Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Restaurant Reviews: Vienna, Austria


Filled with images of Mozart, opera houses, Sachertorte and hot chocolate I booked a few days’ trip to Vienna with my boyfriend. I was a little underwhelmed by the Spanish riding school (as we watched a practice rather than a performance but it turned out to be just exercise for the horses) and the boat trip we went on, but really enjoyed walking around the city centre, standing on the top of one of the cathedral towers and visiting Schonbrunn Palace and the zoo. At Schonbrunn I watched an apple strudel demonstration which will be a blog post for another day!
We ate in some very good restaurants but at the same time found it difficult to choose places to eat. Vienna doesn’t seem to have chain restaurants of the kind we have here – I don’t mean fast food, of which it has the usual suspects of McDonalds and so on, but the mid-market chains we have here like Ask or Zizzi. I think on the whole that’s a good thing but we felt we had little choice between hotel restaurants or random establishments advertising Wiener Schnitzel (all claiming to have the best one in town, funnily enough) and an awful lot of sausage-based dishes, and if you haven't looked at reviews on TripAdvisor in advance you have no idea which ones are good or bad. I saw a few restaurants from other cultures such as Chinese and Thai (neither of which my boyfriend likes) but again, comparing the town centre of Vienna to the centre of London with its myriad of restaurants was very different

Schubertring 7, Vienna
The day we arrived in Vienna was the four-year anniversary of the day my boyfriend and I met (all together now – awww). I wanted to go somewhere special for dinner so looked at the top rankings on TripAdvisor and chose Dstrkt, a steak restaurant inside the Ritz-Carlton hotel. It was absolutely the right choice fantastic food, great service and the sort of experience you want for a special occasion.
The Ritz-Carlton is near the Stadtpark and was only a ten minute walk from our hotel. We went in the hotel’s main entrance rather than the restaurant entrance and were politely directed to where we needed to go – in perfect English. This was one notable factor of our trip – everyone in Vienna spoke perfect English. I speak near-fluent (but a bit rusty now) German but my boyfriend doesn’t, so I often spoke to people in restaurants, ticket offices and so on in English so he would understand – and I was amazed at the command of English I heard everywhere. In Bratislava in Slovakia on the other hand, the only woman working in the train station spoke neither English nor German!

We were greeted at the restaurant in the sort of way you would expect a high end business traveller would be – not two slightly bedraggled tourists as we were. I had contacted the restaurant in advance by email to ask if there was a dress code as I was a bit worried we were only bringing casual clothes to Vienna and they replied right away and assured me that was no problem. As it was, I managed to pack a nice frock but my boyfriend was wearing trainers and nobody batted an eyelid. As we were shown to our table near the window my only complaint was that the subdued lighting was so subdued that I needed to use the torch on my mobile phone to read the menu!
There were several cuts of steak available, mostly in 300g portions, or 600g for two to share, but the filet also came in a 180g portion. I ordered the 300g and wished afterwards there had been something in between – 225g or 250g perhaps – as 300g was a bit much but I don’t think 180g would have been enough! There are several other main courses such as a burger, lamb, veal cutlet, perch and trout, and two vegetarian options- butternut pumpkin risotto and vegetable gratin. The restaurant does advertise itself as a steakhouse so it probably wasn’t ever going to have the biggest choice for vegetarians.
I was impressed at the variety of side orders on offer; my boyfriend had fries and béarnaise sauce and I went for spaetzle, a sort of pasta half way between a noodle and a dumpling – it tastes a bit like gnocchi. I used to eat it a lot when I lived in Germany many years ago and loved it. It came in a separate small bowl in a cheese sauce and was so filling I had to leave half of it.

I didn’t particularly want dessert but my boyfriend has a very sweet tooth and wanted the chocolate fondant, so I ordered sorbet. We were told his fondant would take 10-15 minutes to make and it was perfectly gooey in the middle. The restaurant didn’t have a huge selection of desserts and the special was cheesecake (plain) – I was warned it was a large portion and when I saw it arrive to someone else’s table I was glad I hadn’t ordered it! The pear sorbet was particularly good in terms of both flavour and texture though the mango was good but didn’t stand out. My boyfriend’s only complaint was that his chocolate fondant was too small!
Wine by the glass is served in 0.1 litre measures which is 100ml – very strange compared to the 175ml or 250ml I am used to getting at home. It feels like you have just a few sips in the bottom of a glass and does last longer than you expect – I was savouring a very good red – but invariably you have to order another to even feel like you’ve had a proper drink! This was the case in most of the restaurants we went to so I imagine this is typical of Vienna, but I was quite surprised initially and thought perhaps this was a wine tasting menu!
Overall we had a wonderful experience at Dstrikt. The bill came to about 150 euros so it is something to be saved for a special occasion, but I would not hesitate to go back.
Philharmonikerstrasse 4, Vienna
I couldn’t go to Vienna and not have Sachertorte. It’s a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam and covered in chocolate ganache, decorated with a chocolate seal bearing the name of the Sacher hotel, or the word Sacher piped in chocolate across the top. It was invented by Franz Sacher in Vienna in 1832 for a member of the royal family, and there is even a National Sachertorte Day in Austria – December 5.

The Café Sacher is part of the Sacher hotel, the hotel established by the son of Franz Sacher which has trademarked the name of the cake as the original. The café has a separate entrance to the hotel and when we arrived at midday on a Friday, it wasn’t at all busy. We were shown to our seats- bar stools at a high table, which I never like due to being quite short! We ordered two pieces of Sachertorte and two hot chocolates and our order arrived within just a couple of minutes – I imagine most people here order the same thing! We had wanted to eat lunch here but there were only a few savoury dishes on the menu so we decided to get a snack later somewhere else.

I was disappointed by the cake – it was a little dry, and I actually preferred the Sachertorte I’ve made myself before! It was great to taste the cake in its original setting though I drew the line at paying 30 euros to buy a whole cake to take home when I know I can make it myself!
Kartnerstrasse 25

After cake at the Café Sacher and treating ourselves to a star to go on top of our Christmas tree at the flagship Swarovski crystal store, I decided I was still a little hungry and wanted something savoury after all. Luckily my boyfriend wasn’t hungry which gave me the perfect excuse to go somewhere he wouldn’t like- Nordsee. Nordsee is a fast food café and takeaway with one key difference to the likes of McDonalds – they only serve seafood. You can eat in and enjoy fish and chips or a fried fish sandwich, or choose a box of prawns to take away.

When I lived in Germany more than ten years ago, I was a junior reporter for a news agency and usually helped myself to bread, ham and cheese from the free staff kitchen for lunch, but loved to go out and pick up something from Nordsee as the occasional treat. My favourite was always the box of breaded prawns and potato wedges, with seafood (cocktail) sauce on the side, and I was glad to find that more than a decade later they still offered the same thing, for less than 5 euros. They didn’t seem to have anything that wasn’t fish so it’s lucky my boyfriend didn’t want anything to eat at the time!
Baeckerstrasse 6, Vienna
While the recipe for Wiener Schnitzel is believed to originate from Italy, it has been fully claimed by Austria as their national dish. A schnitzel is a piece of thin meat in breadcrumbs and deep fried – pretty simple, but very tasty. A Wiener Schnitzel has to be made from veal, but pork is commonly used as it is cheaper – though in that case, it can’t strictly be called a Wiener Schnitzel.
Figlmuller has been serving Wiener Schnitzel for over 100 years, and is said to be both the oldest and best Schnitzel restaurant in Vienna. For that reason I was keen to try it. I asked at our hotel reception one evening if we would need to book, and the concierge said they didn’t take reservations we should be OK as it was already 8pm. The restaurant on Wollzeile was only a ten minute walk but we were turned away as it was full. Instead, the woman at the door suggested we try the sister restaurant around the corner- which was opened in 2001, so it doesn’t have the same history, but at least it is the same recipe. Unfortunately, there was a long queue outside so we gave up and went somewhere else.
The next night we decided to try again, but at the much earlier time of 6.30. Again, the Wollzeile restaurant was full – we heard the woman at the door tell a pair of tourists that they were booked for the next three days. Booked? I thought Figlmuller didn’t take bookings? Obviously the information given to us by our hotel concierge was wrong (shame on you, Hilton!) – there is even an online booking button on the restaurant’s website. By that point we really wanted to eat here, and had trouble finding somewhere else to eat the night before and didn’t want to do that again, so joined the queue outside the Baeckerstrasse restaurant around the corner.
My boyfriend really wasn’t happy – he hates to queue for anything, and dislikes restaurants that don’t take bookings (it was lucky he wasn’t with me the time I queued for nearly three hours in the early days of Meatliquor!), and he had never eaten Schnitzel before and didn’t even really know what it was. Oh, and it was raining. Luckily, as he hadn’t seen anywhere else he wanted to eat on our previous walks around town, and I shot down his idea of returning to Dstrikt due to the price, he begrudgingly agreed to queue. Thankfully, we only had to wait 20 minutes for a table, though in that time several groups came past and sat down who had obviously had a reservation (once again, thanks Hilton!).
I ordered the Figlmueller Schnitzel, which was pork, rather than the more traditional but more expensive Wiener Schnitzel; the main reason was that I understood it to be their speciality because of the name. The Schnitzel was absolutely huge – it covered my entire dinner plate and hung off the edges! My boyfriend ordered the chicken Schnitzel which was almost as big. He chose fried potatoes from the list of sides and I had the traditional boiled potatoes with parsley, which were delicious. The Schnitzel was very tasty and my boyfriend is definitely a convert; mine was so large that I couldn’t eat half of it though which was a real shame. I think it would be good if they offered a smaller portion!
The meals are well priced – around 11 euros for the Figlmueller Schnitzel and 19 for the veal. Our total bill came to about 45 euros with one glass of wine and a soft drink and tip. This is certainly Vienna’s oldest Schnitzel; whether it’s the best I really couldn’t say, as I didn’t eat it again while I was there, but it was very good and it was worth queuing to get in. I would phone ahead and make a reservation next time though!

Sightseeing is tiring, and combined with the fact that we visited Vienna in November when it got dark at about 4.30, it’s no wonder that we retired to our hotel room most days around 5pm for a rest (and usually a nap) before going out to dinner. One day I slept so long – partly as a result of having had toothache in the afternoon and taking painkillers that made me drowsy – that it was nearly 8pm by the time I woke up. It felt too late to go out for dinner and remembering the amazing meal we had at a hotel in Amsterdam, my boyfriend suggested we order room service.
The menu seemed quite sparse – which wasn’t really the case, but I didn’t fancy steak or burger or Schnitzel. I really wanted pasta but wasn’t keen on the way that option was presented on the menu. It listed four types of pasta – spaghetti, penne etc – and then said ‘and choose your sauce’, or words to that effect, and had neapolitan, pesto, and two other options I can’t recall. What I really wanted was ravioli with a delicious filling and penne with pesto wasn’t really doing it for me. Instead I turned to the fish, but again it was quite plainly presented – I chose salmon, without knowing if anything had been done to it or if it would literally be a plain piece of fish (which is probably something restaurants should offer, for people on a diet!). In case it needed something more I chose two side orders, of parmesan risotto and seasonal vegetables. I think this was the first time in several days I had so much as seen veg!
For that reason it was a bit disappointing that the portion of vegetables was so small, but I can’t fault the presentation. Our meals – my boyfriend unsurprisingly ordered the burger, with a chocolate brownie to follow – was wheeled in on a trolley and the metal domes that were keeping our plates warm lifted off with a flourish. Rather than have two side dishes as I was expecting, the salmon had been placed on a bed of risotto with the vegetables carefully placed on top. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure what half of them were! There was one small carrot on the top, some tiny root veg that were a pale purple in colour and some that looked like baby onions but tasted nothing like onions. Very odd! The risotto was a little underdone with too much bite in places but other parts were excellent and the salmon was beautifully cooked.
My boyfriend said his burger was good but didn’t blow him away but he was most disappointed by the chocolate brownie, as it contained large pieces of nuts. He doesn’t like nuts and was surprised the menu didn’t mention it- I suppose people with nut allergies would ask before they ordered anything, but there are plenty of people who just don’t like nuts and would order it then find they didn’t want to eat it. So I had no problem polishing it off even though my boyfriend had been the one to order it! Don’t feel too sorry for him though – we had quite a haul of Ritter Sport and Milka in the room we had bought to take home!

We had breakfast in the hotel every day as it was included in the room rate. My boyfriend had a cooked breakfast some days – though he wasn’t that keen on the sausages which I think were veal, and he didn’t realise the ‘roasted potatoes’ were actually hash browns so he missed out on those. I prefer continental style breakfast and was pleased to see they had German Wurst and cheeses on offer, as well as various pastries. There was a cereal station with yogurts and fruit, and also an Asian breakfast area with dim sum and miso soup and so on, though I didn’t try any of it. What we were most excited about was the station where a chef was cooking waffles.

The first day my boyfriend queued for us both, and the chef asked the 6 people in the queue what they wanted all at once, then cooked everything, but forgot my boyfriend until he was the only person left in the queue (even though he had been third of 6) and then said 'sorry,. what did you want again'? and only then started cooking ours. According to my boyfriend he also burnt someone’s pancake so had to make it again, which held up the process. The second time we had breakfast it was a lot better but I only realised when I was waiting that the man in front was having fried eggs that there was another option as I could only see the waffle maker. And when I left the breakfast room I saw someone eating French toast which I assume must have come from the same place, so I think they could advertise better what the freshly cooked options are. The waffles and pancakes were very good; I’m not sure what the hotel charges for breakfast and it I had to pay for it I would probably go to Starbucks, but since it was included we ate breakfast in the hotel every day and I thought it was good.

The hotel's location is perfect - just across the road from the Wien Mitte/Landstrasse U and S bahn station and where you can also take the direct train to the airport in 16 minutes. Also the hotel is only a ten minute walk from the cathedral and historic centre of Vienna. This was overall a very good hotel, and I would stay here again.

Restorante Enoteca Firenze
Singerstraße 3, Vienna

The night that we couldn't get into Figlmueller was pouring with rain so after deciding not to queue for the restaurant we headed into the centre of town towards the cathedral. We perused a few restaurant menus on the way, but as my boyfriend is very fussy, and I didn't want Schnitzel as I planned to have that the next day in Figlmueller, we were struggling to choose somewhere to eat. We also didn't come across a huge number of restaurants despite this being the tourist centre of the capital city - rather like walking between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus in London, but there you would find dozens of restaurants and it didn't seem to be the case in Vienna.

Finally we saw a sign for an Italian and ducked in, shaking our wet umbrellas on the doorstep. We almost didn't take in our surroundings until we were seated. The restaurant is part of a hotel, though I didn't realise that at the time. It was very quiet - it was 9pm on a rainy weeknight - and the décor was interesting, with frescos on the walls and a statue in the middle. I later learnt from the website that it's designed to resemble a renaissance palace.

We didn't get off to the best start, as we waited about ten minutes for a menu then heard the couple behind us - who had already been seated when we arrived - ask the waiter for a menu with some degree of annoyance. He brought them a menu, and not us, and when I caught his eye he was all 'oh, would you like a menu as well'?

Luckily things picked up from there. We were brought a bread basket - actually, a wooden box - and the food was excellent. My boyfriend only ever orders pizza in Italian restaurants and was disappointed to find there were no pizzas on this menu - it was posh Italian. He didn't know what to order, but I'd made us spaghetti carbonara a few weeks before - literally the first time he had ever eaten it - and he enjoyed it, so he ordered that. He said it was very good and the portion was very filling.

I had cappelletti pasta (like ravioli), filled with ricotta cheese in a creamy sauce with parma ham rolled up and placed on top. It was delicious but not a big portion; I didn't want a big meal at that time of the evening and we declined the dessert menu but I would think normally eating here I would want two courses.

Having stumbled across the restaurant we had no assumptions that it would be any good but the food was excellent and on the way out, we noticed a wall full of photos of people who had dined here - presumably famous people, though I didn't recognise any of the names apart from Jose Carrera. I guess a sign that this place serves high quality authentic Italian food.

Kulinariat, Vienna airport

We had a late lunch before getting our flight home and decided to have a more substantial meal than just a sandwich. The breadth of the menu here appealed; my boyfriend was able to have a burger (as usual) whereas I had bratwurst with sauerkraut. It came with a few boiled potatoes so was a fairly plain dish but still nicely presented, and it tasted very good - a real taste of Austria.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014 - Week 48

I'm having all four wisdom teeth out under a general anaesthetic this week which I am really not looking forward to - I've never been in hospital before so am terrified. Also, I won't be able to perform the Carmina Burana with my choir as the concert is only a couple of days after the operation and I don't think I will be able to sing. I was planning on having friends over at the weekend which is still going ahead providing I don't feel too bad, though I might not be able to eat properly still by then!

There is plenty of food in the freezer my boyfriend can have whatever he wants to eat this week.

Schnitzel with sauerkraut - on the menu plan for last week but we didn't have it. Inspired by our recent trip to Vienna.

I can't eat after 11am becuase of my operation so I will have a cooked breakfast and then won't be able to eat for the rest of the day, which won't be fun - I don't like to miss meals!




Hopefully I will feel better by now but I'm not going to specifically plan meals until I know whether I will be able to eat properly! Today is my choir concert but I've had to drop out; even if I am basically OK by today from Tuesday's operation I have been told to expect stiffness, soreness, bruising and swelling for up to two weeks so I don't think I am going to be able to sing. It might be OK but I can't really wait until I am on stage in front of hundreds of people to find out!

Hopefully I will be feeling better as I had invited friends around for a Thanksgiving dinner which I still want to go ahead! As there is a vegetarian and possibly a vegan coming I'm making several dishes. I've decided to do two versions of meatloaf as the main course as that's quite an American-style recipe, alongside sweet potatoes and potato wedges, with two desserts - pumpkin pie and chocolate cake. I hope I feel up to preparing all that food but with any luck I will be OK by Friday or Saturday and my friends won't mind if I look a bit bruised still on Sunday!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Fluff

I have so many cookery books now that I tend to only buy ones or ask for them as a gift if there is a specific reason - either a brand or chef I like, such as the Hummingbird Bakery, the Great British Bake Off or Nigella - or because they are focused on a specific type of cooking, e.g. vegan desserts as I have a vegan friend I like to bake for. So the fact that I bought a random cupcake book in The Works was quite unusual, but I just couldn't resist.

The Works has very competitive prices - often better than Amazon, and there are plenty of books I want there at the moment that cost just three or four pounds. This one - called Make, Bake, Cupcake - was £5.99, reduced from £14, and it was just such a pretty book with some very inventive recipes. I'm sure I will be baking more of them at a later date!

When I first flicked through, I mentally bookmarked one for hot chocolate cupcakes, because I have a set of cupcake moulds that look like cup and saucers, and I thought this would work perfectly for that recipe. It had slipped my mind until I saw my Alphabakes co-host Ros, aka The More Than Occasional Baker, had made some hot chocolate cupcakes from a different recipe as her entry for Alphabakes, as the letter this month is H. So I decided to dig out the recipe I had been planning to use and make them today; they are a quick and easy bake for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

At least, they were easy because I didn't follow the whole recipe; the book explains how to use white chocolate to use an edible case for the cake which is a brilliant idea, but I wanted to use my cup and saucer moulds. Also, the cakes in the book are topped with chocolate ganache, but I wanted to use my marshmallow fluff (thanks to Ros for reminding me) that I received in my latest Degustabox.

Here's what I did.

To make six large cupcakes, you need:
60g self-raising flour
40g cocoa powder
pinch of salt
60g softened butter or margarine
100g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla flavouring
1 egg
4 tbsp. Carnation Cooking Crème (also in my last Degustabox) or 4 tbsp. milk
to decorate:
6 tbsp. marshmallow fluff
mini marshmallows (optional)

Preheat oven to 175C.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer. Add the vanilla and egg and beat until light and fluffy.

Add half the flour and the cocoa powder and the Cooking Crème or milk, and fold in. Then fold in the rest of the flour.

Spoon the mixture into six cupcake cups. I only had three of the cup and saucer moulds - there were four in a box but I think one got thrown away after a party as someone thought it was rubbish. I also bought these cute baking cases at the Cake and Bake Show; they look like little cups or pots.

Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool, top with marshmallow fluff and a marshmallow.


 These cupcakes are really chocolately and light and fluffy, and definitely remind me of drinking a cup of hot chocolate!


 I'm sending these to Alphabakes, which this month is hosted by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Why Are Food Start Ups So Popular?

It’s fair to say that the UK hasn’t always had the best reputation when it comes to food. However, over recent years the nation has witnessed something of a culinary renaissance. Now, Britain boasts many of the world’s best restaurants and most highly renowned chefs, and it offers a tantalising array of cuisines.

One of the hottest trends at the moment is food pop ups. These temporary eateries are springing up in towns and cities across the country, to the delight of discerning diners. If you’re in search of these contemporary restaurants, you’ll need to keep your ears and eyes open. Blink and they’re gone. Luckily, it’s possible to get the lowdown on these novel venues by visiting websites such as Squaremeal. There, you can find information concerning all manner of dining establishments.

 Meanwhile, here are just some of the reasons why people are flocking to pop ups in their droves.

Something different and exciting

One of the major draws of these temporary restaurants is the fact that they offer something different and exciting. Often, they’re advertised at the last minute and in unconventional ways. In some cases, a matter of days before the opening, word goes out via social media. This helps to create an air of secrecy and exclusivity that punters can’t get enough of.

 Menus are frequently kept top secret until the 11th hour too, and venues have included everything from disused hospitals to ballrooms and alleyways.

 Lower prices

Another reason why foodies can’t get enough of pop ups is the low prices they often boast. OK, so we’re not talking dirt cheap. After all, the dishes on offer can be high-end. However, compared with equivalent quality meals in conventional restaurants, they can be much more affordable.

 Great food

Some of the country’s best chefs are showcasing their skills in these short-term establishments. These talented individuals are keen to connect with different audiences and to show their food off to people who may not otherwise experience it. Also, pop ups give cooks a chance to try out different styles and to be more experimental in their approach.

This can all translate into tasty treats for hungry diners, who get to sample delicious, innovative culinary creations from uber talented chefs.

Given the popularity of these restaurants, you’ll need to be quick off the mark if you want to reserve tables at them. Some last for a few weeks or longer, but others are around for a matter of days.

This is a sponsored post

Friday, 21 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Moo Grill, Aldgate, London

We nearly didn’t make it to Moo Grill. It was my colleague Jo’s leaving do, and somehow she’d got it into her head that I am a vegetarian. I’m about as far removed from vegetarianism as you can get so it was quite a bizarre mistake to make. She decided to go to Dishoom, a posh Indian restaurant in Shoreditch, as it had a lot of vegetarian options, but when she was unable to get a booking, spent quite some time searching around for another suitable venue and settled on Mexican. A passing comment about how it would be good for vegetarians, and my polite response along the lines of ‘that’s nice’, made something twig and minutes later an email went out informing the group that because I’m not vegetarian after all, we can go to the restaurant that Jo actually wanted all along – a steakhouse.
It was a mid-week evening so fairly quiet in the restaurant, and we were their last customers – the staff didn’t seem to mind that we were still there at 10pm and in fact service all night was very pleasant and patient, with the waitress not seeming to mind a large group who had had a few drinks taking a long time to order. The restaurant is very small, seating only 30 (though they have three other locations around London). The outside is unprepossessing, with a large red sign and a small doorway nestled between two shop fronts, but inside it has a cosy, even romantic rustic feel with a wood bar and exposed brick walls. The menu is quite colourful and doesn’t suggest this is a particularly posh restaurant – but London has plenty of upmarket, very expensive steakhouses and there is definitely a place for a lower price bracket steak, done well (rather than well done). And this is just that.
The chain is Argentinian, where they know their steak, and starters and desserts also have an Argentinian feel. For example, chorizo or empanadas to start, and flan casero (crème caramel), panqueque (pancakes) or Don Pedro, ice cream with a shot of liqueur. A large part of the main menu consists of gourmet sandwiches – I thought it a shame they didn’t have a separate lunch and dinner menu, but then again, some people might want a sandwich at lunch time while their dining companion wants a steak. There are also dishes including pizza, chicken Milanese, or an aubergine dish for vegetarians (it’s lucky I’m not a vegetarian, as it would have been that or a sandwich or salad). However, everyone in our group went for the steak.
The steak is sold by the 100g, with a 200g minimum – though you can’t have half portions eg 250g. I wasn’t really sure what constituted a decent sized steak so ordered 300g of sirloin, at £7.95 per 100g. It was a fairly substantial steak and some people who had ordered 200g regretted their choice – though with the side orders and starters we had plenty of food. I tried empanadas to start, sharing a ham and cheese and a beef pastry with Jo – at only £2.10/£2.30 they are a bargain, as one makes a decent sized starter and they tasted delicious, particularly the ham and cheese. The steak was cooked to my liking and was very good; the chimichurri mayo with the fries was a nice touch though you do pay an extra £2 for the privilege (ordinary mayo and ketchup are free). None of us made it as far as dessert, perhaps due also to the bottles of very decent red wine we polished off during our meal.
Moo Grill is a little off the main route, about half way between Liverpool Street and Aldgate stations, and it’s nothing fancy – but it has an authentic feel and is worth a visit.



Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Pink Ombre Wedding Cake and How To Make Pink Sugar Flowers

pink three tier wedding cake
Pink three-tier wedding cake
- How to make a pink wedding cake
- How to make a pink ombre cake with each layer a different shade of pink
- How to make realistic sugar flowers
- How to decorate a pink cake
- Can you freeze cake
..... all these questions will be answered in this post!
This cake was a real labour of love so I think deserves a big blog post. It isn't actually a wedding cake but I think would work very well as one, perhaps with another one or two layers. I made it for a bake sale at work that was raising money for Breast Cancer - the charity with the pink ribbon campaign, so the theme was pink. The bake sale was meant to be a 'bake off', judged by a senior member of staff with a prize provided by a local business, but for various reasons the competitive element was cancelled. I wish I'd known that in advance as I might not have spent so much time and money on making this cake! Even so I'm very proud of it, it helped raise a good amount of money for charity and it's great to be able to share this cake and how I went about making it with you all.
To begin with I made the sugar flowers; as I was making them from flower paste they were intended to harden and I knew I could make them at the weekend (the bake sale was on Thursday and I knew I wouldn't have time during the week).
I bought various things after watching a sugar flower demonstration at Cake International two years ago that I still hadn't used so it was about time! Here you can see an Iris petal cutter which I used to cut out some large petals from Renshaw's pink flower paste.


Here are stamens and florist tape - the only non-edible part of the flowers.

I also had two smaller Iris petal cutters which I used for the inner petals. Take a few stamen and bind them together with the florist tape then take your first petal and wrap it around the stamens, quite tightly at the bottom but more open at the top. Start with a smaller petal and place a few of these around the stamen, overlapping each one.

Then add a couple of the bigger petals and curve them outwards at the edges. I placed them on this drying rest; they dry hard quite quickly. Keep whatever flower paste you are not using covered up.

I made three of these, but in the end could only fit two on the cake.

I also used this blossom flower cutter to make some smaller flowers to cascade down the side of the cake. I've explained in more detail how to use the cutter and embosser on this post on wedding cupcakes.

I made a whole pile of these and left them to dry.

As for the cake: I wanted to make each layer of cake a different shade of pink so I thought it was important to use a simple sponge recipe. I went for a 6/6/6 cake - that is, 6oz of flour, 6oz caster sugar and 6 oz butter, and 3 eggs. The sponge turned out really well, very light and tasty.

I made several quantities of this cake mixture and used more for the first few layers as I was using a bigger cake tin; so in total I made three batches of this cake mixture but it wasn't evenly used across the three tiers of the cake. I didn't make a note of exactly what quantities I used for each cake unfortunately!

I used Sugarflair pink colourpaste for three of the layers and fuchsia for the fourth. I added a tiny amount of the pink to the cake mixture and spread a very thin layer on the bottom of a greased 10-inch cake tin, and baked that in the oven for about 12-15 minutes.

I then added a little more of the same pink food colouring to the cake mixture left in the bowl and repeated the procedure. I did that one more time with the pink (I think at this point I had to make more cake mixture) and then finally I used fuchsia for the last layer.

You can really see the difference in shades when they came out of the oven! My three-tier cooling rack came in very handy.

 For the final tier I made a very small cake in a 5-inch cake tin and did a marble effect, combining a spoonful of pink cake mixture with a spoonful of plain until the tin was filled.

As I knew I was going to be too busy in the days leading up to the bake sale, there was only one thing for it: I was going to have to freeze the cake. I looked up how to do this on the internet and discovered that you can't really freeze frosting but the actual sponge cake should be fine. Wrap each layer in clingfilm and carefully place in the freezer.

I would never been able to do this with the freezer in my last house as it was quite small, and had drawers which wouldn't have been wide enough for the biggest layer of cake. But when we bought the new house we treated ourselves to an American-style freezer (partly as my boyfriend wanted the ice dispenser but two months later it still hasn't been connected to the plumbing!). One real advantage is that the shelves are very deep so I had no problem sliding my layers of cake into the freezer. And rest assured the cake tasted absolutely fine when it came out of the freezer!

So the night before the bake sale I assembled the cake. I made a simple buttercream which I coloured pink and spread it very thinly between each layer of the cake.

I had to level off one layer of cake as it wasn't quite flat but otherwise the layers were all relatively uniform, and definitely came out in different shades of pink!

I was limited by having to carry this in my cake carry case to work so I made the bottom tier four layers thick and then covered it in pink fondant from Renshaw.

The next tier was two layers but the layers were thicker. The final cake on top didn't come out of the tin very well and left a chunk of itself behind which is why the top looks quite uneven.

I thought that covering the whole cake in pink was a bit much, plus I had some specific decorations in mind, so I covered the middle layer in white fondant.

I bought these printed sugar paper decorations from Culpitt after seeing their stand at the Cake and Bake Show. They are really easy to use - pre-cut circles you just pop out of the page. They are edible and the circles were a variety of sizes and patterns which I thought would look nice around the side of the cake, on the white layer. I also bought some pink ribbon from the same website to put around the pink layers.

So finishing the cake was quite easy. I didn't bother using dowels between the tiers - I never have done, though some people say it's essential. I'm doing a wedding cake course next year so hopefully I will find out more!

After covering each tier of the cake separately, I placed one on top of the other, securing with some buttercream in between. I wrapped the ribbon around the top and bottom layers and secured with some edible glue, and stuck the sugar paper circles around the white layer, again with edible glue. I placed two of the large sugar flowers on top and secured them with royal icing, and used royal icing to stick on the smaller flowers so they would look like they were cascading down the side of the cake. I was really pleased with the final result!

There aren't many blog challenges this month that I can share this cake with, which is a shame, as it doesn't fit any of the themes. But I can send it to Cook Blog Share, hosted by Lucy at Supergoldenbakes. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Polo 24 Hour Bar, Liverpool Street, London

Polo bar by night
A 24-hour café does not normally conjure up images of good food. Late night kebabs, or somewhere to wait at three in the morning for the bus to the airport, perhaps. So it’s probably a good thing that the first time I went to Polo bar opposite Liverpool Street station that I didn’t notice its slightly dubious credentials. We went for breakfast – once every three months, I have to be in the office shockingly early, getting in a car around the time that a lot of Londoners are still out drinking. By the time 9am rolls around, we have several hours work under our belts and are in need of caffeine and a cooked breakfast. Before I joined, Polo bar was the regular venue for this team breakfast (possibly as it’s very close to our office); since I’ve been here however, I have been gently encouraging my colleagues to try other venues – and not just so I can write a review. I’m on a hunt for the best breakfast in the area.
Since my first breakfast at Polo, where I had a slightly disappointing sausage sandwich (nice bread, not enough sausage), I’ve been back for lunch, dinner and for evening drinks (not all on the same day). It’s the lunch that I’ve decided to review.
But first the café itself. It doesn’t look much from the outside – a small entrance, a huge sign declaring it to be a 24 hour establishment (how on earth did I miss seeing that the first time?) and a lot of white tiles on the wall as you enter which is vaguely reminiscent of either a toilet, or a tube station. It is deceptively big, with three floors, and some quirky touches like retro signs. Perhaps they were current rather than retro when they were put up – Polo bar has been here since 1953, “before rock ‘n’ roll was even cool”, its website proclaims. It had a makeover/refurbishment earlier this year.
The breakfast – possibly the main event – is served 24/7 and includes some tasty-sounding options such as eggs royale (poached eggs with smoked salmon and spinach) as well as favourites like the full English and a breakfast bap. Its pancakes were voted London’s best by the Evening Standard. If you’re going for lunch – and don’t want breakfast for lunch – there are six burger options with lots of additional toppings, sandwiches, and more filling choices like fish and chips, chicken in a basket and a couple of salads – nothing fancy, no ideas above its station, but traditional British café fare with a modern twist. I ordered the fish finger sandwich, which came on a bloomer (£5.50), with cheesy bacon chips as a side.
Unfortunately, having been spoiled by the hanger fries (with cheese, onions and burger sauce) at the nearby Diner in Spitalfields, I was expecting a lot. Whereas the Diner fries were covered in melted cheese more akin to a cheese sauce (even if quite yellow and artificial in colour, it was heaven),  Polo’s cheesy chips had cheese melted over them which had then cooled and congealed, so it was hard to separate the chips and I ended up peeling cheese off them. When you do eat the chips with the cheese on they are quite dry and rather than adding anything I think the cheese actually detracted from the fries. Which was a shame, as the fish finger sandwich was really good.
After writing this review I also went for drinks that turned into dinner as well; I had 'chicken in a chicken basket' which I thought was a typo, but the chicken pieces came in a wire chicken basket - the kind you store eggs in! It was very crispy and a little too well done for my liking but the chips - sans cheese this time - were fine. It's not somewhere I would make a point of coming for dinner but if you are here for drinks the food is fine.
I’m unlikely to be here at 3am so can’t vouch for what the ambience or service is like in the middle of the night but this is a friendly, low-key place and a nice change from chain cafes up and down the street.