Upper Street @ Angel, Islington

First of all, I must sincerely apologise for the shocking lack of posts in the last two weeks. Planning R’s birthday present, meal and cake definitely took my (very) fickle mind a long time, but I was quite happy with how it all turned out. Will post about it sometime in the near future – I have a shocking backlog of posts like you would not believe. Eeep! This is precisely why I respect bloggers like Lorraine, she’s amazing and manages to find time to blog everyday – no easy feat, let me tell you.

But yes, let me stop rambling and introduce you to the yumminess of Upper Street. Now, I have to admit that I had never, ever eaten anywhere in Angel before this year. Shocking really, considering it’s actually not too far from where I’ve lived for.. well. Only five years. πŸ˜› A friend who lived in the Highbury & Islington area was completely appalled by this, and thanks to her, I discovered some really interesting restaurants/cafes.

Fig & Olive is a pretty restaurant located halfway along Upper Street, which serves what they describe as “Modern European” cuisine. I’m a complete sucker for good decor, and Fig & Olive ticks all my boxes. Just look at those cool lamps!

[Please be forewarned that I could be making up the names of the following dishes as this meal took place quite a while ago.]

First up is the crabcake served on a bed of creamed spinach and mayo. I know crabcakes seem a tad boring, but this one was seriously good. The breadcrumbed exterior is beautifully crisp, and you are greeted with gooey crab goodness when you cut through it. The spinach (or what I remember to be spinach – please correct me if I’m mistaken) was a great pairing, as it had just the right amount of salt to complement the sweetness of crab meat.

The vodka flame grilled calamari salad is seriously good, and is one of my favourite ways to eat calamari. The salad itself is nothing special, but it’s worth a try for the calamari alone. There’s just the right amount of burnt-ness in the calamari, and although the you get a mild hint of the vodka, it’s by no means overwhelming.

The duck served with a cherry sauce and sauteed potatoes was interesting, but if I remember correctly – it was a little on the salty side. R felt that there were too many potatoes served on the side, and had to leave quite a bit behind.

The slow roasted pork leg with mash looked like a ridiculously huge dish, but in reality, there wasn’t too much meat on the bone (and I actually managed to clean my plate). Again, there may have been (possibly) too much mash, but I have never been one to say no to potatoes. Another thing to note that the sauce for this dish seemed remarkably similar to the sauce of the duck dish….

Fig & Olive does serve desserts, which are displayed beautifully by the entrance of the restaurant. However, we decided to not have dessert here as I had something else in mind…. cakes from Ottolenghi! πŸ™‚ This restaurant is serves simple yet delicious food with a Mediterranean influence. Now, I have never actually eaten the food at Ottolenghi as I have always been too hungry to wait it out in the long queues for a table, but I’ve had the cakes and pastries (taken away and slowly devoured at home), and I must say that they are absolutely gorgeous.

The pastries at Ottolenghi are displayed in the most beautiful fashion, with platters of delicious looking creations sitting atop colourful stools of varying heights. I didn’t manage to get a photo of the displays, but trust me when I say you’ll find it hard to not swoon if you’re a dessert lover such as myself. But it’s not just the way they display the desserts which has me constantly raving about Ottolenghi, it’s the yummy desserts….

Raspberry mascarpone tart, topped with a berry jam/coulis. The crumbly pastry crust was just delightful, especially when paired with the sweet mascarpone filling.

Vanilla cupcake, topped with a vanilla bean frosting and some blueberries. The cupcake was light and fluffy, and I really enjoyed this. I also liked that the frosting was not overly ‘sickly’, which sometimes happens with some cupcake frostings.

Lemon semolina tart. I got this because I love polenta in cakes and muffins, and I figured that semolina would taste similar. I actually find that I prefer polenta to semolina when it comes to cakes as the texture of polenta is more evident (I hope that makes sense!). It doesn’t take anything away from this tart though, as it was very refreshing – a tad too much lemon sugar syrup over the top though.

Carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting. This was lovely – just the right amount of spices to balance out the sweetness of the carrots. I think they also used cardamom in their spice mix, which I’m not a huge fan of, so that meant the cake lost some of it’s appeal. The cream cheese frosting was awesome though.(which cream cheese frosting isn’t?) πŸ˜›

Now this is where is gets tricky. I think this was a custard tart…. but I can’t say for sure. This is what happens when you buy too many desserts. I might have also semi-erased this from my mind as this was the pastry I liked the least. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t live up to my high expectations of Ottolenghi.

And whilst I’m on the subject of Ottolenghi, here are some photos of other sweet treats I’ve had here in the past: (I try something new everytime I go there, and they have such a wide selection that it’ll be a while before I revisit these)

Passionfruit custart tart, topped with a soft meringue frosting. Just look at this tart, it’s so beautiful that it was I knew I had to try it the moment I laid my eyes on it. How I wish I could pipe that well! The crumbly tart case is baked to perfection, and the passionfruit pips add texture to the soft meringue which is already delicious.

Lemon (I think) polenta cake, topped with a lovely simple sugar icing. This was the first time I had eaten polenta in a cake, and I fell in love almost instantly. I really enjoyed the textures in the cake, and I suspect there may have been some sort of ground nuts in it as well. This is a cake I would buy each time I visit Ottolenghi (unfortunately they didn’t have any the second time I dropped by, sniff).

Hazelnut meringue, with gooey caramel on the inside. I could not resist buying one of these giant meringues as they looked sooo inviting (I seriously think I have a problem). The meringue was beautifully crisp like how all meringues should be, with a great hazelnut aftertaste. The caramel slathered on the innards of the meringue was a pleasant surprise, but one I only enjoyed for a few mouthfuls as it got seriously too sweet (i.e. it hurt my teeth) after a while. Didn’t stop me from eating up the rest of the meringue though, I just left out the caramel-y bits.

So yes. These are two of my favourite places to eat in Islington, and I hope I’ve managed to convince you that they are worth a try if you happen to be in the area. πŸ™‚ If anyone has tried the (non-sweet) food at Ottolenghi, I would be very interested to hear what you think about it.

Don’t you just love the look of the stacked meringues? So pretty.

Ottolenghi
287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/

Fig & Olive
151 Upper Street
London N1 1RA
020 7354 2605

Borough Market, London

If I was asked to name my favourite places in London, Borough Market would definitely make my list. Borough Market is the oldest food market in London, and is located South of River Thames (South Bank). It sells a wide variety of food, vegetables, drinks, plants, cheeses…. amongst others. They are open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I normally find myself there on a Saturday morning/afternoon, where I end up stuffing myself with food in a very long lunch session. Ah, the life. πŸ™‚

Venison burger (Β£4.50 if I remember correctly). The venison was perfectly cooked, and tasted wonderful when paired with the fried onions and soft bun. I can’t remember the name of the stall, but I believe it was located in the Middle Market.

Double chorizo, rocket and roasted piquillo pepper sandwich (Β£4.85), from Brindisa. This stall is located right outside their shop, and usually has a long queue of hungry customers waiting to get their hands on one of these delicious sandwiches. It’s worth the wait though, as the spicy chorizo is balanced by the sweetness of the peppers and bitterness of the rocket. Alternatively, you can head to their restaurant which is just around the corner. A word of warning – they don’t take any bookings, so be prepared for a long wait if you turn up during lunch hours.

Seared scallops with crispy bacon (around Β£4-5), from Shellseekers. The scallops are “hand-dived”, and are extremely fresh. I feel that the saltiness of the crispy bacon complements the scallops really well. I can’t say I’m a fan of the carrots that come with it, but I guess it’s a way of fooling myself into thinking it’s a semi-healthy dish. πŸ˜›

Wheatgrass smoothie (Β£4.50), from the Juice Bar. This is s stand you can’t miss, with their colourful signboards, baskets of fresh fruit and trays of wheatgrass plants. This particular smoothie is made up of oranges, limes, apples, bananas and a shot of wheatgrass juice. We tried this out of curiosity, and although the bright green shade of the smoothie is slightly off-putting, it actually tastes pretty good. A little grassy, but very interesting.

Iced lattes (Β£2 each), from Monmouth Coffee Company. The coffee from this place is simply amazing, and can beat Starbucks coffee anytime. Don’t get me wrong, I do drink Starbucks coffee from time to time, but I sometimes find them too sweet. If (and when) I get myself a coffee maker, I’d buy coffee beans from Monmouth Coffee for sure.

I also love snacking on the random chocolate brownie, or sandwich as I make my way through Borough. There is a wide variety of food available which I believe caters to almost all palates. The photos I have are not representative of the sweet/savory food ratio (I have an innate love for all things sweet, and therefore tend to photograph them more….).

Part of the attraction of this market is also the fresh fruit and vegetables which are on offer. I love the variety that is available, and would regularly shop for groceries here if it was closer to home. Somehow everything looks so much fresher and appealing than the ones available in supermarkets! My favourite things to get here are wild mushrooms, samphire, and fish.

Lovely samphire and a huge variety of mushrooms. I’ve only recently discovered samphire, and it’s such a great accompaniment to seafood dishes.

Garlic sold in stalks (don’t they look divine?), radishes, and artichokes.

Beautiful curves of tomatoes and squashes.

A colourful variety of potatoes, bunched beetroots, and a sweet smelling bunch of lavender amongst a bed of garlic.

Some of the berries on offer…

Don’t you just love the colours and tropical-ness of this display? πŸ™‚

A selection of fish and meat

Salt (fleur de sel) sold by the tub. Other varieties of salt are also available – e.g. seasalt with seaweed (which I find very interesting). There are also a number of stalls selling freshly baked breads, as shown in the bottom right photo.

I hope this post has convinced you that Borough Market is a definite must do in London – whether you’re a tourist, or a Londoner. How could anyone resist the temptation of such lovely food? πŸ˜‰

Borough Market
8 Southwark Street
London, SE1 1TL
020 7407 1002
http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/

Les Brassins, Brussels

Before heading off to Brussels, I did what most food-crazed people do: research the area to come up with a list of places to eat in. πŸ˜€ When doing this, a place called Les Brassins kept being mentioned, not only in review sites, but also in food blogs. I figured that this was a good sign, and immediately made a note of where it was on the map.

Fizzy iced lemon tea, from a bottle. It was very nice!

Shrimp croquettes (€9,50). These were served with a side of deep fried curly parsley and a mixed leaf salad. The croquette was delightfully crispy on the outside, and soft and creamy on the inside, with the occasional bit of prawns to give a nice contrast in texture. You can only imagine how happy I, a self proclaimed potato lover was. The deep fried parsley was also a nice touch and was very interesting (I normally don’t like parsley you see…).

Beef Carpaccio in truffle oil (€9,50). This was a nice, light starter with just a right amount parmesan shavings to go with it. The beef was also nice and thin, and well flavoured.

Rabbit in cherry beer sauce (2 legs) (€17,00). I’ve only had rabbit once, many years ago, and I don’t remember it being as good as this. I have to say that I don’t think I’d guess that it was rabbit if I was eating it blindfolded, as it tastes remarkably similar to chicken. The cherry beer sauce was delightful, with just the right balance of sweetness. Excellent for dunking your chips in! πŸ™‚

Steak “simple faceβ€œ (tender beef marinated in mustard, parsley and shallots and grilled on one side) (300gr) (€18,00). We thought this sounded interesting, and was especially attracted by the “tender beef” part of the description. Little did we know how rare the beef was going to be… (they don’t ask you how you like it done for this dish, I’m assuming this is why it’s called ‘simple face’).

I normally eat my steaks medium well done, and was slightly apprehensive when we I cut into eat to see how raw it was! Surprisingly, it actually tasted really good! Not tough or chewy like steaks sometimes are – just pure, tender goodness. I must admit I had to pretend to ignore how rare it was though. πŸ˜›

Stoemp (mashed potatoes with vegetables of the day) – one of the sides that come with the mains. The mash wasn’t perfectly smooth, but was still good, and suited the rather rustic atmosphere of the restaurant.

Homemade fries. Perfect for wiping up every last bit of sauce from your plates!

We were completely stuffed after all this food, and rather unfortunately, could not stomach dessert. A travesty, I know. In our defense, we had 3 Pierre Marcolini cakes waiting for us in the hotel room. πŸ˜›

We returned again the next day for a quick meal before heading for the train station as it was so close to our hotel (and it served delicious food!). Whilst it had been buzzing the night before, it was more quiet the second time around, though that may be because it was only about 6pm then. We had the shrimp croquettes for a starter yet again, but chose different mains.

Mussels (in season – market price). This was cooked in the traditional way – with white wine, onions, and celery. I don’t care much for celery, but I must say it gave a nice shot of ‘heat’ to the soup. It is a HUGE pot of mussels though, especially when you take the sides into account as well!

One of the specials – I can’t find the name of the dish on the site, but from my recollection, it was lamb cutlet patties with a thyme and garlic jus. Like all the other dishes we had, it was very good. It was tender, juicy, and flavoursome.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meals at Les Brassins, and I would not hesitate to recommend it. The service is pretty good as well, which is a plus. One regret I had was not being able to try their desserts as we were always too full to even consider it. I blame the fries and the stoemp!

Just a note about the menus – they have both English and French menus, but the specials board is only in French. I was lucky as R understands French, but I think as long as you have basic knowledge of the main types of meat, you should be able to guess-order your meal.

Les Brassins
36 Rue Keyenveld
1050 Brussels (Ixelles)
Tel: 02 512 6999
http://www.lesbrassins.com/

Le Pain Quotidien, Belgium

I’m a huge fan of Le Pain Quotidien (translated as: Our Daily Bread) ever since I discovered it’s existence, and am a frequent customer at the branch on Great Malborough Street. I have to admit I didn’t realise that it was a Belgian establishment until I was researching places to eat in Bruges and Brussels.

From what I’ve observed, the Le Pain philosophy is simple – it’s all about organic food, fairtrade coffee, and being environmentally friendly. According to their website, they use reclaimed wood and recycled Gypsum in construction of shops, energy-efficient lamps, as well as environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and packaging. They also have one large communal table in their shops (the ones I’ve been to anyway), which is something I’ve always found quite nice.

That’s not why I’m such a huge fan though… I’m a fan because I love their food. πŸ™‚

There was a Le Pain near our hotel, so we went in search of it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it after walking all along the road it was supposed to be on… After returning to the hotel to get directions, we realised why we didn’t notice the shop the first time around – it had a different name! Het Dagelijks Brood. Very different indeed. It still means “Our Daily Bread” though, it’s just in Dutch instead of French.

The first thing that struck me that the Belgian Le Pain menus are different from the London ones, in terms of food served. The menu can roughly be divided into a few sections: breakfast, salads, tartines, pastries, and specials. The breakfast and pastries are similar to the ones in London, but all the salads and tartines were different.

The specials/suggestion board

The communal table, under an open topped roof. Such a nice place to have a meal!

Cappuccinos, with a free chocolate on the side! The chocolate was a nice touch, they never do this in London! Hrmph.

R ordered the one of the breakfast meals – which was basically a basket of freshly baked breads, with a half boiled egg. This is served with a variety of fruit preserves and chocolate spreads to have with the bread.

This is how they the preserves and spreads are served, with a spoon in each jar. It works well though, as you get to choose which preserves or spreads you want, plus you get to have as much or as little as you like. The photo above shows their chocolate spreads… which are delicious. My favourite was the Brunette, which was a milk chocolate and hazelnut spread. Pure heaven, especially when paired with the freshly baked breads.

I ordered the smoked trout, grapefruit and guacamole tartine. The trout and grapefruit complemented each other surprisingly well, and I thoroughly enjoyed this. The flavour of guacamole was slightly overpowered by the other two main ingredients, but I think the tartine wouldn’t have been as nice without it.

I was craving for a polenta muffin for dessert, but they were unfortunately sold out. I had to settle for a pineapple meringue, pictured above. It’s basically two meringues, sandwiched with cream and pineapple chunks, with cocount bits on the top. It was very refreshing, and a revelation as I’d never thought of having pineapples with meringues!

As we enjoyed our meal so much, we decided to try out one of the Le Pain’s in Brussels as well. The one we went to was near Place du Sablon. It looked deceivingly small from the outside, but when we went in, we discovered that there was a huge area at the back with a glass topped roof. It was really nice, especially since it was a nice and sunny day.

We went for different drinks this time around. The red drink is a homemade raspberry iced lemonade. It is delicious, and I fell in love with it the moment I took a sip. I wonder if the London branches would consider adding this to their menu… The coffee in the background is a latte. No chocolates on the side for it though!

Sourdough bread is served with all salads on the menu.

Smoked salmon and organic cheese salad, with a polenta muffin on the side. This was partly to make up for the fact that I didn’t get to try the polenta muffin in Bruges… and I didn’t regret my decision. The muffin was delicious, with hints of parmesan cheese and parsely in every bite. I could eat quite a few in one go, I believe. I’m hoping that they bring the polenta muffin to London too! πŸ˜› I have to admit the salad paled in comparison to the wonderfulness of the muffin. Also, I prefer a variety of leaves in my salads, this one only used two types of salad leaves.

Smoked chicken salad, with fresh tomatoes, croutons and Parmesan shavings. The chicken was really nice, and went well with the creamy dressing provided.

I definitely enjoyed both my meals at Le Pain, and it was nice to have a different choice of food as compared to what I’m used to having in London. They have branches in quite a number of countries, so do consider visiting Le Pain Quotidien to try their food!

Le Pain Quotidien
Philip Stockstraat 21
8000 Brugge
TΓ©l : 050 33 60 50

Rue des Sablons 11 Zavelstraat
1000 Brussels
TΓ©l : 02 513 51 54

http://www.lepainquotidien.com/

Toku Restaurant, Japan Centre

I had a sudden craving for Japanese food last week, so R and I decided to go to Toku, the restaurant in Japan Centre. It’s one of our regular Japanese haunts, partly because the food is pretty good, and reasonably priced. It’s located in a brilliant location, smack in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, which probably explains why there are always people in the restaurant.

We were given complimentary wasabi peas, which are nice to snack on whilst browsing through the menu (especially if you’re starving!).

Cold oolong tea – approx Β£2 per can (if I remember correctly)

Pork katsu don (served with miso soup) – Β£12

The pork katsu don is one of my favourite Japanese rice dishes – deep fried breadcrumbed pork fillet, served with rice and an organic egg cracked over the top. It did not dissapoint, with beautifully cooked pork, and a egg that was just the right amount of runny (if that makes any sense). It’s served alongside a bowl of miso soup, which is nothing out of the ordinary.

Unagi (eel) don – Β£15

The unagi don is another one of my favourites, and my parents declared this dish the best when I brought them here last month. Even my sister, who is normally quite a fussy eater enjoyed this thoroughly! I think that they first grill the eel, and finish it off with a blowtorch to give it the nice random “burnt” bits, which really do add so much more to the dish. Like the pork katsu don, this is also served with miso soup. I always think of the Friends episode where Ross tries to convince Rachel and Phoebe that they need to have “unagi” to be “always prepared” for any harm that may befall them. I do try to refrain from using Ross’ unagi “hand symbol” in public though. πŸ˜› Such a brilliant show, Friends.

Rainbow roll (8 pcs) – Β£15

The rainbow roll is basically a sushi roll filled with prawn and avocado, and topped with a range of fresh sashimi – eel, salmon, prawn and squid. It’s good, but not as good as another one of their rolls, which is essentially the same roll with a different topping (fresh white fish sashimi and fish roe). I didn’t have that this time around but will definitely be having it some time in the near future, so stay tuned for a photo of that! I love the plates used to serve the sushi in this place, and am still on a hunt to find something similar to add to my ever-growing plate collection.

I’m always completely stuffed when I go to Toku for a meal, and this time was no exception. Nonetheless, it did not stop me from going to Minamoto Kitchoan, which is one of the prettiest shops I’ve ever set my eyes on… and I shall blog about that next. πŸ™‚

Restaurant Toku
The Japan Centre, 212 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HX
Tel: 020 7255 8255 Fax: 020 7434 0313
http://www.toku-restaurant.co.uk/restaurant.html