Category Archives: Foodie Finds

Amsterdam – Working Away & Taking Time to Explore the City

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Travelling for work seems at first to be a very exciting thing, but flying in and out of cities without seeing a true glimpse of them doesn’t sound at all fun to me. So, when I was invited to give a talk at Foam Museum in Amsterdam I felt it was important to try and make a bit more of it.

After dropping my bags at the stunning Conservatorium hotel and having a quick rest and refresh, I headed over to Foam to do my talking at the Photo/Video Edition. The event was great fun, and although much of it was in Dutch (and my translator got told off for talking, so I had no idea what was going on) it was really great to meet and speak to so many people afterwards, and to make plans for future visits.

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In the morning, having woken to a beautiful sunrise, I headed off to a meeting, then for a quick cheese toastie and waffle stop and a think about what to do over the next couple of days.

I’m not much of a planner when it comes to these things, I’m more of a haphazard wanderer to be honest, and even the best made plans get broken when I’m around (and easily distracted by all the things).

We meandered through the streets, down to the station, zig zagging back along the canals, car spotting, bike spotting, window shopping, taking everything in.

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In a narrow and unassuming street we found the door to Restaurant LT Cornelis and climbed the stairs to their cocktail bar and restaurant.

Three buildings made into one, respectfully maintaining the character and evidence of the building’s heritage. The visible wear and tear of well over 100 years still evident in the space, especially on the spiral staircase up to the private dining area.

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Copper stills lined up as lampshades over the bar. High ceilings, blue grey walls, golden velvet, a ginger martini just for me – I could live here!

“It’s our mission to enable all to experience the absolute delights of the Dutch cuisine. By combining the current with the past and the purest ingredients we strive to offer our guests a legendary experience.”

We  sat, overlooked by a large reproduction of the famous Dutch painting of the Meagre Company (also known by it’s original title of ‘Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw’) and worked our way happily through the five course menu.

The restaurant has only been open nine months but you’d think that people had been going there for years, they seemed so happy and comfortable. The staff were lovely and cheery, they appeared to take pride in everything.

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The amuse bouche was good, and the Ossenworst was pretty special (smoked beef sausage with Amsterdam pickles, kohlrabi, silver onion and rye bread sauce). The Sirloin was cooked to perfection and beautifully flavoured (Dutch beef with a beet jus, cream cheese stuffed onion, sweet shredded onion and a melty, crunchy onion crisp with confit potatoes), but the chicken and fries ‘Appelmoes’ was just awesome (soft chicken with salty gravy and chicken liver, sweet apple sauce and crispy potato). I’ve never had chicken and apple before. Apparently it’s a dutch thing, a childhood classic that everyone knows. I’ve been educated and enlightened!

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The dessert, to me, was bizarre, a real insight into dutch flavours and a challenge to my tastebuds. Meringue, sea buckthorn berry, shredded dutch carrot, white chocolate mousse, crunchy caramel biscuit, with a gravy, yes gravy, of yellow carrots. Tangy, sour, sharp, kind of astringent, occasionally only ‘almost’ sweet. I can’t say that it’s something I’d choose to have again but I do think it was a taste worth trying.

If I lived in Amsterdam I’d probably make LT Cornelis my local. I’d be like the cool one out of Cheers (was there a cool one? There wasn’t a cool one) sat at the end of the bar with my personalised ginger martini tankard and a pocket full of sweet snacks. I’m sure I could blend in.

Full of food and happy, we made our way back to the hotel. Amsterdam is such a safe and busy city that it feels perfectly fine to wander the streets at night, and it’s nice to see everything in a different light (or dark, as the case most often is at nighttime).

After a good nights sleep and a good breakfast of truffle-topped Eggs Benedict, we checked out of the Conservatorium and got a car over to the Waldorf Astoria, where we stayed for our third and final night of the trip.

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Having explored the superbly beautiful hotel we wandered out, making a beeline for the zoo. I don’t normally visit zoo’s, but so many people had suggested that the zoo was the last place we should think about going, it kind of became top of the list out of inquisitiveness.

We were on the way to the zoo but an exceptionally large palm pushing it’s self against a condensation-blurred window lured us in to De Hortus (that and the iamsterdam city cards burning holes in our pockets!) and we were lost for hours.

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Amsterdam’s De Hortus Botanicus was founded in 1638 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. What a magnificent place. Green parakeets flew from tree to tree, as two large herons sat watching. In the butterfly house were hands of green bananas, small golden pineapples and these things that looked like deflated balloons.

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Leaving De Hortus we continued on our journey across the city, grabbing frites and mayonnaise from a street stall, and as the daylight dimmed we headed to catch the Water Colors Cruise and see the Amsterdam Lights Festival from the water.

Glass roofed boats chugged up and down the canals as the flashes of many tourists cameras fired simultaneously.

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The Lace by Choi + Shine Architects was by far my favourite installation. Fifteen metres long and suspended above the canal, The Lace pays homage to the traditional Dutch bonnet, and is made from over twenty miles of hand crocheted cord! Utterly stunning (and probably very weighty).

After our excursion we headed over to De Culinaire Werkplaats for dinner. From the vast and varied information I had passionately pressed upon me throughout the evening I’ve attempted to narrow the concept down to the following for you:

De Culinaire Werkplaats is an interactive experimental art gallery vegetable restaurant performance with a freestyle story-telling menu of ‘a selection of japanese world views in 5 courses’ sharing the message of sustainability, future food problems, and food scarcity.

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We sat, balanced atop tall 3 legged chairs, concentrating on not falling, and were presented with a run of dishes, all of which, we were told, related to Japanese culture.

Rice and beans in a bowl with brown water poured over it as a ‘tea ceremony’.

Gold and silver clay covered purple potato with sauerkraut, chestnuts and prunes.

A smoke filled box with beans wrapped in cabbage leaves and buckwheat noodles, and a flower on top.

A paper wrapped ‘gift’ of raspberry and almond.

A Japanese garden of build your own dessert – Wasabi flavoured sesame seeds, fish shaped sour tasting jelly, trimmings of cress.

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I would have liked to enjoy the food, but for me the multitude of mixed messages needed to be refined and matched with food that is full of flavour. A gold and silver clay covered potato may make a artistic statement (this one was about the beauty of ageing, I am told) but it does not demonstrate the idea of sustainability (the waste of clay, silver and gold paint), and even though it was purple and shiny (and rather regal looking)  it was still a plain potato.

My favourite bit was the part where you had to take your own dishes up to the sink when you’d finished eating. I thought that was quite nice.

Food for thought? Absolutely, if you’ve got €90 burning a hole in your back pocket, several hours to spare, and a personal selection of seasonings.

Luckily I filled my chubby boots with the most delicious Eggs Benedict only hours later at the Waldorf Astoria and all was right in my world again.

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Foam Photography Museum Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS

Conservatorium Van Baerlestraat 27, 1071 AN

Restaurant Lt. Cornelis Voetboogstraat 13, 1012 XK

De Hortus Botanicus Plantage Middenlaan 2a, 1018 DD

Water Colors Cruise Departs from Prins Hendrikkade 33a (opposite Central Station)

De Culinaire Werkplaats Fannius Scholtenstraat 10, 1051 EX

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Herengracht 542 – 556, 1017 CG

iamsterdam City Card €75 for 72 hours and totally worth it if you plan to do lots –  includes unlimited travel on public transport, a free canal cruise, and entry to most museums and attractions.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iamsterdam for hosting me in their beautiful city.

 

A Pot-luck Lunch with Cambridge Eat Up!

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At the end of last summer Aoife and I, inspired by our love of sharing food (providing there’s enough to go round of course), put on a Photography Picnic in Cambridge supported by Pink Lady® Apples, the people behind the Food Photographer of the Year awards.

We invited people we knew through different means and reached out to local groups, we invited bloggers, friends, and food lovers. Everyone was keen and excited to be involved (apart from one person who sent multiple messages of hate – but you know, there’s always one!) and on a lovely sunny evening we sat down and shared photography skills, cocktails, food and fun.

It was the first time I saw Claire’s glittering trainers, and where Alex coined the term  ‘a whisper of gin’, which I may never forget. I also met a dog called Troy and an aura reading jester. That’s got to be a good sign, right?

We had to do this again. We had to start a food gang!

‘Food team assemble!’ I cried, as I held a golden breadstick to the sky, lightning struck, thunder crashed, and a new era dawned. Actually, I just went on Facebook and set up a group.

‘Cambridge Eat Up!’ was born, hatched from a cornflake cake, raised on syrup, left to run free, nurtured by good people.

Now at almost 100 members, I know I am lucky to have been able connect with such a diverse group of people. We are friends and equals. We are scientists and artists, chefs and doctors, bakers, business owners, writers, photographers, bloggers, and so many other wonderful things, and we all share a love of food.

We hang out and have dinner, swap recipes and books and things, and generally just share good stuff and support each other. It’s pretty special.

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Anyway, enough gushing about ‘team awesome’. This year we took part in the fabulous EAT Cambridge festival fringe and held our own pot-luck lunch, hosted so kindly by Pina, one of the most organised people I have ever met!

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It was a delightful day. Everyone brought along a dish or two to share and we just sat out on Pina’s (and Paulo’s!) deck, enjoying the good weather, delicious food, great hospitality and wonderful company.

We ate our way through some of the most superb food (and my custard tarts!) all made with thought and care by our fellow pot-luck lunchers. So, look away if you are even slightly hungry, because… it’s food time!

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Helen’s beautiful bread,  Gina’s rhubarb and amaretti cake with orange and rosemary syrup,  Naomi’s Crostata.

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Aoife’s broccoli and hazelnut salad, Gina’s chilli and fennel cheese crackers, Paola’s quiche, Lisa’s Cobb salad.

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Alison’s Piragi, Deepa’s Dhokla, Lyndsey’s rosemary and parmesan madeleines.

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Paola’s gluten free blueberry and cranberry cake, Jin’s soft strawberry swiss roll (with Katt’s dropped ice-cream cake in the background),  Lyndsey’s miniature melting moments, Michelle’s chocolate and quinoa bark.

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Sue’s pretty rhubarb snow, my not-so-pretty custard tarts, and a plate full of goodies, including Jin’s superb pandan and black sesame chiffon cake. Wowzers.

There was so much good food, and I was most happy to have a gingery drink to go with it. These Thor apple soft drinks are delicious. In my world all drinks should be gingery or minty, or tea’y.

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I was so busy participating in the eating (and totally excelling at it. High five, Harvey hotdog!) that I didn’t manage to get detailed photos of all the goodies – like Jess’s teeny cheese scones and tasty falafel, Michelle’s Jersey Royal and rocket salad, Ozzy’s Frikadellen, Nazima’s chickpea and potato curry, Kelly’s puff pastry rolls with spinach, feta and ricotta, her beautiful beetroot and rocket salad, or Stella’s impressive dulce de leche brownies. Mmm yum. I may have missed something else. Oh yeah, the goody bags… gulp!

Join us next time if you’d like… bring biscuits!

Go team!

Hot Chocolate at Home with The UK Food Blogger of the Year

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That’ll be at my house then, fwaaah fwaaah!

I was standing in the foyer of the Ibis Budget Whitechapel, reading the £6.95 24/7 pizza sign, when I discovered I’d been announced as a finalist in Blogging Edge’s UK Food Blogger of the Year Award. Shortlisted… in the top 5! Wow then.

In the end it came down to a public vote. I never thought I could win, and on the night the voting ended I stayed up until midnight, regularly refreshing the page like a weirdo whilst keeping my fingers crossed – which did hinder my refresh-ability somewhat, but I like a challenge.

I am absolutely, totally aware that I am not the best food blogger in the UK, but I do like dinners, so I am happy to take the accolade.

I really wanted to celebrate with a tea and biscuit party, but that hasn’t happened, I’ve been too busy (being a winner… ha!), but I have, rather miraculously, made time for hot chocolate. A timesaving creation, it’s a drink and a pudding all in one place, so marvellous.

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I’ve been hectically rushing around everywhere, so it was good to have a weekend at home for a change. With the wind howling outside, blustering and beating at the windows and blowing the chickens sideways across the garden, it was nice to be indoors with a fire for warmth, a fat cat for cuddling and a hot chocolate for multitasking (a drink and a pudding, I tell you!)

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I met Willie Harcourt-Cooze a while back, at lunch, in Islington. I was busy telling my companion how awesome the chocolate was, when a voice in my ear said ‘and it’s made by a very charming man!’ (For a teeny split second I thought I was thinking it, but then I realised I didn’t recognise the accent, it didn’t belong to my brain!) Willie really is rather charming, and just so because of his passion for his product. The beans are shipped from all over the world to Willie’s factory in Devon, ‘from bean to bar’, and the chocolate is all about the individual flavours, like fine wines, each single estate cacao has its flavour influenced by it’s place of production – the soil, the climate and so on. Also, all they add to these chunky little bars is a bit of raw cane sugar – no vanilla, no soya lecithin, no nasties. Brilliant.

If you try anything, I recommend giving these Apple Brandy Caramel Black Pearls a go. Made from ‘Rio Caribe 72’ dark chocolate and filled with delight, the best thing is to pop one in your mouth and allow it to melt – dont chomp it down, just let it melt so you get the full impact of the flavour. It’s like a grown up candy apple.

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Less than a week after being crowned King Food God Extraordinaire, or whatever it was, I trotted along to the Cambridgeshire Digital Awards with my chum Claire and ate a lot of potatoes. Food Godding it up, I was.

To warm us up, the ‘comedian’, Mark Dolan (he’s off the tele and everything) was on stage for 20 minutes – or ten years, I don’t know which, it seemed a very long and unfunny time, littered with the C word. I told Claire I was going to lay on the floor in protest, but I couldn’t be bothered, and I thought people might notice that I was actually wearing old lady slippers and not proper shoes.

When the award giving got underway it was a relief.

The third award to be given out was for the Best Website for Lifestyle and Culture, I cheered as the bronze and silver awards were awarded, and then when the gold was called, I actually shook. Shutter Hub! Oh my goodness! We work so, so hard, and to be recognised means a lot. I jigged onto the stage (apparently, that’s what it said on twitter!) and accepted our award from former BBC journalist Robin Bailey. He was really kind about Shutter Hub, and I was doing so well, so it was bound to happen – ‘What makes you different from everyone else?’ he asked, ‘I’m a weirdo!’ I announced gleefully to the large audience in front of me.

Claire said I got more laughs than the comedian. Someone tweeted ‘Best speech of the night!’ and I was oblivious because I was smiling so much that it was hard to see.

When it came to Best Blog for Entertainment, I had an idea that it would be between Jessica in Your Ear and Loved by Laura, they both put a lot of work into their blogs, so I wasn’t surprised when Laura got Bronze, and Jess got Silver, but I was totally gobsmacked when the winner was announced – I Don’t Like Peas!

I made my way back onto the stage, a familiar face (weirdo) to the audience. I told them that my blog came about because I really didn’t like peas and I needed a portal for sharing this information. Later a man came and shook my hand, all gangster stylee, he told me that he didn’t like sprouts, and I felt that we had a moment of honesty there, where he knew he was in a safe place and he could speak freely.

I can’t remember who won awards for what, but Claire got Silver in the Best Blog for Business and I was chuffed for her, because she works bloody hard, is super nice, and has a squishy faced cat called Tamarillo. Tick, tick, tick, in my book!

The grande finale of the night was two boys crashing their cars into each other right in front of me as I went to leave the car park. I think they were showing off, I was in my pimp mobile (hundred and fifty quid Golf) looking fly, obvs. It’s not The Fast and The Furious, you know! I’m not going to race your for your mum’s Kia Picanto.

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Any way, the chocolate! The chocolate, as eaten by multi-award winning High-Tech Princess Dinner Master of the Millenium, or something like that.

Even though they say the Venezuelan Gold ‘Rio Caribe 72’ has ‘complex notes of coffee and nuts’, I really like it, and I don’t like coffee, and nuts don’t like me!

For the hot chocolate I chose the Madagascan Gold ‘Sambirano 71’ for it’s tangy fruitiness, as I thought it would go perfectly with a pinch of cinnamon.

I took two 50g bars, broke them up and popped them into my magic pan, melting the chocolate with 100ml of semi-skimmed milk, to start with. (Use a bain-marie, or a microwave if you have one!)

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When the chocolate had melted into the milk I added the rest of the milk, double cream and stirred it up. I whisked it until it was lovely and hot, not boiling.  Then poured into cups, and glasses, sprinkled with cinnamon, and savoured.

My ingredients:

100g of Willie’s Cacao Madagascan Gold
400ml semi skimmed milk
200ml double cream
Cinnamon

That makes enough to serve  3-4 people, in small cups, you really don’t need a lot!

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It’s an easy peasy thing to make, and so satisfying. You can use any chocolate you like, milk or cream, make it thick or thin, you can add a touch of chilli if you wish, it’s really up to you. Just make it!

So far this week I’ve not won any prizes, but there’s still time.

Cheers to the chocolate drinkers! How do you like yours?

Glorious Adventures & A Taste of Bombay at Dishoom, Shoreditch

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It is absolutely, most definitely, soup season, and, (when I’ve not been eating biscuits or rice pudding) most days I’ve been enjoying a lunch of hot comforting soup – my recent favourite being Mumbai Lentil and Chickpea, discovered after that picnic where I unsuccessfully attempted to force people into photographing soup – every cloud has a silver lining hey? I’ve tried several of the Glorious! recipes, and this is the one for me – substantial enough, no need for bread and suitably flavourful. It’s amazing how thoughtfully-used flavours can take you on an exotic journey, even in your own home!

Living out in ‘the sticks’ I can’t easily access a great deal of outsourced deliciousness at a whim. Sometimes I wish I could hop on a plane, sleep, and wake up to a meal of real delight. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but of the many places I would love to be transported to, high on the list is The Garden Restaurant at Lodi in New Delhi, a little pocket of peace in the bustling city, a lovely place to be. (And Neemrana Fort Palace, so I could get some more of that amazing rice pudding. Yes, I am on about that rice pudding again!)

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It was some years ago when we went to visit my brother in India, but the other afternoon I pulled the photos from the drawer to be reminded of things that we didn’t even remember, and the details of everything else. There was a snap of the amazing monkey riding pillion on a motorcycle, tail tattered from dragging along the ground. There were photos of our visit to the Lotus Temple, the markets of Old Delhi, and Humayuns tomb – where we saw a cute little chipmunk get carried off by a buzzard. We remembered going to Rikhi Ram’s sitar shop on Connaught Square, and Cottage Emporium where Adam ate neon yellow chips to ‘settle’ his stomach.

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Some people say it’s wrong to return to the same place when you’ve already visited it, they say there are more places to explore and you should, and I understand that, and maybe we are just different, but I’d return to Delhi in a heartbeat, and I think I could visit exactly the same spots over and over, and still see something new every time, still find a new experience, or a new perspective and still absolutely love it.

I remember Delhi so clearly, sometimes through hints of flavour or wafts of spicy scents, but mostly through the memories of the feeling of the air.

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I’ve been working in and around London’s Brick Lane a lot recently, and, as I pass by quickly, I look in the windows of the restaurants, at the diners, the food, in the sweet shop windows and takeaways, and I wonder, if and where, if I wasn’t rushing from place to place in such a hurry, I could find the best little taste of India.

Then a window appeared, an afternoon-sized window in my diary, a gap between taking down our ‘Do You Like Love?’ exhibition and attending the Vuelio Awards, there was an opening and I knew it needed to be filled with spice, and joy, and good hours with my dear friend Bethe.

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So, we went to Dishoom in Shoreditch, and why not? Described as a ‘Bombay Cafe in London’, promising faded elegance, bentwood chairs and sepia toned family portraits, there was no reason not to.

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The menu was immense, there was so much to choose from and it all sounded amazing. We had to make a decision, and I could only do that by telling myself that I’ll be able to go back another time for everything else!

We drank delicious Virgin Chaijito’s  made with sweet-spice chai syrup, and muddled with fresh mint, coriander, ginger and lime. I asked for more mint, less coriander. I love a minty drink. I love a gingery drink. I don’t like coriander in anything, unless it’s for someone else.

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The Lamb Samosas were delicious, the best I’ve had.  Gujarati filo (not Punjabi shortcrust) stuffed with minced lamb, onions and spices, with a squeeze of lime they were perfect.

We followed them quickly with Pau Bhaji – A bowl of mashed vegetables with hot buttered pau buns. The menu said ‘No food is more Bombay’ – if this is true then get me to Mumbai right away, because this was a perfect dish, comforting and wholesome. The soft little bouncy buns are made fresh on site. (So soft – someone should start making beds out of them!)

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We ate smoky-grilled Gunpowder Potatoes tossed with butter, crushed aromatic seeds and green herbs, with Dishoom Slaw sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and the Dishoom signature dish of House Black Daal which is simmered over 24 hours making it very soft, and creamy. The Daal was flavoured almost like condensed milk, it’s apparently made with double cream and butter too.

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I would have happily had a pudding, but there was no rice pudding on the menu and there was no room in any part of my body or handbag for more food, so we finished with a glass of hot House Chai. Proper chai. Lovely.

We walked out into the bitter cold air and misty drizzle, out of India, back into London. I was surprised. I’d been lost in a delightful world of spice and laughter and forgotten where I was!

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Ideally I’d like to be jetting off to Mumbai, smelling the spiced air, trawling the markets, eating and drinking in the warm sun, but, whatever happens, at least when I get home, whatever the weather, I know I can be comforted by some Glorious hot soup!

You can find Dishoom at four locations across London, including the Shoreditch restaurant at 7 Boundary Street London E2 7JE.

This blog post is an entry into the Foodies100/GLORIOUS! soup #GloriousAdventures blogger challenge. You can join in too, here.

Tapas Lunch at El Borracho de Oro, Edgbaston

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I love lunch. I love dinner too. I’m not so bothered about breakfast. I always look forward to a hotel breakfast because I like to see what they serve, and how they display it. But mostly I don’t want it and I am disappointed, unless there’s some kind of fancy carved fruit or fresh pastry mountain, then I am appeased.

Any way, on to one of the most delicious and enjoyable lunches I’ve had in quite a while!

You might not even notice El Borracho if you weren’t going there with intention. An unassuming building with subtle signage, and a neat grass lawn in front. We were there with all the intention in the world and hungry tummies to boot, so there was no chance we’d pass it by!

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Inside I was momentarily distracted by the beautiful Spanish tiles on the bar, but we were quickly seated and attended to so I didn’t have a chance to pull out a small crowbar from my bag and start prising them off the wall for my own repurposing.

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We ordered Pan Gallego con Aceite Virgen Extra – Galician bread with best quality Extra Virgin Olive oil, and a bowl of Fried Broadbeans and then quickly moved on to choosing our Tapas.

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Watching the dishes come out of the kitchen and onto other people’s tables, we knew we were in for a treat! El Borracho do a lunchtime special where you can have two Tapas for £6.95, so we chose four and got ready to tuck in!

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Ensalada de Tomate – the most beautifully seasoned, salted, fresh, light, simple, tomato salad.

Patatas con Alioli – perfect little chipped cubes of potato with excellent alioli – really garlicy but sweet, and lovely.

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Chorizo al Vino – wonderful spicy, salty sausage with the sweet tang and richness of red wine.

And, Croquetas del dia – crunchy bechamel filled croquettes with chorizo. My favourite thing! The croquette was softer than I thought it would be, and creamy, and crunchy and so delightful that I had to hold it up in honour so that the whole room could worship it. Nobody said anything, so I assume they were all with me. All hail the Croqueta!

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There were so many good things to choose from on the menu, all made with locally sourced British ingredients, but served with Spanish excellence, and as I type this, I wish I was there now… just one more Croqueta, please! 

Everything looked so appealing, too. The chorizo looked good against the teal coloured dish, the tomatoes bold and bright against the stark white. The Croquetas just looked funny, like little animals that might unfold their legs and run off giggling. (I have only just realised what an awesome googly eye opportunity I missed there, damn it.)

The food was tasty, authentic and amazingly good value, the atmosphere was comfortable and relaxed, and the staff were kind and helpful (Hola Alberto, Hola Eva Maria!) – I seriously couldn’t fault a thing!

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You can find El Borracho at Harborne Court, Edgbaston, Birmingham, and you can join their mailing list here for updates, offers and news. (There’s a nice picture of a donkey on that page!)

We were guests at El Borracho, very happy Croqueta wielding guests!