Tough Octopus

A review of Kaspar’s Grill at the Savoy

I have discovered the most magnificent combination: champagne and soda bread. I don’t mean champagne baked in soda bread, which would be daft even if some waitrose supplier’s marketing department eyes just lit up. I mean champagne sipped with occasional bites of soda bread.

I happen to know this due to one of those restaurant vouchers you can get offering champagne three course meal at the Savoy fish grill. Although the Savoy definitely told me off for calling it a voucher rather than a certificate. I don’t think they are going down market. The most expensive wine was £345 FOR A GLASS.

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Now I have mentioned that I love fish, so this place should be my hang out. Look at the decor, the glass emulating curing hanging fish.

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I started with soda bread with cured fish (hence my discovery) which was delicious, and my husband chose wild seabass ceviche, confit octopus, mango which was delicious in appearance and full of great flavours, but the octopus was dead tough.

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Next I made a wrong turning. I misread lemon sole fish and chips to mean lemon sole (which is fish) and chips. Actually it was a rip off version of ‘fish and chips’ (inverted commas make all the difference) which means that the fish was battered and arrived with fries. Now (1) I just came to a fish grill i don’t want a takeaway and (2) don’t ever think you can make fish and chips like a fish and chip shop unless you actually are a fish and chip shop because you can’t. It is a basic law of physics. I don’t know why. I have never proved if through first axioms but I sure have proved it from careful and repeated experimentation.

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I comforted myself with the best glass of sauvingon blanc I have ever tasted (and it came in at a lot less than £345) and a nice side of chilli- broccoli.

Desserts were a challenge. They didn’t look so exciting on paper. You kind of had to hope that they were so well executed they justified the boring descriptions. We went for yogurt and rhubarb sorbet and sticky toffee pudding (the associated attractions being blueberry compote and butterscotch sauce.) We assumed that this meant we had one heavy and one lighter option, but the rhubarb yogurt came drenched with vanilla cream ( hidden in the small print). Who does this? Who disguises their creamy desserts as something that you might pick up from the healthy aisle in the supermarket… if you’re feeling VERY good?

I asked how the decaffeinated coffee was, and the waiter sort of rolled his eyes in sympathy. I ordered it anyway, and it was as fairly reported on by the waiter, soso. I think that the Nespresso machine has ruined this aspect of my life for me. I would not even have expected good decaf coffee in the past. Never again will I enjoy coffee out.

Kaspar’s Seafood Bar & Grill‎
The Savoy
Strand
London, WC2R 0EU
+44 (0) 20 7420 2111

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An Update on the Nespresso Machine

A while ago, I updated you on what felt like the highly decadent step of buying a Nespresso machine. And the irony of making this purchase on a camping holiday.

Nespresso capsules

Delicious Nespresso capsules

But I really have to add some more information in hindsight:

I love it.

I have not purchased a commuter coffee since. When I worked form home the other day, instead of worrying about whether a trip out for a cappuccino was taking too much time out of work, I just pressed a couple of buttons. I actively missed it when we spent 2 weeks in France lately and each morning I respond to my alarm with the thought of, at least I get a nespresso shortly.

Also fabulous is the decaf range, restoring my ability to have a good coffee after a good evening meal. And look at this amazing crema.

Espresso shot from a Nespresso machine

Crema that I day dream about

There are limits to my new love. I still refer to which ‘choice of coffee’, rather than which ‘grand cru’.

I also complained at Nepsresso’s presumption that it could improve my palate. And I would like to point out that my palate is exactly the same as it was, thank you very much. This of course is not due to the fact that I just don’t have the metabolism to queue up espresso’s and compare their relative high notes, but because I am a coffee shop blogger, and I would not admit to deficiencies in palate.

Oh, and to the gentleman on twitter who pointed out that I should not hold back from Clooney bashing on the mention of Nespresso because ‘I am not on his radar’ so I shouldn’t worry about being mean. Errr, duh! I’m Blackheath coffee shops, how would I not be on his radar?

The last coffee shop in Blackheath

Morden’s, Tranquil Vale Blackheath SE3.
(Not strictly a coffee shop, but this was the angle I was reviewing from)

Morden’s has had day time patisserie and coffee advertised outside of it for ages. The last time I attempted to go in, I was tweeted not to do it, that Morden’s was the most trashy place in the village, but I committed to unbias and ploughed ahead anyway, after all, it was only for coffee.

It should be borne in mind for the duration of this review, that it mostly sells cocktails and wine.

Metal outdoor table and chairs

Morden’s definitely looks pretty enough and its garden outside is a very secret garden, ignoring the advert for it on the road outside. It advertises coffee and patisserie during the day. Soooo my thing. And the garden is really pretty, just they could do with clearing the bird poo off the seats a bit more often.

On ordering a cappuccino, the waiter asked for a reminder as to what exactly constituted a cappuccino. Three cappuccinos arrived… None of them quite the same as the others. To the credit of the gentlemen I was with they made sure that I had the one where the foam on the sides was tinted with the caramel colours of coffee. The others were with the wiped out grey of dirty dish water. All came accompanied by plastic teaspoons.

And l the patisserie? Well, they had muffins. Not only were they muffins, the ultimate insult to cake, but they were prewrapped muffins.

Picture of capuccino

You and I have talked about this before.

Only one of the party was prepared I stay put, so we forced ourselves to finish the frothy dishwater and encamped next door to Tziagno’s which ins bursting in options for unusual cakes.

Greenery on an arch

Pretty outside

Look Morden’s, I am imploring you here. I know you are a wine bar, not a coffee shop, but there is lack of custom in Blackheath to warm your funky seats and fill your secret garden. IF you offer good cake and coffee… Source it locally? Buzz me if you ever change and I will update the blog.

The fact is, I believe that Morden’s is the last coffee shop that I have not reviewed in the whole village.
Where do I go from here? Will I never buy a coffee again?

7-9 Montpelier Vale, London
020 8852 0492

Hoping that I remained anonymous, A review of Jamie’s Italian Deli

I admit, I slaughtered Jamie’s Italian in my last review. Even Italian friends told me they thought about going there and changed their minds after my review. So it was with some trepidation that I ventured in last week, hoping that I remained anonymous and was not about to be chased out, Why did I return, you ask? Well, OBVIOUSLY because there were some really good looking cakes in the window and my last review was not about cake. Let’s separate things. Let’s say that this review is about the deli at Jamie’s Italian. My last review was of the restaurant that constitutes Jamie’s Italian. And believe me, I stand by it.

Here are are the good looking cakes:

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By going in the ‘other’ (non restaurant entrance) this is what you are faced by: Actually quite tempting, fell for the whole, 3 cakes between 2 people isn’t that bad thing, even when following focaccia. Focaccia was really great, oily and be speckled with olives.

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But the cakes are kicked by the local competition. The lemon tart was so-so (that’s in the ‘cosi cosi’ way, not the ‘Soooo’ way) lemony- no real sting? And the plum tart was really an almond tart, that wouldn’t want to be disrupted by the sourness of a plum, but without the amazing things that a dedicated almond tart could be.

This, however is a nice environment. You just have to let yourself forget you know it is inauthentic chain decor. And don’t pity the poor homemade pasta for how it is about to be cooked. This isn’t too hard, it is pleasant on the eye.

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The Betrayal of the Cafetiere

When my eyes were bedazzled by the glossy nespresso machine in the cooking shop where we were on holiday, I wasn’t thinking of myself as being unfaithful. I was unaware I was betraying my humble cafetiere, and the workday faultless barista service of Pret a Manger.

But when I came home from my holiday high and lay awake thinking about it, what actually was wrong with my cafetiere, a masterpiece of a gadget, simple effective and marvelous in providing good coffee? And if I bumped into a regular Pret baristas on the street, how would I explain that I would no longer be a daily visitor despite their pret-trademark charm and efficiency (cappuccino with no queues), and coffee with a good bite.

The only single reason I could come up with for buying a Nespresso (after I had bought one) was to be in the little club; to get something better than you had that you didn’t know there was anything wrong with in the first place. This is what really troubled me, nothing was ‘fixed’ by the Nespresso machine. But the stakes were raised.

I will admit that the one thing that is massively improved by the machine is being able to steam the milk – something that no other milk frother comes close to. And ok, I will save money by neglecting Pret.

I am still trying to find an expresso with the bite of Pret in the 23 capsule options, (otherwise known as grand cru- my teeth are on edge) and when compared with the really good coffee stakes of Blackheath, there doesn’t seem to be a flavour that matches the rich coconutty blend from Black Vanilla and Chapters, or the cindered Volcano blend from The Scullery. Can any one point me in the right direction? I find myself comparing notes at work, and day dreaming about which coffee I will have next. How kitsch this will seem in twenty years time, like black forest gateaux and prawn cocktail.

The letter of introduction to the starter pack assures me that regular partaking of the different options will improve my palate. Cheek.

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Has anyone heard of Cypriot zivani? A review of Aqua, Blackheath

I’m always unhappy to read a menu where the choice is too obvious, but there was no such unfortunate experience at Aqua Mediterranean Bar and Grill. Even the main courses were exciting in all their lines. Usually I find I have to look at the starters or desserts to stay amused.

Greek Meze starter sounded great to me as a way of combining all the best starters. If you have simpler requirements for your starters, see if you as talk them into serving just the vine leaves with tzazaki which was definitely the best bit of the Meze.

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The open flame and fish menus in particular looked delicious: souvlaki, medallions, kleftiko… Mixed Grill! This is the relatively modest looking mixed grill, that proved totally filling.

Just like this fabulous chargrilled whole sea bream, that I couldn’t stop eating with its contrasting salty tomatoes and artichokes. Oh stop me from day dreaming!

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In fact, it has been a while since I have done such an utterly food focused review, so to pull away from the plates for a section, a comment on the music: we were surrounded by 70’s crooner does 80’s cheese in an inoffensive wouldn’t-your-mother-like-it sort of way.

And on the interior: nice actually, elegant. And lovely to have the skylight to prevent the room from feeling cramped and dark.

The service: Nervous rather than suave.

Anyway, bored of this, back to food: The desert menu did get off to a bad start by offering sticky toffee pudding. Has anyone actually eaten a genuinely interesting sticky toffee pudding? My curiosity was piqued by the selection of ice cream so having the guts to be the exact list that might appear in Neapolitan ice cream.

Baklava is so rare to see on a desert menu. In my book, this is the opposite of Victoria sponge. Pastry rather than sponge, honey instead of jam, nuts instead of cream- but most of all golden depth of flavour rather than creamy inaneness.

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We asked what was Cypriot zivani. We believe that this is a type of grappa but we overheard the waiter asking several others for flavour in order to work this out.

The accompanying coffee was smooth and interestingly sharp at the same time, and what’s more there seemed to be no question that it would come after dessert- none of this daft arriving before dessert, because the barista and chef are not in sync. This is rare. And very good.

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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

Trying to keep fit and eating cake

A review of Rhubarb, the cafe at the Glass Mill gym, Lewisham

I never expected to review a cafe in a gym. A gym cafe always felt like a slight upgrade from the vending machine back when I had swimming lessons. (I was never ever allowed anything from the vending machine.)

Rhubarb though is a real surprise, one sleek corner of the light bright reception of the Glass Mill Swimming Pool, with a counter piled with cake. My advice? Don’t touch the flapjack. It looks good and is sitting next to a brownie, which always helps because in the effort to choose between traybakes, you find yourself imagining good flapjack in your mouth. Do this at Rhubarb, and you will be disappointed. Sorry Rhubarb, the truth hurts.

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I don’t think that this will cause too much concern. The Earl agree tea loaf is excellent. The lemon and blueberry cake melts in the mouth, soft and crumbly and neither too acidic or too sweet. And the other cake options look just great- all the traditional list blooming with a bakery haze. The blackboard says that they had baked all the cakes on site. Where did they find this baker and how did they convince them to work in a swimming pool?

It took us ages to identify the breakfast menu, but it is there and it is not tack. I’ll be honest, having to find the menu amidst the burger filled (and cake) menu in a GYM, and seeing only oats-so-simple with 25% sugar (people do know that oats are simple even when they come out of a sack, right?) led me to expect microwaved bacon and cheese rolls. I was judging harshly. Thick cut white or wholemeal bread swamped in mushrooms and herbed scrambled egg arrived on our place. We’ve even gone so far as to ask if they will do poached eggs (like i said, this is a health suite) So far we’ve been refused.

Tea pigs darjeeling Earl grey in a pot with a glass, was very refreshing. Which is strange, because I seem to remember being quite mean about it at Giraffe. sorry Teapigs, we should chat and make up over a cuppa.

Is it newness? It might be, but I have to say that the bright daylight lit interior with neon pops of colour is wonderfully clean. Which is more than can be said of the changing rooms later in the day… But I am veering dangerously off piste. I’d tell you about the swimming pool, or justify my food choices after a swim but that would take this blog toooo far from it’s titled home. I’d have to start reviewing computer hardware next.<

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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Mouthful of cake, swig of coffee. Savour. A Review of Mara Interiors

Now there is a mini-review of Mara Interiors on my blog already. They are actually an interior designers who happen to sell cake and coffee to chat over rather than an actual coffee shop. So it always felt a bit like cheating to write about them. Also, the owner worked out that I am the that coffee shop blogger, which always felt a little intimidating. It’s so much easier to let my opinion run free when no one knows who you are.

However I have had such consistently pleasant visits there that I thought it was worth a revisit. especially as recently they have been moving their cake selections from solely Boulangerie Jade (which you know I love) to one made no other vendors. In particular this week we discovered these tea cakes (I believe the name is)

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Why have I only got a picture of half of a tea cake…? Because I couldn’t stop myself diving in. This blog, you followers, I forgot you all when faced by the tea cakes and the knife to tuck in… So I don’t even have any evidence of the raspberry one to share with you.

Was it good? Yeeeess it was good. But the one you do have a photo of is even better. The honey and lavender one that was in the words of the baker’s husband ‘less elaborate’ with only a layer of thin icing was fabulous. The best, full of subtle flavours and sugar. I liked. Mouthful of cake. Swig of coffee. Savour. Do something else for a couple of minutes. Repeat. It is necessary to get the balance between enjoying the cake and making the experience last as long as possible.

Very good coffee by the way. And sitting in an interior design shop you do get much nicer seats than in many of Blackheath’s options.

180 Westcombe Hill
Blackheath
London
SE3 7DH