Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Le Pont de la Tour, London SE1

When you hook up with an American husband you quickly become a tourist in your own town. I've seen more of London in the past six years than I ever did during the time I worked there and you know what? There's a certain pleasure to be had looking through different eyes at monuments and attractions that you walked past daily without a second glance. One of our favorite spots to wander in the City is Tower Bridge and there's no better vantage point to linger over lunch and take in the view than Le Pont de la Tour restaurant at Butler's Wharf.

Le Pont was one of the first foodie empires to spring up when Canary Wharf and the whole Docklands area started emerging. The company I worked for back then was one of the first to relocate from the West End to Docklands and Le Pont was always packed to capacity with Investment Banking types and Brokers with their clicking brogues and Hermes ties. Whilst those days appear to have gone; miraculously the Pont has remained, if under different ownership.
There's a choice of eating venues; the high end restaurant (strictly business, romance or a bit of both), the brasserie and the chop house all conjoined. We went to our favorite and the best option with kids, the Brasserie. They offer a set lunch at £13.50 for two courses or a la carte. Dr. Dave went with the set option and had some 'honey roast ham, cheddar cheese & walnuts' (sounds like a pub platter to me) and complained that it had an unmentioned mayonnaise style sauce on it that tasted of fish, followed by a goat's cheese quiche which was quite delicious. I had a smoked mackerel salad which was OK, a few bones in it which was a shame - not too attractive sitting there pulling fishbones from your teeth at the table; followed by a salmon in a light dill sauce. The salmon was cooked well but as you can see from the photo it wasn't the best of quality being cut way too close to the skin with that brown fatty piece on show. I wouldn't expect to buy a piece like this from the supermarket, never mind be served it at a restaurant. Anyhow, what was edible was fine.

They have a children's menu from which Mimi had some chicken goujons; she had a nibble at them but much preferred the bread! The service was selective. I had the distinct impression that the servers identified the business clientele and dealt with them at speed and identified the tourist element and dealt with them accordingly.

Ultimately this is a place to loiter and absorb the unparalleled views of Tower Bridge; choose a simple dish and enjoy the fact that its still a better deal than a cafe creme within spitting distance of the Eiffel Tower.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Indian Takeout, UK Style

This meal has been a long time coming. One needs to prepare oneself carefully for the gut busting, heartburning, tongue searing experience of the Great British Indian Takeaway. We've been on these shores for almost three weeks and its taken us this long to get our stomachs set in preparation for the spicy onslaught. This is no faint fragrant affair; no delicately seasoned cuts in light glazes or jus. Its a full on Ruby Murray (check your cockney rhyming slang dictionaries) and once in a while, you've got to get a hit.

When I was dating Dr. Dave I opened his eyes (and sinuses) to the joys of Indian Cuisine. He's a cautious eater by nature but even he will tell you to try the 'red and the yellow'. He can't recall names or spices but colors he's good with. The red is a tandoori chicken appetizer, beautiful spiced cubes of chicken cooked in a roasting hot tandoor oven to get it charred on the outside and juicy within. The yellow is 'korma' a creamy mix of almonds, turmeric & yogurt. We were eating with my brother and his wife and my Dad so we had a good excuse to order BIG. A lamb bhuna, a chicken dopiaza, chicken tikka masala (Britain's national dish!) and my personal favorite a saag aloo (slow cooked spinach & potato) and cauliflower bhaji. All this is mopped up with a fluffy naan bread; one plain one 'keema' (stuffed with meat). Stuffed is what you'll be after noshing down this lot. This is why we keep this treat to a once yearly affair. Between the heat, the spice and the intensity of flavor its not something you want every week although there will be some that disagree.
This vast and colorful array of food comes at a cost (not only to the waistline), $90 to be exact. Even Pops, who's always quick with the wallet had to ask twice "How much? 45 quid? Where's it coming from, Bombay?". Yep, and that's another reason to keep this to an annual event but that's credit crunch Britain for ya....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Bell Inn, Castle Hedingham, Essex

A visit to a 12th century castle wouldn't be complete without a visit to a 16th century pub for lunch. Castle Hedingham is a picture postcard town in Essex; all flowers and beams and narrow winding streets. The Bell Inn blends seamlessly into the postcard. Its a warren of timbered rooms and bars with rustic fireplaces and solid wood floors.

The menu is simple and to the point. Pies, fishcakes, Ploughmans etc., all the basics are covered. They trumpet their pie and fish suppliers along with locally sourced free range produce. Although this is the current trend and everyman and their dog are on the 'seasonal, local' bandwagon, I get the impression that the Bell Inn would be doing this regardless of the fashion statement.

To the food: Dr. Dave made the choice of the day with the steak and ale pie. These are bought in from a local supplier and this is no bad thing. Whoever had a hand in this pie knew his stuff. Deliciously melting steak in an rich flavored gravy served with schoolboy sides of mashed potato, broccoli and mushy peas. I had salmon & broccoli fishcakes which were just above average, however, the homemade tartare sauce and potato salad were superb. They had a 'young eaters' section from which Mia had a pizza and Ceci and mac & cheese; extra points for the local cheese on both!

A wonderful place, friendly staff, surroundings second to none. If you want a true English pub experience minus the yobs, drunks & chavs, you'd be hard pushed to top this one!

The Bell Inn, 10 St. James Street, Castle Hedingham, CO9 3EJ

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bolognese Pasta Bake

There's a credit crunch on in the UK. Interest rates blah blah, mortgages blah blah... I hate these buzz phrases as a rule so to break it down - stuff is expensive. No, REALLY expensive. Switch the $ for a £ and you've about got it. i.e. double it... ish... Self catering is the way to go and nothing feeds the masses like pasta and with time on my hands an authentic ragu was a possibility. Measurements are casual; its all to taste; get the basics in order and tinker with it as you will.

Recipe Ingredients for 6

2 lbs lean ground beef (I used Aberdeen Angus - arseholes to the credit crunch)
1 large onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic minced (not authentic but delicious)
1/2 cup of diced celery & carrot
1 large can of tomatoes
1/2 cup of tomato puree
salt & pepper
olive oil
(ragu purists may add a bay leaf or a spoon of milk at the end of cooking; perhaps a hint of nutmeg too)

2 cups of Bechamel / white Sauce (homemade or from a jar at a push)
1 cup grated parmesan
1 pack of pasta (I used spirals for their kid friendliness)

Recipe Directions
  1. Saute the onion & vegetables until softened in a tbs of olive oil then add the meat and cook until browned.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, give a good stir and cook at the merest bubble for 3 hours or so stirring occasionally.
  3. Taste for seasoning and remove from heat.
  4. Make the white sauce in the usual way or cop out and add a jar of ragu cheese sauce or white sauce mix.
  5. Cook the pasta and drain. Mix into the Bolognese sauce and place in a large oven proof dish.
  6. Pour over the white sauce and top with copious amounts of cheese and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until cheese is bubbling.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Frankie & Benny's, Romford

For all my pontificating about the superiority of English Chinese food, pie & mash and great sausages; there's one area in which my adopted home town of Jupiter, Florida reigns supreme. That would be the high street chain restaurant. I can go to any of the biggies, Chilis, TGI's, Applebees, Duffy's etc., with the whole family and eat without fear of bankruptcy, food poisoning or post dinner hunger pangs. I can choose from a vast menu and know with some degree of confidence that whatever comes out of the kitchen will be edible. It may not be perfect but it'll do the job. None of these provisos apply here. Welcome to the chain restaurant experience in Romford. Welcome to Frankie & Benny's.

There aren't so many 'sit down' places to eat in Romford. There are non-kid friendly pubs, a tapas bar and of course a golden arch but a middle of the road place for a family pitstop leaves you few choices. The menu covered all the basics - how could you go wrong with a 'New York Italian Bar Restaurant'? Pizza, pasta, burger... sounded good.

Heeding my own advice about chain restaurants, I went simple, a burger. Easy. Dr. Dave went with spaghetti & meatballs; smart choice I thought, even my 3 year old can make that. If there's anything a place like this should do well its simple meatballs and pasta. I can honestly say this was the worst burger I've ever had and I'm not too proud to eat a dogburger from a van in Romford market either so that's saying something! It was clearly frozen; there was nothing homemade about it; the texture was too fine, it was gritty with bone, it was not only a frozen burger, but a cheap one at that. The chips were below average and the whole thing was thrown together with zero care. Dr. Dave's meatballs were atrocious also. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Titleist written down one side they were that hard. They were also dry beyond belief, flavorless (unless red pepper and freezer burn count as flavor) and to add insult to injury the pasta was completely devoid of sauce. Mimi had a pizza and that was OK, probably the best thing about the place apart from the service which was provided by a very sweet and overworked girl. Oh and it was about $50 for 2 dishes and a kids pizza...

Frankie & Benny's is a great concept, the music is fun, the atmosphere is good but ultimately the food is an abomination and on this basis; FUGGETABOUDIT!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Toad in the Hole & Melted Onion Gravy

Not real toads of course; this dish is actually sausages baked in a Yorkshire putting batter and nothing to do with toads and holes at all. I guess that somewhere in history somebody decided that was its general appearance and named it such.

Obviously its not your typical summer eating but on a July day in London with the temperature only just nudging 70 degrees (from the wrong direction) it was a great choice, not to mention a family favorite. Right on cue the weather warmed up and we decamped to the garden. Typical!

Recipe (serves 4)

8 excellent quality sausages (think Wholefoods or Greenwise)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 cup eggs

salt & pepper

for the Gravy

1 tbs butter

1 large onion

slug of red wine

1 tbs flour

1 tbs mustard

1 x carton beef stock

Recipe Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Place sausages in an ovenproof baking dish and cook for 10 minutes.

  3. Whilst these are cooking, prepare the batter by pouring the flour into a bowl, make a well in the center and incorporate the eggs. Gradually add the milk and a pinch of salt & pepper. You can get creative here with herbs if you wish, especially if you're using a flavored sausage; e.g. add some fresh oregano for an Italian sausage etc.,

  4. Remove the dish from the oven and slowly pour the batter around the sausages. Return to the oven for a further 25 minutes or so until the magic happens and your batter starts scraping the roof of the oven. The batter will be risen, crispy around the edges and with a good squidge in the center.


  1. Thinly slice one large onion and add to a pan with a tablespoon of butter and slowly melt over a medium pan until soft but not brown.

  2. Add the flour and stir until cooked followed by the wine, mustard & stock.

  3. Reduce until thick and syrupy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chinese Takeout, UK Style!

Nobody does Chinese food like the English. Certainly not my local in Jupiter, FL or any of the joints I've been in to NYC, Chinatown or otherwise. I'm bored of hearing how great New York Chinese food is. I've been there. I've had it. It ain't so great! If that's what you're used to then fine but English Chinese is a revelation. There's something about the fragrance, the intensity of flavor - no doubt achieved with a good dusting of the MSG shaker - that just can't be equalled in my opinion. You can keep your low sodium, steamed, non fried, non fun food; this is the real deal.

After a six month hiatus from this elusive nosh we ordered big; special fried rice, sweet & sour chicken balls, lemon chicken, pancake rolls, ribs, sesame prawn toasts & chicken chow mein with a spicy chicken chaser. Don't be fooled and look at the photos and think for a nano second that this looks like the stuff from your local in FL; appearances can be deceiving. This had flavor.

There's an old saying that half an hour after eating a hearty Chinese takeaway, you're craving another. I strongly dispute that. A decent antacid and a litre of water perhaps. There's a good reason I only crave this food at six monthly intervals - it takes you that long to rehydrate.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Robins Pie & Mash, Romford

Today was a red letter day in my youngest daughters developmental calendar. She accompanied me on a trip to a very special place to have a first taste of her English heritage at Robins Pie & Mash shop in Romford.

If you were lucky enough to be born East of the center of London like me, you will surely have been raised on this classic British dish of pie & mash & liquor. Not liquor in the traditional sense of course; I mean Essex can be a little rough but we draw the line at spirits for infants. It's actually a green parsely sauce. Its quite delicious in a creamy, light, inoffensive way. Its the major player on the plate, with the beef mince pie and school dinner style mash. Ceci put her two teeth to excellent use and we shared a single pie & mash happily; just the pair of us.

Robins is fantastic for quality and value. It's new to the town center, spotlessly clean, friendly staff and great prices from £2.80 for a single. I actually don't think I've ever had a pie like Robins, the pastry was as crisp on the bottom as the top. Nothing worse than a soggy bottom! A truly great venue for big girl bonding time!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Starbucks, Lakeside

Is there a true and valid reason why a drink that costs $3.05 in Abacoa, Florida should cost £3.05 ($6.10) in Lakeside, Essex? The drinks menu was identical to the one I see every day in Jupiter, FL only the currency signs had changed. Suzy Orman says the first thing you should do to save money is cut out that coffee habit.... In the UK at least, I agree!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Codfellas, Essex, England

If there's one dish that's synonymous with England, it has to be fish & chips. Tourism TV shows paint a romantic picture of cobbled streets, seaside towns, and eating straight out of the paper. Codfellas isn't exactly in that mold but what it lacks in quaint village ambiance it delivers in its authentic product. When fish & chips are done right they are a revelation. Light crispy batter, fresh cod or plaice and perfect thick cut chips with salt and enough malt vinegar to refresh your sinuses.
After a long day travelling we were all exhausted and far too weary for complicated food choices so the chippy it was. I always have roe & chips. I'm the only remaining family member who appreciates this delicate pink wedge of fish eggs, battered & fried. Its heavenly. Dad went with plaice (why don't they skin it? Whats the point of battering something you wouldn't want to eat?!) and I'm dismayed to tell you that Dr. Dave had a hamburger. On a previous chippy visit he had asked for 'white meat chicken' and the astounded owner said, 'its all white meat - its CHICKEN'!!! Since then he's known better than to question their wisdom and played it safe.
There's no getting away from the fact that this is a total greasefest. Embrace its heaviness, its battered fattiness and carb-laden starchiness and don't tell your cardiologist.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Toojays, Palm Beach Gardens

With just 24 hours to go until we leave for our London trip and my wishlist of English specialties growing I got to thinking of what I might miss from here after 3 weeks of pies, puddings & funky flavored crisps. Simple answer - Deli! One thing you can't get in my home town is decent deli food. You can get a bagel (plain only) with Scottish smoked salmon and you can get a salt beef sandwich of impressive quality but that's about it so off to Toojays we went.

I haven't been to Toojays in several months since a rather distressing incident involving a spinach omelette and a black curly hair so you'll understand it was quite a leap of faith to return. I'm a bit of a creature of habit here - or at least I was - spinach omelette at breakfast, cup of chicken noodle soup $2.95 & stuffed cabbage starter $4.95 at dinner. I made a point of sticking to my tradition! The soup is great, flavorsome and restorative in equal measure. The stuffed cabbage is meaty, the sauce a little oversweet for me but authentic. One is plenty even though the single is billed as an appetizer. Dr. Dave was craving something simple so he went for a grilled Swiss cheese on rye. When it arrived he took one look and said, 'you know that they slice the bread that thick for a reason don't you?' Err, no, actually I don't! I asked what he meant and he replied, 'Thick bread means thin cheese!' He happened to be right, the cheese was on the stingy side but for $5.95 what can you expect? - a cave aged Gruyere & Poilane bread? You want to know what $5.95 will get you in London? A single coke and NO refills!!!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Smokey Bones Barbecue & Grill, Wellington

The 4th of July weather in sunny Florida wasn't so we headed West in search of some authentic American fare. Bored of burgers and unexcited by hot dogs we decided barbecue & ribs were the order of the day. This said, ribs are not really my thing. Growing up in England, ribs generally came from the Chinese takeaway and then were dry and somewhat meatless. My first experience of real barbecue ribs was in California back in '78 at a joint called 'Loves'. My brother and I were staggered that the waitress offered 'beans, fries or coleslaw'? A CHOICE?!!! What a great country, its enough to make you celebrate the 4th of July! Anyhow, some 30 years later I happen to be married an expert on the subject. He is a self confessed rib snob and having conducted extensive research he has declared that Smokey Bones are the best around.

We immediately ordered the skillet cornbread $4.99 at Dr. Dave's request. There are not many things I don't like or won't try. I can only think of three: cornbread, sweetcorn & beetroot, however, this was good. It was cakelike and sweet smeared with the pecan butter but I don't really get the idea of noshing a hunk of cake before the meat arrives so I left it at a bite. Progress indeed.

Dr. Dave satisfied his patriotic craving with a full rack of baby back ribs at $20.49 and declared them forkin tender. At least that's what I think he said. He kindly left me one and I can confirm that they really are the tastiest softest meat, gently smoked and basted until they just fall away from the bone. I went with the 'special combo'. A very cute idea to mix and match meats and sides. I like a little taste of alot of things so it suited me perfectly. I opted for the barbecue chicken breast & smoked brisket $9.99. The chicken was good, nicely griddled and simply presented but the brisket was a little disappointing. Smoked brisket sounds great but it was served sloshing in an oversweet barbecue sauce which drowned out much of the subtle smokey flavor. It was also on the fatty side which I'd be too if I'd eaten more than two mouthfuls of it! Kids are well taken care of, Mia enjoyed a grilled chicken breast & fries $4.49 *great deal*.

Smokey Bones has a great ambience, a warm log cabin vibe with a few big screens thrown in (they were showing the Nathan's hot dog eating contest - did they think that would stimulate diners appetites? - oooh yum, look at him shovelling 65 hot dogs in a single sitting - thats making me peckish...), the service is friendly and professional but the ribs alone are reason enough to head West to Wellington.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Brio Tuscan Grille, The Gardens Mall

I think we've been to the mall more this past week than in the past year! Something about long distance travel and knowing you're going to one of the most overpriced towns in the world that makes you stock up before you leave!

Last night we made a more upmarket pitstop at Brio Tuscan Grille. We've done the lunch thing there several times successfully but on this occasion our visit fell into the dinner category. More expensive. Considerably. Lets not forget this is the Mall.

The server delivered warm bread and a rosemary flatbread which was a nice touch; drinks were ordered and entrees put in: Pasta Fra Diavolo $14.95 for Dr. Dave, Pasta Brio $14.95 for me and Mia NEEDED a kids pizza. Both pastas seemed to have been made with the same base of creamy tomato sauce with the diavolo kicked up with some spicy heat and green onions. The Brio had roasted red peppers in the sauce and mushrooms. I went milder as I was sharing with Ceci; she's adventurous but at 10 months draws the line at chili! Both had the signature wood roasted chicken added. There was nothing offensive in either dish, nothing amazing flavorwise either and please get rid of the ridiculous herb garnish to the plate's edges; there's nothing worse than superfluous greenery, it looked like lawn clippings!
The service was on the iffy side too; the waiter was very swift to ask if I wanted another glass of wine at $8.95 *I didn't!* yet had to be repeatedly asked for more soft drinks. A simple error? C'est possible. I shan't be returning for dinner again. Why would you? Its considerably more expensive than lunch and the menu doesn't have my favorite items such as the superb 'oak roasted pulled chicken salad' on at night anyhow. Next time I'm in the mood for a $15 pasta I'm going to Vic & Angelos.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Summer Broccoli, Sweet Pea & Mint Soup

The freezer emptying is coming along a storm. Dr. Dave made his own personal contribution by eating 2 Carvel flying saucers before polishing off some blueberry pie. Somehow he's managed to lose 4lbs over the past week which just goes to prove that life really isn't fair. Anyhow, after re-reading yesterday's post and adding to my mental list of 'things to eat within 24 hours of landing in London' I thought I'd be well advised to take the culinary high road with a virtuous dinner of Broccoli, pea & mint soup.


1 x bag of frozen broccoli

1 x bag of frozen sweet peas

1 x quart chicken or vegetable stock

1 onion

bunch of fresh mint leaves, shredded

olive oil

grated horseradish cheddar (optional)


  1. Slice the onion thinly and saute until translucent but not brown in a large soup pot or saucepan.

  2. Add the broccoli & sweet peas (you don't need to thaw them first)

  3. Mix it all around and pour over enough of the stock to cover.

  4. Simmer over a low heat until the vegetables are very soft.

  5. Add 3/4 of the mint leaves.

  6. Blitz with a hand blender (or in a conventional blender).

  7. Serve topped with the rest of the mint leaves & some grated cheese.

  8. Spend the rest of the evening with your halo shining....

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Easy Blueberry Pie

I'm currently on countdown to a summer trip back to my homeland and I can't wait! Never mind the friends and family, what about the real bacon, decent sausages & Cadburys fruit & nut? Oh, and the pie & mash, the Curry, the Chinese, the kebabs, and the prawn cocktail crisps (that's just lunch!)

In preparation for this trip across the pond I am in the process of eating everything in my kitchen that won't be desirable on my return. Frozen foods fall into this category, hence a bag of frozen blueberries in this pitifully easy pie. It doesn't even merit a structured recipe; the ingredients are few and the preparation a child could do! Throw together as follows: 2 sheets of frozen puff pastry (what did I buy those for in the first place?) large can of blueberry pie filling, 1 bag of frozen blueberries (never did make that smoothie!). Using the frozen (or fresh) blueberries along with the pie filling ensures that its not oversweet or cloying. Get the oven really hot 450 degrees before putting the pie in, then turn it down to 375 after 10 minutes and bake for around 15 minutes more. There's nothing worse than soggy pastry on the bottom of a pie. I brush the top with egg and sprinkle with sugar before baking to get that brown crunchy top.

Question? What can I do with a carton of baby formula, 6 eggs & some frozen Shrek waffles?!!