Tag Archives: restaurants

Can Vico revitalise Cambridge Circus? (Absolutely yes!)

I met my wino at the opening night of Dehesa many moons ago and we’ve been delightfully happy and scarily well fed ever since. But those heady days of going to the opening of the latest, well, envelope, are far behind us. We do eat out a lot still (you don’t get our fine figures without a significant amount of three course + wine dinners) but suburban life has put a bit of a dampener on being able to go to every opening or wine tasting or whatever.

However, when you get an invite (through the wino) to the opening of a new restaurant from the team behind Bocca di Lupa and Gelupo, you really can’t say no. Particularly when the food and drink is free all night. So last night, on a torrential Monday in August (gotta love British summers) we found ourselves at Vico.

Vico is soft launching this week – check out its social media channels (Facebook / Twitter/ Instagram) to find out details of how to get to one of this week’s events or head over to Cambridge Circus from next week when it’ll be officially open to the general public.

Vico takes all the skills and techniques of the formidable Jacob Kenedy and transports them to a format that’s right for the location – effectively Italian street food. Vico is in that formerly chain zone of Cambridge Circus, on the site of what was probably a Pizza Hut or Frankie & Benny’s. It’s one of those locations that Londoners avoid (unless you’re walking from Soho to Covent Garden) – just filled with tourist tat and not particularly appealing. However, a Polpo opened there recently, the refurbed Ivy has just reopened around the corner and it’s hopefully coming into its own now.

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The food is sold by the weight and features several different varieties of arancini – and as you’ll know from a previous post, I love me some arancini. We had two black squid arancini – I’d thought these would be my favourite but I found them a little underseasoned for my taste (I will admit that I’m a bit of a salt junkie so this may just be me). We also had the beetroot and goat’s cheese, hazelnut and blue cheese varieties and these were all amazing – the risotto rice was cooked beautifully and they were served warm and unctuous.

On top of that, we tried the prosciutto and mozzarella pizza with rocket, a salad of some grains (I didn’t see what) which you could add rabbit to and a endive salad with parmesan and some lovely bacalao fritters. Oh and a fancy Italian sausage roll which was layers of crunchy pastry around some beautifully flavourful pork. Probably my favourite. For all the food in the image at the top of this post, and 500ml of red wine, our bill would have come to about £45 – not bad at all.

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We washed this down with 500ml of red wine – wine is on draft and sold by the carafe. You can get a 250ml or 500ml. They also have prosecco on draft which I didn’t realise until much too late but I literally cannot wait to order me a pint of prosecco. There’s also beer, soft drinks, Campari and various other spirits but I stuck to the wine. It was Monday, goddamnit. I’m not sure if they removed the seating for the event because I’m pretty sure I saw some stools hiding around the back, but it would be good if there was some seating.

Rather than trying to be Bocca di Lupo 2, Vico offers a range of beautifully prepared, simple Italian finger foods that you eat at standing/perching tables, rather than sitting down for a full meal. It’s perfect for the location – quick for a good pre-theatre bite, great for families and probably quite nice for a quick dinner with friends. Will most definitely be back. Regularly.

Gin, erotic French poetry and a plate of meat

Last night, I had one of those lovely, random nights that happen every so often and for me often happen in Soho!

My sister in law, Abbi, had mentioned that she was going to check out this women’s networking club called The Trouble Club. She’s got a brilliant idea to create a women in wine group (more on which as it gets confirmed) and this seems like the perfect location at which to hold it. Being a big fan of The Libertine magazine, which has been putting on events at the venue since it opened in February, I was keen to go with her and check it out, so we arranged to head over there last night to meet the founders and check it out. We met early and wandered down Carnaby Street, with a quick  pop in to Monki for emergency new clothes. Obviously not an emergency, but I am very much loving my new ridiculous trousers.

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We then had a swift glass of wine and a gossip at Shampers (terrible name) and then headed up to the second floor of Kingly Court to get involved in some Trouble.

A little bit about The Trouble Club – it’s a newish women’s club, which is open to use as a hotdesking space during the day and hosts interesting talks and events in the evenings. At £10 per month, which includes £10 credit to use for events, it’s incredibly good value and as a freelancer, something I’ll definitely consider signing up to.

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Last night, Anne Pigalle kicked off her UK tour at the venue. The Trouble Club site describes her thus:

In a pioneering evening of expression, eroticism and exploration The Trouble Club is excited to be kicking off the tour of Anne Pigalle – The Last Chanteuse from Paris. With an international career spanning from Madame Jojo’s and Ronnie Scotts in their 80s heyday, through to Trouble today, Anne is taking us back into the heart and soul of Soho. The Amerotic salon will draw together Anne’s artistic, poetical and musical roots in a unique and interactive program infused with performance, poetry and pornography, from lecture to life-drawing. We would never claim to have met our match, but Anne Pigalle knows how to cause some trouble…

So not really knowing what to expect, we headed up and settled in with a vat of gin and tonic.

Let’s remember here that I’m with my sister in law in a room full of strangers, listening to a gorgeous French woman read her poems and sing her songs, which featured a lot of erotic imagery, it definitely started off a little awkward. By the time we’d enjoyed a couple of the Bloom gins though, we were getting into it as you’ll see from the picture below, I found myself blindfolded whilst one of the other guests read me a quite filthy poem!! Anne Pigalle is a fascinating woman and you can read more about her on her blog. She’s on tour in the UK for a couple of weeks, if you get the chance, do check her out.

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After Anne finished, we hung around for a little longer to chat to the founder, Joy and some of the people who had attended the event and then decided to go grab some dinner. One of Abbi’s colleagues, Simone, was at Damson & Co just around the corner.

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Damson & Co opened when I was working in the neighbourhood. It’s on Brewer Street, right in the heart of Soho and a pretty low lit, intimate venue where you can grab a coffee and cake during the day or wine and tapas style food in the evening. The charcuterie board looked incredible – all the meats are sourced from British suppliers, so we had some of each – although sadly they’d run out of the smoked duck. I was veggie for a long time from my teens to my 20s and I still find some of the gamier meats a little too rich/deep of flavour to eat. However, the venison charcuterie was incredible, as was the ham, chorizo and salami. I do love a good board of meat.

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We also ordered the flatbreads – two varieties, one with mushrooms and onions and the four cheese one. These were like little worthy pizzas, on a brown bread base, stacked high with toppings. Sadly by this point, I couldn’t face eating too much (having stuffed myself silly on meat) so only had the mushroom one.

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We had a bottle of albarino to wash it all down, then finished off the evening with a cocktail – I had an amazing old fashioned, Simone & Abbi had a pink pepper gin and tonic. The manager brought my old fashioned over with an apology that it was a little sweet – by this stage however, everything tasted good to me, but liked that he would have happily remade it if I’d asked!

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The bill came to just over £100, which for the amount of food we ate and the booze we drank, was ridiculously good value. Will happily go back there again and again.

Lunching out: Barrafina

I have mentioned before I have a huge extended family – lots of cousins, second cousins, third cousins once removed, aunts, uncles and other non-blood but still family, family members. And I love it, it’s great to be part of a big old clan that’s spread out across the world.

However, my darling husband has a much smaller clan so I think the shock of becoming part of mine took a while to get used to but they do love him dearly (and I think he’s quite fond of them!) This week by way of making up for the amount of time he spends with my lot, I made plans to hang out with his elder sister, Joy.  Joy and I share a lot of the same interests so it’s lovely having a new friend to hang out with, And when I say the same interests, I mean we both love food and we don’t mind a glass of something winey to go with it. We’re simple folk.

We decided to have a day out in town, the theory was a spot of lunch followed by a bit of culture. However, we got our gossip hats on and ended up two bottles of wine down with our only nod to culture being a swift peruse of the beautiful clothes in Cos. Where I’ve found what may be the perfect dress for Marcel’s other sister’s wedding this Autumn, isn’t it lovely? Such an awesome colour and a cute pleat in the back. (sorry for the crappy screen capture image but follow the link above to see it).

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But lunch was incredible, despite the lack of culture – we got to Barrafina just before midday and were first in the queue so we knew we’d get a seat. We started with a glass of txakoli whilst we listened to the specials and made our way through the menu.

If you’ve never been to Barrafina before, it’s a beautiful little tapas place in the centre of Soho that seats about 20 around an L-shaped counter so you have to get there early if you don’t want to queue. The food is never less than amazing – I don’t think I’ve had anything I don’t like there. The bar is placed around the cooking stations, so you can watch food being prepared and perv over the attractive staff. Not that we did that of course, we’re much too sophisticated. Honest.

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So we decided to go with a couple of the specials and a couple of old favourites from the menu. We ordered the chiparones, a fennel, radish and cherry tomato salad, the ribs, an amazing tempura monkfish and a dish made up of three of my favourite all time ingredients – chickpeas, bacon and spinach. What’s not to love?

The chiparones were the first to arrive, which is always good because they’re the perfect snacking food. Little bite sized morsels of squid, with a little squeeze of lemon – just lovely. I would say they needed a smidge more seasoning but I do like salt a little too much so that could just be my palate, and also it’s not one of those places that refuses to give you salt or pepper to add. So not really a complaint.

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We then got the monkfish with the fennel salad – a perfect partnership. The monkfish is one of those dishes I’d have as my final meal – lightly tempura-ed, covered in a spicy mango salsa – every mouthful was a delight, just beautiful. And it went perfectly with the fennel salad, which was fresh and clean and elegant. Even the tomatoes and we know I’m not a big fan of tomatoes.

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The chickpeas came next with the ribs. I think the ribs were the biggest disappointment, and even they were still good. I think we hadn’t quite considered how big it would be and whilst they were cooked perfectly and the meat came off the bones easily, the sauce was a little too sweet – I think I should learn to listen to the specials more closely, rather than being blinded by pig. I also forgot to take a picture until we’d started digging in so this is half way through eating.

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The chickpeas, bacon and spinach were in a light broth, perfectly spiced and seasoned. With a few chunks of bread to mop up all the incredible sauces (and a carafe of Albarino to keep us chatty), it was a great way to while away a couple of hours on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Looking forward to my next day out with my sister in law!

Breakfast and lunch and breakfast and lunch again

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time breakfasting and lunching in places other than my own house and instead of boozing and stuffing a burger in my face on the tube on the way home. Sometimes I’m so proud of myself it is difficult to not know why minions aren’t strewing the street in front of me with rose petals as I walk. Man, that would be some fine times.

Anyway, here are a few of my favourite places to stuff my face with sensible breakfast and lunches. Well, I say sensible, french toast features quite heavily in my breakfast chows so you know, artery clogging but not responsible for gigantic hangovers. Possibly just a sugar crash or two.

Kopapa Café

I love Kopapa. It serves beautiful and elegant dishes that use interesting flavours and spices. After a particularly gruelling early start to a Tuesday morning, I decided to treat myself to lunch there. The menu is varied – you can get fry ups (eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding etc etc) but I’m sure they’re far from bog standard. There’s also more interesting options such as avocado toast with chilli, goat’s cheese, mint and lemon oil or chorizo hash with sriracha chilli sauce. Or even a good looking fruit salad, that I did suffer slight food envy pangs about  but as I wanted a treat, I sacked off all pretence of eating healthily and had spiced banana french toast, grilled bacon, orange blossom labne, tamarind raisin relish and orange vanilla syrup.

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Other than the nuts in the banana bread (which I know are a normal inclusion in banana bread but I have a weird hatred of nuts in sweet things) it was delicious. The labne was a little bit tart but by simply ensuring you had enough of the syrup in the mouthful, it worked so well. Couldn’t taste any tamarind (or raisins, weirdly) but there was definitely relish on the toast.

My only complaint was that as a solo diner (breakfaster?) I had my Kindle out and was reading whilst I ate. Seeing me pick up my Kindle, despite having at least half a slice of french toast left, one over zealous staff member started clearing my plate away. But I soon grabbed it back, muttering curses under my breath. She never came back to my table again. I wonder if these two things are connected? Also, I had to reign in the crazy when a man walked in who was the spitting image of Muvatu from Zoolander. Really wanted to know if it was ironic or high fashion but don’t think I could have coped with either answer, so instead I giggled at him from behind the safety of my Kindle. I’m bad people.

At £15 for two coffees and breakfast, it was a little on the steep side, but you do get a lot of food for your money and I probably didn’t need to eat again till dinner time. But that would have been ridiculous, so I did.

The Riding House Cafe

I worked around the corner from The Riding House Cafe when it first opened and still love going there. One of my favourite times there was arriving before my dear friend Cat and ordering a bottle of pink fizz. Ah, the laughing she did when she got out the picture of her baby scan to announce her pregnancy, leaving me to drink the whole bottle myself. We also had a lovely time there with another good friend and his then new, now well established other (and definitely better) half. So, I’ve had some lovely times at RHC. It was with the same dear friend Cat that I went to RHC again recently, this time for a much more sensible breakfast (and no booze).

It’s a much more ‘normal’ breakfast menu at Riding House than at Kopapa. Eggs Benedict, kedgeree, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Still, if something works, why change it?

I had the challah french toast (does twice in a fortnight make this an addiction? I fear so) with maple syrup and a side order of bacon. Cat had the smoked salmon scrambled eggs which looked amazing. I should probably say here that a side order of bacon is more like an actual side of a pig. I assume this is for the table to share but given Cat doesn’t eat meat,  it was all for me. And ever so nice it was too. However, whilst the breakfast was lovely, nothing really stood out. It was just good – no complaints but also nothing to rave about (apart from the size of the bacon side). With a couple of coffees and a juice, the bill was around £25 for two. And a lovely place to while away a couple of hours gossiping with a buddy (despite the mildly terrifying squirrels taxidermied to look like they’re running up the light fittings). And forgetting to take photos. Sorry about that.

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar

A couple of years ago, ramen took over London and you could barely turn a corner without splashing into some bone broth and or being chased by noodles. And with the ramen came the ramen bores, talking about the ageing on the bones, the quality of the broth, the right combination of noodles/egg/meat/veggies etc. And whilst I agree it’s an artform, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. However, when Bone Daddies opened a couple of years ago at the end of Soho’s sex alley and Berwick Street market, I thought I’d give it a go. Mind actually blown. And whilst there are plenty of other places that do great ramen, it’s always Bone Daddies for me. Any place with cock scratchings on the menu has to be good, no? I generally go for the Tantamen ramen but I’ve tried a few and they’re all good. And definitely good value for money. So go, get your ramen on.

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The Ivy Market Grill

Back when I first started working in London, which was a very long time ago, The Ivy was the place to be seen (and to celeb spot). Yet for me, on a minuscule first job salary, it had to be an very infrequent treat. The Ivy at it’s original location is currently being refurbed (and the original fixtures and fittings are being auctioned by Sotheby’s, which I’m pretending to not know because I really want one of the chairs but definitely cannot afford it, Maybe I’ll go for one of the napkins instead?) The Ivy Market Grill has opened not far from the original location, offering the same sort of menu and the same dining experience. I popped there for a quick lunch with a buddy and we both just had main courses – no wine, no desserts, nothing. The risotto was one of the best I’ve eaten, pea and asparagus with goat’s cheese. Neil had the chicken salad. Our bill was £30. Quite steep for a quick lunch but definitely worth every penny so maybe save it for a treat.

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Chowing down in Goa

Finding an ‘authentic’ Goan meal is probably much the same as trying to find authentic tapas on the Costa del whatever – because the economy is so dependent on tourism, the beach side shacks and hotel restaurants are simply catering for the tourist trade, so feature chips, burgers and Russian salads extensively. And I’m not complaining too much – there isn’t actually anything better than a plate of salty chips and a Kingfisher whilst sitting by the pool. However, after a few days, all I wanted was a well spiced (ie not watered down for the tourists) curry or just something a bit different. And maybe a menu that wasn’t just in English and Russian.

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So we spent a lot of time looking at Trip Advisor for the best restaurants in Mandrem – and found that the place across the road from Jamboree Creek was voted sixth best in the area – and given that we’re hugely lazy, 6th best was OK by us.

Rotisserie at Fritchy

So when you look at Fritchy on Trip Advisor, the dishes look a bit like this.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g1010240-d5966356-Reviews-Frichty-Mandrem_Goa.html
http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g1010240-d5966356-Reviews-Frichty-Mandrem_Goa.html

When we arrived, however, there was one gigantic table stretched out across an open courtyard with a chalkwritten menu that suggested that there was only one thing on offer – rotisserie chicken with roasted corn and bread. And booze, obviously.

I love nothing more than a simply spiced roasted chicken so we decided to stay. Long story short, the owners decided to try something new and this new Fritchy had only opened three days prior to our visit. And my god, it was good – really simple, well cooked, lovely bread and even a passable Indian wine (Sula, should you be looking for a wine when you’re in India). And to be honest, whilst the fancy pants fine dining experience would have been nice, this felt more in keeping with our Goan vibe – much more chilled, a great way to meet new people on the shared dining table.

You have to get there early as once the chickens are cooked and sold, that’s it. The owner/chef was only making three a day because of the quiet season so if you’re there after 7.30ish, you may not get fed.

It’s also incredibly good value – at 600rupees per chicken dinner with booze on top of that, you’re eating out for less than £4 per head.

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A sublime dinner at Sublime

Having missed out on fine dining at Fritchy (in favour of roast chicken- no great loss), we asked Priyanka for her recommendations of places to eat locally. What we were actually looking for was beach shack type authentic Goan cuisine of curries and fish and stuff, but we were convinced by her to try out Sublime in nearby Morjim – a fusion restaurant combining the best of Goa, France, Japan and lord knows where else but all deliciously tasty. Given that the final bill came to about £20 per head, including a lot of cocktails and three courses, it was fantastic value for money. If you’re in North Goa, it’s definitely worth a trip there – we arrived too late to see sunset but imagine it would be glorious from one of the beach tables. The restaurant itself is small – probably only 40 covers but beautifully decorated with a boat hanging from the centre of the room (by way of lighting I think!) and what looks like a raised platform with a mattress and mosquito nets where you could have an intimate cocktail or two with a loved one. My memory is rubbish but the one thing you have to try is the Paan Martini – my god, that cocktail. I dream about that cocktail. Also the ginger battered calamari starter was insanely good and the banana leaf fish. And according to the wino, the prawn starter with risotto was amazing but clearly I couldn’t try that. We shared a dessert platter which is basically three of the four desserts, full size, to share. Mon dieu. Delicious.

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The End of the World

We finally got our beach side authentic vibe on Mandrem beach at The End of the World. The wino ordered prawns, I had chicken xacuti, both were fabulous and best eaten watching the sunset whilst enjoying a beer. However, this was the place that had removed the fish eyes when they brought out the plate from which to entice you to choose, so I’m not sure how fresh they were. However, the chicken xacuti was amazing and would have been a trip highlight, if we hadn’t had better at Casa Susegad, made by the lovely Joanita.

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Zeebop at Urtoda beach

Our final beachside lunch was at Zeebops at Urtoda beach. Recommended by the lovely chaps at Casa Susegad, Zeebops was probably the best seafood we had all trip – beautifully cooked fish that the four of us shared, a lovely quiet beach and great company – as well as a sighting of Bollywood star, Karina Kapoor, having a photoshoot on the beach that day. Lovely.

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