Monday, March 16, 2015

Beela Bakes: Guide to Borough Market, London

Continuing on from my London Food Diary series, I knew I had to dedicate a post of its own to wondrous Borough Market. In all my twenty-three years living in the city, plus frequent trips back and forth since moving to Dubai, I had never visited the market before, and it ended up proving to be the most memorable food experience on this particular visit. Be prepared to queue and eat to your hearts content, but if there is at least one place you visit for food in London, I implore you to make it this.

Having done my research, I visited with my best friend on a Saturday afternoon which was deemed the best day to go, as although the market was pretty crowded we found stalls and stalls of food, with everything you can imagine to eat and such great choice. Whether you're looking to have lunch or dessert, Egyptian or Thai, or even artisanal products to take home, you'll be more than spoilt, and whats great is that the majority of stalls happily give out samples to try.

Our first stop was Koshari Street. I was first introduced to koshari, the popular Egyptian street dish through ones of Antony Bourdain's shows and had subsequently heard lots about the London eatery opened by Middle Eastern cookery writer Anissa Helou, so I was super eager to try it. And WOW. What an absolute must try! Completely vegetarian, it consists of a mix of lentils, rice, pasta and vermicelli, topped with a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas and caramelised onions. As random as it sounds it was totally out of this world. If you can't visit them at the market, Koshari Street has their main branch in Covent Garden.

Fresh, hot, batter-fried calamari served with chopped red chilies and sweet chili sauce on the side was a definite highlight. My mind escapes me as to whether this was from a Spanish or Thai food stall (I'm thinking the latter) but nevertheless it was seriously good and still has me dreaming about my next trip to the market.

I dare you to leave Borough Market without trying a sugary treat from at least one of the numerous confectionary and bakery stands. As brownie addicts, my friend bought a brownie from Comptoir Gourmand whilst I tried one from Artisan Foods. In the end we both decided the former had the best one. In addition we bought artisanal doughnuts from Bread Ahead Bakery. If you are sweet-toothed I highly encourage you to try these, but much more on doughnuts in a follow-up post!

Hydration was found in the form of a smoothie from the Natural Smoothie Co. My forest green High Kick was a super blend of kiwi, pineapple, strawberry, banana, spirulina, linseed, apple and orange juice, and although I am weary of too many combinations in one smoothie, this one was faultless. 

To take back home with me I bought granola from Mini Magoo which does 100% organic cereal and granola mixes. Having tried some samples to taste, I settled on a pack each of their Funstuff! Ginger Seeds and Nuts mix, which was gluten, oat and wheat free, and their lovely Christmas granola with white chocolate pieces, cranberries orange peel and dates. They've been a great addition to my morning yogurt parfaits!

If you missed it, see my London Food Diary part 1 and part 2 for more on where to eat and dine when in the capital. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Beela Bakes: London Food Diary: Part 2

The Five Fields, Chelsea

Dinner here was planned by my husband as a surprise to celebrate our three year anniversary, and boy was it good. So good infact that it was easily one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. There is a waiting list for reservations to dine here which alone can take upto three months. Focusing on British cooking, but with a modern and playful twist, each dish at The Five Fields is made with native British artisanal produce and changes seasonally. The dining room itself is a small intimate space which made it feel all the more special and gave an air of what felt like a traditional English gentleman's private club.

I loved that they personalised the menu for our special occasion. I started with the simply named Garden - a playful combination of herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables which tasted just as colourful as it looked. I tried turbot for the first time for my main, and it was served with laver seaweed, razor clams and blackberries. Dessert options looked incredible and we couldn't hold back from ordering two - the lemon brulee with butternut squash ice-cream, and the cucumber basil white chocolate with dill. Even so, we were given a third complimentary dessert - an example of the attention and care taken by the restaurant to ensure a great experience. Every dish was perfection, beautifully presented and the service was stellar. Lots of delicate herbs, pretty colours and artfully combined flavours. At the end of the meal we were given a complimentary box of housemade confectionary. Truly ones of the best meals I've had and it definitely lives up to its reputation - just read its exemplary reviews.

Joe and The Juice, Regent Street

Another spot which I discovered with friends during my last year of uni. The urban-style juice bar which originally hails from Denmark offers a selection of fruit juices and smoothies, as well as snacks and sandwiches. It kind of has a very similar feel to Tom & Serg in Dubai in terms of the decor and ambience, and you can watch your juice being blended up on the open space counter bar. Seating comes in a variety of styles, including window seats, sofas, table and chairs and a more communal space in the upstairs area. It's a lovely spot to catch up with friends, or especially one to retreat to after a busy few hours most likely shopping on nearby Oxford Street (totally guilty)! Infact I also love it for people-watching. They do however have branches in Fitzrovia and Dean Street as well. On this trip I went for 'Joe's Sweet Kiss', a blend of raspberry, apple and ginger. It was fresh, zingy and frankly a better alternative to the usual Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero nearby. Saying that there is coffee on the menu too for those who still need their caffeine fix. I didn't eat anything this time round though I can vouch for their avocado sandwich being very good.

Pret A Manger, all over London

Good 'ol Pret. I simply can't tell you how many times Pret has literally saved my life. From A-Level school days grabbing a quick lunchtime sandwich during private study breaks, to university again where it practically made up for at least one less meal to worry about everyday. And of course this is precisely what makes it so good - its ethos is handmade, natural food without any preservatives or additives, and it truly caters to the everyday person; one looking to refuel with good 'fast-food' in a city where time is unfortunately always of the essence. In fact I don't think there is anything Pret does which could be considered 'bad' - sandwiches, wraps, soups, hot savoury pastries, freshly bottled smoothies and juices, healthy crisps, snack bars, dessert pots, everything it does it does so well. Oh and did I mention how amazing the avocado wrap is? Hand on heart, this is one sandwich I could eat everyday for the rest of my life. You can find a Pret on virtually every street corner in central London now and to be honest, with such good honest food I'm all the more grateful for it. Pret I love you.

P.S. I've now long heard whispers about Pret A Manger coming to Dubai, more specifically to the airport, and I really hope its true!

Box Park, Shoreditch

Box Park is a pop-up mall concept in the hipper east part of London, which sees a mix of independent fashion brands, cafes and restaurants housed in shipping containers. Infact it's a concept very similarly adopted, if not copied (!), by the newly opened Box Park on Al Wasl Road in Dubai. I came here specifically on a hunt for gourmet doughnuts (something which I will be posting about soon) but enjoyed lunch at Thai and Lao Street Food which serves up a variety of South East Asian street food and uses fresh ingredients for meals which are cooked to order. I went for a steaming hot pad thai with prawns, which was just the thing I needed on a dreary damp day, and especially as the open containers don't allow much for keeping out the cold even when seated inside. The husband went instead for a Korean bulgogi beef salad box with kimchi from Korrito. With a rooftop style garden its definitely a great place to check out in the British summer and enjoy al fresco style lunches and dinners.

Roasted Chestnut's, Oxford Street

One of my absolute fondest memories from my childhood is enjoying hot roasted chestnuts from Victorian-style wooden carts in Knightsbridge during the winter months. There is something about the charcoally smell of chestnuts roasting, and the delight in peeling back the hot individual shells which is forever engraved in my mind. It romantically takes me back to trips into central London with my parents on the weekends, when my mum and I would buy a small crispy white paper bag of roast chestnuts each and sit on a side-street bench enjoying their soft rubbery sweet flesh one by one, or in our laps trying not to make a mess in the car ride back home. Today it is impossible for me to pass a street seller without stopping to buy a bag and I especially look forward to seeking them out when I'm in the city for winter. I'm not sure if they are sold in Knightsbridge anymore but I bought from a seller on Oxford Street this time and in the past have seen them sold on The Strand as well. Quintessentially British, to me they are a symbol of a bygone era of street-life still preserved in today's London.

Read Part 1 of my London Food Diary here 
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