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Sunday, 23 August 2015

Hush(sshhhhh, it's a hidden Mayfair gem!)

I suspect that in any given week, I recommend Lancashire Court to at least five people, whether this be to colleagues, associates, acquaintances or friends, either by email, social media or my big mouth! I absolutely love it, with all it's cobbled glory, tucked away off New Bond Street (or Brook Street if you're coming in from the other direction!), crammed inbetween buildings on all sides and almost entirely immune to the hapless foot traffic of the average tourist. It's never anything less than a hive of apres workers, seated comfortably and happy to be sinking into whatever boozy potion takes their fancy...

If you're coming in from New Bond Street, you will turn right into an alley alive with the sound of diners from both Mews of Mayfair (left) and Mayfair Pizza Co. (right), which offer fine brasserie dining and a superb wine list or mezze sharing plates and plush pizza respectively. Formally Rocket, Mayfair Pizza Co. was opened by Mews of Mayfair, so this alley quite literally represents different sides of the same coin! Adding to the party, Mews also has a bijou art gallery and a tiny private dining room in a wine cellar, aptly named le Cave; for the more discerning hob nobber, there is also tiny basement club downstairs, open until late and free-flowing with Champagne usually (being bubble drunk allows one to forget how sweaty basements always are when dancing, regardless of how posh the establishment!). Quite honestly, Mews is a triumphant brasserie, paying homage to British fare and rejoicing in simplicity, executed perfectly. Well worth a visit if you're willing to splash the cash a little (not Nobu, Fera at Claridges or Helene Darroze at The Connaught sort of cash, rather more Holborn Dining Room, Chotto Matte and Berners Tavern type of respectable spend!).

If you can wade through the narrow impasse between the aforementioned hoards of diners and apres work drinkers, you will reach Hush Mayfair. Similarly, if you enter Lancashire Court from Brook Street, you will avoid said gulley negotiations and reach the same spot - unlike Mews of Mayfair or Mayfair Pizza Co., which both share the alley, Hush occupies the entire open courtyard. Guarded from any roaming or transient diners sauntering between three eateries, the majority is laden with astroturf and a white picket fence, not to mention huge canopies (yes, it rains a lot here even when it's summer and even when it's hot!). Alfresco dining is emblematic of this location, with all three restaurants offering multiple spaces to suit your every whim - cocktail lounges and private rooms included.

As a food blogger, I would ordinarily like to start with a rant about the food, but on this occasion, I must first stop at the drinks...well, one drink in particular! The Chenin Blanc & Elderflower Spritzer is unequivocally the best drink I may have ever had - who knew that violet liqueur is such a extraordinarily good thing?! I appreciate that this is a bold statement, but I'm wholeheartedly willing to stand by it, just so long as the lemonade is replaced with soda water (lemonade makes it all far too sweet for my taste!). I've tried others and while my friends thoroughly enjoyed them, I now cannot deviate from this perfect combination of liquids in a giant goblet sized wine glass. Stop me now, for I need not go on and you really don't need any more information...

For the sake of all you folk who may also be interested in eating though, I shall pay brief homage to the thoughtful European selection of dishes, presented well and cooked very nicely. I really enjoyed the Lobster Macaroni, but at £16.50 for a small copper pot of it, this is an expensive starter priced like a main course, and for the love of gluttony, far too undersized to pretend to be your main dish (unless you are Kate Moss of course, who believes that skinny tastes better!). The Wild Mushroom Arancini + Truffle Mayonnaise (£4.50) was much more sensibly priced and very tasty indeed - the fact that the mushroom was a little overpowered by the dominant truffle is absolutely a very first world problem and one that I was very happy with as a fan of truffle! Aspen Fries tossed in parmesan and truffle oil (£5.75) tasted thrice cooked, crispy and full of flavour - win! Similarly the Rare Tuna was delicate and fresh, tossed in a soy & ginger dressing with greens - exactly what it said on the tin!

I cannot alude too far to the main courses because every time I visit Hush, I find myself covering every inch of my table in appetizers to share! All the while inhaling the delights of my ultimately divine Chenin Blanc and Elderflower Spritzer...sheer perfection and worth every penny of my £8, though I'm sure they were only £5.95 last year! Competing with Mews of Mayfair next door, no doubt...

I'll be in again w/c 1 September and am already counting down the days! Thanks, you're epic!

Rare tuna with soy & ginger dressing (£13.50 / £19.50)
Wild mushroom arancini with truffle mayonnaise (£4.50)
Parmesan fried courgette with herb mayonnaise (£4.50)
Aspen fries (£5.95)
Lobster macaroni (£16.50)
Courtyard - Lancashire Court
Ladies lav!

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Friday, 14 August 2015

From Camden to Springfield by way of Bayou Soul!

Now, despite living around the corner from Camden (5 minutes by tube obviously now equates to around the corner because I've been living in London for too long and compared to the average 40 - 60 minute trek, this is but a stones throw away from my bed!), I rarely get too excited about the culinary scene outside of the plentiful, varied and colourful grab and go grub around Stables Markets, Camden Lock and inbetween! Thus far too, this has been entirely acceptable because there are many other weird and wonderful delights worth hitting up here, namely a sand filled, deck chair clad, container chic city beach at Camden Beach on the mezzanine roof of the Roundhouse; outdoor movies at Back Yard Cinema tucked up a side street off Camden Lock, and vintage hair styling at Dappa Boutique to name but a few!

More recently, edible treats have gotten a little more exciting and atop of the pizza slice, chow mein and fajita classics, emblematic of the markets, you can now explore liquid nitro ice cream at Chin Chin Labs, and gorge on some of the nicest burgers outside of the otherwise superior MEATliquor empire at the ever wonderful Hache, hiding discretely up Inverness Street. Hell, even Gordon Ramsey has opened a beach hut at the York & Albany! I've also had a pretty superb night eating crocodile, boar, ostrich, springbok, boerwors and zebra, beating my way through a drum workshop at Shaka Zulu (while this particular restaurant is dark and atmospheric, it's absolutely huge by cavernous proportions and may lack vibes if it's not a busy night, so be warned!). I was most recently in search of soul food though, inspired by an earlier trip to America (see next para), so off I trotted, back to Inverness Street to a self-proclaimed mecca for all things southern comfort. Bayou Soul opened in June last year (2014) as an all-day Creole bar serving up a variety of Southern American chow, tipples and live tunes.

To set the scene and give some context to this craving: in March of 2014, I found myself in the buttsend of Springfield, Massachusetts (don't ask!), and despite the resounding loss of social stability in a town once famed for many an innovation, invention or creation (the first American musket was made here, if you're interested!), there were still a few morsels of sheer joy to be found. GRITS! Yes, you heard me...Double Cheese Grits & Cornmeal Coated Catfish in particular ($12.95). What an unbridled pleasure and how pleased I was to add to the already bulging catalogue of most loved foodstuffs - evidently, it seems that peasant food from around the world is most frequently what I rave about the most and now, who would've thought that mushy cornmeal could taste so good?! British pies, Caribbean plantain, Polish pierogi, Spanish omelette, Italian pasta, French cheese, Canadian poutine, Swedish meatballs, Indian paratha, Nepali momo, and now grits! The list just relentlessly keeps growing! Thank you Big Mamou for broadening my horizons in the least anticipated city I've ever visited!

Incidentally, if you ever happen to very randomly find yourself passing through Springfield, MA, it just so happens to be the national home of basketball, so you might want to visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; it's also the home of Dr. Suess, so a visit around the Springfield Museums would'nt be the worst thing in the world to do either. Suffice it to say though, a culinary hotpot this was not, so the search for anything edible was a challenge. Aside from Big MamouThe Federal in Agawam had the largest dishes of supremely delicious and finely cooked ingredients in the area [that I found], so if Mamou is where you have brunch, this should be where you should eat ALL your dinners!

Back to Camden then, I spied grits in a variety of forms at Bayou, so I was excited to be reminded of my American food porn find! The overall menu is a grand old thing here, oozing with jambalya, gumbo, Creole chicken and crawfish to name but a few delights. The website also screams authentic southern soul, with live blues and Mardri Gras jazz performances throughout the week, so what could possibly go wrong?!

What is going on with the décor please, kind sir?! I had hoped to be transported into a Creole creation in the heart of Cajun country. Instead, what I got, was one part dodge furniture store + two parts "what were you thinking?!" Not at all offensive you understand, but absolutely not what I had expected from one of the very few London-based US-of-A deep south inspired kitchens. Outside was great and promising, but inside was a little confused with a gold Baroque mirror, deep mauve walls, IKEA light fittings and contemporary striped upholstered seating. I'm frowning as I write this...

Décor aside, the cocktail menu was heavy on the Bourbon and suitably awesome! The gin-based Mardi Gras (£7.50) was a mouthwatering combination of gin, sake, grapes, lychee, lime and sugar (delicious, truly), and the New Orleans Fizz was superb (also £7.50). If I liked dark spirits, I would have gone mad for the Bacon & Maple Syrup Old Fashioned, Bayou Julep, New Orleans Dirty Mule and Sazerac. Quite frankly, the booze menu is brimming with enough subliminal perfection to keep you suitably inebriated in a haze of saxophone and piano tones for a week!

Spinach Madeleine (£7)
Spinach, cheese & grits + tomato & parmesan croutons
This may sound ridiculous, but the BBQ Shrimps (£7.50) were a little too fishy for my taste and the biscuits were a too hard compared to others I've tasted in the past, but might I say, everything else I shoved my face into was a delight! Spinach Madeleine (£7) was an epic way to serve cheesy and rich grits, while the Shrimp & Chicken Gumbo (£13 / £24) was wholesome, tasty and supremely comforting; and the Creole Chicken Burger (£11) was generous and succulent - it could've maybe had a little more flavour in the marinade and I wish the fries were either skin-on or sweet potato to add to the theme, but I'm remain relatively ambivalent. As an aside (quite literally!), all side dishes were a triumph at only £3 a pop...Mississippi Coleslaw, Creole Potatoes, Dirty Rice and Gritcakes. Super! The jeans that used to be loose on me can no longer be zipped up (much to my intense horror!), so it would've been one step too far to also try the Lobster & Crawfish Mac n Cheese (£16), but this doesn't stop the immense regret I continue to feel!

Overall, I love the concept of this place and I wish we could see more of it in London! I will be back for the live music, cocktails and aforementioned mac & cheese, but for pity's sake, can you please do something with the interior design?!

BBQ Shrimps & Biscuit (£7.50)
King prawns + garlic, white wine & chilli's + biscuits
Chicken Creole (£11)
Grilled Creole chicken fillet + chipotle mayonnaise + cheese
Vegetable Gumbo (£13 / £24)
Slow cooked casserole Louisana style + dirty rice
Creole Potatoes (£3)
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