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.

Dinner@Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen

Ahead of tomorrow’s flight to Romania, we are at Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen in the Heathrow Hilton. Cyrus Todiwala, the chef patron, is known for being one of ‘The Incredible Spice Men’ on TV and for his central London restaurant Cafe Spice Namaste. We need another taste of fine UK cuisine before we leave for eastern Europe.

We begin with beer. Both Rock and I have a bottle of Curious Brew IPA. A fine Indian Pale Ale brewed by Chapel Down in Tenterden. They use pale ale malt and a balanced blend of three different hops to produce a distinctively flavoured IPA. We both love it.

P1020500a

We spend a long time looking at the menu – there are just too many fabulous sounding things to choose from. We are also mindful of the fact that we almost always over order and we hate food waste with a passion! However….I have a cunning plan.

We share the vegetarian thali and the tikka platter – in effect, a small amount of several different dishes. But before that arrives we receive an amuse-bouche of saambaar, a spiced vegetable & lentil soup. It is very spicy and awakens parts of my digestive tract that have been hibernating for some time.

P1020501a

Just as I am about to order a big pot of calming yoghurt – the vegetarian thali and the tikka platter arrive. Each element of the dishes is carefully explained to us in detail and I quickly regret having no shorthand skills. So, this is what I think we had: the thali includes tadka dhal, baingan bharta (a smoked aubergine dish), cholay paneer ( paneer & chickpeas in a gravy with pomegranate seeds), bhindi aur mushroom ki jalfraezi (a spicy dish of okra, mushrooms & tomato), a raita, rice and a roti.

The tikka platter consists of Barbary duck, Denham Estates venison, Scotch beef, chicken, paneer and salmon all cooked, tikka fashion, in a clay oven. Wow! To calm myself I order another Curious Brew IPA.

P1020503a

Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen is a calm and stylish place. The service is excellent, the quality of the ingredients and the cooking skill of the open kitchen is very high. Even the beer is first rate. It really feels like our holiday has already started and we haven’t even taken off yet!

Lunch@Abbey Home Farm (2)

When you are meeting eco-warriors for lunch… you have to pick the right venue. We have chosen the organic farm shop & cafe at Abbey Home Farm and arrive unusually early.  We can use the time to wander round the shop & replenish our stocks. Cali & Bug arrive fashionably late but, as I’ve now started drinking and enjoying a Tom Long amber bitter craft ale from the Stroud Brewery, I don’t care.

p1010895a
Salads with home-made hummus

The menu at the organic cafe is entirely vegetarian during the week – they only serve meat on a Sunday. Rock picks her favourite dish – a small mixed salad (it is still huge by normal standards) served with home-made hummus. Cali fancies the french onion tart served with the full selection of salads. Bug and I both go for the Tamale pie with salads. The Tamale Pie is made up of vegetables covered in a Mexican spiced tomato sauce and cheese.

p1010893a
French onion tart with salads

We haven’t seen Cali & Bug for nearly a year and it is great to catch up with them. I’m excited to talk about my time at the Green Man festival but my stories pale next to Bug’s – he had a truly mind-blowing experience at Burning Man last summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Rock & I do environmentalism in an amateur way – we make our own compost & leaf mould and use ecologically friendly materials in our home like bamboo & cork. Cali & Bug are on a different ecological plane to us – their latest moves include installing four sets of solar panels and placing an order for an electric car!

They don’t really do dessert here but they really do cake. Cali has a chocolate brownie with her coffee, Bug has an enormous slice of carrot cake – but leaves no food waste. Rock and I share a piece of ginger, date & treacle cake, which is rich, moist and indulgent.

p1010897a
Carrot cake

Great food, great beer, great company – this is an experience that I would like to recycle over and over again!

Lunch@Veg Out, Kings Heath

I’m no vegetarian, but today my brother Neko has planted the idea of visiting Veg Out, a small café/restaurant in Kings Heath that serves organic dishes – many are also vegan and/or gluten free.

With no beer available we still need some form of irrigation. Neko chooses the Cawston Press Sparkling Apple while I cultivate a desire for the Sparkling Rhubarb.  Life without beer, at least for a limited season, can be good.

Neko digs his way through the Chef’s Special Salad made with feta cheese, beetroot, artichoke, dressed leaves and topped with spicy seeds. Meanwhile, I root for the Middle Eastern Falafel served inside a flat bread with humous, red onion & tomato salsa, pine nuts, mint and cucumber.

P1020589a

I know Neko is enjoying himself……..and, rather surprisingly, this place is growing on me.