Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Crab and Winkle, Whitstable

Browny has already given a pretty comprehensive account of Whistable, but I must just write a quick something about the Crab and Winkle.

The restaurant is found on the 1st floor above the working fishery below. Looking out over the harbour and the sea, in the summer months the view from the restaurant would be highly impressive. The decor is simple and practical but would have benefited from more subtle lighting.

Anyway back to the food....

It would have been slacralage not to eat fish at this venue. I wanted to hit the man sat opposite us who had pigeon for his supper! The chosen starters were moule marinere and pan fried scallops. Some would say an unoriginal choice, but my word they were both extremely good. My scallops were served in their shells, accompanied with a cauliflower cheese esk sauce and bacon. Very special.

For main course we felt the menu was somewhat limited considering all the fish on show downstairs. Having shot gunned the special of 'baked sea bass with anchovies, rosemary and capers, lentils and braised fennel', Browny thought he would play safe and go for good old fish n' chips... obviously with tartare sauce and mushy peas... The latter of which were quite revolting!

The bass was in a class of its own. I was initially concerned that so many flavours would over power and clash with the fish, but somehow it was a magical combo. The F and C did exactly what it said on the tin; but in all honesty it wasn't streets ahead of your standard chippy.

Cheese was next in store for Browny. The selection was a little mean in quantity but tasty none the less. Meanwhile, I was feeling pretty smug that I had managed to resist the pudding menu. However, my saintly act was soon in tatters when I decided to order at the last minute a gigantic raspberry souffle and sorbet.... Little Miss Piggy is a better name for me these days.

We were very pleased we gave the Crab and Winkle a go. A thoroughly enjoyable evening, good food and wine.. but certainly on the pricey side.

Food - 7
Service - 7
Atmosphere - 7
Abit too pricey for what you get.

Gazette, Wandsworth

Browny's Taste of London card came up trumps yet again, by offering 50% off the food bill at this great local eatery. It's also another local favorite that we have been dying to try.

Nestled next to the Thames, Gazette offers something for everyone day or night. During the day you can settle in with a paper, fresh coffee, croissants and jam for breakfast, while for lunch you could be tempted by a selection of fresh sandwiches, crepes, salads and soups. Finally for dinner you can choose from main menu which consists of 8 daily specials (4 starters and 4 mains) plus an array of French classics such as moule marinere, prime steak, french onion soup.... the works. I also must not forget to mention the wine list... Truly a bible.

Browny and I came here with the rest of the Cowie team. Mum and Dad were staying in London for the night, so big sis and I decided to treat them.

The atmosphere was charming; attention staff, welcoming surroundings, subtle lighting and great furniture.... our table was a sheet of glass resting on a raburn oven!

The food was delicious. Simple, proper, classic, simply scrummy French nosh. To kick off the baked scallops were plump and succulent, the moule were vast as well as immersed in sumptuous liquor, the rabbit terrine was hearty and textured. As we were feeling peckish we also gobbled down a platter of cold meats... peppery, chewy, smokey.. ummm.. yum.

For main, the only minor disappointment was the baked cod. Somewhat uninspiring compared to the rest. I had a stunning venison fillet in a red wine and juniper berry sauce. Browny and Dad demolished a wonderful rare slab of steak, while Mum opted for the delicate and tender pigeon. The strong and solid flavours were perfect to welcome in the Autumn/winter season.

We were sorely tempted by the puds, but somehow managed to resist.. Gazette is famous for its creme brulee!

All in all I would highly recommend this great place. Its seems to provide the perfect balance; informality, style, cheerful staff, genuine and delicious food all at a reasonable price... especially when using the ToL card!

Food - 8
Service - 7
Atmosphere - 8
Reasonbaly priced

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Seafood in Whitstable

Cowie and I read about the joys of Whitstable in Olive Magazine a month or so ago and as usual got excited about it and booked ourselves into a BnB and started looking up restaurants and reviews...

Our main aim was to sample Whitstable's famous oysters. It didn't take us long to stumble across the brilliant fish market on the south pier where freshly shucked oysters are yours for 65p each! Amazing.

They were shucked for us in seconds and presented like half a dozen eggs in a small piece of dark cardboard! A far cry from the OTT mound of ice and wire rack you'd get at Wright's in Borough Market! We sloshed some lemon juice and chilli vinegar on them before taking them outside to wolf them down. I had thrown two of the vast pieces of chilled, salty, slippy shellfish down my throat before I realised that Cowie was having a few issues tackling hers... the problem was that they were so big and fresh that she had to bite them rahter than just swallow... and they were full of salty water... I thought they were great and ate the rest of them leaving me feeling in love with Whitstable and energised for rest of the day. There's nothing quite like demolishing a bunch of oysters for lunch and not even breaking a fiver!

The market below the Crab and Winkle is amazing. It's so full of fresh seafood that you leave with your eyes feeling full to bursting!

Monday, 29 October 2007

Mushroom Foraging at River Cottage HQ with John Wright

I've become a bit of a mushroom bore recently. Cowie says I am a mushroom nerd. I prefer the expression mushroom enthusiast! And all my friends at work are a bit dubious about my bureoning funghi fetish!

So off Cowie and I trekked down to River Cottage HQ down on the Devon/Dorset border on a glorious Tuesday morning. All the more brilliant for it being a great day off work. We had been looking forward to our day of mushroom foraging with Hugh's mycologist, John Wright for bloody ages.

We were immediately thrilled by the charmingly ecentric chicken obstacle course where Hugh's roosters and hens charge around and play with the mobiles and other crazy bits of kit for the happy birds to play with. It was a sign of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory world we were letting ourselves in for.

We started with a very entertaining briefing by John and Steve in a brilliantly converted barn with a great angled mirror with a plea to us not to eat any bright red mushrooms or break our legs in a rabbit hole! All washed down with a great cup of tea and an organic bacon and egg bap...

Off we pottered with our 24 fellow mushroom hunters to the forrest to start foraging like our lives depended on it. Within 20 seconds I had almost trodden on a tiny little mushroom and yelled over to John, triumphant! Not a great mushroom to start with... but victory nonetheless!

Every time a new mushroom was spotted we all gathered around to see John get really excited and tell us all about the latest find. John seemed to take great glee in telling us stories about some of the more gorey stories about dangerous mushrooms. He is such a great guide with so much energy and knowledge it was a complete privelege to spend a day with him hunting shrooms! He's a legend. Nothing less.

Here's John in action from a while ago when he had long hair!

We spent 3 hours trawling through the forrest finding 37 varieties of mushrooms ranging from the tiny and dull to the huge and delicious like the ceps that Cowie found!

And these slimy chaps that apparently are delicious... although you would have to be a brave man to give them a try! Apparently they are better when they are smaller and tend to grow on the trunks of beech trees.

We all headed back with our baskets heaving with mushrooms to HQ where we were treated to a cooking demonstration of how to cook a fantastic mushroom tart and a chicken stew all washed down with a nice mug of pumpkin soup.

In the meantime John had sorted through all the mushrooms we found and laid them out in the wort for him to identify all the varieties in the hope that we would then know what to avoid and what to pick! We were so overwhelmed by his sheer enthusiasm that we are now always on the look out for mushrooms and will use his excellent book as a guide.

We sat down for a delicious dinner with all the brilliant people we met. Our mushroom tart with a foraged salad was stunning as was our chicken stew which we thought was very worthy of a photo...

As were the fried up ceps that Cowie picked... wow!

We loved the charming personality and energy that everyone and everything at River Cottage HQ exude. The loo was an amazing eco contraption that uses a reed bed to filter all the bad stuff out... and it's made from re-used floor boards.

All this was topped off with a trip to see Hugh's pigs which couldn't stop scratching themselves on whatever they could lay their ample bottoms on.

We'd really built they day up and had huge expectations of it before we arrived and were delighted to have them hugely exceeded. River Cottage HQ over-delivered massively and we can't wait to go back and try another course. Maybe we'll do pig in a day next time. So long as it doesn't involve butchering the pig I made friends with!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Korfez, Istanbul

We wanted a highlight in Istanbul... and Korfez certainly gave it to us. What a place. What a journey. What great theatre. What sublime food. If you visit Istanbul you've got to go here.

It's the other side of the water from where we were staying in Beyoglu... on the Asian shore. It was tipping it down and we were, as ever, late. So we got a cab all the way round which took the best part of an hour to get there. Our cab driver was brilliant but didn't know where we were going so we stopped off at loads of random places on the way.

On arrival we did not have a clue what to expect. It looks like a random ex-pat house from the road but reveals itself to be a glorious yacht-esque type place once you see it from the waterfront which it clings to precariously.

The menu read brilliantly. But one thing was missing... the price. Scary. We looked at the wine list and extrapolated that it was going to be pricey but we would be able to afford it as a treat!

Tucked away in a corner we asked politely if we could move to a window table so we could soak up the incredible view of cars streaming over the bridge and the mosques and old town lit up lke something out of a Holliwood blockbuster. We were graciously moved to position A in the restaurant once another couple had left.

We had a small collection of meze as a pre starter including two of the most interesting dishes we'd had in a long time. Tarama tasted not a bit like anything that normally has tarama in its title. It was soft. Slightly fruity. Creamy. And beautiful. Such a clean taste. Stunning.

The other immense meze dish was something with smoked egg plant that was glorious. The smokiness was dazzling. So much so I can taste it now when I think hard enough. It looked pretty dull but tasted magic.

Once we had been upgraded to the royal box things got even better. We couldn't help evesdropping on an executive from Microsoft's nauseatingly dull conversation! Showing off to his guests.

My starter of a vast prawn with a sweet and sour sauce and noodles was a very original piece of cooking and not something I was expecting. It was like a small lobster really and covered in a great little sauce.

I nipped off to the loo and came back to find Cowie surrounded by 4 waiters and all the customers staring at our table! As I sat down the commotion died down. Then it picked up again as quickly as it faded as the head waiter set a large copper cauldron of salt covered sea bass on fire having doused it in brandy and then smashed the cauldron with a hammer! Drama! Noise. Commotion. And a devastatingly awesome dish. The fish was so soft it melted each time I put a piece in my mouth. It was a dish I never wanted to end.

I've completely forgotten what Cowie had. Whatever she had was good... I guess I was so blown away by the sea bass that everythung else has slipped throuh my collander of a memory!

But the best bit was yet to come... we had seen a wealthy couple leave by private boat and had gossiped about how much we'd love to be able to afford our own boat home rather than a lenghtly cab journey. After a second coffee we plucked up courage to ask the waiter whether the boat was available for use... he said of course it was a complimentary private boat for the restaurant! So we leapt up and danced onto our boat feeling like film stars watching our favourite restaurant in Istanbul twinkle into the distance as we swept across the Bosphorous.

Korfez has to be one of the most romantic restaurants in the world.

Cheeky little stir fry

Cowie made an amazing green thai prawn stir fry the other night and it was utterly delicious. Can't remember what was in it particularly. But I've got a feeling that Cowie may well have some Thai in her somewhere!

Lokal in Istanbul

Any restaurant that has its own projection screen and transformers on every table has to be worth a visit...

We walked past it a few times and were disappointed by how quiet it was. On Saturday we saw the owner having a coffee on his own and we thought maybe it was past its best.

But we went back on Monday for our last meal in Istanbul and were delighted to see it full of local workers on their lunch break. Our menus arrived on vintage vinyl record covers. Every detail here is quirky as fuck.

It's so much fun. I loved it the moment we sat down. And loved it even more once I had been to the loo!

The walls are covered in black board paint with chalk supplied so that visitors can do doodles and leave notes... Somebody must have had serious tummy issues to give them enough time to draw the entire film stills for the Pink Panther and a great drawing of Jessica Rabbit.

I spied an unusual dish on the menu called "steak with basil and peanut sauce" and couldn't resist! Cowie went for a very tasty stir fried beef dish which was delicious. But I think mine won! Cowie massively disagrees!

I absolutely loved Lokal. What an awesome concept. The kind of place I wish existed just around the corner from work on Marylebone High Street. In fact it's the kind of place I'd like to run and make my own. It'd be the ideal place to introduce my novelty condiment dispensers.

If you are in Istanbul and like things quirky and artistic. Make sure you pay Lokal a visit and make the most of their incredible loo!

What a loo!

Meyra for the perfect Istanbul breakfast

Our Wallpaper and Time Out guides almost insisted that we visited Leyla for breakfast... so we set off on a damp and very hilly Sunday morning to see what all the fuss was about.

Our stroll soon became a hike as we learnt the hard way just how undulating Istanbul is. Cowie soon became frustrated by our progress as I stopped at every turn to take photos of all the amazing stencil grafitti on display on the trendy walls of Biyoglu.

We walked straight past Leyla and spent the next quarter of an hour asking bemused Turkish people to help us with our tiny map! Then a charming woman from a pizzeria laughed and explained that it has changed its name to Meyra and was just around the corner!

Thank God we found it. The place was throbbing with young Istanbulites sipping coffees, reading papers and generally chilling out and catching up with mates. Looking back at it, we're reminded of Central Perk in Friends... but much better!

We sat at the bar and tried to work out what everyone was eating. I immediately spotted what looked like a cast iron balti dish with something eggy in it. Cowie was drawn to the pancakes and muesli.

My Turkish coffee was deliciously muddy and made my teeth look like I had just eaten a mouthful of soil! Perfect!

They have a great range of breakfasts from Norwegian, Turkish, English, French, Polish, Spanish etc... great fun.

I managed to decypher what the balti eggs was and ordered what turned out to be a classic Turkish breakfast egg dish called menemen.

It is utterly delicious, especially when you add a healthy glug of Tabasco. Once spiced up it reminded me of an amazing eggy dish I had in a beach hut in Ghana called Eggs Sambal. Heaven. It was even better when wrapped up in a crepe. Bliss.

We sat at the bar for ages. People watching. Taking sneaky photos. And feeling smug that we had found such an ace place for breakfast even though they had been cunning enough to change their name!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Istanbul Street Food Comments...

I love it when people comment. All this stuff on Istanbul has caused a bit of a stir which is brilliant. The "Paunch" is syndicated on Food Candy where Kinni has written a fantastic response to the post on Istanbul street food. Thanks also to MasterChef champion Steven who has got a great blog called the Urban Foodie who was really nice about the post too. G Barran has suggested the best place for street food in Istanbul is

From Kinni:

"I lived in Izmir in '93-'94. I've never had such wonderful food. I have no compunctions about eating from street vendors, and did so at every opportunity-- especially the mussels. The only thing I wouldn't eat from a street vendor are those pretzel like rings in your first pic. We used to call them hepatitis rings. The kids who sell them would take one of the rings, place it on his head, then balance a peice of scrap wood on his head with dozens more rings stacked on top. The overall structure was usually larger than the child, so the whole thing would come crashing to the ground every two blocks. The kid would chase the rings around, restack them and resume his rounds. Who knows how many days those things had been sitting around anyway.

I knew a lot of Americans there who refused to eat local food. They would eat at the McDonald's, which doesn't taste the same as American McDonald's, but I guess the name gave them comfort. They would go to the AAFES (military commissary) and buy food that had been frozen for the past 6 mo.--this includes bread and cereal, or yummy Danish shelf milk, and all of the meats, eggs and cheeses had been shipped from Western Europe. I mean really, these people are in sheep central.

There was no shortage of beautiful, fresh, artisinal cheeses and gorgeous fresh meats. The bread that was brought to the door every morning by the building manager was delightful. The produce situation was a little strange, because you can't always pick your own. They do expect you to take a few items with bad spots, nothing that couldn't be cut off. The only complaint I have about Turkish fare is the limited beer selection-- they have two-- just two, and I'm not sure how much femaldehyde I consumed. No food safety scare tactics will ever diminish my desire to return to Turkey and eat it all!"

The Easton with Trusted Places

I went for dinner with Walid, the genius behind Trusted Places, tonight at the Easton in between Farringdon and King's Cross. I had steamed in from Somerset and Walid had flown in from Berlin which made my measly commute seem pretty pathetic.

It's a run down, shabby looking pub very close to Mount Pleasant Post Office. It's in an area that is awash with gastro pubs. The legendary Eagle is down the road for instance. I had a pint of Red Stripe whilst waiting for Walid and was really keen on every dish on the chalk board menu. Beef and red wine pie, roast salmon fillet, rump of lamb and rib eye steak all sounded great. Classic gastro pub fayre.

Red Stripe is a sure sign of being in a cool pub. Well done Charles Wells. It amazed me that a Carribbean lager brewed in Bedford can have such cache value and say so much about a bar... hell I'm even writing about it!

Walid is a bit of a hero really. He's managed to set up Trusted Places which is a fantastic social networking places designed to enable people to share their views on bars, restaurants, hotels etc. in a way that's fun and allows you to meet like minded people. It's doing really well. Every day sees their user numbers rise and the feeling within the usership is that it's about to reach a much wider mainstream audience. Walid is brilliant at involving his core members to evolve the site and use this energy to keep the site in a state of perpetual beta whilst driving the site forward. He's full of energy and ideas many of which we are due to see soon.

My salmon was delicious. I very rarely have salmon in a restaurant. And I am so glad that I did. It was only just cooked but also crispy on top and really well seasoned. I love it when chefs over season food. It's just have I would do it! The potatoes it rested on were equally well salted and just as awesome! Maybe if salmon was always this good in restaurants I would order it more often.

Walid's lamb looked great too. We were both majorly impressed.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Nu Teras Rooftop Restaurant

We arrived in Istanbul and were driven greeted by a car that had been sent by our hotel which whistled us straight through the old part of Istanbul and onto the doorstop of the secretive Misafir Suites. We had found the hotel whilst trying to book a holiday in Croatia so it was complete luck. The review on Trip Advisor were so over the top that we had to go there... here's a sample:

"We read about Misafir in NYTimes and booked it for our 1 week vacation.The paper mentioned that it was stylish and hip for good prices.First of all it is in the center of the city and I think if we stayed in any other part of the city it would have been a less gratifing experience.There is all this young and hip bars and restaurants in the neighbourhood. The hotel is very well decorated stylish and modern which makes you feel good,with the eastern touch.And the rooms I cannot praise them enough,so big and comfortable. Breakfast, free wireless connection are included in a very humble price.The service is fast, friendly and willing so we will go back and recommend to everyone."


"My husband and i stayed in misafirsuites for 5 days in a trip last month.Is is located in the center of the vibrant istanbul.The service is great and very personalized with sensitive stuff.The room,i dont even know where to begin,is huge and chic and have a lot of soul with every gadget that you could need.Prices are very good when you look to other hotels in istanbul,which is shoking because not only it is better than any huge 5 star hotel it also includes everything in the price(breakfast,internet...).It was a very pleasant experience for us."

How could we not go there after reading that.

Having deposited our kit in our huge suite we had a chat with the charming receptionists who we consulted about all the places to visit and eat at that we had selected as possibilities from our numerous guide books. Out of The Hedonists' Guide, Time Out, Dorling Kindersley and Wallpaper, Time Out and The Hedonists' Guide consistently came out on top. The brilliant staff took on board all of these views and were utterly brilliant at recommending and booking all the restaurants for our 3 night trip.

On the night we arrived we were keen to go to Chenga or 180 but the staff said why not go to Nu Teras which they thought was better than the two we had found in tourists' guide books. Who were we to disagree? According to reviews we've seen now it is the place to be seen in Istanbul!

We arrived and were blown away by the gorgeous view over the old part of Istanbul. Stunning. We had read about how Istanbul is a great place for roof top bars and restaurants... and you can see why. Istanbul's skyline comes alive at night time. A bit like how "celebs" like Britney (in her hey day) and Sarah Harding look ropey during the day and then amazing once the sun has gone down and the booze has started flowing. 2 brilliant G&Ts later and we were in another world from the slog of London. Not a bad way to toast Cowie's 25th birthday.

With the booze keeping us warm as we looked out at the amazing view before heading to a great table where we were treated like royalty. We choose a bunch of small sharing plates to start with which were a bit like Turkish tapas. Wonderful smoked salmon, delicious ceviche of sea bass and some really tasty bread with olive oil and balsamic, all washed down with some refresihing white Turkish wine.

Our mains dishes were small but delicious. My lamb tenderloin, roasted with garlic and rosemary, was succulent and extremely tasty. Cowie's salmon came almost rare and wrapped in pancetta. I'm not sure I heard a squeak out of her for the duration of her attack on her salmon... so it must have been good!

We finished with a strawberry millefeuille and a chocalate and espresso souffle. We both devoured these deserts like we hadn't eaten in weeks. Surely this is the mark of a good meal?

As our meal drew to a close the terrace began to fill up with glamourous young trend setters from Istanbul, eager to show off their finery (and legs and chests). No sooner had Cowie began to shivver than an observant waiter had glided over and covered her shoulders with a rug! What a great place... particularly for a special occassion on a beautifully clear night.

Here's the review in Time Out.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Street Food in Istanbul

Istanbul is a great place to find find cheap, fun food on the street. Kebab shops are two a penny. Street vendors selling barbecued sweet corn and roasted chestnuts are just as prevalent as are shops selling amazing pastries that look so bad for you they must be delicious. Bagel machines and mussel sellers were equally hard to avoid!

Not wanting to return back from the epicentre of the kebab world without having eaten a genuine donner Cowie relented and allowed me to have a kebab on the last day. We did plenty of research and decided that we would eat directly opposite our apartment... just in case. We found a store which had a constant stream of locals walking away stuffing their faces and thought that they must be popular for a reason. The more trade they get the fresher their kebab must be... hopefully!

Here are the action shots... worthy of a chapter in Lonely Planet!

And here's the video, worthy of the Discovery Channel

For a great article about Istanbul street food click here. It's amazing!


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