A visit to Foxcroft & Ginger – east side

Foxcroft and GingerEven though we’ve been to the Museum of Childhood quite a few times (fascinating for me, not actually that much for a two year old to do except run around like a loon but that’s fine) I hadn’t done that much exploring with Sproggett past the local park and the overground station. Bethnal Green Gardens has the advantage of having not one but two train lines run past it so you can keep a toddler happy there for ages. But if you do wander just a few minutes further…

I’m a big fan of Foxcroft & Ginger‘s original outpost on Berwick St. They have a new site on Mile End Road, enormous with a gallery/co-working space upstairs. I loved the industrial styling and it’s got a great relaxed atmosphere. Or it did until these two rocked up, hah!

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I went along with my friend Laura and her two lovely little ones and I have to say that the staff were extremely friendly, doing everything they could to get us settled in. From the picture you’ll notice see we had two tiny perpetual motion machines with us so it was a more fleeting visit that I would have liked, but that’s kind of what happens with kids in tow. I’m hoping it’s just a phase for them I have to admit to being in the camp who sooner have a shorter more enjoyable time somewhere than linger and let them run riot.

Highchairs were offered, although only the youngest member of the party was obliging enough to get into one, then crayons and colouring sheets arrived rapidly to placate the terrible twosome.

The standout thing that would make me run back there at speed is the Blood Orange and Chocolate Ganache cake, which has the added benefit of being gluten free. It’s like a divinely upmarketed cakeified Jaffa Cake. The coffee was great too. All the pastries, cakes and breads are made fresh daily at their Soho location.  I wished we’d been there at lunchtime because the sandwiches we saw looked packed full of fresh ingredients and I know their bread is fab.

IMG_1266They’re doing a special offer on Monday-Fridays, quote ‘Yummy Mummy’ for a coffee and a filled croissant, or coffee and cake for £4.50. When I was pregnant, I would have haunted the place, and with a bub asleep in a buggy, it would be a great place to hang out. I think when Sproggett and his mates are older, and more likely to sit with a book or toy, I’d definitely spend more time there.

Staff were happy to split up juice so that we could water it down for the kids – would be great to have plastic beakers for little ones too. They’ve got a kids menu and they’ll size down items from the regular menus for smaller tums too.

We’ll definitely go back, I imagine that weekend brunches are pretty special. Then it’ll be over to the park to watch trains, trains and more trains.

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Foxcroft & Ginger, Whitechapel, 69-89 Mile End Road, E1 4TT – thanks for inviting us to visit!

Fancy making real bread?

There’s a community project afoot near us, that is tantalisingly close to get funded… The Hornbeam Bakers Collective are a couple of hundred pounds away from their £3000 total. They’re building an oven in new premises near Blackhorse Road in east London and will be running a number of bread-making classes:

Hornbeam Bakers Collective

Basic loaf, Shaping breads, Speciality Breads, Sourdough Breads, Special Diets Baking (vegan/dairy free, wheat free, gluten Free, sugar free), Ancient and Alternative Grains, Pizza, Pastry, Cakes, Fermentation

There are lots of rewards for different levels of funding, or you could just sign up in advance for some of their classes – sounds like pretty good value at £30 a session.  The £3000 will pay for the oven and its installation, to allow then to get off the ground teaching more classes and baking more bread to sell.

Have you been to any of their classes? Would love to hear a first-hand account!

Jamie Oliver: Fifteen London and Recipease

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of running into some of the very wonderful Jamie Oliver crew.  A couple of weeks ago we gathered at Fifteen, lured by the promise of what turned out to be, frankly, the finest Hot Cross Buns known to man.

There they are in all their sticky glossy gloriousness. We had the privilege of sitting with the lovely Kenny, master baker at Fifteen who’d also made delicious candy-coloured rhubarb and ginger jam which we piled on high, before I proceeded to pillage the vast brunch menu, and order….

Yeah. The fruit plate and the porridge. I was obviously having some sort of healthy epiphany (short-lived, natch) but it was actually very good and here’s where I think Fifteen scores very highly – it does a proper brunch. By that I mean there are decent Bloody Marys – ok, not unlimited but let’s not run before we can walk here –  and a wide range of food options from sweet to savoury with the traditional hangover cures in the middle. I did slightly wish I’d followed Louis‘ example and had the eggy brioche though because actually, I think anything coming out of Kenny’s kitchen is going to be superbly good and just having his sourdough bread toasted and spread with jam and salty butter all morning would have been an absolute treat.  We lingered through to almost lunchtime – we’ll go again and it would be great if the breakfast was served longer at the weekend. For weekdays, they have free wifi too….

I lived around the corner from Fifteen when it first opened and Jamie Oliver started spreading his mission about getting ‘hard to reach’ young people into professional kitchens and training them to be fully qualified.  It’s hard to believe that that was ten years ago.  Now the empire spans Cornwall and Amsterdam too. Jamie’s passion for cooking, and equally food education is legendary. Recipease is another part of his mission.

Uyen and I went down to take a knife skills class (apparently the most popular class they run at the Clapham Junction location). The rather brilliant Annegrete, a professional chef who used to work at Fifteen, put us through our paces for the two hour class.  This was after having a good mosey around the very well curated selection of homewares and merchandise in the shop – you really could drop serious cash here.  The classes are reasonably priced – £30 for ours including cooking our own lunch, and a glass of wine thrown in, plus you get 10% off in the shop afterwards.

What were the most important things I took away from the class? Well, apart from how to prepare prawns properly which was a bit of a bonus, there was the following:

  • how to properly and efficiently sharpen knives – dull equals dangerous
  • move the hands and the blade, keep the food steady
  • make sure the food is stable and set in place
  • place a damp kitchen towel under your board to keep it stable
  • how to rock chop, tap chop and cross chop safely (no slap chop necessary here thank you)

Some on Twitter asked how basic the class was.  Well, the skills are basic but I think a lot of us who consider ourselves competent in the kitchen are probably not as fast or indeed as efficient as we could be in terms of knife skills.  We all thought we’d progressed pretty far during the class and then Annegrete proudly told we’d done well, and with six months’ practice, we’d be great. Gulp.

Being able to cook is such a fundamental life skill but where do most of us pick up the basics? Well, probably at home, if we’re lucky, or we pick up things from books, blogs and TV. I did suffer through a couple of years of home economics in secondary school but I can guarantee they never let us near anything useful like knives. In Jamie’s Dream School currently showing on Channel 4, he seems to be doing his own, more useful take on home ec – i.e. here’s how to chop properly – so that you can cook a meal that’s faster and cheaper than a take away. That’s real home economics to me. Bless Jamie. Long may his mission continue.  (Watch his chopping demo here)

The Trattoria at Fifteen London is open for breakfast and brunch 7:30am to 11:00am Monday to Saturday, and 8:00am to 11:00am Sunday.

Recipease, Clapham Junction, Battersea, 48-50 St Johns Road, SW11 1PR

Thank you to the fabulous Hannah Norris at Nourish and the crew at Recipease for inviting me.

The Harmony of Wine and Water

You might remember the Evening Standard’s Water on Tap campaign from a few years ago.  Their bugbear was that restaurants habitually made you feel rather inferior if you dared to answer the traditional ‘still or sparkling’ with a tentative ‘Tap?’

As much for the rationale that the ice-cubes in your mineral water were made from the Thames anyway, as to assert our freedom to stand up snotty sommeliers, I went along with the campaign. Though mainly to slake thirst, and often a bottle of mineral water would be ordered too. Water is water, water is good, get two litres in somehow, right?  But it rather sat in the background, as it in the photo above.  I didn’t really consider the impact of what was in the water glass on the food that I was ordering, or how it might factor into the whole dining experience. Then I met Andreas Larsson.

S.Pellegrino are probably best known for their eponymous mineral water rather than for their non-carbonated Acqua Panna plus more recently they sponsored the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.  Andreas, World Sommelier 2007,  works with them amongst other clients, as a taster and consultant. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a man who loves his job.  And why wouldn’t he? Andreas is affable and obviously thrives on communicating and teaching about his passions – food, wine and taste. I suppose his services are increasingly required as we move through rolling stages of what he calls ‘gastronomic refinement’ – when a food and its market moves from being niche or undiscovered and graduates to encompass increasing levels of speciality, as has happened with coffee and olive oil in the past, for example.

Feeling a touch self-conscious, we set about tasting and comparing tap water, both S.Pellegrino waters and red wine, white wine, champagne and port.  We tried canapés, garlic prawns, rare beef and pastry desserts. Though I guess we wouldn’t have been invited along if there wasn’t a story to tell, it turned out to be fascinating. We started with champagne – so a mouthful of bubbly, chased with Acqua Panna which is described as ‘smooth’ or ‘velvety’. The light fruity and citrus flavours of the champagne still lingered.  Another sip and we brought out the S.Pellegrino.  In direct contrast to the still, it acted like a palate refresher and all traces of the champagne disappeared.  And the tap water? Well, in the context it didn’t fare well. Overwhelmingly chemical and it had to be chased away with mineral water.

We moved on to harmonising with food.  Essentially Andreas would suggest that you consider your water order as carefully as your wine – why spend time and money on a special bottle only to wash away the tastes with a heavily carbonated water, or one that doesn’t stand up to robust flavours?  As a very general guide, pick a (gently) carbonated water to live up to reds and red meat, and don’t drown your Chablis and seabream.  Again it was interesting to see how the beef and a burgundy benefitted from the S.Pellegrino while the Acqua Panna was very soft in comparison.

All in all, it was an intriguing experiment. I can’t promise to always live to Andreas’s standards, I’ll certainly try to consider water choices when eating out in future. It’s all part of the ongoing food education – and it was a delightful afternoon.

We were tucked away upstairs in Hush for the session, and thanks to Jo and Sarah at Grayling for organising.

London Supper Clubs: Fernandez & Leluu and After Eight

Happily, it seems to me like Fernandez & Leluu has been around for ages – probably because we were lucky enough to first discover it back in November and have been back many times, including one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had. But they’re mere babes when you compare them to Jim Haynes, a seasoned supper club host with thirty-five years’ experience. I was thrilled when After Eight and Qype invited us to share an evening of dining, drinking and story-telling at one of our favourite east London (or anywhere) dining spots.

Not a typical supper club evening, in that it was buffet style rather than seated.  The After Eight mixologist in the corner was an excellent touch too, with four cocktails on offer.  No wonder I liked them all, as most were made with Tanqueray and I’m much better with that than vodka. The Bramble was tart, the Spring Collins was the choice of the night, the Rose Club one was surprisingly alcoholic (Niamh got the name of the liqueur which she thought would be perfect for bellinis, raspberry and rose I think) and the After Eight Alexander was creamy, minty, chocolatey, laced with cognac: I don’t usually like cream-based drinks but it was wonderful.  The barman was rather pleased with that because he wanted to keep the flavour of the chocolate itself, which he managed admirably.

Oh – the food? Prawns in a lime-citrus mayonnaise, a slab of dense terrine, springy fresh summer rolls, delicately fried spring rolls, crunchy chicken salad for starters.  Followed by perfectly cooked beef carpaccio, Uyen’s homemade foccaccia, mashed potato in potato skins, and marinated mushrooms that I would have sold my soul for.  Bread and Butter pudding – more like a crumbly little gingery scone – with Summer Fruits.  I bet you’d like to see a photo of that… um, yeah. It seems I mainly captured the guests.  So here’s some we ate earlier (ok, last year):

This time at Simon and Uyen’s it was as much about the company as the food, and listening to Jim explain how he’d initially opened his Parisien home to friends, then randoms, for over three decades (a house guest wanted to say thank you for his hospitality, and so volunteered to cook for a group of his friends: now it happens weekly, they accept 60 or more guests each Sunday depending on whether the garden space can be used and it’s a guest chef as often as Jim himself). We were all intent on inviting ourselves even before he (possibly maybe – not really) invited us all over to stay with him – yaaaay, I’m packing the bag and booking the Eurostar this evening!

He’s a natural raconteur with a genuine interest in people which helps to explain why he’s continued on with this for so long – and this is something he shares with Uyen and Simon.  Anyone who’s game enough to open their home to strangers on a monthly or even weekly basis not only has a passion for cooking but a great curiosity about life and fellow man.  Or is very, very brave. Either way I’m so glad, as supper clubs have provided some of my favourite meals over the past year.

What’s so exciting about underground restaurants, as much as the food, is being thrown together at a table with people you might never meet otherwise.  That could be risky, but to be fair we’ve only been to one supper club, elsewhere, with a ‘rogue diner’ who was rather painful, and demanding.  Though that can happen at anyone’s dinner party once the wine is flowing, or at any restaurant for that matter.  The pay-off is benefitting from fantastic hospitality – Uyen and Simon excel at this – with imaginative menus and the freshest ingredients.  We ate, drank and chattered until rather too late on a schoolnight Tuesday. Of course we finished as the After Eights were being passed around (a stalwart of childhood Christmas times.  As proven the other night, the correct way to eat them is to daintily nibble off a corner, and then post the rest of it into your mouth like a Lego man into a VHS player).  We stumbled home very happily (him: the cocktails, me: uncomfortable shoes).  Roll on the next night!

Thanks to Fernandez and Leluu, Qype, and Jo Seymour Taylor/After Eight

London Supper Clubs: Trail Of Our Bread and the Awesome Birthday Cake

I’ve been known of late to use and abuse the word ‘awesome’, though once I would have shunned it. But ‘awesome’ is the only word to describe the fantastic ‘surprise course’ at Trail of Our Bread on Saturday. A work of sugarcraft art – but how did it taste?

We’ve been to this supperclub before to review, then were gutted to miss out on the Ocean Commotion evening.

We saw some familiar faces when we arrived and I’ll bet they’ll write more complete accounts of what we ate – it was my night-before birthday celebration so I was glad to have any photos come out at all.  We started with chestnut and chorizo soup, laden with caramelised onions. I could have eaten bucketloads (classy, me).   Seconds were offered but previous supperclub experience finally came to bear and I (uncharacteristically) restrained myself, ostensibly in order to enjoy each and every course. Realistically, so that I wouldn’t need to be rolled out.

:: Fideo* pasta with garlic butter ::

:: Rabbit with petit pois, lettuce, cider and spiced glazed chicory ::

:: Rhubarb Fool with ginger shorbread ::

The main course was (Easter) bunny which again was something I’ve never cooked – or eaten for that matter. I was treated to two saddles, though I was assured that the meat on the bone was just as flavoursome. Thanks to a surprisingly good bottle of Chapel Down and a decent Cabernet Sauvignon that we were making our way through, I’m a touch cloudy about the exact order in which the next courses arrived.

There was the wibbly but tasty experimental citrus jelly, the set and ludicrously moreish Absinthe jelly, and then Jim, our host, made an announcement.

For the duration of the evening, a surprise had been hidden in plain view, right beside me.  Jim knew that it was my birthday and he suggested making a cake – which Anna baked and decorated from scratch (she asked the boyfriend “What does she like?” “Meringues.” “Sod that, I’m not making a meringue”).  It was a layered sponge with buttercream, jam and fondant.  The sugarcrafted poppy was fab, and the touch of genius was using crushed Oreos for the soil.  You paused before taking a mouthful, it was so fantastically realistic.

You never know quite what you’ll get at a supper club.  This time around we had lots of new things to try (for me, rabbit and absinthe included) and shared our table with a great bunch of girls and the odd wildcard. Group photos aren’t the norm but we had those too.  The set dressing – including Alice in Wonderland style TOOB goodiebags – was imaginative and sparked conversation, including whether we really should ‘Drink Me’ or not, when faced with little cork-stoppered bottles filled with what might have been absinthe or Fairy Liquid (vodka with colouring).

Thank you so much to Jim and Anna for making it such a fun night, and especially for the awesome flower pot – and yes, it did taste as good as it looked!  That’s definitely out of the ordinary for novelty cakes – and hell, anyone who knows me know how fussy I am about baked goods.  Anyone need a bespoke cake for an event?  I recommend you contact and try to cajole her.

*I think that’s what the pasta was… and more photos are here

East London Saturday

It was a stolen day today – our plans for museum visiting and tea with friends were foiled by unforseen work commitments. Not ours. So we were left with an entirely free agenda. Naturally we decided to fill it with food.

First up, a wander through Victoria Park in blazing sunshine, coupled with cold noses from near zero temperatures.  Then veering off through not-so picturesque industrial estates and along darkened underpasses: all to find the Counter Cafe.  When you see the Ca_lton tower, you’re there.

It’s a brunch menu, served throughout the day.  Two super-smooth lattes to start with, complete with the obligatory antipodean feathered milk tattoo. We chose the Big Breakfast and the French Toast and berries with a side of bacon.  Salty and sweet rules my world.  The Big Breakfast includes skinny sausages, fat slices of lean bacon, sunshine yellow fried eggs on wholewheat toast.  Along with crispy homemade potato cakes, homemade butter beans in tomato sauce and superb tomato relish (available in jars to take away).  The French toast – thick square slabs of golden goodness and fried bananas, scattered with sharp berries and flaked toasted almonds and the obligatory miniature jug of maple syrup for pouring.

The crowd is mixed – Guardian-reading couples, friends gossiping over coffee, walkers fresh from the Capital Ring tucking into substantial breakfasts. They consciously try to use organic ingredients where possible.  Interestingly, less families than the often overrun Pavilion in Victoria Park, another local favourite. I’d quite like to potter down to the Counter Cafe on a working day and settle into the old cinema seats by the window, use the wifi and write in the sunshine.

Fliers on the table directed us down to Stour Space, for their monthly Craft Fair.  It’s an artists’ collective and studio space – super friendly people and a nice collection of designer makers.  So many pretty things – sadly so many makers without websites. Grr. (How?? In this day and age? Mutter mutter </rant>).  The fair is on the last Saturday of every month – certainly worth a look.

Following the canal all the way, we wandered to Broadway Market. We’d been promised Hummingbird today as an afternoon sweet treat – but plans for town went out the window. So we came in search of Violet cupcakes. I have to say, I was slightly perturbed when we got home to discover that they were scattered with flecks of ‘dust or something’. I suppose we’d bought them at the end of the day.  Dammit. They still tasted good – better than good. Some of the best I’ve had.

Passionfruit and Blood Orange.  Wonderful once tucked up at home with tea again. Shortly we’re off to another local Supper Club – And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Our Bread. It’s the Evil Menu. Should we be scared?