Homeward Bound: Osteria Due Fratelli, Hornchurch, Essex

I’d been meaning to visit Osteria Due Fratelli for quite a while before I finally got around to booking a table. It always looked so welcoming, the family-run restaurant painted an alluringly inviting shade of post box red. As an independent Italian restaurant amidst the sea of nearby chain eateries such as Ask, Wildwood and Prezzo, I was also interested to see what Osteria Due Fratelli could possibly bring to the plate that could successfully hold up against these big, pizza-swinging rivals.

Inside, Osteria Due Fratelli continues the family-run vibe, with the décor reminding me of a country style kitchen. The bold splashes of iconic red were still present and correct, paired with a bright white, and finished with photographs in both black and white as well as colour, the frames eclectic and in different shapes and sizes.  The chairs had a worn and rustic look with a muted whitewash, paired against a hodgepodge of different sized tables in a variety of shapes and wood shades. My friends from my badminton club and I visited on a Saturday evening, so the atmosphere was bustling with the majority of the tables taken, however there wasn’t a rushed feel at all. It had the ambience of enjoyment, of friends relaxing together and revelling in each other’s company, of stretching a meal out because conversation is flowing.

We sat down at a rectangular table for four and ordered a bottle of house red to share. Despite just being the house beverage, it was a lovely red wine with a smooth consistency and a medium body that was fruity and not too heavy to drink. While we were musing the menu, a basket of rustic ciabatta style bread was brought to the table, the loaf cut into medium thick slices. With olive oil and balsamic vinegar already sitting on our table with the other condiments, I saw it as very necessary to pool first the oil and then the vinegar on top on my bread plate, before dunking my slice decadently in the slick on my side plate. This is one of my favourite things to do so having the bread brought to the table without prompting or asking was a nice added extra. The bread itself was very Italian, with a dark, chewy crust and a spongey, hole-filled centre – perfect for absorbing all the lovely oil.

Having loaded up on bread, I decided to skip starter, and focus my attention instead on main courses. Feeling in a pasta mood, I opted for the rigatoni amatriciana, which featured wide, cylindrical white pasta in a tomato, Napoli based sauce, finished off with pancetta, onions, red wine, basil, parmesan and pecorino cheeses.

Firstly I was pleased by the portion size; sometimes pasta plates come up minutely small for a main meal and it can be very frustrating to fish around for your pieces of pasta while your companions are spearing a gutsy steak. So tick there for portion size. Next up, I liked the fact that the pancetta was cut into chunky cube-like strips. Pancetta can be served in niggly little cubes that aren’t worth the chasing in pasta sauces, however the pancetta in this meal was really something you could get your teeth stuck in to and enjoy. It was also nice and lean with a real gammon flavour, so that’s a thumbs up for me. The tomato sauce was pretty standard to be honest with you, and I wouldn’t say it had anything majorly different to traditional tomato sauces from other Italian restaurants. Combined, it was a really lovely pasta dish and I it certainly hit my pasta craving nicely.

Dessert couldn’t be anything else other than tiramisu to be honest with you. As we ordered more red wine, I got stuck in to my large, rectangular portion. Tiramisu is one of those desserts that will be completely different in every, single restaurant that you eat it in, and Osteria Due Fratelli’s version was very cakey, with the creamy mascarpone being quite dense. Sprinkled with cocoa powder and drizzled with a sticky, dark chocolate sauce, this coffee dessert is always a nice conclusion to a meal, especially when you get a generous portion like this one.

Now, since I was out for a birthday meal with friends from my badminton club, we may have been a bit looser with the alcohol than normal. We completely indulged, ordering expresso martinis that arrived in unusually shaped cocktail glasses, the hard-hitting coffee flavoured cocktail delivering on expectations there. Furthermore, we also ordered liquor coffees, the rich black coffee underneath steeped in our alcohol of choice before being topped with a silky, flat layer of cold cream. I continued my coffee theme and opted for Tia Maria in mine. After another round of wine, the restaurant brought us over limoncello shots, this feisty, firepowered lemon flavoured liquor succeeding once more to blow my socks off!

As we continued the evening drinking in the restaurant rather than moving on to a bar, our bill was obviously more expensive as a result. We ended up paying around £45 per person, which I don’t think was too bad in the grand scheme of things bearing in mind how much we had to drink overall! The food itself was very reasonably priced; one member of our group had a ribeye steak main course which was £16. After arriving at 7pm, we were the last to leave the restaurant at nearly midnight, almost being kicked out by staff as they finished stacking seats and taking off aprons. For a relaxed and uncomplicated evening out, give Osteria Due Fratelli a go. The food wasn’t mind-blowing and the service was patchy due to the restaurant being busy, however the food was nice and the atmosphere is really relaxed.

Copita Del Mercado, Soho, London

Set Menu:P1050290

  • Location: Unit 3, 60 Wentworth St, London, E1 7AL (nearest tube is Aldgate East)
  • Date of Visit: Thursday 24th March 2016
  • Time of Table: 7.30pm
  • Deal Bought From: Bookatable
  • Deal Price: £22 per person
  • Dinner Companion: Group of friends, seven of us in total

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Starter each
  • Main course each
  • Dessert each
  • Gin and tonic each
  • Food provided from a set menu

What I ate…

  • Starter: Spanish Cured Pork, with Butternut Squash Puree
  • Main: Roasted Duck Leg with Lentils, Pears and Parsnips
  • Dessert: Peanut Fritters with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

What I drank…P1050298

  • Small Bombay Sapphire gin with lime and tonic
  • Small Tanqueray gin with juniper berries and tonic (nicked a friend’s free drink)
  • Large Bombay Sapphire gin with lime and tonic (not included)

What did we think?

What better way to escape the dreary drizzle of a damp London evening then by bursting in to classy Spanish joint Copita Del Mercado, situated mere minutes away from Aldgate East tube station at the old Petticoat Lane market. Splashed with warming hues of pale yellow and rustic terracotta, the bright and minimalist venue is a unique juxtaposition of classic Spanish styling and London modernisation – you’ll spot shining blue tiles and brickwork paired with dark leather armchair style seating and chandelier mimicking spotlights pooling a dimmed atmospheric lighting.

P1050295With high tables and bar stools signalling a bar area, with chunky rectangular tables dictating the dining area, Copita Del Mercado is renowned for bringing the sunkissed flavours of Spain right to London’s doorstep, the simplistic food menu accompanied by the most extensive gin menu I have ever seen. As a gin lover, I could resist the wonderful matches of well known gins and corresponding flavours, for example Bombay Sapphire was served with lime wedges while the Plymouth gin was dished up with orange and lemon hues. Tanqueray on the other hand worked nicely with the peppy taste of juniper berries. As part of our Bookatable deal, we could each have one small gin and tonic from the menu – these were about the size of a tumbler glass but generously filled and flavourful.

When I first spotted this deal, I couldn’t believe the value – a three course meal and a drink for a mere £22? I was more than curious to see whether the price tag impeded the experience at all or whether the food was even worth a try in the first place. Whilst enjoying my zingy and refreshing gin and tonic, I perused the set menu. The options were all completely different from the main menu, which meant that it wasn’t just a knock off version of the full price choices. I quite liked that Copita Del Mercado had gone to the effort to produce a second menu – it’s also quite a savvy way to entice diners back to try the full menu next time. There were three P1050299choices for each course, and while this doesn’t give you bundles of options, I personally had enough choice to pick from. As always, our veggie friend was restricted to the only vegetarian option for the starters and main course, but luckily these included flavours that she loved.

For my starter, I went for the traditional cured pork dish, which I thought would come up a bit like an antipasti or salami platter. However I was completely wrong – the cured pork came up more like a patty, a thicker, circular disc of orange hued cured pork, sitting amidst blood red pooled oils and juices where the meat had been cooked briefly to bring the flavours alive. The taste was sensational – rich, spicy and with incredible depth, the meat was pungent and full bodied. Served alongside this was a satisfying blob of butternut squash puree, the perfect antidote and accompaniment to the fiery salami flavours. Creamy, soft and sweet, the pale orange butternut squash presented the complete opposite to the cured pork, however it worked so well together. The portion size was also really decent for a starter so that gets bonus points from me.  I loved this creative and punchy dish.

P1050301Main course was a no brainer for me – I adore duck and hardly eat it at home so when I spotted the duck leg main course, I had to order it. Although when my dinner arrived it looked a little on the small side, it was actually a lot more filling than I expected. One duck leg was the star of the show, sat plumply in the centre of the round coffee coloured plates. With plenty of succulent and juicy roasted meat attached to the bone, it was also a delight to rip into the crunchy and crispy skin. Almost like crackling, the seasoned browned skin added a lovely bite when paired with the tender dark meat of the gamey duck. So delicious and good cooking at its absolute best. The sides that came with the duck were few and far between, so it’s a good thing the duck was so amazing. The duck leg sat on top of a thin layer of grey lentils, giving a stew like feel to the meal, while two narrow slices of peeled and cooked pear gave a fresh, fruity hit – fruit works so nicely with duck and it was great to try something different from the usual orange or plum combos. The parsnips consisted of a few random cubes scattered here and there so they didn’t add massively to the dish but were nice to come across nonetheless. The meat was the winner here by far.

With an unrivalled sweet tooth, dessert was always going to be the true test for me, however Copita Del Mercado passed with flying colours P1050304thanks to their unique peanut fritters. I’ve never seen these on a dessert menu before, although I love the fruit versions you often find at Chinese restaurants. These peanut ones were just as rustic in shape, looking like crunchier and roughed up dough balls, but they were soft and doughnut like on the inside, with a fantastically strong nutty flavour. Lightly dusted in sugar for a bit of added crisp, the peanut hues worked very well with the massive pool of chocolate sauce that drenched the centre of the plate, housing a single scoop of vanilla ice cream in its middle. The chocolate sauce worked wonders with the fritters, adding a lovely gooey element with a rich, dark chocolate vibe. This also complimented the vanilla ice cream, lightening up the potentially other heavy ingredients. The mix of flavours and textures here was spot on and I really enjoyed this tasty dessert.

P1050302All in all, I would say that Copita Del Mercado is a great little venue. It may be snuggled down a side street however it shouldn’t be skipped. Their dishes boast good, wholesome ingredients and simple flavours that are executed well and creatively put together. This winning combination makes for a mouth watering menu and that’s without even considering the speciality gin element. With the larger portions served in classic fish bowl style glasses, the variety on offer is staggering and the attention to detail with regards to flavour is second to none. A great place to inject your mealtime with summer sunshine and vaguely tipsy laughter.

Homeward Bound: Chimichanga, Hornchurch

P1030474When my husband revealed that his new favourite cuisine was Mexican fodder, I just knew I had to find him some decent salsa inspired food for his birthday dinner. Looking locally for ease, I found a branch of the popular Chimichanga chain, situated in the town centre of Hornchurch, just off the high street and on the same road as the District line tube stop. Booking a table for eight people, I was looking forward to sharing Dan’s newfound love of all things Mexican with his nearest and dearest to celebrate getting another year older.

When we arrived, we were directed to a table right at the very back of the restaurant, in an extremely secluded alcove over to one side. Although this afforded us more than enough privacy, in my opinion, it had more pitfalls than plus points. Getting the attention of the waiting staff for extra drinks or condiments was quite simply a nightmare, as we weren’t privy to the random check ins the other tables received since we were more out of the way – the staff only headed in our direction when they came bearing food or the P1030478bill. Our table was also directly in the firing line of a huge air conditioning unit. Now, while I get cold at the vaguest puff of autumnal air, my mother in law on the other hand was feeling the heat, so you can see the difficulty here. At any one time, one of our group wasn’t 100% happy with the temperature, so that was an annoyance.

Décor wise, you can’t deny that Chimichanga attempts to bring the sunshine to humble Essex, with vibrant and bold splashes of all things rainbow centric scattered across the whole restaurant, with fun geometric prints and straight lines offering a modern spin on this busy and bright scheme. With a relaxed and holiday like vibe, it was easy to unwind in, and we were soon chatting away as we browsed the menu.P1030479

For me, I instantly honed in on the drinks menu, as it is so rare to find decent sangria out of Spain. Seeing this red wine based beverage as part of the cocktail menu, I promptly ordered it, and I adored it’s flamboyant appearance in a tall hourglass shaped glass, topped with an abundance of apple cubes propped against a couple of colourful straws. Now this is my kind of drink! Being a true sangria lover, I can also vouch for the punchy, boozy flavour – sangria fans will be pleased with Chimichanga’s version of this concoction. I decided not to go for a full starter, but to instead go for more of a grazing option, picking the marinated olives, the glossy, fat green and black balls coated in a delicious mix of chilli, garlic and coriander. Spearing with the provided cocktail sticks, olives have such a distinctive and almost pungent flavour, but they were tasty and really woke up my taste buds, ready for my main meal.

P1030471Although Chimichanga’s menu includes a whole host of moreish sounding grills, burgers and hot dogs, when in Mexico… I decided to go traditional, picking a burrito. This flour tortilla was absolutely rammed with flavourful BBQ pulled pork, combined with tasty peppers, onions, chilli sauce and cheese. Sat on a bed of spicy rice and black beans, generous dollops of guacamole, salsa and sour cream were plonked tantalisingly on top – perfect for dunking my accompaniment of sweet potato fries. I may have also got coleslaw…hey, I was hungry! The sweet potato fries were cut thin and were beautifully crisp to bite in to, with that lovely soft and sweet flavour that I love so much about this veg. The coleslaw in comparison was all about the bite, the cabbage combination added a decent level of crunch, which I rather liked mixed up with the small soft shards of flavoured rice. The black beans added a classic element that matched up particularly well with the burrito itself – a bomb of full on Mexican flavour. The pulled pork was saucy, tasty and shredded up so it combined nicely with the other vegetables. Plus let’s face it – anything featuring melted cheese is instantly ten times more tasty than it was previously. Fact. I may have gone overboard on sides as this portion size came up rather large, but I really enjoyed the complete contrast in textures and flavours, everything being so different yet combining so well to create a really delicious main course. Serious yum.P1030472

We all know by now that dessert is my forte, and that no matter how fully stuffed I may be, dessert will always and forever be on the cards. Although it was just my husband and I chowing down, I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to tuck in to churros – always such a treat, and especially since you can’t get them in too many places. These wonderfully light doughnut like ovals are made of a batter than it so crisp on the outside, yet have a super squidgy, doughy inside that makes them so moreish and 100% addictive. Dusted with sweet cinnamon sugar for an additional grainy bite, you get a dipping pot of toffee toned dulce de leche, as well as a ramekin of neatly scooped vanilla ice cream – the silky counterpart to the crunchy churros. I absolutely adore churros, and Chimichanga’s version with the caramel sauce is simply amazing, P1030480the flavours working in ideal harmony for one of the best desserts ever. The portion size is also perfect, as you get more than enough churros rings to tackle, and it finished the meal off wonderfully.

With everyone else full, I had to just look longingly at the incredible array of boozy floater coffees, but I did enjoy my Chimichanga meal. The food was spot on and very tasty, the menu definitely improved since my last visit. Despite the food and drink hitting the nail on the head, I would say our restaurant experience was under par, just because of our table location and the problems this afforded us. We were ignored by waiting staff, and the air con played havoc with our comfort levels. For a smaller number on a more regular table, I’m sure it would be spot on.

Homeward Bound: Bella Italia, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

P1030575With a penchant for meaty pizzas, a birthday food fest that needed arranging and an impending hen holiday in Rome, it was only natural that I went Italian when celebrating my 25th this March with my girlfriends. I have long looked curiously at chain Bella Italia so I was pleased to finally have an excuse to book a table, opting to phone the Southend branch for a late lunch one Saturday afternoon around my birthday. Although they seemed to have no notification of my booking when I arrived with my group, it was luckily quiet enough that this didn’t matter, and we were still seated with ease, ready to chow down on some delicious Italian grub.

P1030578The ambience of the Southend restaurant was very much elegantly rustic, with stylish nods at an Italian countryside feel, for example a blackboard listing fruit and vegetable market prices. The venue seemed to be divided into varying dining sections utilising stripped wood to section off different areas. Terracotta and peach tones dominated, contrasting the heavy wood presence but creating a really homely yet classy feel, with large chandeliers dipping down to provide a musky light. Assorted jars and bottles served as decoration, homage to the Italian’s love of food and a feature in many Italian venues.

P1030579Settling down at our table of six, we started with the drinks menu, deciding on a bottle of Trebbiano to kick things off, the fresh citrus flavours accompanied by tones of apples and pears. In for the long haul, this was a three courser for sure, so I excitedly began browsing the menu for options. Starters I actually managed to pick pretty quickly for indecisive little me, opting for the Polpette, which is basically little pork and beef meatballs that are baked in a small dish, drenched in a thick tomato based sauce. Topped with cheese and a rustic hunk of ciabatta for dunking purposes. I have to say, this was probably one of my favourite starters that I have eaten, and I’m not usually a starters kinda girl. I love meatballs and these ones were cooked perfectly and faintly spiced which added to the flavour and also enhanced the passata-style sauce. The ciabatta looked a bit like a random afterthought just P1030583thrown on top of the dish, but it was a decent size to allow me to eat with my meatballs and mop up the tasty classic Italian sauce too. It reminded me of a bolognaise type sauce actually, in both consistency and flavour.

For my main course, I can never resist a large, juicy calzone – a great spin on the classic Italian pizza, so I decided to choose the Diavola option, although I have to say I liked the sound of almost all of the calzones! This one though contained N’uja sausage and pepperoni, so salami like meats, as well as chicken, bell peppers, green chillies and onions, served with an arrabbiata sauce, so again tomato based with a fiery bite to complement the chilli. In my opinion, this calzone was distinctly average, and although I enjoyed it, as I enjoy a calzone, I really wasn’t overly impressed. Firstly, the portion size seemed small for a calzone, as they normally come up huge – and I was starving! Secondly, the filling was incredibly sparse, so although the flavours worked well together, you couldn’t actually have a mouthful which combined them all. Meat was especially thin on the ground, as if the chef has been scrimping. I know a calzone is a folded up pizza, so toppings can be in short supply, but calzones are usually more full, so this was rather disappointing not to find more of the ingredients held within the soft and thin pizza dough P1030582casing. The pizza dough itself was delicious and just to my liking. One thing I did like about the main course was the fun plates – once I had mopped up my meal, I found a funny slogan ‘Just like mamma makes it’ painted onto the plate in swirled green handwriting. It was a great element of surprise and made me smile at the end of a very so-so main course.

At this point, more wine was in order, and since they had run out of the Trebbiano, we settled on one of my favourites instead, a Sauvignon Blanc, which turned out to be a lot nicer than the Trebbiano, so a result there!  It had a softer texture to drink and was less harsh, also with sweeter undercurrents.

For dessert, I couldn’t take my eyes off the Cookie Dough Lava Cake, a chocolate chip cookie cake with oozyP1030585 chocolate sauce centre, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzles of caramel sauce. This did not disappoint in the slightest, and I thoroughly enjoyed this dessert, tucking in with gusto. The cake itself was moist and studded with large chocolate chip pieces, spearing the dense little cake. The chocolate centre was a pleasant surprise as it leaked slightly when cut, quickly being absorbed in to the surrounding cake. The natural vanilla flavoured ice cream was the perfect accompaniment, acting as a tool to help peel the caramel sauce from the plate, the flavours all working really well in sync with each other. The cake was a nice size too – I was worried it was going to be a little on the thin side, but it came up rather beefy which was great, as I wanted to tuck in with relish. Maybe not a classic Italian dish, but using popular winning flavours, it was always going to be good!

P1030574After the food, I ordered my customary cappuccino.  It was presented nicely and was lovely coffee, so a nice way to conclude the meal. But would I come to Bella Italia again? The menu has a fantastic array of choice, and mulling the online menu a few days beforehand, I was stumped as to what I would eventually pick as I have about five must-try dishes on my list! Despite this, when I received my meal, I was a little let down by the main course, not that I didn’t like it, but I was expecting better. My sister’s pasta dish looked delicious and made me half wish I had gone for the shredded duck pasta instead.

P1030580The service in the Southend venue could also do with brushing up on. Although I had made my reservation on the phone a good month in advance, the waiter at the front of house couldn’t find my reservation and seemed constantly confused about what I was trying to tell him. Not a good start. The waiting staff on the whole were friendly, however they weren’t efficient at taking drinks orders or ensuring that we stayed topped up – our designated driver for example had to ask numerous times just to get one orange juice. We were there in the late afternoon and the restaurant was empty, so not much excuse as to why the service wasn’t up to scratch. Prices were reasonable and what you would expect from a chain, so no complaints there. I’d be keen to visit Bella Italia again to tick off some more of the dishes that I fancy trying, although I think I would visit the Lakeside venue which is a bit nearer home for me and may have better service. We’ll have to wait and see! On the whole though, tasty food and great flavours – I just needed more of it!

P1030584The Dinner Dates Opinion:

Here’s what my friend Robyn made of our meal out:

“Walking into Bella Italia, there was an obvious rustic feel to the restaurant and a very relaxed atmosphere which may have been due to the fact that we did not arrive at peak dinner time. The service also felt extremely relaxed, to the point of being a little slow but the staff were all friendly and polite nonetheless. For a starter, I ordered the Insalata Rosso which consisted of tomatoes, onion, olives and a dressing – good to get the taste buds going but nothing particularly special (but really, what do you expect from a salad?). For main course, I designed my own pizza, adding my choice of two toppings to a standard margherita (chilli and spinach). The pizza itself was delicious and looked homemade which I would imagine, to quote a popular advert here, was just ‘like mama makes’. Overall, the food was enjoyable, the service was satisfactory – but really, I think it’s the company that makes a meal… and let me tell you, I had some rather incredible dinner guests.”

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Eating Around: Roadhouse, Covent Garden, London

Strawberry Daiquiri and Mojito

Strawberry Daiquiri and Mojito

Covent Garden on a Saturday night is a complete hive of excitable and anticipatory energy; al fresco diners sipping large wine glasses, groups of girls tip toeing in their heels across the uneven cobbled square, the night young and full of the promise of fun. My destination was the versatile bar, club and restaurant Roadhouse, almost snuggled in an unobtrusive corner of the plaza, the gothic grey stone entrance leading downwards into a basement, the neon flashing red ‘Roadhouse’ juxtaposing with the Notre Dame-esque outer structure.

Heading down the stairs, my first thought when I looked up was wow. Firstly, Roadhouse is massive and really nicely laid out. From my vantage point on the bottom stair, I could see across the whole floor plan. A square bar area sat on a platform in the middle of the room, easily accessible for all. Around the raised bar area where typical American diner style seating, plush red stools tucked neatly under high rounded red tables, more of this style of seating clustered around the edge of the gleaming wooden floors. A DJ booth was in the far left, next to the group eating area, where long rectangular tables were decked out in child- like red paper tablecloths, with simple fold up chairs provided.

Potato Skins

Potato Skins

The décor was really striking, bringing a slice of retro America slap bang into the middle of a pulsing London atmosphere. Light up pin ball machines rattled energetically by the bar, whilst iconic American logos hung from the walls and ceiling, for example, a glowing ‘Route 66’ sign and neon slogan signs with rock and roll statements such as ‘Drugs’. The lighting was dim and tinged with red, the constant American references consistent and incredibly stylish. The whole vibe of Roadhouse was completely addictive, every aspect of the venue seemed well thought out and compiled and you couldn’t help but look around with awe, almost like Charlie when first seeing the chocolate factory. Roadhouse oozed fun, so it was very apt that we were attending a friend’s birthday bash there.

Outside Roadhouse

Outside Roadhouse

Our friend had booked a table for about 13 people, so we headed towards the back of the room to find the table and took up seats near the end. The party food offer is actually a complete bargain in my book. You could nab yourself a starter, a main course and a cocktail for a mere £18.95, and with cocktails priced at £7 each, this seemed more than reasonable to me. The food was all classic American fodder, so suitable for every style of taste bud, even with a few healthier options thrown in too for good measure. Although toying with the breadcrumbed and baked camembert, I settled on the loaded potato skins in the end for my starter and I am so glad that I did as it was probably the best potato skins I have ever had. Cut into quirky triangles, the three pieces of potato were heavily loaded with melting and oozing cheddar and formed attractive strings as I attempted to cut into it. Scattered with decent sized cubes of bacon, and dunked in the sour cream provided, it was really delicious. The cheese was wonderful and soft, the potato perfectly cooked and the skins not too crunchy, so just how I like it. I nicked a bite of Jess’s calamari which was also tasty, although I preferred my choice.

The Works Burger

The Works Burger

Main course had me mulling for a bit longer. I couldn’t decide whether to sample salmon for the first time with their Cajun style offering served with mash, or whether to go healthy with the Louisiana style hot grilled chicken breast. However, there was one item on the menu that was simply calling me, so there was nothing for it but to go for The Works Burger, served with chips and a side salad garnish. As the name suggests, this was no ordinary burger. The prime steak burger was stacked with a huge slice of smoked bacon, an accompanying slice of cheddar cheese, sautéed mushrooms as well as caramelised onion. Served in a glazed sesame seed dusted bun my mouth literally watered when I saw this bad boy. The beef of the burger was scrumptious – it was so juicy and natural, you could tell the quality by the first bite as the rich juices ran messily down your fingers. The bacon added an extra hit of meaty flavour to enhance the beef, whilst the mushroom and onion both add depth to the beef. Lettuce and tomato zinged up the heavy burger to refresh it and I will admit that I had to cut it in half so that I could tackle it easily. The chips were also yummy, medium in size with a crunchy, vaguely oily exterior that hinted that they had been freshly fried. Soft on the inside with an attractive golden crunch on the outside – you can’t ask for more when it comes to a decent chip. The side salad was also nice, just simple with some lettuce, tomato and cucumber with a drizzle of some sort of Caesar or French dressing. Cracking open the ketchup, I heartily got stuck in to my main course, and I absolutely loved every mouthful that I devoured greedily. Definitely the right choice by far. Jess opted for the salmon, which did look smaller than my portion, although it was well cooked and she enjoyed her choice.

Screaming Orgasm and Raspberry Daiquiri

Screaming Orgasm and Raspberry Daiquiri

The cocktails at Roadhouse are quite simply legendary, and I think I sampled the majority before the night was out. Roadhouse uniquely have some form of happy hour every evening between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, so with an eye on the time, we swiftly ordered as many drinks as we could. When we first arrived and before ordering food, Jess and I decided to start the night off with a Porn Storm, a vanilla vodka concoction, with passion fruit liqueur and juice as well as some Cava. Served in a tall glass with a decorative wedge of passion fruit, this definitely set the right tone for the evening. With our food, I chose the Raspberrylicious, which was refreshing raspberry vodka paired with fresh raspberries, Chambord, lemon juice, sugar syrup and lemonade. Nice and light to have over food so I enjoyed that one. Next I went for one decidedly more decadent – the Cookies ‘n’ Cream. I really enjoy a creamy, chocolate cocktail so when I saw the ingredients that compromised this cocktail, my eyes lit up. Luckily for me it didn’t disappoint, being a lovely silky texture full of a subtle punchy back note whilst being soft and easy to drink. This one contained Brugal Blanco and dark cacao with cookie syrup and chocolate sauce. I also managed to sneak in two types of Daiquiri – both the strawberry and raspberry versions, which were both divine and I am almost tempted to say my favourite choices of the night. These frozen cocktails would have given an amateur brain freeze but I handled the Brugal Blanco rum nicely as it was blended with the fresh fruit.

Inside Roadhouse

Inside Roadhouse

Once we moved from the eating table to the dance table, I went for another creamy choice – sniggering as Jess went to order me a Screaming Orgasm, containing vodka, Disaronno amaretto, Kahlua, Baileys and cream. Served in a tall glass with a suggestive swirl of whipped cream topped with a cheeky cherry, this one was another of my favourites as it was so lovely. It had a seductive nutty vibe and an almost dessert, sundae-like feel to it that felt very indulgent. It contained pretty much all of my favourite luxury boozes, so this one was definite winner for me as well.

Raspberrylicious

Raspberrylicious

I have to confess I was very impressed by Roadhouse, and even now Jess and I are stroking our chins contemplatively about whether or not to have our birthday shindig come March here. It is fabulously all inclusive with something for everyone. Guys will be more than happy with the simplistic and high quality all American food, with burgers, hot dogs, chicken and ribs galore. Your girlfriends on the other hand will be super impressed with the high calibre cocktail menu, offering a bedazzling choice of some of the delicious cocktails I have ever sampled in my life. All beautifully presented, and actually tasting of alcohol instead of fruit juice, they seriously were the best cocktails I have had, and at £7 a pop, really reasonable for central London, especially in such a social hive such as Covent Garden. The party deal is a bargain, and the music was awesome too, with some throwback 80’s and 90’s soft rock mixed with modern tunes to provide the perfect sing-a-long soundtrack for a good night out. Come 10.00pm, they even introduce a live band on to the stage to perform cover tracks, keeping the theme of the music so you can’t help but have your toes tapping and your head bopping. Fantastically electric yet comfortable atmosphere, with every aspect ticking my boxes. Probably the best venue I have come across for a group gathering where everyone can enjoy the night out, so that is a massive advantage. I’m looking forward to returning!

Porn Storm

Porn Storm

Cajun Salmon

Cajun Salmon

Homeward Bound: Oldham’s Fish Restaurant, Westcliff-on-Sea

Outside Oldham's Fish Restaurant

Outside Oldham’s Fish Restaurant

For my mum’s birthday dinner this year, we decided to toss aside presumptuous and pompous proceedings and instead resort to the kind of favoured family tucker that ticks all of the treat boxes – the incredibly classic fish and chips. And where better to enjoy an upmarket takeaway than at Westcliff-on-Sea, near the seaside town of Southend, where chippies roam the streets in abundance. Although not much to look at from the outside, Oldham’s Fish Restaurant  is a restaurant my sister had heard about through the grapevine, enthusiastically regaling us with tales of cheap prices, stories of ginormous portions, but most importantly, it is claimed to be Jamie Oliver’s favourite chippie. You couldn’t get us there fast enough.

Splashed with the typically nautical white and blue signage in big, bold letters, complete with plastic silver seating under a tucked away awning, first impressions were the same as any normal fish and chip takeaway joint. Granted Oldham’s is not a looker and this continued when we went inside. The cream tiled front section housed the takeaway business, with the trademark clear counter to the left showcasing the foodie wares available. We didn’t even pause here as my sister instantly led us through a small archway into a small back room that was defined as the restaurant. Completely unpretentious and unapologetic about its basic presentation, Oldham’s has the confident yet casual atmosphere of a place that doesn’t need to bother with such things as décor, as it lets the food do the talking.

Inside Oldham's

Inside Oldham’s

Pale blue walls juxtaposed intensely deep wooden panelling on the bottom half of the walls, which matched the tables and chairs placed around the edges of the room. There really was not a lot of space to manoeuvre so I don’t think it would be ideal for larger groups, although it was fine for our table of four. There was one bigger group clustered at the back of the restaurant where two tables had been pushed together against the back mirrored wall, however, luckily the rest of the venue was empty, so we didn’t have to worry too much about bumping into people sat behind us. The table was armed with paper mat style menus, typical salt shakers and bottles of vinegar, cutlery swathed in paper napkins. There was nothing fancy or classy about Oldham’s but oddly enough, it didn’t need to be. It’s almost as if Oldham’s had shrugged off the need to get dressed, and just gone to work in pyjamas.

We started by looking at the wine options and first things first, the bottles were lovely and cheap yet still decent brands and flavours. Jess and I settled on sharing a bottle of white wine, a Rioja, which was absolutely delicious and only £16 to boot. It was fruity, refreshing yet still had a punchy flavour without being too watery, which can be the danger with lighter white wines.

The menu offered a really nice selection of food, although the starters resembled the main courses, just smaller versions I assume. However, starters weren’t in our game plan as we were fully focused on one main aim – the fish and chips. Glancing haphazardly across the menu I saw non-fish eaters would still have been happy as Larry with plenty of chicken options, burgers galore, as well as ribs, pies and sausages. It seemed to cover every basic of chippie cooking, and then threw on a few more choices just to be on the safe side to cater to all tastes. Their fish selection is another example of this, offering skate, plaice, haddock, eel, cod, scampi and salmon to name a few. However one section of the menu screamed out at us indecisive diners with an alluring authority – the two fish special.

Anyone jealous?

Anyone jealous?

For a mere £12.50, you could order two different styles of fish, which was dished up with a scattering of salad and a bowl of chips. The four of us instantly honed in on this box on the menu. Mum instantly decided on the cod paired with deep fried king prawns, whilst Jess selected the cod with the battered squid rings. Dad and I both went a bit more traditional, putting our boneless and skinless cod cuts with a fillet of plaice instead. We also ordered a roll with butter each, as let’s face it, who didn’t want a butty? It was nice they offered some more unusual fish options, such as the squid rings and scampi, giving a vague nod to classy cooking, before smothering it in batter.

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Our food arrived promptly at the table after being freshly cooked, and my jaw hit the table in an amazed thud. Yes, we knew the portion sizes were going to be daunting, but my plate was so piled, I understood now why both the chips and roll had to be delivered on two separate plates, our empty table soon straining with china. Instead of two pieces of fish as I was expecting, I had been given three – two medium pieces of the cod cuts, and then one large triangle of plaice, that seemed to occupy three quarters of my plate. Somehow rocket and cucumber had smuggled itself into a tidy corner of the long oval plate, the chips in a plain white bowl besides. Even the roll and butter seemed to have grown from the norm, the beautiful white domed bap squishy and soft on the inside once cut, but with a pale, crusty top. I smeared the split halves eagerly with butter, selecting the longest and fattest chips for the butty, which I always place in the roll first, salt, and then leave until the end so that the butter has all melted.

Delicious white wine

Delicious white wine

The fish was out of this world. The batter on the fish was so light to eat yet a gorgeous deep golden colour, with absolutely no grease whatsoever anywhere. This fish itself was brilliantly white and easy to cut even through the addictive crunch of the batter. The juicy flakes of fish were hidden under the natural undulating fish-scape of batter. The cod was pure fish and batter, having had both the skin and bones removed. It tasted wholesome and so soft, a stark contrast to the vibrant bite of the batter that had an intense flavour without being oily, heavy or cloggy. The plaice was boneless yet still had skin within the batter, but this didn’t bother me in the slightest. Again, the fish tasted quite meaty and it was a succulently thick fillet with no expense spared. There wasn’t a dry piece in the house, every mouthful a pure delight. I can’t exalt how tasty this true takeaway tucker was.

Menu choices

Menu choices

Even the salad was yummy, with a simplistic drizzle of dressing, some slices of cucumber and a dusting of onion with the odd tomato. Completely miniscule when compared to the gigantic fish owning the plate, but nice nonetheless. The chips were also very moreish. They were soft and slightly soggy like any decent fish shop chip, however they did look a bit anaemic – I would have preferred them to have a bit more colour to them although they tasted fine. There was a variety of thicknesses and sizes which always mixes up the mouthful between fat, soft chips and little crunchy ones . My concluding butty was also worth the wait, as I dunked my leftover roll crusts luxuriously in the ten millionth tomato ketchup sachet I had split open. Ahem, I like ketchup…

Out of the four of us, I was the only one to completely clear my plate. For me, no food challenge goes uneaten, and I wasn’t going to let the colossal portion sizes of Oldham’s defeat me, despite being so stuffed afterwards! There’s no doubt about it, Oldham’s know a thing or two about fish, but after reading their bio, I fully expect them to. The family owned venture opened back in 1967 and has been passed down from father to son for the last three generations, with every sibling in the family running their own fish and chip shop since the war. With such dedication to the chippie craft, it is little wonder they take such enjoyment in providing the highest quality fish and potatoes , cooked with good quality oil, to make such delicious food.

Butterscotch Nut Sundae

Butterscotch Nut Sundae

Once we had allowed our food to go down, we couldn’t resist having a Rossi’s ice cream sundae to seal the deal. Plus, it was a birthday meal out so dessert is a must. I chose the Butterscotch Nut Sundae. Again, incredibly simplistic but hitting the spot, as somehow only ice cream can. Costing £3.25, the sundae was served in a shallow silver ice cream saucer, with three scoops of plain vanilla ice cream, topped with very generous pools of golden butterscotch sauce and a big handful of chopped hazelnuts. I loved the combination of flavours here – Rossi’s ice cream is naturally creamier and thick to boot so it acts as the perfect base for the oozing globules of sauce, and I adore the sticky sweet caramel goodness of butterscotch in general so this was always a winner. The hazelnuts added a lovely contrast in texture with some crunchy bite, the sweet nut a fabulous friend of desserts in general.

Although the décor was plain and simplistic, it was by no means tatty. It was hygienic, clean and tidy, presenting a perch where you could catch your breath to enjoy the undoubted star of the show – the amazing fish. The surroundings may have been basic, and the genre of the food may have been traditional and a favoured takeaway choice, but I have never experienced such a huge dinner portion. Three decent fillets of high quality fish battered beautifully all for little old me? The food was delivered quickly to the table and it was all delicious and very reasonably priced for the portion size. In fact, it was dirt cheap for the wonderful quality and a definite bargain. I would 100% recommend Oldham’s Fish Restaurant to anyone visiting the seaside – it’s casual, does what it says on the tin fodder; and sometimes, that’s just what you fancy.

 

Huge rolls!

Huge rolls!

l-r: Me and Jess

l-r: Me and Jess