Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Sunday Currently: The Girl Next Shore & Big News

My body is once again desynchronised but my head is still somewhere up in the clouds submerged in a massive case of wanderlust.

THE BIG NEWS is that I am OFFICIALLY a UK resident, aka I finally have indefinite leave to remain in the UK after 9 long years. (Background: UK Home Office kept changing immigration laws throughout so I've only been qualified for residency last year; however, I deferred my application until this Summer due to life and travel plans.) Last week, after spending half a day at one of the Home Office's one-day premium service centres (I highly recommend paying extra for this service), my application was deemed successful which means means NO MORE UK visa renewals for me. Hooray!!!

But what's next? Watch this space.

Caroline Kepnes - You. I'm getting slightly frustrated with this book as I keep on dozing off after a few pages. It's meant to be a thrilling perspective from a stalker, but I just get an image of a creep lurking in the bushes all the time.

...a backlog of blog posts from trips and staycations over the Summer. Oh, and of course food reviews, including a great #ZomatoMeetup at Pizza Pilgrims.


We used to have it all planned
We thought we knew what it all looked like
We were looking out on the greatest view
We were raised to take a stand,
We were raised to keep an open mind
We believed we'd just sail on through
Now I'm a hundred miles an hour
Sitting in my palace without any power
Alone in the dark,
We're alone in the dark
Thought we could always try a bit harder
But if the dice don't wanna roll in your favor
It falls apart, the fantasy falls apart

...of how paradoxical 2015 has been, and how seasons have changed so quickly.

SMELLING newly laundered sheets that smell of lavender. This just makes me a bit depressed because it's raining outside and I wish I were in a sunny field of lavender.

...for clarity and for a miracle.

HOPING go on some sort of sabbatical from all the BS in life.

...ripped Leigh jeans, a stripey t-shirt, trusty Havaianas.

LOVING new purchased earrings from Les Nereides: a pair of lavender studs, la diamantine earrings with a bow, quirky surfing penguins (on sale!), and my favourite olives & lavender drops from the Jardins de Provence collection!

WANTING travel more. Dreaming of flying to Porto for a bit of surfing and gorging on a heap load of octopus.

...a little bit of clarity.

...slightly lethargic from oversleeping. Ah, Sunday.

On Instagram@annixontong (serious food love), @travelawesome and @bestcityintheworld (serious wanderlusting)
On the blogosphere: Connie Consumes. Andrea's Passions. Luxury Columnist. The Awkward Blog.

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Friday, 21 August 2015

Cheesy Zucchini Loaf Cake (a recipe)

So my colleagues decided to start a competition in line with the BBC hit series Great British Bake Off. I was about to get excited at the thought of having free baked goodies at work every week until I realised I was in on it, too. My nerves went bonkers as the last time I attempted to bake anything (brownies) they ended up getting as hard as hockey pucks (you could've thrown them on the wall and they would've held).

I chickened out on the first week and decided to judge. These were my favourite cookies.

Week 2 was all about loaf cakes and I thought I'd face my baking fears and join in on the fun. Most people were going for a sweet cake so I opted for a savoury cake using zucchini (courgettes to most of you, but it will always be zucchini to me). I found an easy enough recipe here but I decided to tweak it a little bit and added some bacon/lardons. Because BACON. Come on. 

I had to do a test run as well. Because I didn't want to come up with a brick cake. Again.

So for ingredients:

- 325 grams zucchini, grated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups flour - all-purpose
- 1 tablespoon sugar - granulated
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 3 large eggs
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 sprigs rosemary - fresh stems removed and leaves minced
- 80 grams Comté cheese, diced (changed this to cheddar cheese in the end for a saltier flavour!)
- 250 grams smoked bacon lardons, chopped roughly
- 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

1) Preheat the oven to 175C.

2) Fry your lardons. Once done, dry it up in some paper towels to drain excess oil and let it cool for a bit.

3) Grate your zucchini into a colander. Add the salt and toss to distribute evenly (this actually drains up the zucchini so it doesn't end up being all too wet). Leave the colander over a bowl and let the excess water to drain. Give this process about 15 minutes or so.

4-5) You need two mixing bowls: one for the 'dry ingredients' (flour, sugar, baking powder and paprika) and another for the 'wet ingredients' (eggs, water, oil, mustard). Whisk through both bowls thoroughly.

6) When your wet ingredients have emulsified and have started to become light and frothy, add the grated (and hopefully drained) zucchini and rosemary into the mixture and stir.

7) Drop the wet mix into your dry ingredients. At this point you can add the lardons, making sure they're not piping hot anymore so as to not cook the egg. For the final recipe, I ended up putting the lardons in later.

8) Fold evenly but don't beat up the mixture. Handle with care.

9) Pour half the mix into a 9" x 5" loaf tin lined with parchment paper (or dusted in flour). Then drop half of your cheese, too. Remember on step 7 when I said I put the lardons later on the final recipe? This was it, kids. Pour the rest of the mix then top it up with the rest of your cheese.

10) Put your tin in the oven and patiently wait for 45 minutes. Once this is done, stick a toothpick (or chopstick!) to check that it's all cooked through. If nothing sticks to your stick (har har) then you're all good! Keep it in the tin for about 10 minutes then let it cool completely on a wire rack.

This was such an easy recipe to follow and it was quite quick to make. I like that it's very flexible for tweaking and that you can pretty much get creative with it.

My colleagues liked it enough, I think - it was the first to go! Woohoo! We didn't win first place (this SuperDad made the most amazing lemon cake ever. One bite and I knew we were creamed!) but we did win joint second. Hurrah for savoury cakes!

Next week's theme is all about the Quiches and Tarts. I don't like egg at all so I might give this one a pass. But who knows? Baking was quite a relaxing exercise. Maybe I'd surprise people and myself again, non? Watch this space.

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Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Social Wine & Tapas (Marylebone): where tapas are good and the wine, better

Social Wine & Tapas is the latest addition to Jason Atherton's growing empire of restaurants. It's a wine shop and tapas restaurant in Marylebone and a slick welcome breath-of-fresh-air on the rather touristy and chain-laden James Street.

You walk into the wine shop and dining counter where the vibe is pretty cool. I usually prefer to be sat by these counters for a proper tapas bar experience, but on this occasion we were led downstairs to an equally beautiful space where they have a cellar bar and more tables for larger groups.

We were handed menus and I was delighted to see a quote from one of my favourite plays, Man & Superman. I had a feeling we were off to a good start. 

We kicked off dinner with some Padron peppers (£4.5) and I kid you not when I say these are some of the best I've had. The char on the skin was just right and the seasoning was spot on. Peppers were so fresh that you still taste that tingly spicy kick.

The jamon selection (£15) is such good value for money as you get to try all of the cured meats on offer: Iberico bellota, lomo, chorizo, salchichon and serrano. The bellota is really good but the lomo is my favourite.

The Szechuan fried chipirones (£6.5) seemed like a play on the Eats meets West theme. The seasoning was a salty concoction of spices including my favourite Japanese togarashi whilst the dipping sauce was a creamy squid ink aioli. I honestly didn't care much about the aioli (which tasted a bit bland) but the baby squid itself was beautifully crunchy and moreish.

We had to have the seafood & rabbit Spanish rice (£9) if only to compare it to Barrafina's stunning arroz de marisco. Social's rice is a bit more moist and the smokiness is less intense, but it's still a very delicious dish packed with flavour. There's enough seafood to keep every mouthful substantial and exciting, too.

The roasted sea bream (£9.5) hit high marks for me. It was moist and cooked perfectly with the fish flaking off beautifully with each forkful. The piperrada was vibrant and had a wonderful balance of sweetness and tang which worked well with the bream.

We ended our mains with the sliders (£12) which had rose veal & foie gras patties and a bit of pulled pork. This was served with some guac and pickled cucumber condiments.

Though the foie gras flavour was lost to me, the meat was rather juicy and I thought it would make a good proper burger. Nevermind the meatsweat and calories!

I forgot to take a photo of the wines we tried (so here's a photo of your numbnuts-next-shore instead) which is truly unfortunate as the place has a really fantastic, extensive wine list put together by Jason's chief sommelier Laure Patry. The wine flights are reasonably priced and I highly recommend that you try either the Chardonnay or the Syrah vins. Oh, and if you're unsure about what to order, ask the waiting staff - they're all trained sommeliers!

Nothing much screamed to me on the dessert menu (although looking at Lauren's roast milk soft serve makes me want to kick myself for not ordering ice cream!) so we opted for the marscapone ice cream with strawberries (£6.5) to push for the last of Summer. This was so fresh and so good.

We rounded up the meal with (massive) cups of coffee and even bigger smiles on our faces. It was a pretty good dining experience and I honestly think it's my favourite of Jason's restaurants so far. Staff is knowledgeable and absolutely warm, the ambience is very chilled out and sexy, food comes quick, easy and delicious... and the wine is good enough to take you flying sans wings.

Go. Enjoy and be social! ;)

39 James St, London W1U
Ave spend pp: £60
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Monday, 17 August 2015

Taberna do Mercado (Spitalfields): where Portugal conquered in small plates

I've always dreamt of travelling to Portugal to eat a heap load of fresh octopus and to surf on its magical waves. But before I've had any chance to look at flights, Portugal (or at least its food) came to London in the form of Taberna do MercadoNuno Mendes' new small-plates baby in Old Spitalfields Market.

We ordered the prawn rissois (£5 for 2) to start and I am transported to a few good memories: snacking on my favourite empanadas in Philippines; trying all sorts of curry puffs in Asia; overindulging in coxinhas from a local Brazilian bakery. Like all those good deep fried pastry filled with all things delicious, this put a smile on my face and we were off to a good start.

Our server recommended the quiejo da Serra da Estrella (£10), a runny sheep's milk cheese hailing from the north mountainous region of Portugal. I'm a fan of sheep's milk cheese and thought this was perfect for dipping the rustic grilled bread we were given so much of. 

The Paleta porco preto was quite a pleaser (£15). Fatty, salty with the teeniest hint of sweetness, this particular plate of cured meat didn't have a pungent smell nor a lasting aftertaste (aka meat breath) the way chorizo does.

The house-tinned mackerel (£5), preserved in olive oil for up to two weeks, was punchy with tomato sofrito. Considering 1) I'm not the biggest fan of mackerel for its very fishy aftertaste, and 2) the fact that I hate tinned tomatoes, I liked this enough. Possibly cos there was only enough of it to have a wee taste.

Special of the day was a 100-day dry aged steak simply cooked off the grill. There's nothing like a good piece of beef cooked to perfection, but I wonder whether our 200g cut was worth all £40 considering a third of it was fat. We'd be talking differently if they charred the fat longer so it would've been crispier... and edible.

Beef was served with some bread and tomato salsa/salad.

Another special of the day was the tuna w/ picadito algarvio. This made me think of a fish escabeche sans the sweetness. I thought the fish was cooked perfectly but needed a bit more seasoning.  

Runner bean fritters (£5) with bulhao pato - that’s clam broth - were quite moreish. The batter is reminiscent of tempura and the broth is something special. It's light, crispy and an ideal thing to snack on.

The asparagus and fennel migas (£8) was a little bit too oily for my liking and lacked the asparagus taste I had hoped for. Granted it's a subtly flavoured veg, but all I got was a heady case of bread and way too much fennel.

For dessert, we ordered the olive oil pao de lo (£12). This was definitely not a photogenic dish but it was definitely one of the highlights for me. It's a super light sponge cake with what seems to be an underbaked centre. It's sweet and slightly salty and so good that we had to order another one.

Overall, it was a bit of a hit and miss. Perhaps I came to Taberna thinking it was going to be over the moon fantastic, seeing the very #foodporn worthy shots on Instagram but to be honest I'm not sure how I feel about it... yet. The menu is ever so promising and inspired but somehow my first visit felt like a game of chances. Happy to give it another go and perhaps make my mind up then.

Oh, there wasn't any octopus in the menu. Tears.

Taberna do Mercado
Old Spitalfields Market, 107b Commercial Street, London E1
Follow them on Twitter and on Instagram.
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Saturday, 15 August 2015

Momo (Heddon St): where London meets North Africa

I like restaurants with nice interiors for the simple fact that it kind of sets the ambience of your dining experience. Momo on Heddon Street has always done that for me. As you walk through the foliage by the al fresco dining area to the sexy swanky space inside, you are transported to a North African den with its elaborate and intricate design. 

However, as with most restaurants, ambience means nothing if the food ain't great. So what did we think?

We were given a complimentary bread basket which was literally, a basket filled with bread. The bread itself was warm and the crust was perfect for dipping but it was rather dry and crumbly.

We ordered the chicken livers (£8) which sat on a bed of houmous and a melasse of pomegranate. I can't tell you how much I LOVE this dish. The livers were cooked perfectly; firm enough as so it doesn't crumble and mush into the creamy houmous but definitely soft and tender. The pomegranate added freshness to the rich dish and it all just worked.

The ceviche of the day (£9.75) was rather interesting. Fish was mackerel and the acid mostly came from apple purée. I was quite reluctant with this as I like my ceviches sour and thought the apples would make the flavour lean towards a sweeter profile.

But it was actually quite delicious. It didn't taste like your normal citrus-laden ceviche, and yes it was a little bit sweet (but not overpoweringly so). But the fish was cured nicely (ie it didn't have that pungent fishy mackerel taste) and it just worked.

A pot of harissa was brought out and we knew the mains were coming. As we were in a Moroccan restaurant, we knew we were up for a feed but we totally underestimated the portion sizes. Guys, when you go to Momo make sure you are hungry. VERY, VERY HUNGRY.

I opted for the fish tagine of the day (£21.50). I wasn't too pleased to find out it was cod (which I think is the most boring fish ever when filleted) but I was happy it wasn't a tomato based sauce. The addition of clams and artichoke hearts gave it better texture, whilst the samphire just made me feel like I was still having something healthy despite the ginormous serving size.

The couscous Momo (£28.50) seemed like a great feat to conquer by just one person (perhaps it was made for sharing?) The lamb shank was massive but the meat fell off the bone. The merguez was pretty good. The only let down for me was the grilled lamb skewer which was a little bit tough.

The preparation of the couscous was quite theatrical. A server puts some couscous on your plate, adorns it with chickpeas, dried fruit and veg, and then pours some broth to soak up the granules. 

We were too full to have any dessert but we managed to finish a bottle of rose that was highly recommended by our sommelier. 

Overall, it was a pleasant meal even though I much preferred our starters over the mains. The vibe was pretty good and the service was ace. I reckon this is all driven by the beautiful surroundings more than the food itself but if I'm being honest, I really wouldn't mind going back.

25 - 27 Heddon Street Regent Street London, W1B
Ave spend pp: £50
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