Monday, 27 February 2012

Fairtrade Fortnight 2012

Guess what? It’s fairtrade fortnight! Did you know that three in every ten bananas bought in the UK are fairtrade? Sainsburys have taken the radical step of only selling fairly traded bananas - even their 'Basics' economy bananas bare the mark.

Fairtrade has always been close to my heart after having the concept drummed into me while at university, which happened to be the first fairtrade university institution. I am passionate ensuring that producers and growers get a fair price for their wares - in an ideal world, all of my foodstuffs would come from the UK but this simply isn't possible (I love rice and sugar... Mmm, rice pudding!). Buying products with the fairtrade mark assures you that you're buying ethical produce and it's on a huge variety of products - from tea and coffee to chocolate and clothes.

Get involved!
Wondering what is fairtrade?

Fairtrade is a term that defines a product which has been bought from a famer or producer who works in decent conditions for a reasonable wage.

Read more about Fairtrade here.

Fairtrade Fortnight runs from Monday 27th February until Sunday 11th March 2012. You can find out more about this years campaign here as well as more details of events near you.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Review: The Castle, Islington, London

We descended en masse to trendy Islington in search of a venue for the congregation of my motley university crew. A mere five minute walk from Angel Station and about an easy ten or so minute stroll from King's Cross and St Pancras railway stations, The Castle won on location and my friends previous positive experiences.

A modern take on the traditional English watering hole, The Castle has seating for about sixty and a short, simple menu featuring the classics. They had a great selection of beers from around the world (not to mention Adnams on tap) and a nice wine list, many of which can be enjoyed by the glass. Service was prompt and welcoming when we arrived. Our table had been laid out downstairs but the Spring sunshine was calling us so we asked to move upstairs to their sun-drenched rooftop terrace and they kindly obliged without a grumble.

Having perused the food on offer which included bangers and mash and steak and chips, we placed an order with the friendly manager. Given that we were a party of seven, we were impressed that our meals came out together though the weekend lunch rush wasn't yet fully under way. We were able to set up a tab for our table by swapping a bank card for a business card bearing the Geronimo chain's trademark pig which read "If you wake up with this in your wallet then you've had a fantastic night and your credit card is still behind the bar". Brilliant!

The world was put to rights over a luxuriously leisurely lunch. One of my party tried the establishment's Elvis Burger (above); beetroot, fried egg, a rasher of bacon, onion ring, tons of salad and - not forgetting - a patty of Angus beef served in a crisp bun with a side of skin-on seasoned chips. It's described as a "heart attack in a bun" for a reason! For those with a less elephantine appetite, their run of the mill Angus burger, with or without the optional rasher of bacon, was popular with our party - meaty and smothered with mature cheese. Another of my friends enjoyed their broccoli and Stilton soup, the flavour of the day, which was smooth and flavourful.

I enjoyed a succulent onion and roast garlic tart on a flakey puff pastry crust topped with goats cheese and a poached ducks egg. The combination of sweet onions, silky yolk, crunchy pastry and sharp crumbly chévre was a delight. The bed of rocket, tomato and cucumber dressed in a wholegrain mustard vinegrette made it a light yet satisfying meal. Unfortunately, the poached egg wasn't quite as well done as I would've liked - the white still clear and gloopy in places - though the yolk was a triumph so alls well that ends well.

We finished things off by sharing a few servings of sticky toffee pudding, which as a bit of a let down. It was more like toffee cake drizzled with a little toffee sauce rather than a steamed pudding drenched in rich caramel goodness. It just didn't quite hit the spot, which was a shame after an otherwise lovely meal.

Overall, The Castle - either inside at the bar or outside on the rooftop - is an ideal venue for a chilled out informal lunch or drinks. Grab a pint or glass of your favourite tipple and take your pick from their pleasingly succinct menu but don't bother with dessert.

The Castle can be found at 54 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9HF. Tel: 020 7713 1858 Main meals: £8 - £14. Puddings: £5 - £7. Nearest Tube: Angel

Friday, 24 February 2012

Review: Lantana, Goodge Street, London

On a late Friday afternoon, when the dedicated are ringing out their last ounce of enthusiasm at their desks and the work shy are hot footing it to the nearest public house, Lantana is a tranquil space to enjoy a rich cup of coffee and a cake. There's a steady stream of chatter and the hiss of the espresso machine; a great setting for a spot of pre-weekend escapism.

I first heard about Lantana from a friend who's boyfriend is Australian. They raved about the lazy brunch  they'd shared which had been accompanied by a "proper Aussie" coffee or three. I've always loved the concept of breakfast or brunch somewhere further than my front door but my morning appetite precludes this. Very frustrating. Maybe one day I'll manage to keep my rumbly tummy in check with a sneaky slice of toast before heading out for a some maple french toast with bacon, bananas and candied pecans (oh lordy) or baked eggs with roasted mushrooms. That's if I can drag myself out from the cocoon of my duvet in time for breakfast (heck, it's a wrench during the week, let alone at the weekend).

Anyhow, I found myself at a loose end during the long final hours of the working week and decided that a hot drink and cake was in order before I embarked on my habitual weekend train journey. I was lead to a table with a prime view of the serving counter (all the better to see frothy latte art being churned out) and ordered a hot chocolate and a charming little friand cake. It's worth keeping in mind that the kitchen closes at 3pm but fear not as coffee, cake and gravity-defying sub sandwiches are available until closing time.

The hot chocolate (£2.50) was sweet and creamy, a nice change from the powdery, bland imitations that I've seen masquerading as hot chocolate of late. I sipped from my glass (rather than a mug, strangely satisfying) and cast my eye of the menu boards. They had some truly delicious sounding salads chalked up - will have to return for a little more sustinence next time. They have links with the lovely Gail's bakery who supply them with their fantastic sour dough. A match made in heaven!

The friand (£1.90) was fantastic too - a soft, moist almond cake with a lovely sticky crumb and warming marzipan flavour. Mine had a generous slice of juicy apricot baked into the top which equally complimented and contrasted the richness of the almonds.  A real winner and just the right size to knock back hunger without making me feel absolutely stuffed.

The proprietors of Lantana opened with the aim of bringing a cup of Australian café culture to London and you can definitely feel the Aussie influence as you take a seat. I can't quite put my finger on what it is exactly; maybe it's the cute, genuine human staff or their mean flat white coffees or the huge jar of Vegemite displayed proudly on the counter... The atmosphere is relaxed, laid back but not sloppy. The guy working the espresso machine really knew his stuff and everything was spick and span without feeling sterile. The toilets were clean and tidy (a rare and precious thing in central London) and they even have free secure wifi for all the techies out there.

It's a stones throw from Tottenham Court Road so it's an ideal spot to hide away from the maddening shopping crowds. It's a pretty small establishment - seating thirty at most - but if it's packed, you can make a bee-line for their takeaway outlet next door. I have to go back; if not for breakfast then for their take on the English BLT, the BRAT (bacon, rocket, avocado and tomato).

Lantana can be found at 13 Charlotte Place, London, W1T 1SN. Tel: 020 7637 3347. Nearest Tube: Goodge Street.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

From Russia with love - Maslenitsa Festival 2012

Spring feels tantalisingly close now as the weather gets warmer (yay!) and wetter (boo!) and the crocuses start to break through the softening soil. What better way to celebrate the changing of the seasons that to take to Trafalgar Square this Sunday and visit the Maslenitsa Festival.

Russian Sun Festival is an annual event which celebrates of the end of winter chills and the start of Spring with music, dancing and (most importantly) food. With Russian delicacies such as stroganoff and borscht (beetroot soup) as well as traditional pastries and (if you're not already pancaked out) blini's on sale, be sure to bring an empty tummy. Once you've had your fill, there are musical and theatrical performances and lots of stalls selling crafts and souvenirs.

The Maslenitsa Festival will be in Trafalgar Square from 1:30pm until 6:30pm on Sunday 26th February 2012. Entrance to the festival is free. It marks the start of a week of celebrations.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Review: Tombo, Kensington, London

The clean and contemporary interior of Tombo is a refreshing contrast to the smoggy, grimy London streets outside. Everything about the decor and the food is traquil and ordered from the emaculate maki to the wooden hour glasses to tell you when your tea is brewed to perfection. It's a great place to grab a cup of tea or a bite to eat.

We arrived a little before 6pm when they were relatively quiet and started with some delicate Flowering Osmanthus tea (£3.10) which, when steeped, turned a pretty rose petal pink and tasted mildly of Ribena. Delish! Food came in the form of a fantastically savoury black seaweed salad (£3.30) with chickpeas, french and edamame beans dressed in soy. A feast for the eyes and taste buds though a frustration for the chopsticks. The Tombo Combo No 1 (£7.50) provided an elegant centrepiece for our table for approximately two minutes - time enough for it to be duly admired before it was devoured. Each roll was embellished with fresh soft herbs pressed into the rice. We finished with a fragrant pot of blossoming jasmine tea (£3.10) which had a fantastically floral flavour that (plesantly) surprised us all.

The service was prompt and friendly and the café itself was perfectly turned out. It's mere minutes from the crossroad of Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road so it's ideally placed for a lunch when you're visiting the London museums.
Tombo can be found at 29 Thurloe Place, South Kensington, London SW7 2HQ. Tel: 0207 589 0018 Food can be enjoyed in or taken away.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

On the bread line

Rumble rumble went the Tube train as it shot along the Piccadilly Line. Rumble rumble grumbled my stomach, chiming in harmony with my mode of transportation. Ah, the joys of the morning commute. My morning porridge – though packed with fruit, nuts and seeds and totally delicious – hadn’t quite hit the spot but I had a plan to fill the hole and sate my tummy tiger. Luckily, I reached my destination before my stomach started actually talking to my fellow travellers.

I’d heard tell, through the realms of Twitter, that the Gail’s Bakery that The Boy and I had visited only last month had been closed for a day for refurbishment. To celebrate their shiny new store, they were giving away free bread (true story!). Needless to say, I am a sucker for free food so I didn’t need to be told twice. Thankfully, the South Kensington branch isn’t too much of a diversion to prevent me from popping in on my way to work and indulging.

Being greeted with a smile and a warm pain au chocolat was a great way to kick-start my day. The staff were wonderfully bright and breezy for pre-9am (can you tell that I’m not what you’d call a morning person?). I adore passion and the ladies here obviously love what they do. Why wouldn’t they when they are surrounded by glorious coffee and quality cake?

I was gifted a reassuringly crisp loaf of San Francisco sour dough bread swathed in one of their trademark thick brown paper bags. Sour dough is one of my very recent discoveries but, for me, it’s the antithesis of the usual sponge-y supermarket loaf. Gail’s San Fran loaf has a thick robust crust with a thin skin of flour (floury fingerprints - a tell-tale sign that I’d been sneaking bread!) and a light, chewy crumb. It’s great simply sliced and used for a sandwich but I think that it truly comes into its own when you toast it. I like it crispy on the outside but with a hint of raw chewiness in the middle. Slather it with honey or jam and it’s an absolute delight! Try it and you won’t think of bread in the same way again.

Bread aside, their newly refreshed South Ken branch is looking mighty fine! Go and check it out for yourselves.

Gail’s has ten bakeries in the city of London and their South Kensington branch is open from 7am on weekdays.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Where to drink in Nottingham

My travels took me to Nottingham to visit a good friend who is travelling around Australia for a year or so (yes, I am positively green with envy!). If you're there and fancy a drink, take a look at our recommendations!

Time for tea?

White Rabbit Tea House
12 Hounds Gate, Nottingham NG1 7AB Tel: 0115 924 0227

A very cute venue (complete with beautiful tea sets and bunny salt sellers) that's a little like a crowded front room. There was an amazing selection of homemade cakes on display but we were in need of lunch so we nibbled on panini's. We had a melty Mozzarella, Tomato and Red Pesto which was tasty but it was the Chorizo, Jarlsberg and Jalapeno chilli Panini that really stole the show. Slightly let down by surly service.

20 Pelham St, Nottingham NG1 2EG Tel: 0115 924 3030

A fantastic place for all occasions. We had tea and cake while the others around us wolfed down ginormous breakfasts with glee. It seemed to be popular on a Sunday with students merrily nursing their hangovers and exchanging banter about their nights out. The service is friendly and fast and the food is simple, classic and tasty. It was shortlisted for an Observer Food Monthly prize and you can see why. A real winner!

After something stronger?

Coco Tang
45 Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham NG1 2GN Tel: 0782 588 9370

Below the cobbled streets and fashion boutiques of Bridlesmith Gate, you'll find sleek and slinky Coco Tang. It's an intimate basement venue with a small dancefloor. Go for their ingenious cocktails – our favourites were Haribo and Black Forest Gateaux. Happy hour 8pm – 10pm everyday and free entry all night too!.
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