June 18, 2012


It's old news now but the coffee scene in London has finally matured and it is much easier to find a good coffee like the ones served at well known cafes like Taylor St BaristasSacred and Fernandez & Wells.  The formula for me is quite easy:  avoid the mainstream chains, listen out for a laid back Aussie or Kiwi using a La Marzocco machine and if flat whites are on the menu, then you have a pretty good chance.  Living in Battersea, we're actually quite lucky to have a few options for a good brew, not least including my very own home barista Dave!  

But when out and about, one of the best options in our neighbourhood is Birdhouse.  It's a simple cafe, doing simple food with damn good coffee.  The decor of yellow and metallic grey with the bird theme makes the place feel industrialised yet arty.  It's a cool place to hang out and enjoy a simple sandwich or cake, but of course the main attraction is the coffee.  The beans are a lovely roast providing a sophisticated shot, topped with perfect temperature milk (something the Brits took a while to learn about).  We love a good flat white here and it's also good to support the owners (an Aussie & a Cuban) who obviously take a lot of pride in what they do.  If you love your coffee, I promise you that you won't be disappointed at Birdhouse. 

Birdhouse - a recipe for success:  doing something really simple really well, especially flat whites

What:  Birdhouse
Where:  123 St John Hill's Road, Battersea SW11 1SZ
How much:  Coffees approx. £2.20 from memory, sandwiches less than £5

June 11, 2012

Bistrot Bruno Loubet

It's been a while since we had dinner at Bistrot Bruno Loubet but I still have very fond memories of the experience.  It was a group dinner mid week to celebrate the birthday of Maria and we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink outside at the back of the restaurant in St John's Square before sitting down to a wonderful selection of dishes.  Everyone enjoyed their meals which were full of flavour and colour.  It was also a treat to see Bruno himself cooking in the kitchen which is a rare treat, especially on a Tuesday night.  

I had the summer fish cassoulet full of lovely, light flavours from the herbs and vegetables along with a perfectly cooked piece of fish. The rabbit tournedos with artichoke barigoule (stewed artichoke hearts) and lovage (sea parsley) pesto was also a popular choice and equally tasty and not too heavy.  Esteban of course went for steak, taking the grilled Aberdeen Angus sirloin with spring onion persillade which looked delicious.

Special dish I can't remember but tasted good - Rabbit tournedos - Front of restaurant

All our plates were clean by the end of the meal and everyone was keen for dessert. Maria and I both had the apricot crème brûlée served with pistachio ice cream with Maria's plate decorated with a birthday message.  I wasn't sure whether the apricot and pistachio were a bit much but the flavours seemed to work well together.  Thin apple tart with crème fraîche and cinnamon ice cream was also a hit, proving that Bruno finds the perfect balance of classic French cooking with just a hint of flair that makes him such an accomplished chef. 

Fish cassoulet - Sirloin - Crème brûlée - Apple tart

Bistrot Bruno Loubet at The Zetter hotel is a highly recommended choice for any occasion.  It promises a wonderful, relaxed meal in comfortable surrounds, friendly service that is spot on, and food that is amazingly great value and sure to please everyone.   I am now thinking of when I can go back again - bon appétit!

What:  Restaurant Bistrot Bruno Loubet
Where:  St John's Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJ
How much:  Entrees £6.50-8.50; mains average £17.50, desserts average £6.50

June 6, 2012

Italian Home Cooking

As I relax and enjoy the Jubilee weekend, I am reminded of the last long weekend in April when Dave and I went to Italy for the Easter weekend with Maria and Esteban.  What made this trip special apart from spending time with our friends, was the fact we got to meet Maria's family and stay with them in their lovely home in Brescia, in the north of Italy, not far from Milan.  And as you can guess, it was a gastronomic feast as we were treated to some amazing Italian home cooking by Maria's mum, Emma. 

We had some lovely meals out in the historic towns of Mantua and Verona but the most memorable meals were definitely those served in the warm kitchen of Maria's family home with Maria's dad Ezio always providing entertainment.  Our first meal was a treat with a starter of cooked prawns which were soft but meaty and full of flavour, served with a light homemade seafood sauce.  This was followed by fresh handmade pasta served with a simple but tasty porcini mushroom and tomato sauce. The pasta was cooked al dente and the flavours were amazing. We wanted to eat loads but had to pace ourselves as this was followed up by melanzane parmigiana which was also perfect.  The eggplant was grilled instead of fried to reduce the oiliness and it was baked to perfection.  The meal was topped off by some homemade  limoncello from a friend and is the best I have ever had.

Homemade Pasta with Porcini & Tomato Sauce and Melanzane Parmagiana

We were then treated to a family meal the following day to celebrate Easter Sunday.  First course was lasagne which was to die for - it was the first time I had lasagne with slices of ham in it but it was divine and probably one of the best ever.  Secondi was vitello tonnato, an Italian dish of sliced veal served with a tuna sauce which was also really tasty.  For dessert we had an awesome strawberry mousse served with crushed amaretto biscuits and cream - so simple but sooo good!  What a great Easter family lunch.

Lasagne - Vitello Tonnato - Strawberry Mouse

That evening we had a simple meal of sliced meats but of course, being Italian, even sliced meats can make a feast.  For a start, there were 6 types of cured meats. Secondly, the meats were freshly sliced using their professional looking meat slicer which produced wafer thin slices of salami, speck, fiocchetto (one of my favourites), mortadella (Esteban's fave)  and culatello which is a local speciality.  As Maria and I agree, it is simple food like this which makes for a fantastic meal.  Add to it some olives, artichokes, bread, pickled vegetables and some local sparkling red wine, and I was starting to work out a way for me to move in with Maria's parents!

Freshly sliced meats - I want more!!

Our final dinner at home started as a light meal but became another gastronomic treat:  red wine risotto with a very good bottle of Valpolicella and the stock that was retained from braising the veal for the Vitello Tonnato.  Needless to say these 2 ingredients and Emma's skillful cooking made this simple risotto quite possibly one of the best risottos Dave and I will ever eat in our life!  Add some extra meats and a fresh monster wedge of Parmigiano REggiano cheese and we were in food heaven (and still working on Ezio and Emma to take me in to learn to cook or just to eat!).

Emma's Recipe Book - Red Wine Risotto - Parmigiano Reggiano

But of course all good things have to come to an end, but not before a final meal by Emma. This time it was 5 homemade pizzas, including Maria's favourite of shallots and blue cheese plus others featuring pepperoni, prosciutto and various cheeses.  It made me want to start making pizza at home although I was certain it wouldn't be nearly as good as Emma's given her many years of experience cooking Italian specialities.  I haven't even mentioned all the other little treats she made us including pear cake, white chocolate muffins and caramel brittle (which I was given a lesson in). 

Pear Cake & Homemade Pizzas

Needless to say it was really sad to leave after such a wonderful stay in Brescia - not only did we get to visit some lovely new places in Northern Italy and enjoy a gastronomic feast but the experience of a warm Italian family like Ezio, Emma and Maria's brother Paolo, is an experience we will always cherish. Grazie mille!