Eating Around: Brasserie Blanc, Tower Hill, London

A day out with my mum is always a treat, however it’s also a sure-fire way to get to enjoy some proper decent grub, as my mum is as much of a foodie as myself and has always been a complete whiz in the kitchen, much to our family and friend’s gratitude. Spoiling me to a day in my favourite capital back in September, she had even picked out a restaurant for our dinner venue, selecting somewhere glamorous yet cosy, famed yet comfortable and also a mere stone’s throw from the Tower of London, where we had spent the majority of our sun-filled day. Owned by renowned French chef Raymond Blanc, Mum had chosen the Tower Hill branch of Brasserie Blanc for our special evening meal, and I couldn’t wait to sample the menu.

Sleek and chic French styling was evident from the first, from the neat black awning and tidy white block writing decorating the exterior of the restaurant to the spacious and airy interior, painted a warming deep sage green, and the floor tiled with a dark green and white checkered pattern. Small ceiling spotlights threw plenty of light around the room, the majority of the space filled by dark wooden tables and chairs. Along the side of the restaurant that housed the windows overlooking the pavement and the Tower of London, there were horseshoe shaped booths, the woodland green leather upholstered seating arching around a similarly shaped black table. These booths had plenty of space and also held an air of intimacy and privacy that was ideal. The whole restaurant felt luxurious and very chic, yet it also felt accessible, and somewhere you could relax easily with friends as you attempted to mirror the stylishness of the decor. As we slid inelegantly into one of the booths, we were both pleased with our first impressions, now all the more looking forward to the meal ahead.

To drink, I ordered a wonderful glass of honey-coloured sauvingnon blanc with the most amazing fruity flavour; the passion fruit tones were fresh on my tongue, paired with the sauvingnon’s classically gooseberry palate. A beautiful wine in a French restaurant, surely I didn’t expect anything less?! Suitably watered with my lovely wine, we turned out attention to the a la carte menu in order to choose our starters. We decided to share the charcuterie for two; in some ways, there is nothing more satisfactory than a decent sharing platter. This one was loaded with salami slices, such as saucisson sec, as well as a selection of other cured meats, served in neat, wafer thin round slices. The platter also included chunkier slices of a meat that was a bit like haslet or stuffing, as well as a proscuitto style meat. Cut on the diagonal, two elongated slices of toasted baguette served as the basis for a blue cheese rarebit. I don’t typically eat or like blue cheese, however this melted and gooey option was actually delicious and I could eat it with ease. The blue cheese flavour as such was mild enough not to hinder my enjoyment of the rarebit, and I could get stuck into the oozy cheese with gusto.

On one side of the platter was a baby kilner jar, filled with picked vegetables, such as mini gherkins and pieces of cauliflower. The tartness of the vegetables was the perfect foil for the slimy salami, and I thought it was a great combo to wrap the individual vegetables in the various slices for a taste explosion. The the centre of the round grey plate was the obligatory pile of leaves. The platter was really delicious and had a decent amount of food for the two of us to share. I loved the pick and mix style of eating, just diving in with your fingers and pairing different salamis together with the other components on the board to create an array of different flavours and textures, although each item was also individually very yummy. This starter certainly whet the appetite for the meal ahead, and had us licking our lips for more.

Being in one of the homes of French cuisine, we simply had to try the Boeuf Bourguignon, which Mum reported had received rave reviews online. This rich beef stew was heartily filled with plenty of bacon lardons, full and rounded baby onions, mushrooms and a smooth red wine sauce. The beef was so tender than it simply fell apart at the merest prod from my fork, into a cascade of delicious pink morsels that soaked up the wine-fuelled sauce for an even deeper and more luxurious flavour than I thought possible. Chunks of carrot and celery bobbed in the pool of dark sauce on the  bottom of the large grey circular plate, and again I enjoyed pairing the different elements together for a variety of textures and flavours, all contained within the one dish. It was an excellent stew, hallmarking from rural France, and the beef was simply superb for a melt-in-the-mouth meat.

Instead of the creamy mash that was meant to accompany our matching stews, we decided to pick a few sides to share that were more up our street. For example, we opted for dauphinoise potatoes, which Mum loves, as well as a bubbling mac and cheese. We also ordered some roasted mixed vegetables, which contained vibrant chunky rounds of deep purple beetroot among more flavourful slices of white and orange from various root vegetables. The mac and cheese was a really generous portion for a side and was so silky and creamy to eat, also being very gently grilled on top for just the lightest hint of colour. Soft and full-on cheesy, this was decadent and rich in a very different way to the stew. The potatoes were simply lovely too, the super thin slices piled high in an individual white side dish, scattered with chopped chives on top. The potatoes were soft to eat with a slight skin on top, the milky sauce offering a vaguely creamy flavour that wasn’t too in your face but just enhanced the taste perfectly. The sides were really lovely and a great addition to the meal. 

Despite being so very full, I was not leaving without satisfying my sweet tooth, especially when I saw what was on offer on the dessert menu. My eye was instantly caught by the Pistachio Souffle, that would be served with a rich chocolate ice cream. Listing two of my favourite flavours in one, I had to have it, so I ordered it excitedly. And boy, it didn’t disappoint. When it arrived at the table, my jaw dropped in shock at how large it was; the souffle towered impressively from its ramekin into an enlarged muffin shape, with a lightly browned top. A single scoop of dark chocolate ice cream pooled meekly in a small white dish next to it. Eagerly diving into the souffle, I speared its wobbly top with my spoon, and was delighted to uncover an exuberantly soft green filling. The souffle was wonderfully light to eat, gorgeously fluffy and had a really natural and moreish pistachio flavour, as well as the nut’s memorable green colour. It really was one of the most lovely desserts I have ever eaten, and certainly a dish I had never tried before or seen since. It was really excellent. I even loved the light dusting of cocoa powder that had been put in the ramekin so that the souffle wouldn’t stick, as this simply added to the flavour. I would most definitely eat this again in a heartbeat. The chocolate ice cream was very rich since it used dark chocolate, and was the complete opposite to the airy and nutty souffle. A very special dessert in my book.

Mum and I had a wonderful evening at Brasserie Blanc. Not only was the restaurant stylishly casual yet elegant, but the service was good and prompt, and the food was dreamy. Staple French classics had been given the stardust of a Blanc makeover to transform them into magical dishes that we thoroughly enjoyed. I would definitely return and do it all again.


Prezzo, Piccadilly Circus, London

Set Menu:
· Location: 36-38 Glasshouse Street, Soho, London, W1B 5DL (nearest tube station is Piccadilly Circus)
· Date of Visit: Wednesday 8th November 2017
· Time of Table: 6.00pm
· Deal Bought From: Buy A Gift
· Deal Price: £30 for two
· Dinner Companion: Best friend Vick
Getting More for your Money?
This dinner deal includes:
· Starter each from a set menu
· Main course each from a set menu
· Dessert each from a set menu
· Glass of house wine each
What I ate…
· Starter: Giant Meatballs
· Main: Penne Alla Norma
· Dessert: Tiramisu
What I drank…
· Glass of house white wine
· Glass of Prosecco (not included)
· Hot chocolate (not included)
What did we think?
Meeting up with friends can be difficult when it’s the run up to Christmas, and you are both trying to maintain a bit of a shoe-string budget in order to bulk buy all of the necessary festive presents. The offer I managed to nab from Buy A Gift however seemed too much of a bargain to pass up, offering a three course meal for two people and a glass of house wine, all for £30 or £15 each. This suited our moth-ridden purses just fine, so we promptly bought the deal, printed off our evoucher and booked ourselves a table online.
Naturally there are an abundance of Prezzo chain restaurants dotted around London, however we chose the one situated on Glasshouse Street. I work in Soho while my friend Vick works near Bond Street, so heading to Piccadilly Circus provided a nice middle ground for us both to get to easily.
We both arrived early and were promptly seated. The décor was very simple and unmemorable to be honest, with clean white walls and wooden floors, plenty of non-descript tables wedged in where space would allow. We were seated by a wall of windows on high stool sized seats that were thickly cushioned like wide individual booths, upholstered in mustard yellow. The table was small and certainly cosy, but did the job.
On arrival, we chose our respective glasses of wine, me opting for the white and Vick for the red. We were then presented with both the set menu that corresponded to our evoucher, as well as the restaurant’s main menu. Apparently due to technical trouble in the kitchen, a lot of the dishes could not be cooked, therefore our choices had more than halved in the blink of an eye. Since the set menu was quite restricted anyway, we were given the main menu as well to afford us more choice so we could actually construct our three courses, as with the grill out of action our set menu was far too sparse, especially as each course only had about three or four options to start with anyway. Our waitress reeled off the shortened list of starters we could pick, and then said for the main course, we could only pick from the pizza and pasta sections really. Definitely a confusing start to the meal as this wasn’t explained too clearly to us, but we got there in the end and were able to make our selections.
For starters, I chose the giant meatballs, as let’s face it, you really can’t go wrong with meatballs. The meatballs consisted of minced veal, beef, pork and pancetta, squished with fennel and parsley for good measure and served with a ladle-full of tomato-based pomodoro sauce on top. When the dish arrived, it featured four of the meatballs, served on a white rectangular plate, the chunky sauce pooling on top of the meat. To be honest, I’ve seen larger meatballs and these ones to me just seemed a normal size, so a bit of fake advertising there. After accepting some extra parmesan to be grated over my meal, I tucked in. The meatballs had a great flavour and the herbs were not overpowering in the slightest, providing just the merest of background notes. The meat was certainly the front and foremost flavour, accented by the very light and juicy tomato pomodoro sauce. The texture of the meatballs was quite fine and a little on the dry side, but that again was soon remedied by the sauce. Overall, a nice little starter to get the meal going.
I had no idea what I fancied for my main course, especially as our options had dwindled so rapidly. In the end, I went for a vegetarian pasta dish, the penne alla norma. This included grilled aubergine, garlic and basil in a creamy pomodoro sauce, so quite a simple ingredients list too. The pasta was served in a large, deep white bowl and was also actually a decent portion; I find sometimes that pasta dishes can come up a little small so I’m glad this portion filled me up! Again, I got the extra parmesan grated on top of my meal for added cheesiness. Considering I don’t eat pasta out too often, I actually really enjoyed this. I liked the combination of the char grilled aubergine paired with the garlic; I think the warmth of the garlic just really brings out the flavour of the aubergine, and where the aubergine is a softer, more rustic and Mediterranean veg, it just really works alongside pasta. I couldn’t taste the basil, which is a good thing as I really rather dislike it! The pasta was cooked until it was soft rather than al dente, which I prefer even if it isn’t traditional, and the sauce was enough to lightly coat each tube of pasta. This gave the dish a tomato undertone that wasn’t overpowering but acted as a nice refresher and a conduit for the garlic. There wasn’t bucket loads of sauce, but there was enough to bring the dish together and that’s the main thing I guess.
I decided to go traditional Italian with my dessert by picking the tiramisu. When it arrived at the table, I was so disappointed it was unreal. Part of the reason I love tiramisu is the fact it is indulgently creamy yet light, and that the coffee-drenched sponge fingers cut through the mascarpone to create a wonderful concoction of mild cream and strong coffee. What I received at Prezzo was more like a structure than a dessert, with three sponge fingers, merely speckled with soaked coffee rather than properly absorbing it all, arranged to form a small pyramid shape. The luscious creaminess I was expecting was instead a rather thin layer in the centre of the pyramid, a little more spread on top to dust cocoa powder over. For me, this was a massive disappointment. I know tiramisu can vary greatly between restaurants, however I have always enjoyed it and it has always been creamy and coffee-fuelled. This version however certainly did not tick my boxes, and I was lusting after Vick’s sticky toffee pudding with complete abandon. My sweet tooth was left unsatisfied.
In addition to what our evoucher entitled us too, we ordered an extra glass of Prosecco each to help wash down our meal, and we also had a concluding hot chocolate each rather than a coffee. The hot chocolate was really lovely actually, and was just the right texture between being too thin or too thick; it was the perfect amount of opulence. It was only these extra drinks that we had to pay for, and since the rest of our meal equated to £15 each, it was a very affordable evening out.
The service was fair, however not all of the waitresses knew we had a voucher, so we kept getting different menus and when we asked what we were able to choose from, it sometimes got a little muddled as they would have to check with each other. However on the whole the food was tasty and the service was good; the staff were polite and friendly. The main problem of the night was of course the fact that half the kitchen was not operational, as this really reduced what we could pick for our dinner. Naturally it’s just one of those unfortunately, but it was a shame. I also wished I’d chosen a different dessert, as the tiramisu did not live up to my Italian expectations and for me, it wasn’t all that great. The voucher was a good price though and if I was looking to save pennies again, I’d certainly be tempted to investigate Prezzo once more.

Homeward Bound: The Fat Turk, Brentwood, Essex

The Fat Turk interiorMy husband has a December birthday, which as you can imagine, means trying to organise a birthday dinner out can be a rather stressful occasion, especially as we normally have to make a late booking due to family being spread out across the country and we’re never sure who will actually be in town or not. This year, as my husband’s birthday loomed, we knew we had to book a table for three, for the two of us and my father-in-law. Since my other half enjoys Turkish food, we fancied trying the Fat Turk, a converted classic pub that was now the lap of Turkish luxury on the outskirts of Brentwood.

Entering the Fat Turk, I absolutely loved the décor. It’s incredibly opulent yet modern, with streamlined white walls paired with traditional Turkish trellising in dark wood. Spotlights scattering the ceiling in symmetrical lines while large domed ceiling lights hung down like decorative pearlescent baubles. Strokes of teal and gold added a dignified colour accent and that air of luxury, especially as the chairs at our table were more like upholstered lounge chairs rather than dining chairs. The comfily padded seats were covered in a Halloumi Chipsteal and gold patterned fabric that helped bring the colour scheme together, while touches of grey, including the immensely detailed and decorative grey and dark wood patterned archway wall next to our table, melded nicely with the other colours to create a harmonious and calming atmosphere. It felt glamourous, and  certainly sought to create an occasion out of eating out, which suits my agenda perfectly.

I also loved the way the table was laid, including the decorative touch of tealight holder that was shaped like a large raindrop, sliced in half vertically. The outside of the holder was teal while the inside was painted gold, maintaining the colour theme. The glassware was also gorgeous and I really liked the angular slants to the sides of both the water tumblers and the wine glasses.

Since I was the designated driver, I ordered a bitter lemon to drink which arrived in one of the tumblers I had Fat Turk Izgaraalready admired, decorated with a slice of lemon and ice. I then got down to the serious business of picking my food. Turkish menus can be rather limiting, however I found the variety at the Fat Turk refreshing, mainly in their selection of starters. Normally, Turkish venues tend to stick to simple meze options for starters and leave it at that, however the Fat Turk cranked its menu up a notch to offer not only meze, but also a full starter menu too. This suited me to a tea as I soon spotted halloumi chips and once I had seen them on the menu, it was like a siren call to my stomach. I love halloumi but it is one of those foods that I don’t get to have very often, especially not in chip format. Served with a spicy tomato relish, the halloumi chips came up in wondrously thick and neatly cut cuboids, like the fancy triple-cooked chunky chips you find in many gourmet restaurants. Presented on a long, white rectangular plate, I had two thick chips at each end, sat on top of a couple of slices of gherkin, the relish in a small dip dish in the centre of the plate. I really loved this starter. The cheese was lovely; frying it did nothing to deter from its salty yet creamy taste, yet its new crispy skin added an ideal bit of crunch alongside the cheese’s Dips and Sidesnatural chewiness and softness. I had never had gherkins with halloumi before, but this worked surprisingly well, with the slight tang and pickle tones of the gherkin cutting through the cheese to freshen the dish up. I also enjoyed the dip; to me it tasted more like a sweet chilli style dip as it was certainly sweeter than I was expecting. However, since I have a sweet tooth, this was fine with me! Overall, a really great way to whet the appetite for main course. My father-in-law opted for the prawns, which he loved as they were large and juicy, while my husband went for the traditional Turkish sausage, which had a strong, punchy flavour. We were also given a bread basket of very lightly toasted flatbreads to have with our starters. Since no dips were given with the bread, I dunked my flatbread in my relish, which worked very nicely for me.

Being a naturally indecisive person when it comes to food orders, as soon as I saw the Fat Turk Izgara, I knew my Turkish Sausageproblems were solved. This is basically the greedy person’s answer to everything, as it features chicken shish, lamb shish and kofte shish, served with bulgar wheat rice and fresh salad. Both my husband and father-in-law decided to just have the lamb shish. I must confess, I was expecting to have the same amount of meat as you would typically find on one skewer, but a little bit of the three different meats. This was not the case. I was given three full-sized skewers, that completely filled the length of my wooden chopping board style platter. My husband and father-in-law looked on in envy. Alongside my three meaty skewers was a whole green chilli, with the seeds still intact, and a white dish of the side salad, which contained the normal suspects of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, red cabbage and thinly sliced carrots. The orange toned bulgar wheat rice came in two white side dishes and was placed in the centre of the table for us to share between the three of us.

PrawnsAll I can say about this meal is wow. I absolutely loved it. Let’s face it, just grilling skewers isn’t exactly a complex cooking method, so when the style of food and cooking technique is that simple, your ingredients need to scream quality, and the execution has to be perfect. The Fat Turk hit both of these points to perfection. The lamb was beautifully tender and still a pale pink at the centre for a soft, melt-in-the-mouth flavour that was divine. The chicken had a great chargrilled flavour on the outside but was so juicy and succulent on the inside; it was definitely some of the best chicken I have ever eaten due to how juicy it was. The kofte also excelled. The quality of the meat tasted great and I loved the interesting array of herbs and spices used in the mix. They didn’t overpower and they weren’t too pungent or floral, they acted merely to accentuate the meat and showcase its flavour, which I think it did rather well. The salad was tasty too with fresh flavours to throw into the mix as well as a variety of crunchy and soft textures. The rice was interesting, as you don’t normally see bulgar wheat make an appearance in restaurants. It is chunkier and more grainy than typical rice, but I liked this grittier side; it added Chocolate cappuccino dessertsubstance to the dish overall especially where it was lightly spiced to complement the plainer meats. We were also given three colourful dips to have with our meats. This included a mild minty yoghurt concoction, a bright orange chilli dip that was a tad too spicy for my taste, and also a salmon-pink coloured dip. I think this had coriander or cumin or some kind of spice along those lines, and although I wasn’t sure if I would like it, I think this one was actually my favourite, and I double dipped my meat chunks with gusto. My father-in-law ordered some tripe-cooked chunky chips as a side, which came with more of the tomato relish.

We all tucked in and thoroughly enjoyed the meal. The quality of our dishes was really dreamy and we were definitely in meat heaven. Both boys said they would order what I had next time we came. For once, I was the one collecting the food envy rather than having it! Really delicious main courses all round though; even thinking back on it now makes my mouth water!

Lamb shishDespite being stuffed to the rafters, I couldn’t leave the Fat Turk without sampling its chocolate cappuccino dessert. And boy, I’m glad I did; this was one of the most beautiful desserts I have ever seen, its presentation was stunning.  So, the dessert itself was a dark chocolate mousse which sat on top of an almond sponge and was surrounded by delicate splashes of crème anglaise as well as a scoop of cappuccino ice cream. When the dessert arrived at the table, I was literally clapping my hands together with glee. The mousse and sponge combo came as a gloriously shiny log shape, with these gorgeous curls of dark chocolate arching out of the top, a delicate blob of crème anglaise pinned with a yellow and purple pansy at the centre. There was a small meringue star and a sweet crumb either side of the dark chocolate circle the mousse was sat on, which were really nice little added extras. The ice cream was a bit grainy but full of coffee flavour which I loved. Small pansies decorated the whole plate alongside neat circles of the pale yellow crème anglaise and it was simply beautiful. Even better, it tasted amazing. Chocolate cappuccino dessertThe chocolate mousse was rich, but so creamy, soft and smooth, it was orgasmic, while the almond sponge was the perfect base layer. Nice and thick, its subtle chocolate-toned nuttiness was the ideal pairing for the mousse, especially as the textures contrasted so neatly too. This dessert was so stylish and divine to eat, I could daydream about it all day.

All in all, the Fat Turk really impressed us all. The quality of the food is really excellent and was the perfect treat for my hard working husband to celebrate his birthday. The savoury meals were all superb and in particular the meat; it was cooked to perfection to be tender and juicy. The dessert though was a real treat, for both the eyes and mouth. The service was prompt, polite and efficient which gets a thumbs up from me. The only slight wobble would be the price; my main course alone was £25 so an evening at the Fat Turk is not likely to be a cheap one. However, you get what you pay for, as the saying goes, and since we all so thoroughly fell in love with the food delivered at the Fat Turk, we can hardly quibble if we had to splash the cash to get it – especially as my father-in-law paid! I’d highly recommend the Fat Turk, please go if you get the opportunity.

Eating Around: Lazybones Farringdon, Farringdon, London

Entering competitions, especially if they happen to be on social media, can be a very hit and miss affair. There’s only so many posts you can like and share with the gleeful optimism of hopeful anticipation before you begin to take more seriously the fact that maybe Lady Luck just doesn’t have your back after all. However I take back all resentful fist-shaking with regards to Facebook competitions, after I was lucky enough to win an awesome prize from the team over at rib joint Lazybones Farringdon. I was crowned the winner of a Facebook competition that entitled me and three pals to a two-course meal from their Christmas meal, two cocktails each and a glass of Prosecco too. Wowzers. Since this was Literally The Best Thing I’ve Ever Won, I promptly grabbed my husband, twin sister and her boyfriend, so we could enjoy a free double date courtesy of Lazybones Farringdon.

Situated a mere two minute walk away from Farringdon station, the location couldn’t have been easier for my husband based in Chancery Lane, or even for me as I work in Soho. It was a bit more of a stretch for our dining companions, which led to them being a little late, but there is no rest for those on the quest for free food. Lazybones Farringdon is actually tucked down a small cul-de-sac almost, giving it a much more casual, quiet and chilled vibe than if it had been bursting out onto the pavements of the main street. I was expecting more of a restaurant, however Lazybones definitely has more of a distinct bar-come-street food feel that just echoes good times. By the main entrance are smaller and more intimate wooden tables and stools, designated more for the bar drinkers, while further in are longer and larger wooden tables, almost picnic bench style, that have been designed to house the diners, such as ourselves. We were tidily tucked away in a corner on a table for four, my husband and I nabbing the sofa style seating as we arrives first, saving the dining chairs opposite us for the rest of the attending family.

The bar arched lazily around the back of the room, the clean white backdrop showcasing an array of alcohol bottles loud and proud. Above the bar, brightly coloured beer cartons and boxes added a retro touch. This worked really well alongside the kitsch lamp shades in various shapes and colours that dangled down from varying length ceiling lights. The lighting was dialled down a notch to create that slightly unwound ambience that really hits the spot after a long day in the office. To the right of our table and near the back of medium-sized space was a corrugated iron style food truck where the food was coming out from. This helped add to the all-American tone of the food but also contributed a healthy dollop of clean cut British greys, teals and accents of red to crank up the style factor. All in all, the décor was simplistic, with chalk boards and plenty of wood, but this helped create an atmosphere of relaxation, as if you could kick up your feet and no-one would mind.

To start the evening, we decided to order our first round of on-the-house cocktails. The restaurant manager, Natalia, nipped over to our table to take our order. Interestingly, Lazybones only does table service until 5pm, then it’s a case of placing your food order at the bar to be served. As lucky competition winners however, Natalia was more than happy to save us the effort, which was really lovely and helpful too. To kick off the night, I opted for one of the special Christmas cocktails that imbued two of my favourite flavours combined: chocolate and orange. Aptly named Chocolate Orange, this potent concoction, which was served in a heavy criss-cross decorated glass tumbler, featured dark chocolate liqueur, vodka, marmalade and ginger. Since I don’t like ginger, I asked for one with no ginger, and I’m so glad I did. Served with a fresh slice of orange next to a chocolate orange segment too, it tasted exactly like the famed round chocolate but in alcoholic liquid form. I couldn’t believe how punchy the chocolate flavour was. Total bliss for chocoholics like me and I definitely knew what my second cocktail choice was also going to be. The others all chose the same Salted Caramel Apple Pie, which came in a martini glass. This cloudy coloured beverage contained vodka, salted caramel, apple juice and cinnamon, topped with a dried apple slice.

Among our group, it was decided that the boys would order starters and mains (sharing the starters with us girls), while my sister and I would order mains and desserts (not sharing anything at all) to fill our two-course quota. To this end, both menfolk ordered the baby back barbeque rib ends under female supervision. These were delicious and I could see why rib-lovers would flock here to tap up the Lazybones favourite. Because it was the rib ends, they were bite-sized, covered in just the right amount of marinade to give that sticky sweet flavour, and the meat was so tender it simply slid off the bone in one delicious gulp. I avoided the slices of red and green chilli that adorned the typical white and blue rimmed dish; however I totally gorged on the thick peach barbeque sauce. This was the consistency of a chutney and the peach really accentuated the sweetness of the barbeque sauce. I subtly hid the rest of the silver dip dish behind my water glass so I could save some to have with my main course.

For main course, there was no other choice really but The Crimbo-ger; the festive special currently sitting pretty at the top of Lazybones’ Christmas menu. I’d seen pictures of the dish on Facebook that had really whet my appetite, so I was super pleased to finally be able to get my chops, hopefully, around this delectable stack. The brioche bun would be filled with a fried buttermilk turkey burger, apricot and sage pigs in blankets, fried sprout tops and a cranberry ketchup. Served with skinny French fries, you also got a silver dip dish of a turkey gravy dip. When our four burgers arrived at the table, it was certainly an ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ moment. The burger was stacked sky high and even had an extra pig in blanket speared on top of the bun for good measure. For me, the success of the burger lies in the combination of the flavours together; it just worked really well. I had to cut my burger in half to pick it up, but then I was hands on all the way. The sprout tops were not sprout tops, so sorry to disappoint the Brussel lovers among you, but it was actually kale. This worked better for me as I prefer kale and it was nice and crispy too, a bit like the seaweed you get at Chinese restaurants. The cranberry ketchup was more of just a traditional cranberry sauce than a ketchup in my opinion, but that was fine with me as it was lovely spread all over the juicy turkey. The burger itself was yummy, with the turkey being a decent thickness. The meat was soft but the outside was fried to a golden crunch which was a great texture contrast, especially when paired with the succulent sausages and the salty bacon. Each component alone would have gained a thumbs up but together it really hit the nail on the head and was a really fantastic modern and trendy take on the bog-standard Christmas dinner.

The fries were presented in a dusky teal coloured mug next to the burger. I promptly tipped them out and drenched them in the turkey gravy dip, which was so flavourful. I didn’t even need a lot of ketchup, which those who know me will find shocking.  I only used ketchup when I ran out of the turkey gravy and the reserved dip from the starters! The turkey gravy was quite thin for a dip so certainly more of a gravy. The brioche bun on the burger was super shiny, which always looks great, and was sturdy enough to keep the burger in one piece too which saves you getting everything on your hands rather than in your mouth.

For dessert, I chose the Mince Pie Brownie Sundae. This was basically chocolate, hazelnut and mincemeat brownies served with vanilla ice cream and a hot chocolate fudge sauce, piled up in one of Lazybones’ large glass tumblers. This was very rich and filling, but I adored it nonetheless. The brownies really did carry over that mince pie vibe because of the mincemeat and the hazelnuts, but the chocolate was wonderfully dark for a full on flavour kick to really drag the fluffy cream and the cool ice cream into a sharp taste contrast. The brownies were just the right side of stodgy to instead be squelchy and gooey, just about holding their form to be really cakey and dessert-like. The vanilla ice cream collected at the bottom of the glass while the squirty style cream adorned the top of the sundae, so the rich and dense chocolate was sandwiched mainly between the two lighter flavours and textures. It was heavy to eat but I thoroughly enjoyed it and really loved the unique festive flavour of the brownies in particular.

Also known for its cocktails, we couldn’t leave Lazybones without getting a few more under our belt, although a round of cocktails for four people came to just under £40 so make sure you are prepared when you get the bill. The Porn Star Martini had a really fabulous full-on passion fruit flavour that sang out loud and proud for a refreshing hit of tropical, especially when paired with that very satisfying shot of Prosecco! I also had an Aperol Spritz, a true classic and for obvious reasons as it’s simple, orange toned and Prosecco topped. What’s not to like?

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at Lazybones Farringdon, and now that I’ve found it, I’m sure I’ll be returning to this hidden gem of a spot. The atmosphere was just perfect for chilling on our double date, and we were all able to unwind with ease to the background chatter and the aroma of cooking meats. Although I was at first questioning the fact that it appeared more bar than restaurant, I now know how seriously Lazybones takes its food, and I’ve already earmarked the beef brisket sandwich for my next visit. Natalia was fantastic too, bringing over the Prosecco when we arrived and taking our food and drinks orders throughout the night. Even when they ran out of marmalade for the Chocolate Orange cocktail, they found an alternative using cherry jam which tasted just as awesome.

Thank you Lazybones Farringdon for picking me to win the competition! We all loved our evening with you, and we hope to see you again in the new year!

Holiday Munchies: The London Inn, St Neot, Cornwall

When visiting my mother-in-law’s tiny rural village in Cornwall, it’s interesting to draw comparisons with my London-based lifestyle. For example, the concept of ‘your local’ is different in the village of St Neot. Unlike my base in Essex, where an abundance of pubs are pound a penny along the majority of hustling streets, The London Inn is the one and only pub-come-restaurant-come-inn situated in the centre of the little community, making it a mini hub of activity in its location next the large church building next door.

On the last day of my husband and I’s last visit to countryside Cornwall, we visited The London Inn as a family for a friendly final meal before hitting the road the next day. It certainly looks the part of a rural pub, with its whitewashed exterior, swinging pub sign above the door, and umbrella shaded picnic benches propped outside next to a wall planted with blooming red flowers. Heading inside, the rural stereotype continues with wonderfully quaint charm; the white ceilings are not only low in true country cottage style, but they also come adorned with black painted wooden beams that also structure the walls too. A sage green colour on the walls lightens the room considerably, while an odd assortment of knick-knacks, such as white china figurines and colourful Chinese patterned tankards cluster across random surfaces for a kitsch and homely feel.

The tables and chairs are all dark and polished wood, reminding you of the universal furniture that all grandparents seemed to have at some point. The natural beams of the cottage seemed to form walls to segregate different sections of the inn, providing plenty of peaceful and not overlooked nooks and grannies where you could sit to eat. We chose a large round table near the main door, the centre of the table decorated with a simple glass jar filled with a pink rose and accompanying white floral as well as a small vegetable box style holder which contained cutlery and condiments. The menus, presented in old school leather bound holders, was a simple A4 printed Word document, with a limited selection of British grub to whet the appetite. Although it was traditional and homely, it was also oddly eclectic, and I rather liked this mish-mash of home comforts.

After ordering a glass of sauvignon blanc at the bar, one of the owners came to the table to take our food order. As I was pretty hungry and the choices were sparse, I opted for the traditional beef burger. I never used to really eat burgers out, but I’ve gotten quite into them of late, and where better to sample a British beefburger than at a classic country pub? When it arrived at the table, I was soon gawking with anticipation, as it looked absolutely epic. The beefburger itself was absolutely huge; you could tell it was a  lovingly prepared handmade job that was made with a great thickness and flavour in mind rather than any notion about fitting into a bun. Stacked on top of this colossal meat patty was grated cheddar and slices of bacon, as well as three squashed together onion rings. A soft white bun top balanced precariously on top, the skewer through the centre of the burger attempting to keep it together mirroring Pisa.

Also on my stylishly rectangular plate was a pile of skin-on fries, a simple salad of leaves, tomatoes and cucumber, as well as a splodge of creamy coleslaw. By this point, my mouth was absolutely watering, and I couldn’t wait to dive in to this vastly satisfying-looking dish. I have to say, it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. The burger itself was delicious and really let the beef sing. It was juicy, succulent and full of flavour; and I also loved the chunky thickness and meaty mouthfuls. Soft and tasty, it paired well with the salty bacon which livened up the beef flavour, as well as the mature cheese, which melted into the hot juices of the burger rather nicely. The onion rings were tasty too, being just the right amount of crispy to add a contrasting texture and crunch alongside the burger, but in no way overshadowing. Plus, onions and beef is probably one of the most well-loved flavour combos too, and it will always taste lovely together. The burger bun suited me too; the soft white roll held together better than I anticipated and was sturdy enough to act as a burger bun but not too crusty, which I liked.

The skin-on fries were very moreish, the salad pretty standard, and the coleslaw a nice creamy addition to provide some silky crunch. Dunking the chips in the coleslaw worked well in my book. All in all, the dish worked well altogether and was really well executed. The burger really was all-singing and all-dancing, proving that all those fancy burger chains in the city sometimes just can’t compete with something a little more rustic and substantial.

Dessert was also a very small choice, so I went for the chocolate fudge cake. It wasn’t the best in the world to be honest, and I imagine desserts are more shop-bought to compensate maybe for the extra TLC that clearly goes into the main courses. The cake itself was a little drier than I would have liked, although getting two scoops of vanilla ice cream instead of the usual one was a nice perk. The chocolate sauce was drizzled in layered circles around the edge of the plate, which looked very nice too. Dessert was just average really.

I enjoyed my evening in The London Inn, and the hospitality is what you would expect from the countryside too, with one of the owners soon divulging in conversation with us while taking our orders. Dogs were roaming in and out as well, which meant it would be a suitable location for any ramblers passing through, and we also had a child in our group, so it was certainly agreeable for a family with mixed age ranges. Although the choice is very limited compared to modern menus, it was a delicious meal and I still daydream about that burger. Although dessert was a little non-plussed, for me the burger can drown out any niggles I might have had by its sheer epic-ness. I also loved the quirky, home-grown décor. Certainly worth popping in if you are passing through.

Holiday Munchies: Black Rock, Clacton-On-Sea, Essex

The evening before a half marathon is always slightly trickier when you are staying away from home, and therefore having to negotiate your carb loading with a menu that hasn’t been self-concocted in your kitchen to optimise your performance the following day. Knowing my body and my pre-event food preferences rather well by now, I figured that I would be fine visiting steak restaurant Black Rock the evening before I took on the Clacton Half Marathon. After all, protein is essential for us athletes.

Although Dan and I have been to Clacton before, we did not spot Black Rock, snuggled down a narrow stairwell between two large and imposing outdoor seating terraces of the restaurants either side of it. With an American style black sign signalling steak and an arrow down the stairs, this whet our curiosity to check out the menu, and then to make arrangements to come for dinner in a few hours’ time.

At the bottom of the stairs, Black Rock has a really cool vibe that is centred around home-grown friendship and community. The focal point is undoubtedly the very chunky and long wooden tables, that are set up to accommodate large groups with ease. With such lengthy tables aligned down the centre of the room, it almost gave the restaurant the feel of an old school banqueting hall, with dining chairs tucked neatly under the centrepiece tables. Despite this nod to the communal eating scene of days gone past, Black Rock is actually rather trendy. Mottled wooden flooring that matches the tables is juxtaposed against crisp white walls, small spotlights studding the ceiling to add to the decorative tools of the trade for creating space. The plain walls were the ideal backdrop for kitsch black and white prints of famed actors and actresses, such as Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn, which gave an almost hipster vibe to the modernly clean-cut space. The atmosphere was relaxed, and since we went early for food, it was still nice and quiet, although the frown when we said we hadn’t booked a table was a wee bit off-putting.

The main reason we wanted to come to Black Rock was to try their specialty steak dish, called ‘Steak on the Stone’. This is basically an impressively sized hunk of 10z of sirloin steak that is served pretty much raw on a sizzling rock plate. Following the trend for cooking at the table, us diners then finish cooking our steak by cutting slices off the main slab of meat and cooking it on the hot black rock embedded in a wooden chopping board style plate in front of us at the table. Having done this type of dish together at Steak and Co in London, and also wanting a lot of protein for my run the next day, this seemed to hit the nail on the head in more than one way.

I ordered a glass of refreshing sauvignon blanc with my meal, while I waited for the steak to arrive. When it came to the table, the edges of the meat had barely brushed the base of a frying pan, patchy very pale grey-brown streaks indicating that it had seen an attempt at searing, however the bulk of the cooking would be left to me at the table. The steak itself looked in good nick; it was very large, rather thick, and I couldn’t see too much fat or grizzle to put me off either. It really was a complete hunk of pure meat. Served alongside it on the rectangular chopping board was a portion of skinny fries on a white rectangular plate next to the hot stone, and then in three little indents at  the back of the chopping board were little white dip dishes, containing garlic oil, peppercorn sauce, and a mushroom sauce. A side salad also shared room with the chips.

I tailored my dish by swapping normal fries for sweet potato fries, however both Dan and I found that our chips were cold anyway, so it didn’t make much difference. Dan attempted to heat his up alongside his steak on the hot plate, but I’m not sure of his success rate there. The generously-sized steak was delicious; you really cannot go wrong when you have a slab of good-quality meat for a beef steak. I was cooking my steak slices to medium-rare pinkness, and I absolutely loved generously dunking my beef into the garlic oil. I am a big garlic fan at the best of times, and I loved how the oil absorbed into the meat to really enhance its succulent flavour with that beautiful garlic warmth and the smoothness of the oil coating the meat and adding to it, rather than drenching it like some thicker sauces. I’m not a mushroom fan, so I avoided that sauce dish, although I did dip in the peppercorn a couple of times too. It was pretty standard in that respect, with a few token peppercorns bobbing around in the coffee coloured, thin-ish sauce, there’s no hiding from the kick and back-of-the-mouth-burn a peppercorn sauce will always bring. The side salad was very simple, just a few dressed leaves and veg really.

With our steak, we ordered a side of onion rings, as Dan loves a decent onion ring. Unfortunately, these did not get the husband’s seal of approval, as they were also pretty cold. The rings were thin and the batter was light, however they came up slightly soggy, and with barely there onion inside and such a thin coating of batter on the outside, they really were pretty non-descript, which is a shame as a gourmet onion ring done well can be a massive win in encouraging return custom. Let’s face it, everyone loves an onion ring. They were served in a napkin laid basket for easy sharing, but flavour and texture wise, they were a let-down.

After polishing off our steaks, we thought we might share a dessert (read: I wanted dessert, we pretended to share). The dessert menu was rather small, so I soon zoned in on the chocolate fudge cake; a very traditional offering that can usually be found on any British menu worth its salt. Served with a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce drizzled wafer, it came to the table quite quickly. There was plenty of dark chocolate sauce drizzled all over which I liked, and the cake slice itself was ok as well; small desserts are life’s biggest disappointments. The cake itself was very chocolately yet not overly heavy, although it did have a slight brownie-like tinge to it in my opinion, where it was very chocolately and a little dense around the ganache frosting sections, which was luxuriously thick and gooey. Certainly a decadent chocolate-overload, it was a simple dessert that ticked the box for something sweet and chocolate to finish the meal.

All in all, I liked Black Rock as a restaurant. The service was ok, if not full of dazzling personality, and I liked the décor and vibe of the place. It has been put together well and presents itself nicely. The steak is undoubtedly their big winner and where they put all their chips behind; it was certainly a lovely piece of meat and we enjoyed the drama of cooking it ourselves at the table. I guess it also saves effort for the chefs too. However, the sides massively let the dish down which is a bit disappointing really, as the potential for them to enhance the meal is huge. Considering the chefs don’t actually have to do anything with the meat – there was no marinades, rubs or salts at all, it was plain meat – you would have thought they could have put a bit more time and effort into delivering sides that are worthy of sitting alongside the steal showpiece. Price wise, it’s not shabby at all being in little old Clacton, and at the end of the day, it was a lovely place to unwind.