Frosty Sunrise, (an unseasonable review of Oxleas Wood)

Oxleas Wood. 

I discovered Oxleas Wood when I had the madcap idea that the first weeks of January were a good time to get up on a Sunday morning in the frost to see a sunrise. (These things happen when you get to a certain age. We are frequently to be seen as a Lycra streak on Q1 in the commute too. No telling.) Greenwich’s One Tree Hil was facing  the wrong direction, and after a little homework we took a punt that a hill at Oxleas faced East.

Well, it kind of did, but the early sunrises of January were a bit underwhelming and the cafe at the top of the hill didn’t open til 8:30 (declining to serve some quite interesting sounding breakfasts until 9:30… yay!) but we figured we should wait for the best cloud cover and kept on trying. And gradually moved on from our believed vantage point kind of tip-toeing on a tree root, with heads twisted kind of eastwards, to discovering the pathways through trees, that are different every day we go. In fact the winter scenes get pretty magical sometimes. 

Oxleas in the winter time
This is how the early winter sun looks… yes in London!

Frankly after a few visits, we were addicted and our summer (slightly less sunrise related) visits have provided different (although more traditional) views of beauty to that I find I can’t go on holiday anymore, I would miss the thrill of seeing oxleas under different atmospheric conditions. 

Oxleas wood in Summer time

So much more than manicured Greenwich Park.

What I hoped to find in Masala Mart I did find in Masala Mart

Screwfix, Plumbase, Masala Mart. They sound like they are all from one conglomerate, don’t they? They certainly all sit in the trading estate in Ramac Lane Charlton. But there is one name in that which doesn’t make me feel like I am in boredom land (unless re-furbing the house which is hardly a regular occurrence). Can you spot it? No? Er, this is a food blog, and you can’t eat pipes…?

I have been planning to go to Masala Mart for a while. I thought I would pop in while my husband was buying something really useful from Screwfix. But the Wholesale part of the title was putting me off. Eventually my husband offered to make reconnaissance mission and just asked them if they were a supermarket too. They said that they were and they seemed to think this was a daft question, but at least we got the answer.

Now what I hoped to find in Masala Mart was exactly what I did find in Masala Mart, a treasure trove of spices in proper sized packets at considerable better value than Ocado was prepared to offer. 10g of something 1.79 for 10g at Ocado, but 100g is 1.39 at Masala Mart. I’m always looking for flavour. I’m always looking for something different. I knew there was a pretty good chance I’d find it here.

It’s a quirky old place, like stepping back into the supermarkets of the 80’s, with sellotape for closing plastic bags, and little dips in the counter for the wire basket, which was weighing us down by the time we reached the tills.

And there are some things that Ocado just don’t stock, like multipurpose seasoning which has been invaluable in my cooking of stews. It makes the most ‘really shouldn’t have tried that in the slow cooker recipe’ taste good. (although I will admit that I since saw msg on the label which has put be off a bit). And I was thrilled to get gnarled ugly black cardomon pods, in addition to the green. The experimental purchase was of the Indian sweets which I have had only a couple of times in my life. They very obliging offered a ‘mixed pack’, leaving us to eat the very rich, tablet-like sweets over a very long period of time.

The challenge now is finding decent sized spice jars, I need one that can hold 400g of cinnamon sticks that only cost… Recommendations welcom

Clash of Clans Online Hack and Cheat

I have never asked for lobster before

A review of Locale, Blackheath SE3

It seems that sushi is stalking me, trying to taunt me with it’s coldness, or convince me that it is actually the best dish ever. I maybe should have been less publicly mean about it on the blog, but seeing as I’m here: it’s not working Sushi! back off!

The reason for this outburst is that I recently sauntered into what I believed to be an Italian restaurant and was handed a sushi menu. Fortunately I was also handed the more expected grill and pasta menu, so I kind of hid the sushi menu underneath this. In fact, to distract myself even further, I asked about the £15 menu advertised on the road outside, sending the waitress off for some time on a reconnaissance mission,

IMG_0853.JPG

It’s probably worth mentioning that the waitress’ absence meant that we were the only people in the restaurant. Yes I really do mean that, 4 of us sat around a table in the middle of the large and spacious Locale. We noted that Locale seems to have had a face lift, as it is now draped inside and out with blocks of green and black. This may explain the sushi, but I don’t quite follow the logic here.

The £15 menu returned to us, offering a half lobster or steak with prosecco which seemed like a pretty good deal. I went for the half lobster.

I have never asked for lobster before, but I was emboldened by the lack of just plain anyone else in the restaurant to see or overhear. “If I order the half lobster,” I said to the waitress, “I might just have to call you up to tell me how to eat it.”
The waitress looked perturbed. “I have served lobster before. But I have never eaten it.” She confided. Then she looked happier. “I will ask my colleague to break it for you.”
Ah… There is a colleague hiding in the kitchen, that made at least 2 other people in the restaurant other than us.

Despite the promise of broken half lobster, the following arrived at the table.

IMG_0854.JPG
I looked at the waitress. She looked back. “My colleague. She will break it for you.” She tried to reassure me.

The lobster arrived duly broken and I have to say it really was delicious with a deep grilled almost steak like taste… And lots of green stuff. Sorry, is lobster innard green, or was that pesto? I did however need to use the skinnier of the two implements to pull flesh out of the claw, but this makes me feel like I have learned something new.

IMG_0855.JPG
We’d added onion rings onto the order. We didn’t need to, despite the offer menu, there was little in way of scrimping in the portions and I’d indulged in cake at elevenses, (well half past tenses). In fact all offers came with chips as sides. And do you know what? they were really good chips. Do you remember me complaining about how bad restaurant chips can be?
http://wp.me/p5fONJ-j9

IMG_0857.JPG
Well these were fantastic. Unfortunately the elevenses and the onion rings meant that we couldn’t finish the chips. It turns out that there is a chip limit. My husband says he missed this memo.

IMG_0859.JPG
I didn’t let the chip limit keep me from dessert. On fact I tried a fair few items to breach the chip limit (to no avail). I went for a simple Affogato which as any pizza express will tell you is ice cream with espresso. I don’t think that we have discussed Affogato here before, but I do like it’s simplicity very much. This one came with a a shot of frangelico as well as coffee, but also came with too much ice cream, not allowing true drowning in coffee, leaving ice (cream) bergs. There ought not be bergs in Affogato in my opinion. And while the addition of frangelico sounded good on the menu, in addition sweet ice cream to offset the bitter espresso, I’m not 100% sure this didn’t crush the sweet bitter balance.

IMG_0856.JPG

I left Locale totally unperturbed by sushi (did you get that message sushi?! UN-PER-TURBED) but I have one question that has stayed with me since… Given I was the only half lobster eater in the restaurant, who ate the other half?

1 Lawn Terrace, Blackheath Village, London, SE3 9LJ
Tel: 020 8852 0700
Opening Times:
Monday to Friday: 5:00pm – 23:00pm
Saturday & Sunday: 12:00noon – 23:00pm

IMG_0852.JPG

He reads OTHER reviews. A review of Cau in Blackheath SE3

20140505-210647.jpg
For all of Cau’s stainless steel interior, (I never liked this sort of interior even in the 80s when it became so popular. I’ve given up trying to give it the benefit of the doubt; hindsight has been given the full length of the rope) it is actually remarkably cosy when you’ve found yourself a nice corner. You’d never know you were in a tin can.

20140505-210622.jpg

The menu is a little bit patronising: with insightful suggestions like ‘have a small salad on the side, or a larger one as a starter.’ Don’t bother looking at anything other than the steak here. (so to be honest, don’t bother even turning up unless you are feeling rather flush at circa £39 per dish). I recommend the brazen, very unEnglish approach of ordering one steak to share with your table… or take most of it home for tomorrow. After all, a 500kilo steak is rather generous portion for me, even on greedy days.

We went for two rather interesting sounding sharing items and one steak with the intention of sharing all ‘as mains’ and skipping the starter. This was a strategy to pacify the 3/4’s Englishness that makes up me and my husband.

Empanadas (Classic Argentinian street food. Served with a fresh tomato sauce.) of Spanish chorizo and cream cheese Spinach, ricotta and date were lovely. But the deep fried pork belly, that sounded like a wonderfully unhealthy sort of a step up from a deep fried mars bar, fat with extra fat, was kind of slimy.

20140505-210659.jpg

20140505-210634.jpg
We ordered our steak medium. And the staff recommended a nice matching Argentinian wine.
Here is a picture of the inside of our medium steak

20140505-210718.jpg
.

The charming staff admitted the mistake. (Please note, mistake admitting goes A. Very. Long. Way. in reparation and they went so far as to remove the entire meal, to return it to the table. I was impressed by this entirely proper way of fixing a mistake which (along with mistake-admission) you don’t often see. The staff registered we didn’t want a replacement of the deep fried pork belly, but replaced the finished empanadas. I think they must have known about the pork belly.

The steak returned remarkably quickly. We should have been suspicious at this point. But we are optimists. To give the chef his due (and there is not a lot of ‘due’ left now to be given) the newly cooked steak looked positively charcoaled on the outside, but the cooked effect only went about half a centimetre into the 10cm thick steak. The rest was jelly.

20140505-210711.jpg
My husband remarked that he had read of this experience on other reviews before coming. I don’t know what to be most disappointed by, the fact that he hid this information from me, or the fact that he reads OTHER reviews.

We didn’t want to go through the return-rigmarole all over again. The steak was edible, although a long way from medium, or even medium rare for that matter and again reparations were offered.

But may I note two things. This was their signature dish. Had we paid the full menu, we would have paid £70, for effectively a three course meal and drinks for one.
Let’s move on.

To churros! ! You’ll know I love churros: fried carbs in sugar. What could be more delicious other than churros with dulce de leche? Which, guess what? Was on the menu. We ordered some to share.

They arrived crisp and oily and … What’s the polite word…? I think the right word might be rare. Now I do know that the ‘how rare is rare’ when it comes to steak can be up for debate, hence us playing it safe and ordering our steak medium. But who has ever heard of rare churros? Dough is either cooked, or not cooked. In this case, it was the latter. Within its crispy interior was liquidy goo. Oh, we turned really English now. When the staff asked how our dessert was, we said…. “Thank you”.

CAU BLACKHEATH
10-12 Royal Parade, Blackheath, London
SE3 0TL

20140505-210735.jpg

20140505-210745.jpg

Brunch at Chapter’s All Day Dining, Blackheath

I’ve reviewed here before if you want my more general opinion on CADD

But we were seeking a brunch menu with some desperation to fill the gaping holes in our stomachs after the morning swim, and we thought Chapters had promise.

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the menu had been updated and featured some quirky additions beyond eggs Benedict (it’s too rich, people. So is the spinach version, so stop trying to pass this off on me).

Adventurous additions included breakfast risotto. Now where I am on this is (1) really well done Chapters, for thinking outside the box, and (2) Why would I want a risotto (ie heavy meal) interpretation of an already heavy meal of the day. But my interest in ‘the new’ won out and I found myself facing an unbelievably rich risotto dish for breakfast. If you are already a risotto fan, (some say that they are out there) then you might well find this dish perfect. For me, it was a little samey, probably no need to be cooked with sausage in it and with sausage on the side.

Breakfast risotto

Breakfast risotto

Then there was the ‘posh baked beans’ interpretation (not that Chapter’s lowered it self to use that definition) mixed beans in tomato chorizo sauce on sourdough with poached egg. You do see the word that attracted me there, don’t you? This was good, and this is from a lady who orders her fry-ups sans baked beans. I personally thought that there was a limit to the depth of the flavours, but I am always happy to enjoy a meal that has remembered to include of vegetables. (No, that sprinkling of chive and lonely rocket on the last dish does not count.)

Posh baked beans

Posh baked beans

We finished on pastries. We think (based on the croissants ugly appearance but rewarding bite and crumbs) that they were supplied by Boulangerie Jade. Need I say more?

Boulangerie Jade pastries

Boulangerie Jade pastries

A little off piste, and a long way down the A202- A Review of Angels and Gypsies, Camberwell.

Angels and Gypsies has been catching our eye for a while. It’s the leg of cured calf posed within sight of the door way, and the ambient lighting from the stained glass windows, and the curvy writing above the window that does it. Marketeers take note. For all we know the meat was plastic and it still made us eye the restaurant as a future target…
20140313-155445.jpg

It seemingly did the job for others too: It took at least three attempts over many months to let us through the door.

It starts with an aperitif. I am not much of an aperitif fan, because much as I like the type of drinks that qualify as apertifs, drinking on an empty stomach gives me a head ache and a yawn and puts me off dinner. If I am missing something here, please put yours suggestions in the comment box below (except for you mum, because if I authorise you as a commentator, your use of this forum to send me emails will suddenly become very public. )

20140313-155547.jpg

Having been once enjoyed a recommendation of sherry as a good match for tapas, the menu’s front page full of sherry as an aperitif seemed a very welcome concept… But even better, Angels and Gypsies offered manzanillos which were more local to the food (Jerez) and reportedly full of sea breezes. See breezes, sherry, tapas… Holiday.

We are already on difficult ground here, because it is also wrong ever to go for a Spanish meal and not have sangria. Sangria has been highly sought after on occasion (http://wp.me/p2yXJS-1L) and must not be taken for granted.

20140313-155515.jpg

Here are some pictures of the tapas that ensued.

20140313-155457.jpg

20140313-155427.jpg

20140313-155412.jpg</

And though we managed to pass up on the churros, we did go for our common cliche of Spanish almond tart accompanied by white chocolate rum and raisin cheese cake with macadamia nut crunch. And they were good.

20140313-155609.jpg

http://www.angelsandgypsies.com/angels/location/

I do concede that I did not actually see a microwave in the preparation of these eggs

A review of the Village Deli, Blackheath SE3

In a virtually empty village deli, I sipped an iced jasmine tea from a pretty little bottle and overheard the only other person in the room order a very specifically crafted haddock dish. Then I smelt said haddock dish being prepared and thought to myself, I must come back when I am hungrier. This might also appease the waitress who was a little contemptuous of my request for ice tea only.

20131020-203332.jpg

The point of the deli seems to be breakfast. Neither the sandwich or the dinner menus are half as big as the breakfast menu. It actually starts getting a bit confusing. You mentally flag that they’ve got bubble and squeak – must make sure that I get a dish with that, but then they have pancakes and waffles, and croissants, and a seemingly promising array of fish which was why I was there in the first place. Waffles and bubble and squeak with haddock- does not compute… does not compute..

The seats and tables are like the school canteen, cluttered in together, and requiring heavy manoeuvring in order to just sit down. You have to try quite hard to make the staff smile, and not query where your order has gone in case you upset them.

There also seem to be some very good brands in stock. Union coffee for example, that we baulked at the price of in the maritime museum was 5.99. That seems a good enough reason to scour the rest of the menu.

So anyway, the breakfast: Haddock- great, perfectly cooked, lemon adding a nice dimension. But microwaved eggs? Hard-microwaved eggs, when they should be oozing over the haddock (or the bubble and squeak that appeared on the other plate)? This was very disappointing. I think just as some countries fail to understand tea, some food establishments fail to understand eggs. Please note: Eggs are not just oval protein modules; they are the seed for the cook’s creativity-a biologically inaccurate description, I know.

20131020-203429.jpg

I do concede that I did not actually see a microwave in the preparation of these eggs, but if there was no microwave involved, then a whole new level of culinary failure was achieved on the day of my visit: The sense of microwaved food without microwave. I know, people will pay for it one day.

20131020-203417.jpg

Our coffee was made with geek level care, and it showed it.

20131020-203400.jpg

I really did not like the eggs. But the Village Deli was otherwise a very inauspicious hidden gem and worthy of its cult status. You could dash out of the car park and miss it whilst ‘Cook’ and ‘Jigsaw’ flaunt their bright banners. And that would be a pity if you are prepared to forgo the eggs and just have a delicious breakfast.

(Ok, I’ll stop talking about eggs now).

The Village Deli 1 – 3 Tranquil Vale, London, SE3 0BU

20131020-203350.jpg

‘Let’s all eat chocolate icecream because it is so much better than it used to be’ a review of Black Vanilla, Greenwich

A review of Black Vanilla in Greenwich

I don’t think the staff at Black Vanilla in Greenwich are very happy with me.
And that’s without even knowing about this blog.

It went like this: We arrived after a bit of a tourist outing in Greenwich. This had featured the Queen’s House (good art in parts) and the exciting Greenwich market. I’d just been sat by the Thames eating a South Carolina (err, or it might have been a different southern America. state…) hotdog followed by the market’s Churros. Both of these deserve comment, so please see the footnote below.

Needless to say, I wasn’t hungry when I arrived at the oft recommended Black Vanilla cocktail ice cream bar in Greenwich.

Also I was designated drinker. It is imperative to drink when you are designated drinker. Otherwise you would be depriving your other half of the next opportunity, see.

Then you have to consider that I really love Black Vanilla’s coffee; and an affogato (did you know that meant drowned? I only learnt it from the menu at Black Vanilla) would be great with a brandy.

Affogato after

Affogato after

But the hot chocolate kept catching my eye. The hot chocolate came with chocolate icecream in steamed milk. Wowee! We all know that the UK was slow on the uptake with chocolate ice cream, so when people actually started making the real stuff here, everything became a bit ‘let’s all eat chocolate icecream because it is so much better than it used to be’. And some of those Belgian chocolate ones were what we always knew chocolate ice cream should have been.

Let me make this clear: hot chocolate made of cold chocolate ice cream, melting in the cup. And that is chocolate ice cream with promise. Are you getting me?

I’ll never know if Black Vanilla chocolate icecream was as rich as it would need to be to make a really good hot chocolate. I didn’t choose it. (Well, I say never… I do after all have to keep visiting new places to keep you lot happy…) I just let it keep on short circuiting my brain from making any non-hot drink decision.

So in the end, I ordered brandy in Affogato because that would also be great and tick the alcohol box.

I leaned back as the waiter walked away and said, I can’t believe I haven’t picked a cocktail- they make ice cream versions, you know. To which my husband replied he was also in disbelief. That was the catalyst. What had I done? I’d missed ice cream mojito. It was the hot chocolate’s fault for diverting me.

I had to change the order to a coffee and the ice cream mojito. Hence their annoyance.

 

Ice cream mojito

Ice cream mojito

They are very civilised service there. We were offered water in elegant glasses with our order, something that I have only seen at l’Artisan despite all of my travels. It is also a very pretty upstairs room. It’s nice to see the opulence of the original building being enjoyed. And BV have chosen design rather than ‘shove ’em all in’ tables’, possibly to their detriment given the number of people being turned away.

 

20130504-084802.jpg20130504-084729.jpg

So the coffee arrived, and I won’t bore you on the subject of how great the Black Vanilla coffee really is again. See my review of the non-alcoholic Blackheath branch. But the mojito…. Ahh, the mojito. It wasn’t a long drink; it was served in a martini glass. It was refreshing, green, hapifying. I kept saying “I’m so sorry that I am designated drinker today” to my husband as I licked the sugar from the bottom of the glass.

Note on Greenwich Market Food: Since discovering these churros, a visit to Greenwich Market really means an excuse to eat the Churros with cinnamon sugar and chocolate (nice as creme du leche is, chocolate is a needed low note). There is no such thing as “I am not in a mood for Churros now”. Ever. The hotdog was also pretty pizazz- spicy sausage and all the trimmings in a half wholemeal baguette. I didn’t think I could eat it all, I couldn’t stop myself.

“I wouldn’t have ordered glacé cherry icecream. You’d have been ashamed of me if I had.” A Review of Black Vanilla Gelateria, SE3

A Review of Black Vanilla, Blackheath. London

Ok, so i am a stubborn character. This is partly the reason i have resisted recommendations from friends and followers on Black Vanilla coffee. Also Black Vanilla is a gelateria, and not having the time and hands to rearrange a cone of ice cream into an Affogato, I have being buying 2 scoop cones. More seems greedy.

20130101-181604.jpg

And add to that, the ice cream in Black Vanilla is ok. Yep, ok. And that’s sad for the only local gelateria I have ever heard of. Take for example, sour cherry icecream. I have a quandary here. I have to remember whether it was cherry icecream or sour cherry icecream. But even without the ‘sour’ in the name, cherry is not without a little tartness, right? With the one exception of glacé cherry icecream. And it definitely wasn’t called that. I wouldn’t have ordered glacé cherry icecream. You’d have been ashamed of me if I had.

Lots of ice-cream at Black Vanilla

Lots of ice-cream at Black Vanilla

So the fact that the maybe-sour cherry icecream was all sweet, also made me pretty cynical about all of these coffee recommendations.

However this is winter. No one ponders icecream at 4pm on a December afternoon (although a surprising number of customers were), and I thought- why not try the coffee? No one would ever know I’d compromised my cynic’s principles.

First sip… Wow… Deep and rich and yet again that slight coconut undercurrent that I encountered in Chapters. Caught in the act, I have to admit this is the best coffee I have tasted in the village.

Coffee at Black Vanilla

Coffee at Black Vanilla

I’d arrived wanting cake, maybe cake with brandy… And I was a little disappointed by the selection.. The quite cupcakes may have been ok, and i have heard good things about the pastries. I sadly skimmed and dismissed the possibility of a crepe, waffles, because when I tasted the crepe that was ordered by my table it was fabulous and lemony and crunchy with sugar. I persuaded my husband to make pancakes shortly after to make up for missing them.

20130101-181453.jpg

The white hot chocolate came recommended too.
So that’s how it is, if I fancy good coffee and pancakes, I’ll be down at my local gelateria
Still have cold feet though.

20130101-181510.jpg

32 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath SE3 OAX

“The burger was brilliant, really really burgery” a review of Chapters All Day Dining, Blackheath

A Review of Chapters All day Dining, SE3

I really want to hate Chapters All Day Dining. I want to hate it because of its mass self-publicisation in the local free glossies. I want to hate it because on a Saturday evening it is full of fake tans, big zirconas and bleached hair posies who manage to make champagne look tacky.

I nearly really did hate it, because of its really unjust bread policy. Everyone around us was offered warm baked bread except for us. And this is not the first time. We cannot work out why we consistently fail to meet the deserving to be given bread when we have ordered.

So the food has yet to come, but I am well on track to achieve hatred of Chapters (with the exception of a good glass of grapefruit juice), and all my plans collapse into failure after the first chip. The first chip was undercooked… glee! But the burger was brilliant, really really burgery, and so were the rest of the chips and rocket and parmesan salad.

And the dessert list is irrestistable. Often, at chapters, it is resistable just to prevent the death by desesrt experience. However it really does call you in. I struggled between Lemon Posset with Pistachio shortbread, and cherries in the right corner, and sticky toffee pudding with apple sorbet and pecan crunch in the left corner. I chose the latter. A rare choice for me actually. Pity they served it with creamy ice cream instead of apple sorbet. So after much deliberating as to why it wasn’t as quirky as expected and re-consulting the menu, we sent it back and got it back much smaller… and much later.. we think they must have run over to Black Vanilla to top up.

This was an unfortunate mistake, but I have to note that they were impossibly apologetic and helpful about restoring the billed item to its intended glory.

Ok, I’m a coffee blogger, I should talk about the coffee. Rating here is five out of five – a very strong coconut undercurrent, managing to be flavoursome without being over bearing or stomach emptying. Fabulously stiff foam on both the cappuccino and the machiatto and a pleasant absence of chocolate sprinkled on top. That is a little naughty on their part – many people’s definition of a cappuccino includes the chocolate, but we both prefer without. And great leaves. Even in the tiny macchiate. Now how do you do that?

I have one complaint (after they dealt so helpfully with my other complaints). This isn’t all day dining. We came in at 2pm and were given a brunch menu. The substance of which was serious DINNER food, steaks, duck confit etc. Maybe I am supposed to know this from the use of the word dining, but it is not quite the view that is conjured up by the title.There was the odd brunch type thing on the starter menu, but there was nothing in the following all day kind of categories of brunch, tea, lunch, light bites. Many restaurants don’t, but they are not called all day dining.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for sandwiches, or ciabatta… believe me I really am not. But given the celebrated inventiveness of the institution, could we not have some quirky ‘light bites’. I think even soup of the day to come with bread of the day; more inventive charcuterie dishes.. Le Pain Quotidien manage a good selection if you are looking.

Strangely, while they never featured on the menu, there was a tray of fresh scones and unusual tray bakes on the bar. Perhaps they were only for the people who qualified for bread.

The coffeeshop blogger may have to take her leave a little of the coming months. She has made the most of the summer (it started so late, and died so young) and is now skint and more than a little chubby.

Chapters All Day Dining

43-45 Montpelier Vale
Blackheath Village
London
SE3 OTJ