The Breakfast Club

January 21st, 2012

Do you ever have that feeling towards the end of the week that your little internal bucket of happiness is running a bit low, the stresses of the week keep knocking it over and you really just need something really bad for you to slap that smile back on your face and carry you through to the weekend?

No? Oh well I do at least, and nothing seems to hit the spot better than one of the All American breakfasts at the The Breakfast Club; when their Spitalfields restaurant first opened I have to admit I was a bit skeptical that it was going to be pretentious and overpriced, fair enough it is actually a lot more expensive than some of the local cafes in the area that’ll fill your belly for half the price, but it’s worth it.

Start with two fluffy pancakes, lay on some perfect eggs (have them scrambled, fried or poached), stick some crispy bacon on the side that looks like it was attacked by a deep fat fryer, squeeze in some potatoes and onions, a single lonely sausage, and then drench the lot in maple syrup.

Belly busting, works every time, even if you do need someone to roll you back to the office afterwards.

If giant breakfasts aren’t your thing the menu still shouldn’t disappoint; other breakfast options, mammoth burgers, fajitas and wraps, salads and egg dishes fill it to the brim, though if you’re looking for a healthy option it’s worth  noting even the caeser salad is devastating.


May 15th, 2011

It was sometime last year that I heard of Yotam Ottolenghi and the excitement that has been building around his approach to creating with food; though primarily vegetarian these are no ordinary dishes – each one is crafted with respect to the ingredients to make them stand out and compliment each other.

I ordered both of the Ottolenghi books and tried a couple of the recipes out myself, the results were singing with flavour, however I was a little put off by the number of ingredients that every recipe called for and the difficulty of finding some of them locally.

Colour me surprised then after a short afternoon walk through Canonbury scoping the area out as a future place to live, walking through Islington looking for something to eat with my friend we spotted an Ottolenghi restaurant (their flag-ship, it would seem) and having been umming and ahhing about choices for the past half an hour, literally ditched all interest in the others and flew across the road with my friend trailing after me!

Weekends and lunch times are apparently the busiest periods, and the restaurant is laid out with most of the space dedicated to making the experience for seated customers – so queuing for 30 minutes for a table wasn’t the most comfortable, but we did get to try free cake, easy way to win me over really. If you can’t wait you can always get something to take away, but really… wait, it’s worth it.

There was so much on the menu that appealed to the both of us, so we decided the only fair way would be to get a main and three salads because two meant we just wouldn’t get to try enough; the descriptions below really don’t take into account all of the herbs and components of each of these dishes and salads, but its about as close as I can recall:

  • Spinach and Roquefort quiche with:
  • Burnt aubergine with tahini
  • Chargrilled broccoli with chilli
  • Fresh green bean salad
  • Seared salmon with mango and pineapple relish with:
  • Jersey royal potatoes with edamame
  • Roasted sweet potatoes with pomegranite and yoghurt
  • Basmati and pea herb salad

First off it’s worth saying that the portions are incredibly generous, not that is stopped the hungry two of us polishing off our plates before our neighbours at the table had even made it through their coffee and cake.

The food is clearly good enough to make anybody turn majority vegetarian, everything seems designed to compliment and make the ingredients stand out with a punch; the quiche was full of the distinctive taste of Roquefort, the aubergine was packed full of flavour and melted in the mouth with the tahini and chilli plus other spices (possibly paprika), the brocolli was beautifully charred and the chilli made it pop and the fresh green bean salad was as fresh and crunchy as the waitress had described.

I only tried a little of the salmon but it was something else, the mango and pineapple relish gave it a sweet taste that didn’t really feel out of place – more brought it to life than anything, the sweet potato was also lovely.

This is the kind of inspiring food that makes me (and possibly you) get in the kitchen and start inventing similar dishes, taking fresh ingredients and making them sing.

We also bought some cheeky cakes on the way out to try later (no way any more food was going in at that exact moment) – I hear the passion fruit meringue tart was expletive delicious, I’ve not yet tucked into the hazelnut with ricotta and chocolate tart, or the vanilla cheesecake with cherries that I bought to share with the mother this evening.


May 14th, 2011

Pho (pronounced more like fah) is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup; the various types seem to have a combination of different broths, meats and additional garnishes, but essentially the goal is the same – a hot flavoursome broth with packed with fresh noodles, meat and some zing.

Pho also happens to be small chain of restaurants that specialise in their namesake – offering a number of combinations of pho noodle based soups, bun noodles, Vietnamese inspired curry dishes, and other tasty things.

I first tried pho at Cây Tre last year and basically blew my head off (and turned a nice shade of purple) with the ‘generous’ amount of spice that had been used in the broth, but still beyond the spice there was a lot of flavour.

The experience isn’t quite the same at Pho, it’s essentially a heavily westernised take on Vietnamese food; the broth for the beef based dishes was a little bland and by my standards needed a fair amount of fish sauce and chilli (plus the squeeze of lime and herbs provided as a garnish.

My friend who hails from Thailand practically emptied a bucket of chilli into his before he thought it tasted even vaguely passable, and even then said it lacked the flavour he would have expected from the broth.

On the plus side the noodles are generally pretty fresh tasting, and you don’t have to have them in a broth – they have quite nice noodle dishes with stir fry vegetables or meats that are mixed in with nuoc cham sauce (at it’s simplest: fish sauce, lemon, sugar & water) which are refreshing, light and tasty.

Personally I’d suggest that if you are looking for the authentic experience, hunt around by Old Street, or if you’re just after a good noodle soup then find a good Japanese restaurant and order a huge bowl of ramen.


Kastner and Ovens

May 12th, 2011

Lunchtimes at work often seem like some bizarre holding pattern these days; circling all the usual favourite spots in the hope that they’ve spontaneously rolled out a new and exciting menu that will inspire the palette, only to be disappointed in the same old choices and moving on – potentially ending up with something that you didn’t really want.

This is the curse of having too much choice around you, it becomes impossible to make a decision where to go and new things become the only appealing choices.

Good thing then that after a couple of years construction, the Nido Student Living tower in Spitalfields has been completed and several unique (non-giant chain) restaurants have sprouted up on the ground floor offering some new choices!

Just off from Bell Lane – near Artillery Lane – Kastner and Ovens have opened up their second branch serving up a variety of hot dishes, salads, pasta dishes and a huge range of cakes freshly made on a daily basis.

The menu doesn’t change as often as they claim but there are minor tweaks and additions from day to day that can keep things interesting, and the quality of the food is pretty exceptional compared to some of the other local fare.

So far I’ve sampled some of the salads which were all tasty (though I did get a shock when eating some potatoes and getting a shock of roast garlic in there), the haddock fish cake – which was both gigantic and tasty, and the roasted vegetable quiche – which had wonderful pastry with a firm but wobbly filling – yum.

If you’re short of somewhere for lunch, try Kastner and Ovens either just off from Spitalfields, or in Covent Garden on Floral Street, hot foods range from £3-5, as do salads, so maybe something hot and a small salad.

Tapas at El Cantara

May 4th, 2011

Met an old friend for dinner this evening and having pretty much been busy all day I left the restaurant choice in his hands and also accepted to break my chain of visiting Japanese restaurants in favour of something more ‘American or Italian’.

We ended up at somewhere entirely different, El Cantara on Frith Street. Situated a little too close to the theaters for comfort it had a menu board outside touting pre-theatre offers – this should have been more of a warning sign.

When we entered I had to both sigh and laugh at the Moroccan decor, it’s only been a couple of months since I got back from touring parts of Morocco and had more than my fair share of cous cous and tagine for the year; had to immediately text my travel companion and groan at the thought of more cous cous.

El Cantara have a split menu, there are some popular Moroccan dishes such as the cous cous dishes and tagine dishes, but there are also heavily Spanish influenced dishes such as paella, and a variety of tapas sharing dishes which are a mix of the two cuisines.

There are deals if you order a number of tapas dishes, so we decided to order the most we could (which is 7 for around £28 if I remember correctly) and share them between us with some olives and freshly baked bread.

The olives arrived and were pretty decent, I ate them all though because I’m the only one that likes olives. The bread didn’t arrive at this point, and there was quite a gap between our olives and our sharing dishes arriving which can leave one gnawing at the edges of the table.

When our tapas arrived, it looked pretty bog standard. The squid was okay but the way it was described on the menu made it sound more interested than just simple rings in batter, the meatballs were okay but any Italian would scoff at them, the sardines were mostly a bone minefield, the broad beans were pretty tasty in fairness, but overall most of the dishes were about as interesting as you might expect from chains like La Tasca or Las Iguanas – only not as good.

Our bread never did arrive, our waitress made several calls to the kitchen, and bread did arrive to her several times, but it never appeared to be the right bread, or it went to another table if it was actually our bread.

Would recommend avoiding this restaurant, if you’re after tapas try the highly popular Cafe Espana at the end of Old Compton Street is only a short walk away and better value and quality.