Breakfast@The Black Penny, Covent Gdn

I’m with Rock & Neko and it is the morning after the final night of the World Athletics Championships. We had an exhilarating time at the Olympic Stadium and now we are going to try and find a breakfast worthy of the podium. We are heading to The Black Penny on the edge of Covent Garden.

The fastest way for any breakfast to get off the starting blocks is with a great coffee. We order three flat whites and study the menu. The coffee soon arrives together with a jug of mint-infused water. The menu has something for most people – traditional & vegetarian cooked breakfasts, hashes, breakfast buns, porridge, mueslis and juices. All dishes are freshly cooked to order.

P1050670a

Neko sprints toward The Gatherer – The Black Penny’s breakfast plate for vegetarians: eggs how you like them (Neko asks for poached); sourdough toast; grilled halloumi; sautéed baby spinach; roasted tomatoes; mushrooms; and Black Penny baked beans. Neko has a huge appetite – he really loves the quality of the breakfast but he is slightly disappointed that the quantity makes the eating experience more middle distance than a marathon.

Rock’s appetite will only take her round one lap of the track but she is going for gold. She loves her poached eggs on sourdough toast, served with a side of smoked salmon… which is good because any place that serves her poor poached eggs or poor smoked salmon is definitely for the high jump.

P1050682a

The relay baton has been passed to me and I find myself unable to resist The Hunter. Poached eggs, sourdough toast, grilled sausage, smoked bacon, roast tomatoes, mushrooms and Black Penny baked beans. The beans are quite fiery and, while I love the taste, they do overpower everything else on the plate.

P1050679a

The Black Penny has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere enhanced by modern soul music. Service is very good and the quality of the coffee and food is excellent. Neko may have a slight issue on quantity and I may forego the baked beans next time but, overall, this was definitely a medal winning performance.

Lunch@Sosharu, Clerkenwell(2)

We’ve arrived early at Sosharu in Clerkenwell. This gives us the chance to have a drink at the bar and chat to Emily, the pastry chef, until Karla arrives to meet us for lunch. Kirin Ichiban, described as ‘Japan’s Premium Beer’ seems like a good way to start. It is highly carbonated, quite malty and not too sweet – it will work well with my lunch!

We watch the sashimi chef delicately shaving a variety of vegetables and neatly preparing fish with a huge knife and continue to chat to Emily as she creates a series of beautiful desserts. Sosharu is one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants and Emily has worked for Jason for 9 years. Very soon, however, she is leaving to work in a top New York restaurant. Karla soon arrives and we head to our table.

Karla always has the Bento Box when she is here at lunchtime and we cannot persuade her to change this habit. It is not surprising though – set out on a wooden tray (rather than a box) the seafood bento contains salmon teriyaki, a selection of seasonal pickled vegetables, a chirashi bowl of sashimi and sushi rice and a summer salad. It also looks fantastic.

P1050584a
The seafood bento box

Rock and I decide to mix it up a bit though. We select: the tuna open temaki with scallion tobiko, sushi rice, avocado and fresh wasabi; the chicken karaage with lemon salt; the stuffed chicken wings with pickled turnip; and the Kyoto stuffed peppers. The open temaki is sensational and easily our favourite savoury dish.

Another Kirin Ichiban helps me toward the dessert course. Normally, Rock and I share a dessert but we are keen to try Emily’s creations and choose one each. Rock picks the strawberry & matcha roll with yoghurt & yuzu, I have the matcha mille crepe with matcha sorbet. This is a mistake – matcha is a green tea and has quite a distinct flavour – my dessert has too much matcha for me! Rock’s dessert though is beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat. This is Emily at her best!

Overall, the food has been a fabulous array of fascinating ingredients and beautiful flavours. Great service delivered in a relaxed and sophisticated environment.

Lunch@Marcus, Belgravia

Today we are having a special lunch, with close friends and family, at a very special place. Marcus is a two Michelin star restaurant in Belgravia and the flagship of the Marcus Wareing group. The kitchen is led either by Marcus himself or by joint chef patrons Mark and Shauna Froydenlund.

After a glass or two of prosecco, we are presented with an amuse-bouche of rabbit in a sort of Japanese style steamed bun. This really helps to put us in the mood for more food of the same great quality. For the first two courses, I’m sitting near Lani, Muffin and Ilia. Rock is at the other end of the table next to Gino and Sid. Rock, Muffin and I have the salmon, calamansi (a small citrus fruit), cucumber, shallot & buttermilk. Highest quality salmon in a beautifully balanced dish. Lani and Sid have the burrata (a soft Italian cheese) with pea, hazelnut and truffle cream.

For the starter and the intermediate courses we are drinking Miss Terre, Domaine de la Senechaliere – a well-structured and flavoursome white from the Loire Valley. Edda, who is the only vegetarian on the table, loves her vibrantly coloured starter of heritage beetroot, cheese mousse, pine and girolles.

For the intermediate course Ilia and I are both having the scallop, curry & apple with a roast beef dressing. It is a dish of surprisingly delicate flavours – the curry and roast beef could easily overpower the scallop but this is a skilful kitchen. Edda has the asparagus, smoked egg yolk & pickled turnip. Lani and Sid have the amazing Gigha halibut with spring beans, shrimp & dill. It is the favourite savoury dish of the day for many. 

Now it’s time to change places. Rock moves to sit between Neko and Rufus, while I move to enjoy the company of Cali & Edda. With the main course we are mostly drinking another Loire Valley wine, a gamay from Domaine Levin. This is a berry flavoured ruby red with some subtle notes of spice. Cali & Edda both have the agnolotti with almonds, Cuore del Vesuvio ( an Italian grape tomato) and rocket. Rock has the mushroom, fregola (a Sardinian soup pasta) and cauliflower served with cleverly engineered wafer thin discs (yes, discs) of consomme.

Meanwhile, the carnivores can choose between lamb and duck. Neko and I both have the Herdwick lamb with pea and mint. Apart from beautiful pieces of tender lamb there is a crispy piece of lamb breast and a roundel of confit lamb. It is superb. Rufus has the Goosnargh duck with cauliflower, mushroom & cumin…he must be enjoying it because his plate is soon clean.

P1030975a
Herdwick lamb, crispy breast, pea, mint
P1030977a
Goosnargh duck, cauliflower, mushroom, cumin

After several bottles of prosecco, white and red wine, an amuse bouche, starters, fish or veggie courses, and main courses…do we have room for dessert? Omg, yes. But, not before we move again. This time Rock sits between Van and Ilia while I find myself between Wanda & Ziggy.

Most people fall into the trap of choosing the warm chocolate, cacao and salted caramel ice cream – it just sounds so comforting. A breast-shaped cone filled with warm chocolate is placed in front of me and I think I’m in heaven. At least that is until I try the dessert chosen by Wanda and Geno – bergamot, meringue and iced tea. It is full of sensational flavours – it is to die for!

Finally, as if any of us want this dining experience to end, we are presented with petit-fours – a lemon parmentier and a bitter orange macaron plus packages of hand-made chocolates filled with salted caramel to take home. Wow!

The whole experience has been fantastic. Great food and exceptional service, especially from Nicole – who was looking after our table. All enjoyed with the very best of friends and family. Same time next week?

Sunday lunch@Churchill Arms, Paxford

Nick Deverell-Smith, the head chef and owner of The Churchill Arms in Paxford has recently appeared on two culinary TV shows – the Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen. Although this is not the usual way we choose where we are going to eat, it has led Sebastien & Rebecca, to suggest The Churchill Arms as the place to meet for Sunday lunch. Sunday lunch menus tend to be traditional & boring so, we are hopeful that with Nick’s pedigree, there will be some more interesting options.

Sebastien & Rebecca are already there when we arrive. In terms of interesting options, I am immediately pleased to find an ale that I’ve not tried before. Shagweaver is an award winning pale bitter from the local North Cotswold Brewery. This is a refreshing ale – perfect for a warm summer’s day.

Before any starters arrive we are presented with a very pleasant amuse-bouche of artichoke and bacon arancini – light, crisp coated and well flavoured risotto rice balls.

Rock starts with the pea &spinach soup. Sebastien and I both go for the smoked haddock soufflé with a chive velouté. It is very well flavoured but I’m not sure that I like the consistency. The soufflé, originally quite light & fluffy, has become thick and heavy after the velouté has been poured over it. Rebecca chooses the most interesting dish in terms of presentation – heritage tomato with avocado & quinoa.

The main course selection is not as interesting as I had hoped. Rock has the leg of Cotswold lamb with roast potatoes, local greens & gravy. Sebastien & Rebecca have the pork T-bone with apple, crackling, sage & roast potatoes. All good quality but very traditional, the roast potatoes were excellent. I have the only non-traditional dish – whole roasted mackerel with bobby beans, peas and broad beans. It is very good.

P1030723a

Sebastien and I both examine the dessert menu and there is one that really appeals – the gooseberry tart. Sorry, we are told, we have just sold out! If Churchill was here, he would have settled for a Havana cigar and a cognac – but he would have to sit in the garden…

This was a typically British menu but I think we may have been better to visit Nick’s kitchen on a Saturday!

Lunch@The Bell, West Overton (2)

We first visited The Bell in West Overton in 2016. We really enjoyed the food and so we are going back for a second time to meet Jem & Sassy for lunch. The Bell is run by Hannah & Andrew McNaughton. Hannah leads the front of house team while Andrew, who has cooked at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor and at the Oxo Tower, leads the kitchen team.

I begin by revisiting the beer I had last time – Moles Best from the Moles Brewery in Melksham. It is a malty copper coloured bitter with a hint of floral hops. No one else at our table is drinking alcohol but, without the need for liquor, they are still all in good spirits.

Curried smoked haddock & prawn fishcakes served with lime pickle and coriander are brought to the table for Jem & Sassy. They have a crisp coating, are generously filled and taste fantastic. I have the duck liver parfait with onion confit and toast. Smooth, highly flavoured parfait. Rock has the warm potato pancake with hot smoked salmon, watercress and crème fraiche.  Well balanced and delicious. All good choices – what a great start!

Another beer but this time I’m going to try something new. Birdman is from the Flying Monk Brewery in Malmesbury. It is a refreshing full-bodied pale golden bitter – a nice contrast to the Moles Best. Jem & Sassy not only have the same starter but the same main course. It is some sort of gentle conspiracy to give me less to write about. Their pan fried fillet of sea bream comes with roasted cauliflower, chorizo, sautéed potatoes, almonds and tomato.

I have the slow braised venison with beetroot, mushrooms and sauté potato gnocchi. The venison arrives looking like a small haggis but it is absolutely superb its rich flavour is complemented by the beetroot and mushrooms. The light and delicate gnocchi is also very good. Rock enjoys a tasty local rabbit ragu with tagliatelle, peas and basil.

A good measure of how much we like the food at any place is whether we have dessert when we don’t really need to. Rock and I share the basil pannacotta with basil wine and fresh raspberries. An unusual and very nicely flavoured pannacotta that fully passed the ‘wobble’ test. Jem has the vanilla cheesecake with blueberry confit and Sassy the warm treacle tart with clotted cream. The desserts are every bit as good as the starters and the main courses.

The second visit to The Bell has been even better than the first – partly because we shared the experience with Jem & Sassy. A third visit is definitely on the cards for us and a second for Jem and Sassy!

Lunch@Bill’s, Newbury

Bill Collison used to be a greengrocer but these days he has a string of restaurants around the UK. We are visiting Bill’s in the Market Square of Newbury for lunch.

I start in my usual way by examining the beer menu and I find that it would be inappropriate to order anything other than Bill’s IPA. Brewed exclusively for Bill’s restaurants by the Adnams Brewery of Southwold, it is a light and golden India Pale Ale with just a hint of citrus.  Rock has Bill’s elderflower cordial with sparkling water and, as a connoisseur of elderflower cordials, she is impressed.

P1030679a

The lunchtime menu is an interesting mix of British favourites, with other dishes influenced by Italian, Asian and Cypriot cuisines. Rock and I decide to mix and match – we pick dishes that will work together and I’ll swap some of mine for some of hers.

Rock’s choice is easily the most interesting. Roasted aubergine, lentil & chickpea dhal served with cherry tomatoes, coriander chutney, toasted almonds and a grilled flatbread. It is beautifully put together and works extremely well with my Thai green chicken curry. The green curry is fiery, boosted by the flavour of fresh lemongrass, sugar snap peas and served with coconut rice.

P1030685a

I’m briefly fascinated by a conversation at the next table. The couple want to order a ham omelette from the breakfast menu but they stop serving breakfast here at midday on weekdays. However, these diners are incredibly insistent and the manager is called. He explains that the breakfast chef has finished for the day but says that he will personally cook them ham omelettes. I think the manager deserves a pat on the back.

We are impressed enough by our food so far that we decide to share a dessert. The banana and honeycomb cheesecake served with frozen yoghurt and salted caramel sauce tastes like a variation on a banoffie pie but the frozen yoghurt brings it back from the overly rich sweetnees of banoffie. It is good.

P1030688a

Bill’s is not fine dining but it does appear to be a restaurant chain that can produce both simple, familiar dishes and more interesting international plates.

Coffee & Cake@Woodruff’s, Stroud

After wandering around the farmers’ market in Stroud and buying loads of interesting goodies for the next few days… it’s time for coffee and cake. Woodruff’s is a favourite stop for us when we are in Stroud. It is an organic cafe that was established almost 20 years ago and it now has a reputation for great food and friendly service.

The atmosphere in the cafe is buzzing and convivial. Rock has an americano and I have a cappucino – as always the coffee is excellent. There are always a range of freshly made cakes to choose from and, as ever, I want to be adventurous. Beetroot & salted caramel cake – that should do it. It is very moist, the beetroot and salted caramel icing is fascinating in colour and tastes good too. 

P1030669a

As usual, this has been a great place to chill before heading back out for more food shopping!