Life is best lived by finishing any meal with your favorite bite.

Le Bouchon

Both of my favorite meals in France were eaten in rustic restaurants, with people drinking wine from carafes, and Le Bouchon absolutely aims to channel this image in it’s bijoux location opposite the Mary Evan’s picture library. It’s pretty successful in doing this actually, especially on a Sunday evening where a singer and a guitarist strum whimsical French and English tunes. With sun streaming through the windows. We had not eaten and we knew that we would have to order food to accompany any drinking that needed to be done.

 We anticipated cheese and ham platters, but what was a delight to find was that le Bouchon offered a choice on every element of the platter, each cheese and deli meet was detailed on the menu and you could have as much or as little as you liked. We both ordered tapenade, which arrived with the equivalent of a small loaf of bread each, with dark rich olive dip that was hard to put down. And next came the cheese (with strawberry jam) we’d chosen Comte* (much better than M&S’s), mature goats’s cheese, with a creamy depth that went well with the jam, and the best: a spongy and richly flavoured Ardechois bichonne, encased in mould. The meats were duck saucisson and Bresi (cured beef, smoked for 8 weeks), both curling on the edges with dryness and herbs.

 

 

 Now, since childhood, my mother has wisely ingrained in me the truth that life is best lived by finishing any meal with your favorite bite. This presents challenges when there is too much food, like in cream teas when you don’t actually have room for the spectacular looking cake at the top of the cake tray, after your sandwiches and scone with clotted cream. But Le Bouchon presented a different challenge…. It was not possible to decide which bite to end on. In fact, I relegated the Comte as ‘first finisher’, but I regretted it… with its extra dryness and maturity reminding me that this was not just any old version of one of my favorite cheeses. Having assigned Ardechois bichonee as the cheese finalist, the whole assessment had to be reconsidered in the light of the saucisson. My husband suggested that the Bresi was the best of the two, I committed to believe him and not think about it anymore at risk of frying my brain with the decision, and totally forgetting about the tapenade.

We ate all of this with a Bordeaux, and my husband had a St Chinian, Languedoc. Now, I have to remind you this is not a wine blog, but we both found the Bordeaux to be great alone, and less good with food, and the opposite with the wine from Languedoc. Yes, we sipped from each other’s glasses in order to know this. Every other table had a carafe, which looked so romantic, but we just don’t drink enough to justify it. The bar had no issue with this, opening fresh bottles for each of our glasses, and then resealing them immediately with a resealing machine.

The only flummoxing thing about Le Bouchon was the existence of ‘cake of the day’ on the menu. Cake is not the first thing I think of to complement wine (although, now I come to think of it, an olive oil polenta lemon and thyme cake might just do the trick) but my brain is hardwired to default cake as the biggest item on any menu. The only thing that stopped me was the absence of any further cake information. There was no cake on the tables around us, or in a display stand or written on the blackboard behind me. It’s rare, but I looked around for a sign of cakeness for a few seconds, and then forgot amongst the wine and the deli.
*Sorry, I do not know how to add French accents on my keyboard. French accents abounded at Le Bouchon, though. Adding to the authenticity.

The Top is the Best Bit of Any Pie

The British Oak’s social media image has been raising an inviting image for some time, but errr, well, I’ve not been too sure how much of a lack of multiculturism to read into its name. In fact it took the closure of The Royal Standard (which, now I come to think of it, is a also a very imposing name – and it’s easy to mix up the two), for my friend to finally arrange drinks there. The kitchen normally closes at 9:30 and we were to be a 9:45 arrival, but the pub promised to stay open to serve us pie. The welcome turned out to be continued well beyond the electronic and telephone level, despite having staff training.

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The bar is inexplicably divided into what seems to be more of an eating area, and a drinking area. Ok, a split would be normal, but in the Royal Oak you can’t go from one to the other without leaving the pub. We started in the bar area, and rushed around to the eating area just in case our friend might be in there without us. She wasn’t, she was just taking a sociable time about arriving. Even had she been there she would have been perfectly content, the whole atmosphere of the eating area was happy and chilled. No lack of multiculturism seemed in evidence at all. There were even brummies present (myself included).

The Royal Oak sources pies from ‘Pieminister’. It would be nice to believe that the British Oak made the pie themselves on site themselves, but it didn’t really seem to detract from the combined, real ale, wood panelling, friendly pie eating experience.

I can’t claim credit for the excellent pie choice, as I insisted that I couldn’t eat a thing. There was a supposedly healthy pie option, called topless, but I have issue with the topless pie concept. I am after all a dieter, you know. But the top is the best bit of any pie, browned and crispy, while the base of the pie is frequently soggy and made up of the dreaded ‘waste of calories’ the fear of which dominates many lives. Please listen award winning Pieminister… Bottomless pies are the way forwards. You can put it all in tin foil to stop the contents falling out.

So being unable to eat a thing, I waited for my husband to order and then ate half of his pie. This was the ‘free ranger’, free range British chicken & ham hock pie with leek & thyme. Man, it was gorgeous and the gravy was even more gorgeous, so were the crispy shallots and the mushy peas were a seriously good upgrade from the chippy…. Mushy peas with bite.

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There wasn’t a thing to dislike about the British Oak, with charming staff and flowers on the tables and food and atmosphere. There really is something for everyone, and I think it may well be the best pub in SE3. I can’t remember what worried me about the name now… I have loads of oak in my kitchen and my home office and use both frequently (the kitchen more than the office).

Who told me that the food was bad in Iceland?

Who told me that the food was bad in Iceland (the country)? I mean, I am pretty sure that everyone told me that the food was bad in Iceland. They were misinformed. I journeyed out to Iceland thinking I would have to eat hot dogs every day as a penalty for being able to see the Northern Lights. In reality there was too much food to choose from.

We’d missed the tour of Reykjavik due a late night arrival and so battled into the city along amidst the snow storm that had prevented our next tour from even going ahead. Then we battled to the conference centre that was not just funky looking, but it was the nearest shelter we could see, spent as long as humanly possible looking in the souvenir shop, while we plotted how we would make the ten minute walk to the harbour side, and what we would do if there was nowhere to warm back up there.

We were rewarded for risking that 10 minute walk in the snow, in which we conjectured that the divorce rate must be high in Iceland. It is impossible to hear anything when you are wrapped up in hoods, hats, high snoods: “Did you remember to turn the lights off?” “Did you hear me?” “Did you remember to turn the lights off?…?!…?”. It took about half an hour in the end, because we found ourselves debating which of the 3 rather good looking cafes and restaurants we would risk. We settled on the fishy looking Hofnin. Here is a quick flash of the menu:      Do you see that pizza marina thing going on in the left of the menu? Pizza express eat your heart out! Didn’t have that, though. And that traditional all Icelandic fish stew… Nope, didn’t have that either. Even the waiter seemed confused when I asked for a recommendation. In the end, he said that fish broth is the reason everyone comes here. So I ordered that, sadly forfeiting all other options (well, what else could I do? Order the whole menu? Even I have my limits).   My broth arrived in a teapot, and I poured it over a reserved amount of fish food, including a sensitively cooked scallop. And once I had done that, there were flavours bouncing around all over the place. How can there be so many good flavours in a uniformly coloured broth? I wonder if I missed out on some incendiary new ingredient that will do nasty things to my insides in later life to make up for the experience.  The broth was rich and lightened by bubbles of cream dispersing into it.

My husband’s main course was salted cod with lamb fat and rye bread.    The lamb complemented the cod, this apparently being a very traditional combination for the Iceland. But what you really wanted to do with the lamb fat was dip into it with the Icelandic Rye bread. The very sweet rye was close to being Jamaican ginger cake. Seriously this could have been dessert. I wish I could have taken it home with me. The only flaw of this dish was that these flavours eclipsed an otherwise perfectly nice brown butter sauce

Some of the local rye breads are cooked in the volcanic ground. This led to a rather stomach busting experience at a spa that offered bread on a buffet later in our holiday. They were foolish to put this in a buffet, with all those tourists knowing that they had one week only to make the most of this bread. Butter is often serverd whipped with other flavours like beer and lavender.

Those main courses were not quite lived up to by the regimental parade of desserts.   Much effort seemed to be put into the staid appearance, but little into flavour, despite the menu sounding a little more promising. I am not sure they really understood dessert. But frankly, after that main course, they didn’t really have to. I recommend someone invents sugared rye bread and lamb fat. I jest not.


It gently snowed as we sat over looking the harbour with our coffees. Well it’s always gentle when you’re watching from indoors The coffee was good.  They certainly seem to understand coffee around here. There is something quite perverse that the further you get from a place that you can grow coffee, the more you ritualise it.   Exciting meals did not stop at Hofnin, however my notes have fallen away as my stomach enlarged. I feel kind of guilty about this, because I cannot name these exotic combinations served by ‘The Fish Restaurant’s’ guest chef Adam Dahlberg during the Reykjavic Food festive. You will not guess at the ingredients without the menu, but please enjoy the pictures:

  

  

  

I very much recommend Iceland as a place to go to just for the good food, at a good price. There is something very intelligent about the Icelandic approach to tourism. they do not miss a single trick to make money, but none of it is arch, pushy and all done with impeccable politeness. you tend not to find, for example, that you have been tricked into unneceessary expenditure. 

No, I mean Iceland the country, not the supermarket, and you are about the 57th person to make that joke. it’s not funny anymore.

Is there anything as rustically beautiful as an Oyster?

A review of the Oyster and Steak Bar in Waitrose Canary Wharf.

I know you don’t come here for reviews of supermarkets, but even if you find them very boring you will be in them very often. It’s not reasonable to expect me not to have an opinion no them when I eat from them so frequently.

I think we were shopping in John Lewis, which was why we ended up in Waitrose Steak and Oyster Bar. We were entangled in a rather expensive affair about the wrong type of wine glasses in the right boxes at a till on the upper levels that made us want to sit down and relax relatively soon.

To be honest, the view when coming to sit down was a little grubby. This was a late lunch, but it seemed that no one had cleaned up before the visitors preceding us. The menus were also a little wrinkled. The other disappointing thing about the menus, was the lack of a steak and oyster combination. I mean, maybe steak and oyster isn’t ‘a thing’, but it becomes ‘a thing’ in your head when you go to a bar that is called a steak and oyster bar. There was a degree of surf and turf, but it featured lobster rather than oysters.

So we ordered 6 oysters to share. Followed by steak. This seemed the only appropriate response to the crisis.

Is there anything as rustically beautiful as an Oyster? If I tried to paint one with photographic perfection, it would still look like I had messed up the paints.  And these oysters were pure seaside. I always put the proffered lemon or chilli on them, and then decide that really they are best eaten just alone.

There was a veerrry long wait for the steak. Perhaps the chef had read my review of Cau and thought that he should charcoal my steak to be sure not to receive the same verdict. We could see the chef breaking open packets of Waitrose steaks to cook. I had thought that there was a good range of sauces, and went for chilli and garlic butter, with just a little regret that I did not choose tarragon butter as my husband did. However these arrived as discs of butter (yes, they had said butter) and I think that sauces would have been vastly superior. But both steaks were excellent.      Who can account for the amount of daytime champagne drinking that occurs at a steak and oyster bar? Is it the oysters have a knee-jerk relationship with champagne. (Oysters don’t have knees, so this doesn’t make a lot of sense). I really wanted champagne myself, but I have learned that day time drinking is not for me and on this occasion my sensible side won out.  

  Just so you know, the wine glass debacle has resulted in me having white glasses and red glasses. This feels a little too snobby for me, really and I am still trying to come to terms with it.

I would like to tell you how my husband’s beer battered haddock was..

A Review of the Vanbrugh Pub, SE10

We were crowded out of Greenwich on Saturday lunch. We should have spotted the inevitability of this, when we couldn’t even park before getting to the eating stage. We popped our head around the door of so many places that I have yet to review: Heap’s sausages, the replacement to the Spread Eagle that has strange coloured cakes, and all they could offer was outside seating. It was about 2 degrees outdoors, so eventually we got back in the car and went to the Vanbrugh. Nestled in its own personal hill (that’ll be Vanbrugh Hill), the Vanbrugh’s pastel colours have caught our eye a few times.

Amongst the Vanbrugh’s recent improvements are a light and airy extension at the back with a visible kitchen that promises good things, or at least an absence of things that you wouldn’t be prepared to do to people’s food when they are watching… like defrost it for example. Next to the kitchen is a blackboard of events, I peered through to take a look…. all of the events were football matches to be shown on the TV, which was a bit disappointing. We sat in the extension. There were after all sofas, and sofas are good for Saturday afternoons and we drank Meantime beers  although with one of us being a driver we pondered the necessity of Meantime to produce a non-alcoholic version.. so long as they are not chicken..

I would like to tell you how my husband’s beer battered haddock was, but post chips calamari, and a burger where I didn’t even try to eat both sides of the bun, really there was no room to sample it. Here’s the evidence that the visible kitchen may be more than a party trick: the tartar sauce appeared to be truly homemade… the sample on the plate of haddock differed from that on the whitebait. There was very little fat on whitebait (with the recent chubby whitebait in Papa Charlie, I’m figuring whitebait has upped its game. Can’t they do this to calamari?) but chips were mega battered. Fair enough to the chips, they were called triple cooked and they were delicious, so I don’t find this as offensive as the lightly battered cod cheeks served down the road in the Cutty Sark.

Lunch at the Vanbrugh

Triple Cooked Chips and Burger

I shan’t be reviewing this honest fare type food again soon. There’s a heart to maintain, so make the most of it now. Dessert was a little disappointing. My pink lady crumple was only dusted with crumble.  I wonder if this was the chef’s conscience coming to the fore having served the earlier fatty dishes. The custard still tasted good with welcome flecks of vanilla, but it was more of a drink than a sauce. This makes me think of making a custard drink for the fireside to supplement, err… I mean alternate with hot chocolate and Bailey’s.

From traditional crumble the second dessert of salted caramel and chocolate brandy terrine with dulce de leche ice cream was more wannabe gourmet. And I say wannabe, not because it was bad, but because it did not actually arrive with dulce de leche ice cream. Now this is more forgivable in a pub than in Chapter’s where I have had a similar experience, so we did not complain, but I wish more places would pay attention to this detail, having promised much. That said, the salted caramel and chocolate brandy terrine was good enough in its own right.

 

As we laid back in the sofa, allowing as much space for our stomachs as possible, my husband’s phone buzzed to tell him that his hard won car parking space in Greenwich village was time up. A waste of the Greenwich cost of parking.       

I don’t care if it makes me fat this week, I HAVE A COLD.

A Review of The Viceroy in Chalrton SE7

Have you ever had one of those streaming cold write off days, when even if you were at home it was a waste of a day because all you can do is lie  in bed and resent your immune system? Yep? And that feeling that only a curry appeals as you believe only this has the power to blast through the veil around your sense that doesn’t let anything else in (the other exception being whisky and brandy which are vastly preferable to strepsils). So why did we visit the Viceroy in pleasant Charlton on an Tuesday evening? BECAUSE I HAD A  COLD. (Still do actually. Sympathy welcome).

 

This also means that midweek calorie concerns are off the table. I don’t care if it makes me fat this week, I HAVE A COLD. Did I mention? So no caution was to be exercised over the ordering of popadoms. Has the hotness of lime pickle been diminished? I have noticed this at quite a few places lately. When I first tried this exotic delicacy as  a student Exeter I was physically punched in the mouth. Who changed? Me or the pickle? Will I get to keep the mango chutney when the assets are divided, or will even the chutney mean nothing to me in the absence of pickle?  I feel sadness. Maybe even regret.
I enjoyed the mango lassi, but was it actually a desert drink. The waiter seemed to think so too, as he looked confused at my choice to have it over popadoms. It was a good combo tho, the fatty crisp popadom and the sweet yogurt drink. Almost forgot I was lactose intolerant, but I didn’t seem to suffer too much for it.
Service was a little bit ‘in your own time…’ which was a bit odd as we were the only people there for the first half hour so it can’t have been busy-ness that held them back.
The Rogan Josh was pleasant, brimming with wedges of fresh tomato, but we think they left the chilli out, not to mention the ginger. It didn’t quite burn off our colds. The prawn dhansak added some needed kick to make up for it.
dishes of curry

Rogan Josh and Sag Aloo

I am not a fan of peshwari naan. I usually like sweet and savoury combos but not this one. Too stodgy maybe? But my husband is always letting me choose plain and my husband was being very nice to me despite the fact he also had a cold, so it was really his turn to choose the naan. Sharing it was actually a challenge. I tried to rip it which felt more authentic. It resisted me as if I was ripping a frisbee. I decided to throw ‘authentic’ to the well people and took a knife to the naan. It didn’t help. When we eventually hacked through the bread, I discovered I have not changed my mind about disliking peshwari naan and let husband finish it himself.
 
I never come away from The Viceroy feeling cheated. In fact given the insignificance of the bill I come away feeling flush. But I don’ t come away feeling as if I have had the most magnificent meal either. Just pretty well contented.

I wish had gone straight for the petit fours..

A review of Boisdale’s at Canary Wharf.

http://www.boisdale.co.uk

 

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The menu at Boisdale’s said that the haggis in its starter form would be a mini haggis. It was not. My starter was an enormous portion of magnificent haggis (with neeps and tatties) wafting calories into the air. There’s nothing like haggis to exude energy. If it hadn’t been that you have to put the energy into it in the dirt place, by feeding a sheep for some years and then boiling it’s innards for a further year, I’d suggest it as an alternative to nuclear power. It’s like a red hot coal fire in a plate. The traditionally served dish hit the mark- a little more fulsomely than intended. Even better was the accompanying 15year Glenfiddich. I really hadn’t expected the ‘accompaniment whiskey’ to be so complicated with such strong smokiness and honey notes. We were far from alone in choosing this dish, many Haggai came through the door in the course of the evening in the hands of the waitresses with short tartan skirts.

Fortunately the pie that was delivered by the rather stereotypically Scottish man (can this have featured. in the recruitment ad? ) arrived later was no bigger. This was wiLd veniSon, cLaret & BLack waLnut pie. I was a bit disappointed not to find any walnuts, but alongside the flavours of the accompanying braised red cabbage, pickled wild damsons, cinnamon this made a great balance of savoury and sweet.

At this point the band took a break. Oh yes, I should have mentioned the live band. Because actually if you eat in the Boisdale’s restaurant, you have to pay for a ticket to the band too. And we had paid for good seats. On a Tuesday night this turned out to mean that we were right under then noses of the band, and there were no other customers to be seen within about 50m of us.

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Which sounds great if you like live music, even better if you know and love the TJ Johnson Band which has a very good rep. The fact was, it was really embarrassing. I winced every time that they caught my eye as I stuffed food in my mouth. I felt that my propensity to eat rather quickly was under scrutiny. And even worse. They didn’t clap when I finished a course.

No hang on, that’s the wrong way around. Even thought they watched us intently, we were supposed to clap them. But it felt kind of artificial when no one else was around and we just sort of cringed when we should have clapped.

They were so comfortable on the stage that we kind of assumed that they would take this in their stride, but actually after a whole, they took longer and longer breaks, and at the end of one song, one stood up, put his hand to his eyes and peered around as if to say ‘is there anyone out there?’
We aren’t corporate customers who didn’t come for the music, bemoaned my husband. We paid for this table… Perhaps we should have said, ‘get that man more of what he’s drinking’ but do people say that in real life? 

The dessert worried me as it landed in front of me. The visual proportions were wrong for a dish that was well thought through.

The description of lemon and bourbon with cranachan promied richness and tartness whipped up together. Well, there was creaminess, to be fair the cranachan was delicious, and there was one tart raspberry. But ultimately there was no real kick for what should have been dramatic combinations. A waste of calories.

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I wish had gone straight for the petit fours, which came in portions of eight (way forwards…) and were made up of some particularly nice mini citrus tarts and jellies.

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And then the whiskey menu. All 50 odd pages of it. Fortunately I had forwarded this list to my husband as date night pre-reading a couple of days earlier. (Who says marriage spoils the romance?) and he had got his head around the scotch pages. I personally had contemplated the Japanese whiskeys but it felt like a cop out in a Scottish restaurant. We chose Ballechin Oloroso Sherry Cask Matured. Now would we have really known if they had swapped the content… We….ell, they were as described in the menu, and my husband recognised the flavour of mine from a visit to the distillery.

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As we Politely left our seats at the end of the night, the band acknowledged us sadly. Dear TJ Johnson band if you are reading this, I am so sorry. I applaud you inside.

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The genius of the mosaic cake was the invisible chocolate chunks

A Review of Hazev, South Quay

Hazev ain’t so far away, guys, over in South Quay on the way to Canary Wharf. And you should go to Canary Wharf every now and then, on the DLR and stuff. In fact we ended up here when we spotted that our meal in Greenwich would be providing insufficient calorie-to-food-satisfaction when it came to dessert, leaving us to fill the cake shaped hole that the starter and main course had built for us.

We have been to Havez before – the restaurant bit, and the food was delicious, served in enormous portions and full of textures and flavours by hospitable waiters amongst opulent decor. And we had peeked at the deli next door, which seemed to be full of cakes with similar benefits.

To be blunt, the deli was full of savoury dishes that made us wish we had not already eaten in Greenwich and unusual non-alcoholic sweet drinks that kicked the virgin bellini from Papa Charlie to the ground. We had tea to accompany our cake though. There were a lot of cakes to choose from and many of them newbies in my cake eating experience, hence it was a tough choice that cake decision. Ultimately we homed in on
Hazev pie.

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This was made of cinnamon, apple and whole almonds that kept their crunch. All of this was case in a soft cakey pastry and while I love buttery shortcrust pastries, cakey pastry does have its place and Hazev pie is definitely one of those places. The second choice was mosaic cake.

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I can’t tell you what made me choose this , because the look of it was unfortunately close to refigertator cake or rocky road, both of which take fundamentally awesome ingredients and ruin them. But I shouldn’t have worried about the mosaic cake. The genius of the mosaic cake was the invisible chocolate chunks that made the texture of the cake spot on.

We’ll be back just for drinks some time.

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How to have your cake and blog about it

A coffee shop blogger’s strategy for staying slim.

If I stopped buying cake, readers of my coffee shop blog would stop reading, right..? But I need to keep things under control. I like my clothes. I have spent money on them. I don’t want to outgrow them. This could prove expensive, if not to say wasteful.

So after years of trying to get the balance right, here’s how to have your cake and eat it (and blog about it if that’s your kind of thing.)

Top Tip Number One: Stick to Budget
Surely the key to happy and healthy eating and exercise is to know when to let go and enjoy yourself and when to reign it in. A diet is like a budget, no? Sometimes you spend a lot and you make it up by spending a little.

I always think before I bite. Is it worth the calories? If you’d look for value when spending money, why not with calories? You’ve heard of buying clothes as investment pieces, well before you bite into that cake think, is this a quality item that will last me a lifetime? Am I asking a bit too much of my cake? Well let’s tailor that down a little… will the experience cheer you for the day, well ok, until the next meal. Many cakes fail this test. Many of those failures are supermarket ‘best,finest,wowest’ brands.

Vegetable soup and breakfast also help with this budget idea. The ultimate fill you up without too much calorific intake is vegetable soup made with just vegetables and stock. No, no, please come back…, this is worth reading, I’m not just talking about boiled veg… I have always had an eye to adapting soup recipes to these pared down ingredients (plus pared down and lazy prep) and some are downright delicious. So try: parsnip and ginger, roast tomatoes and basil, courgette and mint. Depending how complicated you want to get, you’ll find there are some funky combinations out there that you will actually look forward to. And don’t forget to have one, yes just one slice of your favourite bread and butter on the side.

And breakfast? Breakfast is actually my top meal of the day because it could be anything. Sweet savoury, ideally made up of several courses and both sweet and savoury – an option that is brilliantly experimented with at Giraffe. Sorry, lost focus on the subject at hand for a second. Sadly most sweet breakfasts are kind of out, at least for 6 days of the week because the sugar doesn’t fill you for the day ahead. On the other hand, making breakfast an event and having something a bit different every day is a great way of looking forward to the morning’s eating. Key to this is lots of vegetables. For example, poached egg, roasted peppers, fried onions, and a little bit of bread. Alternatively it is fun to experiment with different grains: Buckwheat, millet and oats all make for interesting hot pots or unusual pancakes. Don’t add honey, but go mega with the soft fruit.

And as with any budget write it all down. This has a bizarre psychological effect on me. When you see in black and white what you have spent, you really do know if you can afford that treat or not. The internet is awash with people telling you that ‘tracking’ is actually a key success tip for weight loss.

Top Tip Number Two: Manage both sides of the budget with Exercise (sorry about that)
Using the budget analogy, this is the pay day bit, where you get a bit more slack to spend. Sadly if you’ve ever calculated how long you need on the exercise bike to burn off a Mars bar, you’lol know it’s a minimum wage scenario.

So, here’s an incentive for you. Pretty decent cakes can be found in many swimming pool and gym centres. My local leisure centre cakes seem to be sourced locally, and meet the sort of traditional English types of lemon drizzle and chocolate brownie. This means that the warm glow of virtue doesn’t last much beyond the changing rooms. There is no justice is there? Slightly more healthy is their cooked breakfasts, toast and mushrooms or even toast and bacon are good protein rich breakfasts for a dieter in my opinion, and can be pretty good, depending on the mood of the staff in charge that day.

In terms of swimming, though, the annoying habit of the pool to reduce in length every time there is a class on, means that I go to the lido instead. Cakes at the lido are bad, so is the coffee and so is the savoury food. I have been visiting Charlton Lido in the winter evenings. I am working on the assumption that the day it is just too cold, is the day I take up the gym instead. The volatile weather means we have tested this theory down to 9 degrees with a breeze. This is mostly ok. A couple of times the pool heating was not as enthusiastic as you’d hope, but felt fine after a couple of lengths. Poolside showers are also good. The bit to worry about is the dash from pool two showers. This is cold. On the whole though, I am enjoying these trips muchly, they are exhilarating and quite eerie in the rain with the mist coming off the pool.

The biggest challenge to this whole venture is the dreaded free meal challenge. I think this happens to everyone (cakes in the office, people?) but as a food blogger there is always someone wanting to provide you with free food- such nice people! In the face of blogged criticism some smart outlets will feed me for free. This sinister approach has led on one occasion to the delivery of 98 chocolate brownies. Yes, ninety-eight. There are two of us in my household. Now you have to remember that free food is a force to be reckoned with. I had criticised these brownies for being too cakey and stodgy, but was I really going to throw them in the waste bin when they were free. Would you? The solution was to take them to the office. This was win win. My colleagues loved me (although they were a bit grumpy when the sugar rush wore off), and they all validated my original view of the brownies.

Short for Political Correctness?

Why is Papa Charlie called Papa Charlie anyway? Is it short for Political Correctness (doesn’t sound very military) and does that explain why the food served here is not Spanish, or Turkish, or Italian or Morrocan but Mediterranean? Surely a North or a South in the restaurant’s description would help a little bit? I certainly can’t work out which country was represented by the supposedly gourmet Burgers (that quintessential mediterranean food). Sorry, I wasn’t convinced enough to check.

There were some plus points. My plastic menu offered me the chance to resolve some mysteries of previous blogs… I know that you have been on the edge of your seat to know: The kleftico from Rare, that sounded like it was made out of the previous owners and oxo cubes had a descrption next to it (slow cooked lamb on the bone). Okay, so I did already know this. I googled it.

And the second solved mystery was how imambayildi would taste following the marvellous description offered by Efe’s Meze.
I have been kicking myself for not ordering it and here it was on the menu. I ordered right away and it turned out that the waitress could not pronounce it either. The imambayildi was delicious, subtle but a real grower although I think I would have struggled with it’s pure vegetableness as a main course. The whitebait that we also ordered was pretty chunky, overweight whitebait which for me took the attraction off. (Some things are supposed to be an excuse for batter, not provide food in their own right.)

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I thought that a virgin bellini was just about the best thing that I have ever heard of. Because bellinis are great, sophisticated and delicious and very much something that require moderation. I should have remembered that the plus point of bellinis is the champagne, and that the absence of this left you with cherryade and mint, at a bitingly massive mark up. Gourmet challenge for you: alcohol free champagne. (Oo, I can see my readership figures collapsing as I type.)

Besides the bellini hiccup, the starters were in fact very promising and made me try to see beyond the plastic menus with pre-published ‘specials’ (so not so special for today, huh?) and the fact that the decoration is identical to when I reviewed this location as Helva.

But the main courses really took the meal to renewed depths. The chicken guvec (a chicken stew) was definitely made of turkey. (I should note that the date of our visit was the 1st January. See where I am going here?)

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Although the kebabs were genuinely chicken and okayish, they weren’t the cheapest, and the accompanying bulger wheat lacked pizzaz.

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We decided we would not enjoy stopping around for dessert and got the DLR to Hazev for this experience…I’ll update you about that on another blog.

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