dinner at 100 feet... What Could Go Wrong?

NOTHING! 

Except perhaps looking a little windswept... & we certainly had a good ride with the DS Automobiles, Events in the Sky and of course the chefs from Club Gascon

A certainly hair raising experience, we enjoyed Michelin quality food, all while dangling our feet over the central lawn on the Chelsea College of Art. Before we boarded however we were treated to a little chat through the new DS 7 Crossback, which as of yet has only been ridden by the French president himself, Macron. Released for us mere mortals to drive in 2018 we were lucky enough to have a sneak peek inside a gorgeous burnt orange beauty. With clever little details such as an infrared camera to spot obstacles before even you see them, I'm hoping by 2018 I'll be looking for an upgrade from my old school Ford Focus! 

(Lucky I love smiling by cars so much, ey...)

Before long, however, it was time to board! We headed across the grass and took our seats - with a very 'racing driver' feel about them - even with an 'ejector' style lever that made for some very entertaining squeals when we were at the top. Shane kept our glasses topped up with some gorgeous New Zealand white wine and I have to say I think I got the best seat in the house! Being on a long side is definitely worth it if you're as much of a foodie as I am - I had a prime view of not only the surroundings but of the chefs themselves finishing the dishes right infront of me. 

To get everyone comfortable with eating at such a height and like any good meal should, we started with some freshly baked (and still warm!) bread with smoked butter and little crispy morsels on top. This was swiftly followed by a fois gras set creme with little pearls of aniseed and some other delights adorning it too. [Thanks to Lou for her fab photo of it!]

Shane kept us entertained throughout and we were soon on to the fish course - delicious black cod with baby corn, crisped corn, polenta cubes, a truffle sauce and a little oyster leaf to finish. The fish was perfectly cooked - even at this height and flaked its translucency with ease. The other elements added complimentary set of flavours and textures. 

We then moved on to the cheese course, although it was so sweet both Louise (www.lululoveslondon.com) and I thought that it was some sort of pre-dessert! It was a goats cheese mousse, topped with a very sweet beetroot gel and then a pistachio 'cake' for want of a better word. It was very tasty but I did miss the rich umami savouriness that proper roasted beetroot can give a dish and in this instance I think it would've added a lovely something extra.

We then had a quick trip down to the ground to get set for the actual dessert and then it was a swift ascent again into the beautiful sunshine and pud was served. A take on a millionaire's slice (or even my billionaire's version that you can find here) but with black olive and lemon thyme this time the dish wasn't sweet enough for me! I'm a real pudding gal as you know but do appreciate some less sweet dishes but the black olive and caramel mix may have just been one step too far for my little palette! 

With a final topping up of our wine glasses and a good few rotations up in the air, we were able to fully take in the gorgeous sites and see more of where we were - it's surprisingly easy to get your bearings once MI5 has been pointed out to you! 

Once back on dry (solid?) land we were able to also have a look at some of the other DS models that are available to buy now – including this hunk of a DS 5. Being able to see them up close and sit in them and not feel like a tiny girl in a big scary car was so lovely! Everything was perfectly proportioned and I could reach all the buttons! Sounds ridiculous but you wouldn’t believe the amount of cars with which this is an issue – let alone seeing over the steering wheel or reaching the pedals!

This experience was one of the quirkiest dinners I’ve had in a very long time and it was wonderful to be able to share it with some lovely people, our hosts Siobhan from DS Automobiles, Events in the Sky and of course our chefs from Club Gascon. It was a wonderful invitation and while it may not be for the faint hearted I can assure you, it is one of the coolest ways of spending a warm summers evening in London this summer.

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!

A Rococo Christmas Eve

My forays into West London are, admittedly, few and far between but after my evening with Rococo, it shall become far more regular indeed. Nestled beyond the brash glamour of Sloane Square, down Motcomb Street, lies the most wonderful little chocolate shop. As you'll know, my love for chocolate reaches its peak at Christmas-time and I usually rarely treat myself to it at any other time. This evening may have just changed that and indeed exactly what chocolates I now have to buy myself over the holidays... 

The reason? That SNAP. You don't realise just how good properly tempered chocolate is until you have some of the best and Chantal Coady's Rococo Chocolates are just that. We got a little master class in tempering and truffle making and I feel fully ready to tackle some proper chocolate making for gifts but for myself, I'll be in the corner with some chocolate and cheese. Don't freak out. Honestly.

While I'm quite familiar with both of these treats separately, having them together and learning the theory behind it was something I hadn't got a clue about... I'm a big fan of pairings - wine flights with dinner are a match made in heaven for example but these two?! I'm a changed woman. Salty, beautiful, tangy cheese and crisp, sweet, heady chocolate have made me rethink everything I thought I knew. Admittedly I do have one weird food thing; I LOVE having a bar of chocolate in one hand and a bag of salt & vinegar crisps in the other and taking a bite of each at the same time, but this was a sophisticated world of its own. I really really encourage you to give these pairs a go but it has to be with proper chocolate, Rococo if possible. You neeeed the snap of beautifully tempered choc and with anything else the flavours and textures just wouldn't match. Rococo lovingly use all British cheeses in the majority of their tastings - something I can totally get on board with and as I am already quite the fan of Stichelton (the olde English name for Stilton) I couldn't think of anything better to finish the evening with. The other two were equally delicious and have certainly been added to my Christmas cheeseboard list. 

My takeaway obsession however, has to be the award-winning Cardamom White bar. Winning gold in the World Finals of the International Chocolate Awards in 2013, this little beauty combines two things I never thought would work. White chocolate has such a distinctive flavour, often filled with rubbishly high levels of cocoa butter but Rococo's has at least a 30% cocoa solids content making all the difference - this paired with organic, ethically sourced cardamom makes a beautifully fragrant bar that's perfect for any occasion. I'm totally happy to admit I've had some for breakfast before (but what's Christmas for?!) 

Their new shop is now open in Seven Dials so pop down (check here for details) to see their typically gorgeous shop front and keep an eye on the site for my chat with owner Chantal Cody OBE coming in the new year!

temper: Neil Rankin's new BBQ beast

Last week I was lucky enough to head down to the soft launch of mega-BBQer Neil Rankin's new place, temper. A super sleek entrance on the corner of Broadwick Street in Soho was welcome relief from the absolute pouring rain and we were soon greeted by warming smells of open fire cooking as we headed down in to the basement kitchen and dining room. It's amazingly still light down there, thanks to large glass panels but in the centre of the room you can be in a barbecue world of your own, entirely focused on the meat in front of you. We sat as close as we could to the action (why sit anywhere else in my opinion) and had ours eyes transfixed on the chefs and coals at work in front of us throughout our whole meal. 

We ordered tacos to start with, on a great suggestion by our waiter and of course had one of each (apart from the burger, which I must go back for) as well as some drinks. The drinks need to spoken about on their own.

Irn Bru.

Irn Bru Spritz

Irn Bru Spritz

So that's that then. No, but seriously, irn bru literally on the menu on the softs option and in spritz form. Of course we ordered both options! I'm not here to 'review' an irn bru but as an aperitvo spritz? Hell yes I'll say it's damn good. I was off the sauce and so enjoyed a refreshing apple-grapefruit spritz that was just on the right side of bitter for me. As you know, #IHaveThisThingWithGlassware, and these guys were as thin as you can GET. Big fan of the thin stem on that wine glass too. 

Tacos!

Tacos!

This also gives you a good glimpse into the kitchen and of course, the capped Neil, working in the background as he does every day (props, chef). The tacos arrived soon after and these were incredible. I've never had a proper corn taco and these were wonderfully substantial and held the toppings really well, if a little thick and chewy (but maybe they're supposed to be - I don't know!). My particular favourite had to be the crab and pickled onion pork skin - I mean, just look at that description for a minute and tell me you don't want it straight away?! They all come with 2 per portion so are pretty perfect for sharing to start and they all come as soon as they're ready so you're never pushed for space - helpful especially if you're sat on the central bench. We kept hold of our menu's throughout the meal and ordered when we were ready for the next lot of food (probably a luxury only a soft-launch can provide) but we loved it as we could see how full we were after the tacos and get more if we wanted, which, of course we did. 

MEAT & sides...

MEAT & sides...

So again, ordered one of everything, bar the kofte. All the meat comes in 100g portions with varying cuts, all served on a flatbread. All three options, beef, pork and lamb, looked incredible- and we could see it on the bone being cut off before us! My favourite was the pork, it just fell apart and had such a wonderful flavour, I was thinking about it long after we left. We'd ordered some sides too but while we were half way through we suddenly realised we hadn't ordered any sprinkles or sauces! Perhaps it would've been nice to have it explained; where the waiters would've suggested they'd be nice to have but we soon clocked on and after making make-shift wraps with our meat, flatbreads and sides we knew that the MSG ketchup and the peanut and lime zest crunchy onions were made for it and they arrived straight away. Can we just take a second to say how great it is to see 'sprinkles' as an option on a menu? More of this please, world. 

The side dishes were probably the things I was most looking forward to and if I'm ever in need of quick, delicious grub I'll dash in for a taco and one of these for a stupendously good-value quick bite. We had szechuan autumnal greens, grilled corn with lamb fat butter, mint and yellow chilli and also an order of beef fat potatoes with raclette. All three were wonderful but my favourite had to be the greens. It was the perfect bite of freshness between all the meat and was seasoned to perfection. 

Butterscotch kouign amann with offending teaspoon...

Butterscotch kouign amann with offending teaspoon...

After all this, you may think we were too full for dessert but I hope you realised that that could never happen and so we ordered one of my favourite desserts - a kouign amann. It came with Dulche de Leche ice cream of the smoothest variety which was awesomely topped up throughout the pud by chef Martin who we had a great chat with throughout our meal. Eating it with a teaspoon was legitimately impossible but hey, I'm not fussy when it comes to sugar so basically ate it with my hands. Thank goodness we were the last in or I'd have had to apologise to fellow diners. Quick shoutout to whoever chose the crockery too: those plates are Stunning (capital intended).

I normally don't write about places based on the soft launch, as I don't think it's entirely fair to base somewhere after only have a few services but with temper, it was that good I just had to. I can't wait for another visit with some slightly different taco flavours but I'd honestly go back tomorrow if I could. The service was awesome, the chefs all lovely to talk to and so passionate about what they're doing, also quite nice to look at if I may say so? 

Soho has a lot of great restaurants but this, fills a void we didn't know it had. Congrats to the whole temper team. Go eat! Go drink! Get the bloody irn bru! 

Square Meal

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!