Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Paul Rhodes Bakery

I stumbled across Paul Rhodes Bakery whilst leafing through a small book called Tea & Cake London recently. The blurb in the book mentioned that Paul Rhodes as an accomplished chef who had work for people such as Pierre Koffman and Nico Ladenis before moving on to become a pastry chef and turning his attention to breadmaking. With all the experience and success that he had achieved, I was preparing to wowed by the stuff in his bakery. Since I was heading up to Westfield, I decided to pop down the road as well and visit Paul Rhodes new(ish?) bakery in Notting Hill for an early morning coffee break. First impressions were that the bakery did look inviting with lots of goods on display and the interior felt bright, airy and clean. However,  dig a little deeper and all was not what it seemed. The bakery operates as a counter service and there was somebody all ready to ask what I wanted but after I had placed my order, he promptly forgot what I had told him? Then, when I got to the till to pay for my goods, he told me how much I owed and proceeded to look the other way. I might be sounding a bit anal here but surely, this is customer service 101 and if you cannot perform these basic tasks, why bother showing up to work at all? It wasn't as though the place was humming with people either so I'd hate to think what service is like during busier times (just as a comparison, at The Espresso Room, Ben will always greet every customer as soon as they walk in the door and ask them what they would like whilst he is making another drink. Sometimes, if its a regular, he even remembers their preferred drink?!! Ordering and paying is prompt, professional and takes less than a minute. Not difficult....)

I plumped for a plain butter croissant and a pot of tea before heading to the back of the cafe to the elevated seating area. Even though I wasn't paying an arm and a leg for it, all I can say is that its pretty shocking to be served a stale croissant given Paul Rhodes' "reputation".

Unfortunately, there weren't any other cakes I particularly fancied so I made a sharp exit afterwards. Its doubtful that I will return.

Promised a lot but failed to deliver. One of the things I learnt on my barista course was that  it was difficult to find people to work for you who "care". To me, this last photo is a great illustration of people who just don't care - condensation left on the cake display and the audacity to charge up to £4 for a pecan tart which has a broken pastry shell?! Customers deserve better than this!

Friday, 24 February 2012


After my mid-morning coffee at The Espresso Room, I headed south of the river to check out Greensmiths. Its a pretty unique place as it houses a butcher, greengrocer, bakery and wine merchant all under the one roof! Customers can shop there just like they would in a supermarket but buy some pretty impressive produce, e.g. the in-house butcher is the Ginger Pig! One of the girls who was on the barista course with me at LSC, Irene is the manager at Greensmiths so I was keen to pay a visit. The locals living near Lower Marsh are pretty lucky to have such an eclectic store on their doorstep!! Unfortunately, Irene wasn't around when I turned up but if you are in the neighbourhood, do pop in and have a goo :) (Irene also makes a mean coffee as well!!)

The Espresso Room

After a crash course in all things coffee and armed with a shiny City & Guilds qualification (yay!), I decided to strike while the iron was hot and start checking out some of the great cafes that the big smoke has to offer. The most obvious place to start was Ben's place, The Espresso Room which is exactly where I headed. The cafe is in a lovely part of town, not the type of place you would stumble upon by accident but a real gem. 

It really is quite literally a room, with most of it taken it up by the coffee machine and counter. There are seats for maybe 4-5 people at the very most and more seating outside. I arrived mid-morning and Ben was manning the fort so got the chance to have a bit of a chinwag which was nice. Being a non-coffee drinker, I was a little indecisive when it came to ordering so was advised to order a flat white which didn't disappoint. I also tried a sip without sugar which tasted pretty good but I was soon back to my old ways of adding sugar to my coffee like your average European :)

I mentioned to my friend Won that I finally made it to The Espresso Room and he advised that I really should've tried their espresso, d'oh! Oh wellos, am just going to have to head back for a return visit - a big thank you to Ben for being a great trainer and for stoking my interest in coffee :) 
Loving the look of the doorstep pastrami pickle sambos that were being put out for lunch :)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Barista course at London School of Coffee

I first heard about the London School of Coffee from my good friend Won a few years ago - we had both just finished our pastry course at Ferrandi and respective stages in Paris. He stayed in Europe for a few months extra to attend some courses at LSC before heading home. I have never been a big coffee drinker myself but am acutely aware that there are many people out there who are. I therefore decided to enroll on a course at LSC in order to educate myself on all things coffee.

The course I took was a 3-day VRQ City & Guilds Barista qualification. Courses are limited to 6 people per class due to the size of the classroom but it also means that there is great access to the trainer and enables each student to have plenty of time on the coffee machines for practical work. The course is pretty intensive and covers a lot of ground: Coffee (everything from how it is harvested to roasting to cupping of filter coffee), espresso (from coffee beans to milk foaming), tea, chocolate and blended drinks. Our trainer was a guy called Ben Townsend who is also the owner of The Espresso Room, an independent cafe on Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury. It was great to have a trainer who was an experienced barista training us. The thing that really made the course for me was all the anecdotes that peppered our 3-days about the coffee scene in London, who the key players were and the trials and tribulations of opening up a business - it really did give me a great insight into the independent cafe scene. I was also really taken aback at how open the coffee community is; the norm is to share information freely with others which felt really refreshing.

All in all, I really enjoyed the course and met some interesting people to boot. My knowledge of coffee has vastly improved, I feel like I have just learnt how to speak a whole new language and am confident on what to look for going forward, be it coffee beans, equipment, etc....a very worthwhile course :)
Our "classroom"

Coffee grinder plus remnants of our cupping session

 Mini roaster

My 1st attempt at a latte :)


Friday, 17 February 2012

Friday dinner - Moo Grill

Buoyed on by a craving for steak (and reminiscing about our Argentina hollier), I've been looking around the net for any new Argentinian/steak restos in London to try and came across a relatively newcomer in the City, Moo Grill. Another blogger had raved about the lomitos (steak sandwich) so I was tempted to head over and try one for a late lunch. In the end, I hung on and met JD for dinner instead so the lomito will have to be sampled another day :)

I had rung earlier to make a booking just in case, I wasn't sure whether this was necessary but on arrival, was glad I did cos the place is tiny!! We were greeted with a loud "Amigos!!" and a big smile by our waiter which set the tone for the evening. The resto had a great atmosphere and every customer who arrived was greeted as though they were part of the Moo family - very infectious and definitely brings a smile to your face :)

We started off with empanadas (and the now regular Quilmes for me!) which I had read about being particularly yummy so shared a greedy 4 of them between us: ham and cheese (2 of these bad boys), beef (my fav) and sweetcorn and pepper. They were indeed delicious - if I was really nitpicking, I prefer my empanadas baked rather than deep fried but that wasn't the end of the world :)
Shortly after, our mains arrived......steak and chips accompanied with a couple of salads. The steak was cooked pretty good but could've done with a bit more seasoning. Even though we were stuffed, we still managed to make room and try some desserts, alfajorcitos (had been secretly looking forward to these ever since I spotted them on the menu!) and flan for JD. Again, they weren't bad but did not match the Havanna alfajores we had in BA all those years ago.....
Despite the food not being 100%, we had a great evening and it was really down to our waiter being so cheery and making us smile/laugh ("Perfecto" after every sentence, slagging off JD for not drinking and confessing to having a sly one himself at the beginning of the day, telling us that their coffee was the best in this room but not in the area cos there's a good Italian around the corner!!) There's a lot to be said about good service which isn't exactly found in abundance in London.....will definitely be back for a re-visit in the future. 

Ciao amigos!! :) 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

情人節快樂! :)

Cream is optional but oh so scrummy! :)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Quick lunch - Baozi Inn

 Need something to warm you up from the cold weather? Suggestion = bowl of 擔擔麵 (dan dan mian). Noodles served with chilli minced pork - hit the spot nicely but it was so cold that I had to keep my coat on in the resto!!!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Weekend nosh - The Mitre

Since the weather has been bloody Baltic of late, we decided to try and stay local when deciding where to get some grub this weekend.  We had passed by The Mitre a few times on our way up to Portobello Road and always thought that it looked a nice pub and that we should pop in there for a bite to eat so that's exactly where we headed on a cold Saturday evening.

Inside, it is a very good-looking pub, sectioned off into drinking and restaurant section. Service was very attentive at the beginning but slipped a little as the resto started to get a little busy. Food was not bad - we had a shared platter, 2 mains, 1 pudding, 2 minerals, a glass of wine and 2 coffees and the bill came to around 80 squid which probably reflects our Notting  Hillbilly surroundings :)
 Starter of Mitre hog platter: ribs, pork belly, black pudding, ham hock rilletes, crackling and red cabbage. Great concept of a dish but a little poor in execution. Both the accompanying bread and ribs were on the wrong side of  "burnt". JD wasn't a fan of the cabbage due to the spicing - I thought it was OK but did not appreciate cracking into various cloves, etc.... would've been very easy for someone to fish those prior to serving.

 My main of rack of lamb cutlets, lamb shoulder ravioli with carrot puree and Madeira jus. Nicely cooked meat but the carrot was oversweet so it felt like I was having dessert with my main :(

 JD's rib eye with chips and peppercorn sauce - not bad but too much charring.

 Sticky toffee pudding

Friday, 3 February 2012

Edinburgh dining - Ondine

Despite our trip to Edinburgh being short and sweet, we did manage to squeeze one wee meal in town. After a bit of perusing on the List website (Scottish equivalent of Time Out), we plumped for swish seafood resto in the Old Town, Ondine. Most of the reviews I had read seemed positive and apparently, it was the place where the movers and shakers entertained clients and the like.....was a little worried then that maybe I was a bit underdressed for the occasion but service was friendly, phew! :)

The food overall was pretty good but portions were a little on the small side. Whilst my main of langoustines were lovely and quite reasonable at £21, I was more than a bit miffed to pay 3 squid for literally 10 chips!! Desserts promised a lot but disappointed, my beignets looked tempting upon arrival but it was as if someone had forgotten to add the sugar to the batter and it all tasted of bland deep fried eggy mess. I was also commenting to JD on how they were a little stingy with the chocolate sauce for my beignets and miraculously, a waiter appeared by my side with an extra little jug of sauce. I was little embarrassed but grateful for the extra sauce but sadly, it didn't make the beignets any better, oh wellos....
 Bar in the middle of the resto

 Starter of squid tempura with Vietnamese dipping sauce - tasty!

 Grilled langoustine with garlic butter - yum!!

Eggy tasteless mess, aka. beignets

Loving the teapot :)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Falko Konditormeister

Despite an ongoing travel ban at work, JD was summoned up to Edinburgh for a workshop this week for a few days so I decided to tag along and use the trip as a chance to catch up with some old school mates.

I had arranged to pop over to my friend S's house on a wintry morning and didn't want to turn up with "兩梳蕉" (lit. 2 bunches of bananas in Cantonese. The bananas are in reference to your hands, ie. emptyhanded!) so I popped into a bakery in her neighbourhood to pick up some cake. I didn't realise until I was in the shop that Falko was the same bakery that was featured in one of the episodes of Rachel Allen's enormously popular Bake programme. At the time of filming, there was only 1 bakery based in Gullane and the programme centred around the making of Baumkuchen. I did ask the lady who was serving me about it but they didn't have any available at the moment and also told me that it was very much a Christmas speciality. The bakery doubles up as a shop and cafe and had a lovely cosy, old school feel to it - if I had a bit more time in the city, I would've definitely headed back for some coffee and cake :)

After much pondering at the cake display, I finally settled for some plum cake, black forest gateau, choux layer cake and a decadent looking chocolate and peanut slice. S's wee lads tucked into the choc/peanut slice combo and gave it the seal of approval! Cool place for a pit stop if you ever happen to find yourself around Bruntsfield/Morningside :)
 My choices were top shelf (middle) = plum cake, middle shelf (middle) = peanut and chocolate slice, bottom shelf = choux layer cake and black forest gateau :)