About Easter time…

Easter… it’s a time which we associate with chocolate eggs, bunnies and hot cross buns. 

Whenever I see hot cross buns on the shelves at the supermarket, I figure that Easter is near. The reminder of the aromatic buns in the oven with the smell of mixed spices and real butter (not margarine ok!) melting on the crusty bun. mmmm… I must admit that I often go for the chocolate hot cross bun *sheepish grin* just because the chocolate gives the sweetness that I love.

I have tried quite a few hot cross buns from supermarkets and bakeries in Melbourne Australia but this is my first year having hot cross buns in London. Of course, I had to try out Heston x Waitrose “Earl Grey & Mandarin Hot Cross Buns”. These babies cost £1.59 for just two of them whereas you could possibly get four for roughly £1.20 at your typical supermarket.

The buns looked rather like your average hot cross buns and felt quite dense. We popped the buns into the oven and when they were ready to come out, the whole flat just smelled amazing. With the butter on, the buns tasted divine. I must say that the bun matched up to the aroma it had and the only thing I found missing was the earl grey taste. The hot cross buns contain sultanas, california raisins and chilean flame raisins that have been marinated overnight in earl grey tea. Perhaps my tastebuds weren’t that strong in the morning but maybe the earl grey tea is too subtle as compared to the sultanas and raisins. On the other hand, the buns were really fragrant from the orange zest, mandarin and bergamot extracts. The amount of fruit was adequate and overall, it was quite an indulgent experience.
Try it if you haven’t already but if you would like more than one hot cross bun, perhaps it’s more economical to get a pack of 6.

Note: If you know of any “MUST TRY” hot cross buns in London, please let us know!

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NOPI

As a fan of Ottolenghi’s cafes and cookbooks, I’d been looking forward to visiting his restaurant, Nopi (North Of Piccadilly), for some time.  Ottolenghi’s Israeli influenced dishes have always been a firm favourite of mine due to his original, contemporary and healthy style of cooking.

The restaurant itself is stunning.  White and gold dominate the colour scheme with glossy white tiles and gold hooks lining the walls.  There is a buzz when we enter the restaurant.  It’s 7:30pm on Friday night and the place is in full swing.  The tables are elegantly set with cutlery and beautiful gold napkin rings (which are discreetly cleared away immediately after we unfold our napkins – I suspect a few napkin rings must have gone ‘missing’ in the past).  One criticism is the tables in the window are rather close together.  In a cafe this would be fine, but for a restaurant having only 20cm between tables seems a little tight.  The much talked about Nopi bathrooms are a destination in them self.  I felt like a child stuck in a mirrored maze as I tried to figure out which mirrors were doors, and which were walls.

Service throughout the night was exceptional.  The menu suggests ordering three savoury dishes per person.  Chap and I were particularly hungry and attempted to order seven savoury dishes between us.  Our waitress steered us against this idea and said to order six now and one later if we really needed it (turns out she was right).  An honest touch, I thought.

We started with the cauliflower, chilli and coconut fritters, accompanied with lime yoghurt.  They were crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside.  The coconut was particularly subtle, and I hoped it would be a little more prominent.

The French beans with smoked wheat, tahini and lemon dressing sounded promising on the menu.  I was looking forward to tasting a simple vegetable that had been given the Ottolenghi spin.  Sadly I was let down.  The beans were cooked perfectly, retaining their crunch.  However the wheat, tahini and lemon dressing was bland and would have benefitted from more salt (which wasn’t on the table).

Next were the seared prawns with a sumac, feta and fennel sauce.  The prawns were fresh, firm and juicy, and the peppery fennel and sumac sauce was a great accompaniment.  The chunks of feta balanced the peppery-ness of the dish.  I would have loved some bread to wipe up the sauce!

The scallops were spot on.  Tender and perfectly cooked-through.  The black bean and ginger was tangy and sweet.  One of the highlights.

Twice-cooked baby chicken, served with lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce was another highlight.  Baby chicken seems to be making a renaissance on menus recently and this dish proved why.  Another highlight.

We saved the best to last and finished with pork belly, caramelised Nashi pear and mustard jus.  Everything about this dish was perfect and I was left sighing “I don’t want this to end” on my last mouthful.   Crunchy, juicy, sweet.  Heaven on a plate.

We finished with two desserts (we couldn’t decide on just one!) and opted for the vanilla rice pudding followed by the caramel and roasted peanut ice cream.  The rice pudding’s creamy delicate flavours went perfectly with the crunchy pistachios and rose syrup flavours.  The caramel and roasted peanut ice-cream was incredibly rich and sweet.  I tipped the runny sauce all over the ice-cream and then scattered the salty nuts.   I was left singing the praises of anything with salted caramel and chocolate in it.

Nopi is impressive.  It’s sleek, sexy and sophisticated.  The meat and fish dishes were exceptional.  Criticisms?  Only a couple.  The vegetables were the weakest link.  They left me searching for Ottolenghi’s famous wow-factor, which he usually has in spades.  My final jibe is the table spacing – it’s fine to sit that close to someone in a cafe, but when you’re paying over £100 for a meal you expect a bit more space.

Our meal with wine came to £118.

Dish Piglets’ Rating: 7.5/10.

Nopi

21-22 Warwick Street  London W1B 5NE

Tel: 020 7494 9584

NOPI on Urbanspoon

Something about french food…

Paris – the city of love, so everyone calls it. For me, Paris was a city which I disliked the first time I headed there. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps I was a poor student. It was November 2005. I was still studying architecture and had spent about two months in Italy before my school mates and I went to Paris for a week’s trip. Back then, everything was too ‘structured’ to me. Paris was ‘unfriendly’, nothing like what Italy was.

Three weeks ago, the dude and I made a trip to Paris. One of those weekend trips that you do just because you live in London. This time round, my experience was a whole lot different. Perhaps I was with someone I love, but most definitely, it was also the food we had. After discovering many food blogs over the last couple of years, I do my research into where to go for food whenever I travel. You see, tourist traps worry me and having only two days there, everything could possibly go very wrong. The trip was planned around the meals and they were really the highlight.

Les Cocottes de Constant was the first restaurant we headed to for lunch. It was recommended by a colleague from Paris, who mentioned that everything there was served en cocotte, thus the name. This restaurant is owned by Chef Christian Constant and is rather affordable. We managed to stroll into the restaurant at about 2pm and were guided to our bar seats almost immediately. Luckily for us, we did not have to queue. This restaurant has a no reservation policy so you have to be there at the right time.

We glanced around at what the locals were having and were tempted by EVERYTHING on the menu. For starters, we had the cream of parsnip soup with diced duck and croutons and the flaked tuna with aubergine caviar and tomato jelly. The soup was smooth but slightly on the salty side.

As for the les verrines (served in a glass jar) – flaked tuna with aubergine caviar and tomato jelly – it was simply divine. Beautifully presented with matching colour tones, the combination of textures and taste were perfect. The dude and I were yelling out for more when we finished.

Scallops cooked on the plancha served with polenta was next. The scallops presented were really fresh and cooked perfectly. The biscuits clasped between them were crispy and cheesy, giving the dish the saltiness it needed.

Funnily enough, we finished off by sharing dessert and we selected the most ‘tourist-y’ dessert on the menu – waffle with chantilly cream, chocolate and salty caramel sauce. I read somewhere about Jacques Genin salted caramels and when I saw the caramel words on the menu, I was sold. We were both extremely full by then but decided to try it out. The salted caramel was YUM and the waffle: light and delicious. They were way too generous on the chantilly cream, and if I was to head back to Les Cocottes again, I would try ‘The fabulous Christian Constant chocolate tart‘ instead.

We left with very happy stomachs and vowing to go back again, next time we are in Paris. The service was top notch and we had an exceptional lunch at the price of 78 euros for starters, mains and one dessert to share, together with 500ml red wine. I would highly recommend it, if you are heading to the City of Light.

DishPiglets rating: 8.5/10

Les Cocottes de Christian Constant
135, rue Saint-Dominique (7th arrondisement)
Tél: 01 45 55 15 05
(No reservations)