The very best things I ate…January 2018

January.

It’s cold and dark. You’re poor and chubby. Everything that only days before had seemed warm & inviting in the cosy twinkle of fairy lights now seems a world away and in the last few hours of holiday, you find yourself stuck between two warring sides of your brain, one which desperately wants to start the new year virtuously and is throwing everything green and leafy into the Nutribullet, itself in possession of a layer of dust so thick across the top that you have to resist the urge to write ‘wash me’ on it and the other that demands you finish everything good bad good in the house – Bailey’s, brandy butter, blue cheese – in one final gluttonous sitting because really, until that alarm pierces your slumber at 6.20am the following morning, you. are. still. on. holiday.

Ya get me?

However, new year, new page, new start and there are many things to be thankful for at the dawn of another twelve months through this journey we call life.

One of the best things about January for me is the opportunity to leaf through new cookbooks, to mark so many pages with post-it notes that rifling through them creates a gentle rainbow breeze on your fingertips and to plan weekends around what dishes you’ll explore and savour. I don’t make new years’ resolutions as such – too often they strike me as being things that you either know you probably should be doing anyway (put down the cigarette, the whisky and/or the bag full of sale bargains please) or that will cause you to leap into some new activity with relentless enthusiasm until midway through the month when you make it home at the end of a long day, trip over the roller blades/ballet shoes/how-to-learn-Japanese book, fly into a rage, throw the offending items across the hallway and then drown your wilting anger in a wineglass big enough to keep koi in.

That said, my non-new-year-resolution for 2018 was to be more patient in the kitchen because try as I might not to be this way, I am bossy, restless & demanding in that particular corner of the house. I like to be in control to the point where I’d hazard a guess I’m not always much fun to be around unless there’s an open bottle of Pinot Noir on hand to soothe all concerned so this year I’m trying to share my love of food & cooking rather than keeping it all to myself before presenting something on a plate that is beautiful but rather meaningless. In less than four months time, I become a different tick box on every form and really, if I’m going to undertake that journey, the biggest of my life and the one I’ve waited for above all others without fear or worry, wouldn’t it be nice to turn what is often a solo obsession with perfection into a joint venture that’s fun with the soon-to-be mister to my missus?

And so, something a little different for the blog this year – a monthly dip into the greatest things that I’ve eaten. No criteria other than full and sincere love for whatever was on the plate in front of me…though let’s be real here, we all know it probably didn’t stay there for long.

1.Blue Corn Tortillas with Baked Avocado, Pickled Chillies & Charred Salsa by Anna Jones from The Modern Cook’s Year

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J & I share a love for many things, movies and California being just of them. Before our paths crossed in London, we unknowingly spent simultaneous but separate time in the same drama school and the same neighbourhoods of Los Angeles. Going back there together for the first time on our achingly wonderful 2014 West Coast road trip gave us the chance to share some of our favourite things in the City of Angels, one of which is soft corn tortillas eaten at shadowy dive bars or with our toes in the sand dunes or in the Chateau Marmont shadowed Pinches Tacos, always with the stain of lime on our fingers and the fizz of Corona on our tongues.

Given that Santa was kind enough to gift me with a beautiful cast iron tortilla press and a gorgeous copy of ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’ by Anna Jones for Christmas, it only seemed right that the first dinner of 2018 – something that for some reason means a lot to me…it seems to send a beacon up for how the ensuing months might pan out – should be homemade blue corn tortillas. Simple to make and a dream when stuffed with cornmeal-Parmesan-ancho baked avocado wedges and served with the sweetest pickled chillies and a smoky tomato & spring onion salsa, these team-effort-tortillas were eaten quickly but with every mouthful savoured as we were transported back to our spiritual home.

 

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Upping the cool factor at the hot, loud & down right delicious Black Axe Mangal…

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to eat somewhere that’s part restaurant-part rock concert-part tattoo parlour, you’ve obviously never dined at Black Axe Mangal.

Small, loud – yes even at the yuppiest of meals, Sunday morning brunch – and sat on the Highbury & Islington roundabout next to Maison d’Etre, a prime piece of caffeinated yummy mummy real estate, this place is dangerously close to straying into the ‘if you have to ask, you’re not cool enough to know’ territory. Devoid of all obvious signage and possessing just one small menu in the window, don’t be fooled into thinking no-one knows about BAM; opening at 11am and, by midday, full of people after cold beers and hot meats served in flaky flatbreads served fresh from the Gene Simmons face painted grill, this place is as popular now as when it first opened. Read More

When a native goes tourist for the day; loving the Swan Restaurant, the Globe Theatre & my fair London…

Sometimes when you’ve lived in London for a while, you can forget exactly what makes it a place of such magic and wonder to the millions who flock here each year. You know the things you love that are local to you but your memories of places like the sun scorched Southbank, the marvelously chaotic Trafalgar Square or South Kensington’s museum mile can become as hazy as the skyline on a hot summers evening which is why, wanting to show my utter adoration for my capital and fervent with the desire to remind myself of just why it’s the greatest city in the world, I booked in for breakfast at the Swan and a tour of the Globe Theatre this weekend. Given the turmoil that’s been forced upon London over the past few weeks, doing something touristy and mainstream appealed hugely to me this weekend – I found myself starving for a reminder of the history & the magnificence of a city that will not be broken into submission.

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Sat right beside the Globe in the heart of London’s Southbank, the Swan is a gorgeous, bright & airy restaurant, perfect for brunching at window tables lit by streams of sunshine, ideal for lunching as you overlook the passers-by who Instagram the thatched roof & white walls of the neighbouring theatre and impeccably placed for dining as the sun goes down and the tourist throngs of the day are gently washed away by couples enjoying the romance of the river.

Breakfast here is a simple affair; the menu is small but quite lovely and it offers everything from eggs to pancakes, brioche to kippers, pastries to a full English. My tip would be to go for the in-house, home-made muesli which comes loaded with dried apricots & cranberries and nestled beside coconut yoghurt & Bermondsey honey or Greek yoghurt & berry compote. Take a friend, get both and split a portion of the toasted Borough sourdough while you’re there because that too, my friends, is also excellent.

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Service is low key but friendly and whilst booth style tables along the windows are glorious for people watching, the long communal tables down the centre of the room would be a great shout for a group of friends needing a spot in which to hunker down and brunch like (very relaxed) kings.

This is not a local spot for me but it’s charming enough to make me totally jump on the bus and mosey down here of a weekend for some more of that sourdough and people watching; it’s blend of history & modernity is really something special and at the moment, when it feels like the ever defiant spirit of London could do with a little hand holding and spirit soothing, enjoying a place like this is one of the best ways to do just that.

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When I moved back to London a few years ago, getting a £5 standing ticket to watch a play at the Globe in the same way that they did in centuries past was one of the things I was keen to do. It felt like the sort of experience you should do once, whether you’re a visitor to or a native of the capital and I had an awesome time with scores of other people who felt exactly the same. It’s probably not the way I’m going to watch every 3 hour performance of Shakespeare going forward but definitely worth ticking off that bucket list.

Running at roughly an hour long but with unlimited access to the exhibition and the gift-shop included in the ticket price, the tour takes you up, into and around the theatre auditorium itself and if you’re lucky enough to get Lauren, the fabulous land girl-meets-Queen Vic regular who showed us round, I can guarantee you’ll have an extra brilliant time. Droll, informative and interesting, she really elevated the tour from ‘oh that’s interesting’ to ‘oh my god, they used to do what?!’ FYI, that gift-shop has some cracking things in it – a good place to remember when that Christmas list rears its festive head again in a few months.

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Memorabilia and artifacts line the walls in the cool, calm interior exhibit with everything on show from Mark Rylance’s diary to costumes that your fella can practice cross-dressing in should the need to do so arise to recordings of legendary actors bringing the words of the bard to life. There’s a huge amount of detail as well about the geographical and social landscapes of London in the time of Shakespeare which makes it even more fascinating when you emerge blinking into the daylight of the Southbank and are greeted with buskers, air stream food trucks and skateboarders instead of the gentry and the peasants you’ve just been reading about.

Honestly, be you local or be you international, I cannot recommend enough that you get a ticket for a play here but come along a few hours earlier to enjoy everything there is on offer. Grab a bite to eat at the excellent Swan Restaurant next door, spend an hour taking the tour, while away a second hour ambling around the exhibition and then take your seat on a wooden pew and enjoy some of the finest words ever written under the stars of the finest city on the planet.

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