La Famiglia, Chelsea (Darling).

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Sorry for the radio silence chaps, I hit a minor bump in the blogging road, so took a couple of weeks out to think about how to re-work the way I write and blog. Last week certain social media comments (not aimed at me I should say) got me thinking about my blogging style – is my blog one of those ‘picture after picture sandwiched between paragraphs of crap’ blogs. As I said, not aimed at me, more the official restaurant critics who have apparently adopted a blogging style to their writing, but non-the-less it hit a nerve.

Yes it probably is – is the realistic answer. But, know what? I don’t care.

I take rubbish photos because I can’t bring myself to buy a posh SLR (let alone carry the sodding thing around to take pics of my food) and my writing is done generally on the tube or bus on the way to work. Which explains why it has a certain amount of pointless waffle to it – it’s mostly me writing my inner-monologue down – well the bit that is publishable! But I don’t get paid for it or get free stuff, I do it because I enjoy it and I’ve loved seeing my writing change (maybe even improve) over the last 4 years. My readership numbers aren’t huge, those of you who do read it I thank you, and those who don’t, well, they don’t know what they are missing do they!

I shall now step down off my soapbox and write about a Chelsea institution frequented by smug couples, gentrified families and aged rellies receiving their half-termly visits from grandchildren. La Famiglia. As I said, an institution, it’s been there since the dawn of time, my mother used to dine there when she lived on Beaufort St in her 20’s (as one does) and I’ve been wanting to go forever. It’s still family owned. I think the founders are still working the floor – our waiter was about 80 but couldn’t be faulted at any point during the service!

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I doubt the menu has changed since it opened, but much like Langans, Otto’s and Simpson’s; if it ain’t broke…. My Asparagi alla Duchessa were delicious – first asparagus of the year for me (I doubt they were English) but they were cooked how Mummy does them, non of this charred nonsense (Michelin star junkies look away now); they were boiled to perfection. Doused with a rich thick Parmesan sauce. Himself had deep-fried mozzarella with a seriously rich tomato sauce – delicious, but enormous for a starter.

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My ultimate favourite pasta dish ever in the whole world is Carbonara, and yes, I know it’s fairly bad form to order it at a posh restaurant, but it had been a long old week and I NEEDED it! So don’t judge. It was the richest most delicious carbonara ever. I struggled to finish it, it was that rich. But, the struggle was worth every cheese, egg and bacon laden mouthful. And no cream.

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Obviously I couldn’t fit pudding in, but he had profiteroles served off the THREE-TIER dessert trolley, serving proper classic old fashioned puddings! Tiramisu, Black Forrest Gateaux, pana-cotta, rum baba (sitting in a vase of rum).

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Our bottle of Gavi di Gavi went down a treat with dinner, and had we not been heading to a birthday do after dinner I would have settled in for another bottle. I want to become a regular there. I want to be one of those posh smug couples, or like Hugo and Janie who take Henry and Francesca there when they are at home from school for an exeat weekend, I can do without being the Russians next to us who got the waiter to take loads of flashy photos of them and I bloody hope I’ll still be dining there when I’m as old as the waiters! I reckon I’m much more ‘crap picture after picture sandwiched between paragraphs of wisdom’. I mean, what self-respecting blogger posts a picture of an empty plate for God’s sake!

Photo score – 2/10
Food Score 8/10
Smugness Rating – 11/10. So there!

Crab Linguine

I want to start with ‘I’m really getting back into this blogging thing’ but I know as soon as I write that, I’ll not blog for weeks, months or years! But I am enjoying it again. Blogging is a fantastic distraction for me, when I get home from work, if I switch my laptop on the first place I will usually go is to my work e-mails and see what I’ve missed in the 45 minutes I’ve been on the tube (sad I know), but being back on the blog means that of course I keep checking the e-mails – I can’t help myself – but I get on with attempting to write enjoyable prose for anyone who should so wish to read the waffle that I type from time to time.

As you can probably tell – I spent all my dosh on posh meals out so am now doing a lot more cooking at  home. I shouldn’t really class this as a recipe as it’s seriously easy but in case anyone saw my Instagram pic last weekend and wondered how to make it.

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1 medium sized shallot
A large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
1 red chilli
1 tub of white crab meat (I used a tub from Sainsbury’s – £3 but worth it)
Linguine for 2 people (the pic is spaghetti, but linguine works best)

  • Put the pasta into salted boiling water and leave to cook for about 8 minutes.
  • While the pasta is cooking finely chop the shallot, chilli and parsley. I left the seeds in the chilli, it wasn’t a small one so didn’t blast any heads off.
  • Heat a little oil in a non stick frying pan and chuck in the onions to soften on a medium heat.
  • Add the chilli and crab meat and turn the heat down a bit. The crab is already cooked you just want to heat it through.
  • Drain the pasta once it’s cooked and tip it back into the saucepan.
  • Add the crab, shallot and chilli mixture and parsley to the pasta, stir through so the crab meat is evenly distributed and serve with a good slug of really good olive oil.

Tarka Dhal Recipe

It’s been a whole week and the smell of curry has finally left the building. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed making the curry from scratch grinding the spices and everything, but the smell has been in the flat for the entire week. However, it was the curry and not the dhal that made the smell, I’m almost sure of it. I’ve always wondered why no one ever has dhal at home if they make curry. It is so EASY and soooooo HEALTHY!

This isn’t my recipe, it’s from a bargain basement book I bought and never used when I was at uni.

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Serves 4 as a side dish to a cuzza

For the Dhal
115g of Washed red lentils
60g of yellow split peas
600ml water
1tsp fresh grated ginger
1tsp fresh grated garlic
1/4tsp ground turmeric
1 whole green chilli finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt

For the Tarka
1/4 tsp mixed mustard and onion seeds
1/2 onion, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
1tsp freshly chopped red chilli
Vegetable or sunflower oil

  • Pop everything into a saucepan and slowly bring it up to the boil.
    Simmer gently for 15 mins or until the lentils are tender.
  • While the lentils are cooking bring 2tsp of vegetable oil up to a high temperature in a heavy bottomed frying pan and add the mustard / onion seeds.
  • After 20 seconds add the rest of the ingredients and gently fry until the onions are tender and translucent. If you are feeling healthy tip the onions etc into some kitchen towel to soak up the oil, but it does have a lot of flavour so you can use it if you like.
  • Once the lentil mix is cooked give he mixture a strong mix with a wooden spoon to breakdown some of the lentils, it should look a bit like baby food.
  • Pour it into your serving bowl and pop the Tarka on top.
  • Serve with a curry, naan and or poppadoms. So easy and no butter, cream, cheese or unhealthiness in sight!
  • See below for what it’s supposed to look like and what mine looked like – I could have used more oil and browned the onions and they used mint which I don’t think is necessary.

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J Sheekey, St. Martin’s Court.

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You ask people what restaurants they’ve always wanted to visit in London are and 90% of them I reckon will say J Sheekey. They say it’s the best fish restaurant in London. It’s been in it’s hugely central but oddly hidden location forever, but has been gradually expanding bit by bit, give it 10 Years and I reckon they’ll have the whole row.
I’ll try not to get on my high horse about the old restaurants being the best and all that, the London restaurant scene wouldn’t be as amazing as it is without the new, exciting and innovative restaurants and concepts that keep arriving, but from time to time one just craves table cloths, reservations and a crisp white menu that isn’t a on a blackboard or off a roll of recycled parcel paper. Oh and a doorman, I love doormen at restaurants, so gloriously old-fashioned, I’ve never met an unfriendly doorman.

Shockingly I was only 8 minutes late – I’m improving. And as it was Friday (as if I need an excuse) we quickly ordered a glass of Champagne to toast the arrival of the weekend.

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Again, as if I needed an excuse I decided to spoil myself with my choices so started with potted shrimps which were delicious. I’ve never made potted shrimps but mother tells me it is a seriously time consuming dish and dead fiddly if you’ve got to get the shells off the blighters! My friend had garlicky, prawns which were lovely and plump with plenty of flavour.

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So, I mentioned I was spoiling myself earlier….. I chose the Dover sole for a main course, the smaller of the two options and of course en meunière. Here was the only problem I experienced, in the time between showing me the beautiful fish, taking it off the bone, placing it onto a COLD plate and it arriving at my table it had gone almost cold. I didn’t say anything at the time as I didn’t want it to be taken away and either thrown away (a serious waste) or put under a grill (the best way to ruin such a delicate fish) although I did mention it when we were paying the bill. Despite it’s temperature the fish was amazing, it’s my absolute favourite fish, so smooth, so delicate with a wonderfully rich flavour – it seems I’m a girl of expensive tastes….

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My friend had one of the specials of sole with some kind of chorizo style sausage which somehow did not overpower the fish and worked well.

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Dessert wasn’t for me in a place like J Sheekey, but I had a mental bet that they would do a damn good savoury so I had a Welsh Rarebit. I wasn’t wrong. Perfect size, good ‘meltage’ and Worcestershire sauce provided to DIY to your own tastes.

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Here was the only problem Hugh experienced in the whole dinner – his cappuccino creme brûlée wasn’t really a brûlée more of a cappuccino mouse with soggy burnt sugar on top. There was no crunchy sugar at all sadly.

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We did – in a terribly un-British way mention both these problems when paying the bill and the manager taking the payment couldn’t have been nicer, he whisked us off to the Oyster Bar while giving us a quick potted history of the place and offered us an after dinner drink on him. At this point I discovered I quite like Vodka Martinis with a twist and almost fell off my bar stool as we left. Such a classy old bird!

A wonderful place, delicious food, great service, no wonder it’s lasted so long and is always full. I’d go back again and again if I could.

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Quaglino’s, Bury Street

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With the diet well and truly on the rocks and the gym avoidance tactics at an all-time high it seemed only fitting to end last week’s week of over-indulgence with dinner at Quaglino’s. Re-launched, noisy, over-the-top and just down-right brash! The refurb has seen Quags go from beautiful but tired and in need of help to a sparkling beast of a D&D carbon cut-out restaurant with a massive bar (a la Royal Exchange / Bluebird) in he middle and staff from all over the group working to keep it going at the break-neck speed required to keep Quags on the map, namely Mickael Weiss – formally of Coq d’Argent where I had my first job in London all those many many years ago! t’s the kind of place you feel wrong f you don’t have a glass of Champagne on arrival, so we obliged and had a glass of the house  – Veuve Cliquot.

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Starters – apparently I moved away from predicable Bel and didn’t order the foie gras or anything with truffle in it and had (following a few Facebook / Instagram pics from the chef) the Egg, ham and tomato fondue with Hollandaise and (oh sorry) truffle crumb. This was delicious, the egg was beautifully runny and soft with the crunchiness of the ham and the hit of intense tomato. And a beautiful looking dish too.

Q2My friends both had the gravadlax which thy said was lovely, again it was a gorgeous looking dish.  We accompanied all this with a bottle Bacchus from Chapel Down having been accosted by the Sommelier who crept up to the table, not unlike Inapector Clusso and said with a knowing look – I know what you have ordered, and I know what would work well with your food. So he preceded to ‘aid’ me in choosing the white, whilst being ever so polite when I required something a little cheaper from his first choice.

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On to the mains – again – apparently I steered from the norm and went for the mouth-watering sounding dish suckling pig belly with confit tomato, broad beans and morels. It’s not a hugely pretty dish – it’s difficult even for the artist that is Chef Weiss to make a sticky brown, rolled piece of meat look good but, and bare with me here, it was divine. The pork was so rich and sticky and sweet and salty at the same time with the morels and broad beans (the difference between Broad Beans when I was a kid and now is astounding) it was just so good.

Q5 The chaps had the lamb cutlets still bleating and huge but apparently very good and the fillet steak with foie gras which disappeared from the plate so quickly and with so many satisfied noises I figured it was also a pretty bloody good dish. All washed down with a delicious bottle of The Tithing, Willunga 100 from Australia.

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What amazed me after all that richness and the fairly sizeable dishes was the fact that I wasn’t too full to move… So it was only right to have pudding – and a glass of Sauternes to go with it. My chocolate marquise with crème anglaise was lovely, but to be honest, by that point after Champagne, white wine, red wine and Sauternes I can’t remember an awful lot of it apart from giving away my custard and the lovely minty hint in the base of the pud.

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A final digestif of Poire Williams and we were done. I confess I didn’t see the bill, however when I heard how it was split between the boys I got the impression it was fairly large and they were glad they each had something of at least 40% proof in a glass in front of them.
It’s a stunner of a place, the food is epic and the room is gorgeous. I would go back, absolutely, totally, but not for a while, I can’t afford it.

Whyte & Brown, Kingly Court

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The standard week long ‘I can’t possibly go out for dinner after eating all that cheese on holiday’ mantra has come to an end. And last night was one of those classic Soho evenings where there was an afternoon of texting back and forth about where we should meet for dinner and what we wanted to eat. No decision was made, obviously, because I’m rubbish at decision making. But we met in Kingley Court and thought we’d chance it.
Didn’t fancy seafood, Ramen wasn’t my friend’s thing, Pizza Pilgrims had a queue out of the door and Senior Ceviché wasn’t going to cut it in the cold February weather. So Whyte & Brown it was.
After a ten minute wait at the bar with our buzzer and a bottle of red we headed upstairs to be seated.

Chicken crisps, a Spanish Scotch Egg and Chicken, Ham and cheddar croquettes to start with. All were fine, nothing exciting I’m afraid. The croquettes were hotter than the sun with little cheddar in them, the crisps I think need to be warm to avoid the slightly unpleasant fatty taste that chicken skin can get and the scotch egg was bland. The egg needed something other than minced chicken to man it up a bit. I think there was supposed to be some chorizo in it but if it was there it was on some kind of stealth mission.

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We had a burger each. Both naked (bunless). Both served on a f***** slate, so everytime I cut through the burger and my knife touched the slate it screeched and set my teeth on edge. Everytime, no matter how careful I was. To the burger itself, it was nice, but I just don’t think a chicken burger works. Minced chicken doesn’t have enough fat to make a good burger. What it does have, when put under pressure, is enough density to become a fairly solid spongy lump. The problem is, the taste was good, a nice char from the grill. But the texture and density of it wasn’t right. Whine over.

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We shared some skinny fries, these are toothpick skinny, not French fry skinny – but they were well cooked and well seasoned. And there was a cute little salad served in a mini colander which was lovely actually – good and refreshing to go with the weighty burger.

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It was all ‘fine’ and ‘nice’. And that, in my uneducated opinion is the problem I have with it. Service was fin    e. Decor was fine. And the food was just fine, not special, not exciting, not something I’d bother trying again, not that they’d probably want me to after writing this.

Ginger Pig, Butchery Class

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It’s been a while since I wrote a post so I thought I’d pen a short note about the Masterclass I attended last night at The Ginger Pig. The certificate for the Masterclass was a Christmas present and covered a 3 hour class at their Moxon St HQ with knife skills, a meal at the end and a joint to take home.

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Obviously I turned up late for starters owing to a huge error in judgement by trying to take a bus down Oxford St instead of walking. No matter we snuck in and listened to the remaining introduction about the providence of our pork and the history and passion of the guys at Ginger Pig – sounds a bit cliche I know, but if wasn’t – they kept it short and interesting. Then upstepped Perry, who with audience participation and a lot of laughs proceeded to take apart half a pig in front of us showing us all the cuts and talking us through what is good for what etc.

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I should add here I had (obviously) decided on the Pork class owing the fact that in the trade I am in I’ve seen a lot of beef, lamb and game butchery and never really pork. And, you never know I might turn into Barbara from the Good Life or Hugh Fearlessly-Eats-It-All one day and have to butcher my own pigs – long way off and but of a pipe dream I know, but….
I digress. Once the pig had been take apart we were shown how to debone and roll the loin that we were going to do and take home. I got the back end of the loin which meant I got the beautiful tender loin bit too. Win. I was fairly proud of my attempt at deboning the piece, there wasn’t much left on the backbone, but it wasn’t my tidiest work. Seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper and some ground fennel seeds the loin (all 2.9kgs of it) are now ready for me to find 8 friends to come and eat it.

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Roasted loin with the best crackling I’ve ever had, dauphinois potatoes and a couple of glasses of Picpoul de Pinet were next on the schedule (carefully orchestrated so we only got wine once we’d put the crazy sharp knives down), followed by a massive portion of bread and butter pudding laced with melty chocolate and we were off home.
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It’s not the cheapest way to spend 3 hours on a Monday night, but the class was fantastic and I have consequently looked up evening classes for a proper butchery course – yeah yeah – I know, not very ladylike but come on, wouldn’t it be so cool to know how to do it all yourself?!