Costa Rica – adventures in Manuel Antonio

Sitting on a white sand beach, the pacific ocean lapping at my feet, all around me is rainforest. The monkey’s play in the trees behind and on a fallen tree sits a stunning blue and green iguana. This is paradise, this is Costa Rica!

It’s a country only the size of Switzerland but is home to a range of ecological systems, countless wildlife species and fabulous white sand beaches. It offers so many reasons to visit.

Having no army means that the country spends its money on education and the environment instead of guns and tanks. This of course makes for a happy and positive population. With 26% of the country National Parks and protected it just reflects how important having 5% of the world’s biodiversity is to them and of course for everyone else its a key reason to visit this fabulous country.

I found myself leaving San Jose for the Central Pacific Coast for Manuel Antonio National Park, which is one of the 28 National Parks and Biological Reserves in the country. Sitting right on the Pacific Coast it’s where rainforest meets beach.

First stop was a mangrove river cruise in Guacalillo. We boarded our boats and before we even moved we were surrounded by the most stunning Scarlett Macaws. Flying above our heads from tree to tree in their pairs the colour of their feathers brightening up the sky. The colours were mesmerising. It always amazes me how the guides manage to spot animals in the forest when travelling at speed on a boat, but spot the guides did. Soon we were gazing upon water walking lizards, monkeys, birds of all kinds and then those giants of the river, the crocodile. Huge creatures just lounging in the sun until they disappear into the murky water just their eyes at the surface. It’s at this point you are glad to be in a large boat. Being out in the mangrove was a wonderful introduction to the huge amount of wildlife that Costa Rica holds, this small section of river that we journeyed on was teaming with life, truly amazing.

Heading out into the mangroves

Heading out into the mangroves

Scarlett Macaws

Scarlett Macaws

Water walking lizard

Water walking lizard

Racoons!

Racoons!

Don't disturb a sunbathing crocodile

Don’t disturb a sunbathing crocodile

Costa RIca

Costa Rica

As much as I would have loved to have spent many more hours journeying deeper into the mangroves it was time to leave and continue our journey to Manuel Antonio. Luck was clearly on our side because the moment we got back to the jetty the heavens opened and the much talked about rain of the rainy season started and did not stop until morning. This was epic rain like I have never seen, and rain we would continue to see every afternoon while in Costa Rica.

Travelling along the coast, passing through the beach towns that are frequented by the residents of San Jose at the weekend we eventually reached Manuel Antonio. Very few hotels actually have access to the beaches and those on the coast side vie for sea views. Many are perched on the cliff side or surrounded by forest. I spent the next two nights at the Hotel El Parador. It was a charming hotel with a colonial decor, dark wood and high ceilings. The main building offered spectacular views of the coast and the bays it created, the adult pool looking out over the cliff. The hotel offered a range of rooms, from the basic garden rooms which were ground floor and as the name suggests look out onto the garden. The rooms go up in grade offering more spectacular views of the sea and bays. The suites go as far as to have a hot tub on the balconies, a great place to enjoy the views. With a jam-packed itinerary we didn’t have much time to lounge around the hotel, but one evening we did spot the local toads and frogs making themselves at home in the main pool, an odd sight indeed!

The rain held itself back for our first morning in Manuel Antonio and the clouds cleared ready for us setting out on a catamaran tour. The 2.5 hour tour takes you out into the Pacific along the coast, the hope was to see whales and dolphins but they did not come out for us. Disappointed but the spectacular scenery made up for it. The rainforest spilling over the cliff edges into the ocean, this was true nature at its best. The blue sea crashing against the cliffs. Natural beaches etched into the bays offering an entrance into the dense rainforest, this is paradise. Going out onto the ocean of course means you can snorkel or swim in the warm waters, eagerly needed by everyone having sat in the hot sun for too long. After a refreshing dip and fish kebab cooked by the crew we headed back to shore because the afternoon was to be spent in the National Park, something I was greatly looking forward too.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park from teh Catamaran

Manuel Antonio National Park from the Catamaran

Inside the park is a beach, one that we had seen from the catamaran and this was to be our destination. The national park is currently going under quite a bit of work to make more trails for visitors so they can get deeper into the forest, something I definitely want to go back and experience. As we followed the main path into the park we were only a few hundred meters from the entrance when a troop of Capuchin monkeys appeared. They were crossing the path and were so at ease with us all being there. Not tame but not bothered by us at all. They were happy to pass between us on the path to get to the trees on the other side. This was odd for me having only experienced the Amazon Rainforest before where animal sightings are scarce in the dense forest. There was a Capuchin monkey standing right next to me – truly amazing.  As we carried on eyes peeled for any other sightings we soon found the one thing I really wanted to tick off my list, the sloth! High in the trees there he was climbing higher to get his leaves. He was just as I had imagined, long limbed, shaggy fur, the quizzical faces, my first sloth in the wild and he did not disappoint.

Capucin monkey's

Capuchin monkey’s

Costa Rica

Sharing the path with leaf cutter ants

Sharing the path with leaf cutter ants

Just a sloth hanging around

Just a sloth hanging around

Just this one path from the entrance to the beach was full of life, the path shared with leaf cutter ants going about their business, monkeys, sloths, beautiful birds and then the white sand beach, the trees spilling out onto the sand. As we walked along the sand we came across a fallen tree now the sun lounger for two impressive looking iguanas, one such tremendous shades of blue. Fallen coconuts being lapped by the waves on the beach. This is paradise. As I took everything in sitting on the sand there were more Capuchins behind us in the trees. I had only been in the park a couple of hours, imagine spending a few days here, or staying in a lodge within one of the national parks.

Manuel Antonio National Park beach

Manuel Antonio National Park beach

Beautiful blue iguana

Beautiful blue iguana

If you love wildlife, oh hell, if you are vaguely interested in it then this is the place to come because you cannot escape the wonders it offers. Of course there is so much more on offer than beaches and wildlife. Costa Rica is building a reputation for quite the adventure destination, be it zip lining through the forests, rafting on rivers or light trekking, there really is something for everyone in this tiny country!

The Lodge

The wood paneling, the antlers on the wall, warm blankets and a steaming bowl of fondu! I could be in the Alps, but alas I am not, I am in the heart of Balham and at the latest pop up from Jimmy Garcia, The Lodge.

The Alpine lodge theme runs through not only the decor but also the menu which is filled with fondu, hot cocktails and wild meat mains. All of which makes you long for the snow.

Feeling the Alpine spirit at the Lodge

Feeling the Alpine spirit at the Lodge

The Lodge

As with Jimmy’s other pop ups, this is a relaxed affair. With communal tables and a couple of smaller ones this is the place to go with friends, grab a couple of bottles of wine or a round of mulled cider from the drinks menu and then settle down for a natter over delicious fondu. Outside you can sit under big toasty blankets and heaters and really get into the Alpine swing of things by having the chill on your cheeks.

The fondu is the star of the show, made with Coolea and Ogleshield Somerset provided by Neals Yard Dairy and blended with white wine and kirsch, it sits proud in the middle of the table surrounded by potatoes, bread and salads. We of course had to have the delicious charcuterie served on slate to go with our cheese, because what meal is complete without charcuterie!

An Alpine spread of glorius fondu

An Alpine spread of glorius fondu

I very much recommend you get yourself down to the Lodge and get your urban apres ski on as it won’t be around forever! This is the ideal place to meet up with friends as the winter draws in either for dinner or sunday lunch ( the venison looks divine!).

 

Bobo Social

Now London isn’t short of Burger joints, they are popping up all over the place either as restaurants, street food vendors or pop up restaurants. The burger phenomenon is well and truly upon us and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.

Of course I am not going to argue with this because I love a good burger, a big old patty of high quality flavoursome meat, gooey cheese and amazing topping choices. I admit it, I have a burger problem! This is only aided by the opening of new burger restaurants. So on hearing about BOBO social, offering lux burgers then I of course had to try it out.

BOBO social sells itself as offering a new dining experience. In their own words “Take a seat and relax, pop the champagne,enjoy an innovative small plate of deliciousness, a succulent burger made with fresh British ingredients, indulge yourself with a decadent dessert cocktail and laugh among friends… after all, what’s the rush?”

Now I agree with their statement in the most part, but not so much whats the rush! I booked a table for Saturday night at 7.30 because I thought, its Saturday night in London on Charlotte Street it will be busy, plus I had somewhere I needed to be at around 9pm. The restaurant located in a converted house is on split layers, the entrance being on one along with the kitchen and then as you head towards the back you drop a level. There was a group in the back room but out front there was no one else. In the bright white restaurant it was empty. We were seated at a table near the door and kitchen and the staff we instantaneously cheerful and friendly. We decided to order cocktails to start, thinking they would turn up quickly ( seen as there was no one else around) and could sip them while we decided on food, alas we were wrong. After 10 minutes we had to ask where they were and then only one turned up. You don’t offer a long cocktail list and sell yourself as a place for burgers and cocktails if you cannot whip them up quickly, how long would we have had to have waited if the restaurant was busy? Eventually we had to remind the waitress we were waiting on a drink. Then throughout the meal we were constantly asked if everything was ok, and once we had finished our food we kept being asked if we wanted desert even though we had told them we need some time to let our food settle. There was no point rushing us we had half a bottle of bubbles to finish! It all just seemed rather odd, that even when the place got busier ( about 8.15) it almost seemed like they had nothing to do but ask us if we were ok or needed anything else. It felt like we were being rushed but by the nicest people. I know they hadn’t been open very long and maybe the staff were just getting to know their roles but asking once if fine, but continuous ‘ is everything ok?’ is a bit annoying.
Inside BOBO Social

Inside BOBO Social

We may have had to wait a while but the cocktail was good  - gummy bear included

We may have had to wait a while but the cocktail was good – gummy bear included

Sigh! Enough about my moan about the weird interrogation by the staff, what about the food?!
They sell themselves as the place for experimental burgers, unique flavours and quality British produce. The food, it didn’t disappoint. Seen as the restaurant was so quiet our burgers turned up incredibly quickly, so quickly we hadn’t even finished our cocktails.Served on mismatched china plates and the fries in china cups it was an odd mix of china in a sleek modern environment.
We ordered the Peanut Butter and the Capsicum and split them. The Peanut Butter does what it says on the tin, it’s a succulent beef burger topped with monterary jack cheese and maple cured bacon and yes peanut butter. I couldn’t help but be intrigued, but by George it worked. The salty sticky peanut butter with the bacon and the meat, it just worked. I thought maybe the peanut butter might over power the flavour of the meat but it didn’t.
The Capsicum was a beef and chorizo patty, topped with Manchego, tomato and chilli salsa and jalapeno chillies. There was some chilli in the meat as well. This was a very nice burger, I am not sure how much chorizo I got through the beef but there was a slight heat from the chilli which was delicious.
The Peanut Butter burger

The Peanut Butter burger

The Capsicum Burger

The Capsicum Burger

Both burgers were delicious, the meat full of flavour and the toppings paired well. I liked that the burgers were a little different. The menu itself is short with only 6 burgers on offer plus their weekly experimental burger ( one created by guests visiting on a monday night at their experimental burger night), even the veggie option sounds tempting. The sides were fairly standard, I liked that they offered sweet potato fries but not sure about serving them in a tea-cup…. maybe I need time to adjust to this new way of serving chips!
Now usually after a burger I cannot physically fit in any dessert but seen as we had half a bottle of bubbles to finish and were not in a rush, after an appropriate amount of time to let the burger settle itself we dived into Dark and Milk chocolate salted caramel mouse. It came served in a small kilner jar. The mouse wasn’t light and fluffy but thick, solid and like a beautiful smooth truffle. It was sickly sweet but the salted caramel that ran through it cut through this and made a wonderfully delicious dessert.
the fabulous chocolate and salted caramel mousse

the fabulous chocolate and salted caramel mousse

Overall I very much enjoyed the food and would go back as the burgers were good, I would also be interested to see how busy it gets on a week night and whether the service has gotten better. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible service but just needed work.
If you are looking for a burger that is a little different to the run of the mill in settings that mix minimalist modern with vintage china then this is the place….. plus the cocktails aren’t bad either!
Enjoy xx

First Time Quail

I love having people around for dinner, it’s a chance to show off and cook something you wouldn’t normally cook during the week. So there I was pondering what to make as I wandered aimlessly around the supermarket – this happens more times than you would think – and I happened upon the game section of the meat aisle. I love game, its something that I generally only have as a treat when I go out for dinner, I never seem to choose it as something to cook at home. I don’t know why because venison is my favourite meat and I love little birds like grouse and Poussin. Of course I have ventured into the world of game before with delicious rabbit ragu!

Now one thing I haven’t tried before is quail, not sure why, but I haven’t. There in the fridge of the supermarket were quail, on special offer and calling to me. I had to do it, why not, try a new meat and learn to cook something new as well. sold!

Now quail are a tiny bird, not that much meat but as long as you have some good sides then one is more than enough for a person, although if you are feeding a hungry person who eats a lot you may want to serve them two!

tiny quail, enough for one... unless you are hungry

tiny quail, enough for one… unless you are hungry

I decided to keep my first time quail cooking simple. I looked through my cook books and the internet for recipe recommendations, how to cook, what sauce to make with it and some got really complicated. Simple is what I wanted.

To start with I decided to stuff my bird, I didn’t have time to make my own stuffing so good old store-bought would have to do, and also I was going to wrap it with streaky bacon to keep the meat moist and add a bit of flavour ( quail dries out quite quickly so if you are not using bacon make sure you baist it through cooking.

stuffed and wrapped quail ready for the oven

stuffed and wrapped quail ready for the oven

Ingredients (meal for 2)

Stuffing of choice – the size of your quail will depend on how much you make up, so make a little as per the packet to start and if you can fit more in then make some more.

2 Quail, no giblets (take out f the fridge one hour before cooking)

2 strips of streaky bacon

olive oil

mixed herbs to season ( I used thyme, rosemary and a little bit of tarragon)

150ml white wine

300ml chicken stock

1 teaspoon of flour

salt and pepper to season

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (fan oven). Make up your stuffing as per the packet instructions or if you are feeling super fancy make it from scratch! Once made put it to one side to cool as you do not want to be handling it hot.

2.  When the stuffing has cooled stuff the quail. Wrap one piece of bacon around the bird and secure it with a toothpick. You may want to secure the hole where you stuffed the bird with a tooth pick as well to stop the stuffing coming out. Then drizzle with olive oil and rub the herb mix in to it. Place the birds onto a roasting tin and put them into the oven.

3. Cook the birds for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. The juices should run clear. For the gravy, 15 minutes into cooking pour in 150ml of white wine  and place the tin back in the oven.

4. Once cooked remove from the oven and let the birds rest for 10 minutes. While resting make the gravy. Place the roasting tin over a medium heat and add the chicken stock, while stirring add the flour. Continue stirring ( with a whisk) until the sauce thickens and season to taste.

5. Remove the tooth picks and place the quail  on to plates. Serve with creamy mash potato and green beans. Serve with the gravy.

so yummy! stuffed quail with creamy mash and veg!

so yummy! stuffed quail with creamy mash and veg!

Enjoy! xx

 

 

Blackberry and Apple Crumble Loaf

Berry season is pretty much over, which makes me sad! But the other day I came across a punnet of blackberries in the shop and couldn’t resist. I love blackberries. I remember as a child walking the dogs on a field at the end of our road and it being surrounded by blackberry bushes. We would wander around with a bag and fill it with the big juicy berries. Now of course at the time I decided just to be fussy that I didn’t like blackberries so they were enjoyed by everyone but me but I remember the picking, trying to avoid the thorns (badly) and getting cover in blood-red juice when you pulled them off the bush to hard.

Now older and wiser to the magical berries that grow on the hedgerows around the UK I miss the innocence of berry picking. When its berry season the supermarkets are full of the things, blue berries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries – they are everywhere. You cannot help but by punnet after punnet and top your morning granola with them, or stick some in a pot for a lunch time snack, or for something a little cheekier, put them on top of meringue and cream. Living in the city I do miss being close to hedgerows, passing a big green bush covered in dark plump berries. It just makes you want to go for a walk in the countryside!

Blackberries!!!

Blackberries!!!

Alas, the season is over so when I come across some fabulous looking berries I must have them.  After finishing half the box rather quickly just standing in the kitchen I decided something need to be baked with them. Everyone suggested an apple and blackberry crumble, but with a hatred for crumble I decided to go out on a limb and try a blackberry and apple crumble loaf!

This loaf is perfect when it’s still slightly warm either on its own, or if you want something a little naughty pop a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on it! Yum!

Ingredients

300g Plain Flour

1tbsp baking powder

pinch of salt

190g Caster Sugar

210ml milk

1 large egg, beaten

100g butter, melted

finely grated lemon zest of 1 lemon

250g Bramley apple, grated ( use some kitchen paper to absorb some of the water from it)

150g blackberries

For the Crumble

15g butter

25g plain flour

15g Demerara sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (fan oven), line a loaf tin and set aside

2. First make the crumble, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Stir the sugar in and work the mixture to form small nuggets.

3. On to the loaf mix, sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. In another bowl, beat the milk with the egg, melted butter and lemon zest.

The dry ingredients!

The dry ingredients!

and the wet.....

and the wet…..

4. Stir the wet mixture into the flour and sugar mixture, then stir in the apple and blackberries.

mmmm blackberries!

mmmm blackberries!

stir everything together ... I really should have used a bigger bowl!

stir everything together … I really should have used a bigger bowl!

Blackberry and Apple Crumble loaf

5. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and sprinkle over the crumble topping. Bake in the oven for approx 1 hour 15 mins ( I would check it after 1 hour and see how wet a skewer comes out). Bake until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Into the loaf tin and get ready to crumble!

Into the loaf tin and get ready to crumble!

post crumble

post crumble

Let the load cool for about 15mins in the tin and then leave to completely cool on a baking tray. Slice it up and serve with a cup of tea or with some ice cream!

beautiful blackberry goodness

beautiful blackberry goodness

Enjoy xx

Spa Terminus a hidden food paradise in London!

There is nothing better than fresh produce, seeing where something came from and meeting the people that made it, it gives real satisfaction. It also makes you appreciate the food you are eating so much more as you know exactly where it is coming from. Food today is so convenient and it’s so easy to not think about what you are eating or where it has come from. Producers are faceless, and all you think about is price. Meeting the person who made, say your cheese, changes all that.

One place that offers you the opportunity to buy beautiful food products straight from the producers is Spa Terminus in Bermondsey. It’s a short walk from London Bridge and the river and the perfect place on a sunny day to pick up items for a picnic in the park or down by the river!

Spa Terminus by their own definition is an area for food production and distribution in which likeminded businesses can grow and develop with the security of long term tenure. Located in a section of railway arches, they are working with Network rail and the local council to restore the area to an industrious manufacturing base supplying food destinations throughout London and the UK. This is an ingenious way of restoring abandoned pieces of London, using forgotten areas and bringing them back to life. Walking around the arches the food producers have really bought the area back to life.

First port of call if starting from the Bermondsey end is the Kernel Brewery, making beer that forces you to confront and consider what you are drinking. They make Pale Ales, India Pales Ales and old school London Porters and Stouts, so there is something for everyone. If you fancy a drink before you carry on shopping they have a small bar area next to the brewery otherwise fill your bags and carry on to the next arch which is the Ham and Cheese Company selling fabulous Italian cheese and cured meats. For the honey lovers amongst you there is the London Honey Co, who have their own hives on the roof of the building – watch out for the bees!

The London Honey Co.

The London Honey Co.

Next door is the Little Bread Pedlar – yes it’s a bakery, and nearby is one of my favourites ,occupying the corner unit is La Grotta Ices, the perfect accompaniment to a sunny shopping morning.

La Grotta ices

La Grotta ices

La Grotta ices

La Grotta ices

La Grotta ices - so many flavours

La Grotta ices – so many flavours

Crossing under a bridge to the next set of arches more wonderful delights await. For those that want some reasonably priced and fresh fruit and veg then head to South East Fruits, we picked up some amazing bargains. Further up is a cheese lover’s delight, Mons Cheese, Neal’s Yard Dairy and Kappacasein. There was so much cheese and so little time. Kappacasein won me over straight away, their cheese is made right there in the back of the unit, the Bermondsey hard pressed was only a few weeks old, but there was also the more mature version (great for cheese on toast). I loved the fact that the woman serving us could tell us the exact date the cheese was made – where does that ever happen! They sell their own butter which looked divine but dangerous for the arteries as well as their own buttermilk. On Saturdays they share the space with Neal’s Yard Dairy and they too offer a selection of great cheese, including St. James and my new favourite the Montgomery Cheddar.

Kappacasein

Kappacasein

Kappacasein cheese

Kappacasein cheese

Along the way there are also bakeries to stop at so you have something to go with all that cheese. A great place to stop is St. John Bakery which is further up on Druid Street and for something a little sweeter then definitely drop into Comptoir Gourmand for the best of French baking and patisseries.

St. Johns Bakery

St. Johns Bakery

Comptoir Gourmand

Comptoir Gourmand

From Druid Street you can turn off onto Maltby Street which offers even more fine food with their street market, or if you are laden down with goods then head to the riverside for a drink and if you can find a spot sit down and tuck into all that fabulous food you have just bought.

Spa Terminus is the perfect place to shop for fresh and well-crafted produce. Borough Market is just up the road and again I love to shop there but with the crowds it’s just off putting, so for a quiet food paradise head to the old railway arches in Bermondsey.

Lunch at the Gherkin

“The Gherkin is opening its restaurant to none members in August” “What?!  Yes, yes we need to go! ” Yes that was my reaction to hearing that the Gherkin was celebrating its 10th Birthday by opening its members only restaurant right at the very top of the building for the month of August to us lowly folk! Firstly I couldn’t believe the Gherkin was only 10 years old, it feels like its been there forever, it’s so iconic in the London skyline. But 10 years old it is. The iconic building designed by Sir Norman Foster which was opened in 2004 is 180m tall and from the top offers spectacular views of London. The opportunity to get in the Gherkin, and enjoy the views over food could not be passed up.

There she is!

There she is!

The restaurant itself is owned by Searcy’s and is a private members club so normally you cannot get up there if you are just ordinary folk. The top floor is the dome of the Gherkin and is usually a bar / restaurant, the floor below is the proper restaurant. We ate in the dome which was amazing!

Dining in the dome of the Gherkin

Dining in the dome of the Gherkin

Approaching the Gherkin, as you get closer and closer and you realise just what a beautiful building it is, the glass shimmering in the sunlight. I should mention at this point we ate at the Gherkin the day storms were hitting London. Thanks to the tail end weather of a hurricane London was being hit by freak rain. This only added to the atmosphere in the restaurant. So as we reached the base of the tower, a question was raised, where is the entrance in this circular building! As we walked around the circular base we finally found the entrance and were met with a crazy amount of security. ID, check. Through the X-ray machine and metal detector, check. Accompanied in the lift by security, check. As we finally reached what we thought was the top and the restaurant entrance we checked out coats and were ushered to another lift – we are going higher! So level 39 here we come. The staff were incredibly polite, and as we stepped out of the lift at level 39 we were told we were dining on the top floor, level 40 – excited we were. Up a few stairs and you enter the dome of the Gherkin, the very top, a room made of glass. Outside you are surrounded by the London skyline, simply stunning, and luckily the rain was still at bay. The menu was simple, three choices on each course. To start I went with the Serrano Ham Eggs Benedict. It was a great choice, although it did fill me up as it was a little large for a starter. For Main, Poussin, fondant, leek ash and saffron sauce. The Poussin was beautifully cooked. The desert, something light, lemon tart with raspberry sorbet. Again it was very nice. The tart was fresh and zingy, but the pastry was a little hard but I survived. Overall the food was very nice, however, it wasn’t a meal that would blow you away. Would I go back….  I am not sure. The main reason for going is that you are in the Gherkin and you are dining with amazing views, but for food like this you could go to a number of other places in London that do the same thing at the same level or better for the price.

Serrano Ham Eggs Benedict

Serrano Ham Eggs Benedict

Poussin, fondant, leek ash and saffron sauce

Lemon Tart with raspberry sorbet

Lemon Tart with raspberry sorbet

The views of course did not disappoint. As I mentioned there was freak rain going on throughout the day. As we ate desert we watched a storm move over London from West to East, the dark grey sky getting closer and closer until all of a sudden we were in the of it and the heavens opened around us and then as quickly as it came the rain was gone and blue sky followed. Sitting in a glass room with a storm around us was simply fantastic!

Views from the top  - hello shard!

Views from the top – hello shard!

Views from the top

Views from the top

The Storm is coming!

The Storm is coming!

I am glad that we got the chance to go up to the top of the Gherkin, it was I think a once in a life time thing…. unless of course I come across a handsome gentleman that has a membership! I love going to the top of London and looking out upon this fabulous city, so much below, the history and the architecture. If you ever get the chance to go to level 39 and 40 of the Gherkin do it – standing in that circular glass room is a fabulous experience.

A trip around Fullers Brewery

Beer, it’s one of the oldest beverages in the world! It’s been drunk through every great empire, it became a staple in Europe thanks to the brewing by monks in monasteries and today is a global business. Over the last decade or so the craft of beer has become more and more popular, with fine ale and craft beer societies making their way into the University society lists, micro breweries popping up all over the place and pubs now offering a brilliant choice of beer rather than the run of the mill european larger that have a monopoly on the market.

While at university I was like most people and would drink what ever the cheapest bottle beer was, as it was cheap and you could dance with it in your hand. However, moving to London I have slowly become a lover of craft beers, I blame this partially on long weekends in Berlin, and over the last couple of years with the emergence of micro-breweries around me its hard not to like these new beers. Brixton Brewery is down the road from me, Camden Town brewery is also close, plus the smaller ones like the Kernel Brewery are all temptations. Plus We Bought Beer have just opened their first shop in Balham! Of course all this fine ale drinking means more time in the gym so a beer gut doesn’t form but I feel its worth it!

Now there are some bigger breweries that have been going for much longer but still hold onto the traditional values and want to create fine craft ales that can be appreciated and not just chugged down. One of these which I have been a fan of since moving to London and stumbling upon them ( and their pies!) is Fullers. They are London’s last traditional family brewery and strive to produce quality beer like they have been doing for 160 years.  Based in Chiswick and all their beer is made on site there they are heavy weight in British beer. A majority of their pubs are based in or around London but also get as far as the midlands. They are a familiar scene in London and if I was given the choice of one of their pubs and another brewery, I would take Fullers. Not only is the beer good, the pubs full of atmosphere but the food is also great. They are a company that are focused on quality produce.

I was lucky enough to recently get a chance at touring the brewery. It was great! Not only did I learn about how beer is brewed but I also got to sample some of the fine ales they produce. Now this tour is something they offer and its such a good idea. It runs Monday – Friday between 11am- 3pm and only costs £10 and that includes tastings.

Fullers BreweryThe tour starts in the Mawson Arms, the brewery pub, where your knowledgable guide will collect you. From there you are taken around the brewery, shown the processes, questions answered and all in all very educational. I always had a general idea of how beer was made but now, now I know all. I think on tours like this the guide makes it or breaks it, our guide completely made it. He was humorous and entertaining and was a wealth of knowledge, he clearly loved what he was doing.

Who doesn't love a tour with a high vis-vest

Who doesn’t love a tour with a high vis-vest

On Tour!

On Tour!

At the end of the tour you end up in the tasting room, of course what we had all been waiting for! As it was a hot sunny day, a cold bottle of Indian Pale Ale – the Bengal Lancer was very much enjoyed. We also tried our hand at the Honey Dew, which as its name suggests has a hint of honey about it.

Old School delivery bike

Old School delivery bike

Fullers BreweryThe tour was such a good idea and something I would definitely do again. Its nice in a world where there are so many faceless food and beverage companies that a company like Fullers that has been around for such a long time is still so accessible and open. Its staff are friendly and love what they are doing. Lets hope that it stays a family business for another 160 years as it would be sad to see such a London institution get absorbed into a faceless company!

Fullers BreweryIf you are looking for something a little bit different to do with a day off or a visit to London then head to Fullers Brewery!

Moose Maple Butter

It’s amazing how you discover new things. I sometimes wonder how much social media actually helps self promotion until I am looking at Twitter and discover something new. Someone I follow had retweeted a message from Moose Maple Butter and I was instantly intrigued by the name. Could this company possibly be creating a maple syrup butter – oh my pancakes! After a wee bit of investigation and nosing around the internet I saw it was true, maple flavoured butter.

Growing up in a household where your mother cannot get enough of maple syrup I know the sweet sticky smell well. Now of course it was a weekend treat but there is always a sad face when the bottle runs dry.

I of course had to get my hands on this delightful treat. Stalking Farrah of Moose Maple Butter  I got my hands on a tub of the sweet smelling butter.

So how does one come around to creating such an ingenious idea? Well its the brain child of Farrah. During a business trip to NYC she was faced with a breakfast dilemma, what to put on your toast. Trying to avoid sugary jams she reached for the maple syrup but butter and syrup now that’s going to get a bit messy and with syrup all over her hands she got thinking, surely there must be maple syrup butter out there. Searching NYC and asking around she soon realised that there was an opening in the market.

After lots of recipe testing on nieces and nephews she had the wining combination, a maple syrup butter that wasnt too sweet and a wholesome alternative to nutella or jam.

Moose Maple ButterBefore I tried it I was a bit scared by how sweet it was going to be. There is sweet and there is sickly sweet and I was really hoping it wasn’t going to be sickly.With toasted brioche I was incredibly generous with my butter serving – it would be rude not to on first try, and it was delicious! The butter melted perfectly on the warm brioche giving off the faint sweet smell of maple syrup. It was sweet but not overwhelmingly so – this is something you could quite happily keep in your fridge and not get sick of it.

mmmm maple butter on brioche!

mmmm maple butter on brioche!

To continue ones testing ( got to be thorough!) I tried it on pancakes and then of course the real test came, would the maple syrup loving mother like it – the answer was yes! She was even more generous with her butter serving than I was.

Moose Maple Butter is a fab little indulgence, perfect for weekend breakfast treats or actually any time treats. I have even tried it on my Pumpkin loaf!

Whether you spread it on brioche, toast, pancakes or waffles makes sure you are spreading it!

Moose Maple Butter launches properly in London in November ( you can currently get it in  a couple of places in South West London) and then hopefully the rest of the UK before Christmas. I am very much looking forward to lazy cold winter mornings with maple butter on toast and a hot cup of tea!

 

Brasserie Chavot

I first came across Eric Chavot on a saturday morning while sitting in my parents kitchen. He was one of the chefs on Saturday Kitchen and instantly impressed. He was your typical no-nonsense French chef, he was funny and was wearing a flat cap! At this point both me and my sister turned to each other and said, we have to go to his restaurant.

Now Chavot is relatively unknown when it comes to Celebrity Chefs, he is very low-key and gained a Michelin star when working at the Capital but left there in 2009 to work with Pierre Koffman at a pop up at Selfridges. In 2013 the eponymous Brasserie Chavot was launched on Conduit Street and is part of the Westbury Hotel.

It took us almost a year to get ourselves sorted but eventually a table was booked at Brasserie Chavot, for my birthday no less, and on a hot summer Tuesday evening we headed to Brasserie Chavot.

Now of course building something up in your head can end up disappointing, but thank goodness this didn’t. From the moment you step inside you are greeted with excellent service, the staff were friendly and welcoming and completely attentive the entire evening. You couldnt fault the staff and their impeccable service at all. The treat was that Eric Chavot was actually cooking in his own kitchen! He wandered out occasionally to say hello to the odd customer.

The food, the main star of any restaurant, was fantastic. Beautifully presented and full of flavour. To start we went with soft shell crab which had been deep fried and served simply with aioli, and chacuterie. The soft shell crab was light and not in the least bit greasy. The batter had flavour but didn’t overpower the crab. The chacuterie was beautiful presented and each meat on the board offered something different.

soft shell crab and aioli

soft shell crab and aioli

Chacuterie

Chacuterie

To follow I went with the canette aux cerises et macaroni. A succulent duck breast perfectly cooked, in a sweet yet slightly sour cherry sauce with a decadent truffle laced macaroni and cheese. My sister went with roasted cod with peas a la francaise, which was just the perfect summer dish. A thick piece of cod on a bed of peas, bacon and vegetables in a creamy sauce. Both dishes were the perfect size, bursting with flavour and colour and presented elegantly.

canette aux cerises et macaroni

canette aux cerises et macaroni

roasted cod with peas a la francaise

roasted cod with peas a la francaise

To finish I went oh so traditionally french and had a rich and sugary creme brulee, which was lovely and my sister had the desert of the day, a peach parfait with sorbet.

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee

Peach Parfait

Peach Parfait

Throughout the whole meal you just couldn’t fault a thing, well other than how much we had just eaten…. but it was so good! The atmosphere, thanks to the delightful French waiters and food, made it feel like you could have been in a beautiful Parisian brasserie and not a 5 minute walk from Regent Street. I think Brasserie Chavot has quickly gone straight into the top of the my favourite restaurants, it can jostle for first place with Le Gavroche! I would certainly return here without a second thought.