Tasty tapas at Barrafina in stunning Coal Drops Yard

Tapas for two at Barrafina

How I love being a Londoner. I moved here in 1985 and after 33 years am still amazed at the way the city evolves. There’s always new and exciting things to discover, I mean always and sometimes really exciting things. Like today. I headed north to King’s Cross to explore the new development at Coal Drops Yard – which only opened a week before my visit.

The history of the area

The fascinating history of this area began with the coming of the railways when King’s Cross became the hub for delivery of everything London desired. Most vital of all was the coal – Victorian London was powered by coal and Coal Drops Yard was where it arrived from the North, was stored and distributed through the city.

Once road transport became more prevalent the buildings fell into disuse…well that’s progress for you. Until they were reinvented as the heart of London’s ecstasy-fuelled club scene in the early 1980s. Okay, that’s something I totally missed out on (there’s not much no clubbing in my social history). And that went too in the late noughties.

Now Coal Drops Yard is somewhere I totally want to spend my time. An incredible array of shops and restaurants to try in a beautiful new area that’s been redesigned around the warehouses that existed there originally.

Even better it’s home to one of my favourite Spanish restaurants in London. Barrafina, Coal Drops Yard is the fourth in the Barrafina stable – I’ve been to the other three (naturally!) which are in Soho and Covent Garden (two). Today’s new baby is set upstairs overlooking the canal and the fabulous courtyard below.

The light pours in through the huge windows and the long curved bar is a welcoming sight. And oh the aromas…

There’s a delectable range of dishes using classic Spanish ingredients (both hot and cold). One of the things I love most about Barrafina is that although you have a a good idea about what you’re going to get on your plate it’s never quite what you’re expecting. And in a good way…it’s always better. You’ll soon see what I mean.

What’s on the menu

There’s a tortilla section which included an omelette with artichokes and sobrasada. I adore artichokes and love sobrasada – which is a spicy sausage from Majorca – so excitedly ordered what I expected to be a normal kind of tortilla. But it wasn’t. A flat omelette was topped with the crisp artichokes and the deliciously soft and spicy sobrasada. And boy do they know how to make an omelette in Barrafina. Just so perfectly oozy and flavoursome. Tortilla heaven!

Barrafina: tortilla

A tantalising tortilla to dream about

Delectable pork dishes

I also adore suckling pig and the Spanish really know how to produce the best of them. So the suckling pig empanadilla was next on the list. Beautifully encased in a light and crispy pastry it was filled with succulent, tender meat. Love its paper envelope too.

Barrafina: empanadilla

The elegant and tasty empanadilla

Next up…more pork. The presa Iberica was served on a bed of ajo blanco. Presa Iberica is considered to be the finest cut of the Iberian pig – which many say is the finest pig. So you’re getting the finest of the finest, an unbelievably juicy plate of meat so perfectly cooked and again bursting with flavour. Ajo blanco is a chilled almond soup (another Spanish classic) – served here with a sauce-like consistency. Spanish pork rules and it’s hard to imagine a better pork dish. Seriously.

Barrafina: presa iberica

The best cut of pork from the best pig…simply the best

As luck would have it yet another of my favourite ingredients was on the menu – beetroot. Beetroot Salmorejo to be specific. I’ve got to be honest and say I had no idea what salmorejo means so was pleasantly surprised (again) when a delightfully sweet beetroot puree arrived topped with a soft quails egg and the crunch of cucumber. A wonderful combo of flavours and textures.

Barrafina: beetroot

A real indulgence of a beetroot dish

Wow! I can’t remember when I last got so excited about four plates of tapas. Believe me, they really were that good. And the venue is awesome, too. Here’s the downstairs courtyard.

Barrafina: the courtyard

Beautiful Coal Drops Yard with its sweeping roof

And you have a great view out through the massive curved windows.

Barrafina: windows

Light streams in through the large windows

How to get there

King’s Cross is like a medium sized town now – with constant rejuvenation going on. The station is something of a maze and as someone with a below average sense of direction (being kind to myself), I was a bit concerned that I’d get horribly lost. Just make sure to take the exit from the station signposted Regent’s Canal and you’ll be fine (I was). More signs lead you straight to this wonderful addition to our beautiful city. It’s even been given a brand new postcode – N1C – something that I’ve never experienced in my time here. London, you never cease to amaze me.

Barrafina: sign

Follow the signs to Coal Drops Yard

Today’s price point

Our four tapas dishes came in at £44.80 and were plenty big enough for two. We didn’t even have space for dessert.

Wine starts from £25 a bottle.

Barrafina is at Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross N1C

Southern Italian delights at Il Sud

Today we’re heading to Il Sud, just north of Oxford Street. It’s in Fitzrovia – a London borough that’s buzzing with fabulous places to eat. This new opening is the brainchild of three guys who hail from Southern Italy and are showcasing the dishes of this foodie region. So much splendid produce to work with, and a menu to salivate over.

While we contemplated our tasty options we tucked into a plate of beautifully fresh focaccia, topped with rosemary and spicy tomato relish and dipped into pungent olive oil.

Il Sud: Focaccia

The freshest of tasty focaccia

What’s on the menu

Il Sud offers a selection of classic Southern Italian fare with a lovely line-up of starters, a choice of pasta and risotto dishes and meaty and fishy mains.

I’m a huge burrata fan and the creaminess of this cheesy ball was perfectly complemented with heritage tomatoes, capers, olives and anchovies. Maybe one of the best combinations ever. The sort of dish that transports you straight to the sunshine of southern Italy (in your mind anyway).

Il Sud: Burrata

Creamy burrata perfectly matched

Seafood is obviously also a big part of coastal Italy’s food and one of the classic ways to serve it is simply deep fried like this frittura di calamari e gamberi. Fresh calamari and prawns in a light batter with a tasty mayo dipping sauce.

Il Sud: seafood

Luscious, crispy seafood

The homemade pappardelle was served with a rich and melt-in-the-mouth wild boar ragu and a sprinkling of tangy parmesan.

Il Sud: wild boar ragu

The richest of wild boar ragu

I loved the look of all the starters so decided to order one as my main. Certainly a good decision. The seared scallops were served with pea sauce, crispy red onion and red pepper veloute. A pretty-as-a-picture dish that, most importantly, tasted as great as it looked.

Il Sud: scallops

Tender scallops and fabulous flavours

Today’s price point

And finally…

Our lunch for two cost £46.

Starters range from £7 to £12.50 and pastas start at £14.

Il Sud is at 21 Berners Street, Fitzrovia

Lunch Chelsea way at Hans’ Bar & Grill, in 11 Cadogan Gardens

Today we’re heading into lovely Chelsea to the elegance that is 11 Cadogan Gardens. This beautiful boutique hotel set on a quiet Chelsea side street just minutes from Sloane Square offers the ultimate in luxury and comfort.

It’s made up of four converted Victorian houses, with plenty of nooks and crannies to discover, corridors to explore and rooms to relax in. And we’re heading straight to the stylishly modern and newly-opened restaurant Hans’ Bar & Grill.

11 Cadogan Square: Entrance

The stylish entrance to 11 Cadogan Gardens

It’s a light-filled and stylish space with a slanting glass roof and decor in restful shades of green.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Han's Bar & Grill

The wonderfully stylish space that is Han’s Bar & Grill

There’s a delightful range of dishes on offer. This beautiful plate of tuna tartare was paired with yuzu, wasabi and coriander, giving the mouth-wateringly tender fish a real zesty flavour.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Tuna tartare

Spicy tuna tartare that’s pretty as a picture

Today I went for something really different – the slow cooked duck egg with peas, barley and sherry. This vibrant bed of greenery was topped with the perfectly cooked yellow of the rich duck egg.

Never has a vegetarian starter tasted so indulgent, with its silky consistency, amazing textures and fabulous flavours. Peas are my favourite vegetables and I’d go back to Hans just to have this plate of perfect pea-ness again.

11 Cadogan Gardens: duck egg

A splash of yellow in a bed of green

As Hans is a grill we though we’d focus on that section of the menu. The 9oz rose veal cutlet was packed with flavour and amazingly tender.

11 Cadogan Gardens: veal cutlet

Tender and tasty rose veal cutlet

The substantial Barnsley chop (basically a double lamb chop) was also the height of tastiness. It’s hard to beat top quality meat that’s simply and perfectly grilled.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Barnsley chop

Luscious lamb in a Barnsley chop

There’s a delicious selection of sides available which pair beautifully with the meaty mains. Like these glossy peas cooked with bacon, baby onion and lettuce. I know, more peas – I do really love them and this was a fabulous dish.

11 Cadogan Gardens: peas

The perfect combo of peas, bacon and onion

The cauliflower cheese was given an extra kick with the addition of mustard for another lovely pairing.

11 Cadogan Gardens: cauliflower

Mustardy, cheesy cauliflower

Today we decided to go big and sample some of the delectable-sounding desserts. The record will show that most of the time I order pud it’s a panna cotta. Do love a panna cotta and today’s offering was buttermilk served topped with rhubarb and little bubbles of ginger beer gel.

A dessert that got a satisfied sigh with each mouthful.

11 Cadogan Gardens: panna cotta

The creamiest of dreamy panna cotta

And then there’s the salted caramel chocolate pot served topped with vanilla ice cream. Wow! The dessert of kings with crumbly little chocolatey bits to finish it off.

11 Cadogan Gardens: caramel chocolate

The yummiest of salted caramel chocolate

And here’s a the view of the lovely light-filled space across our delicious desserts.

11 Cadogan Gardens: dessert

Looking across pudding at the stylish space

After all that fabulous food I could certainly have done with a siesta – which is exactly what you can do if you’re lucky enough to be staying in the elegant hotel. The rooms are all unique and they’re spacious and plush with fabulous bathrooms. You’re certainly not going to want to check out from here!

11 Cadogan Gardens: room

The rooms exude elegance and comfort

There are plenty of areas around the warren of a hotel where you can relax or celebrate special occasions. This is the stunning Mirror Room, just perfect for parties and myriad instagramming opportunities.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Mirror room

The spectacular and sparkling mirror room

Or why not put your feet up in the library? How I wish I had one of these in my house.

11 Cadogan Gardens: library

Relax in the luxurious library

11 Cadogan Gardens is the ultimate refuge in the busy hub of Chelsea – you’re close to everything as well as being wrapped in their environment of serenity and style. And you’re gonna love the food, too.

Today’s price point

And finally…

Our three courses for two came to £94.

Wine starts from £5 a glass.

Hans’ Bar & Grill is in the luxurious 11 Cadogan Gardens Hotel

The hotel entrance is at 11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea

The restaurant entrance is at 164 Pavilion Road, Chelsea.

Tasty classic French dishes at Boulevard Brasserie

It’s time to head back into Covent Garden to continue enjoying our steamy London summer. Boulevard Brasserie is in what is known as Covent Garden’s Opera District, you’re sitting directly opposite the Opera House just off the iconic piazza.

There’s a lovely mix of sophisticated French classics and summery dishes to choose from in a welcoming, buzzing brasserie.

What’s on the menu

I adore asparagus and find it hard to resist when I see it on the menu. Today’s luscious green spears were served cold with pea shoots and incredible truffle mayonnaise. My idea of a starter made in heaven.

Boulevard Brasserie: asparagus

Delightful summer asparagus

The classic French onion soup was beautifully rich and sweet and packed with cheesy gruyere croutons. Almost a meal in itself.

Boulevard Brasserie: French onion soup

Sweet French onion soup and cheesy croutons

It took a while, but I eventually decided to go for this fabulous pork dish. The grilled pork chop was served with chorizo jam and baby spinach. All on top of an apple, prune and new potato salad with wholegrain mustard dressing. An incredibly tender and tasty pork chop (and pretty large too) topped with delightfully spicy chorizo jam. Chorizo jam – yummy – got to make some myself soon.

Boulevard Brasserie: pork chop

Beautifully tender pork chop with delicious sauces

The classic bouf bourguignon came in a steaming cast iron pot. Delightfully braised beef cooked in red wine with lardons and mushrooms and served with buttery mash.

Boulevard Brasserie: Bourguignon

The comfort of a rich French-style stew

Boulevard Brasserie: mash potato

Irresistible buttery mash

Another classic, this time for pudding. It’s hard to beat the buttery (more butter) lusciousness of a tarte tatin with its beautifully sweet and tart apples topped with creamy vanilla ice cream.

Boulevard Brasserie: tarte tatin

Sweet and buttery tarte tatin with ice cream

The French really know their cheese. And I loved the fact that there was an individual cheese option on the menu as I didn’t think I could manage a whole cheeseboard. So I enjoyed my (not insubstantial) portion of tongue-tingling roquefort, served with biscuits and apple chutney.

Boulevard Brasserie: roquefort

The creamy saltiness of roquefort

Boulevard Brasserie is one of those warm and comforting places with great classic food that you’d happily go back to again and again. Another Covent Garden favourite to savour.

Today’s price point

Our three-course dinner for two cost £64.

Red and white wine starts from £21 a bottle, rose from £24 and cocktails are £9.95.

Boulevard Brasserie is at 40 Wellington Street, Covent Garden WC2.

Summer lunch in the courtyard at Boulestin

Happy sunshine news from London! We’re having a heatwave! Seriously there’s an official definition of a heatwave which is when the daily maximum temperature for more than five consecutive days exceeds the average maximum temperature by five degrees. Not sure if we have actually met the target (though I think we may have surpassed it) but it feels like a heatwave to me. And what happens when there’s a heatwave in London? We all become obsessed with living an al fresco life…obviously.

Parks turn into sunbathing paradises, pavements transform into the perfect spot for social gatherings over a chilled beverage and everyone’s smiles widen. Of course I also have to make it my mission to search out the best restaurant roof terraces, courtyards and terraces the capital has to offer.

Which is why, today, we are heading to Boulestin in swanky St James. Not the most obvious place where you’d find an alfresco dining opportunity but that’s because Boulestin has a secret courtyard! How I love a secret courtyard.

This Boulestin opened in 2013, though the original was in Covent Garden, opened by Xavier Marcel Boulestin in 1927. M Boulestin is reputed to be the world’s first TV chef (on the BBC from 1937-1939). He is described as the most imaginative and liberating food writer of his time. High praise.

The menu is influenced by his original recipes, serving authentic French classics and a whole lot besides. It’s an exciting selection to tempt you as you settle under the umbrellas in the serenity of the courtyard, just steps from the hubbub that is St James.

What’s on the menu

On such a balmy day my eyes lit up as soon as they saw the gazpacho consommé in the starters section. And it was served with a cucumber and basil sorbet (can anything sing summer out any louder?) and some marinated courgettes.

This is a truly wonderful summery dish with an intensity of flavours that zing off your palate. And it’s so light and refreshing, it’s almost like a delicious savoury drink. I wanted to lick the bowl.

Boulestin: gazpacho

The taste of summer in a bowl

The charred octopus came with almond taramasalata (now that sounds intriguing), green olives and a roasted fig. Flavoursome, tender octopus with little dots of added flavour to bring the dish together perfectly – oh and the sweetness of that fig.

Boulestin: Octopus

An exotic dish of octopus and fig

There’s a cornucopia of wonderful mains to boggle your mind, made easier by the fact that the warm summer air made the stomach go towards a desire for something cooling. So first up, lemon and rocket risotto served with mousserons and ricotta. Mousserons are small wild mushrooms which added a delicious earthiness to the creamy, citrussy taste, all topped off by fluffy clouds of ricotta. The rocket made for the perfectly green shade – certainly greener than most of the lawns in sun-soaked London Town.

Boulestin: risotto

A vibrant, zesty bowl of risotto

The tuna tartare came with avocado mousse, compressed watermelon and a black sesame tuille. Succulent tuna layered with the watermelon and wonderfully dressed made for another sunshine dish – especially when combined with the creamy avo and crunch of the tuille. Wow! And double wow for the watermelon, such a creative and delicious addition.

A spectacular tuna dish to savour

How was that for the perfect summer lunch? Hidden away in the peace of a secluded courtyard drinking in the warm London air and enjoying great food. I’m not counting how many times I’ve used the words summer, sunshine or anything related, though I know it’s plenty! How I love London during a heatwave…can you tell?

Boulestin: courtyard

The beautiful hidden courtyard

Today’s price point

Lunch cost £76 for two people for a starter and a main each.

Boulestin is at 5 St James St, London W1

Our return to Thali: we couldn’t resist

I don’t often blog twice about the same restaurant in the same year and this is the second time I’ve done it this year – we’re heading back to Thali. And it’s no coincidence that it’s two restaurants from the same group.

Chef Liam Tomlin is behind both Thali and the Chef’s Warehouse in Beau Constantia (my other double blog). You can read about my previous lunches at Thali and Beau Constantia times two!

As well as great food, it’s a great concept. A set menu of dishes to share that are served as four courses for a set price. No menu indecision to cope with and no food envy, just loads of delicious flavours to savour.

And I find the food of Thali so inspiring that I think I produced some of my best food pics ever. Enjoy the extravaganza.

What’s on the menu

This crispy spinach bhaji came topped with two spicy sauces. Spinach has never tasted this good (and I love spinach).

Thali: Spinach bhaji

Deep fried spinach bhaji, mint and coriander dressing, date and tamarind

The next course was a delightful mix of vegetarian offerings served with the softest of paratha. The extravaganza of cauliflower was incredible – tandoori cauliflower served with cumin cauliflower puree and cashew and coconut salad. Who knew you should tandoor cauliflower? You really should!

Thali: Dhal, Paratha and cauliflower

The platter also included the wonderfully creamy and satisfying smoked tadka dhal, perfect for a bit of paratha dipping.

Thali: tadka dhal

Close up on the smoked tadka dhal

Thali: Cauliflower

What a delicious cauliflower collection

Tandoori chicken skewers were served with tomato chill jam and cucumber coriander raita. Triple yum. I do love the individual mini tandoor ovens that are delivered to your table.

Thali: Tandoori chicken

Tandoori chicken skewers served in your own mini tandoor oven

Next course was the two fishy plates. The fried fish tacos added a lovely fresh, crispy element and some beautifully zest flavours

Thali: fish tacos

Zesty fried fish tacos

Fresh line fish was served with delectable Cape Malay dressing, a coriander emulsion and saffron pickled onion. Such a fabulous combination of tastes and textures, I could so easily demolish a whole main course of this all by myself.

Thali: Line fish

Delicate line fish with Cape Malay flavors

The final course – and it’s curry time. Mappa duck curry with spiced mango chutney, Phatch Shoran seafood curry, warm buttery naan, perfectly cooked rice and a fragrant tomato salsa.

Thali: Curries

Two of the most delicious curries ever

I tend to avoid duck curries most of the time as it can be a somewhat chewy experience. Tonight’s dish gets my award for best duck curry ever. The flavours were so incredible and I can’t remember ever eating such tender duck.

Thali: duck

The tenderest of duck in a gorgeous sauce

The seafood curry was deliciously creamy with just the right hit of spice. A mix of mussels, prawns and line fish – heaven in a bowl.

Thali: Seafood curry

The delightfully delicious seafood curry

Thali: Rice

Even the rice is delectable at Thali

Thali: chilli jam

The glistening chilli jam

Thali: Raita

A bowl of cooling raita

Thali: salsa

A bowl of vibrant, zesty salsa

Thali is at 3 Park Road, Gardens, Cape Town.

Today’s price point

Tapas for two at Thali is R700 (41 pounds at today’s exchange rate). For two, not each. Really great value as the portions are ample and you won’t get a better Indian meal around here. Seriously.