Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Little Havana, London

Little Havana
20 Inverness Street
Camden Town
London NW1 7HJ

020 72840989

I never had the opportunity to try Cuban food when I lived in the US (in 2000). So I was very excited when lovepopupslondon invited me to Little Havana that opened in October in Camden.

The decor was warm, colourful and inviting. The temperature outside was 4C, but inside felt like I was holidaying in the Caribbean. The tables and water glasses and murals just add to that feel.



A gorgeous bar just as you enter and a nightclub next door, had amazing drinks and lovely music that kept us warmed up and was ideal for dancing. No surprise then, that Little Havana offers salsa classes every Tuesday and Sunday and Latin DJ + Band on Friday & Saturday.


I wanted to stay as authentic to Cuban flavours as I could on my first visit. So to drink I had the Havana Loco and El Nacional cocktails which both had Havana Rum and apricot brandy at their base, but tasted completely different. All the cocktails on the table were unique but universally loved. There are wines and beers too on the menu if that's what you would prefer and a large selection of spirits, the largest being the variety of Caribbean rums. There's a daily happy hour from 5pm to 8pm.


The lady in charge said that they had trimmed down the menu a bit from the time that they opened, but they still have a fantastic selection of food, that looks familiar, but is unusual in its pairings and cooking techniques. I absolutely loved the way that they had used plantains, very different from the way that we cook with them back home.

As an appetiser, I ordered the Tostones Rellenos con Ropa Vieja - stuffed fried plantain with pulled beef. This was so delicious. I'd go back just for this dish. 


Given that we were a group of food lovers, we obviously tasted food from each others plates. The calamari was average, nothing stand out about it.



But the salt cod fritters (very different from those served at Cottons or Vanessa Bolosiers pop up at Beachcomber) and the yuca/cassava with pulled beef were absolutely lip smacking.


The Malaysian in our group, said that the cassava tasted very different from what she is used to, but I quite enjoyed it as an alternative to potatoes. A lot more texture and flavour.


The mains are humongous. If you have had starters, I would recommend sharing one main between two people. My roasted pork was not something I would recommend. There was no fat or skin on it, so then the meat for me tastes very generic.
 

The red snapper was good and lightly flavoured, but the chicken pio pio was the absolute stand out of the night for me. Beautifully marinated and such rich contrasting flavours.


All the mains came with so many sides: Buttered rice, black beans, salad, fried yuca, fried plantains and each of them was so good, that it was a tough choice about what to eat and where to draw the line. I for one definitely ended up overstuffed. Leaving zero room for dessert




I definitely want to go back with my family to get them to taste some of this amazing food. I also have to try the Cuban sandwiches which my American friends have been very nostalgic about. So I'm going to be headed back really soon.


Rating : 4.5 / 5

Mon : Closed
Tue : 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Wed : 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Thu : 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Fri : 4:00 pm – 2:00 am
Sat : 12:00 pm – 2:00 am
Sun : 12:00 pm – 12:00 am

Daily Happy Hour : 5pm to 8pm

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Spirit Show, London

LovePopUpsLondon got us Press Passes for The Spirit Show at the Business Design Center, this Friday. The amazing thing about press passes is that you get to visit the venue, before it is opened up to the general public, which means that you can leisurely browse through all the stalls, instead of trying desperately to push and shove your way through. I'd attended an Italian Food show at this same location last year, but this ended up being a much more pleasant experience.

So we literally visited every stall at the show.
Yes, around 130 of them.
No, we didn't drink tasters at all of them - I avoided most of the gins and majority of the spirit stalls were gin stalls.
Yes, I came home with a couple of bottles.
Yes, I was sober.
Yes, I took notes so I wouldn't get mixed up.

With the answers to those essential questions out of the way...

Read along to see if you would like to add some of these drinks to your Christmas present list - for others or yourself.

We started the afternoon with a cocktail experience workshop with Fentimans conducted by Myles Cunliffe of Mixology Group. He was absolutely brilliant. He kept us in splits while plying us with drink and demonstrating some easy cocktails (hot and cold) to make at home while entertaining during the festive season.




With a little 'education' down our gullet, we set out to explore the rest of the exhibition. There was a mix of alcoholi drinks, non-alcoholic drinks, mixers, a couple of  food stalls and strangely one from the RSPB soliciting membership! It was manned by a really nice guy, but I'm not sure if he managed to get anyone at the event to sign up?

The Fentimans store was right next to the experience stall and we tried some exciting new variations on their tonic waters. I love their gingerbeer, its a classic. But I was also quite impressed by the Mediterranean orange and connoisseurs tonic water that they have just brought to market.


Our next stop was Cazcabel, which makes absolutely decadent flavoured tequilas from Blue Weber Agave. I picked up a bottle each of their honey and coffee flavoured ones and they have already been well appreciated at home. Their website has so many lovely recipes to turn them into cocktails, but I doubt the spirits will last that long.



The most awesome bottles at the show were definitely the hippo shaped bottles from Beremot. Their vodkas come in Original, Strawberry, Orange, Lime Crush and Coffee Flavours. We tried the strawberry and the coffee. The strawberry was fresh and fruity, but I loved the coffee. she recommended pairing it with ginger ale. I wasn't sure of a coffee and ginger combination, but once I tried it, I was hooked! She also said it would go great with orange soda. I'll have to try that.


My absolute favourite liqueur of the evening was the Rumchata Its a combination of cream, Caribbean rum and cinnamon. Gimme a bottle of that and its sure to be a very merry Christmas. I could start and end my day with that drink.Sadly, they weren't selling at the store, so I will need to go hunting for it in my nearby grocery stores.



Our next stop introduced us to Mr Nagra and Ms Kaur behind Crazy Gin. With all the new variants and infusions in the gin market today, its surprising that no one had yet invented something with strong Indian flavours. Crazy Gin fills that spot. Inspired by lassi, the gin is infused with yoghurt, angelica, pomegranate seeds, turmeric, juniper, black cumin, black pepper and coriander.


I'm not a gin drinker, but I loved their sweatshirt and Bruce has promised that they will be available for customers to buy shortly.


Mayan rum based liqueurs were next on the agenda with Casa D'Aristi's Kalani - coconut flavoured and Huana -guanabana / soursop / custard apple family fruit flavoured. The Kalani was much nicer and less sweet than a malibu, so its easier to drink neat. The Huana wasn't as funky as I expected it to be (I can't stand the smell of most fruits, even when diluted in alcohol)



The next vodka came all the way from Australia and again it was the unusual spices in the mix that intrigued me. Underground Spirits uses a unique submicron, subzero filtration system for a buttery feel.

I was more interested to taste some of those spices in those bottles than the gin & vodka itself. I've never seen lemon myrtle, angelica, rivermint or Tasmanian pepperberry before. The ladies were kind enough to let me taste a pepperberry. Very similar to pepper in its basic flavour, but wildly different too.

I was very impressed with our next stall - Franklin & Sons. They had such a large variety of drinks. All natural, no alcohol, no added sugar, no preservatives and absolutely delicious flavours. It would be tough to choose a favourite among the flavours we tried, but I have to say that their gingerbeer is a strong contender for the top spot in my favourite gingerbeers.




The next surprise was Solkiki - a dairy free vegan chocolate. You would never guess it from the taste and texture when you eat it. I had already picked up way too much chocolate from last weeks Taste of London - Christmas Special, so did not buy any more. They are all award winning though and absolutely delicious. I might just order from them, once my current chocolate stock is depleted.



The other stalls that impressed me were Still on The Move, whom you can hire to make your own short run bespoke gin at your home. They bring 26 different botanicals with them, but you could also add things like petals from the brides bouquet to make your gin unique & memorable.

The other was Woodalls Charcuterie. They had brought a limited selection of snacking salamis. I bought some home and the gin snacking bite was declared the favourite with the spicy snacking sticks coming a close second.

Our final stop of the evening was at VodCake - Cake flavoured Vodka. They currently have three flavours - Black Forest Gateaux, New York Cheesecake and Tiramisu. They were all delicious. A perfect combination of dessert and after dinner tipple. They say Vodcake should ideally be served well chilled as an aperitif, digestif, poured over or served with its cake counterpart, as a base for coffees, either hot or cold as frappes or consumed neat.Do you need any other reason to buy a bottle or three?

I had an amazing afternoon at the show with Joanne of Love PopUps London. .


We were stunned by the sheer variety of new brands and flavours of spirits available in the market. Being able to taste them, definitely helped make buying decisions easier. And I have my Christmas Spirit Shopping List ready. A lot of the alcohol at the show is available to buy from their respective websites, Amazon or The Whisky Exchange.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Listing Launch Party - Drake & Morgan, London

The Listing - Drake & Morgan
27 Bush Ln,
Cannon Green,
London, EC4R 0AA

0203 948 9820

The Listing is the latest (19th) Bar & Restaurant from Drake & Morgan, that has just opened near Cannon Street. I was lucky to be invited to join Joanne of Love Pop Ups London and Steve for the launch party on the 9th of November .

The lines to get in seemed really long which just goes to show how popular this spot is going to be. The process was pretty fast though and I was inside in under 10 minutes where my friends were already waiting.

The space is huge and absolutely stunning. With a two storied glass frontage which wraps around the building. The party was being held downstairs in the bar and restaurant section, but we also went up to where the Deli will be and that section was so warm and inviting, I just wanted to curl up on one of those chairs with a blanket, a book and a cup of coffee. All of which they provide.







There was quite an assortment of canapes being served and as we walked around the open kitchen, we saw how hard they were working to keep the food circulating. This was the first time that I was watching an open kitchen for this size of an event and I was thoroughly impressed at the efficiency of the chefs and serving staff.





The desserts were decadently delicious and I hope that they will continue to offer those brownies and mint marshmallows (were they gin and tonic marshmallows ?) on the menu.

The bar tenders were also working very hard to keep up with the demand. I did not get the opportunity to try one of the drinks at the bar, given the crowd around it. But there was a kiosk run by The London Essence Co. that served up some amazing cocktails. Plus we go to try a new flavour of Rekoderlig Cider - Premium Spiced Plum - very Christmassy flavours.



There was a glitter station, where we got ourselves glammed up - all shimmery and sparkly. Such fun. Being London, I was able to travel home by bus with all the sparkles still on my face, without any stares or questions. I just love living in this city!

The Listing is a great venue, very beautiful. Modern interiors below at the pub and warm comfortable tones upstairs at the deli. What we ate, isn't likely to be on the regular menu, but the chefs and bartenders know what they are doing, so I'm sure this place will be very popular.

Do take a look at some of their special menus for the upcoming Christmas season. They are quite ideal for office parties. The Listing will be open on weekdays from 7:30am and weekends are available for private hire.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mam, London

Mam
16 All Saints Rd
Notting Hill
London W11 1HH

Phone number 020 7792 2665

Looks like Mam has opened recently, but they are offering delivery through deliveroo.

Home delivered pho on a cold and wet night when I had no intention of stepping outside, sounded just what I needed.

The Cha Gio (5.8£)- Vietnamese Fried Chicken Spring Rolls with wood ear mushrooms was lovely. The optional chicken with the papaya salad Goi Du Du Chicken (7£), made it it a very filling dish. Not as spicy as the Thai version, but nice and crunchy and light.

The beef pho (11£) had delicate slices of beef and a very fragrant pho. The cinnamon in it was very soothing. I had also ordered a Bun Heo (11£) - BBQ Pork with rice, for lunch the next day. The pork was absolutely delicious and I wish they would offer just the pork as a separate dish. I would order just a couple of plates of that pork and be a very happy person indeed.


I have varieties of bottles of chilli sauces and pastes at home to spice up my food, but you can order extra sauces from them if you like.

The food is good and they deliver home which is a huge advantage in the current weather, but I felt the lack of herbs in the pho (just a few spring onions) I'm not sure if this is because it was a takeaway/delivery order and you get more seasonings if you eat in.

Food was very well packed and I appreciate the broth being packed completely separately. It means you can reheat the soup if you don't eat immediately and not end up with a soggy glutinous mess.

Rating : 3.5/5 for Home Delivery

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Halloween Filipino Supper Club with Pepe's Kitchen, London

I'm embarrassed to admit, that after almost THREE whole years in London, I had never attended a supper club. Given my love of good food and a particular passion for the authentic flavours of home cooking, this was a huge oversight on my part that needed to be corrected quickly.

I've seen a lot of great looking supper clubs, but since our schedule is so last minute, by the time I'm ready to confirm that I can attend, the places are all taken up.

So last week when Joanne of Love Pop Ups London told me that Mae of Pepe's Kitchen was hosting a Halloween themed Filipino Supper Club and had space for a few more guests, I was very excited. This would be my first supper club and also my first experience of a Filipino meal.

A quick scan of the menu for the day, showed that there was no shrimp on the menu (which meant I could eat everything being served) and so I promptly signed up for three of us.

The whole process was very smooth and Mae was very welcoming and extremely prompt in her replies. She also said the Haloween costumes were optional and we could bring our own alcohol.

On Friday, we got to her place by 7pm and were served beef lumpia (like a spring roll, but canape sized) and an alcoholic cocktail as soon as we walked in. That beef lumpia was so good, I could not wait for dinner to start.


We hung around getting to meet the other guests and taking in the stunning views from their balcony, while waiting for the last of the guests to arrive, so we could all sit down together for the plated meal to begin.

Supper clubs are really intimate dining experiences at peoples homes and capacity ranges from 8-20 depending on the size of their homes. This one had nine of us at the table. Each of us came from different parts of the world, were well traveled and shared a passion for food. So the conversation at the dinner table was fascinating. The group was small enough that we could talk to each other across the table, rather like a large family dinner.

The only thing I felt bad about, was that while we were having so much fun at the table. Mae and her partner were busy working on the next course in the kitchen. But I guess, that's what happens even if you are visiting friends or family for a home cooked meal. She did invite us to join her in the kitchen in between courses if we wanted to, but the conversations at the table were too interesting to leave half way through.

The table was spookily done up and there were gums, teeth, fingers and eyeballs that we could eat off the table if we were  too hungry to wait.

Once we sat down, our first course was menudo tartlets. Mae's twist on a traditional Filipino chicken recipe. As we got ready to tuck in, she explained how she got her love for cooking from her father - Pepe and to introduce Filipino food to the London audience, she started catering canapes, so the food was bite sized and hence more approachable.



Mae gave us an introduction to Filipino food and a brief glimpse of the staggering variety of regional variations. Given that the Philippines is a set of islands, each island has their own take on dishes with the same name, as well as their own special dishes.

At the table, we had a round of conversation on how some of us crave spicy food when traveling and find that some countries, just don't serve food that is truly spicy. So we discussed tips, like carrying tabasco bottles in purses and the different spice pastes available as a topping in Asia.

As she had heard this conversation, Mae told us that Filipino food wasn't spicy. It does have spices, it just doesn't use as much Chilli as Thailand or India. She told us she could serve us some chillies on the side if we wanted.



Our main course was Dinaguan and I was very excited when I first saw this dish on the menu. Pork stew in pork blood served with homemade steamed rice cakes or jasmine rice. A quick google search said that Dinaguan was mostly made with pork offal and I was expecting something like our Manglorean sannas and sarpatel.Obviously, when you have such high expectations built around a dish you have never tasted before, there will be disappointment.

To be honest, I loved the texture of the dinaguan, the blood had been well blended into the gravy and I much prefer that to the black clumps that I normally pick out of my sarpatel. But Mae had skipped the offal, to make the dish less scary for the diners, so I missed the crunch of the offal and obviously the spice levels were very different. The gorgeous green chilli that she included in each dish did help and I finished my whole plate. But I was constantly missing the heat and sour tang of sarpatel and my cravings are just amplified enough that I may just set out on a treasure hunt to find a butcher who can provide me with cleaned offal and attempt to cook it myself.


The next course was Bulalo - a beef and bone broth simmered for a few hours. This was soul food. It just felt like one of the soups grandma used to make us when we were sick and only wanted hot liquid for sustenance. My cousin who was with us, also agreed that it brought back warm memories.


For dessert, we were served Ensaymada at Sorbetes -  Freshly baked sweet butter bread served with homemade coconut ice cream. This was heavenly. I'm not a big bread eater, but I could live on those Ensaymadas. They went into the oven while we started on our soup and were warm and buttery and absolutely delicious.

We loved the whole set up and are ready to try out more supper clubs. I'd like to explore Filipino food a bit more, this was a good introduction for me. I've heard there are a few more Filipino supper clubs in London and a restaurant or two where service is a bit hit or miss.


Also when Mae explained the different varieties of Adobo's in Philippines, I know that if she has a supper club with only adobos on the menu, I will be there with my stretchy pants on.

Mae only has a supper club about once a month or so. If you have the opportunity, I would heavily recommend it. Try a new cuisine, cooked and served with love by a passionate chef who will patiently answer all your questions about her cuisine and culture. Step into another world with a wonderful guide, right here in the center of London!


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