year for me with lots of opportunities for travel. I was lucky enough to visit Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Thailand and South Africa, all in less than eight months.

Of course, I was also lucky enough to be based in London when I wasn’t in one of these other fantastic countries. There’s always something happening in London. This vibrant city has been my home for over 28 years (yikes, that makes me feel ancient), and while some of the old favourites remain, there’s always something new and exciting to try. So I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tell you about the best dishes I’ve eaten this year from a select 10 of London’s restaurants that I visited, spread throughout what’s arguably the best city in the world.

Here they are, in no particular order – there’s no chance I could rank them…sorry! Enjoy the lovely pictures, I guarantee they’ll get your mouth watering.

South America-bound in Marylebone

Whatever type of cuisine you’re looking for, London will have something to offer. This year saw quite a trend in South American restaurants popping up all around the capital. Zoilo is Argentinian  and opened early this year. I went there in May and tucked into what was definitely my best steak of the year. So favoursome, so tender, so perfectly cooked and topped with an amazing fresh, zesty and spicy sauce. This is  a steak  no meat lover should try to resist.

Zoilo is at 9 Duke Street, London W1

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Ojo de bife and chumichurry at Zoilo

Dinner with Heston in Knightsbridge

Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant opened in Spring 2011. This year it was awarded its second Michelin star and is ranked at no. 7 in the San Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants. I’m not a huge Heston fan, having found lunch at The Fat Duck more like a science experiment than a meal. But having developed serious feelings of inadequacy upon reading the said San Pellegrino list I decided as Dinner was close to home I simply had to pay it a visit and up my tally of top-50s visited (if only by one).

I loved Dinner – the food, the service, the space, the whole experience. Lunches are great value at £38 (it was £36 when I visited in May) for three courses – but it seems impossible not to get a serious wallet-draining hit with the wine! Oh well, sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind. The best dish of the day was this beautiful cured salmon with monks beard, peas, caper and mussel broth.

Dinner is in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge (across the road from Harvey Nichols), overlooking Hyde Park.

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A truly delectable salmon dish with flavours of Spring

Oh-la-la we’re off to Paris, in Piccadilly

Another trend for 2013 in London was the appearance of more and more Parisian-style brasseries. I love this kind of simple food, cooked perfectly, so bring on the brassieries.

Brasserie Zedel opened late last year in the space that used to be the Atlantic Bar and Grill. How I loved that place, it felt the ultimate in sophistication at the time. So I started from a good place mentally, walking in feeling happy to be descending the grand spiral staircase once again into the buzz and clatter of brasserie life.

The menu offers a decent range of classic French dishes and it’s such fabulous value for money, you actually can’t believe it. The space is grand and imposing while also feeling welcoming, transporting you instantly across the Channel. I’ve recommended Zedel a lot this year and everyone’s had a good experience.

My starter – the humble egg mayonnaise was as perfect as can be. The lightest, tastiest mayo ever and a crisp pile of lettuce in the middle sprinkled with more chopped hard boiled egg.

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Oeufs Durs Mayonnaise – superb egg mayo gets me every time

An old favourite in Covent Garden

My blog was conceived of and started in Covent Garden, so I was very excited when glamorous Covent Garden favourite, Christopher’s reopened  in May this year after serious renovation. One of the very first American restaurants in London, it originally opened in 1991. The beautiful listed building is now home to a stylish Martini bar on the ground floor and an elegant dining room on the first with huge picture windows looking out over Waterloo Bridge. A classic view to make anyone proud to be a Londoner.

The modern American cuisine is beautifully done and this tuna dish is definitely the best tuna I had all year – and I eat a fair bit of tuna. If you’re after a  bit of glamour, a touch of history and some seriously good food, you can’t go wrong with Christopher’s.

Christopher’s is at 18 Wellington Street, WC2.

seared tuna

Seared tuna with horseradish cream, wasabi and creole mayonnaise

A fabulous Vietnamese experience in Fulham

Next stop and it’s somewhere completely different. A laid back, neighbourhood Vietnamese in Fulham, Orchid Vietnam Kitchen…what did I say, the variety in London is amazing. My first visit to a Vietnamese restaurant, although I’ve cooked a lot of Vietnamese dishes as I love the freshness of all the herbs they use and the simplicity of a lot of the dishes.

This night was like a tour of the country with dishes and tastes from different regions. The winner was the Monkfish Cha Cha La Vong. Monkfish marinated in galangal and saffron, brought in a frying pan and cooked at your table with handfuls of fresh dill and served with more herbs, veggies and rice. Such a wonderful dish, and the food we ate and people we met got me seriously thinking about planning a visit to Vietnam in 2014.

Orchid Vietnam is at 351 Fulham Road, SW10

kingklip

The freshest herby fish…and you’ve gotta love a bit of cooking action at the table

Great British food in magical Soho

The Social Eating House, in the heart of Soho, is the third London restaurant from British chef, Jason Atherton. I love exploring Soho and was lucky enough to work there for seven years. It’s food and drink heaven and here’s a welcome new addition. A wonderfully glamorous space with an intriguing menu.

My starter of mushrooms on toast was pure genius. The earthy, wild mushrooms arrived bubbling in a sealed bag which the waitress then snipped the top off. The toast arrived in a little toast rack and was spread with a cep puree which added such depth to the dish. Clever, simple, fun and so delicious, who knew mushrooms on toast could be so delicious!

The Social Eating House is at 58 Poland Street, W1. It was awarded a Michelin Star shortly after I visited.

mushrooms

Bubbling wild mushrooms to pile on your toast

Starred French cuisine in Covent Garden

Another day, another Michelin Star restaurant. Set on a side street (the same one as The Ivy) on the edge of Covent Garden, La Cuisine @ Joel Robuchon also offers brasserie-style food in a bright, modern dining room. Their set menu is good value at £50 for three courses, including wine pairing with starters and main courses.

There’s also a lovely roof terrace where we enjoyed post-lunch drinks on a balmy September afternoon. It was hard to drag ourselves away. The dish I’ve chosen was my main course of Whiting. Light and tasty with a luscious helping of melting butter, dishes don’t get more typically Parisian than this. Something completely different. La Cuisine is not cheap, which makes it a lovely place to really treat yourself and take your time over a long, leisurely lunch.

La Cusine is at 13-15 West Street, WC2

whiting

My Parisian-style Whiting with melting butter and delicious seaweed

Gordon Ramsay’s latest venture in Southwark

I spent a large part of the summer working in the Southwark area in London, right next door to a very noisy building site (sorry for the tautology). Turns out it was the development of the latest Gordon Ramsay offering in London, The Union Street Cafe. Rumour had it that David Beckham was involved in the venture and pre-opening, online booking went bonkers. After opening it emerged he wasn’t…not sure what that was all about? Why people would want to go to a restaurant more because Beckham is involved is a bit of a mystery, it’s not like he’s going to be there every night!

I went along in the first couple of weeks it was open and really liked the place. The modern warehouse-style space lends itself well to the modern Mediterranean food, the service was relaxed, friendly and efficient. My main course of lamb neck with polenta was melt-in-the-mouth. Some anti-Ramsay critics gave it a bit of a bashing, he does suffer from negative press just for being Gordon Ramsay…not terribly open minded. I’d certainly go back.

Union Street Cafe is at 47-51 Great Suffolk Street, SE1

lamb polenta

Beautifully soft lamb neck with the creamiest of polenta

Designer style in Hyde Park

One of the many great things about London is that it’s packed with beautiful parks. You’re never far from an open space to relax in and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. So imagine my delight when I heard of a new restaurant opening in Hyde Park in November this year.

The Magazine’s building was designed by famous Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid, who designed the Aquatic Centre for the London 2012 Olympics. It’s modern, bright and really quite stunning with a lovely menu.

My delectable Thai beef salad starter was packed with punchy Asian flavours mixed into a tasty bundle. The most perfect starter of the year? Quite possibly.

The Magazine is in Hyde Park, five minutes from the Serpentine Gallery on the north side of the Serpentine Bridge.

Thai beef salad

Thai beef salad packing an authentic punch

Perfect Italian in lovely Charlotte Street

When it comes to what I’d call Eating Streets in London, Charlotte Street has got to be the ultimate. I always say that if I didn’t live in London I’d check into a nearby hotel for a week (or possible even two) and make my way up and down the street until I’d tried everything out. There’s so much there. And I’ve discovered somewhere new, too.

Obika describes itself as a Mozzarella Bar – and indeed there is a bar at the front where you can sample all sorts of deliciacies. The Mozzarella is made in Campania and flown into London three times a week, so you can be sure it’s fresh.

My pasta dish of parpadelle with sausage and tomato ragu was the best pasta dish I’ve had all year. Perfectly cooked, fresh pasta coated in an amazing sauce. I can see myself whiling away many an hour in Obika, which is an international “chain”. Oh and one’s just opened in Poland Street in Soho, I can hear it calling me.

Obika is at 11-13 Charlotte Street, W1

parpadelle

Amazing al dente pasta ribbons and a luscious sauce

Wow, what a fantastic array of dishes I’ve been privileged to sample this year. And that’s just in London. Watch this space, as I feel the need to share with you even more: how about my top-10 from the rest of the world? Coming soon.