American

Gospel Brunch – Altitude 360

I think church is just about the last place you’ll find me on a Sunday, so imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago, instead of watching movies in bed, I was at the top of Millbank Tower joining in with the London Community Gospel Choir.

Yes, I have now been fully immersified into the wonder that is London’s only Gospel Brunch at Altitude 360. Hand to god, it’s probably the most fun I’ve had over prosecco in quite some time – and that’s saying a lot.

To give you an idea of the scale of awesome we were in for, here was the view from our table:

As you can imagine, a view like that needs to be matched by equally punchy food and entertainment in order not to be outshone (especially on one of London’s first sunny warm days). This bread plate was the first attempt:

Have I ever said how much I’ve missed cornbread? I mean, seriously… bouncy, rich, sweet, savoury cornbread is just amazing, and Altitude’s (thank god) didn’t disappoint. The brioche with caramelised onions deserves a hearty shout out as well.

Once the bread plate was demolished and  I stopped oggling out the window, I started oggling the menu. BBQ ribs, chorizo omelette, tuna steak, BBQ chicken. Lots of delicious choices, but in the end I decided to go to with a good old fashioned BBQ chicken.

The bird itself was fine and the BBQ actually a really good sticky effort. The rice and black beans (so difficult to find in the UK!) , however, were actually quite dry. The extra BBQ sauce helped and the Cajun potato wedges I ordered on the side were ace, but when 2/3 of your main is a no-go, you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed.

DQ went for a breakfast option: the chorizo and red pepper omelette served ‘on a roll’.


I have to admit, I was really confused about this one. It wasn’t so much served on a roll as it was ‘as a roll’, but lately I’ve found that restaurants try to be as cagey as possible with their menu descriptions. No longer are we allowed to visualise what will be on our plate when we order it. It always has to be a surprise now. (Like the time where I ordered a steak pie, and it came out looking like a tartare terrine)

Missing roll or not, the omelette was bursting full of red pepper goodness. It was slightly on the greasy side, but mostly because it was chock full of chorizo – and chorizo grease is probably the best grease of them all.

Desserts were absolutely heavenly. Mississippi Mud Pie was sinfully rich and Key Lime Pie – another American classic I’ve not seen over here – was as fresh and tart as if purchased from Florida earlier in the morning.

The only real downside at this point is that DQ and I were both physically hurting from having so much food. I blame the bread. The delicious, delicious bread.

As you can imagine though, the food is only a small reason you come to the gospel brunch. Our Southern feast would not have been complete with the soulful serenading from the sassy Gospel Choir. I could go on about their talent or the vibe in the restaurant, but it’s probably just easier if you watch the video.

Turns out, even though I’m not religious in the slightest, I actually know quite a few gospel songs. You probably do too. ‘Oh, Happy Day’, ‘I Go to the Rock’, ‘Your Love is My Love’ and a few others. No less than three songs were dedicated to Whitney too, rest her soul. This was the big finale. This lady had some pipes on her…

The whole thing is £49 per person (including juices and water, but not alcoholic drinks) and this time DQ and I were guests of Altitude. It might seem a little steep for brunch, but when you consider the entertainment value, the view and the fact that we were there for about 3 hours, it’s a steal.

Recipe: Crock-Pot Pulled Pork Sandwiches

As a child, I was picky with my food. Veggies were out, anything with chunks, anything green – I wouldn’t eat. So when my mother insisted on making a healthy meal of Cabbage Rolls in her Crock-Pot at around age 8, I immediately turned my nose up. Stews and vegetable soup? No frickin’ way was I going near it. From about that time, I always associated her oh-so-80s Crock-Pot  with limp, overcooked vegetables and chunky soups – and even though I quite like chunky soups now, I was a little dubious about the slow-cooking machine.

As I understand it, the Crock-Pot was more of an American thing – and while they’re trying to make a comeback over there, they’re trying make somewhat of a debit over here.

Their PR team got in touch with me ages ago to try a Crock-Pot review. They sent a lovely box of veggies, which I immediately knew I probably wasn’t going to use. I had a Eureka moment instead. What better way to bring the Crock-Pot to the UK than to slow-cook a delicious American classic: Pulled Pork.

I was inspired from a few different recipes online, but for the most part, this concoction was all mine. Most of you know that I’m far from an expert in the kitchen (having things cooked for you can be so much more reliable!), but I have to say this one is a winner.

Please note, that as an American, I still have my American measuring cups. I love them, and I still think that way, so most of this recipe (bar the pork) reflects that.

Ingredients:

  • 500g pork shoulder cubes
  • 1 medium white onion, minced
  • 1/3 cup smokey whiskey (Note: MAGIC INGREDIENT. I used Jura)
  • 1/3 cup quality maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup  ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (do yourself a favour and don’t use Tabasco. Go Original Cholula or Frank’s)
  • 1 tablespoon spicy mustard
  • 1 teaspoon corse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes
  • As many twists of ground black pepper you want
  • Fresh from the bakery onions rolls (or baps, if you will)

Method:

Add all ingredients into the pot. Turn on  the lowest setting, wait 8 hours and then shred the pork with a fork. That’s it.

Before:

And after (served with chips made from my beloved Acti-Fry):

I can not tell you how delicious and easy to make this was.  Spicy, sweet and fantastically tender. The only downside is that next time I make them, I’ll have to wait another 8 hours to eat them.

Welcome back, Crock-Pot, I imagine you will go far.

om nom nom’ing in Iceland: Cheap eats in Reykjavik

Two things about Iceland that you need to know before you read this post:

  1. It’s awesome
  2. I’ve always always always wanted to go, so regardless, I’m probably going to be a bit biased

But seriously, what an amazing, bizarrely wonderful place. In three days, I managed to hit the beach, see a glacier, trek through mountains, get up close and personal with a giant waterfall, go whale watching (though admittedly I spent the whole time below deck, violently sea sick), eat puffin and whale (perhaps in retaliation for not being able to see them on a boat), and not once see the night sky.

It’s also not as expensive as one would have you believe – at least food wise. Our proper nice meal was lobster at Fjorubordid in the slightly dodgy-looking/slightly-charming seaside village Stokkeyri, but in all honesty, it deserves its own post.

Instead, here is a quick roundup of cheap eats in Reykjavik should you find yourself there on a limited budget.

In terms of Icelandic cuisine, you must absolutely not miss what is literally the most popular restaurant in Reykjavik: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Just your normal everyday hot dog stand.

For about £2, you get ‘the works’ a classic Icelandic mix of spicy mustard, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion, and remolaði – a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. It was amazing.

Also not to be missed, the lobster soup at Saegreifinn – The Sea Baron. Luscious and rich, with huge chunks of fresh lobster. We ate outside looking over the harbour of fish boats, and it was a total delight.

And of course, what trip to Iceland could be complete without trying those adorably cute puffin and morally-compromising whale? We tried both at Tapas Barinn, an Icelandic/Spanish small plates restaurant in the heart of the city that had a dining room darker and redder than Satan’s soul – which means none of my pictures turned out. So here’s this instead:

The verdict? I liked both. Smoked puffin tastes like smoked duck, and surprisingly Mink Whale tastes like beef. They weren’t the kind of thing I’d jump through hoops for, but both were pleasant enough!

My surprise of the trip was the hamburger at Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar (“Búllan”), considered to be the best in Iceland. For about £8, you get a burger, fries and a coke. It was an absolute bargain, and truly was up there with the best I’ve ever had. It put #MEATEASY and The Meat Wagon to shame.

It is more than possible to eat well on a budget in one of the most expensive countries in the world. Reykjavik isn’t huge – only about 180,000 live there – so you really can see and do (and eat!) quite a lot in a few days. It was one of the best trips I’ve had, and for about two weeks I’ve been telling everyone to go. If you get the opportunity, take it.

 

Michigan Roundup – Part 1

One of my favourite parts of visiting home for Christmas are the restaurants – specifically in Ann Arbor. I’ve posted a few of my ‘must-go’ places before, so I won’t bore you with the many details. Instead, perhaps a pictorial food journey of ‘Tree Town’ is in order…

Aut Bar – Eggs Benedetto:

My favourite brunch place doubles as Ann Arbor’s only gay bar at night. Their slightly twisted weekly takes on Eggs Benedict (this one with a yummy spicy ham) is always a winner. The potatoes are especially tasty.

Aut Bar on Urbanspoon

 

Pacific Rim – Big Eye Tuna:

For mains at Pacific Rim (my favourite restaurant and former place of employment before I joined the big bad world of PR), my dilemma is always ‘Do I go for my favourite, my other favourite, or my other other favourite?’ This particular time I went with my ‘other’: the Big Eye Tuna. Seared tuna with a wasabi cream, ginger-miso and sweet soy sauce, served over crispy rice with a daikon salad. It is superb.

Pacific Rim By Kana on Urbanspoon

 

National Coney Island – Original Coney Dog with Fries

And of course, what trip to Michigan would be complete without a trip to a Coney Island? Whether Kerby’s, National or one of the many ‘off brands’, the consistency of the chili that goes on that lovely dense meaty pipe, is just something that can not be replicated in the UK.

National Coney Island on Urbanspoon


Five Guys – Cheeseburger with hot sauce, bacon and ketchup with Fries

And to balance the hot dog, we must mention the glorious burger. Five Guys is a national chain famous for the accolades of President Obama, their anything-you-want-on-it-for-free toppings and the all you can eat peanuts. They made it to Michigan shortly after I moved away, but I’ve tried almost every time to make it back when I’m home. It’s melt in your mouth goodness.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Part 2 including fried chicken, more BIG American breakfasts and the Cuban street food place du jour coming up soon!

Boulevard Dining Room – Soho

I’m going to warn you now – this is going to be a short review. Why, you ask? Because like my meal at  Boulevard , it’s not really worth the effort. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this is so that people don’t make the same mistake I did by going for their 3-course and a bellini menu for £15.

The starter, penned a Crispy Flatbread with Tomato, Chorizo, Monterrey Jack Cheddar and Jalapeño Peppers, was nothing more than cold limp formerly frozen pizza.

The main, Chargrilled Chicken Breast with Buttermilk Mash and Sizzling Lime Butter, was a dry piece of meat served with mashed potatoes so hard I had to cut them with a knife. (And the salad? What’s up with that?)

The dessert, Blueberry Creme Brulee, was a mess – burned sugar over a far too cold, too dense cream with gloopy overly sweet blueberry paste curdled at the bottom.

I want to say that every dish was worse than the last, but really, I think they were all equally rubbish. In fact, I might go out on a limb here, and say this is one of the worst meals I’ve had in London.

Avoid at all costs.

Boulevard Bar & Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Thursdays in Ann Arbor: Melange and eve

I spent nearly every Thursday night of my last year in Ann Arbor eating and drinking with my friend Kyo. We would start out at Melange for Happy Hour (half off sushi and glasses of wine) and make our way over to eve for dinner and more drinks.

So being back in Ann Arbor on a Thursday, I was more than keen to repeat our ritual.

First up: Melange

They changed the Happy Hour just a little bit. Instead of half off all sushi and starters, they now have a limited sushi menu. Still, three rolls and two glasses of wine for $24 total? Brilliant.

Then on to one of my favourite restaurants: eve

Chef and owner, Eve Aronoff, opened the restaurant in 2003. She’s made a little bit of a splash having been on the last season of Top Chef in Las Vegas. Even though she was eliminated on the second episode, it’s not a reflection on the food.

Kyo and I usually get a whole bunch of small plates recommended by our friend and eve bartender, Travis. Portions are pretty large, and splitting three of these is more than enough.

(Apologies for the crap photos. It was really dark in there… Also, descriptions are from the menu; I don’t think I’ve ever used the word ‘festooned’)

Tenderloin Chimichurri
‘Spice rubbed and seared medallions of beef tenderloin served over a bright parsley-garlic purée with coconut ginger rice and festooned with spring peas, Bermuda onions and grape tomatoes’

I love that the spice of the chimichurri, while strong, is not overpowering. It’s very nicely balanced with the ginger rice.

Thai Barbequed Chicken
‘Spicy grilled chicken rubbed with chilies, peanuts and tamarind- accompanied with coconut ginger rice and vegetables of the season’

I don’t think I’ve ever had such moist chicken in my life. This dish is slow-roasted for about 40 minutes. It shows. Delicious.

Lamb in Brik
‘Sweet, savory and spicy ground lamb with pine nuts and golden raisins rolled in brik pastry and dressed with a salad of fresh spinach and mint’

This dish is very strong. I don’t think it’s for everyone. It says savoury, but that doesn’t even begin to describe it. The lamb is like an explosion of cardamom, star anise and clove. It is quite strong, which is why I think it could turn people off, but I love it. The pastry this time around wasn’t the best, but that’s an exception to the rule.

Pair all of these with some brilliant wine and one too many White Grape Martinis and you have yourself one hell of a Thursday.

Eve on Urbanspoon

*If you live in the States, you should check out eve’s cookbook. It will give you even more appreciation of what goes into this food. I swear, every recipe has at least 20 ingredients, which is why I’ve never actually made anything with it. Someday, though… someday.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Zingerman’s is something of a legend in the Midwest. It started out as a small deli in Ann Arbor and has expanded into something short of an empire.

People come from near and far to queue for an hour outside in order to eat $15 Zingerman’s sandwiches at a picnic table outside with no server. It’s something I’ve never really quite understood. Seven dollar brownies, $4 biscuits. I mean, everything is good and very high-quality, but it can not justify the exorbitant amount of money they charge.

And so, it’s no surprise that the 4 times I’ve been to Zingerman’s Roadhouse – the empire’s only full service restaurant – I always feel like I’ve been cheated out of a boatload of money. (Like the time I paid $17 for macaroni and cheese that was basically a block of lukewarm cheddar)

Anyway, the only reason I went this time is because my girlfriends and I really wanted to go to Aut Bar for brunch on the only Saturday I was in Ann Arbor, but as we quickly found out, they’re only open for brunch on Sunday. Bummer.

We himmed and hawed about where to go when Lauren suggested the Roadhouse. I had my reservations about it, but finally gave in.

As a special treat, we indulged in some doughnuts as a starter.

Looks good, doesn’t it?

Yeah… try biting into something that is seriously only grease. Like, ‘run down your chin’ hot grease. It was ludicrous. Ick.

I had higher hopes for the Eggs Benedict with lump crab:

Looks good, doesn’t it?

Yeah… try stale cold bread, one overcooked poached egg/one undercooked poached egg and about 2 shreds of crab.

I almost NEVER do this, but I sent it back. It was inedible. And my friend Emily who ordered the same thing, did as well.

To replace it, I ordered the black bean and hamani burger:

Looks good, doesn’t it?

Actually, it was! But unfortunately by this time, I was super full and could barely finish. It was a messy burger, indeed, so I had to eat it English-style with a fork and knife. Really tasty though, and a relatively good deal (Zingerman’s wise) at $12. The sweet potato wedges, in particular, were fabulous.

Yummy sweet potato wedges or not though, I still think Zingerman’s is ridiculously overpriced and so not worth it at all.

Zingerman's Roadhouse on Urbanspoon