Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Review: Dragonfly Tea

I drink a lot of tea but until recently have stuck to mass-produced tea bags - I don't even have a favourite brand and just buy what's on offer at the supermarket. But lately two companies have sent me some tea to review and I've realised there is a whole world of taste when it comes to tea - and some very different teas for different moods or times of day.

Dragonfly Tea is a family-owned British company run by a father and daughter, Bruce and Georgia, accompanied by the wonderfully named Madame Wanda, a very experienced tea trader. The company offers high quality, rare teas which are categorised on their website by type (black, green, caffeine free etc) but also by characteristic, such as calming or energising.

But there's plenty more on the website - advice on preparing tea, how to really appreciate it and best of all - in my opinion anyway - a recipe section. You can also learn a lot about the history of tea and how it is produced, and regular competitions which are worth checking out.

 I was sent a selection of tea - three types in boxes and one in a very attractive tin. I had Indian Spice Chai, Cape Rooibos, and Cape Malay Chai which you can see above.

Indian Spice Chai is an organic black tea which has overtones of the chai I had in India; it's a warm, slightly sultry blend that is good with or without milk.

Cape Rooibos is a redbush tea that only grows in South Africa's Cape mountains. It's caffeine free and low in tannin and has a natural sweetness so you don't really need sugar. I know a few people who have switched from regular tea to rooibos and swear by its healthy properties.

Cape Malay Chai is also a rooibos tea but with Asian spices blended in, but soothing rather than spicy.

Each teabag is individually packaged which gives an added element of luxury - though at £2 for a box of 20 I don't think this is particularly expensive. I also love the sense of humour or fun - each teabag has a label saying things like "Would you like to have an adventure now, or shall we have our tea first?"

Finally I tried the Jasmine Dragon Pearls China green leaf tea. This one is a bit more expensive - £6 for 50g - but it comes in a pretty tin and I think this would even make a nice gift for a tea lover. The tea leaves indeed look more like pearls than leaves and they have been infused with the scent of jasmine to make a very delicate tea. The website has tips on how to brew it to perfection.

I really enjoyed all four teas I was sent and particularly like the ease of the tea bags but the fact that they are different to my usual black tea is nice. And for special occasions I would definitely get out the tea strainer and the Dragon Pearls!

Thanks to Dragonfly Tea who sent me these samples to review.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Meal Planning Monday 2015 Week 5

I've been rushed off my feet at work and had unexpectedly busy weekend - on Saturday we drove from Surrey to Edinburgh and part of the way back as well! My boyfriend has been looking for a new car for a while and had an exact model in mind, but needed to find one with a low mileage and in his price range (second hand, but still a lot of money for a car). He also wanted to only buy one from an official dealership and eventually found what he was looking for - but the only place that had the right one was in Edinburgh! So I came home from work on Friday night to find he had put down a deposit and was planning to drive there the very next day!

We left at 4am to beat the traffic as it was a 7-hour drive, and made it to Edinburgh (including stopping for breakfast) at about midday. My boyfriend traded in his car, did all the paperwork and paid for the new one and we roared off home in a shiny new (well, second hand but new to us) Aston Martin. I'm really not a spontaneous person so can't quite believe we decided to do that on pretty much the spur of the moment and went all that way just for a day!

By the time we got home on Sunday afternoon - it would have been earlier but we stayed the night near Manchester then stopped at Bicester Village on the way back and my boyfriend bought me a nice little present, if the words Kate Spade mean anything to you - most of the weekend had gone. So the meal plan had gone out of the window but unfortunately so had the grocery shopping I planned to do this weekend! So instead I am going to make do with what we have in the freezer and pick up a couple of bits and pieces during the week then do a big shop next Saturday as we have friends visiting on Sunday.
So here's this week's plan
lunch: jacket potato with chicken (on the meal plan a couple of weeks ago but didn't have it). I want a hot lunch as I'm out in the evening at a talk about making money from your blog (I can dream!).
dinner: sandwich
lunch: tuna pasta, again as I'm out in the evening
dinner: sandwich as I'm at my cake decorating course
lunch: sandwich
dinner: BBQ chicken
lunch: sandwich unless I have time on Weds night to make anything else, but it's going to be a busy week
dinner: my boyfriend is out at work drinks so I'll have salmon and veg
lunch: sandwich
dinner: out for a friend's birthday
lunch: bacon sandwich for him, Quorn sausage sandwich for me
dinner: Slimming World fish and chips for me, sausage in batter and chips for him (on the meal plan for the past 2 weeks but still haven't made it yet!)
lunch: friends visiting so I'm going to make Persian roast chicken with walnut pomegranate sauce followed by Nigella's ice cream cake
dinner: something light eg beans on toast

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Goat's Cheese Filo Pastry Parcels

These goats cheese parcels are delicious and easy to make. We had them as our starter on Christmas day but they would also be a nice idea if you were cooking a romantic Valentine's day meal perhaps. The recipe came from the AllRecipes website and you can find the full recipe by clicking on the link.

Preparing the red onion filling:

Lay out the red onion filling and a slice of goat's cheese on some oiled filo pastry

Gather up like a parcel and secure with a piece of spring onion

Ready to go in the oven

Lovely golden brown, our starter for Christmas dinner

When you cut into the parcels, the goat's cheese is beautifully soft and slowly oozes out. The red onion is a sweet but tangy contrast that works perfectly - I really enjoyed these and am sure you will too!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Restaurant Review: Needoo Grill, Whitechapel

There are curry houses, and then there are curry houses – restaurants where people come not for the atmosphere or service or to have a romantic meal but to eat authentic Indian dishes, pay the bill – which is surprisingly cheap – and go home again, only to come back a week later to do it again.
Needoo Grill in London’s Whitechapel is one such restaurant. It’s unlicensed which means you can bring your own alcohol, and there is no corkage charge, which helps keep the cost down. The dishes are also very reasonably priced, but I find that meals in Indian restaurants really add up by the time you order poppadoms, chutney, naan bread and so on. Even so the cost was still pretty good.
I went with work colleagues just before Christmas so the restaurant was very busy, but from what I’ve read I think it’s often like that. Long tables were laid out with benches on each side, so our group sat next to another group – and it was a bit awkward climbing in and out of the benches every time someone sitting further down wanted to use the bathroom. The noise was almost deafening and the waiters were clearly run off their feet. They were perfectly friendly, but I was missing a fork and waited 20 minutes for one, by which point I’d decided to eat my starter with a spoon (and fingers) even though it was a bread-based chicken tikka roll.

I am predictable and to be honest a wuss when it comes to spicy food so I ordered my usual chicken korma for the main course. But unlike the kormas I normally have, this one wasn’t bright yellow. It was more of a reddish-brown and I wouldn’t have known it was a korma based on my previous experience – I couldn’t really taste ground almonds or coconut for instance, and at least one of those two is usually present in a korma. But this was authentic Indian food – I know from having visited India that curry generally isn’t bright yellow or red like it is in many British restaurants!
It tasted good but I have to admit I’ve been conditioned to prefer the taste of the yellow korma you find more commonly in UK Indian restaurants. The peshwari naan was lovely and the rice a very generous portion, but we had so little space on the table that I ended up piling each dish on top of the other and hoping they wouldn’t topple over.

Needoo’s is very popular and frequently listed in articles on the best curry houses in London and in some ways I wouldn’t disagree, but as it’s a bit out of the way (unless you live or work in east London of course) and the décor and service wasn’t fantastic, I don’t think I will be hurrying back. They definitely did a good job on the food though and I think ‘purists’ – those who love really authentic Indian food – won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Sausage and Mash Pie

This is an easy way to jazz up sausages and if you have a fussy eater who likes sausages, you can make them one of these while you have something else yourself like a fish pie which is what I did on this occasion.

First cook your sausages (fry or grill) then cut into chunks and put into a small ovenproof dish (I made individual pies but you could make one bigger one). Meanwhile bring some potatoes to the boil in a pan of salted water to make your mashed potato.

I had a sachet of spaghetti Bolognese recipe mix - basically a packet of seasoning - which I must have bought once to try and had never used, so I decided to make up a bit of the mix with water to make a sauce for the sausages.

Pour the sauce over the sausages.

Mash the potato and spoon over the top then place in the oven for about 20 minutes until the top of the potato turns crispy.

Serve ideally with some green veg if your fussy eater isn't that fussy!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Tea Vivre review

TeaVivre, a purveyor of fine Chinese teas, sent me another selection of samples to review. I previously reviewed some of their teas so it was nice to hear from them again.

If you haven't been to their website before I'd recommend having a look around;

- they have videos showing how to prepare a teapot, how to properly break up compressed loose tea, and all sorts of information like the health benefits of tea and how tea is made. It's an interesting read!

The first tea that I tried this time was the superfine Taiwan moderately roasted Dong Ding Oolong tea. Aside from the fact that I love the name 'dong ding', I really enjoyed this tea. Oolong is somewhere in the middle of a green tea and a black tea (which in Britain is what we consider 'normal' tea - I remember I was 18 when I learnt that PG Tips was technically a 'black tea'!). I don't generally like green tea but this had the taste of a black tea but somehow seemed much lighter - I didn't need to add any milk. It also had a slightly floral fragrance and wasn't bitter like some green teas - I normally add a sweetener to black tea but this didn't need anything.

The website has some incredibly detailed information about this tea, like the fact that it was harvested on September 10th, 2014,  in the Lugu Village in Taiwan. It also gives advice on how to brew the tea which is helpful; when I'm using loose leaves I never know how long to infuse for.

These teas are not cheap - 100g will cost $26.90 (about £17) but the website recommends you use 1 tbsp or 8 grams for one cup so by my calculation that means it would cost less than £1.50 per cup which is a lot less than you'd pay for a speciality tea or coffee in a café - and this really is good quality tea. Also, you get reward points the more you order through the site - what I really like though is that you can order samples of different teas for just $4 each so you can try as many as you like.

So on to the next tea:
Taiwan Jin xuan milk oolong tea. This tea was more of a yellow/gold colour and both looked and tasted lighter and a little creamier than the first tea I tried. It is low in caffeine. Again I enjoyed a cup of this with my breakfast when in the past I've only ever had the likes of PG Tips with sweetener and milk and never really wanted to switch. I don't think I'd have this every day but would certainly alternate with my regular tea.

Guang dong Phoenix Dan cong oolong tea was the one I tried the next day. It was quite dark and a bit smoky like a black tea - it's interesting how the leaves are different shapes, some are like little buds, these are long and thin. The website says this has the fragrance of sweet potato but my nose isn't that sophisticated - also, it's not something I would have expected!

Finally the last tea I was sent to try was Taiwan osmanthus oolong tea (flavoured). I couldn't tell what flavour, maybe a little floral or citrusy but it was definitely nice. It's quite smooth with a rich flavour though I think the Taiwan Jin was probably my favourite.

If you're a tea drinker, why not have a look at the Tea Vivre website and see which tea you most like the sound of, and order a few samples?

I was sent the tea samples to review free of charge. All comments and views are my own.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Restaurant review: Al Forno, Wimbledon

One of my earliest memories is flicking through my dad's collection of LPs and admiring the covers of the T-Rex and Queen albums. I grew up knowing he was a huge fan of both Marc Bolan and Freddie Mercury so when I saw that 20th Century Boy - the T-Rex musical - was coming to Wimbledon theatre I knew I had to take them.

The show is told partly from the perspective of Rolan Bolan, Marc's amusingly-named son, who is looking for answers about his father who died in a car crash when he was only a toddler. Then Marc himself takes centre stage and boy, does he hog the stage. The actor Warren Sollars had great stage presence as Marc, and according to my parents, was spot on in terms of his appearance, voice and mannerisms. Bolan only lived until he was 29 but packed a lot in to his short life- starting off as a bit of a hippy dreamer who married the pleasant and well-organised June, a secretary at his management company, and morphing into a glam rock god who fathered a son with American soul singer Gloria Jones. Bolan fell out with many of his friends- including legendary DJ John Peel- along the way, but even when he was revelling in the top hats and feather boas on stage, he was anxious and perhaps at times misunderstood off stage.
20th Century Boy, Get It On, Children of the Revolution, and I Love To Boogie (which I never realised was T-Rex) were the only songs I really knew, but my parents and boyfriend's mum were revelling in it (my mum bought a feather boa for the occasion). As far as musicals go, it wasn't one of the best I have seen - but that was partly down to it being a very different genre. There isn't much of what you would call typical West End show choreography; often T-Rex performed as a band, standing on a stage within the stage. It also wasn't the music of my era- but for my parents, it was a trip back in time, a chance to relive their youth and a magical recreation of one of their favourite bands combined with telling the story of the singer's life. I do recommend 20th Century Boy if you have a T-Rex fan in your life! 
I wanted to find a restaurant for dinner before the show that was near the theatre, not too expensive and would cater to my parents' more traditional tastes. I used Google Maps to browse restaurants in the adjacent streets, dismissing some as too expensive, others as I didn't think the menu would appeal. Al Forno seemed the best option by far - a broad Italian menu (more than just pizza and pasta) and very reasonably priced.
The restaurant is full of rustic charm and also full of knickknacks. Our table was next to the bar and on a slightly raised area - if I moved my chair back more than six inches I would have fallen almost a foot. Luckily we had no problems though the restaurant was quite noisy - but what can you expect on a Saturday night?

 Between us we had: insalata Italiana, a salad with rocket, spinach, mushrooms and avocado; I think my dad had the pollo al pepee funghi,  cubes of chicken breast with a mushroom and peppercorn sauce and served with cubed sauteed potatoes; lasagne; and seafood ravioli from the specials menu. The main courses were all around £8-£9; there are more expensive options like fish and lamb but these prices are typical of the menu and the portions are filling and substantial. I didn't think my seafood ravioli was as good as the version I've eaten at ASK, but it was more filling and better value. The food has a home-made rather than mass-produced feel and you're unlikely to go away hungry.

Despite the large portions we managed to make room for dessert. The tiramisu was pronounced excellent (albeit by someone who doesn't eat in Italian restaurants more than once in a blue moon), the profiteroles were a towering pile that proved too much for one person, and I finally had the chance to try cannoli, pastry tubes filled with a creamy cheesy filling (traditionally the filling contains ricotta or mascarpone). They were delicious and something I would definitely order again.
While the food at Al Forno wasn't amazing, it was tasty and filling, good value, service was quick and I'd definitely recommend it if you are visiting the theatre over the road.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Meal Planning Monday Week 4

  lamb/chicken rogan josh from last week's meal plan I didn't make as I got home too late

I'm out either at my cake decorating course or as I suspect I won't make it because I'm going to have to work late tonight

Wednesday BBQ chicken and chips for him, veg for me

Thursday spaghetti bolognese

Friday burger and chips (I'll let myself have chips once this week)

piri piri chicken with sweet potato wedges also on last week's meal plan that I didn't have time to make

Also from last week's meal plan because we ended up going out to see Queen and Adam Lambert at the O2!- the Slimming World fish and homemade chips (sausage for him) I planned to do last weekend

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Sophisticated Black and White Birthday Card

I made this birthday card for a friend who I think likes sparkly things but also has quite sophisticated tastes, so it combines the best of both worlds. I used a square white card blank then layered different papers from the same pack - a piece of patterned grey and white paper on the left part of the card, and a plain black paper on the right. Then I took a piece of patterned paper and cut out around the pattern including the butterfly, and overlaid that. Finally I took a piece of sparkly silver ribbon and stuck that where the two papers overlapped and added a black 'best wishes' sticker on the left. I think this card proves that monochrome isn't dull!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Turkey Koftas in Pitta Bread

Christmas was long enough ago that I think I can face eating turkey again! You could make koftas from any kind of mince but they work really well with turkey and it's a very low fat option compared to red meat.
These are very simple to make, and to serve two, you need:
250g turkey mince
1 tsp harissa paste
1 tsp fresh chopped coriander
to serve:
pitta breads
fat free natural yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
salad leaves
Mix the turkey, harissa and coriander in a bowl and combine well.

Form into balls and then either grill or fry in a frying pan sprayed with Fry Light until browned and the meat is cooked through (it's best to cut one in half to check).

To serve, split open a pitta bread. Mix the garlic with the yogurt and spread inside, then add a few rocket or lettuce leaves and the turkey koftas. Enjoy!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Limoncello Cupcakes

I was given some limoncello for Christmas; I like drinking it but also baking with the liqueur which I've done before when I made these cookies and macarons. What I haven't made yet is limoncello cupcakes - until now!
Recently we had some last-minute visitors who came round to see our new house. About 40 minutes before they arrived, I thought it was a shame I didn't have any cake to offer them and wondered if I could whip up a small batch of cakes in just over half an hour. It turns out you can, but only just!
I used a recipe from a book called Make Bake Cupcake, which has some really inventive cupcake recipes. As usual, I changed the recipe a bit. Here's what I did to make six cupcakes:
You need:
90g self-raising flour
60g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 egg
3 tbsp. milk
3 tbsp. limoncello
for the frosting:
1 egg white
75g granulated sugar
2 tbsp. limoncello
100g icing sugar
100g butter, softened
Preheat oven to 180C and line a 6-hole muffin tin with cake cases. I used yellow to go with the lemon flavour.
Cream the butter and the sugar then add the egg and mix well. Fold in the flour then add the milk and limoncello and beat well.

Spoon the mixture into the cake cases and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes. Allow to cool afterwards.

The recipe for the frosting didn't quite work for me so I ended up adding a lot of icing sugar though I wasn't supposed to. This isn't a buttercream exactly -even with the icing sugar it has a slightly different consistency and tasted really good.

Put the egg white and sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk for five minutes. Add the butter and whisk until you have soft peaks. Add the limoncello then add as much icing sugar as you need to make it a spreadable consistency so it isn't too runny.

Swirl the icing onto the cupcakes. It was at this exact moment that our visitors arrived so I quickly slapped some icing on each cake with a spoon and didn't have time to make them look pretty! They did taste good though.

I'm sending this to Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter she has chosen this month is L.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

10,000 Steps A Day? Ozeri Pedometer Review

I'm trying hard to stick to my diet and do more exercise in January - and for the foreseeable future - and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Exercise is an important part of my week - not that I enjoy it at all, but I go to the gym at lunchtime as often as I can, and see a personal trainer twice a week, and walk just over a mile to the train station most mornings rather than drive.

I wondered how much good that walk in particular was doing me and whether I am doing the recommended 10,000 steps a day and if I wasn't, whether making sure I got to 10,000 would help my weight loss. So I was pleased when I was offered this Ozeri 4x3 Razor Digital Pedometer for review.

The only pedometer I've used before was a very cheap one that counted steps every time I so much as breathed, or at least that's what it felt like. So I was impressed by how many functions and how accurate this one was.

It comes with a detailed instruction leaflet explaining things like how to set your stride length so the pedometer measures the distance you have covered in km as well as steps. You also set the date and time which is a great function- as well as telling you the time when you glance at it, the pedometer keeps track of how many steps you take each day. When you pick it up for the first time in the morning it has reset to zero.

The pedometer claims to be the world's thinnest and lightest and I barely noticed I had it on. It comes with a belt clip and according to the website also a lanyard though I didn't see a lanyard in the packet and now I read there was meant to be one I wondered if I missed it but I have now thrown the packet away! A lanyard would have been useful as I mostly wear dresses to work and had nothing to clip it onto other than my sleeve, where it looked quite obvious. My office pass is on a lanyard so I found myself wearing that around my neck and clipping the pedometer to it.

If you are on a bus or train or driving, you can hold down the 'mode' button to effectively pause the pedometer and stop it from counting steps when you are standing on a packed train trying not to fall over every time the carriage rocks (or is that just my commute?). That's a really good idea, but I found it hard to remember to press the mode button every time I got on a bus or train (I take at least two of each every day). You've also got to make sure you wear the pedometer somewhere that is accessible, e.g transfer it from your waistband to the lapel of your coat.

I also discovered that the screen isn't backlit so when I got into the car on a few occasions and it was dark I couldn't see whether I had held the mode button long enough (a little padlock appears after you hold it down for a few seconds).

I think this pedometer is streets ahead of a lot of others on the market, but technology has moved on so fast. I keep reading about the 'Fitbit' and similar devices which you wear on your wrist - which I would find a lot easier than trying to find somewhere to clip a pedometer - and which can monitor your heart beat, your sleep pattern and connect in with your phone to let you know when you have an email. Admittedly they cost a lot more but I do wonder if the days of the traditional pedometer - no matter how lightweight it is - are over. If you're in the market for a pedometer though (after all, a lot of people don't want complicated technology) then I would recommend this.

This was from the weekend where I forgot to put it on for half the day!
Other days I walked over 10,000 steps, honest!

So how did I do? I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was walking just over 10,000 steps a day on weekdays - on weekends it was rather less, but it didn't help that on Saturday I forgot to put my pedometer on until lunchtime! Again I don't think I'd have had that problem with a wristwatch style device as I always wear a watch. Now my challenge is to increase how many steps I take a day and see if it has any impact on losing weight!

Disclaimer: I was sent the Ozeri razor pedometer to review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Frying Pan Tortilla Pizzas

This is a really easy lunch or dinner idea when you fancy a pizza but haven't got one in the freezer - and don't want to order takeaway. I got the idea from Serious Eats; it's very easy to make.

All you need is a flour tortilla - one per person. Spray a frying pan with Fry Light and spread the tortilla with a little passata or tomato puree.  Place the tortilla in the frying pan. Add some grated cheese, and whatever pizza toppings you fancy - I did ham and pineapple with a little blue cheese that was left over from Christmas.

Heat in the frying pan for a few minutes until the cheese starts to melt and the tortilla starts to turn crispy, but make sure you aren't burning the bottom! You can finish this off under the grill or in the oven if you like, to turn the cheese a little more golden, but I don't think it's necessary and I like the idea of a one-pan meal!

I'm sending this to Credit Crunch Munch, hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours, as this is a much cheaper option than ordering a takeaway!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Meal Planning Monday 2015- Week 3

While I said that I only put on half a pound over Christmas, it turned out that I put on 2 pounds the following week, which included new year - I had two big buffets that week and some leftovers. But I was back on track with last week's meal plan, which if you remember was lifted directly from Slimming World magazine (with a few tweaks where I didn't like the suggested meals). I didn't stick to the meals in the right order for various reasons I won't bore you with, and I did go out for dinner one night, but I did otherwise stick as much as I could to the meal plan. So I was really disappointed when I put on another half pound! I'm full steam ahead with the healthy plan again this week, though I am out for the first two nights which means I can't cook a healthy dinner at home.

I'm really excited though as I'm starting a 10 week wedding cake course! I love cake decorating lessons as you may know from the ones I've blogged about. I took a novelty cake decorating class at my local adult education college SCOLA a couple of years ago, then last year enrolled on their sugar flowers class starting in January 2014, only for them to cancel at literally the last minute - I only found out when I phoned the day before to check what I needed to bring! Undeterred, I signed up for their wedding cake course starting this January, and this time rang up before the college broke up for Christmas to find out what I needed to bring... only to be told it had been cancelled. Sigh.

Luckily I managed to get a place on another wedding cake course not too far from me, at South Thames College in Tooting. That's pretty much on my way home from work - the only problem being, with the SCOLA course I could go home (by train, as I work in the City and live in Surrey), get the car and whatever equipment I needed, drive to the college and drive home again with my decorated cake. Now I will have to take whatever I need into work in the morning and carry my cake home on the tube and bus! Still I'm really looking forward to it and intend to blog about the things that I learn over the weeks.

What's this got to do with meal planning? Well, now that I will be taking this class every Tuesday I will have to take a sandwich for my dinner and try to eat a more filling meal at lunchtime. I'm also out on Monday this week at an event hosted by Ladies in Blogging; check them out if you are London based.

Breakfast poached eggs and smoked salmon
Lunch leftover beef stew from Sunday night
Dinner out at a blogger event - will take a sandwich

Breakfast poached eggs and smoked salmon
Lunch jacket potato with chicken
Dinner out at my cake decorating course - will take a sandwich

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch  sandwich
Dinner Leek and macaroni cheese from Slimming World magazine - as it is for me, with sausages (and the pasta as the side dish) for him

Breakfast cereal or porridge
Lunch sandwich
Dinner lamb rogan josh from Slimming World magazine

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch leftover curry
Dinner piri piri chicken with sweet potato wedges from Slimming World magazine

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch cheese on toast which we were going to have a few weeks ago but didn't. I might make mine like this
Dinner Slimming World fish and chips for me, sausage in batter and chips for him. Dessert: rich chocolate mocha mousse from SW magazine.

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch/brunch eggs baked in bacon cups with baked beans and toast
Dinner chicken filo pastry pies

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Restaurant Review: Gordon Ramsay Maze

As a fussy eater I’ve always steered clear of tasting menus. I love the idea of sampling the best that the chef has to offer, with multiple courses of exquisite small portions – but the problem is, I wouldn’t usually eat most of it. But a friend and I both had things to celebrate – we’d both recently bought houses and she had just gotten engaged, so we wanted something a bit special. She’s tried many different tasting menus and gave me a few ideas of places she wanted to go and I visited each website and looked at what was on the menu. I know, I know, I’m really fussy! There were some where I would be paying about £100 for an eight or nine course meal and would only eat two of the courses listed. There were others that were a little better – and I know you can ask to switch the named dishes as people might be allergic, and frankly if you are paying that much money you ought to be able to say ‘I don’t like that, can I have something else’ – but I couldn’t really do that for the entire menu!
At the same time, I felt like I might be missing out on something really good, so I continued looking at tasting menus until I found one where I liked almost everything that was listed (aside from a few accompaniments to the main dish, which I thought wouldn’t matter too much) so the decision was made – we were going to Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant.
It was surprisingly easy to get a booking for the date we wanted, though the restaurant itself was very hard to find. I came into Berkeley Square and without knowing which side of the square it was on, stood only a few metres down the street on the same side of the road. But as it was dark, I couldn’t see the small menu board outside the restaurant at street level, and as I was on the same side, I couldn’t see the steps that led up to the entrance with a doorman. It’s good that the restaurant doesn’t have a big garish sign announcing its presence but at the same time I was quite flustered – and late – when I got there!
English breakfast
I was so busy catching up with my friend and asking about her engagement and wedding plans that I think I would have been happier ordering from the main a la carte menu – as each dish from the seven course menu (eight if you include the amuse-bouche) came, I felt that the waiter was interrupting us! The service was excellent and the waiter explained each time what was in our dish as he put it down; he also checked at the start if either of us wanted to switch any dishes for something else, and my friend said she didn’t like venison so had duck for that course instead.
yellow fin tuna with Iberico ham and avocado puree
We started with a selection of what tasted like crispbreads and vegetable crisps and houmous though I can’t remember what any of them were – in fact I think I’d forgotten as soon as the waiter left our table! I’ve got the online menu to rely on to jog my memory for the other courses at least. The first was described as ‘English breakfast’, so I was expecting a cup of tea perhaps – instead it was an entire (mini) English breakfast inside an egg shell! It had baked beans, bacon, mushroom and scrambled egg I believe, all beautifully presented – but as I can’t stand baked beans or mushroom I let my friend have mine as well. So much for checking I liked everything on the menu! It was surrounded by a bed of dried noodles which I tried but they were a bit strange, I assume we were meant to eat them and they weren't just decoration but I wasn't really sure!
Foie gras mousse with pain d’epices, pears and Sauternes gel
The following courses were much more to my taste however. We had: yellow fin tuna with Iberico ham and avocado puree;
Foie gras mousse with pain d’epices (gingerbread), pears and Sauternes gel (a jelly made with a wine reduction) – the gingerbread and pear went really well together;
Halibut with truffles, burnt leeks, Jerusalem artichoke (I tried the artichoke, which I’d never eaten before, and it wasn’t something I was keen on but the halibut was lovely);
Venison haunch, with raspberry and celeriac;
Halibut with truffles, burnt leeks, Jerusalem artichoke
Sundae with blackberry, apple and custard;
Profiteroles with chocolate, Baileys gel and ginger – this was served with little chocolate balls which contained ice cream and almost exploded in our mouths as we bit in to them. This course was really indulgent and delicious though at this point I was very full!
Venison haunch, with raspberry and celeriac
Each plate was actually more substantial than I was expecting – I had anticipated very tiny portions and while they were smaller than if you had ordered one as a main course, I would say they were more like starter-size; so by the end of the seven courses I couldn’t eat another bite!
Sundae with blackberry, apple and custard
I really enjoyed the experience though it wasn’t cheap - £75 for the tasting menu, plus drinks and tip – there is no way I would have had the food with the wine pairings at £165 and actually preferred to drink water with the meal, after a cocktail to start. It was great to try so many unusual textures and flavour combinations. Maze has a Michelin star making this I think only the second or maybe third time I’ve dined at a restaurant with a Michelin star (the other was Galvin La Chapelle, and I think as a child taken by a wealthy friend of the family at a place called Howard’s House in Wiltshire) so it was certainly a memorable experience. Next time though I’d be tempted to pop next door to the Maze Grill for a really good steak!
Profiteroles with chocolate, Baileys gel and ginger