27 January 2015

Jo Malone Blue Agava & Cacao and Wood Sage & Sea Salt

Jo Malone is a perennial favourite - the stylish glass bottles and the achingly cool black and white boxes alone are enough to get many people reaching for their purses and wallets, let alone the fragrances within. Whilst I love their branding, their product itself never appealed to me - until now.

I'm the kind of girl that's drawn to the musky, deeper, vanilla and chocolate end of the fragrance scale. I've worn the same perfume - this Dior Addict - for ten years (with Jean-Paul Gaultier's Classique and Coco Chanel Noir as backups) but after dropping into Jo Malone with my mum at the weekend, I wouldn't mind adding to my collection.

After chatting to Kate about our likes and dislikes, lots of spritzing of the various perfumes, and me practically biting her hand off at one particular perfume, she sat us down to give us a complimentary hand massage. Unlike most other perfumes on the market, Jo Malone's are built to standalone or to be layered on top of each other in a whole manner of different combinations.



Using a combination of the shower gel, body creme and the perfume itself, she layered their newest fragrance Wood Sage & Sea Salt (which, unsurprisingly, is in the 'Woody' family) with their Blue Agava & Cacoa (underneath the 'Floral' family but is undeniably chocolatey) and it just sang. The intense top notes cooled down to a sexy, sultry clean but cocoa scent that lingered well in to the evening.

It's the perfect grown up combination that can be dialled down for daytime or amped up for evening wear. And I think these two may just have been added to my 'If anybody wants to buy me something for Valentine's Day list...'

Although I am also hanging on for the launch of their limited edition Rock The Ages perfumes - five fragrances set to different period of British history. I like the sound of the Tudor Rose & Amber and the Birch & Black Pepper but will just have to wait until the 19 February to find out.


19 January 2015

Duck and Waffle

Some people set sensible resolutions: 'I'll work out', 'I'm doing dry January', 'I'll eat well'. I didn't set myself any of those unless you count my interpretation of eating well to be eating at great places rather than turning to the rabbit food. It's been a mixed bag so far but this week really kicked things off - first with a great meal at Tozi and then with what was firmly one of the best meals I've ever eaten at Duck and Waffle.

Our late night reservation had been weeks in the making so by the time Saturday night rolled around, I was raring to hit the lift up to the 40th floor and survey my stomping ground below. For the uninitiated among you, Duck & Waffle sits pretty on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower and is open 24/7 so whether you're in need of a morning pick me up, a late night lounge or simply in the mood for a cocktail, this place ticks all the boxes. Just perhaps avoid if you're afraid of heights.


Luckily for us, S and I are huge fans of high places and we decided to raise a toast to our fantastic little corner table which gave us views across the city in two directions (seriously, try and nab one if you can, I promise you it's worth it). And of course, we had to break bread. Fresh out of the oven and deliciously hot nduja and gruyere bread, naturally, before choosing what else to feast upon.

Like a lot of places at the moment, Duck and Waffle is all about the small plates. Big enough to share, not enough to overwhelm and just the right amount to make you fall in love, they came thick and fast from the open kitchen and had us speechless in appreciation.


We kicked off with the achingly smooth Angus beef carpaccio which comes garnished with small spots of truffle, foie gras and pecorino - combinations of woody, earthy flavours that compliment the mild meat brilliantly. This is a dish I could happily eat for the rest of my life. Next up, the roasted octopus - succulent octopus combined with the meaty, almost tomatoey flavours of melting chorizo were melded together with lemon and caper for a bit of bite and mixed with potatoes. I gleefully scooped this up with first fork and then bread while S barely got a look in, because it was such a perfect plate.


Then came the Scotch bhaji - a new twist on the classic Scotch egg that's seeing a surge of popularity at the moment. Cumberland sausage meat encased a beautifully runny yolk, and crispy deep fried onion wrapped the whole thing together. It arrived on the plate like some twining vine with crunchy tendrils to break off and dip into the caramelised onion yoghurt. Fourth was the hugely decadent foie gras creme brulee with lobster  - if ever there was a time to forget the diet, this must be it. The pot of molten pate, topped with the classic sugary crust which satisfyingly split with a crack or two of the teaspoon, demanded simultaneous dipping of the moreish lobster tails and the brioche toast immediately.

Our final dish - and perhaps the one we didn't really need to order because the first four plates were exceptionally filling - was the jerusalem artichoke ravioli. From the 'For the table' part of the menu, this is meant as a sharer and sits alongside the eponymous duck and waffle which (whisper it) we didn't really fancy ordering. Instead, this gorgeous pasta dish came served in a heavy skillet and was topped with charred cauliflower, smoked butter and malt crumble - a sexy comfort food if ever there was and tasty enough to satisfy my meat-loving companion.


I would have loved to have tried one of the desserts - especially the pistachio and dark chocolate macaroon sandwich with drunken cherries - but I was so full from gorging on the fantastic mains that I think it's a brilliant excuse for another visit. Rich (the cocktail maestro) sent us over two delicious cocktails to try: the Duck & Stormy (rum and ginger in a brown bag) and a Removed Aviation (gin, violet and citrus juices) so we graciously sipped on those instead before bowing out at a civilised 1am.

Having looked forward to eating at Duck and Waffle ever since it opened, it definitely didn't disappoint. Dining at height late at night lent itself perfectly to romance and fun in equal measures; the ever-changing atmosphere reflected the ever-changing clientele, and we were bouncing around to Al Green and Mark Morrison from start to finish. The service, as you'd expect, was brilliant - unobtrusive but friendly, polite and there when you needed them and still going after hours on end. My only gripe? That I can't call that little corner table my own and eat there whenever I'd like... Maybe that can be next year's resolution.

18 January 2015

Tozi

My knowledge of Victoria extends to the station, the walk towards Sloane Square and little else. It's not a part of town I usually frequent but when Italian restaurant, Tozi, invited me down I knew it was time for the journey.

Tucked down a side street, Tozi is a sprawling yet bustling restaurant and bar serving up cicchetti - Venetian small plates that you could compare to tapas. Food service is split between two open kitchens; one focuses on the grilled, baked and wood oven offerings on the menu whilst the other rustles up the counter and salad plates. We went on a Thursday night and the atmosphere was buzzing with couples on dates, groups of girls catching up and post-work diners yet service was impeccable, with friendly waiters and waitresses unobtrusively bringing each dish to the table as soon as it was ready.

We were tempted by the cocktails - a combination of classics and house favourites - but reached straight for the Italian-only wine list. Ever since a trip to the region last year, I eagerly seek out Puglian wines on menus and Tozi didn't disappoint with a lovely bottle of Nero di Troia. 

We then moved onto the food, and after a few recommendations from our host, chose eight plates to share. There are larger dishes on the menu (lobster linguine, braised osso bucco, ribs of beef) but after filling up on the focaccia (slightly dry) and moreish olive oil and balsamic syrup, we stuck to our guns and stayed sensible.




First up, the wild boar salsiccia. Melt in the mouth smooth with fennel and star anise running through, I could happily eat this by the fistful. Thankfully for my dining companion, I was more restrained but he did give me the last slice. Accompanying this was the burrata (another thing I always order if it's on the menu) which came deliciously creamy and with just enough give. Served with heritage tomatoes, a grind of salt and pepper brought the flavours to life.


Next up, piadina with parma ham, stracchino and rocket and tuna tartare with lots of fresh lime. Arriving at the same time, these dishes couldn't have been more different from each other but they worked so well - the classic Italian flavours of meat and cheese were complemented by the zingy freshness of the fish. S, who's never been tempted by tuna tartare before, is now a total convert and I scraped the bowl for the last morsels.




















Then came the pasta. Difficult to photograph but hugely easy to eat and almost demand more of. The buffalo ricotta ravioli with black truffle was criminally smooth, rich and buttery - simple enough ingredients but cooked so well we were lost in mutual appreciation for quite some time. The wild mushroom cannelloni was pleasingly earthy with the flavours of the fungi coming through the creamy, cheesy sauce. The pasta, homemade of course, was cooked brilliantly and finished off al forno naturally.




















Our last two dishes were the gratinated scallop, Venetian style, and the ox cheeks. The scallop was cooked just right and topped with a crisp crust and a swirl of salsa verde. S wasn't so keen on the green but I liked the added flavour that offset the meat of the fish and the toasted crumb. The braised ox cheeks with girolles and red wine sauce was his clear winner - the meat was deliciously soft and melted right off the tongue. The red wine sauce was more of a jus, balancing the creaminess of the mash potatoes with just enough richness to bring the whole dish together in what was probably S's plate of the night.




At this point we realised we'd definitely made the right decision to not order a further mountain of food. There was just enough room for dessert though. S had the chocolate and amaretto bonet - a typical dessert from Piedmont that's made in a similar way to a creme caramel. Accompanied by a boozy sauce, cream and crumbled amaretti, this was almost the last hoorah. I could just about manage the affogato - simple but effective and just enough to keep me awake for the taxi schlep home east.

I'll admit that my expectations of Tozi were mixed before I visited as the website seriously underplays how good this place is. From the modern interior, friendly staff and excellent food, Tozi is a real find and I'll definitely be making the journey all the way over to Victoria just for this place again and again and again. Five out of five.

15 January 2015

& other places: Dandelyan, Stokey Stop, L'Entrepot

Dandelyan
I'd been itching to try Dandelyan, the bar in the newly opened Mondrian Hotel on the South Bank, for a couple of reasons. One, because it serves alcohol (naturally) and two, because it's housed in the old Sea Containers building where, aged 14, I spent a week's work experience in the now defunct Police Information Technology Organisation. So on a chilly evening before a rather disappointing evening at The Breakfast Club and The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town I dragged S in for an aperitif. All seductive greens and purples, Dandelyan is nothing if not decadent. The cocktail menu's split by the base ingredients rather than the type of alcohol and there's a nifty little graph at the back that charts the suitability of the drinks against the time of day. I was in the mood for something mischievous so chose the Concrete Sazerac - Martell VSOP cognac, fermented Peychaud, absinthe and concrete - perfectly smokey with a slightly ashy aftertaste, this was just what I needed. It also comes with edible stones; a nice little addition to scoop out part way through or once you've consumed the last drop. S went for the Puffed Grains and Chocolate which was less chocolatey than we were expecting and much lighter than mine. Friendly staff and a buzzy atmosphere meant that this hotel bar's a keeper.

Stokey Stop
Some hangovers call for orange juice whilst others shout for Full Englishes. We had one of the latter so battled an epic fifteen minute walk to the high street to revisit Stokey Stop. An all-day diner type place, I'd had a decent 'Johnny English' before so was relishing the thought of a guilty pleasure to wolf down. I ordered what turned out to be the worst Bloody Mary I'd ever had (it won't be featuring on my Bloody Mary Blitz, that's for sure) - watery, tasteless and spiceless, I was too chicken to complain. The Johnny English itself wasn't bad - Cumblerland bangers, a (tasteless) roasted tomato, fried mushrooms, black pudding, a hash brown, two fried eggs, two rashers of bacon and Heinz beans - but we just couldn't bring ourselves to finish it or stomach the £30 bill at the end.

L'Entrepot
It was love at first sight with me and L'Entrepot back in February last year. One of Borough Wines' Easterly outposts, it's a charmingly little French place that oozes atmosphere. We went for a pal's birthday and were quick to order the £3 a glass house red and keep them coming. Prosecco's £4 if you're after bubbles and half pints of beer are £2.50. So far so good. Daily specials are chalked up (and framed by 'Je Suis Charlie' when we went) and hard to resist - a cheeseboard with Comte, Livarot and Bleu de Causes went down very well with the pear chutney but the baked camembert with raffle potatoes and cornichons was a bit disappointing. Perhaps it's my own fault for ordering something I regularly make at home but the potatoes were under done, the cornichons tasteless and the cheese could have been a little more loved. The steak tartare suffered the same fate too, criminally underseasoned and lacking that bit of bite from anchovies and capers, but a decent portion nonetheless. A bit hit and miss this time, I'm hoping that the third time's the charm.

4 January 2015

The Breakfast Club and The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

It seems a shame to start 2015 with a bad review but it also seems a shame to have seen out 2014 with such a bad experience. M leaves for Australia in a couple of weeks and he'd decided to have one last fling at The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town. A hidden bar beneath blogger favourite, The Breakfast Club in Spitalfields, you have to ask 'to see the Mayor' before being shown to the bar through a SMEG fridge. Kitsch yes, but that's why people come, isn't it?

So we showed up on a Tuesday night, hovered at the edge of The Breakfast Club's less-than-a-quarter-full restaurant and waited for about ten minutes until a waitress came over to say hello. There was an hour wait for a spot downstairs in Scaredy Cat Town but our pals' names were already on the list, so would we like some food? Sure. An espresso martini each, a mountain of nachos with sad-looking shop brought guacamole, a portion of bizarrely sweet macaroni cheese and £54 later, we checked whether we could head downstairs yet. Half an hour later the host came back, gestured vaguely in the direction of the refrigerator and carried on chatting to colleagues. Hmm.


Down stairs that promise 'Thrills' and into a small speakeasy space with good posters, wacky taxidermy and unfriendly barmen. We were told to wait at the bar as our table wasn't ready (hmm) and then told we couldn't wait at the bar because 'people may need to sit there'. People like us, you mean? I said we'd been waiting an hour and a half for a table - the barman then essentially told me I was lying. Ouch.


Eventually we were shown to a table and got to the drinks. A nice-ish menu, even if half the seasonal drinks all tasted the same, and relatively reasonably priced around the £9 mark - the stand-out must order favourite is definitely the Peat-nut Butter Cup (Four Roses bourbon, advocaat, dark chocolate, liqueur 43, peanut butter and Laphroaig spray). But, similar to the waitresses upstairs save for an absolute babe called Colette, service was slow and seemed a chore.

The Breakfast Club constantly has people lining up around the block to get a seat inside its sunshine yellow walls. After a disappointing hard shake in its Soho branch once, I've never understood the hype and after this visit to the Spitalfields outpost, I doubt I'll go back. Whether it's the curse of popularity and the steady stream of customers means the staff don't particularly care about the quality of the service they provide, I'm not sure but I certainly won't be asking for citizenship.

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