Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Champagne Afternoon Tea at Browns Hotel

So, C's been rather spoiled. It was her birthday a while ago, and A decided to treat her to a weekend of lovely things, including a fancy surprise champagne afternoon tea at Brown's hotel in Mayfair. Lucky girl!

We usually make it a policy not to blog food we have for occasions. We've recently been to places such as The Delaunay and Hakkasan - both delicious - but we usually make it a policy not to worry about photography when it's a birthday or anniversary. This time, however, C insisted we make an exception: the platter was too pretty and the room too suited to photography not to capture it - and not to mention that the food was so good that both A and C agree everyone should know about it.

Think of afternoon tea in London and the likes of The Ritz and Claridges spring to mind. A's been fortunate enough to try both venues for tea, but confessed he actually liked the spread more at Brown's: perhaps it's precisely because it doesn't quite have the name that it knows it has to be absolutely top-notch with the food to get away with charging similar prices.

On arrival, we were a little early and so propped up the bar behind the tea room and had an eye-wateringly expensive Bloody Mary (A nearly fell off his chair when the bill came, and then downed his drink rather speedily for a bit of Dutch courage). The craftsmanship that went into it almost made up for the sky high price, though, and C savoured every sip before we took our seats in the main lounge.

A had kindly decided to treat C to the champagne tea option (you can opt either for non-alcoholic beverages or to make it a little boozier) and as we took our first few sips and toasted to C being one step nearer the big 3-0 (errr), the platter of treats arrived. Both A and C's eyes widened in anticipation: it is quite a spread.

First up were the sandwiches: incredibly neat little stacks of egg mayonnaise, ham, cheese and tomato, smoked salmon and, of course cucumber, all served on various different types of bed and with deliciously generous lashings of butter, which A and C would never normally have at home. We finished the first lot off in a flash, and no sooner had we done so than we were presented with a second plate of sandwiches. And then a third. And then even a fourth.

As delicious as the sandwiches were, as our stomachs filled up we knew we'd better move on. After all, there were a whole plate of petit fours to tuck into...

But before that, a tray of warmed small scones arrived, complete with cream and jam. We almost cooed in delight eating them, and then had a second plate of scones too. The jam was wonderfully gooey with real, large pieces of fruit, and the cream was soft enough to melt slightly into the warmth of the scones underneath, which were perfectly light and fluffy. Mmm.

Next up was the last of the platter: the petit fours. These were all so delicious, and there were so many to choose from that we had a second platter of these too (see a pattern here?). As the birthday girl, C got the first choice of petit four, and so predictably went for the perfect raspberry macaron, which was crunchy on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside - just right.

A finished off a chocolate mousse ball and a jelly shot, while C also tucked into a light lemon cake. We tried our best to finish off the small raspberry tart which made up the last of the platter and then sat back, food babies and moans of "never eating again" aplenty.

After a while, as A got the waitress' attention and asked for the bill, she smiled coyly and ushered him away. "But sir," she said as she sashayed past, "you haven't had your cake yet!". With that, a waiter approached with a tea trolley, loaded with various types of cake, each looking equally tasty. We both opted for a Victoria Sponge, and squeezed in as much of it as we could, until we really couldn't eat any more, even though we desperately wanted to. 

We practically rolled out of Brown's Hotel: fed, watered, fed some more and very contented, with C feeling very spoiled. Thanks A!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Lake Bafa: Fresh Fish in Anatolia

One of the reasons it's been a little quiet around here is that C's actually been out of the country: in Turkey, no less, holidaying there for a second year running. Over a year on and still inspired by Turkish breakfasts, the spice markets of Istanbul, treats such as lokum and baklava and, of course, a good old cup of Turkish tea, she couldn't resist a family holiday to Anatolia. While A and C had explored Istanbul, the north and the east last time they visited, this trip saw C and her family exploring the sights of the beautiful western Aegean coast.

While there was still lokum, baklava and Turkish tea aplenty in this region, C also discovered something a little more rustic one lunchtime on a spontaneous road trip. Hiring a car, C and her parents decided to venture to somewhere C's father D had spotted on the map - a large lake called Bafa, now a little inland, and which used to be part of the sea.

After what we'll call a short (4 hour, accidental) detour through the stunning mountains (and treacherous mountain roads) of the Anatolian countryside, we three weary travellers ended up finally finding Lake Bafa - although it's actually so large it's pretty bafa-ling (groan) that we couldn't find it sooner.

Nonetheless, as we parked up on the beach, we saw a sign painted on the side of a little white house next to us. "Balik", it said. Fish. Outside the white cottage was an older man sitting next to a samovar of tea on a patio, casually sipping out of a tulip cup, sitting in the sun. He looked down at us quite alarmed, and then echoed the sign on the side of his house: "Balik?". Fish? We nodded, and no sooner were we seated on a small wooden table on the terrace outside the house, awaiting a meal that we only knew to include fish - and no idea what fish.

After a few glasses of peach juice while we waited, we were then presented with a real feast. Three whole fish turned up, presented simply on a plate, along with a huge plate of chips, hunks of bread and a wonderful, bright salad.

The chips were clearly homemade and pretty chunky, but the salad was what really hit the spot in terms of accompaniments: with lettuce, red onions, cucumber and the super juicy Turkish tomatoes that C loves, it was finished off with a squirt of lemon juice and some olive oil. Delicious.

The main event, though, was of course the fish. None of us had any idea what fish it was (if anyone can enlighten us by photo identification please do leave a comment!) but it was undoubtedly some of the best fish we'd ever eaten. It had obviously just been caught that morning, and was wonderfully fresh and incredibly tasty.

And ok, so when the bill came it was pretty expensive (for Turkish standards) - 25 lira a head, which works out to a bit over £7. But hey, we were probably the guy's only customers for the day, and when you're eating such fresh food and overlooking a view like this, who can really complain?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Workshop Coffee

Sorry it's been a while. Both A and C have been really busy: C has started a new contract at a major retailer, and with it being September, Christmas (in retail-land at least) is just around the corner. A's also been busy lawyering: burning the midnight oil regularly at has kept each of us from eating out together and indeed from writing any new material.

Tea Time!
Against this background, it was a welcome break from the grind of tube-work-tube-sleep when we popped out with R (one of A's friends from law school) and a crowd of her Spanish friends (R is Spanish herself) for an impromptu Sunday brunch at Workshop Coffee in Clerkenwell. A had heard a good deal about Workshop since it's a place that his colleagues go from time to time for breakfast. However, he'd never had the opportunity to go. When R suggested it as a venue, he and C were glad to give it a try.

The good news is that Workshop more or less lives up to the hype. There's been a lot of buzz about this place since it opened a couple of years ago. The coffee is generally very good and clearly the baristas are well trained: the cappuccinos came with beautiful ferns and hearts worked into them and A's "aeropress" (emphatically not a filter) coffee was clean tasting (if a bit weak) and cleverly served in a jug and tea cup on a wooden platter.

I heart coffee
The food too, was very good: C opted for the baked eggs (£9.50), which came up still hissing and steaming in their own mini-saucepan. Packed with flavour, they oozed with bubbling cheese and chorizo. As a fan of cheese and of sausages, C was extremely pleased.


A too enjoyed the kedgeree (£12). This was neatly served with a perfectly spherical poached egg and crispy shallots. It was also extremely flavoursome: the creaminess from the milk and poached egg was offset by a strong kick from the spices. Overall, the combination was excellent.

Despite the quality of the food: Workshop Coffee is not without its shortcomings. Unfortunately, it slightly missed the mark on knowledge of coffee. By way of example, A asked for a filter coffee be informed that a Workshop only do americanos or aeropresses. Being rather set in his coffee drinking ways (filter all the way), A asked what an areopress was: A was then treated to chapter and verse on the virtues of the areropress, and how superior it was to the usual drip filter/French press. For the privilege of drinking an aeropress, one is expected to pay top dollar.  However, on asking the server for a bit more information about the coffees actually offered at Workshop, knowledge about the coffee was sadly lacking, as the server had to scamper off to ask the baristas for even the most basic information. Now, if you are going to charge a hefty whack for what is basically filter coffee, it's also necessary to provide some spiel about the blends, their provenance, taste profile, fair trade credentials and and so on. In the absence of said spiel, the sense of getting fleeced was acute.

Ludicrously expensive
This leads on to the second criticism: value. Brunch at Workshop equates to the price of a modest dinner out: a brace of hot drinks, a couple of softies and two mains saw A and C drop £50 or thereabouts. A may just be stingy, but he still thinks of brunch as being a relatively cheap option. This just isn't the case at Workshop. Moreover, with the portion sizes at Workshop, don't expect to leave full. A felt particularly hard done by as his kedgeree - pretty much the most expensive thing on the menu - was gone in seconds. At more than £1 per spoonful, this did feel galling. Don't get us wrong, we don't have any complaints about the quality of the food, we just wish that there was more of it on the plate. 

Despite our gripes, A and C had a good time: Workshop Coffee really is a lively place and a pleasant option for a light meal friends: a good time was had by all. Just make sure you go at the beginning of the month when you're feeling flush!