New Opening Alert & Place of the Month - Duck & Waffle Local

Red Ducky! @dandoherty_

Red Ducky! @dandoherty_

It's here folks! You've followed the red ducks and you've found yourselves in the new area of Piccadilly called St. James Market and the red doors of heaven have beckoned you in... Perhaps you're a local, perhaps you've come from far but wherever you've travelled from - be it in or outside the M25 - you are treated like the most frequent of customers when you first enter Duck & Waffle Local. With amazing staff on hand instantly to chat you through the ordering process, this friendliness doesn't let up the entire time you're inside - even if only for a quick trip to pick up a take-away back of gorgeous golden duck gizzards (something I'll be doing a lot...!)

Heading into the middle of a gorgeously bright central area you are greeted with more smiley, happy servers, a menu above your head and all the choice you could wish for. My top tip here is to not stress out! I even got panicky thinking I was holding up the queue when there was no one behind me! Stop being British and worrying - take your time having a look at all the delicious things on offer and if you really are overwhelmed - ask! I laid my faith in the lovely Amy (I think!) and she chose brilliantly - suggesting those gizzards, the duck hearts and the crème brûlée. Yep, you've read that right - in the small plates section there was a duck liver crème brûlée... life changing I promise you. 

The Full Elvis

The Full Elvis

After ordering you're shown your seat and get to hang out a little bit before drinks are brought over and then everything as its ready - this keeps it in a nice stream of edible bites without them being too overwhelming. Still hungry? Grab a server and order some more from your seat or move straight onto desserts. These are the things of dreeeeeams. Huge waffle cones filled with basically enough dessert ingredients to feed two - but I of course managed one solo. I went for Elvis with everything that he had to offer me: peanut butter lined cone, strawberry jam drizzle, vanilla ice cream, bananas, raspberries, cacao nibs and crushed peanuts all packed inside and dribbling seductively over the edge. 

 

Something else that is totally worth a mention is the Breakfast Fizz. At D&W Local - the drinks are as special as the food. With a central bar serving all sorts straight from the tap including house brand beers such as the Duck & Stormy, there's also some fizzy options with cocktail blends made in house every day. The Breakfast Fizz was layer upon layer of the weirdest most wonderful drink I've had in a long time: buttered brown seeded toast topped with marmalade and a drizzle of honey and fresh grapefruit? How it works I don't know - all I know is that it does. 

So head down to the newly developed area of Piccadilly and get your hands on all these little ducky morsels before it's too late! Open all day with a special breakfast menu, try it out soon and let me know how you find it...

(Big thanks to Dan & the team for my treats)

Place of the Month: Fitzbillies, Cambridge

A crisp, shining February morning makes a little jolly to Cambridge all the more enticing so off we popped. Heading back to a University city always makes me nostalgic and with this being a reading week and half term, there were plenty of mums-and-daughters lunching around us and wandering the gorgeous streets of Cambridge. A trot down to the original Trumpington branch of my place of the month gave us a great start to our afternoon.

We headed straight to one of my favourite spots; Fitzbillies although Mum will kill me if I don't mention her favourite, the Michaelhouse Cafe - situated in a stunning church in the heart of the city centre. However for me, Fitzbillies, so called (presumably) due to its proximity to the Fitzwilliam Museum is one of the lovelier places to sit down for a lunch or one of their great coffees and a Chelsea bun.

Sadly by 1pm they'd already sold out of their goats cheese and red onion tart, which comes with some of the Chef's seasonal salad for a reasonable £9 and so we opted for a large portion of the salad, the 'Buck' rarebit and the obligatory Baker's potatoes to share between us. The salad itself was a perfectly seasonal affair - bitter radicchio and other leaves, blood orange and pickled walnuts tossed through with an excellently seasoned dressing. The Buck rarebit (the Welsh kind with an added poached egg) had only one little niggle, you used to just add the egg but now it comes with as standard, which is fine if the egg itself is poached to perfection. Ours however was a hard boiled one - rock solid throughout and while it may have just been poached in a little 'poachlet' contraption, the shape and texture was certainly not of the usual kind. Do not let this detract however! With a fluffy doorstop wedge of white bread, nutty stout and spiced cheese atop and a healthy green salad on the side lightly dressed in a mustard dressing this is a treat and a half! Splitting it between two, with some of the Chef's salad added too made for a delicious lunch. 

The Baker's potatoes (although now called something else?!) - crispy thinly sliced potatoes and onions cooked slowly in ham stock and baked to perfection in duck fat - were as yummy as always and a meal at FB isn't complete without them! Believe me, you can always squeeze them in. 

The English Breakfast tea is from Kandula, which is a particularly fragrant type but I would recommend the loose leaf Earl Grey to go with your Chelsea bun for afters. Prepare for your teeth to ache too! I always grab a tap water alongside to help it all along as the gorgeously spiced syrup can get a little much after a while. The currants they use in the buns have a wonderfully long time to soak up all of the flavour from the bun and syrup mix making them particularly juicy yet still retaining the slightly bitter taste that makes currants so good in all baking - I'm a big fan of bringing it back in a big way; 'currants are for life, not just for Christmas cake...' etc etc. 

Do make sure you wander through the 'shop' side of the cafe and grab a look at all of the delicious bakes available - the buns are at the bottom of the cabinet in huge silver trays, shining with syrup. You can order cakes for special occasions or with a bun only £2 to take away, it's a no brainer for a quick snack on the go, whether you're a hungry student or a ravished shopper. 

There's always plenty of room with 60 or so seats in the large cafe out back and if you're lucky enough to sit under the skylights, the blue tiles around you along with old school decorations create the most relaxing vibe. The staff are always lovely and are always more than happy to give you a little extra hot water for your tea or bring you an extra portion of Baker's potatoes if you're not up to sharing... We left full and happy for under £30 including service and it's not only this great value but the bright feeling you get every time when you leave having had a wonderful experience. Not even a little poached egg can put me off this place...

 

Place of the Month: La Fromagerie

It seems my places of the month take a mid-month approach but I have to admit I don't mind that at all - many fun things can start and end within the first or last couple of weeks of a month, most notably New Year's Resolutions... It may seem mad to talk about, particularly as I don't ever make them not least stick to them, but as so many people do I want to add another to your list! If you can't go before Christmas to get the most wonderful cheese board imaginable, please head there in the New Year and take a seat for some wonderful food and leave with a bag full of treats. I have to detail my visit recently however as around this time of year, it truly is one of the loveliest places in London to visit. 

Marylebone in winter has become my new favourite places to have a wander, both in the day for window shopping and present inspiration and in the evening for stopping for a bite to eat or a lovely glass of wine in many of the cute eateries around. They each know exactly how to decorate their little boutiques with just the right amount of sparkle all while remaining inherently classy. Only a hop, skip and a jump away from Oxford Circus and Bond Street, I feel this little corner is far too overlooked! Paul Rothe & Son is a picture perfect little deli en route from the main drag and is well worth a look round and a purchase of a little jar of something sweet!

Only a little further on down the main street, a quick left takes you to the most magical window in the area. The cheese room's golden glow shines out to the street like only it can, begging you to come inside and try the delights it holds within. Golden towers of joy are piled high, the fast moving cheese maestros with their backs to you rushing around getting everyone as much cheese as they can carry and the produce spilling out of the front door just forces you to walk in. The hustle and bustle of outside continues on inside but with a slightly more serene air - one that vanishes the closer to Christmas you get! - but the service is always impeccable, both in the cafe, the deli and the Cheese Room itself. The menus change every day at both the Marylebone and Highbury outfits so I can't explicitly recommend anything but I've had wonderful salads throughout the year and this month was no exception - a warming winter version peppered with toasted seeds and jewels of dried fruit. If you can manage a soup too then do! Using produce from the shop, they always come up trumps and you'll soon be toasty from the inside out.

So as not to completely overwhelm everyone in the Cheese Room on Christmas Eve, it's advisable to get in early and get your Christmas cheese board all sorted well before the big day. I also love being leisurely about it and taking my time chatting to the ridiculously knowledgeable guys behind the cheese (physically and metaphorically) and using them as a source of inspiration for choosing the best things to go together. I have to have a Comte and a Stichelton but everything else is left to them to have fun with. Marcel was as helpful as ever helping me choose a delightfully fruity goats cheese, a soft and rich textured cows milk cheese and a hard but mellow cheddar-esque one to finish. I'll do a little info-graphic with far more detail once I've got over the inevitable cheese coma that's waiting for me... What's also wonderful about getting your cheese properly is that you can pick exactly how much you want and if you take more notice than I do, can remember your favourites and learn about when they are best in season - something I didn't know was a thing until speaking to the guys here! As you know, I'm a big seasonal gal, so if my cheese can get in on the action, then I'll take it! 

La Fromagerie is one of those little nuggets of London I love so much, hideaways from the rest of the city but a magical part of its woven fabric nonetheless. The staff here are amazing (as I had to tell them all the week before Christmas when the Cheese queue was out the door most days all day...) and what they produce is equally as good. Look no further for all your cheesey delights but just don't forget to take your mother, or like mine, they'll be ever so disappointed ('regardless of how bloody good the cheese is...')!

A couple of the images are from La Fromagerie's own site, as I went in the dark and took terrible ones... apologies!

Place of the Month: Dandy Cafe

Carrots with something lovely and octopus with something equally lovely... #greatcaption

Carrots with something lovely and octopus with something equally lovely... #greatcaption

This month it's my favourite cafe in a railway arch, Dandy Cafe. I've told enough people to go here so it's about time I wrote about it and sung its praises for all of you too! Opened just over a year ago behind London Fields station near the park, since then they've gone from strength to strength and are now a firm favourite with Hackney residents. Founded by Dan and Andy (surprise) and a third cool dude, G, these guys have transformed the inside of this container to be one of the most beautiful spaces we've got round here. Anyone will tell you how much a Hackney lass loves some natural wood and pastel colours but these guys have added just the right amount of foliage to keep it cool as. My favourite corner has to be the slightly hidden wine selection where the boys' have shelves of every wine you could imagine. Natural takes precedent with some incredible whites, reds and oranges to take your fancy. I'll often go and have a look at the bottles for the design alone; some of them are truly beautiful but for choosing, I tend to just say to the guys or one of their awesome wait staff how I'm feeling and they always pick out something perfect. On my last birthday meal, they even converted the most non-natural-wine-drinker by giving us a lighter red which still worked so well with our food. 

The food itself is always a winner; whether you go for brunch, lunch or dinner you won't be disappointed. It changes all the time with whatever awesome things Dan's got from his producers but the one thing that I'm uber grateful that has returned for a second winter is their bagna cauda. I could do a post on that alone, it's that good. Salty anchovies and butter with warming garlic and the perfect sourdough or crudités to dip in it make it probably my absolute favourite sauce/dip of all time. That's saying something right? Served lovingly in a giant bowl for the whole table to enjoy at dinner, I even managed to get it in on a recent brunch trip - drizzled over eggs... See how versatile it is?! They have plenty of awesome vegcentric dishes too and plenty for those with a sweet tooth - the french toast is next level. 

Bagna cauda fried eggs: stuff of DREAMS

Bagna cauda fried eggs: stuff of DREAMS

The vibe is neighbourhood familiarity with all the casual trappings that come with that- great personal service and a huge smile from everyone as you walk in, whether you've been once or a few too many times. Even writing this now is making me want to pop in for a coffee tomorrow! That's another selling point: these Aussies know their coffee. Only grinding a serving at a time, their filter is top notch. It's a great place to sit and work on something for a couple of hours or to take a group of adventurous friends for a meal they won't forget. Keep an eye on their Insta/Twitter feed @dandycaf to make sure they're open when you fancy going as sometimes they close for private functions. I'd also definitely book at the weekend if you're more than a 2 - ya don't wanna miss out!