Tag Archives: Reviews

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.

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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.

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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Lovely Loutolim and Casa Susegad

I’ve mentioned it a few times but it deserves a post all of its very own so here’s week two in Goa and our stay at Casa Susegad. 

The entrance to Casa Susegad

Beautiful ornate entry

The wino and I require very different things from our holidays – whilst he’s happy to lie on a beach or by a pool for a solid fourteen days, moving only to dip in the pool or go to sleep, I get a little bored of this after… well, usually a good 12 hours. So we agreed that week one would be beachside and week two would encompass a little more culture. What I hadn’t put into this equation was how much Goa would make me into a gigantic beach bum and as such, I was quite happy to sleep and hang out on the beach and not do much else.

We’d booked our week at Casa Susegad based on the lovely i-escape review and amazing Trip Advisor comments and thought it would give us a different pace of life from Jamboree Creek and Mandrem.

And that it did. We got a car from Mandrem to Loutolim – it’s about an hour and a half away but the vibe couldn’t be more different. It’s in a little village where there’s nothing apart from monkeys in trees and a Friday market. When you’ve been in a place where it was rare to see an Indian face and even rarer to see anyone over the age of 40, it was nice to be somewhere that felt more removed from the tourist trail.

You’re greeted by lots of dogs (and Carol and Norman, the owners) and whilst I won’t pretend to remember all their names, my two favourites (ie the ones who paid me the most attention) were Basil and Lisa – just lovely friendly dogs that hung out with the guests all day long. Don’t fall for their food begging though!

The balcao

There are only five rooms at Casa Susegad but the house itself is palatial. All the rooms are situated around the pool, with the bar close by too. We were in the pink quartz room – and very pink it was as you can see below. The floor tiles were gorgeous too – discovered when the work was being done to the house and left in their original state. Loved them.


The terrace Glorious floor Pink room

Next door to our room were the turquoise room and the sunshine room. Norman and Carol live in private quarters in the main part of the house and in the opposite wing is a full size snooker table and a large dining room, as well as a lounge where you can escape the heat and read or watch TV. We shared a terrace with our turquoise neighbours and got to know them really well – fabulous fellas.

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Having spent most of the previous week just speaking to the wino, it took a couple of hours to get used to the openness at Casa Susegad – because the rooms surround the pool, you get used to speaking to your neighbours and having drinks with them and then sitting around the dining table to eat with them. And we loved this – it was so friendly, the owners are delightful and had old friends staying (who I mentioned before) so it felt very much like you were staying with friends. I wonder if I can say ‘friend’ another time in this sentence? Terrible grammar!

The pool is bordered by jungle – literally. You can see all manner of beautiful birds and families of monkeys jump across the roof to steal figs from the tree in the front garden. I’m sure there are creepy crawlies and snakes in them there woods but we didn’t see anything so I’m going to pretend they weren’t there. Oh, apart from a flying beetle that was the size of a small bird. That wasn’t terrifying at all.

The pool

Dinners at Casa Susegad are full three course affairs, with food whims taken in the morning and cooked up by Joanita to please all the guests. Admittedly, we hadn’t realised how little there was to do in Loutolim so whilst the meals are lovely and worth every penny, it’s best to budget as though you’re going to eat there every night as there aren’t many nearby places to enjoy a more cost effective meal. It’s great sitting around the gigantic dinner table, getting to know your fellow guests and shooting the breeze. Dinners can either be served on your terrace or in the main dining room – we mostly opted for the terrace it was slightly less formal but both are lovely experiences.

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Norman and Carole know the region really well so can happily help you plan days out and arrange drivers and recommend places to eat. With our turquoise room neighbours, we went to Margao for a day of exploring including a fantastic lunch at Longuhino’s. And as previously mentioned, Helen took me out for a day to Panjim which included lunch at Hotel Vineet, the home of the Goan revolution. The nearest beach is 20 mins drive away and worth it for a day out, it’s beautiful and the food at Zeebops is amazing.

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I’d happily go back to Casa Susegad – it’s a great location for chilling out, reading by the pool and enjoying some delicious cocktails and dinners. The staff are super friendly and on hand to help with anything you need. It’s also a small hop skip and a jump to the airport so even if you don’t want to spend a whole week in the jungle village, consider spending a couple of nights there before you fly, it’ll leave you feeling ever so zen. Particularly if you indulge in one of the massages, so very good.

And that’s my last Goa post. Sorry for being so indulgent but there was so much to share. Cannot wait for our next trip!

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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