Monday, 7 November 2016

Cake at Café Royal

Having spent a morning pacing Oxford Street on a Saturday (I thought it was a stupid idea too but sometimes needs must) and a sprint down Regent Street dodging tourists and the bubble-blowing man outside Hamleys, I was in dire need of calm, quiet and cake.

Afternoon tea is a wonderful thing considered by many to be so quintessentially British. The problem is that it’s generally a mammoth undertaking when the best establishments keep rolling out the refills and leave me feeling like a beached walrus after agreeing to just one more round of sandwiches and an extra scone. Yes, arguably I should have more self control but when it comes to cake and pretty little sandwiches with the crusts cut off I just don’t, sorry.   

It is therefore a truly wonderful thing to find a place where you can have the experience of afternoon tea without the gargantuan quantities of food. Let’s call it a diet afternoon tea...   Café Royal is that place. Make no mistake, they too offer the full shebang in just gorgeous surroundings in their Oscar Wilde room but for the lighter option, pop into the cafe and try and choose between the prettiest of patisseries,  lined up in glass cabinets with fancy pants piping, smooth-as-a-glacier-lake ganache and tiny weeny chocolates on the top. 

Although the more casual option, the cafe is still beautiful inside with wall to wall warm veined marble. Wall to wall is actually something of an understatement as it is frankly everywhere from floor to wall to tabletop. 
Picture borrowed from the Cafe Royal website as mine didn't really capture all the marble.....
The cake billed on the menu as a “jaffa cake” was, of course, no McVities biscuit/cake. This confection was a delicate layering of the lightest genoise sponge with a rich, dark ganache, an orange jelly and more layers of chocolatiness before a drenching in mirror finish ganache and gold decoration. My favourite of the afternoon (but this is coming from someone who can wolf an entire box of jaffa cakes without a second thought so I'm not perhaps not an unbiased sampler). 

The raspberry, lychee and rose eclair was also not an eclair in the traditional sense. Rather than be piped full of cream this was delicately swirled on the top. Pretty but a little bit cheating in my opinion. The choux was nice and crisp though and the raspberry and rose flavours popped; more lychee though please! It was the boy's favourite one, however, and he is a cakeaholic so it must have been good. 

I dare you, try having just one cake per person when you go. I swear blind that it’s impossible despite my good intentions! Two each is just plain greedy though so we settled on one extra one to share.

The “Ferrero Rocher” macaron was slightly odd to behold, a massive rocky macaron sprayed gold with added gold leaf floaty bits, perhaps not the prettiest thing on the menu but I totally get the homage to the Ambassador's favourite treat that they were going for. 

It didn’t have the usual internal feel of a macaron as the rich ganache filling was weighing down the normally light almond sponge shell.  Somewhat average visuals aside and whilst flying in the face of tradition, this “macaron” was delicious but left no space for any more. Cake craving successfully sated. 

Jasmine tea was served in a beautiful teapot with all the accoutrements of strainers and pretty little silver dishes to sit the strainer in  although possibly superfluous as it turned out the tea was in a bag.... 

If its a celebration then I would definitely advocate going for the full tea served elsewhere in the hotel but for a mid afternoon treat or a shopping pitstop for a bit of peace and quiet in beautiful surroundings, I can think of nowhere finer. 

Cafe Royal
68 Regent St, Soho, London W1B 4DY
020 7406 3333

Friday, 19 August 2016

Wine of the Week: Blanquette de Limoux

My wine of the week this week was discovered during the recent Tesco Finest Pop Up wine bar in Soho.  It was a fabulous marketing idea and I wish it could have been there for longer than a fortnight but, as I’m sure the staff would attest to, I gave the wine list a good going over whilst it was there.  Who can complain at a sleek bar with bouncers ensuring it doesn’t get too busy and wines on show at between £3-7 a glass? Especially when I tell you that the £7 one was vintage champagne....

I worked out that I tried 15 of the wines on offer and whilst there were a couple of less than great ones (the enigma of a low cost but excellent Chateauneuf-du-Pape remains elusive) I was bowled over by several of them. I have got into the rather short-sighted habit of thinking that it’s not worth drinking anything under £10 a bottle. We’ve all heard the tales about the value of actual wine in the bottle once you’ve accounted for tax, duty, import costs etc. Well, I was wrong. Yes, I will repeat that as it’s a rare day when I admit to it but – I. Was. Wrong.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Wine of the Week: Bobos Finca Casa La Borracha 2013 #WineWednesday

I am of the opinion that Bobal is a seriously underrated grape as are the resulting wines. Google it and you're hard pushed to find more than a handful of examples for sale in the UK despite its reasonable price point and approachable character. Anyway, more on the grape Bobal more generally in an upcoming Wine Grape Challenge post, for today I'm focused on one very particular Bobal that has made it to the top of the pile to be my wine of the week.

Bobos is made by Finca Casa La Borracha, a boutique winery run by three friends of mixed Spanish and Swiss nationality and located in the Utiel Requena area of the Valencia Region on the eastern coast of Spain. La Borracha make a series of wines from their 61 hectares of land all within 500 metres of the winery itself. 

All grapes are handpicked and fermented in 400 litre temperature controlled barrels. This is a high tech bodega with a focus on the highest quality- something that has not traditionally been the norm in the region. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Chateau de Beaucastel - The Estate

If you had the choice of visiting any of the iconic Southern Rhone vineyards, Beaucastel would surely be close to- if not at the top of- your list. It certainly was mine and if I didn't feel lucky enough already waking to a bright and sunny morning in May then hearing that they only accept a few private visitors each year only served to emphasis my bonhomie. As we bumped down the lengthy drive past field after field of perfectly regimented vines (2m by 2m apart in case you are interested), our path was temporarily blocked by what looked like a tractor on steroids- wheels high above the ground. 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

L'Isle Sur La Sorgue Sunday Market

The French are not yet en accord with the British habit of shops opening on a Sunday. Unless you live in a large town with the occasional open shop, the best you are going to do is an early morning croissant from the boulangerie. Need a litre of milk? Non, nous sommes fermé!

The small town of L'Isle sur La Sorgue some 25 km from Avignon is therefore something of a natural mecca for tourists on Sundays. Compared to its sleepy neighbours, the small town provides an assault on all the senses. Bustling traders call out their wares. Granted this is not somewhere that you are likely to do your weekly shop- prices are a little on the steep side- but the provenance of the food is unparalleled all hailing from and marked proudly with the names of neighbouring villages. Strawberries from Carpentras, chunky white asparagus from Mazan; both under 20km away. 

It would be a travesty to come here with a cold as your sense of smell is very much in for a treat. I am convinced you could be led around blindfolded and know exactly what was being sold. Wheel after wheel of cheeses  with a tendency towards goat are laid out on multiple stalls.

Friday, 20 May 2016

#WineGrapeChallenge 4: Hondarabbi Xuri

For those of the procreating variety half term dawns again and Facebook begins to be filled with humblebragging status updates about the queues at Gatwick or "treating myself to a glass of rose by the pool #blessed". For those of us not off sunning ourselves in foreign climes, knocking back cheap local plonk and thinking it’s the bee’s knees, spring can drag in the city.  Seemingly interminable rain showers make us wonder if summer might never arrive, or worse still has been and gone. Thankfully there has been the odd evening in the last couple of weeks like tonight when we can spend long evenings sat outside bars and restaurants behaving like we’re in the middle of San Sebastian rather than somewhere off Carnaby Street in the middle of Soho with a faint whiff of drains in the air. No matter- a hubbub of chatter and a plentiful supply of tapas can lead me to only one grape this week – Hondarrabi Zuri!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Paris: Kitchenware of Les Halles

Paris holds a special place in my heart having been obsessed with the likes of Edith Piaf, Montmartre and Toulouse Lautrec since my early teenage years and the sight of the light beaming out of the top of the Eiffel tower after sunset will never grow old. Once you've lost count of the number of hops you have made over (or under!) the channel , however, you probably aren't beating a path to the Louvre or Galeries Lafayette anymore. On my most recent visit, I decided to go a little more off the tourist track on this visit to find some very French kitchenware. Les Halles is probably the closest equivalent that Paris has to the Covent Garden in London. Once bustling with porters swerving trolleys around market traders shouting out their colourful array of food wares, for the most part its role as a central food market is consigned to history. Some hints as to the area's alimentary past remain however in the form of a treasure trove of shops. 

E Dehillerin
18 et 20 rue Coquillière 75001 Paris

The ultimate in French stores has to be Dehillerin. This shop is unbelievable. It is like stepping back at least 5 decades in time. It is incredibly dark Aladdin's cave rammed from floor to ceiling with weird and wonderful gadgets. If you are hoping to find a souvenir that you won't find anywhere else then Dehillerin is where you are going to find it. 

Nothing is priced but is instead labelled with a code. At the end of each row are brochures listing prices alongside all the codes. Confusing but I guess some of this stock has been here decades and its easier to change the brochure than the labels. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Zelman Meats

A cold, rainy night in central London. Wandering through Soho, we wanted good quality, comforting food without the need to queue in the street or be turned away from venue after venue. Or in other words; meat. In all honesty we were using St Ann's Court as a cut through to get from Dean Street to Whitcomb when we remembered Zelman Meats. Its hard to ignore as you walk past actually, mainly due to the neon sign glowing like a homing beacon to steak lovers.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Martinis at Dukes

Another year, another January. I began, of course, full of good intentions for the year ahead starting with writing more often and making sure I do things on my bucket list (commencing with creating a bucket list). So here we are on the 31st with my first article. What my resolutions most certainly do not include, however, is drinking less.

I understand the rationale behind the current fad for “dry January” but thank goodness we are nearly at its end as temperance fundamentally makes absolutely no-one happy.  Not the person abstaining and certainly not the people around them because the ascetic is generally as miserable as sin. Social plans are ruined because one of the group isn’t drinking and doesn’t want to go to a cocktail bar. Bring into the equation the myriad of diets being touted around and eating out is off the agenda too which is a crying shame when, for once, you can actually get table reservations in most London restaurants.
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