Sunday, 31 March 2013

Restaurant Review: Balthazar London

In case you didn't know, it's snowing. At Easter. While trying not to let this ruin any plans this weekend I took myself off to Covent Garden to take some photos. Now, it feels like everyone has left the island. There doesn't seem to be any Londoners in London. Everywhere is deserted. Covent Garden however was packed.

On the off chance I popped my head into the refuge of Balthazar just in case they could squeeze little old me in without a reservation. I wasn't hopeful - it was packed. On this occasion I was seriously lucky. They could squeeze me in! Hurrah. 

I pulled up a seat at the bar and grabbed the menu. First things first...cocktails or champagne. One of life's toughest decisions. I opted for the very reasonably priced house champagne (£11).

Balthazar Cocktail Menu

Now, having looked on the menu online previously I knew there was mac and cheese, and I had a suspect feeling this was what was going to end up on my B adorned placemat. The burger however looked and sounded amazing. If it wasn't completely piggy I would have had a burger with a side of mac and cheese. Alas, I gave some consideration to my waistline. 
Balthazar Menu

This bread was ridiculous

While perusing the menu a basket of bread arrived. Next door to the main restaurant is the bakery selling fresh breads. If the baguette in front of me was anything to go by, this will be delicious. The bread was to die for. The butter was soft enough to spread but not too melty. I made myself stop eating it before the mac and cheese arrived, thinking I would dip it.

On arrival the size was perfect. not too small I was going to be unsatisfied, not too big I was going to hate myself if I finished it (which inevitably...I would). Now I am going to out on  a limb here and say this was the best mac and cheese I have ever eaten. 
Gruyere and Bacon mac and cheese 
So delicious
The gruyere cheese was perfect and the bacon was massive and so tasty. It was pretty much an eyes rolling back in your head type of experience. It didn't even need the bread. The pasta to sauce ratio was so perfect. At only £11 this was a steal.

As I hadn't completely stuffed myself with bread - and had a reasonably sized meal i was definitely looking at the dessert menu. My natural reaction was to go to baked cheesecake. The only thing throwing my was the cinnamon and apple donut that comes with. I'm not a big fan of cinnamon. I asked for the waiter's recommendation. 
Dessert Menu at Balthazar

One of the most popular desserts? The almond rocher. Apparently like a massive Ferrero Rocher, I was sold on this recommendation. I saw the cheesecake go by, it looked OK... but I held out keeping the faith. My Rocher arrived, it looked perfect, exactly how I wanted it to look, but how was the taste? Amazing. I was so glad I went for the recommendation. First the coffee hits you, then the chocolate then the nuttiness. Every bite was delicious. 
Almond and hazelnut Rocher

To accompany my Rocher I opted for a Bordeaux Blanc (one of their best sellers) the generous serving was an excellent wine. Again, really reasonably priced at only £6.50. Altogether Balthazar completely lived up to my high expectations.

Will definitely be back, and can recommend walking in to try and sit at the bar. It was packed when I arrived around 3pm, but arrive at 4:30ish for the best chance of grabbing a seat at the bar after lunch and before the pre-theatre crowd arrive.

Atmosphere: 4/5, it was buzzing 
Food: 5/5 can't fault it. 
Drink: 5/5, an excellent selection and incredible value considering where you are
Overall: 5/5 highly recommend.
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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Sausage Casserole Pasta Bake Recipe

Sunday's are cooking days. Experimental kitchen club shall we say. One freezing cold Sunday (hello Spring), sausages were the source of inspiration.

Trying to create something completely delicious and healthy-ish isn't an easy task when it comes to sausages. Casserole helps as it's chock full of vegetables. The pasta on top replaces any buttery mash potato and is much more re-heat friendly if you're making a massive batch.

First up, shopping. The joy about this is most of the ingredients will already be in your fridge / cupboard. I had the sausages in the freezer so had these defrosting the day before. Other ingredients you will need:

1) Tomatoes (tinned will work well, fresh could also work)
2) Sausages - use good quality ones if you can, these are farmers market Keeble's bramley apple sausages
3) Two medium/large onions
4) Mushrooms
5) Garlic
6) Broccoli
7) Pasta shapes (I used spaghetti, as it's what was in the cupboard)
8) Fresh herbs (Parsley in this case)
9) Cheese (I used lighter Cathedral City)
10) Oil and stock (You can just about see a Knorr Stock pot on top of the tomatoes!)

So first thing's first:
1) Chop your onions and mushrooms - feel free to do this roughly precise is not the name of the name in this dish. I left some of the mushrooms whole, some halved, some in slices...mix it up! Start to brown your onions and mushrooms in a good slug of oil.

2) Brown your sausages in a pan with another good slug of oil. I prefer chilli but any will do. Get your oven on at this stage to around 180 Degrees C

3) Add some garlic to your onion and mushroom mixture that is going nice and brown by now. At this point also measure out your spaghetti and get this on the boil to soften.

4) To the mushroom and onion mix add your tinned tomatoes and stir it up. once you have a nice tomatoey consistency add your stock pot. You are also going to want to season this well with salt (Malden Sea Salt if you have it) and some coarsely ground pepper.

5) Add some broccoli to your spaghetti which should be simmering away nicely.

6) Your sausages should be lovely and brown by now (we aren't cooking them through at this stage) so take them off the heat. Add some chopped parsley to your tomato mix, and give your spaghetti a stir (you are multi tasking ever so efficiently!)

7) Once your pasta is tender (not fully cooked) take everything off the heat and layer your dish. I'm using a large roasting dish as it is the perfect shape for laying out your sausages evenly, but use a proper casserole dish if you have it

8) To assemble, pour your vegetable mix on the bottom and spread evenly. lay out your sausages evenly spread apart (you don't want to be the unlucky one who gets no meat!) then pour your (drained...) pasta and broccoli mix on top and spread out evenly. I gave it all a little jig about here so some of the veg came to the top. Top all over with cheese

9) Bake in the oven for around 30-35 minutes. Keep an eye on it though, your cheese should go lovely and brown and the pasta right at the top slightly crunchy. Take a sausage out and chop in half - ensure it is cooked all the way through before removing completely from the oven.

10) Serve! I kept some broccoli on the side to serve with but if you're feeling naughty a nice hunk of garlic bread will do nicely!

Super easy, super tasty.
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Friday, 22 March 2013

Empire Hotel: Photo Contest

The Empire Hotel are holding a photo contest - and you can vote for my photo to win a prize!
You can just click on Facebook, no need to install any apps or annoying things, just click on my ad et voila - you will make me very happy (and means I may be able to go back to New York and write more posts for you!

My Empire Photo Submission - takes you to Facebook

Here's the entry. Not my best photo ever, but captures the magic of being in the Empire

Let me know in the comments if you've voted

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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Katz's Deli: A New York Institution

You can't really call this a restaurant review. Katz's Deli is a New York (and American) institution. Immortalised in iconic 90's film 'When Harry Met Sally' for *THAT* scene, people come in droves for the history and the meat.

We arrived quite early so the place wasn't too busy, which is good as apparently at peak times you really need to be on top of your game with the ordering. Luckily we had time to peruse the menu and make an informed decision!

If you can read the your worst!

M opted for the breakfast menu (it was around 1130am), whereas I had my sites firmly set on the stacked sandwiches. I'm a huge fan of Man Vs Food and Adam Richman, who has also taken this show here. My hope is that Adam will also bring this to London.

Having had brisket the night before at Mighty Quinn's bbq that was unfortunately out of the question. I went for soft salami. The amount he started bringing out was kind of terrifying to me. He offered me a bit to try and it was good - something they must do in the construction makes it amazing. The rye bread, stacking of meat and pickles combined together made a seriously satisfying lunch.

M's pancakes (strangely came with fries) were huge, soft, fluffy and came with plenty of maple syrup. We aren't known for our healthy choices...but to come here you really have to check your calorie counter at the door. Speaking of checking at the door, on entering you are given a yellow stub which is marked off with what you order. Do not lose your ticket! This is high pressure dining!

Once we were suitably stuffed we browsed the photos on the wall. Anyone who is anyone has dined at Katz's Deli. They also ship their famous sausages all over America (but unfortunately not!)

Katz's is near 1st Avenue / 1st Street, which excites me (geek)

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