Friday, 31 January 2014

Coffee, Love and Friendship

Federation Coffee (8)

When you are in a new relationship, you have to make the most of the time you have with your girlfriend. It is a balancing act, but I'd like to think I've got it well handled.

However with valentines day just around the corner, I decided it was time for a girly weekend with the bestie, Nessa.

On Saturday we wriggled out of bed after a old school sleepover, to go explore the city. 

Now my guilty vice is that I absolutely cannot start the day without a cup of strong black coffee, so when I was dragged out of bed at the crack of dawn for an action packed day I had to make sure a coffee house made its way onto our agenda.

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One of my favourite coffee houses in London is Federation Coffee in Brixton Village. 

Like all the cafe's in Brixton Village, its small and quirky, so be prepared to fight with other half awake humanoids for a table.

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Then menu is short but sweet, yet in my opinion that's what makes the coffee so good.  Non of this skinny soy caramel macchiato business, they master the few options they have.

Federation Coffee (2) Federation Coffee (7) Federation Coffee (1)

Settling down outside, I let out a big sigh of relief, finally I was awake to start our girlie day.

Whilst it was our girlie time together, we soon found ourselves talking of valentines day anyway and reminiscing of past Valentines.

I think my worst Valentines has to be when the time I went on a second date on actual February 14th. The guy turned up 20 minutes late, only to then discover at the end that he had 'forgotten his wallet'. Needless to say there was no third.

Although Nessa made me feel better when she told me she'd had two terrible dates! She once went on a date with a man who had a very odd, sort of comb over mullet as he knew she read all the glossies so tried to copy on of the men's hairstyles from Elle. And they say romance is dead!

However nothing beats the time that one man started to serenade her in the restaurant...

Federation Coffee (3) Federation Coffee (5)

By now we started to get itchy explorer feet and so we headed off back into central London.

Bintang (2)

Across my travels of the internet I'd stumbled upon a little Pan Asian fusion restaurant called Bintang. What made this little place stand out- Fried Chicken on Waffles and Nutella Dim Sum. Sold!

Bintang (7)

Packed away in a tiny little space, the spicy aromas quickly fill the air, making me even more excited to devour the odd but exciting combination of fried chicken on waffles.

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And boy did it not disappoint. An American Korean concoction of rice flour waffles with green onions inside, a giant fried Korean Chicken wing sits proudly on top coated in spicy ulek sauce.

Yes, its odd, but man its good. The crazy flavour combinations just some how managed to fit right in with each other, to create something rather special.

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Nessa went for a little more conventional offering and had the signature Bintang, made with coconut cream, lemongrass, lime and tamarind.

After polishing off the our mains, we went to go order the Nutella dim sum.

Bintang (1)

Which handily while we waited, we got to learn how to correctly use chop sticks. I still failed though.
However disaster struck! We were told they had no Nutella today! 

It was like a blow to the stomach. Although probably saved me from gaining a bigger stomach with all those calories... balance restored I guess.

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After browsing the shops for a while, we decided to head back for a girls night in. 

Nothing beats a glass of cold red wine, TV and errr Bingo. I'll guiltily admit my latest obsession is online Gala Bingo. Has any else tried the Take Me Out one? Its pretty addictive. I'll pop the link here- you know you want to ;)

Which reminds me, after watching the new series of Take Me Out, I'm glad I don't have to do those cringy dates anymore. 

But no man will ever beat a girls weekend.

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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Beat the Westfield Chef

Bumpkin (7)

One of the most common dilemmas we face most days is 'Can I be bothered to cook?' resulting in 'Should we just go out for dinner?'.

It happens all the time, and with endless choice of restaurants in practically touching distance, its no surprise.
And lets be honest, when they are professional chefs, its just got to be better right? Right...?

Westfield Stratford City shopping centre asked if I'd like to be one of their bloggers for the huge campaign 'We are Dining'. It's all about promoting good quality, diverse tastes, and just generally exceptional food. 

Of course while the shopping centre has around 70 incredible restaurants, its easy to forget that they also sell that thing called ingredients, so you can cook at home. 

Bumpkin (12)

So I headed down last week with Nessa to take on the professionals and challenge the chef of Bumpkin at his own game. Westfield set me the challenge to Beat the Chef and recreate his dish at home.

One dish, one chef, one blogger. Who would cook it best? There's only one way to find out- FIGHT! Okay, maybe just eat...

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For the challenge I'd selected the BBQ Pulled Pork Wrap. Pork is just my weakness, anything that just falls of the bone and melts on the tongue just gets me every time. 

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Of course, its one thing enjoying it made for you, and anther thing making it, so with this in mind, we ordered in a round of cocktails- liquid courage?

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I was also pretty impressed with my little press badge.

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When the wrap arrived, I was surprised at how big it was. Well that's the diet out the window. 

Like the eagle eye'd critics we studied our competition. Tender shredded pork, tossed in BBQ sauce with lettuce and pickles all in a griddled wrap.

Bumpkin (15) Bumpkin (16) Bumpkin (17) Bumpkin (18)

Well the proof is in the eating, and boy was it good. The pork was incredibly juicy, and the pickles gave a real kick to each mouthful.

My only criticism was that the crackling was just too crackled to actual eat sadly- but this is where I saw my chance to seize victory! Mwahhah

Bumpkin (19) Bumpkin (20) Bumpkin (21)

After a judges pow wow, we gave the chef a 8 and a 7.5. Tough scores to beat, but I think we can do it. I mean how hard can it be...

I did a little research on-line, tweaked a few things and I believe I have come up with the perfect BBQ Pulled Pork wrap recipe.

Bumpkin (22)

To make you will need:
  • 1 pork shoulder joint (Size will depend on how many you want to feed)
BBQ Sauce:
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons mayple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons light brown muscovado sugar
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 orange (segments)
  • 1/2 orange (juice)
  • Salt
  • Lettuce
  • Gherkins
  • Wraps

First, pat down with kitchen roll the layer of fat on our pork to remove excess oil. Then rub with salt to make it nice and dry.

Put in the oven and cook to the timings according to the weight of the meat.

Once the meat is cooked, remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Bumpkin (23)

In the mean time combine all the BBQ sauce ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. 

Keep boiling and continuously stir for around 12 mins or until thickens into a very sticky sauce. Do keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn.

Bumpkin (24) Bumpkin (1)

Once the meat is cool, remove the crackling and slice up onto a side plate.

Take the joint and cut down the centre. Now the beauty of pulled pork is that meat should just pull away- go on and just roughly tear the meat

Bumpkin (2)

Then assemble your wraps with the meat the sauce and the salad.

Bumpkin (3)

Now,as this is a home style recipe, I know we don't all have fancy griddles, but fear not. A simple heavy pack of tins is perfect. Fold up your wrap, and flatten under the tins for about a minute on each side on a high flame.

Done.

Bumpkin (4)

Now I'll be completely honest, they don't look half as pretty as the professional, however this aint beaut competition, this is a taste war!

Bumpkin (6)

So the judges comments? Not to blow my own trumpet here, but we did good! I was worried it was going to be hard to cook a joint, but its so simple. 

However for me, it was the BBQ sauce that nailed it. The oranges were an amazing addition, and really soaked into the meat.

Bumpkin (5)

So who won? Well in the name of fairness, I got my house mates to try my creation and score it.

7 and 8

I was robbed!

But it goes to prove that it is so easy to cook restaurant meals at home too. So all of February why don't you give it a go and challenge the chef with 'We are Dining'? Westfield has loads of vouchers for their restaurants and offers at their supermarkets too.

Oh but one thing I did win hands down- that beautiful crackling. Mmmm 

Westfield Stratford
2 Stratford Place
Montifichet Road,
Olympic Park, 
London E20 1EJ

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Monday, 27 January 2014

Society Dining at Hawksmoor

Hawksmoor (16)

You may or may not know that I have a near obsession with going for going to dinner.

Reading my blog, you probably have guessed. If you're new, well hello there- welcome! And I hope you hungry, because I'm about to tell you about the next big thing in the London dinning scene.

Hawksmoor (10)

I'd like to think, I'm a pretty social girl. I love meeting new people, chatting to anyone and everyone who comes onto my radar- call it my 'networking skills' gone mad. Put me in a room full of strangers and I'll soon get talking.

So always on the look out to impose my gift of the gab onto new victims acquaintances, I discovered Society Dining through a Facebook recommendation. 

Society Dining is a private society of high-flyers who share a passion for meeting new people and dinning out at London's best restaurants.

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The idea is once you submit your application to become a member, your profile is vetted against Linkedin, Facebook, and whatever else is out there about you. A mini profile is put together behind the scenes about what kind of person you are, in terms of career and lifestyle, and this is then used to match you with similar people to go for dinner with.

Different restaurants will become available to you, based upon similar matches, and if you fancy the place, you reserve a seat at the 6 person table.

So meet my lovely matches-
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I hit the jackpot, my matches led me to Hawksmoor, a place I had been dying to visit since arriving in London. Regularly described as London's best steak, I needed to see for myself- well we couldn't allow the rumour to go untested now, could we?!

Meeting for the first time, a group of strangers can be daunting, although I will admit, I do just willingly strike up conversation with anything moving. However for those less... motor mouth, then the matching system will work perfectly. I found myself matched with people from a banking/ technology/ hedge fund area, which immediately led to opening conversations. That awkward conversation starter avoided. Perfect. 

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Of course, it is always a good icebreaker anyway to start the evening with a few cheeky drinks, which Hawksmoor did extremely well. 

With a little liquid courage down us, we decided to go for a big group effort and share some of that London's best Steak. We settled on a 900g Chateaubriand and a 900g T-Bone, both medium rare.

We threw in some chips, mac and cheese, creamed spinach and every single sauce going on the menu, I kid you not. I sense some Northerners in disguise in the room... 

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The steak came in two big furness like dishes, pink on the inside, falling off the bone, it practically melted on the tongue. I went to Meat People a few weeks back, and while that was very good, this trumped it, hands down. Sorry guys!

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But seriously, if you are going to Hawksmoor, please do me a favour, and get the Mac and Cheese. Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

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Hawksmoor is like going for the best damn Sunday roast imaginable!

Sharing a big old platter kept the conversation flowing. Being financial nerds, we chatted about all things economics and City, like did you know their just isn't enough profits left in Commodities trading anyone? No... oh, just us then...

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Now its a known fact, financial nerd or not, that the human body actually has 2 stomachs, one for mains, and one for pudding, so when the word peanut butter appeared on the menu, it was 'activate 2nd stomach mode'.

The desserts were heavenly. Part of me wants to say that the dessert was just as good as their steak, but that might be blasphemy.
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Feeling well and truly satisfied, we carried on chatting about everything under the sun, really like old friends. 

Its funny really as I felt like I had know these 5 for years which is why it wasn't too much of a surprise that midnight soon crept upon us, and we had to make a swift dash to the last tube, but thankfully not before we exchange numbers.

One of the beauties of Society Dining is that if you were coming into town for business, knowing no one, you could go out for dinner, meet new people, and not have to sit in your hotel bar alone all night.

I only wish I'd discovered this when I first moved here. The concept is the best thing since sliced bread. Your guaranteed to meet people similar too you. So anyone looking to meet, I might just see you on my next table.

Apply for Society Dining here

Hawksmoor
Spitalfields
157a Commercial Street
London
E1 6BJ


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