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Chocolates from the Chocolate Society

I went for a wander through the streets of Belgravia one lunchtime last week and ended up passing by the Chocolate Society on Elizabeth Street. Walking by, it seemed like a good idea to nip inside and pick up a few goodies for Rob and myself.

Lavender fondant from the Chocolate Society
Lavender fondant

A crisp, dark chocolate shell topped with a lavender bud. Inside is a sweet, lightly fragranced, liquid centre – neither as thick as I’d expect, nor as smooth, but nonetheless absolutely delicious.

Sea salt caramel from the Chocolate Society
Sea salt caramel

This one is just for Rob as I’ve never been a fan of salted caramel. He finds the chocolate dark and rich, but in no way bitter whilst the caramel is silky, sweet and buttery. It’s not as salty as other salted caramels he’s tried, but fares well against them in terms of overall flavour and enjoyment.

Roasted fig and honey chocolate from the Chocolate Society
Roasted fig and honey

My favourite of the four: the honey comes through immediately and is followed by the intense flavour fig – that sweet, sticky middle of the dried variety. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy with a lovely, unfussy flavour.

Honey and thyme chocolate from The Chocolate Society
Honey and thyme

The honey and thyme dark chocolate was the first one I chose while in the shop as I thought it had a lot of promise. It is a little disappointing with neither flavour really coming through; a pleasant chocolate for chocolate’s sake, but not at all what I’d hoped it would be.

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Tables in the conservatory dining room at Bank, Westminster.

On Friday, Erika and I found ourselves in Zander Bar, home to the longest bar (48 metres) in Europe and quite possibly some of the best cocktails in London. They can’t be too proud of the longest bar accolade as on this and a previous visit only 1/4 of it was open; the remaining 36 metres, stretching down to the light, airy restaurant at the back was uninhabited.

The bar itself is a place you’d be happy to spend an hour or two, sipping away at their glorious espresso martini (£7.80) or perhaps a ‘perfect blossom’ (also £7.80), a mix of mandarin blossom vodka, elderflower, fresh strawberries and apple juice. The staff are attentive and friendly, although this is not too surprising given there could only have been thirty five people there, and certainly know how to mix drinks. The area itself is a bit dark, and being 6ft 2 I’m not a fan of the low tables but you soon forget about that, quite possibly due to the ease with which the cocktails go down.

After a couple of drinks we took our seats in the restaurant. Many of the tables are situated in a conservatory which affords wonderful views over a courtyard (complete with fountain) and the three 19th century mansions which make up the adjoining hotel and apartment complex. It wasn’t a busy evening with only a few other diners but the restaurant felt neither empty nor quiet and it ensured that we got a good table and had our waiter’s attention throughout. The menu is modern European with a good selection of pasta, fish and meat dishes, priced on average at around £16 for a main.

Tempura king prawns with chilli jam at Bank, Westminster

Duck spring rolls with plum & pineapple sauce at Bank, Westminster

The waiter was quick to bring some bread (a choice of foccacia or ciabatta – neither of which were worth writing home about) and take our orders. For starters, Erika had tempura of king prawns with chilli and lime jam and I ordered crispy duck spring rolls with a plum and pineapple dipping sauce. The prawns were gigantic and perfectly cooked, encased in a light and crisp tempura batter. My spring rolls were very densely filled with duck and and the spring roll casing was crispy but not oily. The plum and pineaple sauce was disappointing; I much preferred Erika’s chilli jam.

Tandoori-baked lamb at Bank, Westminster

The plates were cleared away and our main courses arrived quickly. I had tandoori baked lamb cutlets with bombay potatoes, whilst Erika had salmon with an asparagus, crab and pea shoot salad and citrus dressing. The lamb was really well marinated: I could taste the ginger, cumin and coriander and it restored my faith in ordering lamb at a restaurant. So many times in the past I have ended up with just two mouthfulls of chewy meat. The accompanying bombay potatoes (served with some thick slices of onion too) were nice but not exceptional, although well cooked and spicy, and complemented the lamb well.

Salmon with asparagus and crab & pea-shoot salad with citrus dressing at Bank, Westminster

Erika’s salmon was perfectly cooked as was the asparagus it sat on. The citrus dressing, with pieces of orange and grapefruit, really lifted the whole dish. Erika also had a side order of the most delicious, creamiest mashed potato – the type of mash you can only ever get in a restaurant because you could never allow yourself to use so much butter at home!

There’s a lot of choice on the dessert menu and we were nearly tempted into ordering but were put off by the arrival of a large noisy group sitting near us. When ordering dessert I have an internal countdown timer which starts when given the menu. At first I want to order the most sickly sweet pudding but I eventually begin to feel full and come to the realisation that more food probably isn’t a good idea. Thankfully for my waistline our waiter was busy seating the group and by the time he came over, we’d both changed our minds (however, from previous experience Kitty definitely recommends the sticky toffee pudding!). The bill was requested, dutifully delivered and paid and then it was off out into the streets of St. James’. I’d have quite liked to swap the tube journey home for a quick walk to one of their apartments!

Bank Restaurant and Zander Bar
45 Buckingham Gate
London
SW1E 6BS

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Table setting at Tallula's Tea Room, Brighton

It’s quarter past eleven on a Sunday morning and our train has just pulled into Brighton station. We’re breaking up our journey back to London having spent the previous evening at a party some miles along the south coast and the guard ushers us through the gate. We leave the station and set off at a brisk pace down Queen’s Road, paying no heed to Trafalgar Street that runs beneath the bridge and is the gateway to the North Laine, with its bustling bohemiam streets crammed full of little cafés, bookshops and trinket treasure troves. We reach North Street where a left turn would bring us into close proximity of the Lanes, a tight maze of tiny streets and tinier walkways lined with jewellery shops, boutiques, quirky independent retailers, restaurants and cafés: instead we turn right. We’re now walking down Western Road towards Hove. Churchill Square, a shopping centre like many other, doesn’t even get a second look and the infamous Brighton Pier edges further and further away. As we walk past the roads that run perpendicular south from Western Road we catch quick glimpses of the almost-midday sun dancing on the surface of the sea. Finally, a right turn takes us into Hampton Place and we’ve reached our destination: Tallula’s Tea Rooms.

When I worked in a Brighton a few years ago a colleague lived on Hampton Place, just a few doors up from Tallula’s. “You have to come and try the pancakes” she once enthused, inviting me to meet her there (a good 25-30 minute walk from where I lived) one Sunday morning and now I say the same to you.

American pancakes and maple syrup at Tallula's Tea Room, Brighton

Tallula’s is a bright and welcoming tea room with a number of tables inside and a further two outside on the pavement, serving breakfast all day, sandwiches, jacket potatoes, Sunday roasts and afternoon tea. There are 20 “teas & herbal infusions” on the menu priced at between £1.80 and £2.75 per person and ranging from a classic English breakfast (organic) to Ceylong Broken Orange Pekoe, Gunpowder, Fukujyu Sencha and Lemon Verdena. Furthermore, there are 11 varieties of coffee that are served in individual cafetières and are priced at between £1.80 for the organic house blend and £3.95 for the Jamaican Blue Mountain.

Alongside a £6.45 full English, breakfast options include a ‘Scottish’ breakfast consisting of Lorne sausage, bacon, eggs, Haggis, black pudding, potato scone, baked beans, mushrooms and toast at £6.95, a vegetarian breakfast at £5.95, eggs Benedict at £6.25 with optional spinach or smoked salmon (+£0.70), oak smoked kipper at £6.25 and, of course, those pancakes!

I opted for three American-style pancakes with maple syrup (£5.95 – the less greedy option is two for £4.95) with a pot of English Breakfast, whilst Rob went for the ‘American': two pancakes, two rashers of bacon, two fried eggs and maple syrup (£6.95) and a cafetière of the house blend. We were told there would be a wait of about 10 minutes for the pancakes as they had to be freshly made (of course!).

The drinks arrived first; my tea came in a small white teapot with a strainer resting on the cup to catch the leaves (there’s not a teabag in sight here) and a small jug of milk. The tea was brewed to perfection and tasted delightful. Rob’s coffee was strong and full-bodied, perfect for the morning after the night before!

American pancakes, bacon, fried eggs and maple syrup at Tallula's Tea Room, Brighton

When our food arrived, I was slightly taken aback by the size of the pancakes – while many naughty treats seem to shrink over time (hello Mars bar!), I’m pretty sure that Tallula’s pancakes were never quite this generous at 6-7″ in diameter. On the other hand, the maple syrup now arrives in a small dish where previously entire jugs were placed on the table. That said, more maple syrup was quickly forthcoming when requested. The pancakes themselves were thick and light and so terribly-moreish that I couldn’t bear to leave even one last bite despite the fact that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand up again. Rob’s ‘American’ was his first experience combining bacon, eggs and maple syrup, but he was pleasantly surprised at how well the flavours complemented each other; however, he did comment on the lack of crispiness of the bacon.

The bill came to a very reasonable £16.55 and we remained nicely full until well into the evening. I’d been meaning to take Rob to Tallula’s for quite some time and was very glad that the standard of food and service hadn’t dropped over the years so that it easily lived up to the expectations I’d been setting.

Tallula’s Tea Rooms
9 Hampton Place
Brighton, BN1 3DA

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Franco Manca Sourdough Pizza

I’ve read a lot over the last few months about Franco Manca, the wonderful pizza place in Brixton Market. It’s a bit of a pain to get to so has taken us a while to finally go there – last weekend seemed to be the first in ages that the Victoria Line was running so we seized the opportunity. As it transpired we had to get the bus anyway as the line was suspended between Victoria and Brixton!

Franco Manca make their pizzas using a 20-hour slow-rise sourdough from a starter which is apparantly 300 years old – quite a bit older than my own which isn’t even one yet. The pizza is then cooked in a wood burning oven for just enough time to cook the base and slightly melt the cheese. Having won Time Out’s best “cheap eat” in London last year and despite only opening at lunchtimes, the place appears to have a cult foodie following. Pizza at Franco Manca, Brixton Market

We arrived at about 12:30 to a packed restaurant and a queue of around 15 people. In hindsight this wasn’t the best time to turn up as we had to wait for everyone in the first sitting to finish their meal; eventually after around 20 minutes we were seated. The menu is wonderfully simple with just six pizzas and a selection of drinks (mostly organic). I ordered number 5 – tomato, cured organic chorizo and mozzarella – Erika had number 1 – tomato, mozzarella and basil.

Despite service being a bit chaotic – the head waiter was making me stressed – the food turned up very quickly and it tasted wonderful. The tomato sauce was just… wow, absolutely incredible. Erika wouldn’t stop talking about it, I think she’d have been happy to have just had a bowl of sauce! The chorizo had a spicy tang to it, the mozzarella was better than any mozzarella I’ve had before and the crust was beautifully charred at the edges – something you’d only get from a wood-burning oven. The only disappointment was that the base was quite soggy and the toppings were a bit stingy. Erika’s pizza had only one small basil leaf on it!

Two pizzas and water (free) was £10.70 which means that it probably does deserve the title of best cheap eat – reviewers often seem to complain about poor service, but we didn’t see any of that – rushed, certainly, but we felt well attended to. Franco Manca is also quite a bit better than the usual chain pizza places but once again can’t seem to deliver a crispy base. We’ve experimented with pizza at home a few times – I usually have more success than Erika – so maybe it’s time to try again (with special attention paid to the tomato sauce!).

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