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The Clove Club

I’d heard good things. Lots and lots of good reviews. Friends had been and enjoyed. So expectations were high.

It was a birthday lunch for S. At first, we considered going to Le Gavroche for the amazing £52.60 for three courses and half a bottle of wine but (obviously) they are fully booked for every weekday lunch until 2014, even when I called in July.

I then decided I didn’t want to go somewhere expensive or too flash anyway. Sometimes a place can be too formal and too Michelin… being honest, I don’t really care if there are crumbs on the table and I really don’t need you to origami my napkin when I nip the loo. OK I’ll just come out and say it: I wanted hipster fine dining.

The location of The Clove Club appeals – occupying a corner of Shoreditch Town Hall. Living in North Hackney, it can be a pain to travel to Soho or Mayfair just for a good restaurant. The Clove Club has a more trendy and young vibe: you won’t find yourself sitting next to tweed-clad cigar smokers who are discussing their last big deal or their upcoming break to St Lucia. And I’d first heard of it via Twitter which meant it had to be cool.

The decor is very pub/inn-like, with wooden bar stools, round white marble tables and lovely big bay windows. The service staff are really friendly and knowledgeable. In a very genuine way: an interest in what our birthday plans were, a tip about punting in Oxford – not a Michelin-forced smile in sight.

We went for the three course set menu (£35) with matching wines (£20). There was a choice of two for each course and a £4 supplement for cheese. Starting with a champagne and a pink sparkling wine by a Kent producer, we also enjoyed a few ‘snacks’. These consisted of: oak smoked cod’s roe and little rye crisps, crispy chicken feet and radishes with a gooey ‘gochuchang’ sauce (which was a cool colour and texture but in my opinion didn’t actually taste of anything….) and black sesame seeds. These were very good pre-meal snacks and up to the standard you would expect. The radishes in particular were welcome – fresh, crunchy and to be eaten with your fingers. For me, this was very much an anti-amuse bouche.

Our starters were: snails, mushrooms and polenta — S really enjoyed this and I was impressed by my wee taster. I had mackerel with cucumber — a very well cooked and well-balanced dish.

For the main course, we both chose grilled dover sole which was served with an Indian spiced butter, courgettes, crispy tubes of potato (these were fab – crispy, salty and soft) and courgette purée. This dish was AMAZING. I was worried that this would be a disappointingly small portion but it was perfect. We mopped up the spiced butter with some extra bread and were very, very happy diners!

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Skipping over cheese, I had a lovely damson custard with fruit compote for my dessert — not normally something I would rush to order but sometimes a more limited choice is a good thing and encourages you to try new things.

It doesn’t look a triumph but it was absolutely fantastic. Such a simple dish but great flavours and again, very well-balanced. The damson custard had a lovely perfume-y base which lingered on your tongue and was excellently countered by the tart, sweet flavours of the fruits. I would definitely have this again.

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The wine matches were very interesting and worked well. We were given a red burgundy with the dover sole but our server offered us white if that was more to our taste. I was quite happy with it – it was light but still stood up to the spices. Thankfully, neither the wine not the spiced butter stole any limelight from the lovely sole.

A brilliant lunch! We will definitely return again soon for dinner!

Duck and Waffle

You get a bit of a thrill watching people without reservations being turned away from the doors to the lift, which opens out to (a grey and rainy) Bishopsgate. Situated on the 40th floor of The Heron Tower, Duck & Waffle opened in the Summer of 2012 and promises to serve its customers both duck and waffle on demand, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — just what we’ve all been waiting for!

Opting for the more sociable time of 2pm on a Saturday (you might not need a reservation at 4am on a Tuesday!) which we booked about a month in advance, we enjoyed the impressive view over the city of London, Shoreditch and beyond while waiting for our pre-lunch cocktails in the bar. Unfortunately we waited a bit too long: we got moved to our table and ended up cancelling the cocktails in favour of a bottle of wine that could be enjoyed with the food. Although a rather sour way to start the experience, to their credit: they made the cocktails anyway (and didn’t charge us) and they brought out complimentary glasses of champagne to apologise. So now we’re drunk — of course we’ll enjoy the rest of the lunch!!

The food is very good – unusually so for venues like this, so that’s a relief. We ordered a few fun nibbles to start (eg pig ears, served in a paper bag) and we tried out a duck and waffle dish which was really tasty. I think the big sharing plates are popular but you maybe need at least three in your party for these (not an actual requirement, just in terms of quantity).

The atmosphere is very lively and there’s a lot of looking over your shoulder at what the next table’s ordered…difficult not to notice the flaming drinks, bizarre mini wood chip burner which they use to smoke the whiskey glasses (!) and a dessert that comes with a mars bar wrapper. Upon closer (unsubtle) inspection, we realised that it was in fact a deep fried mars bar. After all the free booze, we were curious.

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Despite growing up in Edinburgh, I’d never had a deep fried mars bar before. Now I realise there’s a very good reason for that. At the cost of £7.50 (compared to £1 in a local chippy!) it was an expensive, unattractive and pretty yucky curiosity! Oh well… now we know.

I’d definitely recommend Duck and Waffle to tourists and to locals. We were asked many, many times where we were from – we’d just walked in from North Hackney so not very exotic! I guess that a large number of their customers are not from London. That raises the prices of course!

I’d really like to try it out for brunch in a large group with lots of fizz. I think it would be really fun. Ideal for a birthday or other celebration. It’s a big venue (compared to a lot of London brunch choices) so a big party wouldn’t stick out. Will avoid the deep fried confectionary next time!

Friends of ours got married in July. It was a lovely day. One of those amazing home-made weddings complete with bunting cut from old recycled dresses of the mother of the groom, mismatching vintage crockery collected from flea markets across the country and a wonderful cake table inviting guests to contribute their own home-baked delights.

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Not a baker myself … but I was excited about the opportunity to have a go, particularly as a gift to our friends. I decided to try a loaf cake using a recipe of Nigel Slater’s that I’d recently seen on television.

I knew that the groom was a particular fan of beetroot, having made us a gorgeous beetroot and goat’s cheese salad once when we popped round for dinner and then producing his own homemade beetroot soup for a new year’s party at ours last year, I hazarded a guess that he might like a beetroot cake!

Nigel promised that it was very easy to make and would taste no more like beetroot than a carrot cake tastes of carrot. So I just mixed all the ingredients together, shoved it in a loaf tin and watched it rise! It was a beautiful pink colour when it went into the oven but unfortunately that faded slightly after baking. Tip: I bought actual beetroots from the local grocery shop and grated them myself, but I probably could have gotten away with pre-shredded beetroot from the supermarket (provided it wasn’t pickled!).

Not much can go wrong (I am led to believe). Even if it overbakes, you can just pretend the crusty edge was intentional (it is a loaf cake after all). Nigel also promises that the sunflower oil keeps it moist for longer which is ideal if you are making it a couple of nights in advance.

I did have a disaster with the orange blossom water: I used far too much and it tasted like nail varnish remover — revolting! Batch two was fine though: a small drop of orange blossom water does the trick and then you just use normal water for the rest of the icing. I think the cake looks better if you just let the runny icing dribble down the edges (so no hardcore decorating skills required) and everything gets covered in pretty little poppy seeds anyway.

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I was pleased with my first proper baking attempt and it seemed to go down well with the wedding guests. I have since tried out a lemon and pistachio loaf cake using a similar method. It was also pretty easy to make and very yummy to eat, particularly with Vanilla ice-cream. This time, the topping was lemon icing with chopped pistachios. The sponge also had pistachios running through it for some crunch. Here it is pictured next to a bowl of home made tabbouleh (which I will write about another time)… Unfortunately both photos of my loaf cakes are in Tupperware! You might not necessarily see from these photos but I really like the visual impact of a loaf shaped cake with the dribbly topping scattered with seeds/nuts. To me, that’s the perfect home-baked look.

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And of course, just when it becomes an integral part of your lazy weekend routine, they decide to sell up and move to Oz.

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Fred & Fran opened about two years ago on Kynaston Road. Named after the owner’s grandparents: Fred and Fran. It is the perfect neighbourhood café.

Delicious sandwiches: chorizo with red pepper, bacon and garlic mayo, beetroot and smoked salmon, avocado and hummus… all deliciously fresh and served in great portions, on lovely bread (including sourdough, rye, etc).

Other amazing stuff: the famous (well, at least in certain Stokey circles anyway) sausage roll with fennel and optional yummy chutney, the amazing toasted banana cake with lemon curd, the ‘I’m being good today’ granola, yoghurt and fruit, and (new on the scene) baked eggs, tomato, chick peas and Greek yoghurt.

And the cakes!!!!

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Hopefully the photo says everything and more. Scrumptious home-baked goods to satisfy a range of cakey desires. This morning we went for a lemon polenta sponge with pistachio. But the chocolate brownie is also delicious, as well as the afghan cookies and middle eastern cake.

Child/baby-friendly: but not in an annoying way – in a chaotic but charming way.

Top notch coffee: square mile of course.

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And loads of other added touches…tap water served in old milk bottles, cutlery in old tin cans, colourful tea cosies on the tea pots, cute munchy biscuits free with your hot drink (although these have not been seen of late), chilled out staff and a busy but happy atmosphere.

Luckily they are finalising terms with a buyer and are apparently trying to chose someone who will stick closely to the current set up. They have lived on the street for years and feel a sense of responsibility to their neighbours to make sure the tasty treats aren’t replaced with a tattoo parlour or, even worse, a cafe with a ‘Full English’ on the menu!!

Word on the street is the café’s name and all those mouth-watering recipes will fly back to Oz with the owners. Understandable but disappointing for those of us who have become somewhat dependent on a regular fix of fennel sausage rolls.

Let’s hope the new owners are cake magicians, sandwich fairies and have their own secret sausage roll recipe!

Best of luck to Fred & Fran for the next couple of months in Stokey before closing up and for their big move back to Oz.

Our trip to Granada was supposed to be Michelin-free. After plenty of holidays preoccupied by ‘special detours’ to visit this restaurant and that restaurant (and after taking a lower paid but better job), we thought it best to steer clear of those Michelin stars for a while.

We researched places to have lunch in Córdoba (using this very informed and helpful article) and were very excited about another tour round different bars, trying out different wines, beers and small plates of tasty Andalucian treats. But then we stumbled across El Choco in various online reviews and couldn’t resist. A former Celler de can Roca chef moves back to his home town and sets up his own place to showcase local produce at very reasonable value. EUR 200 for an extensive tasting menu lunch for two people with (plenty of) matching wines.

Unusual wines – eg, a rose that looked like a red. Innovative, modern and inviting courses – truffled egg yolk with oozey, gooey warm potato goodness and Iberian pork with spiced aubergine (absolutely gorgeous but 10% of the size we hoped!) are both standout dishes for me.

Really pleased we visited – even got us out of the hot sun for a couple of hours! We were also delighted that the bathroom included mini toothbrush and toothpaste so we could refresh ourselves after the lavish lunch.

The mosque/cathedral is beautiful and has such a bizarre architectural history. Wandering through the quiet and beautiful streets of Córdoba after lunch – a little drunk from the cava, wines and sherry – made for a perfect day.

I would definitely recommend a day trip from Granada to Córdoba (about 2 hours on the train and EUR50 return) and a lunch at El Choco – great food; interesting insight to modern Andalucian cuisine; and lovely change from the bustling tapas bars!

Crashing back to London

Don’t worry: the flight home was absolutely fine! In fact, it was my first ever flight with a female captain!

We have returned to Stoke Newington where it’s 10 degrees cooler and I am *dreads to think* much heavier. The cat is still alive and well (thanks to our wonderful neighbour) and sunny Andalucia seems a distant memory. Tomorrow, we will be back on peanut butter toast and Earl Grey tea … Dreaming of pan con tomate and cortados.

Tried to appease the post-holiday blues with a trip to the local hipster pub, The Jolly Butchers. Had one of my favourite London beers: a Kernel, IPA. I really should visit the brewery one day soon! Anyway, I had a great burger which was lovely soft meat, topped with pancetta and cheese. We have perused the menu of the JB in the past and decided against it but tonight it really did the trick. Good British pub grub to welcome us home to Blighty! Now back in the flat, playing with the cat and watching a James Bond film…obviously.

The best of a bunch

The day before our flight to Granada we decided to ‘get in the mood’ by having dinner at one of London’s best Spanish tapas bars, Barrafina. Unfortunately I feel like the amazing evening of food and wine we experienced in Soho has slightly ruined our Andalucian adventure in Granada.

Maybe we just took a while to find the good places (see earlier post about La Botilleria) but the food offering in Granada has underwhelmed me.

There are obvious excuses – eg, we mostly stuck to the free tapas so didn’t necessarily see the best a place has to offer… And also exceptions: La Olivia which I will write about in more detail another time and Los Diamontes.

http://www.barlosdiamantes.com/

Top of the tourist tapas street but full of locals. Very lively and busy. Fried fish. Easy drinking wine and cold beer. Garlicky, lemony and clean batter. Great value and fun atmosphere. I would steer clear of all other places on Navas but pay Los D a visit as many times as your diet can cope with fried food! A true gem of a tapas bar !