Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Soho Arts Theatre Club - Victorian Variety Cocktails - Review

The Soho Arts Theatre has long been one of London's best kept secrets. From the days of the Krays and Danny LaRue, it's a late night speakeasy basement bar for cocktail connoisseurs. A relaxed yet dramatically designed drinking den, the dark walls lend a reddish hue to the room, with an overall vintage velvety vibe.

The relaunch of the cocktail menu pays homage to the classic cocktails enjoyed by many a thespian and literary luvvies of bygone days. As a members-only club (non-members may enter before 11pm), Sally and I were treated to an exclusive booth close to the bar, with bottomless salted popcorn and the perusal of the retro menu. 

First I tried Josh and Joan The Married Contortionists, a gin cocktail with agave, Aperol with lemon and mint, served in a spherical flask with wooden straw. Did they know I'm a scientist, or is this the latest food/science fusion?
For her first drink, Sally tried the Fabulous Eskimo Nell - containing her favourite fig liquer, Grey Goose vodka and served, quite literally, in snow.

Next, as I was feeling much like death, a Deadwood Dick to sort out my cold - jalapeno-infused Tequila with limes and Grand Marnier. Potent, yes. Cured, well... 
For my cocktail-loving companion, another spherical flask of Jack Haraway and his Band of Pirates - rum with pomegranate and passionfruit.

DeadWood Dick
Eskimo Nell
So many more to try, but with my croaky voice, and my head feeling like a Devil's Goat (which would have been my next choice) I opted to abandon ship (helped along by the rather odd bouncer complaining about his sore feet, muttering 'freeloaders' and squinting and swearing at his cufflinks - but who am I to question his parentage...).

The Devil's Goat

Wallace the Magician

Kentucky Kevin

The cocktail 'specials' menu changes monthly and next month promises a retro comic book theme. 

To brush shoulders with literary Londonors, including certain Masterchef judges and some East End royalty, and to taste tempting cocktails with a twist, get your bottle down those apples for a butchers and a Vera...

50 Frith St, 
London W1D 4SQ

020 7287 9236

Members only after 11pm

Cocktails from £8.50

Photos courtesy of Crisp Media.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Minions Birthday Cake

My boy turns 11 today. We recently watched the Minions movie and I thought it would be a relatively easy cake to do for him... It only took about a week...

He loves chocolate cake, so there was no contest there. I used the store cupboard chocolate cake recipe from Decorated, a four layer 7 inch cake. It worked well although my bockety old oven burnt the top. I was able to trim it with my cake cutter so that it still looked smooth. In fact it's the first time I've made a layer cake which actually looked level!

For the minions, I couldn't stop thinking about the Cocoa Box truffles, so I thought I'd use those to shape the minion figures instead of having big lumps of icing. First I made a truffle mixture 2:1 chocolate: cream. I used 300 g milk chocolate, 200g dark chocolate and 250 ml double cream. I beat it carefully (with some help from Himself) but it didn't really go hard like at The Cocoa Box so I added golden syrup (about 100 ml I reckon) and left it over night. Then I used an ice cream scoop to dig it out and moulded it by hand into randon minion shapes. This part was very messy! Have a sink full of water at the ready! I made several taller ones - like Kevin, and a number of smaller ones - Bob and Stuart. This mixture made about 14 minion shapes, but you can adjust to make them bigger or smaller of course...

Once these had set (I left them overnight again), I trawled through YouTube to find a tutorial to help me, and this tutorial by Francesca SugarArt was the one I followed, to a point. Below are my step-by-step photos - when I remembered to take them along the way! Obviously I improvised as I went along... and ran out of time so these are feet-less minions.
I thought it would be fun to make the name out of bananas. All the black I used was painted on, using a mixture of black gel food colouring and a smidge of vodka.

Once it was cut, the boys ate it and declared it good. Phew!

Happy Birthday Joey. Love you.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Mojito Cupcakes - again

So, I made these again.

Mojito cupcakes
Same friend's birthday.
It's becoming a tradition...

Mojito cupcakes

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Easter Bunny-Bum Cupcakes

Happy Easter! It's chocolate time! I saw these cupcakes on Twitter and couldn't resist making them - so cute! And yes, very chocolate-y. 

Find the recipe here. Blatantly a bit of Dr Oetker marketing... not by me though.

The only thing I changed (apart from the brands) was swapping the liquid glucose for golden syrup. I was really surprised, and actually delighted to discover that this made the chocolate easy to model, almost like sugarpaste. And it tastes rich and indulgent.

Also I used my grass nozzle... well, it's got to be used sometime!
(Disclaimer: No Dr Oetker products were used in the making of these cupcakes)

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Cocoa Box Chocolate Workshop - Happy Easter from FarFetch

Farfetch. Ever heard of them? Me neither. It's a fashion thing dahling. (400 boutiques. 1 address). So why ask a bunch of food bloggers along to their hidden offices in Old Street? Well for some chocolate tasting of course. Fashion and food are international languages, don't you know, so combining them seems to be the most natural #NextBigThing.

Chocolate Martini anyone? Oh yes, I'll have three please.

So, were we going to be wearing the chocolate? Well, in fact, some of us were... Sally (LifeLovingBlog) got some on her boots and I almost got licked on the tube on the way home as I had chocolate on my jeans. But it was a fun and informative evening, and Lisa from The Cocoa Box and her cocktail-making assistant proved that prep is key and learning is fun (especially when there are chocolate martinis...)

First, Lisa tested our chocoholic levels by passing round testers varying in quality and in flavour. Most of us turned out to be pretty au fait with what was good and what was poor, and nailing it when it came to identifying the flavours: rose, salted, and chilli. Having said that, it was all good fun, and I can tell you that chocolate served at room temperature will bring out all the aromas and flavours immediately it melts in your mouth. Don't eat chocolate straight from the fridge, people. Just don't.

Chocolate tasters... the chocolate martini was the best.

A brief history of chocolate (the first chocolate bar was produced in Bristol), a biography of chocolate (from bean to bar) and two chocolate martinis later, and it was time to make some truffles.
The simplicity of it was surprising. I've made truffles before (and yes I cheated a bit then too), so I thought I knew what was involved, but Lisa had a few tricks up her sleeve which meant we could produce our very own handmade, beautifully decorated truffles in less than two hours.

Firstly the cream was cold. Really really really cold. We mixed one part cream with two parts melted chocolate (we added extract of peppermint) and then beat the bejaysus out of it, somewhat slowly at first, and then it really needed some welly - thanks to Sally and her super strength.
This mixture was then rustled into a piping bag and again some, er, strain, was required to pipe it out into... shall we say... pipes. It tasted delicious I promise. It looked... not so much.

Cocoa beans; cocoa nibs;
Truffles mixture; Trufflepoop

However, poop jokes aside, we rolled the truffles (fingertips) and dipped them in melted milk chocolate and/or a choice of coating (cocoa powder, raspberry fizz, and vermicelli sprinkles), and they were ready! No sticking them in the fridge to set, no waiting around for hours licking your fingers. (Well, there was a bit of that!).

Handmade Truffles

Such a fun evening. Lisa is an excellent teacher, dealing with spillage and poop jokes better than any Reception teacher. If you are in London this weekend and want to combine some fashion and food (I can recommend it, it's fun) pop into Topshop on Oxford Street on 24th, 25th, and 26th March, and see the Topshop girls on bikes giving out fudge and tokens. If customers spend £25 in store they can pick up some hand-rolled truffles with a choice of 10 toppings at The Cocoa Box Pop-Up stand.

Here's a truffley shout out to all the other lovely food bloggers:
Sally at LifeLoving
Jamila at Pip&LittleBlue
Vicky at BoozyBunch
Erin at IslandBell

If you are a proper fashionista, take a peek at the FarFetch website where over 400 independent boutiques from around the world are curated in one online shopping site, showing that cultural diversity comes from uniting the perspectives of many unique individuals.

This event took place on the day of the Belgium bombings. I wish that the people responsible would let go of their narrow-minded belief that their way is the only way. Live and let live. Be who you are and let others do the same without judgement. My thoughts are with those affected and their families.

Life Loving Linkie

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Meet the Macaronut...

March 20th is Macaron Day. To celebrate, this year, renowned New York pastry chef Francois Payard has created the Macaronut. Yes, another fantastical food hybrid, following in the footsteps of the Cronut (croissant-doughnut), the Cruffin (croissant-muffin) and the Wonut (waffle-doughnut – simply: doughnuts cooked in a waffle maker). The Macaronut, as the name suggests, is the combination of the delicate, colourful macaron and the traditional round doughnut. Staying true to his French roots, Chef Payard is making the all-American doughnut a delicacy.

Payard Macaron Doughnut.jpg
Photo courtesy of The Stylist magazine

In reality, it’s simply a giant Macaron, in the shape of a traditional ring doughnut. Launching initially in strawberries and cream flavour, Chef Payard is expected to roll out many more flavours, both subtle and sublime. Perhaps an Oreo macaronut? Pistachio? Or variants on coffee flavours – the Mocha Macaronut? Whatever next!?

Made with Italian meringue (not French!), a hot sugar syrup is drizzled into to the whisking frothy egg whites. Colouring can be added once you have a shiny-peaked consistency, and the mixture has cooled. To this, ground almonds and icing sugar are added to form a paste, and this is then traditionally piped into circles and baked on a low heat. Once cooked, macarons are left to settle until there is a crispy shell and tender interior. I imagine that piping ring shapes will work just as well for the Macaronut. The filling is usually ganache or buttercream in the flavour of the month, so for Chef Payard’s Macaronuts, I'm guessing it’s strawberries and cream. Is it possible he has created a doughnut-flavoured ganache? Or perhaps it contains a strawberry jam filling; regular macarons are sometimes filled with artisan jams. Top with sprinkles and it looks just like a doughnut. But tastes like a macaron. Those elegant pops of Heaven, just on a grander scale.

Why, you may ask? Well, why not! It’s a beautiful, elegant, and fun dessert and not only that, it’s a worthy cause too. Donations from the sales of Macaronuts on March 20 will be given to the hunger charity City Harvest in New York. The charity link the food industry to countless companies and foundations to help feed over two million New Yorkers every year. In London too, City Harvest help put surplus food to good use in a sustainable way, by upcycling over two tons of food each week that would have been wasted to organisations that feed the hungry. Last year they delivered over a quarter of a million meals.

Macaronuts are just available Stateside for now, but I hope it won’t be too long before the UK follows suit and delivers the Macaronut to the macaron-loving masses. I will be first in the queue...

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Camino, King's Cross - Restaurant Review

The best Sangria ever is here. Right here in King's Cross, London Town. At Camino. Camino means 'road' or 'path' in Spanish and it's one I certainly want to take again. The Sangria was silky smooth with a caramel/vanilla (I couldn't decide which) aroma. Definitely the best tasting Sangria I've ever had. The secret, because I asked, is Liquor 43, a Spanish golden liquer infused with 43 herbs, spices and fruits. Along with red wine (obvs), Whitley Neill gin, orange juice, cinnamon, and lemonade. How many times need I attempt this at home before I get it right?!


But we didn't just come for the Sangria. That was an added delight. Gin and Tonics are also a specialty, served the Spanish way with lots of ice and perfectly-matched garnish. I had the Gin Mare, infused with botanicals including citrus, thyme, rosemary and basil. The Chase Seville Orange was tantaslising,with orange, juniper berries and elderflower. 

Gin Mare, with Chase Seville Orange in the background
The food though. Here at Camino, it is superb. Tapas dishes but without any faff or fancy stuff. Yet still elegant and more than edible. For six of us (including one vegetarian and one gluten-free) we ordered 14 dishes and it was just about enough. I could have kept eating, obviously, but it was just enough. Had to leave room for dessert (and more Sangria). The best dish by general consensus was the arroz negro, a black rice with cuttlefish and squid ink, dolloped with a creamy alioli. The special was recommended by our waiter with gusto, ribs with caramelised spring onions, and many other things besides, we got the last one. Glad we didn't miss that! The only dish that did not get hoovered up was the piquillo peppers with black quinoa. There we were, trying to be trendy and healthy at the same time - no, quinoa will never do it for me, and it ruined a perfectly nice piquillo pepper.
Padron peppers; Croquetas de Jamon, Riojan chorizo y Patatas bravas;Ibores (goats cheese with fig and almond);
 Piquillo peppers with black quinoa; Special of the day, ribs with carmelised spring onions in a BBQ sauce; Arroz negro; Octopus with chickpea and beetroot purée; Pumpkin empanadillas; Gambas ajillo. 

Dessert. Churros of course! Long doughnut sticks with a melted chocolate dip. Real Spain in your mouth. I only had a taster of the almond tart, apparently it was quite tart, but the creamy custard was sweet and light. Tocino de cielo, for my gluten-free friend, was literally, Heavenly Custard.  
Tocino de cielo; Galacian almond tart, Churros con chocolate.
Tea was served with a multi-egg timer so you can gauge the strength you wish. We all want to buy one of these for our own homes now...

To add to the ambience of Spanish-ness, people sit at the bar, drinking glasses of vino Tinto and ordering tapas dishes seemingly as they feel like it. Large legs of Iberico jamon sit on the counter tops, being sliced as we watched. Latin and jazz plays in the background while all around us people relax and drink cerveza, cava and carafes of vino.

A cousin of the Bankside Camino and others, Camino was one of the first restaurants to help King's Cross become the foodie destination it now is, with Dishoom, Caravan, The Grain Store, Addis and  many more now amongst the top restaurants in London. Right across the courtyard in Varnisher's Yard is Bar Pepito, London's first sherry bar also serving tapas, and managed by the same company. Imagine sunny afternoons drinking Sangria in the plaza... Be in Spain right here in London.
Me encanta.

3 Varnishers Yard
The Regent’s Quarter,
King’s Cross, N1 9FD
020 7841 7330

Meal for two ~£50-60

Square Meal