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Moving to Instagram

28 Feb

I’ve jumped on the Instagram bandwagon (better late than never) and will be posting my steps from there – 22 to go!

Follow me on ainhoab89.

🙂

I’ve done the first one already – here’s a little preview:

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STEP 30: dinner at The Dairy in Clapham. To finish off… Biscuits, salted caramel and malted barley ice cream; baked pear, clotted cream and cinnamon shavings and complimentary sugar coated wafers and mini doughnuts. Best things come free. #thedairy#instablog #instacollage #dessert #foodgasm#chocolate #art #blog #saltedcaramel #igers

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Step Twenty-Eight: dinner at cocoa restaurant Rabot 1745

7 Dec

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It’s all about the cocoa at Borough Market’s new restaurant, Rabot 1745.

At first I imagined sickeningly sweet chocolate-smothered dishes on the menu – pasta in chocolate sauce, chocolate chilli con carne, chicken in mole sauce (nothing wrong with that) – but no, Rabot is far more subtle and sophisticated.

The restaurant, founded by the guys behind Hotel Chocolat, is named after their cocoa plantation in St Lucia. The stylish decor harks back to the original look of the estate, and the animal noises playing in the bathroom transport you to the Caribbean.

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The focus is on cocoa-infused dishes, with cooking techniques inspired by the West Indies. Before even looking at the menu, the friendly staff encourage you to crack open the  cocoa beans and try them in their raw bitter form. We were given a complimentary amuse-bouche to follow – a shot of creamy vegetable soup and cocoa flavoured bread to dip.

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Between us, we went for the red mullet fillet and olive chickpea gnocchi, which came with a chocolate and mustard glaze and seasonal vegetables (very good), and the slow roast shoulder of lamb, basted in cacao balsamic and served with veg and roast garlic mash (gorgeous).

Other dishes I was tempted by were the cacao marinated rib-eye steak, the fresh market chowder and the alternative pearl barley scotch egg.

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For dessert, I had to go for one of my all-time favourites – the Rum Baba, which came with a sizeable serving of St Lucian golden rum to pour accordingly.

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We couldn’t pass up the Chocolate Genesis either, described as “the whole epic story from the beginning”. Split over two plates came truffles, pralines, chocolate bars and a shot of drinking chocolate, accompanied by coconut water to cleanse the palate after each tasting. Epic it was.

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The restaurant is on the second floor of the Rabot establishment, and overlooks the bustling Borough Market and *claim to fame* Bridget Jones’ appartment.

The ground floor is home to the cafe/bar, which serves lethal rum cocktails and roasts their own cocoa beans daily, and the shop, which sells everything from cocoa pesto to cocoa pasta to cocoa gin to slabs of 70% dark chocolate.

Enough to make you loco for cocoa.

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The details:

Location: 2-4 Bedale Street, Borough Market. Tube: London Bridge.

Opening times: 6:30-10/11pm depending on day. Also open for lunch.

Prices: starters approx ÂŁ8, mains approx ÂŁ20, desserts approx ÂŁ7.

To view the full menu and website, click here.

The restaurant is also working on building a balcony to be opened for summer months, overlooking Borough Market.

Step Twenty-Five: Maltby Street food tour

12 Nov

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London’s street food scene is mushrooming, and for the real London foodie in the know, Maltby Street market is a must.

While Borough market has a well-established devoted following, and is famous for certain stalls (the raclette), Matlby in Bermondsey isn’t as well known which makes it even more intriguing.

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In terms of appearance, it isn’t the typical food market. Stall after stall line both sides of the narrow street but some back into old warehouse spaces under arches, making them look even more makeshift and quirky. The planks and old scaffolding behind the stalls look a little unstable, but traders have embraced it all and use them as shelves to prop up bottles and hang sign boards from.

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On the Saturday morning that we went, we had to walk single file at times – it get’s that busy. Some people were already enjoying a tipple from bartenders serving drinks from a dresser, while the other option for diners was to take their food to an eating area in an antiques shop, and sit among old bath tubs and sinks. Trendy, but without the East Landan trendos.

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Food options on offer – smoked salmon, pastrami bagels (ultimate Jewish soul food), hummus and beef stew, fillet steak sandwiches and more, and moving onto the sweet stuff – cookies, waffles, French tarts and the like.

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Apart from the food stalls, some well-established businesses have set up shop permanently in the old warehouses, like Bea’s of Bloomsbury and St John’s Butchers, hinting that Bermondsey is well up and coming in London’s foodie revolution. The eateries were already packed by the time we got there, so I’ll definitely be going back for the half-restaurant, half-warehouse dining experience.

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And after the nibbling and eating, we walked around the antique shops which have the most bizarre finds on offer, including a headstone for Simon Cowell that was taken from the London Dungeon.

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Maltby Street is intriguing, and you wouldn’t know it was there unless you were directed. It’s within walking distance of Borough market, which is where our tour, led by funnywoman and guide Emma Parker of Coutours, started.

We were led round the stalls and given tastings, starting off with our morning bread and moving on to explore the raclette, oysters and more.

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The tour isn’t just a case of dine and dash though. At each stop, Emma imparts her wisdom and shares the “secret history” of London’s street food. Who knew fish and chips were a hybrid creation from Ireland and Portugal, and that oysters were the first, and very cheap, example of street food?

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Tours are available to guests staying at Presidential Apartments, luxury suites in Kensington, with pick-up at the apartments, then heading to Borough and then Maltby.

Tour prices: ÂŁ28pp for minimum two people, or ÂŁ75 for a family of two adults and up to three children.

Tour times: 10am-1pm.

Call Emma on 07934781 056 to book your place.

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Step Twenty-Four: brunch at Caravan, Exmouth Market

19 Sep

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Brunch. My favourite meal of the day.

I’d been meaning to go to Caravan for ages to try their infamous brunch, but never quite got round to it until last weekend. The place has been around for a while and so popular that I deemed it “unbloggable”, but after seeing how photogenic the food was, I just had to share. The owners opened another resto in Kings Cross last year, but we headed for the original in the more picturesque Exmouth Market.

Caravan seems to be one of those places that is perpetually busy, and although we went for a late brunch at 2pm, the restaurant was still heaving. We luckily didn’t have to queue but I’ve heard of waits of at least half an hour if you go at peak times.

The best thing about the menu is its originality. At first glance, it might look like the standard muesli, toast and spreads, hearty fry up and omelette fare, but the further down the menu you look, the more exciting the choices get.

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The menu is well-travelled and very original. There are bits of Spanish influence here, bits of French influence there, and just when you think you’re getting normal maple sauce, the chef adds a kick to the dish and throws in the “house” paprika maple sauce instead.

I had the ham hock hash with poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and petits pois, while my friend ordered the cornbread French toast, streaky bacon, rocket and avocado. Both dishes were beautifully presented, although I did get food envy at the Spanish morcilla on grain toast and fried egg passing by, and I don’t even like black pudding that much.

The other dishes I was tempted by were the coconut bread with strawberries and lemon curd cheese, and the baked eggs and chorizo with Greek yoghurt.

It’s definitely a more alternative and interesting take on brunch, and the pairings were quite unusual, but they worked. The coffee, which they roast in the downstairs “roastery”, was also just what I wanted for that cold, rainy day.

Next stop: Caravan King’s Cross.

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The details:

Location: 11 Exmouth Market, Angel/Farringdon tube.

Opening times for brunch: Sat-Sun, 10am-4pm.

Price: mains around ÂŁ9.

For all food menus, click here.

Step Twenty-Three: eat cake at Swedish bakery Bageriet

10 Sep

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Cake. Chocolate. Muffins. More cake. Sugar in general. I LOVE all things sweet. So when I heard about the new Swedish bakery that’s been hiding in Covent Garden, I immediately dashed to it.

When we walked in to Bageriet (meaning bakery in Swedish) on a mid-Friday afternoon, the cafe was empty besides the solo smiling Swedish waitress at the till, and a fully stocked counter of treats. Just how I like it. We had the place to ourselves and it really felt like sanctuary.

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It took about a good five minutes to decide what to get after asking for recommendations – this was my day off, I wasn’t going to be rushed – and we finally settled on the raspberry and coconut tart and the brioche muffin with gianduja chocolate.

Now I’ve never tried gianduja, but it’s kind of like Nutella, only better. The brioche was flaked with almonds and had a gorgeous silky chocolate centre, while the tart was just out of this world. Fresh coconut shavings mingled with bittersweet raspberry chunks, on a crisp tart base. Served next to my bowl of tea on a cold, hungover day – perfection.

It was hard to choose though. I was also keen on the gooey coconut pyramid, the dinky chocolate balls, the vanilla custard hearts, the cute raspberry caves and the traditional apple pie. Most of the counter display really. Bageriet prides itself on its cinnamon buns, so that was another option too.

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Just as we were leaving an elderly man came in and bought two carrier bags worth of goodies, and it sounded like he had made Bageriet his local. He left, and then about a minute later came back just to try the savoury sandwich cake, because it was just so intriguing and you can’t really not try it now, can you?

Princi in Soho is still top of my list for desserts, but I have to say Bageriet, which opened just a few months ago, is creeping up there too.

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The details:

Location: 24 Rose Street, Covent Garden tube.

Opening times: Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm. Sat, 10am-7pm.

Prices: sweet treats from roughly ÂŁ3, hot drinks from ÂŁ2.

For the full menu and to read the pastry chef’s story, click here.

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Step Twenty-Two: fun dining at Flesh & Buns

27 Aug

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Flesh & Buns. I wasn’t too keen on the name when I first heard it. It honestly made me think of Hannibal or some kind of Chinese dumpling filled with questionable meat.

But going with the flow, the name and the rave reviews intrigued me.

The signature dish is the Hirata bun, originally from Taiwan and literally translating as “tiger eating pork”. The concept is simple, it’s basically like a Western sandwich. You get a folded steamed white bun, soft as clouds, and fill it with whatever “flesh” you want.

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We had the crispy duck leg, served with sour plum soy sauce, and the flat iron steak, served with BBQ sauce. Both fillings were gorgeous – the duck slid off the bone, while the steak came in tender strips cooked nice and pink in the middle.

But it was hard to choose. We could have gone for the braised pork belly dolloped with mustard miso, or the grilled sea bass slathered with coriander miso, or the salmon teriyaki with lemon and sea salt. Any of the mains really. Mmmmmmm.

Each “flesh” dish is served with two steamed buns, lettuce, cucumber and pickle, and is designed for sharing. You can order extra buns on the side, which you may want to do if there are more than two of you.

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It’s such a simple concept and hails from Taiwanese street food that it’ll probably be making its mark on the London street food scene in no time.

The hirata bun has already made its grand entrance in New York, and from the way the restaurant’s designed with its industrial chic interior, you can tell the owner’s been influenced by the Big Apple.

Our dessert was oh so American too. As a S’mores virgin, I had to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t even like marshmallows but I’m getting cravings for their s’mores as I write.

Sticking with the DIY-dining theme, part of the fun is roasting the marshmallows yourself and sliding them in between the biscuits and matcha green tea chocolate. I repeat, mmmmmm.

This new Japanese-style restaurant definitely lived up to its cracking reputation and if you’re over the burger bandwagon in Soho, give Flesh & Buns a try.

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The details:

Location: 41 Earlham Street, Covent Garden tube.

Opening times: Mon-Tues, noon-3pm, 5pm-10:30pm. Wed-Fri, noon-3pm, 5pm-11:30pm. Sat, noon-11:30pm. Sun, noon-9:30pm.

Price: flesh & bun mains to share from ÂŁ13-24.

To see menus, click here.

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Step Twenty-One: outdoor swimming at Brockwell Lido

23 Aug

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After seeing the hot dogs or legs parody on Tumblr, I have to admit I’m guilty of taking a fair few of these shots myself. But I never thought I’d get the chance to play the game in not-so-sunny London…until I went down to the Brockwell Lido.

The outdoor swimming pool has been nicknamed “Brixton’s Beach” and on a hot day, locals are sure to flock to it. The pool is a whopping 50 metres long and let’s just say the measly number of lengths I managed didn’t reach double figures.

There are lanes for serious swimmers and a more casual area that young kids and teenagers were diving into. The vibe is very chilled out and anything goes – I spotted a few bras instead of bikini tops on display and people jumping in in t-shirts.

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One of the main reasons I was drawn to discover the lido was the TANNAGE opportunity.

There’s ample space around the pool to plonk yourself down and sunbathe (bring your own towel), and a special decking area if you arrive early enough to bag a space. Some lockers are provided but most people just leave their stuff on the side.

As it was summer, the pool wasn’t heated so was a bit of a shock at first, but I quickly warmed up and had a very refreshing, albeit brief, paddle.

It may not be as idyllic as lying on a white-sand beach, or as relaxing as a deserted island, given all the children running around, but it has a lively and friendly vibe. And if like me, you aren’t keen on sunbathing in a bikini in a park, and need a little dip now and then, the lido is the next best thing.

The poolside cafe stays open after the pool shuts and although I didn’t have anything, it apparently serves good food. I’ll definitely be going back for dinner when the surroundings are lit up and look beaut, according to Google pics, or on Tuesdays when the cafe does “Prosecco Tuesdays” (a glass for ÂŁ3).

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The details:

Location: inside Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road. Hearne Hill train station or a short bus ride away from Brixton tube.

Opening times: Mon-Fri, 6:30am-8pm, Sat-Sun, 8am-6pm. Bank holidays – 8am-6pm.

Price: ÂŁ5.75 for adults to swim; ÂŁ3.05 for entry before 10am on a weekday.

For cafe menus click here. (People do bring food in but I’m not sure if this is allowed).

For main website and to check out their gym and spa facilities, click here.

If you just want a laugh, click here.

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Step Twenty: embrace the American burgers at Five Guys

29 Jul

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The burger revolution is a little passé I’ll admit, but that hasn’t stopped people flocking to the new burger joints that have just opened in London: Shake Shack and Five Guys.

I’d heard mixed things about Shake Shack, but still want to try it. For this week though, Five Guys had to do. And it did more than deliver.

The queues for both sounded overwhelming, verging on exclusive, but when we arrived at Five Guys we were pleasantly surprised at being able to walk straight in and only had to wait about ten minutes to order. It is a fast-food restaurant after all and the hype seems to have died down a little.

The burgers are amazing, and they’ll always be the ultimate comfort food, but how does Five Guys stand out from the patty crowd?

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First, you get TWO patties in each burger – good news for the gluttonous, like me.

Second, you can ADD ANY TOPPINGS on your burger FOR FREE, so naturally I went to town and had the grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup, relish and BBQ sauce. But you can also choose from green peppers, jalapeno peppers, hot sauce, pickles, mustard and more.

The chips were also incredible – very moreish and you can really taste the difference with the peanut oil they cook them in.

Third, we didn’t have to wait long and the service was very speedy. The staff behind the counters are pros and work like machines in the best possible sense.

Fourth, if you do have to wait, you can grab as many monkey nuts in the queue as you want. There are sacks full of the peanuts at the entrance.

Fifth, if you want a more pleasant and intimate fast-food dining experience, get a booth downstairs which makes you feel like you’ve got the place to yourselves – date night? I think so.

Sixth, Five Guys stays open till midnight on weekends. Drunken dining. Check.

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The details:

Location:  1 Long Acre, between Leicester Square and Covent Garden.

Opening times:  Mon-Thurs, 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat, 11am-midnight, Sun, 12pm-10:30pm

Price: burgers from roughly ÂŁ7, chips from ÂŁ3, drinks from ÂŁ2

To check out the menu, click here.

Side step: last chance to eat a crĂŞpe in Hampstead?

14 Jul

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The little crêpe stand that’s been stationed on Hampstead high street for the past 33 years is a much-loved landmark and true Hampstead institution.

It’s one of the many reasons I’ll travel that far up the Northern line, but possibly not for long with news that La Crêperie de Hampstead may be shutting for business.

The little stand dishes out amazing sweet crĂŞpes and savoury gallettes that take me back to my year abroad in Paris – the kind of freshly-made pancakes that ooze Belgian chocolate layer after layer, served just like in the City of Light. There’s always a queue, rain or shine, and the van stays open till late, perfect for midnight snacking.

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But the charming atmosphere has been tarnished recently, with news that La Crêperie de Hampstead is being “evicted” by the pub next door.

Signs have been plastered on the van asking locals to sign a petition to save the crêperie, and warn that “this may be your last crêpe”. The business has got a lot of attention from the media and their online petition has well-exceeded their target with 1,441 signatures.

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The pub has responded to the uproar, and in an open letter to the press and public explained that they have been providing the crĂŞperie with storage and refrigeration facilities in their garden, free of charge, for several years.

The pub now needs the space back, and offered the crĂŞperie an alternative section in their kitchen, for a fee, which they rejected.

The crĂŞpe war continues but at the time of visiting, the signs stated that they could be closing in just fourteen days, so sometime in July. Given their backing and popularity, and the fact that La CrĂŞperie de Hampstead has sold more than three million crĂŞpes since opening, I doubt we will see the van driving away.

But just in case, get yourself to Hampstead and savour the crĂŞpes while you can.

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The details:

Location: 77a Hampstead High Street, Hampstead tube

Opening times: daily 10am-11pm

Prices: average ÂŁ4 a crĂŞpe

To see the petition online, click here.

Side step: artisan ice cream for when the sun returns

30 May

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I think it’s safe to say last Bank Holiday’s sun was a God-send. And when the rays comes out, it’s time to head to Gelupo’s.

The cosy gelateria in Soho serves quirky-flavoured scoops, like ricotta with sour cherry or persimmon sorbet, and the best bit, encourages trying before buying.

Being the chocolate lover that I am, I went for the bitter, dark chocolate AND the bonet gelato, chocolate with rum, amaretti, coffee and egg yolks, which was gorgeous if not slightly too sweet, but that was my misjudgment.

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The gelateria is blue-tiled, light and airy, and the staff very friendly. There are a couple of tables outside for sunny days, and a line of stools inside opposite the counter. Round the back are a few tables and chairs where you can sit by a retro ice-cream vending cart and browse the Italian goodies on sale, from sausages to olive oil to home-made pasta.

Gelupo’s also serves a range of coffees, Italian torta, polenta cakes, brownies, foccaccia sandwiches, pies and gelato cakes to take home.

Just across the street is Bocca di Lupo’s, an Italian restaurant by the same owner.

So…maybe I’ve got my timing off with post this given our grim weather, but the Annie inside me is singing, the sun’ll come out tomorrow, tomorrow…so when it does, skip to Gelupo’s.

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The details:

Location: 7 Archer Street, Soho. Piccadilly Circus tube.

Opening times: Thursday to Saturday, noon-1am; Sunday to Wednesday, noon-11pm.

Prices: from ÂŁ3 for a small cup/cone (two flavours)

To visit the website, click here.