Springtime in Notting Hill (& Ottolenghi)

This was supposed to be my Easter post, but honestly it’s taken such a long time to get myself in gear that Easter feels like it was about a million years ago.

In one of my most shameful moments yet, I was basically too hungover to go home, so Matthew and I found ourselves with a sunny Easter Sunday on our hands. After swapping Easter eggs and enjoying pancakes for breakfast, we headed off to pastures unknown, i.e, West London. It’s been over 2 years since I last visited Notting Hill, so that was the destination of choice and it was looking suitably fresh and Spring-like.

I was particularly excited to spy George Orwell’s house…

And of course, Portobello Road was its usual treasure trove of trinkets & tacky tourist shops, which are one of my guiltiest pleasures in life.

http://i95.photobucket.com/albums/l126/bjollyblog/IMG_3281_zpsjqih3nj8.

We had watched Paddington the night before (told ya we were hungover) so I was also VERY excited to come across what I assume is the antiques shop they used in the film.

Just as our stomachs started grumbling, we chanced upon Ottolenghi, which has been loitering on my to-visit list for months now. I couldn’t resist dragging M inside for a look.

How could anyone resist those salads?! As luck would have it, two spots were just coming free at the one, communal style table, so Matthew and I staked our claim and splashed out on main dish + 3 salads each.

I went for salmon, with slaw, broccoli, and some new potatoes that I am still dreaming about 2 weeks later. Seriously, they were so good.

And Matthew went for panko-crusted seared tuna, green beans, sweet potato, and a cauliflower dish.

Quite difficult to photograph (not to mention awkward on a communal table), but you can get the gist of all those colours and all that freshness. I love that Ottolenghi is so different from other lunch spots and I love the concept – just wished we lived closer to one!

After a few days of excess, it was SO nice to get some goodness inside us and it all tasted so delicious. It wasn’t ridiculously pricey, either, and we both felt it was a very virtuous kind of Easter lunch – we even managed to pass up on dessert! (Although next time I’m in the area I will definitely be back to rectify that.)

As you read this I’m off in Copenhagen for a snazzy long weekend, so I’m sure I will have lots more posts to share then and in the meantime – what’s your favourite Notting Hill spot?

Percy and Founders, Fitzrovia

It’s all very well having a boyfriend to accompany you to every restaurant that takes your whim, but sometimes you just need a girl date, am I right?

When a work friend of mine offered me his table at the soft launch of Percy and Founders in Fitzrovia, I figured it was high time I took my BFF Kate on a girl-date and so on Wednesday after work we headed over (via a mediocre, but cheap, mojito at Simmons). Soft launches, by the way, are fast becoming my favourite ever thing. Generally, restaurants give you 50% off food if you go in the couple of weeks before they “officially” open, when they’re still testing the waters for the menu & feeling the service out. It is a great way to try out London’s hottest new restaurants while saving some money (or, if you’re like me, you can spend the money you “save” on cocktails and wine instead)

The restaurant itself is one of the most gorgeous I’ve ever visited. Inside it’s huge and feels decadent and special without being pretentious or stuffy. Kate and I were led to our table at the bar, which was great for us but I wasn’t sure I would have wanted to be seated there if I was on an actual date.

The menu is pretty small but ticks all the boxes, with about 6 starters, 6 sides, 6 mains and a few salads in there for good measure. We kicked things off with some bread and some wine, and skipped starters in favour of going straight for the main event.

Kate went for a very gourmet looking fish finger sandwich, and myself for the seabass, which came with charred broccoli and samphire and was one of my favourite fish dishes I’ve ever eaten. The samphire gave a gorgeous fresh lemony zest, and the skin of the fish was perfectly crispy. I didn’t try Kate’s sandwich because I have an aversion to tartare sauce, but it certainly looked great.

On the side, we had charred vegetables with sunflower seeds (a hit) and Jersey royals in butter & mint that came in an adorable Le Creuset-style pot. New potatoes are one of my favourite things ever and although there was slightly too much butter for my liking, they were still delicious.

The dessert menus came on branded clipboards that I loved. There were a few things that caught my eye, but in the end I was too tempted by the idea of a “crepe souffle.” Our waiter didn’t disclose much about what this was (when I asked what a “crepe souffle” was he just looked at me and said “crepe souffle”), but as it turned out it was literally a crepe with a cloud of fluffy souffle in the middle. It was delicious, so unbelievably light – like eating a cloud.

Kate had the “whipped chocolate,” which turned out to be a small mountain of chocolate mousse with huge slabs of honeycomb and brownie in it – as she put it, it was like a grown up kids’ dessert. I sampled and can confirm it was very good (although I probably couldn’t have managed the whole thing).

Having sat at the bar for all that time, and with service so fast we were done eating in about an hour, we couldn’t resist prolonging the evening with a cocktail each. My “La Vie en Rose” tasted exactly like jellybeans and was the most gorgeous colour, while Kate’s was a warming, nutty affair that tasted faintly like Christmas.

To be honest, even without the soft launch the prices at Percy & Founders aren’t bad at all and I think I’ll definitely be back. They do a weekend brunch menu and it seems like exactly the sort of place I could while away a good few hours with some good friends. They have a couple of sharing dishes on the menu that are already popping up all over my Instagram – a chicken Wellington and a sharing beef dish – that I’d love to get my hands on!

Dandelyan and the Oxo Tower

Last week, Matthew’s sister turned 21 and I was lucky enough to be invited to her family celebrations.

Festivities began at Dandelyan, in the Mondrian hotel. Every time we’ve walked past, Dandelyan has looked super busy but when we were there it was just nicely so. Their extensive menu is inspired by the botanical and is split up into several different sections, including  like “cereals”, “grains” and “florals” and M and I took our time getting to grips with it. I kicked things off with a Monroe, which is a blend of vodka, pommeaux (whatever that is), lemon, wheat, and passionfruit, and which arrived looking suitably beautiful.

Round 2 saw a Dandelyan Sour from the “floral” section, which apparently contained dandelion capillaire and garden bitters and which tasted grassy in a good way. Also, I went on a little snoop around on my way to the bathroom and concluded that the Mondrian is a seriously gorgeous hotel. If I ever have the cash to take a little staycation, I would definitely want to stay there.

Soon enough, it was time to head next door to the Oxo Tower for dinner. We were a little early for our reservation so took up seats at the bar, where I had a quite unmemorable cocktail that was a little too sweet for me.

From there, though, things only went up. The service was so slick and so personable, and although our table was in the middle of the room with not-great views, I was more than fascinated by watching the waiters’ station instead.

Foodwise, I stuck with just bread rather than a starter (if you go, I totally recommend the potato & rosemary bread), but Matthew informs me that his smoked salmon scotch egg was out of this world and also on the table was a sharing dish of langoustine and avocado puree that looked pretty damn impressive.

I opted for the monkfish for my main course, which came with clams, a “tomato and potato nest,” and a kind of tomato sauce that they poured over the top. I’ve never had monkfish except in Portugal but this was delicious – perfectly meaty. The tomato and potato nest seemed like an odd concept but was also great, with what I can only describe as little crunchy sticks poking out for texture.

At first glance, we weren’t too enthralled with the dessert menu but M and I begrudgingly agreed to share the most chocolate-y looking of the bunch:. This turned out to be arguably the greatest decision I have ever made because it was DELICIOUS. They don’t have the dessert menu online and I can’t remember exactly what it included/all my pictures are awful, but it was basically four little mini chocolate desserts and each of them were sublime.

On the way out we couldn’t resist popping out onto the balcony to get some pictures of the view, which from only 8 floors up still holds its own against the likes of the Sky Garden.

I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Oxo Tower, but the super-slick service & the food more than convinced me of its merits. I’d certainly go back for a celebration meal!

PS. Apologies for the lack of photos – I don’t like to take my camera out at family celebrations (especially not ones that aren’t even my family) but I couldn’t resist posting anyway!

SE1 and St Katharine Docks

I’ve been a little quiet on the blog front this week, and the reason for that is that half of my camera charger has completely vanished. I’ve finally given in and ordered a new one, but in the meantime I’ve been a bit uninspired without my trust little Canon by my side!

Last week Matthew and I spent a very pleasant Friday afternoon wandering Borough Market (actually, fighting our way through the hordes of crowds) and then on down the river towards Tower Bridge and beyond. Without my camera, I was left to test the capabilities of my iPhone, but actually it was quite fun seeing what it can do.

Round that neck of the woods, Tower Bridge is the obvious choice for photos and it was looking particularly striking in the sun as we meandered by.

The buildings around The Scoop are really stunning. Is it okay if one of my career goals is to work in one of those super slick offices?!

Our walk then took us down to Shad Thames, which cuts a pretty sharp contrast against all that glass. The bridges between buildings were once used for docklands workers to transport goods, but now they make for super cool “balconies” and M and I had fun imagining summertime soirees on them.

Since we were so close, we decided to cross the bridge itself and head to St Katharine Docks, an area I have heard and read a lot about recently and never actually visited.

I’ve picked up a bit of a thing about marinas from my dad, so safe to say I was in my element at the docks. There are tons of restaurants, coffee shops and the like which I have stored up in my head for future visits, but for now we were happy just wandering about.

Our journey home took us back across Tower Bridge and we ducked under the Shard to get the train.

Discovering new corners of London is my favourite thing to do and with spring and summer fast approaching, it’s so nice to think that there are so many more we have yet to visit! Where are your favourite spots?

The Skypod Bar, 20 Fenchurch Street

The Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street (the Walkie Talkie to you and I) has caused quite a stir recently. As London’s highest garden, it’s absolutely free for the public to enter, which is all good until you find that it’s near impossible to get a booking there.

Bookings for the three restaurants up there, though, are a bit easier to come by. A few weeks ago Matthew and I snagged ourselves a breakfast reservation at the more casual (read: cheapest) of the 3 – the Sky Pod Bar.

I’d seen stunning conceptual pictures of the space but read some mixed reviews (Lisa’s is great if you’re interested), so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when we arrived in the deserted City this Saturday.

There is airport style security (complete with a sort of check in desk) before you’re allowed in. It was pretty quiet when we arrived but there was a long queue by the time we were leaving – so if you’ve got a reservation after about 10.30am, be prepared to wait. But it wasn’t long before we were whizzing up in the dedicated lift (my ears popped – it is high) and stepping out into the three-story Sky Garden.

Regardless of any preconceptions, the space is absolutely breathtaking. For those that don’t know, it takes up the top three storeys of the building and the whole thing is made of glass so there are views across every side of London. Inside, it’s just as light and airy as you would imagine, with big swathes of greenery and piped music. There also seems to be a bit of a winter-y theme going on; the hostesses all wear fur-lined capes and there are furs on the floors and seats, which was a touch that I liked – I wonder if they will change it during spring and summer.

There is a row of tables right up against the windows to the south, which would offer the most incredible views of the Shard and beyond, but unfortunately we were shown to one in the “back row”, quite set apart both from everybody else. Don’t get me wrong, the views were still great, but we found ourselves rushing our breakfast so that we could get close to the glass. In hindsight, we should have had a little wander and then settled down to breakfast – but maybe next time!

The Skypod Bar is counter service at breakfast time, and serves quite a decent array of pastries and muffins, along with fruit salad, breakfast rolls and a few other bits and bobs. I opted for a blueberry muffin (it was a special occasion – cake for breakfast is totally allowed) and a fruit salad on the side, while Matthew had a sausage & egg roll and a raspberry & white choc muffin. The team behind the bar seemed a little flustered even though it wasn’t that busy, but they were friendly enough and we took our feast back to our little table.

Considering we definitely were not there for the food, I was actually very pleasantly surprised by my muffin in particular, which was gorgeously soft and super fresh tasting. The fruit salad was nice and big, and considering the potential to mark it up, nothing was that expensive – along with coffee for him and orange juice for us both, we spent about £20 which isn’t bad at all.

As I said, after I was done with the muffin I was pretty keen to leave our table behind and go explore the rest of the garden. As I said, it takes up three storeys and long, sprawling staircases line each side so we took our time taking in every view. There’s also a terrace to the South Side which wasn’t open when we went – of course it was our luck that it opened the very next day! – so we couldn’t really maximise the views of the Shard and so on but the others more than made up for it.

Safe to say, both of our cameras were running overtime. It’s actually really difficult to get a good shot of the (spectacular) views…

But the space itself makes for some pretty amazing photos, especially as you climb higher and higher up to levels 36 and 37. There are little mini gardens up each side, so it’s just like being in a huge greenhouse (only a bit more civilised).

At the back, to the North side of the building, is a huge terrace that was almost empty when we were there – blissful! Of course we couldn’t resist a selfie or two with the little old Gherkin peeking over.

I actually found that we got the best pictures of the views as we came back down the Eastern side, towards the main terrace.

But probably the most amazing pictures come from the highest point, the terrace outside the Fenchurch Seafood Bar. I’m generally good with heights, but this terrace hangs over the rest of the garden and it definitely made me feel a bit wobbly! All worth it for the pics though, obvs.

I do not envy these window cleaners their jobs!

Having spent an hour or so examining every inch of the view and with the garden filling up, we took one last look around and stepped back into the lift to zip back down to reality (or a rather expensive afternoon in Stratford Westfield, anyway).

Overall, I’m so glad we did the Sky Garden and I’m especially glad we did it early, not least because it was grey and drizzly by the time we left. You can book tickets just to go up from 11am onwards I believe, so I would definitely recommend making a breakfast reservation at either the Sky Pod Bar (you could literally buy a coffee and be done with it if you really wanted to), or the more upmarket Darwin Brasserie if you’re celebrating a special occasion, purely because you can get up there ahead of the crowds.

It would obviously be a great place for an event (I can dream of being invited to one) and I think Matthew and I are going to endeavour to go up there in the evening for either dinner or cocktails – but we’ve also got dinners lined up at Duck & Waffle and the Oxo Tower before then, so we shall see how they compare!

Have you visited the Sky Garden? What were your thoughts? I’d love to hear!

Snapshots in Greenwich

Some photos from a (slightly) hungover stroll on the first day of spring.

I honestly have no clue how I’d managed not only not to visit Greenwich before moving here, but also not to really have even heard of it. I think it’s easily one of the most underrated spots in London and the absolute greatest place to spend a Sunday.

Places visited: The Queen’s House / Tulip Staircase / The Water Gate / National Maritime Museum / Greenwich Park / Royal Naval College

In Brief: February

To be perfectly honest, one of the reasons I wanted to move to London so badly was so that I could visit all the restaurants and bars I have read so much about. I’ve been pretty good about getting out and about where I can (the fact that both Matthew and all my friends share my taste for food helps) but I don’t always take my camera and rarely blog about everywhere I go.

A lot of these places deserve mentions though, so I’m trialling a monthly(ish) round up of the restaurants & bars I’ve visited lately. Here’s where I managed to get to in February:

Bo Drake, SohoFood was delicious, wine fairly cheap, company great. I may do a full post on this if I can persuade Kate to let me borrow her pictures of the evening, but if you are going, TRY THE RIBS. Steak was also delicious. Our only issue was that they had run out of both of the above by 8.30 (we had the last orders of each) and then the waiter dropped one of our ribs on the floor. Rating: 4/5.

London Cocktail Club, Shoreditch: M & I visited for cocktails on a Friday night. Good cocktails, extensive menu, good atmosphere. Service was friendly enough but not particularly genuine. Rating: 3/5.

Red Dog Saloon, Hoxton Square: I visited to satisfy a pulled pork craving after a frankly awful blogging event (more to come on that soon). Food was fine, beer was fine, service less so – I had a much better experience when I visited in the summer! Rating: 2/5.

The Cocktail Trading Co, SohoRemains one of my favourite spots in London. Having had such a good time the first time around, I had to take Kate & Sophie and although it wasn’t quite as good, the service was still super friendly and the atmosphere extra buzzy. Rating: 5/5.

Greenwich Farmers Market: A surprise discovery on a Friday off, this is a brand new farmer’s market and there were samples galore. I bought some absurdly delicious coconut fudge and there’s a great array of stalls so I’d highly recommend. Rating: 5/5!

Rivington Grill, Greenwich: Fast becoming a regular haunt of mine, this reminds me of the parent-friendly favourites of Exeter. We visited for lunch this time and it was dependable as ever, with efficient, friendly service and a nice relaxed atmosphere. Rating: 4/5.

Peyton & Byrne, Greenwich: A much wider selection of cakes than we had anticipated, including the cutest mini carrot cakes and delicious looking fig rolls. Matthew and I shared a sinfully rich chocolate caramel cake and a fantastic coffee & walnut cake (and I don’t usually love coffee & walnut). Always busy; a solid choice for coffee & cake by the Cutty Sark. Rating: 4/5.

Okay, I actually didn’t realise how often I’m eating out at the moment, for which I can only apologise to Mr Natwest. And believe me I have a list as long as my arm of places I still have yet to visit!

Have you been to any of the above? Anywhere I should aim to check out in March? Let me know!