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.

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Eating Around: Red Dog Saloon, Soho, London

Once again into the realms of double dating, my sister’s boyfriend has long been advocating the burger-filled delicacies of Red Dog Saloon, an American chain restaurant with a penchant for blow-your-head-off chilli sauce, fiery chicken wings and The Devastator, a burger with a reputation just as sizable as its succulent beef patty. Since my husband is also a fan of American grub, we decided it was about time Sam showed us what Red Dog Saloon had to offer, so we headed to the Soho branch near my office for a double date where we left our table manners at the door and our appetites took control.

Red Dog Saloon is actually quite dark on the inside, maybe taking the notion of a scenic ambiance a touch too far in my opinion, however the dimly lit vibe also suited the casual and laid-back attitude of the restaurant, simple brick walls adorned with black framed photos, bright red napkins the only hallmark of colour among the wash of wooden tables and chairs. Simplistic in style, Red Dog Saloon feels like a hang out for friends that instantly puts you at ease. We were seated in a wooden booth at the back of the narrow restaurant, which gave us a prime viewing spot to admire all of the highly stacked plates coming out of the kitchen.

First things first, my sister and I ordered a bottle of red wine to share, while my husband Dan and my sister’s partner Sam ordered their preferred beverages. Looking at the menu, we decided to forgo starters in order to pile straight into the main course, which naturally consisted of four burgers. We also opted to order a range of side dishes too so we could all share and tuck in to whatever we fancied. Granted the menu on the whole is quite small when it comes to variety, however with Red Dog Saloon, you know what you are signing up for. You visit because you have heard the burgers and wings are epic, so to be honest, the menu doesn’t really need to be any more extensive. Red Dog Saloon simply does what it says on the tin, very, very well. It offers a range of wings, chicken, slow cooked meats and burgers, has starters and desserts for those who fancy it and plenty of drinks to wet the whistle of guests.

With Sam gamely ordering the 18oz Devastator burger, I decided to play my meal a little safer for my first attempt, so I chose what is satisfyingly called The Punisher. This 6oz chuck steak patty was paired with 16 hour smoked pork butt, applewood smoked bacon and American cheese. The burger arrived on its own wooden rectangular chopping board, sitting pretty in the centre, a wooden skewer through the middle holding the impressive stack together. The pork looked like pale, non-saucy pulled pork and was piled at least an inch high in a delicious meaty bundle on top of the thick slices of bacon. Wafer thin bacon is always so disappointing, so I pleased that the bacon in this meat-lover’s burger was thick, flavoursome and salty to boot. The smoked flavour was really mild and acted to merely accentuate the lovely natural flavour of the bacon without overpowering it at all. The slices of bacon was a great texture contrast to the dryer pork piled on top, which had a lovely soft and flaky texture and a full-on pork taste. The beef burger itself was served medium so it was pink in the middle, and I always enjoy my meat pink so that was perfectly fine with me. The beef was succulent and juicy, evidently good quality and again worked really harmoniously with the other flavours in the burger. I often find that burgers are all about flavour marriages, finding textures and tastes that really bring out the best in each other, and for me, The Punisher had that in spades. With gooey cheese and sauces thrown in for good measure to avoid the burger being too dry, it was absolutely delicious and a complete handful. I cut my burger in half and then tackled each half with my hands; you simply cannot eat a burger with a knife and fork and I will sadly shake my head at anyone who attempts to do so! Especially since the burger bun managed to stay intact throughout the entire eating; it didn’t fall apart at all, its shiny brioche top neatly encasing the layers below with no problems whatsoever.

Although the burger was undoubtedly the centre of attention here, providing bucket-loads of meat-centric flavours and textures for me to get my chops around, the sides were also very tasty. We shared a basket of skinny fries, which were standard really, and a basket of large, thin onion rings. The batter was thin and golden, fried to a neat crisp, the onion inside still slimy and slippery. This was served with a cheesy dip that was also great with the fries. We also got a round white bowl of chunky and creamy coleslaw, which went down a treat with bits of burger bun, and a matching dish of oozy mac and cheese. I adore mac and cheese but I don’t have it often since Dan has a dairy intolerance, so whenever I am out, nothing is more satisfying than to gorge on tiny pasta luxuriously coated in a thick and yellow cheesy sauce! The mac and cheese was incredibly gooey and a real indulgence.

I really enjoyed my burger and I thought the whole meal was delicious. Eyeing up this Devastator challenge, where you have a time limit to eat the famed burger plus numerous sides, I’m quietly confident that I could take this on with aplomb! When our mains were cleared away, we then turned our attention to dessert. The dessert menu was very small and full of pretty uninspiring American favourites to be honest. However, when one has a sweet tooth like I do, dessert is very often a necessity for satisfaction, so I ordered the ice cream sundae. Anything with brownie pieces is a surefire way to get my attention, and this sundae was full of them. It was also compiled with cherries, chocolate sprinkles and, naturally, lashings of whipped cream.

When the sundae arrived at the table, again it seemed to loom over the table with an impressive size, a whipped cream Afro hairdo sprouting from the top of a clear glass sundae dish, the squiggly cream layers studded with numerous brownie cubes. The sundae was a simple concoction of all things vanilla, creamy and chocolate sauce, with plenty of brownie cubes throughout. The brownie pieces were not overly squashy or gooey but more crumbly and cake-like, with dark chocolate tones.

As well as our meal, we also sampled a Red Dog Saloon special, just because Sam wanted the rest of us to experience it. The chilli sauce is hallmarked as fiercely hot, so Sam ordered us a small bit to try. The waitress even bought us an extra portion of chips to try with it, as she was so concerned about us sampling it solo. I am a bit of a dunker when it comes to chips, but even I went in with a restrained air. Despite only dabbing the smallest amount on the very end of my chip, the instant searing heat of the sauce made my eyes water, and I reached chokingly for my water. I believe there is a chicken wing challenge that involves this super spicy sauce, so anyone thinking of tackling that, beware!

Overall, we all enjoyed our meal very much and it certainly lived up to the tall tales Sam had been telling us in the months leading up to our double date.  As a specialist burger joint, Red Dog Saloon gets the double thumbs up from me, and I would definitely be very interested in taking on the Devastator next time I visit. The staff were friendly and polite, and although London prices were in full swing, we left with very full tummies, as the portion sizes were decent and the food was very filling. We loved our double date evening and I’m glad I’ve found another tasty location a stone’s throw from my office…although that’s probably quite dangerous for my waistline…

Eating Around: TGI Fridays, Wembley, London

With a half day off work at our fingertips, my husband and I decided that before attending our evening comedy gig at Wembley Arena, we should certainly spend a decent chunk of our free afternoon indulging in a complete pig-out of a lunch-come-dinner. Although we don’t know Wembley well as an area, the nearby London Designer Outlet shopping haunt provided more than enough choice for our rumbling tummies, with my husband selecting popular American burger joint TGI Fridays as our chosen food refueling spot.

We had visited a TGI’s in the past, many moons ago when we were first dating, around our local Essex, in Lakeside. Since we hadn’t been in so long, we were intrigued to see what updates had been done and whether the menu lived up to our fond memories of meals gone by, of finger-licking meats and full-to-bursting plates. Upon entering, TGI’s certainly blasts you with cherry-picked and stereotypical aspects of American diner culture, its loud and brash style unapologetic and vibrant. Flashing neon light decor, shiny red leather booth seating, and cranked up music added to the black and red theme across the roomy and spacious restaurant. We were seated at a row of tables for two, Dan taking the lower red leather sofa style seat across the back of all the tables, while I sat opposite him on a dining chair.

Since TGI’s is renowned for its cocktails, I felt compelled to have a peruse. The options were certainly plentiful with an entire book full of the different available options, whether you wanted luscious dessert style options, large sharing goblets, or maybe something frozen. With such an abundance of options, I was stumped for a bit, but then I decided to try and be vaguely healthier by ordering a skinny margarita in the blackberry flavour. When it arrived at the table, it wasn’t really what I was expecting, as it was a blended frozen cocktail, served in a tall, thin glass with a blackberry perched on its icy top.  It was delicious, refreshing and I loved the blackberry tones, which also gave it a fabulous purple colour. However, when I ordered a repeat cocktail later on during the meal, it arrived in a martini glass, and was a thin, pale purple toned liquid rather than frozen. It is very apparent that I had had two very different blackberry cocktails, but since I didn’t know how the drink was meant to be presented in the first place, it’s difficult to know whether to question it or not. I have a feeling my second drink was actually the correct one, as I did not ask for a frozen cocktail, but either way, both drinks were tasty and refreshing even if one wasn’t one I ordered.

We decided that for starters, we would choose a couple of dishes and then share in a true romantic fashion. Scanning the menu, I was really intrigued by so many of the options; it appears to me that TGI has jazzed up its menu to deliver typical American grub but in creative and imaginative ways. For example, one of our starters was Chick Cones. This is basically miniature waffle cones, like you would have with ice cream scoops, however these ones were stuffed with Cajun chicken pieces, interlaced with a fresh tomato salsa type sauce and heaps of fresh and spicy guacamole. The three cones were wedged into a white triangular sundae dish, and I have to say it looked really appetising. I loved how different it was, as I haven’t seen anything like this before. The chicken was tender and lightly spiced, however the heat was in full force when it came to the guacamole and salsa! You almost needed the chicken and the plain cone to help tone down the fiery warmth! There were moreish and soon disappeared in a few bites each. Our other starter was some garlic ciabatta bread, which was cut into four windmill wing pieces. Crunchy and crispy on top, the ciabatta underneath was soft, the garlic butter permeating through each layer of the hole-ridden bread. We really enjoyed the starters, and we were certainly contemplating how we would make room for our main course.

When picking my main course, I did something I have never done before; I ordered a double stack burger. Yes folks, that’s two flame-grilled beef burgers. I clearly took the indulgent afternoon off meal to a whole new limit when I selected the Warrior burger. This bad boy not only contained two thick patties of beef, but also featured gooey breadcrumb coated mozzarella dippers, both Colby and American type cheeses that were oozing over my burger layers in a slick caress, bacon, caramalised onions and some of TGI’s mayo for good measure. Throw in a tomato and some onion and the burger was complete. It was a complete monster of a tower, and although my mouth was watering just looking at it, I was also intimidated! What I found hilarious though was the balance of the meal. Next to this colossal burger mountain was a single lettuce leaf, acting as a mini platter for a dessert spoon of apple coleslaw. The rest of the wooden, rectangular chopping board plate was full of crunchy, narrow skinny fries. I also had some of the cheese sauce served on the side in a small dip dish.

This burger was impressive. It even had three bread layers, so was fundamentally an entire burger and then a whole second burger, just without a top bun. Its size was undoubtedly its most eye-catching element, however it did actually taste as good as it looked, which is always such a bonus when it comes to burgers. The beef was moist, flavoursome and a decent chunky patty, which I love. The beef was also the perfect conduit for the cascades of cheese in my burger, but for me the mozzarella dippers were a really unique touch that set the burger apart. The breadcrumbs added just that bit of crunch but the stringy melted cheese within just accentuated what else was in the burger. The bacon gave a salty hit to slice through the opulent cheesiness, while you simply cannot go wrong when it comes to caramlised onions; they just enhance every dish they have the pleasure of gracing. This burger was epic, and I thoroughly enjoyed pigging out and indulging in being greedy for once.

The apple coleslaw was quite refreshing and added a vibrant and colourful crunch, which pepped up the presentation of the plate. I liked the addition of raisins for a fruity chew as well. The chips were pretty standard in my opinion, with a solid crunchy outside and soft potato on the inside. Dunking the fries luxuriously into my cheese dip was delish. I managed to make decent headway into my meal considering its size, and I only left a handful of chips, much to our waitress’s admiration. She commented that I’d cleared a lot more than other customers have done when tackling the Warrior. To be honest, I was unsure whether this was a compliment or a veiled insult!

Stuffed to the rafters, we couldn’t even contemplate dessert, so we quit while we were ahead (read: could still waddle), paid the bill and left. From my younger days, I remember TGI’s being a bit of a teenage hangout, but now my perception has changed. The menu is more extensive and certainly brings a more imaginative type of American cuisine to our British plates. I mean, the pulled pork sundae on the starter menu also sounded pretty immense to me. The menu is so big that there will be something for everyone, the portion sizes are full of American generosity and I would say the prices are standard for this type of grub too. The serving staff were polite, even though the cocktail confusion was a little bit of an oddity. We really enjoyed our lunch at TGI’s and I’m sure we would not be adverse to visiting again when we are next passing by.

Gourmet Pizza, Gabriel’s Wharf, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Gourmet Pizza, 56 Upper Ground, Unit 20, London SE1 9PP (nearest tube station is Waterloo or Southwark)
  • Date of Visit: Tuesday 17th October 2017
  • Time of Table: 6.15pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £24 for two people
  • Dinner Companion: Good friend Charlotte

Getting more for your money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Starter each from a selection
  • Main course each from a selection
  • Glass of house wine each

What I ate:

  • Starter: Garlic Bread
  • Main Course: Vegetarian Pizza

What I drank:

  • A glass of house white wine

What did we think?

Heading to the Southbank always feels trendy, but especially so when I was visiting Gourmet Pizza in October. I had never before stumbled across Gabriel’s Wharf, and I found it to be an intriguing cul-de-sac of random bars and quirky shops, the venues framing a roomy central space scattered with picnic-style benches. Certainly more of a hot-spot in the summer, I was here to meet my friend Charlotte for dinner at Gourmet Pizza, which scenically faced the river Thames. The restaurant looked like it would be more at home propped up over a pier, with its black wooden plank structure and tent-like extension, heated lamps keeping the clear plastic add-on section nice and toasty. Despite looking a bit out of place, the aromas wafting out of the restaurant were alluring to say the least, and since we both love pizza, when this voucher cropped up on Groupon, we thought it would make the ideal cheap friend date. The voucher was £24 for two people, which equated to £12 each. For this, we would get a two course meal and a glass of wine.

When I arrived, the restaurant was already packed, despite it still being early evening on a random Tuesday. Luckily I had pre-booked a table, so I was shown to a tiny table to two immediately, in the plastic tent extension section. Here, there wasn’t really any decoration to speak of, but the tables and hard dining chairs were all dark wood to match the black exterior. Charlotte joined me at the table when she arrived, and we eagerly awaited someone to give us the food and drink options that were applicable for our voucher.

When we bought the deal from Groupon, part of the online description listed the menu we would be able to choose from. It gave a selection of starters and main courses and also named a few desserts too, therefore both Charlotte and I already had inklings of what we wanted to pick for our meals. We also both wanted to do a main course and dessert rather than a main course and starter. However, we were thwarted before we had even begun, as when a waiter arrived to explain what we could choose from, he said that they had changed the available voucher options after we had purchased the deal, and we now had literally half the choice that we had previously. We had only three starters to pick from, pretty much a salad and a couple of pizzas for mains, and we were also told that the offer did not apply to desserts, but just for starters and main courses. As you can imagine, this left us feeling rather hard-done by as it wasn’t what we had signed up and paid for, and we would have preferred to have what was actually advertised. However we decided not to make a fuss and to try and enjoy our now limited meal as much as we could. We started by ordering our house wine options; I went for the white while Charlotte selected the red.

Since I didn’t fancy soup, I could either choose bruschetta like Charlotte or go for the garlic bread. I decided to pick the garlic bread, and to be fair, it was lovely. It came as an individual, thick oval of soft and doughy bread, a dent in the middle of the portion pooling the melted garlic butter. The top of the garlic bread had a lovely buttery golden sheen that added a bit of bite to the bread overall, although it was satisfyingly soft and also very tasty. Let’s face it though, it’s hard to go wrong with a decent garlic bread! A nice way to whet the appetite, it was a good size and a lovely bread.

For main course, I thought it was only natural to pick a pizza sent we were at a pizza restaurant, however we only had two pizza options to pick from. Charlotte went for the pepperoni pizza, however I decided to venture away from my usual meat-fest and instead pick a vegetarian option. My pizza therefore featured red and yellow peppers, olives, artichokes and spinach for a Mediterranean vibe. When the pizza arrived, it was pretty standard fare to be honest with you. The crust and base was nice and thin, it wasn’t burnt or too brown at all and the crust still had a doughy yield in the centre which I like. The tomato sauce base was very vibrant, hallmarking the use of fresh tomatoes, while both the cheese and toppings were generously scattered over the top. The cheese had melted gorgeously and was speckled with grilled brown flecks; the toppings were colourful and plentiful to cover the top of the pizza. It was a yummy pizza and a nice size for one person, filling me up but not leaving me uncomfortable. The veggies were all tasty too, with a lightly grilled tone.

The main issue however was the length of the service. It was absolutely appalling. We waited an age for whatever we ordered, whether it was our wine at the beginning or our pizzas for our main meal. Everything was coming out of the kitchen and bar with an absolute snail’s pace, which quite frankly is ridiculous considering that pizza is a typically fast food to cook and serve. We waited so long for absolutely everything that we didn’t even attempt to buy over and above our voucher by having dessert; we weren’t even offered the menu After our pizzas, we literally waited and waited, then decided to just stand up and leave since all we’d consumed so far was included as part of our voucher. If the service had been better, we most likely would have had dessert and another round of drinks, but the service was slow, generally poor and definitely not worth the wait since the food is just average anyway. The bad service certainly cast a negative shadow over the evening; we even saw other couples nearby receive pizzas that were burnt or stone cold. With raised eyebrows, we decided to quit while we were ahead and go and get a concluding drink elsewhere.

Although our meal at Gourmet Pizza was enjoyable, it wasn’t out of this world, and you could definitely go to other Italians venues for the same food but better service. It’s a shame really as such a prime river-side spot could be a real money-spinner, however I also was not impressed that they changed the voucher details halfway through its stint on Groupon. Surely you would wait until afterwards and maybe do it for the next time you run a deal rather than halfway through a current offer? We didn’t get what was advertised and the food did not make up for the bad service. The best bit of the evening was getting to catch up with my friend for a thankfully cheap price. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy my meal and I delivered clean plates each time, but for waiting times are really not worth the hassle.

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.

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!