Eating Around: The Mug House, London Bridge, London

Quintessentially British, The Mug House is a pub restaurant within the popular Davy’s chain that smacks of good old fashioned Englishness from centuries ago whilst also being bang up to date with a gourmet menu of classic dishes. Hidden in the domed alcoves of London Bridge, opposite the tourist-trap of the London Dungeons, this hideaway is a real treasure trove.

Bursting at the seams with character, I adored the atmosphere as soon as I stepped foot in the place. I felt as if I had gone back in time thanks to the classically whitewashed walls, multitude of dark wooden beams clustering the ceiling, and large polished beer barrels acting as quirky drinks tables by the entryway bar area.

Already impressed by The Mug House’s traditional yet polished take on a London ale house, my family and I walked around to the restaurant part of the pub, where we would be enjoying our dinner. Luxury labelled wine bottles sat proudly on each table, white taper candles speared into the makeshift holders and wax decadently dribbling down the side of the bottles. The blush red toned walls were in keeping with the abundance of wooden furniture, while more wine bottles lined shelves along the walls. Due to its location, natural sunlight is a no go; however the candlelight and numerous wall fixture lights maintained a lovely ambience under the rounded ceilings, creating an intimate and cosy vibe. Blackboards listed specials for both food and drink options, adding to the traditional feel of the place. Having a soft spot for this style of décor that has a nod to times gone by meant that my first impressions were gleeful to say the least. Now all that was left was to see whether the food and drink matched the opening standards set by this impressively presented pub.

We ordered the house red to share with our meal and very nice it was too. A deep blood red in colour, it was surprisingly fruity and medium weighted, making it very easy to drink throughout our meal. To start, my husband Dan and I shared, opting for the lemon and herb flavoured hummus, which was served with sliced up and grilled flatbreads. As hummus fans in general, it was great to get such a citrus and fresh twist on a classic, with the lemon adding a vibrant zing to the luxuriously thick and smooth dipping sauce. The flatbread was soft to bite yet held its shape when dunking and catching the hummus, which as we all know, is of vital importance. It was easily enough for one person, but the portion size was still generous enough to accommodate two so that we could have a graze before our main meal to whet the appetite.

For my main course, I decided to have a ploughman’s. I thoroughly enjoy a good British ploughman’s; however they very rarely feature on restaurant menus, despite being a pub classic in my mind. The Mug House’s version however had certainly been given the gastro pub makeover as it was a classy and sophisticated offering, presented on a round wooden cheeseboard. The slices of ham were cut generously thick, the meat both lean and light. Two long triangles of yellow cheddar came up next, balanced on top of each other, while a small pile of salad leaves acted as a bed for a black pudding scotch egg. A recent convert to black pudding, this scotch egg was dreamy. The egg was soft boiled so had that wonderfully opulent gooey and oozy centre that pools everywhere with each bite. The crust of the egg was perfectly cooked for crunch factor, while the black pudding element really enhanced the flavoursome meat within to give a richer and deeper taste. Armed with four decent sized triangles of chargrilled white bread, I tucked in with gusto, making sure to sample the caramelised onion chutney and sunset orange relish that sat in small white ramekins next to my little butter dish. Every component was simple, yet simply delicious, and I could tell the ingredients were of a high quality. Pairing the separate elements together is part of the fun of a ploughman’s, so I wrapped salad in my ham before dunking it in relish, piled the bread with cheese and chutney. Fun food at its finest.

Dessert also left me a happy bunny as I chose the traditional sticky toffee pudding for my afters. Served with a large jug of wonderful custard, there was even enough for me to drench my pudding just how I like it. The sauce had a fiery whiskey kick that was great soaked up into the caramel toned cake, with the dessert being moist, soft and full of flavour all round.

All in all, I was very impressed with The Mug House. Granted we went at a quiet time for our family meal; 5.30pm on a Saturday, so it was a lot quieter and more peaceful than I imagine it would be later on in the evening. I really loved both the décor and the atmosphere, and it presented the perfect environment for us to have a tasty family catch up. Due to its location, it is going to be more costly all round, however the quality of our meals is testament that it was worth every penny, and I would certainly eat there again.

Eating Around: Azzurro, London Bridge, London

Outside Azzurro

Outside Azzurro

When planning an 80th birthday treat for my Grandma this month, my sister and I thought we had really hit the nail on the head with a swanky afternoon checking out the views from the imposing glass Shard, spearing into the sky majestically. No decadent day out would be complete without some sort of food, so after getting snap happy on the 72nd floor whilst sipping our champagne, Jess and I led the way to nearby Italian restaurant Azzurro in London Bridge, where we had booked a table for 1.30pm for a tasty lunch.

Easily found on Tooley Street, opposite the London Dungeons and a stone’s throw from London Bridge tube station, Azzurro has a prime location for catching passing tourists; its attractive blood red awning decorated with jagged white lettering creating a distinct al-fresco feel as it protects a small patio area clustered with tables and chairs for outdoor diners. Working our way inside, I was hit by the casual glamour of the place, comfortably yet classy, impressive without being try too hard. The seating was arranged on a variety of staggered levels, adding interest to the eye line, the deep red and wooden colour theme continuing, old fashioned colourful poster art providing exuberant splashes of character against the stylish backdrop of mustard shaded walls. Red leather studded sofas formed some of the seating, opposite hard backed dining chairs, however our rectangular table for four used cream leather bucket seats – probably one of the most comfortable restaurant chairs I have ever sat in.

My impressive pizza

My impressive pizza

The table was simply dressed with side plates, red napkins and cutlery, chilli oil hallmarking the Italian cuisine, the orchid style flower adding a nice decorative touch. The restaurant was quite empty when we arrived since we were dining at lunch time, the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable, allowing us to sink into our seats as we perused the menu. We kicked the meal off by selecting a zesty South African chenin blanc wine, which was light to drink yet full bodied with a refreshing lemony aroma. White wine is always fabulous with Italian food so this was a good start. Deciding to skip starters to make more room for dessert, we eagerly scanned the numerous sections of the menu, which included salads, pasta, risotto, pizzas and meat dishes, so there was plenty of variety. The menu wasn’t too extensive but I thought it was incredibly well thought out and put together, offering a nice balance of tomato based dishes to those more luxuriously creamy, also providing a good combination of meat, fish or vegetables across both the pasta and pizza dishes, prepared to suit any taste buds that may cross its path. Although I was sorely tempted by the tagliatelle salsiccia, a pasta dish including spicy Italian sausage, onion, garlic, chilli and a tomato based sauce, my penchant for pizza reared up in full force and I knew that I had to have the vesuvio – a pizza that sounded like it was created for me. Featuring both pepperoni and spicy Italian sausage, the pizza was also topped with spinach and olives, enhanced with the additional heat of chilli and garlic. I ordered my main course excitedly, with all of us actually opting for pizzas since the range of toppings sounded so delicious.

Chocolate cheesecake

Chocolate cheesecake

I can easily say that this pizza was one of the best, if not the best, Italian pizza I have ever had the pleasure of devouring and savouring. Filling a large circular white plate, the pizza itself was an ideal size, the super thin base meaning that it wasn’t too heavy to tuck in to although it may have looked large at first. The base of the pizza was thin and soft, richly smothered in tomato sauce laced with the gentle heat of the pungent chilli paired with the musky garlic, adding a delicious depth. There was more cheese than you would expect on an Italian pizza, and this suited me just fine, as usually I find the cheese is the one area that is scrimped on. The golden and bubbly cheese was melted to perfection and it stringed attractively as you pulled your cut pieces apart. Adding a squidgy chew, the cheese was a juxtaposition to the peppy tomato base. Toppings wise, I was more than impressed. The olives looked like Kalamata olives to me, their distinctive oval shape and purple hue giving them away. The spinach was splattered sparingly but there was still enough to go round, with slices of both the pepperoni and the Italian sausage covering the pizza nicely, ensuring that every slice I cut had plenty for me to get my mouth round. The crust was again thin in keeping with Italian style and was super tasty. I can honestly say that I loved every mouthful of this pizza and could probably have eaten a second one if given the chance!

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

My fiancé Dan has chosen the carne gusto version which was a meat feast combination of Italian ham, chicken, salami and pepperoni. Our Grandma, Jean, kept things back to basics with the classic margherita, whilst Jess branched out with the capricciosa, a pizza that was topped with ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, artichokes and olives. We were all incredibly satisfied with our choices, reclined comfortably after our meals, feeling satisfied without being stuffed or sickly.

Our refreshing white wine

Our refreshing white wine

Since I have inherited my sweet tooth from my Grandma, it is only fair that we tucked into the dessert menu with gusto. There were so many options that caught my eye, however in the end I went for the chocolate cheesecake, something I wouldn’t usually have when out and about. The chocolate biscuit base held a chocolate truffle filling that was darkly rich like a torte, yet kind of mousse like in texture. The chocolate filling was topped with a cream layer of Italian classic mascarpone to lighten the flavour, before a generous crust style finish of amoretti biscuits to provide a contrasting crunch. The slice came up a decent slice, sitting on decorative zig zags of chocolate sauce, a speck of strawberry hiding next to the cheesecake timidly. It looked fantastic and it also tasted brilliantly – a simple idea and dish, yet it really hit my chocolate cravings yet felt wonderfully luxurious and decadent as well, which is always a plus for dessert in my book. Jess and Dan went for the same hazelnut ice cream bomb style dessert, which housed a gooey chocolate centre, whilst Grandma went fruity with a pavalova option that actually came out more like an eton mess, so I don’t know why they didn’t just call it that. The presentation for the desserts was top notch so no complaints there.

Inside Azzurro

Inside Azzurro

Not quite ready to head home, us girls decided to indulge in coffees, ordering our favoured cappuccinos. It took the waitress a while to get them over to us which was odd, but they were huge compared to the standard after dinner cappuccino so that seemed to make up for it, the large mugs dwarfing a small almond flavoured biscuit that had been smuggled on to the saucer. The biscuit was a great accompaniment for the frothy chocolate sprinkled top, although underneath that I soon discovered the cappuccino was in fact masquerading as a latte, the coffee one of the palest I have ever seen and weak in flavour. It wasn’t a bad coffee at all, just not what was expected as it was much closer to the milky latte than the medium cappuccino, so it settled heavier in the stomach and wasn’t such a refreshing conclusion to the meal.

Our table

Our table

The staff were polite and helpful, so no qualms there really. Where the restaurant was quiet, we received our food quite quickly and we weren’t rushed at all which was nice. Price wise, the venue is also very reasonably, especially considering the quality of the food and how much we all enjoyed our two courses and drinks. It came to approximately £26 per person for a main course and dessert each, with us three girls splitting the bottle of white wine and Dan having a pint of Beck’s to wet his whistle. Azzurro’s pizza will linger lovingly in my mind for a while and their tantalising dessert menu deserves a second visit for sure. Since this is a blossoming chain, they do have a few scattered branches around, with one in Waterloo, Woking and Portsmouth as well as the London Bridge venue that we visited. I would highly recommend Azzurro as they have a delicious and delectable menu, decent prices and a great atmosphere. A downstairs bar with laid back leather sofa seating showed Azzurro could party with the best of the them; however the elegant upstairs restaurant gave a nod to the more refined Italian tastes and passion for food. I’m looking forward to returning!

Pavalova

Pavalova

The hazelnut ice cream bomb

The hazelnut ice cream bomb