cosmopolondon

native night/day work/play

Category: Lunch

Ottolenghi

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I love Ottolenghi. I love the cookbooks and I love the Guardian/Observer features, and I love the food. Who would have thought that cauliflower cake can actually be outrageously tasty – a staple Sunday cook up for me for weekday lunches. Even Bridget Jones likes Ottolenghi (and he’s actually released a recipe to match the one referenced in the latest film). I’ve been dying to go to the restaurant in Islington for ages, so when a work colleague suggested we meet for Sunday brunch/lunch, I jumped at the opportunity.

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The cake selection – strategically placed in the window!

We arrived at 12.00 and it was already busy. Whilst you wait for your table, though, you can eye up the salads and the cakes and the various raw ingredients for sale at the front of the restaurant. We were shown to a communal table at first but the hostess was lovely and offered us a private table when one became quickly available – it’s little considerations like this that make this place such a good restaurant.

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The Ottolenghi Shakshuka

For me, Ottolenghi breakfast means one thing: shakshuka. And I was not disappointed – the eggs were perfectly baked in a delectable surrounding of tomato and peppers and Labneh, complete with grilled toast. I loved every mouthful and was devastated when I finished it – something this good you never want to end.

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The day’s salad selections

My colleague went for the salad selection – these change daily and with the season, but are always more than just a salad. Ottolenghi truly makes salads and sides great.

I can’t wait to eat more Ottolenghi food – whether that’s in the restaurants or what I’ve whipped up for myself at home.

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Casse Croute

Time for another Bermondsey Street special – there really are so many fantastic finds on this little road, it’s worth the venture from London Bridge/Borough. Once the new London Bridge Station is finished I imagine it will be even easier to access. If you work in the area, definitely pop along at lunch time for a change of scene.

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Casse Croute is a teeny tiny French restaurant with between 10 and 15 tables. Step inside and you are transported to a Parisian backstreet. The menu changes daily (check out their Twitter feed for the day’s offering) but frequently offers some French classics. There are three starters, three mains and three desserts to choose from. Don’t bother if you’re vegetarian though…

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Oeuf cocotte, girolles

I started with mushrooms and eggs in a kind of veloute. I’m not really sure how else to describe it – those with more culinary wisdom than me will no doubt glance at the picture and instantly recognise what must be a French delicacy! The mushrooms were really tasty but I’m not sure I’d order this again; I reckon it’s a one-off special. My dining companions had the other two dishes on offer that day – snails, and clams – all of which received rave reviews.

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Feuillete d’escargots a l’Aneth

For main course I went for the French twist on a beef wellington (with yet more mushrooms) and classic French beans. There wasn’t too much pastry, but that’s a good thing because it meant the main focus of the dish was on the delectable beef. The table also had the salted cod fish pie, which was enormous but looked and smelled delicious.

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Boeuf en Croute, haricots verts

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Brandade

We didn’t have room for dessert, but we did try some of the lovely wine and champagne. So, the basic message is: don’t come here if you want loads of choice, do come here if you want amazing French food. A voila!

Padella

Sometimes, there’s nothing for it but pasta. There’s something supremely satisfying about good pasta – and when I say satisfying, I don’t mean being so full that you need to roll out of the restaurant. That, to me, is the sign of bad pasta – when the portion size hasn’t been controlled and I can’t remember how good the food was because I’m too busy bemoaning my pasta food-baby.

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Padella on Borough High Street opened recently and has been on every food blog and instagram worth following, so I thought it was about time I checked it out. And it’s very handy being only a 10 minute walk from my office. As a Friday treat, myself and a colleague ventured to find this hallowed pasta hall.

Be prepared for a queue. As is always the way with this area of London, it’s packed with tourists as well as city folk, and you can’t book a table at Padella. It’s not a very long wait though, and they only seat you if your whole party is present. The restaurant looks tiny from the outside, but actually there’s a secret stairway at the back leading to a more spacious and surprisingly lofty, bright basement restaurant with double the number of covers visible from the street.

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Burrata with Puglian olive oil and bruschetta with baked borlotti beans and salsa rossa

It’s a simple menu in the sense that you can choose from a selection of starter dishes and/or a selection of pasta. The pasta dishes change frequently, but no doubt some of the staple menu items such as pappardelle with beef shin ragu will always be available.

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Tagliarini with slow-cooked tomato sauce

My colleague, the burrata-addict, predictably picked the burrata which she lauded as being very good, teamed with a bruschetta with baked borlotti beans and salsa rossa which was the stand out choice for her. But I couldn’t possibly come to a pasta restaurant and not have pasta! And, lo and behold, my absolute favourite pasta dish was on the menu. When it comes to pasta, I really do think simple is best, and, when done well, you can’t beat a good tagliarini with slow-cooked tomato sauce. I ate countless spaghetti pomodoro dishes whilst in Italy last year and adored every single one, and this was no exception. The tomato sauce was fresh and rich yet light, and the pasta was delicate and not in the least bit stodgy. Buonissimo.

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The Wolseley

The Wolseley on Piccadilly is in good company – The Ritz, The Ham Yard Hotel and Claridges (to name but a few) are it’s key competition and none are situated far away. And yet this beautiful restaurant, with it’s Asian-inspired decor with black and gold lacquered cabinets and monochrome floor design, somehow stands apart.

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This is the type of place where the waiter never seems to leave your side, and yet you don’t feel pestered. They swish past you whilst topping up your wine glass with an air of considerable grace. On a Saturday lunchtime, it’s extremely busy. I bought my Mum here for a Mother’s Day lunch, although we both ended up having eggs!

The Wolseley offers the a la carte menu – full of sophisticated yet classic dishes – or the all-day cafe menu, which is a little bit cheaper. It’s pretty expensive here though. Be prepared.

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Eggs florentine (sans hollandaise)

We ordered from the cafe menu; I had eggs florentine whilst Mum had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. Simple dishes, but they were so elegantly presented. We washed this down with a bottle of wine, and sat there chatting for hours; no one moved us on or made us feel like we were outstaying our welcome. No timed tables here, it seems.

img_6600 Apple strudel and cream

Our wine-induced decision to get dessert turned out to be great one – the carrot cake was moist and my apple strudel is the best I’ve had this side of the Danube. No regrets here! I loved how all of the china, glassware, tableware were mongrammed with the Wolseley crest. I’ll definitely be coming back with the rest of my family for the next special occasion (Dad can pay…)

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Spring at Somerset House

Somerset House is a spectacular view from Waterloo Bridge as you cross the River Thames, and a stark contrast to the concrete, modern buildings which face it on the Southbank. A grand design has stood here since Tudor times, when Edward Seymour built a palatial residence. At the time he was Duke of Somerset – but was overthrown and executed in 1552. Nevertheless it still bears his name, and over time has housed Elizabeth I and numerous queens consort, before being put to government use in the 18th Century. Today, it’s a combination of government buildings, an institution for art and learning, host to temporary exhibitions on subjects from Valentino to the Rolling Stones, a concert venue, open air cinema and part-time skating rink during the winter months. I’d recommend popping in at Christmas if you’re close by – it’s extremely pretty.

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Spring is the latest restaurant to open at the complex, situated in the New Wing. You enter through a long covered walkway and are immediately greeted by the grandiose, marble, illuminated bar and host desk. You are then lead through to a large, airy dining room that is bang on the pastel trend – all sky blues and pearly whites, crisp table linen and glinting glassware. Despite the huge windows letting in vast amounts of light (even on a grey day), you’d have no idea that one of the busiest junctions in London is just metres away.

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Goat’s curd and spinach with black olives on bruschetta

The restaurant offers a set lunch menu – 2 courses for £27.50, 3 for £31.50 – which, for the quality of the food and service, is remarkably good value. The menu changes with the season, and there are two options for each course.

To start, I had the goat’s curd bruschetta, which had much more goat’s curd than I was expecting. It had a really interesting flavour. My long-time dining companion, Emily, tried the tagliolini – it was a pretty big portion and extremely tasty, although perhaps a bit too big for a starter.

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Grilled mackerel with creamed kale

We were half a bottle of wine down (we had asked our waiter for a recommendation and he did not disappoint) when our mains arrived. I had plumped for the roasted quail, which was perfectly cooked. The sweet potato really stole the show – the perfect accompaniment to this delicate little bird. However, I think it was pipped by the grilled mackerel with creamed kale, which was so delicious. Both main courses were just delectable.

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Roasted qual with sweet potato and chimichurri

We decided to share a dessert as we really didn’t have room for one each. Plus, one of the options was ice cream, which I always feel is a bit of a cop out as a dessert option – especially when there’s only two choices on the menu. We had a lovely almond tart which was more nutty than I was expected – I thought it may have been blended down to have a creamier consistency, but it was still quite crunchy.

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Almond tart with creme fraiche

The staff were dutiful throughout, and the clientele was varied – it was impossible to tell whether people were on business lunches or leisurely dining with friends, but there were certainly no tourists. The only thing which could have made the experience better would be to have three instead of two choices on the set menu. There was no vegetarian main – I don’t know if you could have asked for one, but really you shouldn’t have to. I would definitely return though (when I’m feeling flash…) – it’s the kind of place I would take my Mum to as a treat.

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Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe

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On a cold winter’s day, when the wind is howling and the rain pit-pattering on your umbrella (or your hair, if you’re unfortunate enough to have forgotten a waterproof!) and you’re struggling against the elements, there is little in life more satisfying than a good roast dinner. And there are hundreds on offer across London.

Bankside is one of my favourites parts of London – in part because I used to live so close and got to know it pretty well, but also for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is nestled on the riverside just east of the Tate Modern. Me and the Globe go way back. For my 18th birthday, my three best friends took me to see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was just about the best present ever because I love Shakespeare almost as much as I love London. Their intertwined history fasicnates me. Anyway, my train was running late and I missed the beginning of the show, but even so it was a day I’ll never ever forget. It whetted my appetite for the place – sitting there in that most unique and exciting of theatres, I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to contribute to preserving London’s cultural heritage because, even though he hailed from Warwickshire, Shakespeare’s professional life, and the key to his success, was tied to London. I’ve been a Volunteer Steward since 2011, although I can’t help out nearly as much as I would like to now my real job takes up so much of my time.

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Roast Lincolnshire squash, wild mushrooms, shallots, buckwheat, shaved Doddington

The Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe is the catering outfit at the theatre. The Swan itself is a 3 storey restaurant, bar and function space, with an amazing view over the River Thames to St Paul’s. And on Sunday, they do a mean roast dinner. I’ve been here several times now and my only gripe is how quickly they try to rush you off the table, but I guess that’s to be expected when you’re given a 2 hour time slot. Although 2 hours hardly seems enough for a leisurely 3 course lunch and a bottle of wine between friends!

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A typical Swan roast dinner – pork loin with crackling and apple sauce

The roast dinners are enormous and come with all the trimmings, including the biggest yorkshire pudding I have ever seen. If you want a smaller dish, there is always a fish option on the menu which I have had and was equally delicious.

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Cod, sweetcorn and white bean fricassee, sea vegetables

Similarly, the desserts are very tasty and range from good old pub lunch classics such as sticky toffee pudding to more adventurous dishes such as honey pannacotta with caramelised figs, or almond pistachio cake.

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Honey pannacotta, caramelised figs, honeycomb

The Swan is a great Sunday roast venue to have up your sleeve – particularly if you want a nice meal out with the family, as it’s such an easy place to get to being in a prime location on the river only 10 minutes walk from London Bridge station. You do need to book, though. It also has a really great bar where you can snuggle up in one of the booths and sip on red wine as the world and the river pass you by.

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Arbutus

Arbutus

A Sunday set menu is the perfect way to sample some of London’s most interesting restaurants which might seem a little expensive or fussy for a midweek dinner. And, in this instance, it’s an easy way to choose what to eat from a daunting menu.

Arbutus is a michelin starred restaurant in Soho known for it’s Weekend Lunch menu; a three course set menu for £23.00 which is a real steal. The restuarant has an understated ambience – bare wooden tables, simple wine glasses and a single table setting (as if you’re only going to have one course) all create a relaxed atmosphere. When we first arrived, I was a little worried as we walked past the long empty bar and rounded the corner at the back of the room. I was relieved to first hear then see the buzz of the full second room on this balmy Sunday. We were seated near the large windows at the front of the room which overlook the road (sadly, our outlook was sandbags and scaffolding as the building opposite undergoes restructuring, but even that looks good in such bright summer sunshine).

The set menu offers you three choices for each course – and, they don’t forget about the accompanying drink. The menu offers you seasonal cocktails and craft ale or beers to complement your meal.

HamwithcapersThinly sliced Tamwork pork with spiced mayonnaise and crisp capers

To start, I had the ham with capers – it was thinly sliced to avoid the meat being chewy, and perfectly garnished. It’s not until I started this blog that I realised how integral to a dish a well-placed garnish is.

potatovelouteSlow-cooked egg swimming in potato veloute with pink grapefruit

My dining partner for the day, Chris, had the potato veloute. I was wary of this when I read it on the menu – and when the dish was placed in front of Chris I was equally suspicious. The slow-cooked egg looked like an island marooned in a creamy yellow ocean. But, I was assured that it was in fact delicious, so that teaches me for being shy of an eclectic listing!

salmonGrilled salmon, crushed broccoli and beetroot with smoked vinaigrette

For mains, I had the grilled salmon with crushed broccoli. Broccoli is probably my favourite vegetable, so this went down a treat, and the dish was really made by the smoked vinaigrette dressing.

rabbitRoast leg of rabbit, artisanal black pudding, young carrot and spiced cauliflower

Chris the risk-taker made the pick of the day in choosing the rabbit with artisanal black pudding. Black pudding is something I would never choose, but in this instance I regretted it. This main was rich yet delicate – a real feast for the tastebuds.

After such sumptuous starters and mains, I had high hopes for dessert. I was sadly disappointed however – I opted for the rosewater scented cheesecake, but the consistency of the dish was more flan-like. It wasn’t in the least bit fluffy or creamy like a cheesecake should be, nor could I taste/smell the rosewater. I was (twice in the same meal!) trumped by my companion who chose the pistachio sponge with raspberries (deconstructed, so it looked a bit like a loofah sponge) but was so light and delicious. I should have guessed – you can’t go wrong with pistachio!

pistachiospongeDeconstructed pistachio sponge vs “cheesecake”

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So despite it’s betraying inconspicuous atmosphere, the food is actually pretty fancy here. Definitely worth a visit – be prepared for some tasty fussiness!