Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Places To Eat In London: Polpo, Notting Hill

Usually, this whole 'Places To Eat In London' thing is perfectly planned and co-ordinated. I know where I am eating and with whom, and I've requested ahead a table near the window so that the lighting in my photos will be better. I know the drill. However, there is something to be said to spontaneity. A middle of the afternoon trip to Polpo in Notting Hill was decided on over the pre-pre-dinner drinks in Westminster, and my winning formula to get an empty Russell Norman restaurant being to turn up hours before service starts held true
Menus at Polpo Notting Hill Polpo Notting Hill Interior
The exciting thing about Polpo in Notting Hill is it is rather big compared to some of the others in its group, which also enhances your chance of getting a table. I also loved how it obviously played on its owners ethos of using the space that is already there in designing an eatery. It has such a great atmosphere. 
Polpo Notting Hill Cocktails
We kicked off our menu browsing (deciding how many of the small sharing plates we could possibly eat, and which of the dishes we just could not miss out on. To be honest, I think I could have eaten practically the whole menu!) with cocktails. A classic bellini for him, and the daily special for me. Apparently he'd had better, but I was all over my mix of Campari, limoncello sorbet and I can't remember what else. It was perfectly both sweet, refreshing and bitter, and lets me know that you should trust the bar staff with their own creations. 
Polpo White Peach, Pea Shoot & Mozzarella Bruschetta
I started with, all to myself the White Peach, Pea Shoot and Mozzarella Bruschetta. So simple, but such a great flavour combination. It was a great start, though I think it was presented in a way that would have been hard to cut up and share (as intended) without loosing it all, and the peaches could have been a bit riper. However, it is not their fault; they'd actually mixed some regular peach in with the white to ensure they were using ripe fruits. But honestly, the peaches did not ruin the dish and it still was a fantastic start.
Polpo Classic Beef & Pork Meatballs
My first 'oh my god this meal is absolutely amazing' moment came with the classic beef and pork meatballs, served in a simple tomato sauce. Big, fat, melt in the mouth, tender and sweet. They were everything you could possibly want from a meatball, and they are one menu item when making your mind up at Polpo you simply can't overlook. I usually make my meatballs with just beef or veal, thinking that putting some pork mince into the mix would just be extra shopping not relative to the improvement that would be made, but these seriously have made me rethink my meatball making strategy.
Polpo Prosciutto, Smoked Mozzarella & Rocket Pizzette
Next up came the Pizzette topped off with smoked mozzarella, prosciutto and rocket. The base was equal parts soft and crispy, and even better than the dough version in the Polpo book, which I do rather love when I'm making pizzas just for me, and not for a whole group of people. The prosciutto and rocket made good topping choices, though while the whole thing was totally delicious, I question if the mozzarella being smoked made any flavour difference from regular mozzarella. You still need to order a Pizzette, though.
Polpo Sliced Flank Steak with White Truffle Cream & Rocket
To finish off the savoury section came my other favourite, you totally have to order at Polpo dish on the menu. The sliced flank steak with white truffle cream came with lots of rocket (gave it a lovely kick), which was fantastically coated in the truffle cream. The steak was cooked just how I liked it, nice and rare, and so packed with juice and flavour. The cream went perfectly, adding a rich white truffle flavour without the truffle overpowering the rest of the flavours in the dish, which often happens when it is used as an ingredient.
Polpo Notting Hill Bar Area Polpo Notting Hill 
The lights went down for evening service, and it was great to see the light Venetian joint turn into an atmosphere that told of intimate dinners and a lively scene for dinner. We ordered another round of cocktails (a lovely sweet and strong Cynar Gin Fizz for him, and an exemplary Dark & Stormy for me) while we contemplated dessert. Okay, while I contemplated which two (!) desserts I was going to manage to narrow it down too. He had another Pizzette, something with meat that was tucked into too fast for me to photograph! 
Polpo Strawberry & Basil Panna Cotta
After asking our server (the service in Polpo is fantastic by the way, I've never had bad service in Polpetto or Mishkins, so I think it is something Russell Norman runs well in his joints) which of my two desserts I should go for first, I was soon tucking into the most deliciously light and creamy panna cotta, topped off with a perfectly balanced and macerated strawberry and basil compote. Hands down my favourite dessert on our table.
Polpo Flourless Orange & Almond Cake
Second, I went for a slice of the Flourless Orange and Almond Cake. The cake had a fabulously rich orange flavour, and managed to be both a light in taste and dense in texture at the same time. The syrup it had been finished in did nothing but add to the flavour, and the creme and candied orange peel were lovely additions.
Polpo Vanilla Gelato Cone
He ordered the gelato cone. I complained that vanilla was such a boring order (I was too full by then for my own, and I wanted to try the other flavours!), but actually it was one of the best tastes of vanilla ice cream or gelato I've had in a very long time. That it comes to the table in a cone is also a very nice touch.

Overall it was a fantastic meal, and in the evening well worth queuing for about half an hour to get a table, but I think queuing anywhere longer than that is absolutely crazy! However, if you're looking for similar, small plate Italian style food in London, I think it would be the better option to head over to Polpo's sister restaurant Polpetto, where I think there is the overall better, even more fantastic meal to be had. How many of you have managed to eat at Polpo since it opened in Notting Hill the other month? 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Recipe: Whole Lemon & Honey Barbecue Chicken Skewers

So, as promised today I want to share with you the third of my three go to barbecue chicken recipes (you can find my Skinny Sticky Storecupboard Barbecue Chicken here, and my Barbecue Chicken, Bacon & Honey Mustard Skewers here) with you today. I also want to talk a bit about what to think about when you go around doing your supermarket shop, as far as what products you can scrimp and save on, and buy the cheapest of the cheap without much of a quality issue, and what products you need to put a little bit more care into choosing. 
Whole Lemon & Honey Barbecue Chicken Skewers  3 Whole Lemon & Honey Barbecue Chicken Skewers  2 Sainsbury's Freedom Food Chicken Breasts
When I first became a student, my biggest fear was not being able to feed myself. Not because I did not think I could cook (I always knew I could, even before it even occurred to me that I could make it my full time job through blogging), but the budgeting to be able to afford the food I was used to buying and cooking and still eat worried me. Organic, free range chickens and vine ripened tomatoes are expensive. Let us not talk about my Innocent Smoothie habit! During my second year of university, having to handle the pound to dollar exchange rate I don't know how much really I was spending on groceries, and during my third year the fact I was constantly developing recipes and that as well as living on top of a Sainsbury's where they sold sushi, and having a Waitrose nearby meant that budgeting went out of the window as far as food was concerned. But in my first year? I really got to learn where you could save pennies on the basics ranges from supermarkets (Sainsbury's was my destination of choice) so that you could splurge on some of the things I'd bulk at buying budget, such as chicken and sausages. While the more expensive Italian brands are better, own brand mozzarella is actually not that bad. As long as they are free range, your eggs don't really need to be organic too, and while budget bags of onions might seem like a good idea, you actually get more for your money getting those nets of three.

For some reason, supermarket chicken has always been one of my biggest worries as far as where my food comes from, and even as a student you'd sometimes balk at the amount I've paid for a couple of chicken breasts. So I could be sure they had not been pumped full of chemicals and were not GM in America I exclusively purchased kosher chicken. While the breasts where fat, plump (but not too plump that you knew they were pumped full of water to make up mass) and butchered nicely (read: better than I can do myself when I'm jointing a whole bird), you honestly really, really don't want to know how much they cost. I know hacking a whole bird to pieces to create cheaper pieces is not for everyone so I'm not going to try and convert you (today!), so I'm going to do the maths for you on Sainsbury's 'Freedom Food' (you can read more about Freedom Food labeled products across the UK here) pack of three chicken breasts. They list the exact farm where the chickens were raised on the packet, and for three fantastically fat and plump breasts they come in at £2.33 each. Now compare that to the price and size of something from the basics range. Sainsbury's did provide me with vouchers to get a couple of these in my weekly shop last week to put a recipe together for you all, but I have honestly purchased them before, and when I took a look at the selection in the Canterbury branch the other day, they are honestly what I'd choose for myself, anyway.
Whole Lemon & Honey Barbecue Chicken Marinade
I came up with this marinade a few years ago, in that first student kitchen as a way of jazzing up some chicken breasts to grill, but it was not until the following Summer did I discover that the marinade lent itself so much better to barbecue skewers. It is all storecupboard stuff; a whole lemon, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Whole Lemon & Honey Barbecue Chicken Skewers
One lemon serves two chicken breasts, which will feed two to three people on the barbecue. However, if there is just you (or you want to make extra) the cold leftover chunks are also pretty fantastic. My favourite way to have them is in a wrap with cherry tomatoes, cubed avocado and just a smidgen of light mayonnaise to hold the whole thing together.

  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp Runny Honey
  • Zest + Juice of 1 Large Lemon
  • 2 Freedom Food Chicken Breasts
  • Sea Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 3 Wooden Barbecue Skewers

Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, honey, a good pinch of sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper in a medium bowl and add the chicken, cut into large chunks. Cover, and allow to marinate chilled for at least 2 hours, but I try to get it done after breakfast so the flavour has a good time to soak into the chicken.

While you're waiting for the barbecue to heat up soak the skewers in cold water. This will prevent them catching fire while you're trying to barbecue. When the barbecue is ready to cook, divine the chicken pieces between the three skewers, and cook, turning occasionally until the chicken is cooked through. Baste the chicken, using a pastry brush with the leftover marinade every few minutes to make sure the chicken keeps moist and has maximum flavour.
Spiced Potatoes
Light Tkziki
There are so many different sides and salads that I'd love to serve this with, but I think it would go particularly well with either a combination of my Simple Potato Salad and Purple Cabbage Slaw, or Indian Spiced Potatoes and Light Tzatziki. Other recipes you might want to toss the chicken pieces into to make a nice big, meaty salad bowl are my Fattouch with Radishes and Sumac, or my Radish, Caper & Semi-dried Tomato Salad. And of course, a nice tall glass of my Cucumber Mint Lemonade, where a good slug of gin would be a totally acceptable addition to the party as well.

Have you got any barbecue plans ahead of the long Bank Holiday weekend? While we will hopefully have nice enough weather to keep barbecuing well into September, and the last weekend of the month falls so the 30th is on a Sunday, it really is the last big blow out before Summer ends. I know I'm usually the worlds biggest sun seeker, moaning about how much better the weather is in California, but I am starting to flip through knitted dresses in catalogues and eye my beloved Rag & Bone ankle boots (Matches have my burgundy colour at £197 down from £394 at the moment!) at the bottom of my wardrobe with a bit of anticipation to be able to wear them again! 

Friday, 15 August 2014

Recipe: Chocolate, Summer Berry & Amaretti Cheesecake Cups

It is a commonly known fact that the way to a mans heart is through his stomach. A lesson I can also teach you, is that when you cook two proper dinners for a guy, quite late at night, and he does not really show much appreciation for either of them past 'this is nice', it is time to give him the boot. Anyway, I digress. When the guys over at challenged me to come up with a date night dessert, I thought something simple, fruity, chocolate and Italian would be in order, that I could serve up to my next victim (as this is what my parents refer to my dates as, lovely people, aren't they!) when he decides to comes along. And, yes this is my recipe for the special that was served up in's Aphrodisiac Cafe yesterday. I was sad not to have been able to make it, but I was trapped in the Tate Modern after a meeting because of a downpour!
Chocolate, Summer Berry & Amaretti Cheesecake Cups 6 Chocolate, Summer Berry & Amaretti Cheesecake Cups
I'm a big fan of no bake cheesecakes, not only for the flavour, but for the simplicity. I make things even easier for you buy presenting them in pretty little cups. These cheesecake cups are really a grown up, date night version of my 3-Ingredient Indulgent Nutella Cheesecake Cups I posted about last Summer. I think my favourite part of this whole undertaking is the crushed amaretti biscuit base. I would say that you can thank me later, but the idea was not really mine. One of the upsides to moving back in with your parents while your freelance career gets off of its feet in your twenties is always having a fabulous cook in the house to bounce ideas off of!
Chocolate, Summer Berry & Amaretti Cheesecake Cups 4
Chocolate, Summer Berry & Amaretti Cheesecake Cups 2
This recipe makes two cheesecake cups, but you can obviously split the recipe in half to indulge yourself, or double or triple it up to feed a crowd. Also, different cup sizes vary which will change the amount of fruit you need to to them off. I happened to have strawberries and raspberries in the fridge, though I will recommend the raspberries. They paired perfectly with the chocolate! If you want the measurements to be exact, you can actually get these glasses for £1 at the moment in Waitrose. 

  • 6 Amaretti Biscuits
  • 100g (3.5 oz) Plain Chocolate (preferably Cadbury's Bournville)
  • 120g (4 oz) Mascarpone Cheese (I'm not fussy in England, but in the USA I use Galbani)
  • 60g (2 oz) Full Fat Cream Cheese, room temperature 
  • Fresh, chopped Summer fruits 

Break the biscuits up into a rough rubble and divide between the bottom of the two glasses. I do this in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Cut the chocolate into very small chunks with a sharp knife and melt in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not boil or touch the bottom of the glass bowl. The steam from the water will melt the chocolate. When smooth, set aside to cool to room temperature.

Beat together the room temperature melted chocolate, mascarpone and room temperature cream cheese until smooth. Spoon evenly into the glasses and chill in the fridge for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Top off with chopped fruit and serve. Enjoy!
Chocolate, Summer Berry & Amaretti Cheesecake Cups 3 Chocolate, Summer Berry & Amaretti Cheesecake Cups 5
What sort of menu would you serve up to your date, and what dishes have proven to be date night winners in the past? I find meat is usually the way forward for mains, and either red wine or beer!

Last night in London ran a pop up restaurant themed around the idea of an Aphrodisiac cafe, but if you're a member, there are still two more dates this month you can attend social events at their cafe (from the insider info I've had working on this collaboration, it is going to be good!). Head over to their website here where you can get more info about the 20th and 27th August! 

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