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The Hawksmoor in Covent Garden, London

The Hawksmoor in Covent Garden, London

Ob. disclaimer – we went to a Qype event and the soft opening of the new Hawksmoor in Covent Garden

Good luck on actually finding the place (psst: it’s pretty much opposite the famed Pineapple Dance Studios) – and once you do, you’ll find a very imposing set of double doors.

But get past those and there’s a friendly host who offers to take your coat. Not many places do that these days for free, so there’s a good start!

Down the steps, and as someone else mentioned, it’s a throwback to urbane 1950s New York, with a dark bar thronged with people supping cocktails and generally being fabulous. There’s not really any such thing as a bad cocktail, but the Hawksmoor Julip was tastily bitter, and the Concealed Weapon certainly was.

The bar snacks on offer are highly recommended – the lobster roll are oozing in gorgeousness and something slightly Oriental, while the lamb cutlets were very easy on the stomach.

Of course, all it did was whet the appetite, and we’ll have to come back one night for the steaks in the dining room, which looked opulent, spacious, gorgeous and well-lit.

Definitely somewhere you’d take Christina Hendricks on a date *swoon* and far more visually impressive than its predecessor.

Check out my review of Hawksmoor – I am almostwitty – on Qype

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantsSteak Houses

My Chinese Christmas dinner

My Chinese Christmas dinner

Chinese Christmas dinner

Originally uploaded by almost witty

While you all prepare to tuck into your cliched turkey & cranberry Christmas dinner and bemoan that it’s the same meal every year, bear in mind that I wish, that just for one tiny year, that I could have a turkey & cranberry dinner with all the trimmings. Especially roast potatoes!

Not because it’s particularly tasty – any meat that dry should belong in the Sahara, surely? – but because when my parents do Christmas dinner, it’s … rather different. Fantastically tasty, and as with all home-cooked food it’s heartwarming and fantastic, but for once, I’d like to try a turkey’n’cranberry dinner that wasn’t mass-cooked in a canteen or microwaved in a local pub.

They’ll probably cook the same sort of thing this year, but I really must ask how they produce all that food…

"Care to taste the wine, sir?"

"Care to taste the wine, sir?"

A Planeta/Carluccio's wine tasting

A Planeta/Carluccio's wine tasting

On the very rare occasions that I go to a posh pub or restaurant and someone else orders the wine, for some reason I am invariably asked if I’d like to taste the wine. To which I usually wait while the waiter pours a little into the glass, I sniff, swallow and generally nod my approval. If he’d poured blood, vinegar or urine into the glass instead, I probably couldn’t tell the difference.

Hell, there was one night back in my single Cardiff days, when I invited some young filly back to my flat after a drunken night out, and she asked if I had any wine in the house. I only had a bottle of white wine which had been opened a while ago, which I poured into a glass. She drank the glass, made a face, and left shortly afterwards. When I tasted the wine (waste not, want not), I was a little perturbed to find that it tasted more of vinegar than wine. Even I know that’s not the effect you want – and I hate the smell of vinegar anyway.

Plus I still have about six bottles of wine which have followed me from Cardiff to Llandudno to Manchester and London. Woe betide the next six people who invite me to a house party and tell me to “bring a bottle”. Because that’s what they’ll probably get…

So when an invite from Qype emerged for a wine tasting from the wide range of Sicillian wines by Planeta I thought I’d give it a go, and take the taste buds out for a spin. See if they could actually TASTE anything.

Quality vs quantity

Quality vs quantity

Borough Market

Originally uploaded by jo_evs

I ended up popping down to Borough Food Market (with ex-flatmate @ifenn), which has got to be a top spot for any foodie-loving people in Londoners. It was packed full of stalls selling top quality food at relatively high prices. There were stalls of seafood, eggs, coffee, muffins, granola – and there was even one stall dedicated to seasalt.

Yet, as I sniffed and tasted some of the various little delicacies that came out (for some bizarre reason, I didn’t have much of an appetite after eating a fishfinger buttie and chips – rookie mistake), I kept wondering whether the food was actually worth the price they were asking.

Sure, it tastes nice – but then so does the 2-for-1 Brie I just bought from Tesco’s. Sure, it’s better for the environment, but economically speaking, is a venison burger worth the extra £2 they’re asking?

And really, is there any difference? I’ve been suspicious for a while that my taste buds are slowly dying off, and I’m reasonably sure if anyone subjected me to a blind taste test between, say, Tesco’s Value Burger and a £10 Gourmet Burger Kitchen burger cooked the same way, I’m not 100% sure I could tell the difference.

Is there any way of improving or testing your taste buds?

Eating in America…

Eating in America…

I’ve been in Ohio for ten days now, give or take, and aside from the aforementioned so-called Asian doughnuts, I have been introduced to such culinary delights as:

country fried steak for breakfast. This would be a pork steak covered in breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried – for breakfast. Even the Scottish with their deep-fried Mars bars wouldn’t cover it in breadcrumbs first. In the interests of research, I had to try this as part of a three-plate breakfast buffet.

Of course, if only I hadn’t then had to go on a Easter egg hunt looking for candy-filled Easter eggs for kids (with a side-trip to Arbys for a roast beef sandwich and a malted milkshake), and then onto a sumptuous evening dinner with some wonderful potato concoction that turned out to be twice-baked potato or something…

– In the UK, it’s called a Welsh rarebit and often the butt of national jokes about Welsh cuisine. But in Ohio, melted cheese sandwiches are revered at Melts, a rather cool bar’n’grill where the menu comes on the back of old vinyl covers. Shame that a melted cheese sandwich apparently takes an hour from ordering to arrival.

– After that came a dessert course of hot fudge ice cream at Malleys. The Americans, they like their ice cream. Even at 1pm on a wet Wednesday afternoon.

However, there are side-effects that come from eating out in America.

Brewing London beer…

Brewing London beer…

Roll out the barrel A while ago, thanks to a sudden Twitter from Annie Mole, I found myself invited to a Qype event of a brewery tour and ale tasting, washed down with some oysters.

The directions from Clapham Junction took me to an anonymous industrial estate – aside from the sign at the front proclaiming Sambrook’s Brewery, there was nothing to indicate that there was a brewery inside. No pipes, no steel tubing, no huge plume of smoke, nothing.

Inside, aside from a presentation and tasting room, the entire space was dedicated to the arcane art of brewing, although it seemed more like a scientific slaughterhouse than a brewery farm – hosing everywhere, a grey concrete floor, and huge steel tankers. Fortunately, the master brewery took us through the process of turning hops (which tasted nice), malt (which tasted terrible), yeast, and London water into a freshly-brewed beer. Of course, it also takes a few other ingredients – including sturgeon swimbladders to make the whole thing clear – but otherwise, they use all-fresh natural ingredients for a natural brew. Which you could tell in the final test product.

After that, as if drinking one fresh beer wasn’t enough, we made the long trek to the warm and welcoming Westbridge, where the landlord Charlie took us knowledgably through a variety of beers and ales, all washed down with some lovely oysters. With the interesting titbit that you should only eat oysters when there’s an ‘R’ in the month, so I’ve only got a month left to find more oysters in London…

Unfortunately, I’m not someone who can describe what they like, I just know when it hits my taste buds whether I like it or not. And I didn’t taste a single terrible thing all night. If I happened to live or work within striking distance of Battersea, the Westbridge would definitely be a high contender for my favourite local.

During all this, I was surrounded by the glittering taste buds of London’s blogerati, which seemed to include beer genius James Cridland, anniemole, and hollow legs, who is painstakingly trying to recreate Chinese recipes from her childhood. I really must develop my tastebuds sometime.

The price of toast…

The price of toast…

The work kitchen offers two slices of burnt bread and a small sliver of spread for the – to me, outrageous – price of 40p a slice. Hence, I’ve never paid for toast – although logically, I go for a bacon baguette for about £1.60, but at least it feels like I get something for my money.

But in the midst of a news story about how the recession / credit crunch / the end of capitalism is affecting a UK high streeK, there was this little snippet:

“Toast is the worst – I have to run two burners, buy bread and butter, wash up afterwards and all for 35p. And the government takes 17.5% of that in VAT.”

Which does naturally make me think – then why offer toast at all, if it costs so much for you to offer, and I still think it’s hideously pricey…

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