Nice sunny day - check. Parking space outside underground station of choice - check. A whole day to myself with nothing better to do - check! In short, everything I needed for a little trip to the capital to check out a few foodie hotspots and have a general mooch around - my idea of heaven.
After a little walk through the city and a visit to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly (very little to do with food so I won't bore you, although one of my favourite pictures was of a slice of Battenburg Cake - no joke!) it was time for lunch. As I mentioned in a previous post a visit to my most favourite shop, Books for Cooks, was long overdue and so it was here I headed to first in the hope that they would be able to quell my hunger pangs. Luckily I was not to be disappointed. The menu looked enticing and they were able to squeeze me into one of the few remaining seats. Eating here is not like eating anywhere else. - there is no menu to choose from as such, just a small blackboard giving the name of the one starter and one main course on offer that day.
I began with the starter - Smoked garlic and paprika marinated aubergine with tomato & parsley salad & tahini, which was served with a slice of homemade onion focaccia. The aubergine was meltingly soft with a fabulous flavour and the salad was a lovely accompaniment. Delicious.
I was intending to have just one course but having watched a number of other people tucking in the main course I just couldn't resist. It was a Moroccan-spiced lamb pie with harissa yoghurt that I had succumbed to and I'm glad I did. The spices gave the lamb a lovely warmth and flavour with pine nuts, dried cranberries and the filo pastry topping adding interest and texture. The source for this recipe was Mince! by Mitzie Wilson , a book that I will definitely be adding to my wish list so I can recreate this dish at a later date.
And how much did this all set me back? Well, put your money away, I'll pick up the tab for this one because the total cost for both dishes was......£5! Amazing value I'm sure you'll agree as they could easily have charged double that. Just another reason why I love this place.
The cakes on offer for dessert were so tempting but I had other ideas as to how I would satisfy my sweet tooth so I had to decline with regret. Of course I couldn't just walk away with out making some sort of literary purchase. I could have happily left with at least a dozen different books but after giving a thought to my bank balance and the distance I still had to walk I limited myself to the Books for Cooks compilation book 7 to add to my collection. I have already mentally earmarked a large number of recipes and hope to report back at a later date.
Here are a couple of pictures of the shop...yes these are ALL cookbooks!
Round the corner and someway further down Portobello Road I was very pleased to encounter the Hummingbird Bakery, which I've heard so much about, mostly as a result of their recently published book (which I'm still tempted to buy despite the mixed reviews). My first choice, their infamous Red Velvet cupcake, had unfortunately sold out so I settled instead for a Black Bottomed cupcake.
Well, it was fabulous. A rich, soft chocolate cake with a swirl of cheesecake and chocolate chips running through it. The thick cream cheese icing just added to the finger-licking gooeyness. Sigh.
As I headed south from Notting Hill and onwards to Kensington High Street I managed to find my next port of call, Ottolenghi, without too much trouble, just off Kensington Church Street. This is one of four Ottolenghi branches, all of which focus on producing food using ingredients that are fresh, local and organic wherever possible. Their shops are filled with mounds of fresh salads, plates of sliced beef, tuna and salmon and piles of muffins, cakes and meringues. All of the shops operate as delicatessens but some also have seating areas and offer lunch or dinner in-house. It was all very tempting but I restricted myself to a small sample of their Asparagus, samphire, radicchio and goats cheese salad (see below). I shall return.
My final stop was the weekly food market at Covent Garden and for about the hundredth time that day I found myself wishing for an infinite budget and unlimited calorie allowance. Pictured below are of just two of the many stalls. Others were offering fresh fruit, cupcakes, olives and much more besides. I treated myself to a fruit smoothie and a wedge of Stichelton cheese (Stichelton seems to be the new Stilton so I thought I'd give it a try. I really liked it but still prefer a good creamy stilton to the Stichelton's saltier flavour).
Neals Yard Dairy
The Flour Station Bakery
All in all a lovely day. Hopefully I won't have to wait too long for the next one!