It was wet, cold and dark and we’d decamped from the noisy Thomas Cubitt on Elisabeth Street to find some food. Briefly stopping in the rain to chat to the athlete Jonathan Edwards, we hurried into The Ebury Restaurant and Wine Bar. This is the original, and best, of wine bars and my group of cronies used to hang out here all the time after work. We even spent a memorable New Years Eve here many years ago. A quick look around showed that not a lot had changed, except that the walls had been given a lick of paint with some murals and decoration added. We were quickly shown a cosy table and our charming French waiter brought us wine and menus fairly promptly. The wine list is comprehensive and good value; we chose an Argentinian Malbec for £27 which tasted fruity and oaky. Looking at the wine list I noticed that it was 14% which could account for being less than sprightly the next morning. You can order most wines by two different glass sizes or by the bottle which gives you lots of opportunities to try what they have to offer. The atmosphere was quite buzzy, although thankfully not as noisy as the place we had just left. You can also opt to sit in the bar area or get a table in the quieter back part for food if that is your main focus. The food was perfectly good and a variety of choice to suit all tastes. We had hummus with roast garlic and pitta bread, grilled tiger prawns with tabouleh, lime and coriander vinaigrette a perfect dish of Moroccan lamb cutlets with roasted veg and harissa salsa and another main of sea bass fillet with warm niçoise salad and sun dried tomato dressing. I looked over my shoulder to see Boris Johnson smirking at me, and it was a relief when I realised that it was just his head painted on the wall next to me. “Perhaps you should add Hugh Grant,” we told the waiter, before explaining that before Hugh Grant became famous and was plain old Hughie, my van driver, we came here all the time with him to celebrate his getting parts in forthcoming films. The problem was that in those days he couldn’t take up the film offers as he didn’t have an equity card. It was a sad day for our little food business when he decided to concentrate on writing and appearing in revues in pub theatres in order to obtain the old equity card. With our coffees the lovely waiter brought us the most divine chocolate truffles. They were so good that I really wished that they sold them by the bag to take away. If you are in the area, the Ebury is still a winner.
I’ve never liked booking restaurants weeks ahead, and appreciate good food in informal surroundings. Recently we were looking for somewhere dog friendly to go and drink a glass of bubbly to celebrate our elder son’s last day at college. We plumped for The Fox and Grapes; nestled in a corner of Wimbledon Common, on the edge of a golf course it used to be very much a local dog walkers muddy wellies pub. Now it has been transformed into a lovely space, attractive with calm Farrow and Ball colours and well placed seating. When we arrived it was early evening and there were quite a few families with young children enjoying a meal. This could be because they serve a daily early bird special which seems good value. No one looked shocked or surprised when the three of us entered with the dog in tow and we were quickly found a table. Once settled we were immediately served with a bottle of Billecart Salmon, NV @ £55 and a pint of beer. Dog sat quietly under the table while we enjoyed the food. I couldn’t resist the wild garlic soup, as my hunt for wild garlic had proved fruitless. This was served with anchovy fritters, which I was keen to try. Although it was a nice dish the fritters didn’t quite hit the tangy saltiness I had hoped for. Husband’s dish of pickled mackerel was very pretty and hit the spot. We are meant to be watching our weight, so I opted for another starter; razor clams with chorizo. This came with fresh peas and a frothy sauce. Not only was it very good but quite plentiful. My husband was very pleased with his main of pan fried John Dory with beetroot which was perfectly cooked and very tasty. As father and son chatted away about the joys of American wrestling, the dog and I had a perfect excuse to slip away for a turn on the common. Luckily it was a rare sunny evening and at 9pm it was light with plenty of people around. This included the usual gaggle of teenagers, some keen runners, and a couple of youngsters practising their golf. Chester, the dog, and I met up with a friendly young couple with a lively young Hungarian Ridgeback. Whilst the dogs played, we chatted and I urged them to visit the Fox and Grapes. It is the kind of place you can pop into for a drink, and they have some interesting bar snacks, such as the wild boar scotch egg which we saw being devoured on the next table. We went midweek, so if you are coming from far away it would probably be advisable to book.
All in all, it was a perfect evening with lovely food, very helpful and friendly service and a relaxed time with No 1 son. We felt so welcomed that we will be back, perhaps not on a diet, so we can sample more of the food and wine list….
“I’d like to do something different this weekend,” George announced. It seems that he was bored with taking the dog out for a tramp in country. I had just been conducting a twitter chat with Jon Spiteri – he of front of house Quo Vadis fame. Apparently they had gull’s eggs on the menu. Oh, and he and Jeremy Lee (head chef and good mate of ours) were having a twitter argument about biscuits. Anyhow it put me in the mind of popping into QV for a glass of wine and a plate of something nice. Another foodie friend, Geoff Ho was persuaded to come along. Quo Vadis is a lovely, lovely place and I would really like to live there. Everything about it makes me feel happy, from the stained glass windows, the copper bar, the competent staff and the knowledgeable barman. Although elegant it has a relaxed feeling and the food is joyously uncomplicated. I was ready to settle in for the duration but Geoff had other ideas, so after a perfect crab starter, we decamped to the very different experience of Ducksoup, just a trot away down Dean Street. We left Jeremy and Jon to their biscuit tiff and left, very nearly escaping with Jeremy’s wallet, but that’s another story.
Ducksoup is sparse to say the least and not really very comfy. However the three of us were in gung-ho mood having escaped our mundane weekend duties and were prepared to enjoy everything. Firstly, this place is about wine, specialising in natural wines. The “menu” in keeping with the spartan surroundings was hand written on what looked like a bit of foolscap paper ripped from an exercise book. Difficult if your eyesight isn’t great. However the dishes on offer looked like our sort of food; on trend, unfussy and seasonal. We only sampled three of the dishes as Geoff had by now decided we also needed to visit Chinatown for some dim sum. The courgette flowers were perfect, the clams were plentiful and our third dish of pickled herrings with broad bean, lemon and dill was gobbled enthusiastically by George. The broad beans turned out to be a bean version of hummus which seems to be on the menus of many trendy restaurants at the moment. We stayed just long enough to chat to owner Rory McCoy about the non-hangover credentials of natural wines, before pressing onto yet another lunchtime venue. Rory was charming and has previously worked with Mark Hix and clearly knows all about wine. Another quirk of the place is the LP player perched precariously on a shelf near the front door. The food is good, and the menu changes daily and I am sure we’ll be back. However it does have the air of a pop-up about it and I am not sure that it is everyone’s idea of eating out. I have heard tales of people having to queue to get a seat during the week so if you fancy trying it, pick your time carefully. George, who can be fussy, liked the quirkiness of the place, so maybe we’ll do something different again next weekend. Poor dog.
41 Dean Street
London W1D 4PR
These are the photographs from my “homework” following the excellent Photography for Business Course I did with http://www.vickiknights.co.uk
This was an intensive four hour course and Vicki set us a challenge to produce three photographs within two weeks, which she would critique. I have to say that it is not easy taking good photographs and as Vicky would say, “you don’t take a photograph, you make it”. This is difficult if you are Mrs Impatient. However I think it will be really useful to learn how to use a camera properly rather than the snaps I take with the iPhone.
Here are Vicki’s comments on my pics:
Cookies: this is nice but I would say that it’s the weakest image out of the 3. Your settings are fine and the lighting is good, but I feel that the composition could have been improved slightly. I know we talked about adding context to your images but I do feel the photo would be stronger without the broken biscuits on the table, they don’t look quite as inviting as the ones in the casket! But I am just being really fussy here as it’s still a great image!
Pesto: I really love this image and I think it’s the strongest out of the 3. Your settings are good, lighting is great and I like the composition. I have no tips to give here as the image works really well as it is!
Orange cake: this image works really well compositionally, I love the angle you’ve used. The only thing I would say is it would have worked better to focus on the cake right at the front of the shot and then let the others blur away in the background. It looks like you have focussed on the cake to the left of the frame – was this accidental or deliberate? This is a good image anyway, but if the focus had been on the front cake this would have been amazing!
One of the joys of being self employed is that you are often out and about whilst the rest of the world is at work. The downside is, of course, that when everyone else is either out enjoying themselves or on their way to bed, you are working. However I really value my morning walks in the park, and am so lucky to live near the most beautiful park with really good coffee right in the middle of it. This tiny little mobile van is manned by the ever cheerful Pietro who dispenses coffee con amore and great cooking tips. Even the wettest, coldest and dullest of days are improved by a walk to the coffee shack; I always come away with my spirits lifted ready to face the day’s work. Chester, the dog, also enjoys it as some of the regulars slip him bacon from their freshly prepared bacon rolls, dog biscuits or even on occasion a taste of ice cream. Last Thursday Pietro described the meatballs he had made the previous evening. “You gotta use pork and beef, maybe a little bit more beef than pork. And it ‘as to be good meat you know? I mix it up with some ‘erbs – what do call it? A bit of garlic, a bit of basil, some flat parsley. And make them big – you want a decent mouthful. Then you fry.” I asked him how long for and he said “40 minutes”! When I looked surprised, he told me that they are big and need a long time. “Don’t hurry it. You need a bit of patience and then – delicious!” So sometime soon I will be making the 40 minute giant meatballs, although I still love the Nigel Slater Polpettini recipe best…
This years show at Olympia was a corker, showcasing many great new products. Some companies had just launched that day at the show. There were numerous oil companies, lots of chocolate businesses and an awful lot of Iberica ham being carved for tasting. Thank goodness I hadn’t had lunch as we munched away around the show. We met some great people who had found creative solutions to working the family farm.
The following is a selection of my own private awards:
1. BEST STAND
My award for the best stand was for Corker crisps because of their charming staff and the vintage red mini. With its union jack roof and looking like it had escaped from the set of The Italian Job, this symbol of great British design had been driven all the way to their stand from Willow Farm in Cambridgeshire. Apparently the family has been growing potatoes on the rich Fenland soil since the 1800s and they believe the combination of the rich soil and Naturalo potatoes is what makes their crisps the best.
2. BEST BEER
We were positively drawn to the Hogs Back Brewery stand by a charming silver haired gentleman, complete with twirly silver moustache. Pressing a shot of HOP bottled beer into our hands he beamed as we discovered that we really liked it. Best described as a pale, golden beer it tasted malty with a good balance of hops and touch of sweetness. I would definitely like to drink more of this. The brewery is near Guildford in Surrey and conducts tours of the brewery, which need to be pre-booked. Or you can walk in the lovely countryside around the brewery then pop into their shop and take a few beers away with you to sample at home.
3. BEST CHOCOLATE
We met the lovely lady behind Spice Rack Chocolates who gave us some to try and explained that her chocolates are unique because the chocolates are solid and infused with herbs, spices, coffees and teas, using high quality ingredients. I’m not sure that they have a distributor in the UK yet, but watch out for these products. They are gorgeous.
4. BEST TRADITIONAL PRODUCT
Pride of Place Baking Company for their delicious crunchy porridge oatcakes – described as .
“Nutty and crumbly, with no artificial colours, preservatives or hydrogenated fat” these would be fantastic with cheese or with some smoked trout or smoked mackerel pate spooned on top. These are sold through independent delis and farm shops an are definitely worth seeking out as they have won no less than 5 *Gold Star Awards and 1**Gold Star Awards in the 2011 Great Taste Awards
5. MY OVERALL FAVOURITE
I’m not normally a gin drinker, but the 6 O’Clock Gin I sipped with a splash of their own brand tonic was a cut above normal gin, and tasted balanced with aromatics. Born out of Bramley and Gage who are a small family business making fruit liqueurs to traditional recipes. You can buy the gin at a limited number of retail outlets, and also online through the Bramley & Gage website
Other mentions which we loved are the:
Fine Cheese Company of Bath
for their own brand Fine Cheese Toast selection which are sensationally good
The selection comprises:
Cherries, Almonds & Linseeds
Dates, Hazlenuts & Pumpkin seeds
Apricots, Pistachios & Sunflower seeds
for it’s smooth potato based vodka and in particular the Rhubarb liqueur and the sip of limited edition Horseradish vodka we were lucky enough to try as I think we had the last drop.
Kitchen Garden Preserves
A fabulous array jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles from an award winning business based in Stroud. You can buy these products online and I particularly recommend their red wine jelly to go with roast chicken or meat.