Perfecting the Meatball Sub

October 9th is Submarine-Hoagie-Hero-Grinder day in the US.  For those that are unfamiliar, these are all types of sandwiches, mainly using a submarine roll.

A good sub is a thing of beauty, my favourite subs in London are from the street food van Sub Cult.  Their ‘Submarine’ sandwich, an unusual yet delicious combination of pulled pork, scallops and squid with lemon mayo is one of my new favourite obsessions.  They can be found at both Broadwick Street Market in Soho and at a pop up at the Duke of Wellington in Dalston.

If making your own sandwiches is more your thing, below is a post from my other blog, 607 Square Miles, on how to make the perfect meatball sandwich.

Six Hundred and Seven Square Miles

The meatball sub of my dreams The meatball sub of my dreams

As the summer turns to autumn and the days get shorter and cooler, I find myself with an urge to fill up the freezer for winter.  One of the first things I make is a stash of meatballs and tomato sauce which can quickly be defrosted and turned into a quick and hearty meal when it’s just too cold to leave the house.  As well as this, they can be used to make one of the greatest sandwiches ever invented: the meatball sub. 

I first encountered this Italian-American creation at the Southampton branch of Subway in the 1990s during the dark days of sandwiches when few were available outside of chain restaurants, supermarkets and what you could buy in the buffet carriage of the train to Waterloo.  20 years, a move to London and two trips to New York later, not only have I tried…

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London Street Food: Curry Shack

Curry Shack

Curry Shack

Saturday was the beginning of yet another long weekend, the May Day bank holiday.  Traditionally, you will find morris dancers on village greens right across the breadth of the UK marking this ancient day of celebration.  In London, you will find half of London on the south bank and the other half in the gardens of local neighbourhood pubs – weather permitting, of course.

It was perhaps a little foolish to think that checking out the food markets on the river would make for a nice stroll.  In my near ten years in London, going to the south bank on a sunny day has never been peaceful, but my stomach was leading the way:  there was a Malaysian food festival on the section outside of Gabriel’s Wharf and Campo Viejo’s Streets of Spain further upstream by the Royal Festival Hall.  The thought of a few pintxos and a glass of sangria followed by a nice, fragrant curry made me take temporary leave of my senses.

Of course, it was heaving.  People, pushchairs and those little children’s scooters that are a total menace on residential streets, let alone in a crowd full of people.  We queued for twenty minutes for two £5.50 cups of sangria and promptly gave up, vowing never to leave south east London at the weekend again.  On the way back towards the tube, we remembered that there was a weekly food market, the Real Food Festival, tucked in just behind the Royal Festival Hall, that may be worth a look.  It was still busy, but less with meandering tourists and more with hungry people, who are far more direct in their approach.

The sounds of reggae and the aroma of spices and grilled meat led us to the corner of the market where two men were stirring up enormous vats of curry before a queue of salivating customers.  They are called Curry Shack and are completely new to my street food radar (they have no website or Twitter), however I am reliably informed that they are regulars at this particular market.  There were three curries on offer that particular day, two Mauritian (one mild-ish, one medium) and a hot Cajun curry.  Being out for lunch with the Chilli Fiend meant that the first two were out of the question, so I watched with a little trepidation as the ferocious orange curry was spooned over some rice.  At the end of their bench is an array of additional toppings including chopped coriander, red onion and tomatoes, along with some things to make your curry even hotter.  Wrestling the chilli flakes and chilli sauce out of Ollie’s hands was a task for a braver woman than I.

The hot Cajun curry.  Effing hot.

The hot Cajun curry. Effing hot.

The first couple of bites set my mouth on fire, but once accustomed to the heat, I was delighted to realise that I was eating a very delicious curry indeed.  As well as the usual flavours you would expect to find in a curry, it had a huge punch of the Caribbean in the form of allspice, scotch bonnets, lime and thyme.  The heat was pungent but flavoursome and stayed right in the front of your mouth and on the tip of your tongue whilst your back tastebuds got the hit of the other flavours.  The chicken was, thankfully, thigh meat which has a deeper flavour and retains far more of its moisture when cooked, especially in spices (I never understand why anybody uses breast meat). 

I started to wonder why there are few curries of this calibre on offer at other food markets, presumably as many open primarily in the morning and focus on the breakfast-to-lunch crowd.  I will certainly be back to the curry shack to try more of their offerings – the intriguing-looking medium spiced curry had whole limes in it and looked terrific.  For £6, it is also a total bargain.

The Curry Shack, Real Food Festival, South Bank, London SE1 (Fridays – Sundays only)

Yalla Yalla, Fitzrovia

Yalla Yalla

Yalla Yalla

There’s an exchange that happens in my office at least once a week:

Me:  “What’s on the lunch menu for today?”
Colleague:  *Downloads canteen lunch menu*, *reels of a list of boring dishes*
Me:  “Sod it, I’m going to Yalla Yalla.”
Colleague:  *Without looking up* “Can you bring me back a halloumi wrap?”

Yalla Yalla is always the kryptonite that breaks those weeks when I am trying to eat healthily or not spend too much money on buying lunch.  With a wedding looming, and a very unforgiving wedding dress to squeeze into, those weeks are becoming more and more frequent.  However, the healthy options from nearby boring salad bars and the cheapo options from the staff canteen can never compare to the sheer middle eastern delights on offer just a mere hop, skip and a jump away on Winsley Street.  And I KNOW that I should be making my own lunch at home and bringing it in and all that, but I am disorganised.  Also, somewhere in our building is a person who likes to pinch other people’s lunch.  My friend had some sushi nicked the other day and she was very annoyed about it.

Anyway, Yalla Yalla has a little takeaway counter that sells a range of different wraps, as well as coffee and those little sticky pieces of baklava that I just love.  I have tried most of the wraps now, and my favourite is the lamb shawarma, something I feared I would forever have to trek to the Edgware Road for, and the simple falafel wrap (not quite as good as Mr Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush but, in my mind, nothing is).  The wraps are priced anywhere between £4 and £5 and are well-made and delicious.  You have to wait a little while, especially during the busy lunchtimes, but it is worth it.

Takeout halloumi wrap

Takeout halloumi wrap

Despite being a frequent visitor to the counter, until Wednesday I had only ever eaten in at Yalla Yalla once before; at their beautiful little original site at Green’s Court.  On Wednesday, Claire and I met there for a very speedy lunch to share news on weddings and house renovations over some baba ghanoush.  There are two ways that you can eat in at Yalla Yalla:  you can order one of the mezzes as a starter and then move on to their menu of middle-eastern main dishes, such as a moussaka, mixed grill or grilled seabass; or you can order a range of the mezzes and share.  Being always keen to try as many dishes as possible in one sitting, I have yet to opt for the former, although I have cast many a desirous eye over the Lahem Meshoue.

During my two visits to Yalla Yalla, plus many jaunts to the takeaway counter, I have worked my way through a large number of the mezzes on offer and have found myself to be impressed with most of them.  The houmous, the stalwart of any middle-eastern restaurant, demanding the most perfection, is beautifully smooth and not overloaded with either lemon or garlic, which many restaurants have a tendency to do.  One of my favourite dishes is the houmous shawarma, a small bowl of houmous topped with a hefty portion of grilled lamb spiced with, among other things, cumin and cinnamon.  The baba ghanoush is equally as fine, with the smokiness not overpowering the aubergine flavour and a slightly loose texture.  The addition of pomegranate seeds on the top makes it a little more special.  Both of these come with a basket of flatbreads which, although delicious, with only three small ones between two, never seems like quite enough.

Houmous shawarma

Houmous shawarma

Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush

Always wanting to include a little greenery into my lunch, I will often order the tabbouleh or the fattoush, either as a side to the wrap or as part of the mezze.  The tabbouleh is very similar to those I have eaten in the middle east, very heavy with parsley and mint and, unlike the more westernised versions, with the cracked wheat taking more of a backseat.  The fattoush is also delicious, but I’ve always hoped that it would be a bit sharper with vinegar, but that may just be my personal taste.

Tabbouleh (right)

Tabbouleh (right)

Fattoush

Fattoush

Other favourites include the chicken rakakat, little chicken-filled pastries that have the appearance of spring rolls but the flavour of a kebab, complete with a huge kick of harissa, and the halloumi meshoue , which feels like a little bit of Greece with its olive oil, black olive and fresh mint dressing.

Chicken rakakat

Chicken rakakat

Halloumi meshoue

Halloumi meshoue

In addition to this, they have some delicious Lebanese reds and whites, something that popped on to my wine radar a few years ago when out with a friend whose approach is far more sophisticated than mine (if they’re French, they probably know what they’re talking about), and those little cups of strong, sediment-filled Turkish coffee that will safely pull you out of your food coma just in time for an afternoon back at the office.

Whilst not entirely perfect, it is one of the best examples of middle eastern food in London, and keeps me coming back for more.  They do get very busy around lunch and dinner and don’t take reservations (who does these days?!)  If you’re an expert on this kind of food, you may find that it is a little too wide-reaching, as it does encompass food from many regions and there are more country-specific places out there, however it is a great introduction.  For only £35 for lunch for two (with wine), it is also very kind to the wallet.

Yalla Yalla, 12 Winsley Street, London W1W 8HQ.  There is also a restaurant at Greens Court, Soho and a pop-up on Shoreditch High Street.

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

Pitt Cue Co, Soho

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Without trying to solicit any sympathy for my current situation, I’m finding it very difficult to get back into the swing of things following my recent trip to San Sebastian.  Despite returning home two days ago, I seem to be unable to shake off that holiday laziness; the kind that is in no rush to get up in the morning and gives you decisions no more complicated than what to eat for dinner.  A distinct lack of pintxos bars and ice-cold txakoli in the Fitzrovia/Marylebone area has sent me on an internet-searching quest of where to buy Basque wines in the UK instead of getting on to more pressing matters like unpacking my suitcase and updating my blog.

On my last day in the office before going on annual leave, I met Claire for lunch.  I have a terrible, and much-documented, track record of trying and failing to get a lunchtime table at Pitt Cue Co., so was pleased when I turned up early one Thursday lunchtime to find that I was first in the queue.  Pitt Cue Co. is notorious for its queues and long waiting times – partly because the food is excellent, its reputation first built upon a successful food truck based on the South Bank (among other places) and partly because their dining room has a mere 30 covers, mainly in tables of two.

Having strategically skipped breakfast and ordering a Soho Sour whilst waiting for Claire, I was ready for as much BBQ as I could eat.  The cocktail was a tastebud-stinging blend of bourbon, amaretto and lemon juice with ice and a fresh cherry.  Perhaps not the best option for lunchtime, but good to waken up the senses after a morning of terrible office coffee. 

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

The focus at Pitt Cue Co., understandably, is on the meat.  On arrival, the waiter and I gave each other a little smirk when one diner asked if there were vegetarian options.  The meat is served, largely, in two ways:  in a meal or in a bun, both with a side dish.  The former has the meat placed on one of their trademark vintage white tin bowls with the side dish and a few pickles, the latter serves the meat in a shiny brioche bun.  Claire and I both opted for the pulled pork, mine in a meal, hers in a bun.  Pulled pork is one of those food trends of the past few years that seems to have sprung up on menus all over town, although few manage to do it well.  I am lucky enough to live with a man who takes his pulled pork-making very seriously (although it is perhaps a little spicy for my taste – he is the Chilli Fiend after all).  Far from the dried out offerings of many a BBQ restaurant across the city, it is clear that the pulled pork at Pitt Cue Co has been seasoned and slow cooked with a great deal of care – it is moist, flavoursome, well-spiced and has that soft, almost gelatinous quantity that allows you to devour a great deal without even noticing.

Of the sides, the green chilli slaw was tasty enough, but the name led me to expect a lot more heat than was actually delivered.  The star of the show, however, the ultimate dish of the day was the bone marrow mashed potato.  I had heard from many others just how good this mashed potato was, but had never tried it for myself.  A swirl of perfectly smooth and buttery mashed potato arrives in a small tin dish with topped with a ladle of incredibly rich bone marrow gravy and a slab of garlic butter.  Not one for somebody who is watching their weight, but for the rest of us, sheer heaven.  It’s like the mash and gravy you wish came with every meal.  Be prepared to share though, as your dining companion will not be able to resist dipping their bread in, not matter how much you try to edge the dish to your side of the table.

My only real complaint with Pitt Cue is that a lunch of this size will generally render you immobile for the rest of the afternoon.  You will also smell like a BBQ as no amount of washing your hands will really get rid of that smoky meat smell.  Best to save it for a day when you can head home for an old movie and a snooze on the couch.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos – it is dark in there!

Pitt Cue Co., 1 Newburgh Street, London W1F 7RB

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

The Battle of the Cinnamon Buns: Nordic Bakery vs. Scandinavian Kitchen

Central London's finest:  Scandinavian Kitchen cinnamon bun (left) and The  Nordic Bakery cinnamon bun (right)

Central London’s finest: Scandinavian Kitchen cinnamon bun (left) and The Nordic Bakery cinnamon bun (right)

In the last few years, interest in Scandinavian food has risen enormously.  It is easy to attribute this popularity to the influence of Noma, Børgen or Ikea and, whilst this may still be the case, it is part of London’s culinary history to look to other parts of the world for inspiration.  Whilst on the savoury courses, we are often divided; many, for example, happily devour the meatballs but are hesitant about idea of some of the more extreme pickled fish; the sweet dishes are another story.  The success of Signe Johansen‘s book Scandilicous Baking speaks volumes, and the opening of several Scandinavian bakeries across London has sent us clamouring for the lingonberry tarts and spiced biscuits that we could only otherwise find in the freezer section of the local Ikea.

The biggest craze of all, though, has to be for the Scandi cinnamon buns.  These are so popular that many of the London cafes sell out daily.  They are bread buns, rolled with a cinnamon filling and often topped with pearl sugar or a glaze.  Many people in my office cannot survive a week without one.

Luckily for us, we have two Scandinavian cafes within walking distance:  the Marylebone branch of The Nordic Bakery, on New Cavendish Street and Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street.  There has been a great deal of disagreement among those who work in the west end about which cafe makes the best cinnamon bun, so I decided to settle this with a ‘cinnamon bun-off’; a blind taste test of the two buns from which, I hoped, there would be a clear winner.  Fortunately, I was not short of volunteers for this experiment among my colleagues.

The Test:  a simple blind taste test of the cinnamon buns, purchased on the same day, from The Nordic Bakery and Scandinavian Kitchen.  Each taster chooses a winner.  That’s it.

The Contenders:

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The Nordic Bakery, 37b New Cavendish Street, London W1G 8JR
The Nordic Bakery has three sites across London: our New Cavendish Street Local, the original on Golden Square, Soho and another on Dorset Street.  These beautiful little wood-panelled cafes are designed to be “a peaceful meeting place in a frantic city” and sell a range of coffees, sandwiches and baked goods.  A cinnamon bun costs £2.40.

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Scandinavian Kitchen, 61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP
This very busy cafe, with its amusing street-front chalkboard offering, among other things, ‘free hugs’ is a Fitzrovia lunchtime favourite.  They sell coffees, a range of baked goods, sandwiches and a mix-and-match smoregsboard of various nordic delights.  A cinnamon bun costs £1.70.

The Results:

I bought three buns from each bakery, which were cut into quarters and places in two piles, each labelled simply ‘A’ and ‘B’.  12 taste testers – all cinnamon bun aficionados from my office –  tried each of the buns and gave their verdict.  Some devoured one of the pieces of bun before starting on the other; others alternated bites between the two.  There was a lot of head-tipping and thoughtful noises.  Work stopped momentarily to discuss the beauty of cinnamon buns and argue about whether tea or coffee was the best accompaniment.  One by one, they gave me their scores and, the winner is….

Scandinavian Kitchen, by nine votes to three!

The main winner for Scandinavian Kitchen was the texture of the buns – the dough was soft and almost brioche-like, compared to the more tightly rolled dough of the buns from The Nordic Bakery; most felt the latter was a little too dense and they would struggle to eat a whole one.  The panel was, interestingly, divided over what was the best topping for a cinnamon bun; some preferred the sticky glaze of The Nordic Bakery’s buns, whereas others preferred the pearl sugar topping used by Scandinavian Kitchen.  They all agreed that both buns were excellent and had a good cinnamon flavour, but the lightness of the dough was what swung it Scandinavian Kitchen-wards.

If you want to have a go at making your own, Signe Johansen’s recipe from Woman’s Hour Cook the Perfect… can be found here.

Divine Chocolate Fairtrade Fortnight Pop-up Shop, Covent Garden

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It’s Fairtrade Fortnight, which is an annual awareness campaign run by the Fairtrade Foundation that aims to get us really thinking about where our food comes from and how the trade and consumption affects and benefits the local communities in developing countries.  Of course, many of us are aware that Fairtrade has made an enormous difference to workers in these communities by offering better prices, better working conditions, fairer terms of trade and, most importantly, a focus on sustainability so that the communities can continue to trade in a sometimes uncertain future.  It used to be the case that only a few specialist products were Fairtrade, however as time goes on, more and more products are proudly displaying the badge; everything from the traditional Fairtrade products of coffee, chocolate and bananas to less likely items such as clothing, beer and honey. 

During Fairtrade Fortnight there are a number of events to engage with people around this issue.  A couple of years ago I took part in a Fairtrade Bake-Off with a prize for the most Fairtrade ingredients.  I thought I had it in the bag with nine, until my colleague swiped the prize with a massive twelve.

For the second year, Fairtrade chocolate supremo Divine have opened a pop-up shop in Covent Garden for Fairtrade fortnight.  This has coincided with the launch of two new flavours:  a 38% milk chocolate with whole almonds, and a 70% dark chocolate with mango and coconut.  Of course, Divine chocolate is readily available in a number of shops and supermarkets, but having a shop entirely devoted to their range certainly appeals to the chocoholic within me.  Little samples are available of their various bars, of which I tried many, and there is a little coffee machine at the back (Fairtrade, obviously).  In addition to this, they have a counter at the back selling some delicious looking baked goods including millionaire’s shortbread and little macarons.

There are a number of events on at the pop-up throughout Fairtrade Fortnight including sampling, chocolate workshops and meeting the cocoa farmers.

I ended up going home with an incredibly gluttonous four bars:  milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt, dark chocolate with mango and coconut, orange milk chocolate and dark chocolate with chilli and orange.

Divine Pop-Up, 53 Monmouth Street, London WC2H 9DA.  Open until Sunday 9th March.

Burger League: Flat Iron

The Flat Iron Burger

 The Restaurant:  Flat Iron, 17 Beak Street, London W1F 9RW

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Gemma and Claire Ordered:  The Flat Iron Burger, dripping-cooked chips, roast aubergine, red wine.

The Scores:

Going to a no-reservations restaurant in Soho for lunch is always a bit of a gamble.  You could roll a six, walk straight to a table and be in for a fantastic lunch; similarly, you could roll a one, be turned away and end up at the local branch of Pizza Express.  Taking lunch early usually ups the odds of getting in somewhere good, but even this is risky – today we turned up at Pitt Cue at 12.15pm, a mere 15 minutes after opening, to be told there was a 25 minute wait.  Fine if you have the luxury of a leisurely day, impossible if you are on your lunch hour.  Luckily, there were several good restaurants around the corner and, being still early, we managed to nab a table at Flat Iron on Beak Street.

Ironically, Flat Iron is famous for the length of its queues.  Once word got out that there was a restaurant selling excellent £10 steaks, hungry Londoners could barely contain their excitement.  Once when I walked past, the queue had extended well past Carnaby Street.  Their main thing is the steak:  the name of the restaurant, in fact, comes from the only cut they sell:  the flat iron cut which, I found out after some online digging, is cut from the featherblade.  Occasionally, they add a lunch special burger to their menu, which is also £10 and made from the flat iron meat, and which drew us in from the street.  According to our waitress it had been voted ‘the best burger in London’, although she didn’t say by whom.

The burger was actually really, really good.  I found out this afternoon that the patties are deep-fried in beef fat, which certainly explains a lot.  Having never had a burger made with flat iron meat before, I had nothing to compare it to, but this meat was incredibly flavoursome.  The patty had the slightly rough texture of a homemade burger rather than the ubiquitous perfectly-round patties found in lesser quality restaurants.  It was perfectly pink in the middle and dark and crispy on the outside.  The burger comes with bernaise sauce and finely chopped shallot as standard and, controversially, comes without cheese.  Cheese is usually a must for both Claire and myself on all burgers, but the buttery richness of the bernaise sauce means that you don’t really miss it.  Even a thin slice of slappy cheese would be overkill.

Roasted aubergine, dripping-fried chips

The best part was the side dishes.  Claire, having been here before, was the expert and suggested we order both the dripping-fried chips and the roasted aubergine.  The chips require little more description than that they are fried in dripping – if, like me, this is your bag, you will be in heaven – light and crispy and soft in the middle.  The roasted aubergine was like a little dish of aubergine parmigiana with just the right amount of cooking.  Did I mention that we had a carafe of red wine too?  A bargain at £11 and very, very good.  It would have been rude not to.

About Burger League

Three Good Cafes Near BBC Broadcasting House

Trying to find a moment of peace in an ordinary working London week is like trying to find a two-bedroom flat in Zone 2 for less than £1,000 per month.  You know it exists because other people have it, but it just doesn’t seem to happen for you.  Non-city dwellers find it difficult to understand the way we Londoners rush from place to place, walking faster than many can run and trying  to squeeze on to already packed tubes when another one will be along in two minutes, but it’s just because we have so much to do.  When we do finally arrive home for the evening, there is no guarantee of peace as due to the astronomical property prices, we’re all living on top of each other.  Last night my next door neighbour came home a little worse for wear and dropped his keys on the mat four times before he finally got them into the lock.  Cursing creatively each time.

This week, trying to make it to the weekend has involved an obstacle course of a full working week, two blogger events, an impromptu pub crawl with old friends and a Band of Bakers meeting.  I’ve been to almost every corner of the city and have the blisters to prove it.  Even my precious night in last night involved budget planning, wedding planning and who knows what else.  Eating dinner in front of my laptop is becoming a habit.  Friday has never felt so good.

One thing that I have been thankful for this week is the abundance of good cafes close to my office.  It’s only when you’ve worked in an obscure part of London you realise the beauty of the West End and its many eateries.  When you’re too tired to make breakfast, need a mid-morning pick-me-up or simply want to have coffee with a friend, there they are.  So this may not be useful to many of you who do not work in this lovely little part of London, but here are some cafes close to BBC New Broadcasting House that will always save the day when you’re having a tough week:

Attendant, Foley Street
This was my main discovery this week, so it warrants two blog posts.  I had often been curious about the little cafe in the Victorian converted toilet and, this week, I found out just how good it was.  It was their first birthday on Tuesday, so I popped along to have a flat white and little salted caramel brownie and enter their raffle (which, sadly, I didn’t win).  The following day, with a bit of a headache caused by necking amaretto sours in The Palmerston, I popped in again for breakfast.  It’s a great little place and, one you get over the idea of drinking coffee in a cleaned-up urinal, one you will keep wanting to come back to.  They use Caravan coffee and have a small but perfectly formed range of pastries, cakes and sandwiches.  Plus the staff are bloody lovely.

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Scandinavian Kitchen, Great Titchfield Street
There are few people who work around here that have not been to the Scandinavian kitchen and, in recent years, it has become something of a Fitzrovia institution.  Often they have a board outside offering ‘free hugs’, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s a nice change from the general soup/sandwich lunch options in the many chain cafes on Oxford Street and Regent Street – they do a lunch deal of three or five items that you can select to make up your own smoregsboard.  On my last visit I opted for egg on rye, a smoked salmon wrap and a pickled cabbage salad.  Their coffee is good and their cinnamon buns pretty damn excellent.

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Kaffeine, Great Titchfield Street
This antipodean-style cafe is one of the best-known coffee shops in London and is famous for the quality of their coffee and the experience of their baristas.  They use Square Mile beans and have a delicious range of breakfasts and sandwiches which, admittedly, are a little on the expensive side.  It is a local favourite and is always packed out around breakfast and lunch.  If you get the chance, try the Anzac Biscuits for a taste of down under.

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MyChocolate Workshop

I have sadly come to the realisation that there is not, nor ever will be, a glittering career as a chocolatier ahead of me.  For one, it’s tricky stuff.  You only have to watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off to see how quickly making ganache or tempering chocolate can turn into a car crash.  Use a chocolate with too low cocoa solids, you end up with a ganache that won’t. bloody. set., or use large amounts of the extra dark stuff and you might end up with something so insomnia-inducing that it leaves you wired for days.  Like most people, I absolutely love chocolate in all its forms, so when the opportunity to learn more about it arose, I jumped at the chance, hoping that I might become somebody who effortlessly turns out beautiful confectionery without ruining their clothes and kitchen worktops in the process.  Not quite,  but they tried.

I was invited to take part in a truffle-making session with MyChocolate, a company that organises chocolate-making workshops for groups.  Run by chocolatier Hannah Saxton, the school employs a number of staff and teachers who seek to deliver a range of events for corporate teams, hen parties, stag parties and birthdays; all around the process of making and tasting chocolate, as well as forays into the worlds of cupcakes and cocktails.  They operate events out of venues in London, Brighton and Manchester, but have recently developed a mobile workshop, so can put on classes in other parts of the country when needed.

This class was run from their main kitchen in central London, close to Farringdon station.  Once we were seated in groups at large tables full of chocolate-making paraphernalia, had out aprons on and a glass of prosecco in hand, we were ready to begin.

The first part of the course focuses around learning to understand and taste chocolate.  The first task was to blind taste two pieces of chocolate and decide which is the good-quality organic stuff, and which was cheap supermarket chocolate.  Everybody in the class guessed correctly, but I was surprised to see that several of my fellow bloggers preferred the cheaper chocolate to the good stuff.  I myself am partial to the odd bar of Dairy Milk, but it really was no contest.  We were then given three pieces of chocolate with varying percentages of cocoa solids to taste.  The amount of cocoa solids in chocolate gives it many of its characteristics, including how quickly it will set when made into a ganache, which is the basis for truffles.

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The traditional method of making truffles is to make a ganache by heating cream to scorching point, removing it from the heat and stirring in chopped chocolate until smooth.  This is then set in the fridge for several hours until firm and spoonfuls of ganache scooped out and rolled into balls.  As the workshops lack the luxury of such time, ganache is made by pouring cold cream into melted chocolate and rapidly stirring until it sets.  Charlotte, our teacher for the evening, showed us how to do this before demonstrating a method of piping out the soft ganache on to parchment and letting them set in their shapes.  If you don’t want to end up with completely brown hands, a la the rolling method, this could be for you.  Once set, the truffles are dipped into bowls of melted milk or dark chocolate and either rolled in cocoa powder or decorated.

Unfortunately, my chocolate-making skills were still not of a high standard, and I still managed to end up with more on my face and in my hair than I had hoped, but my technique improved somewhat under Charlotte’s guidance.  The truffles I made were, let’s face it, never going to be of the kind you might find in a little Belgian-chocolate shop, but they looked like less of a mess than I feared they may, even after I went crazy with the freeze-dried raspberries.  Several hours later, drinking G&Ts in The Actress, they tasted rather good.

My Chocolate, Unit B1 Hatton Square Business Centre, 16-16a Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7RJ  @MyChocolateUK

I was invited to review MyChocolate

Attendant Cafe, Fitzrovia

I have been often curious about a little cafe behind my office that was once an underground public toilet.  Today was their first birthday, which seemed like a great opportunity to satisfy that curiosity by meeting my friend Jon there for coffee.

The former toilet that houses Attendant Cafe was apparently built in around 1890 and fell derelict in the 1960s before being converted last year.  The cafe’s owners have stayed true to its origins by keeping a number of the original features.  As you walk through the doors and down into the depths of Foley Street, you are greeted with a wall of graffiti, an amusing nod to how most public spaces are often treated.  The walls inside are lined with the archetypal white tiles you might expect from a public convenience and one of the main seating areas is a row of converted Victorian urinals complete with a (hopefully) decorative flush.

Sadly a lunch meeting prevented me from trying any of their delicious sandwiches, but I did manage a sneaky miniature salted caramel brownie (a little bargain at £1), which had the right amount of salt and sweetness.  The coffee is Caravan, which I am already a huge fan of, and the flat whites expertly made.  Being a mere three minute stroll from my office, it is very likely that this will become a regular spot.

Attendant Cafe, 27a Foley Street, LondonW1W 6DY.  @Attendantcafe

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