Dabbous Take Two

Anyone who is a regular reader of my blog will know how much I’ve been looking forward to my second visit to Dabbous.

I blogged about my first visit here, and was raving about it. After that incredible first visit (plus waiting 6 months for our table last night) our expectation levels were sky high when we turned up at 9pm with keen foodie friends, Andy and Fi.

Our table was running late so we started with cocktails in the bar downstairs. I chose my little friend (below) which they weren’t featuring on their menu anymore, but happily they made one up specially. Brownie service points!

Handsome little fella!

We decided to order the tasting menu for the whole table.

We started with Dabbous’ famous sourdough and hazelnut bread. Exceptionally well made, but sourdough really isn’t my favourite bread…it’s just a little too sour tasting for my liking (duh).

Our starter was asparagus with rapeseed mayonnaise and crushed hazelnuts, which we were told with no uncertain terms had to be eaten without cutlery. This was delicious, but not that revolutionary. Asparagus and hollandaise is aways a winner and I can’t say that this was any better.

Then onto Dabbous’ signature dish of aliums (onion family) and pine broth. This featured on the menu last time, and like last time, was my least favourite part of the menu. Very beautiful though.

Next up was my favourite coures – the surprising coddled egg with mushrooms and smoked butter. So decadent and unusual. An absolute winning combination.

I’ve been trying so hard to overcome my phobia of fish, starting with lobster in Spain last week. Therefore, rather than asking for a vegetarian option I went with the original option of King Crab, Hispi cabbage, Jersey Royals and garlic buttermilk. I will admit that the crab was incredibly juicy and lush (no hint of the dreaded fishiness), but I did not feel that the buttermilk complemented the dish in any way – it was far too rich and over powering.

Next up the meat course. Iberico pork with acorn praline and crushed apple. This was when I realised how disappointed I was with the whole menu. This dish was exactly the same as last time and distinctly underwhelming. There are also only so many crushed nuts you can eat in one meal.

Our palette cleanser was cucumber with lemon verbena. Extremely fresh and cleansing, but smelt exactly like the hand wipes you get after a curry!

Finally dessert – a real let down. Dabbous’ food is extremely light and fresh and this is something which definitely needs applauding. Because of this, however, when you reach pudding, you are in need of something much richer and substantial. I’m not a massive chocolate lover, but I think a chocolate based dessert would have rounded off the meal perfectly – a fancy parfait, cheesecake or torte would have been great.

Instead, we got very lightly whipped vanilla cream with a soaked red tea sponge. A souped-up trifle. It didn’t feel like as much effort had gone into this as the rest of the meal. The same goes for the presentation.

A note on the service which on the whole was pretty good. Although we had at least 6 different people serving us, which didn’t give a great feeling of continuity and meant that we couldn’t build up a proper rapport. Also, one male member of staff seemed more interested in checking out his appearance in the door of the wine cooler than being particularly attentive.

The rest of the evening was a wine addled blur, literally.

Maybe I’ve been a bit unfair on Dabbous. It was still very enjoyable, but there was nothing that I haven’t seen before in various guises. The bill hit a big punch too when it came. They’ve added an extra £15 onto the tasting menu since this time last year. It was £59 each. Personally, I’d rather visit their bar downstairs for cocktails and bar snacks, or their little brother, Barnyard. I blogged about Barnyard here
Dabbous can be found on Whitfield Street. Closest tube is Goodge Street. Follow @DabbousLondon

London Food Markets #2 – Real Food Festival

Second on my list of London food markets to visit was the Real Food Festival at Southbank.
Located just a 2 minute walk from Waterloo station, the Real Food Festival provides an amazing range of fresh produce and street food stalls. Not only that, but as part of the Southbank Centre, it is a very short walk to ever enjoyable liveliness of the Festival Riverside walk.

Although fairly small in size, the market does seem to offer everything you could possibly wish for on a sunny weekend afternoon…

…fresh fruit and veg

…a plentiful supply of bread, meat and cheese

…something sweet

…and arguable the most important ingredient, alcohol!
Of course if you’re looking for something a bit more ‘ready to eat’, you can pick a treat from the numerous street food stalls and vans

All of which are served with a smile by the friendly stall holders!

Well, nearly a smile…

In all honesty, the Real Food Festival does suffer from the same affliction as Borough (which I reviewed in my first post of this series), in that it’s just too popular for its own good. The small size of the market, combined with the popularity of the Southbank, means that at peak lunch times the stalls are almost impossible to see properly

However time your trip well (and as you can see below, the market runs for a long time each weekend), and there is a lot to enjoy about Southbank’s Real Food Festival

Flat Planet

Ask people what they’re planning to do when they visit London, and shopping on Oxford Street will almost certainly feature on their list. And in my experience, hours spent traipsing up and down the endlessly long high street always necessitates a pit stop. What always amazes me though, is how so many people seem incapable of leaving Oxford Street in search of sustenance.

Every single Eat, Pret and Starbucks is heaving, which is such a shame because you only have to venture one minute down a side road to find something far more exciting and less mainstream. Soho, Carnaby Street and Charlotte Street are all just a stone’s throw away, and they each contain a plethora of places to choose from.
That’s where Flat Planet comes in. I’ve wandered past it lots on my way to Ping Pong, but never actually ventured inside. What a waste!
Flat Planet can be found at the start of Carnaby street, just past Liberty, and, more importantly, right by Ben’s Cookies (an absolute must!). Flat Planet specialises in pizzas/flat breads made from spelt flour. 
Not only are they incredibly healthy but the flavour combinations are to die for. I agonised for ages before selecting the garlic chicken with rose harissa. Being a boy, M chose the meatball version. Why is it that pretty much all men seem unable to pass up meatballs if they spot them on a menu? Subway’s the same –  meat ball marinara always seems to be the order of the day. 
Coupled with delicious food, Flat Planet’s surroundings are achingly cool, and the best thing about it is the price. Most flat breads are around the £6 mark and a large glass of wine is a very reasonable £4.50. It really is the perfect escape from the mania of Oxford Circus.
I enjoyed it so much that I returned just three days later with Frankie for a post work catch up!

St John’s College, Cambridge

After the excesses of the day before, there was only one place I wanted to be come Sunday morning and that was chillin’ on the backs of St John’s.

The backs is simply the name given to the green patch of grass situated in front of New Court, which has views over the River Cam.

St John’s College was founded in 1511 by Lady Margret Beaufort, mother to King Henry VII. Wikipedia (yes, I’m sorry!) tells me that over the years, it has churned out nine Nobel Prize Winner, six prime ministers of various countries, three archbishops, three princes and three saints (and little old me!). But to be honest my favourite alumni is Tom Rob Smith, author of Child 44, one of my very favourite books.

St John’s College was where I spent 4 exceedingly happy years as a student, and although I’m surely biased, I can’t help thinking that it is the most beautiful college in Cambridge.

Being an alumni of Trinity College, M would beg to differ, but we can argue about that until the cows come home.

College was looking particularly lovely on Sunday and it was the perfect place to recover from the previous day’s exertions.

Caz and I promised to find a space(!) for our picnic while the boys were sent out for provisions.

I decided to break things up by taking a wander around the college. St John’s, like most colleges, is laid out in quads, with each court leading into another.

The Bridge of Sighs is one of John’s most famous landmarks, and is named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice (so called due to the sighs of prisoners being lead to their unfortunate ends). Thankfully, the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge is far less macabre and is merely named after the sighs of students plodding off to their lectures.

There’s always plenty of excellent people watching to be had including this newly wedded couple.

Providing much amusement were also some Japanese tourists who felt the need to take photos of some undergraduates ‘being students’. 

Oh college, how I have missed you!

MA (Cantab)

Cambridge University has a traditional quirk whereby graduates are automatically awarded a Masters degree 6 years after matriculating. However, those of you who have slogged your way through your Masters and are incensed at the thought of us being given one for free, don’t worry. No one actual recognises it as meaning anything more than ceremonial.

What it does mean is a perfect excuse to get everyone together, dressed up to the nines, to enjoy the pomp and ceremony for one last time that Cambridge is famous for.

Proceedings began at my old college, St John’s, with formal hall on Friday night.

And yes, it does look exactly like Hogwarts. I really wish I’d appreciated it more when I was a student here. It all felt so ridiculously normal at the time, but I’m now old enough to fully appreciate how lucky we all were.

Caz (my partner in crime) and I posed for some obligatory photos before dinner in our gowns.

Feeling very exhausted and more than a little worse for wear, it was up early the next day for the graduation ceremony at the Senate House.

The dress code is horrendously strict. More than one guy was caught out for wearing brown shoes instead of black (this lead to a manic rush to the closest shoe shop to rectify the situation). I was absolutely boiling on the hottest day of the year so far in full attire complete with black tights (ladies, take note, bare legs are not allowed).

I took lots more pictures of St John’s but I’m saving them for a little post all of their own…

Ping Pong

I’ve mentioned many times before my love for Dim Sum and my restaurant of choice is definitely New World in China Town (which I blogged about here). 

However, it’s not always possible to go to New World and when I want my Dim Sum fix I inevitably end up at Ping Pong

Ping Pong has many restaurants scattered throughout London and it brings tasty affordable Dim Sum to the masses. However, unlike New World, it is serves Dim Sum all day which I think would cause most traditionalists to baulk. After all, it’s really only supposed to be a breakfast or at latest a lunch thing.

Thankfully I am not a traditionalist, and I love dumplings at any time of the day. This includes 3 o’clock in the afternoon when M and I found ourselves wandering along Southbank and feeling a little peckish. Ok, so that’s a bit of lie… We were actually feeling pretty thirsty and seeing as it was the Bank Holiday, fancied treating ourselves to cocktails.
Ping Pong has an excellent and varied cocktail list priced at just over £6 per cocktail which, for London, really isn’t that bad.
I kicked things off with the exquisite Rose Lychee Martini 

M chose a wasabi amaretto sour which he raved about. I’m not keen on wasabi but even I thought it was delicious.

Then it was onto a ginseng passion

Before finishing up with strawberries and aloe vera foam.

After all that booze, I definitely needed the white peony tea I ordered next

And we thought it would be rude not to order a few snacks of the menu. This was made ridiculously easy by simply ticking the numbered list of options.

Our few snacks soon escalated and we greedily snaffled the following:
Garlic and black pepper prawn crackers

Steamed edamame
And my favourite – char sui buns – steamed bread filled with sticky BBQ pork.
We visited the Ping Pong in Southbank, but you can also find them in 8 other locations. Follow them @PingPong 

Little Venice Canalway Cavalcade

Little Venice is a section of canal in West London where the Grand Union and Regent’s Canals meet, and home to a number of restaurants and pubs. On Bank Holiday Monday, however, Little Venice was home to far more than that.

Hundreds of narrow boats descended for the Canalway Cavalcade.

A cavalcade is definitely a new word to me. From my personal experience last Monday, if I had to take a guess, I would describe a cavalcade as a kind of festival. Google reliably informs me that it is in fact a procession. Well, as far as I could see there was no procession as such, the boats are far too long for that, but Canalway Cavalcade certainly has a lovely alliterative ring to it.

Last Monday was a beautiful day and it really was quite something to see so many narrow boats in the middle of London. M and I walked along the canal for part of the way before we came across the main pool.

Over two hundred boats made an appearance at the festival and there were awards for the best decorated. My particular favourite was home to two cornish terriers complete with tartan caps. Literally amazing.

There was also a statuesque Irish Wolf Hound. I really love these dogs; they’re such gentle giants.

If you fancy a visit, Little Venice Canal Cavalcade is every May Bank Holiday, but boats can be found there all year round.