Scandinavian delights at Nordic Bakery

Today I’m having an indulgent lunch at Nordic Bakery in Covent Garden. Being back in my favourite part of London always makes me smile. This is one of four establishments in London that sells a fabulous range of Nordic baked goods, like cinnamon buns, rye bread and cakes…and more.

They describe themselves as a beautiful Scandinavian cafe and peaceful meeting place in a frantic city. There are certainly many Scandinavian touches about the place (like the wood-clad walls) which exudes a sense of coolness and calm. I’m loving the Scandi vibe that’s popping up around London. This would certainly be the perfect place to visit in the middle of this amazing heatwave London’s having.

Service is welcoming and friendly and then you’ll discover  all manner of deliciousness to choose from.

Nordic Bakery Covent Garden

Welcome to Covent Garden’s Nordic Bakery

Cinnamon buns are a quintessential Scandinavian treat and these are among the best I’ve ever seen or tasted. They are made fresh on the premises throughout the day. Just looking at this picture makes my mouth water.

Nordic bakery: Cinnamon buns

Up close on the perfect cinnamon buns

As I was there around lunchtime I simply had to try some of the savoury delicacies. Like these open sandwiches. Gravadlax and cucumber or smoked salmon on traditional rye bread.

Nordic Bakery: Open sandwiches

Smoked salmon tastes amazing on rye bread

One of my favourite Nordic ingredients is herring. They have so many ways of preparing this wonderful fish – one I simply do not eat enough of. Here it is in a mild curry sauce served with hard boiled egg on that rye bread again. Such a great combination.

Nordic Bakery: open herring sandwich

You have to try the herring if you’re anywhere Nordic

The spinach and feta quiche was light and tasty with its melt-in-the-mouth pastry.

Nordic bakery: spinach and feta quiche

A slice of creamy, tasty quiche

Berries are a big part of Nordic cuisine – blueberries and lingonberries are perfect in these tasty buns.

Nordic Bakery: berry buns

Berry buns and more to choose from

Or how about pastries with an apple, almond or custard filling. See what I mean, there’s a lot of choices going on here.

Nordic Bakery: apple, almond and custard

More sweet flavours to savour

And here’s a sweet surprise. It’s called an oven pancake and is cooked in a baking tray. And although it doesn’t look like it, it certainly tastes like a pancake and was wonderful with their home-made berry jam. What a great idea – fuss-free pre-prepared pancakes without the stress. I’m going to be making these at home, that’s for sure.

Nordic bakery: Oven pancake

The surprising oven pancake with delicious berry jam

The great news is that even if you don’t live in London or can’t get to Covent Garden, there’s a fabulous recipe book. So you can get baking at home and fill your home with Scandinavian delights. Now doesn’t that sound good?

Time for some home-baked goods

 

Nordic Bakery is at 55 Neal Street, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, London.

Mexican fare at El Pastor in Borough Market

Today’s London story is about my visit to El Pastor alongside Borough Market for some Mexican delights. But first, something less pleasant.

I write this two days after the horrendous attacks in London when three murderers in a van ploughed down pedestrians on London Bridge and then ran through Borough Market stabbing people. In fact, one of them stabbed a woman in the chest in El Pastor before customers managed to push him out of the restaurant by throwing chairs and bottles at him. At  last count there are seven people dead and 48 injured.

This carnage happened on a warm summer Saturday when Londoners were out and about enjoying the many pleasures the area has to offer. I’d eaten in El Pastor the Thursday before, followed by a meander through the wonders of the market. Two days later people were being stabbed on those same streets. I admit it, it makes me scared. Are our lives in danger every time we step out onto the streets of this great city?

I was on the Underground on Thursday 7 July 2005 when four Islamist extremists separately detonated bombs on three Underground trains and a bus. 56 died and 784 were injured. Luckily for me I wasn’t on one of the targeted trains – it was still a truly awful day. And I was scared then, too. In the weeks following I got off trains several times because I felt someone looked “suspicious” – whatever that means. As it happens it was just me being paranoid and, well, scared. So while we all #wearenotafraid I am standing up and saying yes, I am scared but it’s not going to stop me. Being scared is okay.  Being sad at the random hatred is okay. Shedding tears over lives lost is okay.

Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London in 2005 and  after the bombings he said: “You will see that people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. Nothing you do, however many of us you kill will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. ”

That speech was about me (among many others). I moved here 32 years ago and have built my life in a city that offered me myriad opportunities, freedom and a home. I plan to visit Borough Market again soon and pay tribute to the bravery of the police and medics and ordinary people who helped fight off these fanatics. They are the sort of people we should aspire to be. To show that we can fight the evil around us. And that while we may be afraid, we will stand together and show these madmen we will not let them win. It’s the best that we can do.

After all the city offers many delights, especially if you like eating out. London’s restaurant culture reflects the wide diversity of people who have come together to create an exciting, vibrant city with  much to savour. So it seems fitting that today I’m writing about a new Mexican addition to the London scene – El Pastor.

And what better than a chunky guacamole to start with? Served with two-tone tortillas (or totopos as they call them here) and some extra salsa for dipping.

El Pastor: guacamole

Chunky guacamole to keep avo lovers happy

The core of the menu is a tacos choice. Well, you are in a taqueria after all, where all the tortillas are made fresh on-site every day. The signature tacos, Al Pastor, is made from 24-hour marinated pork shoulder, caramelised pineapple, guacamole vaquero, white onion and coriander. Melt-in-the-mouth pork with the crunch of fruit and veg all makes for a wonderfully zesty little package.

Es Pastor: Al Pastor taco

Luscious and tasty pork with crunchy veg

In the choripapa, your taco is filled with chorizo, potato and salsa verde. I hadn’t thought that chorizo and potato could be such a stunning combination, it’s the perfect mix of soft and spicy richness.

El Pastor: chorizo and potato taco

Potato and chorizo – a heavenly taco combo

Today’s pudding sounded so exotic we had to give it a try. The fresh pineapple is served with hibiscus granita, chilli and mint. You bite into the sweet juiciness of the pineapple, get a touch of mint flavour and are then hit by the chilli. It’s certainly a dessert with impact.

Borough Market: pineapple dessert

Pineapple, hibiscus and chilli dessert – how exotic!

Today’s price point

We paid £27 for our food selection (not including drinks).

Wine starts from £18 for a bottle and cocktails from £8.

And here are a couple of my favourite images from my visit to that wonderful market.

Borough Market: Saucisson

The prettiest Saucissons ever

I can’t leave Borough Market unless I’m clutching a bottle of the delectable truffle honey. It’s irresistible.

Borough Market: Truffle honey

You simply have to treat yourself to some truffle honey

El Pastor is at 6-7A Stoney Street, London SE1.

Waterside dining at The Bothy in London’s Docklands

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

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 Bothy 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 Bothy 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.

Delightful dishes down by the riverside at Bistro Vadouvan

I’ve lived in London for most of my adult life (so far) and totally feel like the city is my home. It’s a bustling, somewhat crowded city but I love its energy and attitude and the fact that there is so much to do and see. And I particularly love it in summer – well in summer when the sun comes out. Which it did this week! And what better way to spend a sunny summer evening than dining overlooking the River Thames.

Bistro Vadouvan is set on Putney Wharf’s Piazza and on such a lovely evening it felt more like we were dining in Spain than England. It’s the brainchild of two friends who grew up in the same town in India but only got to know each other years later at college (weird how that does happen)!

What’s on the menu

Their interesting dishes combine classic French cuisine with Middle Eastern and Asian flavours – making for some wonderful plates of food. The prawn, crab and cucumber salad was served with yuzu kosho and a hint of green chilli. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit and this is a simply stunning, summery dish. So light and zesty with plenty of crunch and beautifully fresh seafood. Reminded me of some of the beautiful salads I ate in Vietnam last year. And doesn’t it look amazing too.

Bistro Vadouvan: crab salad

The spiced Bouillabaisse Provencal was a classic with a twist. Plump rope mussels, chorizo and Middle Eastern flavours gave the fish soup added depth. Love the fish-shaped bread, too.

Bistro Vadouvan: Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse made even better with Middle Eastern flavours

It seemed like it was going to be hard to follow those starter choices – two of the standout dishes of the summer so far. However, this fishy main was stupendous. Cornish brill was poached in coconut milk and served with prawn ravioli, gnocchi, shiitake, spring onion and chilli salad. I can’t say I’ve eaten much brill – I certainly plan to in the future. It was beautifully soft and sweet, the broth was creamy and was topped with a fabulous combo of mushrooms, salad and herbs.

Bistro Vadouvan: brill and prawn ravioli

A wonderful fish concoction with fresh Asian flavours

One of today’s specials was a rib eye steak topped with salsa verde. It was served with what the restaurant calls well-dressed whole baby gem lettuce topped with an incredible dressing and a bowl of perfectly crisp chips with rosemary and garlic.

Bistro Vadouvan: Ribeye steak

A lusciously juicy steak with amazing salad and chips

Bistro Vadouvan has a wonderfully intriguing list of desserts on offer, we just couldn’t resist. I opted for the mango soup which was served with basil leaves and seeds. A bowl of refreshing, liquid mango with luscious little chunks inside and topped with a mango sorbet. Mango and basil is a heavenly contribution and as a lover of both this is a pudding that’s right up my alley!

Bistro Vadouvan: Mango soup

My absolute dream dessert – a cornucopia of mango

The other delight that caught our eye was called Floating Island. Basically a soft meringue floating in creme anglaise and topped with crunchy, caramelised nuts. Wow, what joy! We even tried combining the two and the fruity, sweet  and creamy result was incredible. What wonderful summer desserts.

Bistro Vadouvan: Floating island

A floating masterpiece of creamy sweetness

Today’s price point

A three course dinner for two cost £70 not including wine or service.

Wine starts from around £20 a bottle.

Bistro Vadouvan is at 30 Brewhouse Lane, Putney Wharf SW15 on the river near Putney Bridge.

Square Meal

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

Tasty Scandinavian fare at Aster

I love that you feel you can travel the world while living in London – well in a foodie sort of way you can. My last restaurant story was about Portuguese food and today we’re heading into Scandinavia. The food of Aster is a mix of Executive Chef Helena Puolakka’s Nordic heritage and her French training.

The Nordic countries comprise Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark – and would you believe I’ve been to four of them! Norway is the only one currently unvisited. And I have eaten fabulous food in all of these countries – most notably Denmark and Iceland recently – so I was very keen to visit Aster. In addition, my lunch companion was to be Amanda, who I travelled to Sri Lanka with last year, and whose parents are both Nordic. Love starting with a bit of inside knowledge.

Aster has a restaurant, cafe and deli and we chose to eat in the downstairs cafe. Because I preferred the look of the menu. It’s in a shiny new building right near Victoria Station. I’m amazed at how many of those there are these days, another part of London that’s been transformed. There’s a warm welcome and a stylish, modern interior and a very exciting menu to ponder.

After much deliberation we decided to go the Smorgasbord route (now there’s a good word…smorgasbord)! Not an easy decision with all the fabulous fish and meat dishes on offer.  Like wild reindeer sausages, venison pie, hot smoked plaice, arctic char and baltic fish pie. But smorgasbord it was and what a great move that turned out to be.

What’s on the menu

From the Jar section we opted for the hot smoked potted salmon and the pickles which arrived in these stylish little jars. Stylish is a word you’ll use often on any visit to Aster. There’s some beautiful food plating going on here – and it’s all kept so simple, letting the distinctive flavours shine through.

Beautiful glass bowls of pate and pickles

You really can’t go Nordic and not go herring. Luckily I’m a pretty big herring fan and even had curried herrings on my waffle for breakfast in Iceland (absolutely delicious it was, too, and I even convinced some of my fellow travellers to give it a try). Today they were done three ways with sherry, blackcurrant and dill and served with new potatoes and toasted rye bread. A totally spectacular combination of flavours – I particularly loved the blackberry marinated ones.

Herring three ways with dill potatoes and rye bread

From the top of the Smorgasbord menu we chose two dishes. This luscious sliced pork belly which was served with apple and mustard butter on more rye. The richness of the pork matched so brilliantly with the tart apple, spicy mustard and earthy bread.

The most succulent of belly pork

And then there was this colourful plate of mushroom and potato ‘hash’ served with lingonberries. The berries added a lovely tartness to a warming dish – they are a distant cousin to cranberries, smaller and juicer, and are a wild fruit native to the Northern hemisphere and abundant in Scandinavia.

Our final choice came from the Meat section and was this beautifully soft and salty salami flavoured with a bit of fennel. Fennel salami gets me every time, and this was right up there as one of the best I’ve tried.

Delicately flavoured fennel salami

Amanda’s local knowledge also came in useful when it came to the liquor! Hence she recommended that we order a glass of aquavit each. It’s a Scandinavian liquor (obviously) that gets its distinctive flavours from the spices and herbs used. The main ones should be caraway or dill. Aquavit is not for the faint-hearted with its 40% alcohol by volume – and I absolutely loved it. Served chilled in these stunning little glasses it certainly added to the whole Nordic experience. Most of all, I can definitely visualise more aquavit passing my lips.

Plenty of pale liquor to keep us going!

Today’s price point

And finally, the money.

Aster is very reasonably priced with our six dishes from the Smorgasbord today costing us £31.50. It was plenty of food for two people.

If you eat off the a la carte menu a starter is going to cost you between £4.50 and £9.00.

Mains are between £11.50 and £22.00.

Aster is at 150 Victoria Street, Westminster, London SW1.

They also do a fabulous-looking Nordic Afternoon Tea available from 3pm to 5.30pm for just £15 per person.