We’ve long heard how Chicken Tikka Masala – or more recently overtaken by Chinese Stir Fry – are Britain’s favourite dishes. Although widely popular for a couple of decades now, there is a traditional British meal that has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years – bangers and mash. I must confess I’ve had a newfound love for mashed potato in recent months – ideally covered in melted margarine – so I was eager to try Mother Mash.
Although they’ve recently opened a second branch in Leadenhall Street in the City, a friend and I visited the original Mother Mash in Ganton Street, Soho. While it does appear to be quite small, the nature of the food and service means there is a quick turnaround so there shouldn’t be a long wait to be seated. The slim restaurant has a simple interior – white tiling, marble tables and dark brown seating with a mix of booths and counter-top to sit at. A friend and I were extremely hungry upon arrival and were glad to be shown to a wooden booth.
The menu is a simple layout – you have a choice of a variety of mashes, then bangers or pies, and then gravy. I must confess being spoiled for choice – the six different mashes all sounded delicious. I eventually opted for the Cheesy Mash, Vegetable and Herb Bangers (vegetarian) and Veggie Gravy (made with seasonal vegetables, tomato purée and horseradish). There was also a range of side orders, so I opted for some shredded, buttered cabbage. Mother Mash is also licensed so I enjoyed a bottle of Bulmers cider. The service was friendly and swift. We were ravenous so were glad our food came so swiftly. The mash potato was perfect – creamy and filling. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish and due to a fix of hunger and it being tasty, it wasn’t long before my plate was clean. The actual food bill came to £8.50 each so very good value indeed. I can highly recommend for both a hearty lunch or dinner.
- Mother Mash, 26 Ganton Street, Soho, W1F 7QZ. Nearest tube: Oxford Circus. For more information and menus, visit the Mother Mash website.
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Little Venice is one of the most picturesque suburbs of London so it’s easy to see why people are drawn to it. However, amongst the canal boats and seven-figure properties, is a pub with rather more to offer than your usual drinking hole.
The Bridge House is located on the south side of the Regent’s Canal on the corner of Westbourne Terrace Road and Delamere Terrace. The white stuccoed exterior of the building fits nicely in the row of Georgian terraces. With such great views of Little Venice nearby, the pub has suitably large windows and high ceilings, letting in lots of light. With the Canal Cafe Theatre located upstairs, the theatrical theme infiltrates to the pub below with chandeliers, benches and red velvet dotted throughout. For those who want a bit of comfort, there are plush leather sofas and fireplaces to roar with warmth in the winter.
A group of friends and I who all happened to have a day off at the same time ended up at the Bridge House on a Monday afternoon. After working up an appetite with a long walk along the canal, we were pretty hungry and thirsty. While the pub was understandably quiet when we arrived around 3pm, once office hours finished, the pub quickly filled up. Of course, when the theatre is open, the pub is likely to be incredibly busy.
The pub offers 11 speciality beers and four real ales, although I’m more of a cider girl myself so ordered a bottle of Thatcher’s – quite apt given it was the week of ex-PM Margaret Thatcher’s funeral – which was a medium, dry cider. There is also an extensive spirits collection, as you would expect, so I opted for vodka and lemonade after my post-lunch tipples.
Although rather late for lunch, my friends and I ordered one anyway from the all-day menu. Two of us opted for the Gnocchi with wild mushrooms, roasted squash, spinach and cannellini beans. The food arrived swiftly and the service was friendly and prompt. The dish was really tasty. The gnocchi was perfectly cooked, with the spinach giving the carb-heavy dish a lighter feel. I ate the lot incredibly quickly due to a combination of hunger and enjoying it so much.
The setting of the pub could not be beaten, with the adjoining theatre upstairs giving your night out the potential option of a bit of culture – ticket sales permitting of course. The 60 seat theatre hosts cabaret, stand-up comedy and one man (or woman) shows. The range of drinks was as you’d expect in a pub, with a wide menu catering to various diets and food allergies. I highly recommend The Bridge House for day or evening. I can’t wait for the summer to try out their garden.
- The Bridge House, 13 Westbourne Terrace Road, W2 6NG. Nearest station: Warwick Avenue. For more information, visit the Bridge House website or the Canal Cafe Theatre.
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Thai, Indian, Mexican… the average Londoner has probably tried most of these. With the capital such a melting pot of different cultures, you don’t have to leave Zone 1 to travel around the world – in culinary terms anyway! However, there’s a new region of cooking in the West End – Hawaiian. Now, being a US state, we tend not to associate Hawaii with its own cuisine, but given it’s located so far away from the mainland, of course it has its own food.
This is where we come to Kua ‘Aina (which means ‘back country’) – a Hawaiian restaurant which is the first UK branch of the original of the same name back on Hawaii’s North Shore. It opened in late 2012 on Foubert’s Place in Soho – a prime location just off bustling Carnaby Street. A friend and I booked a table for a cold March night and were immediately cheered up by the bright yellow exterior. Once inside, we were greeted by a waiter dressed in a Hawaiian shirt (of course!) and shown to our table. The restaurant had a surf shack meets diner vibe with wood panelled walls, retro Hawaiian posters, pattern lampshades and the odd surfboard mounted on the wall. The relaxed, informal atmosphere and strong Hawaiian themed interiors definitely helps with the whole escapist vibe so you can imagine you’re in warmer climes.
The menu is pretty simple, with burgers or sandwiches the main meals on offer, served in baskets. My friend opted for tuna steak sandwich, while I had a mahi mahi (dolphin fish) sandwich, which were chargrilled and served with salad, with many sauce options. I topped my mahi mahi sandwich with Monterey Jack cheese and grilled pineapple – well, I wanted to go for the full Hawaiian vibe! It tasted absolutely delicious. Chips can be ordered separately with a choice of sweet potato fries and skin-off fries. I must admit, while I did love my fish sandwich, my chips were lukewarm, which I should have complained about, but didn’t. Adding to the holiday vibe, you can order pitchers of beer, Sangria, white wine spritzer or cocktails. Rarely, we opted for soft drinks, with my friend ordering a smoothie. Imagining it would be freshly made, she was disappointed to find it was a bottled one you pick in the supermarket, so we found ourselves wishing we ordered the pitcher instead, it would have been a bit more fun!
Service was friendly and quick, although the amount of tables in the small venue mean you are really packed in closely together. While I enjoyed the food and interior and found the place good value, I think it’s more of an informal lunch venue, rather than a place for an occasion. I think families, students and young professionals will particularly enjoy Kua ‘Aina. It’s very good value, and for those looking for a tasty burger that’s a little bit different from your usual burger chains, then it’s a good option.
- Kua’ Aina, 26 Fouberts Place, Soho, W1F 7PP. Tel: 020 7287 7474. Nearest station: Oxford Circus. For more information, visit Kua ‘Aina’s website.
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The Mexican food revolution in London took years, but fortunately it’s also brought an appetite for other Latin American cuisines and opened up Londoners’ culinary options even further. Step forward Ceviche, a Peruvian kitchen and Pisco bar in the heart of Soho. The restaurant opened in Spring 2012 on the site of Cafe Emm – a restaurant I loved, but fortunately Ceviche is a good successor. It’s been nearly 10 years since I visited Peru and I remember eating very well there and was particularly fond of the choclo (corn) based dishes and Pisco Sours, so was eager to rediscover the cuisine.
Since opening last year, Ceviche has become a hotspot on the London dining scene. I only booked 24 hours ahead, but was lucky enough to get a table for an early seating at 6pm. By the time we left at 8pm, the bar area was packed to the gills with people waiting for a table. Upon arrival, we were shown to a high table and bar stools – although there is low-level seating available too. The restaurant’s exposed brick walls are decorated with Peruvian posters, giving the place some Latin American ambiance, fortunately feeling authentic rather than tacky. The plain wooden seating, high tables and low lighting gave the venue a saloon-feel.
To those who don’t know, ceviche is usually fresh raw fish, marinated in either lemon or lime and is often spiced with chili or served with red onions. The menu consists of various tapas-style portions, with recommendations of three to four per person. My party of two decided to skip a starter and went straight for the various ceviches, which arrived in various stages. Before our food arrived, we started with some Pisco (Peruvian brandy) cocktails – I chose the Passion Sour (Pisco Quebranta, passion fruit purée, lime, sugar syrup and egg white), which had quite a kick to it, but was refreshing and tasty. My sister meanwhile opted for an Amor Prohobido, which was a lot of sweeter and not as strong. Our first dishes to arrive were the ceviche ones – Don Ceviche (fresh seabass ceviche in amarillo chili tiger’s milk, limo chili and red onions), Chacalon (mushroom and sweet potato ceviche with red onion in a passion fruit amarillo tiger’s milk) and Sakura Maru (tiradito of salmon in Nikkei tiger’s milk made with satsumas, mirin, soy sauce and limo chili). The Don Ceviche was a generous portion of raw seabass, which reminded me of sushi. I’m not a huge fan of sushi, so while I did enjoy the dish, I did tire of the flavour quite quickly and was fortunate I was sharing with my sister otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to finish it. I preferred the Sakura Maru, the sweet sauce was a delicious accompaniment to the salmon and we could have easily ordered a second serving.
While we enjoyed the cold ceviche, we were eager for some hot food as it was such a cold night. All three of our hot dishes arrived at once and didn’t last long on the table before we wolfed them down. While a very simple dish in comparison to the others, the Peruvian corn cake (Choclo corn and queso fresco vegetarian cake) was my favourite. The corn cake was hearty, warm and tasty. My sister ordered the Pulpo (Braised octopus marinated in coriander with chorizo chunks served with warm quinoa) and really enjoyed the unusual fusion of seafood and sausage. As a side order, we had the Arrocitio (long, grain rice with Peruvian choclo corn).
Although the restaurant recommends 3-4 dishes per person, we were quite full after a total of six dishes. However, there is always room for dessert so we decided to share a Encanelado de Pisco (cinnamon sponge soaked in Pisco spirit syrup with dulce de leche ice cream). Although a fan of cinnamon, there was just the right amount of it so as to not overpower the dish and the dulce de leche ice cream was incredibly sumptuous and went down very easily. Our bill came to around £60, including six plates, one dessert, two cocktails and service. Overall, I enjoyed the food and atmosphere so I’m sure I’ll be back in the future.
- Ceviche, 17 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4RG. Tel: 020 7292 2040. Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus or Leicester Square. For booking and more information, visit the Ceviche website.
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It has to be said – I love a good brunch. Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, but I like to sleep in on weekends (when I’m not working that is), so brunch becomes a viable and attractive option by the time I emerge sleepy-eyed from my home. For Mother’s Day, I only had a few hours to spend with my dear ol’ ma (less of the old I’m sure she would say when she reads this!), so we decided to keep it simple and stay local.
Together with my sister and brother-in-law, we headed into East Dulwich and I had list of potential brunch venues to check out, depending on where had availability without a booking or queue. Having parked in the Northcross Road area, a sign for the Blue Brick Cafe caught my eye so we headed straight there. Although we were a party of four and the café looked pretty busy, they were able to accommodate us. The café is an inviting, small corner building with large windows letting in lots of light and attractive blue tiling surrounding the exterior. The café includes around seven tables and features outdoor seating for warmer months. The venue has a vintage, homely feel with old tables and schoolchairs and old bottles decorating the shelves and windowsills.
After sitting down, we were presented with the breakfast menu (vegetarian and vegan), with additional specials on the chalkboard behind us. As it was around 2pm, most of my party were opting for brunches, although my sister fancied the vegetarian risotto from the lunch specials. I ordered the Full Veggie – homemade baked beans, sourdough bread, scrambled eggs, vegetarian sausage, spinach, mushrooms and tomato. Although it was busy, we ended up waiting around 15 minutes for our food, which went quickly as we chatted while sipping our drinks. While most of my party opted for traditional hot drinks like cappuccino and lattes, I ordered the spiced hot apple and elderflower, which was a really tasty drink. When my brunch arrived, my plate was full to the brim with food, which was the perfect portion for me. The food was delicious – I particularly liked the homemade baked beans, you could really taste the difference and it was nice to have spinach included, as so many brunch places don’t offer the vegetable as an option.
Overall, we all enjoyed our brunch – and my sister her lunch of risotto. The service was friendly and swift and the café was a relaxed, quaint place with a nice, local clientele. I must go back and try lunch or dinner.
- Blue Brick Cafe, 14 Fellbrigg Road, East Dulwich, SE22 9HH. Tel: 020 8299 8670. Nearest station: East Dulwich or buses: P13, 40, 176, 185.
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When choosing a cuisine for an evening outing, I rarely opt for Italian as I like to think I can cook pasta and pizza dishes quite well myself. However, when meeting up with a friend for a girlie catch-up, she suggested Locale in East Dulwich. The branch is one of a small chain of five (Fulham, Blackheath, County Hall and Balham) and after Googling the restaurant, found it had overwhelming positive reviews.
As we were a party of two, we took a risk and turned up on a Friday night without a reservation and were fortunately able to be accommodated. Entering the building, there is a nice, welcoming bar area to walk through before entering the restaurant at the back. The tables were accompanied by comfortable leather chairs and booths with exposed brick and antique mirrors giving a contemporary feel. There is also a terrace for alfresco dining, although maybe not at this time of year!
We started off ordering a bottle of Prosecco Villa Armellina Spumante from the extensive bar menu, which also included reasonably priced cocktails and a long wine list. The prosecco was dry and refreshing and the perfect accompaniment for a hearty carb fest.
For a starter, I opted for the Cozze Locale – sautéed mussels in garlic , chilli, white wine and Locale tomato sauce served with homemade focaccia. Unlike other restaurants I’ve been to where I find there is either too many or too little mussels for a starter, this serving included a manageable 10-12. The sauce was delicious and the focaccia came in handy for soaking it up after I had seen off the mussels.
For my main course, I decided to steer away from my usual Italian favourites like seafood spaghetti or gnocchi and chose the Pasticcio Vegetariano – a vegetarian pasticcio made with mixed grilled seasonal vegetables in layers of crepes, tomato sauce and a light béchamel sauce. Served straight out of the oven, it was piping hot so I had to wait a while for it to cool down. It was very filling, but without being too heavy and tasted delicious. My friend ordered the grated beetroot and goat’s cheese risotto with Arborio rice, parsley and parmesan cheese and really enjoyed her dish too.
Locale pride themselves on offering seasonal menus and each branch has its own specific menu, with all food being prepared on site. We found the food delicious and hearty and the service friendly and attentive. The atmosphere was relaxed and it was an easy location to wile away a few hours with a friend over good food and wine. I’m looking forward to returning and also trying some of the other branches.
- Locale, East Dulwich, 58-60 East Dulwich Road, SE22 9AX. Tel: 020 7732 7575. Nearest train: East Dulwich. For more information, visit the Locale website.
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Avenue is a refreshing destination on the London dining scene – a venue for fine dining situated in airy, contemporary surroundings without the stuffiness you often get at other establishments in the same price range. I recently booked a table for five on a Saturday night to celebrate my mother’s birthday. Located in St James, just off Piccadilly, it’s just a few minutes walk from Green Park tube station. The restaurant is situated right on St James’s Street, with large windows giving you a view of inside from outside. Although we were a little late due to transport issues, it was no problem for the friendly staff who showed us to our table. We were given a large round table near the back so had a good spot away from the busy bar and were able to see the contemporary artworks hanging out the walls surrounding us. Avenue was built in a former bank so has high lofty ceilings, letting in lots of light during the day, but providing plenty of space for the low lighting, which gives the restaurant a relaxed, cosy vibe. The service was incredibly friendly and our waiter was quite the joker, making us laugh on many occasions.
The menu is seasonal British fare, with mains ranging from £14.00 to 29.50 for those fancying a Fillet Steak. However, my party had booked the Evening Standard offer (normally available Jan-Feb and Aug-Sep) so had a choice from a set menu for either two or three courses including a glass of wine for £15 or £20 respectively. The deal was incredibly good value and the set menu was actually a lot more extensive than you would get on typical deals like this. For starters, I opted for Loch Var smoked salmon, marinated onions, potato & horseradish cream which was a light and refreshing appetizer. For mains I had the battered day boat pollock, triple cooked chips and tartare sauce – essentially a posh fish ‘n’ chips. Unusually for an English person, I’m not mad about fish ‘n’ chips, but enjoyed the dish. It was filling, but not too heavy. One of my party opted for the generous portioned Avenue burger, St Gall, English mustard and chips and thought it was delicious. For dessert, we were torn between the choice of four different puddings so decided to order three and share them between our party. We each sampled the banana sticky toffee pudding with rum & raisin ice cream, Yorkshire rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream and Valrhona chocolate fondant with yoghurt ice cream. They are all absolutely heavenly and if I had to choose between the three, I wouldn’t know which one to plump for as my favourite. My party opted for the white wine on the set menu – the Piemonte Cortese from Italy which was a light, crisp and went down easily, so we ended up ordering a bottle during our meal.
- Avenue restaurant and bar, 7-9 St James’s Street, St James, London SW1A 1EE. Nearest tube: Green Park. For more information and booking, visit Avenue’s website.
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For special occasions, I always like to amp up the budget and treat myself to a posh meal. As a close friend had her birthday this week, we decided to celebrate with dinner at Refuel at the Soho Hotel. Situated in a mews off Dean Street, the Soho Hotel is a quiet and relaxing sanctum away from the crazy bustle of Soho. Although quite large, the hotel has a boutique feel to it with its contemporary and welcoming interiors.
Refuel itself is situated on the ground floor, with the windows looking out over the mews. A large, modern and airy restaurant, it plays on its title with vintage, American-style oil cans on the shelves. Our party of six were presented with a large round table with comfortable seating and low-level lighting, giving a relaxed vibe. Although the A La Carte menu ranged from around £17-£35 for main courses, we had booked through TopTable with a very good value deal of 2 courses with a glass of wine £14.95 from a set menu, or three courses for £17.95.
The set menu for the offer was obviously limited, but vegetarians, fish eaters and carnivores were all catered for. I opted for a starter of mussels with a slightly spicy sauce, followed by pan-fried salmon and leeks for main (and creamy mashed potato on the side), and fruit pudding and custard to finish. All three courses were delicious and I particularly loved the fruit pudding, which tasted incredibly similar to Christmas pudding, which I feel I didn’t eat enough of last Christmas!
We had a choice of glasses of house white or red for the offer, but also ordered two bottles of wine off the extensive wine list. I particularly enjoyed the Pinot Grigio delle Venezie IGT Rosé from Trento, Italy.
Refuel prides itself on offering a modern and international menu with an emphasis on organic, fresh and seasonal produce and it did not disappoint. The service was friendly and attentive, with the waiters offering to take our photos to commemorate the occasion. Compared to other hotel restaurants which can be stuffy or lacking in atmosphere, Refuel didn’t feel like it was in a hotel at all as its personality was so separate from the hotel. I would definitely recommend for a special occasion, or even just pop in for a cocktail if you happen to be in Soho.
- Refuel is at the Soho Hotel, 4 Richmond Mews (off Dean Street), Soho, W1D 3DH. Nearest tubes: Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road. For more information and reservations, visit the Firmdale Hotels website.
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