Eating Around: Maxims, Kensington, London

There’s something about west London that simply carries the air of luxury merely in the breeze; discreet wealth seems to exude from every store front and a highly polished veneer of sophistication drapes over every opulent building with that classic London panache. Therefore, when this east London lass won a recent Facebook competition for a three-course meal for two at high-class casino, hotel and restaurant Maxims, situated in Kensington, I literally couldn’t grab my husband fast enough as we hot-footed it there after work one Friday night for a date night like no other.

Upon arrival, my coat and spare bags were magicked away into a hidden cloakroom and I was gently ushered down a carpeted stairway into a glamorous bar area to await the other half. Large, bucket shaped armchairs in lush leather shades of cream and berry were artfully clustered around dark glass drinks tables, scatter cushions invitingly plumped and chandelier lighting atmospherically dimmed. The bar, tucked away in one corner, was like a golden beacon of alcohol, with multi-coloured bottles clustering together like a police line-up. A smartly dressed waiter presented me with a brown leather bound drinks menu, which showcased over 100 different types of whisky, stating that I could order whatever I wanted from the menu or even something not on the menu. I mentioned that I’d won the Facebook competition, and I was simply told “We know who you are”. Feeling rather like a fraudulent VIP, yet also absolutely loving the star treatment, I settled into an armchair and began grazing on the trio of nibbles that were brought over, including mixed olives, crunchy spiced corn balls and a mix of spices nuts. This, my friends, is the life.

When my husband arrived, he was presented with a matching menu and we both decided to order a cocktail, since we were going to have wine with dinner. I opted for a tequila-laced margarita while hubby chose a porn star martini. My drink arrived in its typically kitsch cocktail class, the rim smothered with salt, and a lime carefully spearheaded the left side of the glass. The pale green, cloudy cocktail was a refreshing and potent wake-up call that was just what the doctor ordered after a long week at work. While relaxing with our cocktails in the bar area, our friendly waiter gave us the main menus for us to peruse at our leisure. Flicking through the menu, I was really impressed by the fantastic array of cultures represented in just one menu. French and Italian European classics sat just a page away from Chinese and Indian delicacies, while turning another page led to a reel of Turkish and Moroccan specialties. There were both starters and main courses available in all these cuisines, and my stomach rumbled with the concentration of indecision.

In the end, I settled for a European pasta starter of aubergine and scamorza ravioli, dressed in a classic Italian Neapolitan sauce, while the other sauce hit the Chinese selection for some deep fried prawns. For main course, I skipped a few countries to select the lamb tagine, filled with fragrant dried prunes and apricots and served with cous cous. Husband chose the Turkish mixed grill on the other hand, a carnivore’s paradise laden with chicken, kofte and lamp chops galore. We ordered while still sat in the bar, the waiter dashing off to check our order was in stock before confirming with us; he also kindly recommended a side salad for the husband’s dinner too. A bottle of wine was included with our winning meal, and when I inquired, I was told it only applied to the house wines. Typically, this would be one white and one red however Maxims would not stoop to such poor choice. The waiter proceeded to reel off at least three different types of wines for each colour. I speedily chose the fruity sauvignon blanc. With our meals all ordered, the waiter then asked if we would like to be first into the dining room so we could pick our seats, adding that we had priority this evening. I gleefully hopped up, swiftly followed by the other half, polishing off the last of the nibbles as we sauntered into the dining room.

The dining room of Maxims is small but incredibly glamorous. Gorgeous horse-shoe shaped booths sat along one side of the restaurant while three roomy square tables were placed opposite, so there was only about five or six tables in total. This merely added to the incredibly air of luxury and seclusion. I spied a large booth at the back and made a beeline for it. It was far too big for two people, but very comfortable and I loved snuggling into the golden cushions lined up against the beige seating. The table presentation was also lovely, the plates adorned with lilac tones European building watercolour style paintings, numerous large cream cotton napkins waiting to clear any spillages and a small posy of fuchsia flowers adding a vibrancy to the otherwise neutral colour palate. Awash with gold and beige tones, scattered with pink floral decorations, the room felt peaceful, quiet, romantic and private. It felt like an actual escape from our hurried London lifestyles.

Instead of the typical bread basket that precedes a meal, Maxims pushed the boat out with a gloriously colourful and vibrant crudities dish. A deep, white, bucket-type china dish filled with ice acted as a planter for an array of raw vegetables, cut into neat spears for easy finger-food picking. Baby corn nestled against cucumber and lettuce, while whole baby carrots made a bed with asparagus, radishes and a variety of peppers. In the centre of this vegetable bouquet was a dip dish of thick and creamy blue cheese dip. I found this a fantastically different way to start the meal and I really loved the variety of vegetables. The bread basket was also brought round before our starters arrived, and I chose a multi-grain bread studded with raisins and nuts, which had a thick, chewy crust yet was wonderfully soft and flavoursome in the centre.

Starters arrived and our heavenly evening continued, our wine glasses never nearing empty and our utmost thoughts being attended to by the ever-present and attentive staff. My pasta was dreamy; I loved the filling of the aubergine with the cheese, it was creamy yet smoky and ideal to cut through the sweet tomato sauce that zinged across the palate with a rush of freshness. The pasta was smooth and soft and the portion size was also very decent for a starter. It was incredibly yummy and certainly set a high standard for the remainder of the food. My husband’s prawn dish arrived on an impressive platter, joined by two different dips for his deliberation too. We were both in food heaven.

Our main courses were also delectable. My tagine arrived in its traditional terracotta dish, the tender cubes of lamb absolutely bursting with flavour and infused with a fragrance and sweet spice that transported me across the globe. The squashy dried fruit added a richness and depth to the lamb which helped give the taste some punch and added to the succulent sweetness and permeated every mouthful. The lamb was served with a generous side dish of yellow cous cous, which was light and fluffy. The other half attacked his mixed grill with vigour, although I had to help out nearer the end. Served on a shiny silver platter, an array of chargrilled meats wafted their juicy scent across the table as the kebab-style meat lay next to spears of flatbread and peppers. The side salad featured crispy croutons made from this flatbread too, which I found very moreish and really unique too. A really delicious and decadent main meal, and I thought it was great that I could sample some different types of food that I wouldn’t ordinarily have. A decided treat for sure.

And it didn’t end there. Dessert started with a glass of dessert wine, honeysuckle sweet and the colour of syrup, my sweet tooth was sobbing in gratitude at its light drinkability yet smooth sweetness. I ordered the pistachio creme brulee as my afters, simply because I love green pistachios and I adore custard, so this dessert really was a lot of my favourite flavours combined. My creme brulee arrived on a blackboard plate, next to a neat pile of halved strawberries. Using my teaspoon to snap apart the crisp caramel top, this dessert was dreamy. The sharp shards of the topping were a complete contrast to the super silky green custard hidden beneath, the nuttiness really enhancing the flavour in a magical way to bring the whole dish to life. The strawberries added a nice accent as a compliment and the dessert wine’s honey tones tied it all together. The husband ordered ice cream as a nice palate cleanser.

Tea and coffee was also included in our win, and little did we know our hot beverages would also come with a fully-loaded plate of chocolates! I loved exploring the variety of truffles and treats hidden in the multi-toned metallic toned wrappers; I think we sampled every type of chocolate and combination under the sun. It was a fun guessing game to see what shape and size chocolate was what flavour. My cappuccino was also lovely, with a light-as-air frothy topping.

Despite our table being booked for 7pm, my husband and I stayed at Maxims until gone 11pm. We felt completely at ease, relaxed and away from everything. It felt like a calming slice of luxury, enveloping us in its opulence for one evening of extra-special attention. We felt like complete celebrities and cannot commend the Maxims team highly enough for the perfectionist waiting service and the high quality of the food, which was delectable. We had the most wonderful date night and it almost felt as if we had been spirited away from normality to a world we would never typically be able to afford. It was a slice of how the other half eat and we loved it. The variety of the menu alone is excellent and enables you to try a mix of different cuisines with ease as well as finding something suitable for everyone, so fussy eaters would have no problems here. Maxims, I salute you and thank you for the magical evening.



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.

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!

Eating Around: Duck and Waffle, Bishopsgate, London

Standing at the bottom of Bishopgate’s Heron Tower, staring awkwardly up at 42 floors of sheer, streamlined glass, it is easy to see why Duck and Waffle has been escalated up the ranks when it comes to fine dining and being a tourist must-see, yet all the while still nabbing an elusive spot in the heart of Londoners. Since its introduction to London’s elite restaurant roster, I have literally been gagging to eat at Duck and Waffle. Although its prices are as sky-high as the venue itself, my sister Jess and I had carefully squirreled away our birthday money, in order to award ourselves a proper foodie treat and finally quench our curiosity thirst regarding the imposingly awe-inspiring restaurant.

As soon as we arrived outside the Heron Tower, I could barely contain my excitement as we hot-footed it down a red-roped off queue, my heels tucking tidily into a pathway of red carpet. Once inside, we were immediately greeted with a foyer of lifts, all busily zooming hungry diners up and down to either Duck and Waffle on the 42nd floor, or to Japanese restaurant Sushi Samba, or its bar area, on floors 41 and 43. Entering the lift, the iconic Duck and Waffle emblem indicated the button for the 42nd floor, so we eagerly watched as the doorman pushed the button and sent us on our way. One side of the lift was completely clear, thick glass, affording the most magical views of London falling away at your feet as you rose higher and higher into the skyline of the capital. Tearing your view left and right, there was so much to see, especially as we visited in August, so the dusky summer evening light seemed to paint the city a rosy gold just for our special twin date.

Emerging on the 42nd floor, we were shown into the bar area to wait until our table was ready. All of the external walls were floor to ceiling and completely clear, enabling those stunning cityscape views to simply flood every nook and granny of the interior. The décor of the bar was so simplistic – very city chic – however it really didn’t need anything else. Even one hint of obtrusive decoration would have clashed with the sheer grandeur of having the sky of London at what feels like touching distance.  I loved the collection of empty jam jars hanging in a circular ornament from the ceiling, while the white and blue patterned floor reminded me of fancy china. Splashes of deep red paint added to the oriental vibe, while the completely open bar area, that saw waiters make and serve drinks from the outside of the stainless steel bar rather than behind it,  only added to the immense feelings of spaciousness.

The restaurant itself was again very simple, but with every wall a sheer showcase from which to view London, the décor had to be minimal. Mustard yellow waves covered the ceiling in a woven effect, while simple wooden tables and rustic painted wooden chairs helped to tone down the drama of the cityscape. Our table was incredible; we were pocketed in an alcove right in the corner of the room, so right next to the window-wall. We had vast views to my left, and behind me, I could even spot the spear of the BT tower piercing the clouds. It was simply sensational and very literally took my breath away. My eyes hungrily gnawed at every view and every angle I could consume, my fingers flicking rapidly to take photos. Everything was just so beautiful and just really slammed home to me why I love my capital as much as I do.

As if the stunning scenery wasn’t enough to compel a visit, we were then given the menu. We started by picking a wine, settling on a sweet and fruity Portuguese white wine. We chose this partly because it sounded lovely, and partly because it was the cheapest wine on the menu at £32 a bottle. At Duck and Waffle, service is everything, so we were greeted by our personal sommelier for the evening, who was in charge of ensuring our glasses stayed topped up at all times. He offered advice on what the Portuguese wine tasted like when we asked, and I think I accidentally gave the man a heart attack when I attempted to refill my wine glass myself later on in the evening. Rookie error on my part to be fair. The wine was slipping down very nicely, so we then turned out attention to the food.

We decided to order a few small plates to share as a starter. We kicked this off with a spicy ox cheek doughnut, which came to the table as a large circular doughnut that looked more like a scotch egg, sitting in a pool of pale brown sauce. Cutting it open however, revealed its true magic. The bulging centre of the doughnut was filled with masses of pulled ox cheek that had been cooked in a collection of Indian or Moroccan style spices to give it a wonderfully warming and rich flavour. The dark meat was delicious and enhanced by the addition of a lovely apricot jam that helped marry the spices together with a lovely sweetness. The dough of the doughnut, so to speak, was thick, soft and divine; it was even coated in a smoked paprika sugar for that traditional doughnut finish. The sauce mirrored the spices used with the ox cheek to produce something sweet and spicy. I loved dunking chunks of the bare edge of doughnut into the sauce, the sugar crunching and the doughnut absorbing the yummy sauce. A very decent size portion too.

The next starter to be ready and therefore presented to the table tapas-style, was yellowfin tuna. The small, raw pink cubes of fish were tossed together with picked watermelon, mustard, olive and basil for something incredibly light and zingy; a complete contrast to the depth of the doughnut before it. I’m not usually a fish fan, especially when it comes to raw fish, however this tuna was so smooth, so soft and so delicate, I couldn’t believe what I was eating. It felt and tasted like very tender cooked meat, but fresher. Surprisingly lovely this one for me.

For our third sharing plate, we chose the nduja and gruyere bread. Wowsers, this was impressive when it arrived at the table, sat atop a big wooden chopping board that was armed with a decent bread knife. The bread itself was a round cottage-style loaf; rustic and crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy whiteness on the inside. However, melted on top of the bread was a generous layer of diced spicy salami, with sheets of the gruyere cheese melted over the top to stick it to the bread. Jess cut the loaf into chunky quarters and we dove in. It was great that the salami flavour inundated the bread so much flavour wise, and the topping also added another texture to the bread to really give it punch. The nduja is notoriously spicy, so it was hot, but paired with the bread, it worked really well together. So soft and yummy.

Coming to Duck and Waffle, it was pretty much a given that our main course would be, yep you guessed it, the restaurant’s trademark duck and waffle dish. This included a gorgeously crispy-skinned confit duck leg, sat atop half of a round waffle. A fried duck egg sprinkled with rock salt perched on top of the duck meat, while a small jug next to the waffle held a mustard flavoured maple syrup. This dish is so elegant, yet homely and just was heaven to eat, it really was. The yolk of my egg burst merrily and continued to flood seductively across my plate, while I poured the syrup carefully over my waffle, its indents rapidly filling with the sweet yet fiery nectar. Every element of the dish was sheer perfection alone; combined it had my tastebuds celebrating with fireworks and shaking hands in congratulations. The duck was superb with tender, dark meat and a crunchy crisp skin, while the waffle was soft and sweet by comparison. The gooey egg was a great addition to help combine the flavours, and the syrup gave a nod to waffle’s sweeter, breakfast like past. What a dish. We also ordered a side of sweet potatoes, which were served with a crème fraiche sauce peppered with fermented black chilli, mint and capers. Yummy and something very different too.

Reclining in a very happy food coma state, we still had room to order dessert, and there was no way I was passing up the chance to chow down on the salted caramel choux bun, which featured a smoked hazelnut cream. The choux bun was stunning when it arrived at the table; a decadent dome covered in dark chocolate and topped with a luscious swirl of caramel cream that was studding with crispy caramel wafers. Served alongside a scoop of caramel ice cream, I dug in to the bun, and was delighted to find hiding inside the chocolate a delicious choux and a very luxurious and almost running salted caramel sauce along with the cream. It was traditional sweet flavours but they had been combined in a slightly differently way for an upmarket take on a classic dessert. I loved it and polished off my plate easily.

With some of our second bottle of wine left to drink, we were asked to leave our table for the next diners. The waiting staff informed us they had reserved us seats in the bar, so we headed back there. Turns out the seats that had been saved for us were bar stools perched next to a bar style ledge that was against one of the glass walls. As we sat down, we could see the Gherkin directly opposite us, and it was great seeing a slightly different view to the ones we had enjoyed over our dinner.

We decided that after our wine we should certainly sample a cocktail before we headed home, especially as Duck and Waffle has a very unique ‘origins’ cocktail menu, where each drink is focused around a predominant flavour. I decided to try the ‘lime’ cocktail; this was served long and included lime leaf Bombay Sapphire gin, discarded lime husk cordial, lime juice, egg white and lime ash. It was so lovely, the lime was fresh and tangy yet not really in your face or harsh in any way. It was an elegant celebration of the little green citrus fruit, the egg whites softening the edges of lime that could potentially have been too bitter. Very classy.

For me, Duck and Waffle is without a doubt my favourite restaurant that I have ever been to so far. Not only is its food creative yet simple, and executed perfectly to deliver the ultimate in flavour and taste, the whole experience of Duck and Waffle is just sensational. Its escapism yet reality; quality and luxury and opulence a stone’s throw from the commuter babble. It was prestigious, oozing that snazzy London class that encompasses elegance emulated but with a jaunty chip on its shoulder too. It was just a wonderful, wonderful evening that I will never forget.

A word to the wise though, I’m very glad I saved my birthday money for this super special outing. Splitting the bill, Jess and I paid £90 each for our treat, and although I would say it is worth every single penny, it’s certainly not something the majority of us can look to do regularly.

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.