The CAKE app for easy eating out in London

Today I’m trying out the new CAKE app which really is an app meant for me. It’s an app which makes it easier to find, book and pay at London restaurants. And there’s a wide range of establishments already on its books.

I loved the fact that when you turn it on shows you nearby eateries and how far away they are – and you can book instantly. Or of course you can select any of their restaurants in advance and make your booking at any time.

On arrival at your chosen restaurant, simply open up a tab on your phone using the app and inform your waiter. Then when you’re done it’s quick and easy to pay. You can even set it up to instantly split the bill between your party.

You can also earn credit back when you eat out with special offers, just select somewhere with credit on and you’ll get a percentage of the cost of your dinner back (usually 15-20%). The more you eat the more you save! And of course as your credits build up you’ve got a great excuse to be going out and about again.

£5 for free

If you download the CAKE app to your phone you’ll get a £5 gift from me to get you going on your exploration of London’s restaurantland. Just use the referral code EATINGCG when you download the app. Happy dining.

Find out more and download your app at thecakeapp.com

The restaurants

My first outing using CAKE I visited Talli Joe in Shaftesbury Avenue. A buzzing little Indian tapas-style restaurant with great food. Full review coming soon, here’s a taster, the spicy venison mince served with an organic egg yolk atop.

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The delectable Parsee Venison Keema Ghotala

Among the myriad restaurants you can use CAKE at here are three of my London favourites.

Ember Yard in Soho serves up a great range of dishes cooked over fire. Like what’s possibly the best cauliflower dish I’ve ever eaten.

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Delightful spicy, grilled cauliflower

Lima Floral in Covent Garden transports you to Peru with an amazing array of truly different dishes. Peruvian ingredients are like no other and make for an exciting eating experience.

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Tender beef Peruvian-style

And then there’s the grandeur of Brasserie Zedel. Sitting right by Piccadilly Circus, it’s a glamorous Parisian-style brasserie of marble and glitz serving great-value French food.

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Style and sophistication at Zedel

And that’s just four lovely restaurants to tempt you – London is teaming with them after all. And eating there with CAKE makes life easier.

 

Waterside dining at The Sipping Room in London’s Docklands

My summer exploration of London continues today with a visit to Docklands for lunch at The Sipping Room.

Canary Wharf is located on the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs. From 1802 to 1939 this area was one of the busiest docks in the world. The name comes from a berth that was built in 1936 for fruit being imported in from the Mediterranean and Canary Islands. Must admit I’ve always wondered about the Canary in Wharf. Mystery solved.

After the 1960s the port industry began to decline leading to all the docks being closed by 1980 and the whole area fell into disrepair. But not for long – as construction began in 1988 to convert the area into what is now a major business district and one of the UK’s two main financial centres. The first buildings were completed in 1988 and the main tower – One Canada Square – finished in 1991.

I worked in Docklands (South Quay to be exact) for the first time from the late eighties to the mid nineties and there was pretty much nothing going on. Well, a lot of construction and mess and noise. I used to get the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to work every day – it was computerised and driverless! Wow were we impressed with that – even though the system regularly broke down and commuting was somewhat hellish.

Through my London life I’ve worked in the area several times since and the opening of the new Jubilee Line on the Underground soon made getting to Canary Wharf way more fast and efficient. And the place grew and grew becoming a shiny new city on water.

Anyway, in a somewhat nostalgic frame of mind I decided today to get the DLR to my lunch at The Bothy. Not that I recognised anything – Docklands is very much still an ongoing project and it’s quite frankly nothing short of spectacular. A far cry from that hole in the ground I used to pass by on my daily commute. Once again London’s constant evolution never ceases to amaze me.

What’s on the menu

The Sipping Room is set in an enormous warehouse alongside West India Quay. It’s huge and beautifully done with the perfect summertime terrace and a stylishly decorated interior.

The menu offers a good selection of dishes using seasonal ingredients and there’s also a comprehensive cocktail list. Our waiter recommended we started off with Pina Coladas. And why not. Haven’t had one for a while – it felt like a real treat. And don’t they look fabulous, too. You can also get an idea of the expansiveness and style of the restaurant in the background.

The Bothy: Pina Coladas

Looking through our cocktails to the stunning warehouse space

Our waiter suggested we snacked on a plate of smoked almonds while me made our choices – a tasty mix of saltiness and smokiness.

The Bothy: smoked almonds

A beautiful bowl of smoky, salty almonds to get started

It’s asparagus season in the UK and I love this classic dish of asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise sauce.

The Bothy: Asparagus and poached egg

An all-time favourite in greens and yellows

For my main course I went for the chargrilled tuna salad with green papaya, cucumber, peanuts and lime dressing. A zesty dish that’s just great for a warm summer’s day.

The Bothy: Asian tuna salad

Crunchy tuna salad with a zesty Asian dressing

My dining companion loves her steak so went for the sirloin which was served with chips and watercress. And a pepper sauce on the side.

The Bothy: steak and chips

Sirloin served with chips and a pepper sauce

There are several different versions of chips on the menu which I thought was a nice touch. And I tucked into the Roman fries – which were served with parmesan, truffle and rosemary. Such a wonderful combination.

The Bothy: Chips

Crispy chips with parmesan, rosemary and truffle

Dessert time and again we followed our waiter’s recommendation and went for a tipsy affrogato. Doesn’t that sound exotic. Espresso is poured over a dollop of ice-cream, followed by a tot of Kahlua liquor. A cross between a drink and a pud and another liquid memory that takes me back – love a bit of Kahlua!

The Bothy: affrogato

Light and creamy coffee dessert

Here’s the view across one area of tables. Love the general feel of the place with its rafters, brick walls and herbs on every table.

The Bothy: internal shot

The contemporary, warm and stylish Bothy

And then there’s the terrace. I can imagine it teeming on days the sun honours us with its presence.

The Bothy: Outdoor terrace

The expansive terrace is perfect for sunny summer days

How we would have loved a wonderful venue like this in my early Docklands days. We might never have returned to the office.

Today’s price point

Three courses costs us just under £70 without drinks or service.

Wine starts from £18 a bottle.

The Sipping Room is at 16 Hertsmere Road, West India Quay E14. The nearest station is West India Quay which is on the Dockland’s Light Railway. Or you can get the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf.

The London attacks

I’m very aware as I write this of the horrific attacks in London this weekend. I was in Borough Market a couple of days before they happened – and even had lunch in the restaurant where one of the murderers stabbed a woman. This makes it even more personal for me and I am so determined to live my life in this wonderful city, even if I do feel scared. My review of El Pastor in Borough Market and more thoughts coming soon so watch this space.

Vietnamese cuisine in a unique London location

Tonight we’re going under the arches in Covent Garden to enjoy some Vietnamese flavours at Moc Kitchen.

As I’m always discovering in London, despite having lived here for 30 years now, there’s a piece of history I’m not aware of around every corner. Today I got to thinking about the city’s railway arches because of where we were heading for dinner.

There are plenty of them – just think how many large stations there are and I’m sure they all have a story to tell! Historically they were a shelter for the homeless and vagrants. I can imagine they could have been somewhat dodgy places to go, with their darkness and dankness!

The arches between the Strand and the Thames, where we headed tonight, have been described as ‘a little subterranean city where no sane person would have ventured to explore without an armed escort’. Now that sounds scary.

The arches also provided a refuge in a more organised way when they were used as air raid shelters during World War II.

Now they’re even better places to visit, proving a wonderfully atmospheric setting for restaurants and bars. Like Moc Kitchen.

Opened this year by Lan Nguyen, who hails from Hanoi, this Vietnamese eatery offers a comprehensive range of dishes using classic ingredients. So I was expecting lots of fresh flavours and herbs. And that’s just what I got.

The menu takes some perusing and decision making. It’s neatly divided into sections to help the process, with tempting titles like Salads and Veggie combinations, Spring and Summer Rolls, Hot, Sweet and Sour Soups, Mocs Crispy, Mocs Pancakes, Mixed Bowls, Fish Selection, Duck in Sauce, Beef and Coconut Curries.

I’ve had the crispy pancake experience before so we went for a the southern style savoury golden pancake with prawns, beansprouts, celery and red peppers. A hearty plate of delights arrives at your table. You need to roughly chop the crispy pancake with all its goodies nestling inside, take a lettuce leaf and stuff it with a portion of pancake, loads of fresh herbs and a dash of sauce. Then munch.

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A crispy pancake with its savoury filling

The hot la lot rolls are are grilled lemongrass beef wrapped in wild betel leaf. An exotic-sounding dish if ever there was one.

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Little tempting rolls of beef

And here’s a stunning duck summer roll. Love Vietnamese rolls wrapped in the light rice paper and stuffed with deliciousness.

Summer Rolls Duck low-res

The freshness of Vietnamese rolls

For mains we had to go for the grilled cha ca fish. Marinated monkfish with Vietnamese dill, spring onion and roasted peanut served with rice noodles. As is again the case you need to mix everything up at the table…I love this aspect of Vietnamese eating. So a mix of fish, herbs, noodles, chilli and vegetables in a bowl and tuck in.

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Sizzling fish with plenty of dill

Another exotic-sounding dish. Prawn salad with lotus root. The combination is beautifully fresh.

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A light lotus root salad

And then there’s the spicy grilled beef served with the chef’s special spicy sauce. Again served with a cornucopia of herbs, noodles and vegetables to mix up in your bowl and savour.

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Chilli beef with plenty of goodies

Vietnamese food is certainly a great addition to London’s amazingly wide-ranging restaurant land.

Moc Kitchen is at 2 The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2, a minute’s walk from Embankment tube station. It is also open for takeaways at lunchtime.

 

My 2014 favourites from London’s restaurant-land

I can’t believe we’re already halfway through January 2015 – I wish I had a slow motion button I could push, it all goes past way too fast.

2014 gave me plenty of chances to sample a wide range of cuisine all around the beautiful city that is London.  This year I tasted Peruvian and Korean food for the first time and totally loved both of them. I also learned more about the flavours of Vietnam as well as discovering new venues to sample some of my favourite cuisines. Here’s a taster of my London food adventures from last year.

Scientific works of art at Restaurant Story

This amazingly beautiful seafood dish was served up at Restaurant Story just south of Tower Bridge (201 Tooley Street) as one of a range of snacks and dishes on their fabulous tasting menu. It was foaming on arrival and the mist cleared to reveal a beautiful garden under the sea with razor clams, scallop ceviche-style, devilled crab and marinated prawns on a bed of stones, seaweed and flowers. Chef Tom Sellers is incredible creative and his menu offers you a fascinating trip around the world of scientifically constructed food that’s beautifully presented and tastes fabulous, too.

This seafood dish is a real spectacle

This seafood dish is a real spectacle

A new South American odyssey

One of the cuisines I learned more about in 2014 was from Peru. I even managed to get hold of some fabulous Peruvian ingredients and cooked a range of exotic dishes at home. This lomo steak Luancaina from Lima in Fitzrovia (31 Rathbone Place) was served with yellow aji sauce and goa cress. Aji are chilli peppers that are widely used in Peruvian cuisine, in this case to make a delicately creamy sauce which was served with rare, tender beef.

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Steak Peruvian-style to savour

Traditional French at its best

From Peru to France. I visited the new Paul Restaurant in Covent Garden (29 Bedford Street). The original bakery opened in 1889 near Lille and since then spread around France and the UK selling mouth-watering cakes, pastries and bread. This is their first venture into a restaurant and serves classic French cuisine done perfectly. After a discussion about whether one should order roast chicken in a restaurant (overall consensus no), I asked for the roasted free range corn fed half chicken marinated in tarragon, lemon and garlic. Best decision of the day – this is roast chicken like no other.

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The best roast chicken ever? Possibly

Spanish and Italian meet over hot coals

Next stop is Ember Yard in Soho (60 Berwick Street W1) which takes its inspiration from the Spanish and Italian method of cooking over charcoal – hence the embers, I guess. These two cuisines combine to offer a lovely choice of tapas-style dishes. The grilled Iberico presa (which is kind of the pork equivalent of Wagyu beef) was served with whipped jamon butter. A total taste sensation – the Spanish really know how to raise, cook and serve a pig or two.

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The King of pork served rare with luscious butter

A great-value local Vietnamese

2014 was also a year to learn more about the fresh flavours of Vietnamese food. Mien Tay in Battersea (180 Lavender Hill) is a casual local eatery with a packed menu of traditional cuisine at really great value. This substantial starter of a crispy pancake stuffed with chicken and beansprouts arrives piping hot at the table. You then need to slice it and wrap the substantial chunks in lettuce leaves with lots of fresh herbs before dipping into the tasty sauce. Vietnamese cuisine demands a lot of hands-on eating.

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Tuck in to this beautiful array of tastes and textures

The simplest of menus cooked to perfection

La Tagliata (11 Sandys Row) is a short walk from Liverpool Street Station on the edge of the City of London. Their totally simple menu offers one starter (pasta) and a main course of tagliata. This traditional sirloin steak cooked, sliced and served on a bed of rocket, parmesan and cherry tomatoes is a classic dish that needs a lot of celebrating. The crispy potato squares were carb perfection…and hooray for a menu that involves only the tiniest bit of decision making!

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A classic dish perfectly prepared

Tagliata was also witness to some unusual restaurant behaviour from me – I ordered, loved and polished off a dessert. I’m not much of a dessert or chocolate lover but for me it doesn’t get better than this wonderful strawberry panna cotta. Bring on more panna cotta in 2015.

My ultimate dessert – strawberry panna cotta

My ultimate dessert – strawberry panna cotta

Modern Indian in stylish Bloomsbury

A new discovery in a part of town I don’t often visit made for a fabulous night out. Salaam Namaste (68 Millman Street) in Bloomsbury offers wonderful modern Indian cuisine with a regularly changing specials menu. I had this Goan-spiced scallop starter with mango salsa, presented with flair.

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Luscious Goan-spiced scallops, pretty as a picture

 Feasting on Korean delights at Koba

Korean’s another cuisine I discovered in 2014 – and tucked into at Koba again in Fitzrovia (11 Rathbone Place W1). This amazing assortment of meats, prawns and vegetables, including marinated beef sirloin, sweet and spicy chicken and sweet and sour sauce comes on a platter for you to cook yourself at the table. Delicious aromas engulf you and once everything’s ready you wrap it up in lettuce leaves with condiments like soya bean paste and diced spring onions with chilli vinegar. Great food with a lot of ceremony involved in eating it.

Koba-London

A different way to cook…an indoor barbecue

 

Gordon Ramsey’s new kid on the block

I’m a bit of a Gordon Ramsey fan, having found him perfectly charming when I met him and particularly loving his Union Street Kitchen in Southwark. So when a new place opened in his stable, I had to try it out. Of course, Gordon isn’t in the kitchen himself, at Heddon Street Kitchen just off Regent Street (3-9 Heddon Street), Maria Tampakis, who hails from Brooklyn, NYC, is in charge. She describes her food as “seasonal, modern European food spiked with Asian influences. A stylish restaurant in one of my favourite hidden streets in London where I enjoyed a delightful starter of roasted veal carpaccio, dill pickles and quails eggs with a tuna dressing. Amazing fresh flavours reminscent of one of my all-time favourite starters, vitello tonnato.

An amazingly creative version of vitello tonnato

An amazingly creative version of vitello tonnato

What are your favourite restaurants in London? Where should I be visiting in 2015? Do get in touch with your suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.