Polpo at Ape & Bird

I'm a big fan of Russell Norman's restaurants. I ended up at Spuntino on my first date with Alex, opened my 21st birthday presents over lunch at Polpo, and celebrated my finals results at Polpetto. It's unsurprising, then, that I associate Russell Norman's various outposts with feeling special and loved! The Polpo restaurants particularly appeal to me - I love the humble atmosphere of the bàcaro, and the simplicity of their small Venetian plates can't be beaten. So when Alex and I were casting around for somewhere to eat before heading to the Donmar Warehouse one evening, the nearby Polpo at Ape & Bird on Cambridge Circus was a no-brainer.

The interior of the restaurant is characterised by casa della nonna touches, such as the lampshades seemingly crafted from linen napkins, but also embraces its heritage as a former football gastropub by making the most of the high wood-panelled ceilings and beautiful copper bar, where we were seated on this occasion.

No strangers to pre-theatre dining, we're well aware that ordering small is the way to go to avoid groaning (and possibly falling asleep) during the first act! We shared bruschette loaded with sweet Jerusalem artichoke slices and truffle oil, pork and fennel meatballs smothered in tomato sauce on a bed of spaghettini, and finally, scarily piquant mussels. The latter, sprinkled liberally with chilli flakes, were just a bit too spicy for me, though my dining companion, an utter chilli fiend, loved them. Luckily I had a Stark & Dormy (uh huh) to wash the burning sensation from my mouth!

Although we only ordered a few dishes on this occasion, I have to say Ape & Bird's offerings, while delicious, didn't quite have the wow factor of the dishes I've had at some of the other Russell Norman restaurants, like the fall-apart strozzapreti or the wobbly maple tart at Polpetto (swoon). The meal was good value for money, though, and I left feeling pleasantly full, segueing seamlessly from devilishly spicy mussels to City of Angels, one of my all-time favourite musicals. Angels closed a few weeks ago, but it was fabulous and very cleverly done, and definitely deserves a West End transfer! Meanwhile, I can't wait for my next small plates fix. I know there's a branch of Polpo near me in Notting Hill, and after perusing the Jewish comfort food staples on the Mishkin's menu (salt beef mac n' cheese, anyone?) I'm sold.

Hungry for more? Continue the adventure on Bloglovin' | Twitter | Instagram!

, , , ,

Catch-Up Time

This little space of mine has been rather neglected these past few months. My excuse? I've been having a fairly drastic rethink of my career options, and the steps I need to take next have been taking up the majority of my time and energy. But it's okay, guys. I've only been a hermit hunched over my laptop for about 40% of the winter. I reckon that the stuff I've been getting up to for the other 60% deserves to see the light of day! Over December, January and the beginning of this month I have...

...gorged on a belated birthday dinner and drinks at Burger and Lobster with the prodigal sister, who looks more beautiful and grown-up every time she comes home! *sentimental*

...finally managed to catch a glimpse of Word On The Water, a floating bookshop on a barge! I'd absolutely love to spend the day reading to my heart's content while sailing down the London canals.

...been greeted with streaky bacon on top of my noodles for the first time at United Ramen in Islington! It was a fun concept, but my beloved Bone Daddies and Shoryu still top my ramen list. This spring I'm making it my mission to try out Kanada-Ya and Ippudo too. Got to make sure I'm getting the best noodles London has to offer, right?

...spent time with the boy up in the North. Alex was working on a musical in Manchester, which meant that I became intimately acquainted with Mancunian tea and coffee shops over the Christmas period! My favourites in the Northern Quarter included Takk and North Tea Power, though Alex tells me Fig + Sparrow is also not to be missed. Alex was also living in Huddersfield in nearby Yorkshire, whose Victorian architecture and general atmosphere tempted me away from London for a little while.

...discovered that Byron's Oreo milkshakes are heaven in a glass.

...been cheered up by beautiful flowers and cake. This Saint-Honoré confection from the inimitable La Pâtisserie des Rêves in Marylebone is probably one of the best desserts I've had in my life. C'était magnifique. 

...been appreciating my friends. Above, an evening out with some of my favourite people over pizza and cocktails. Friends, old and new, have constantly been swooping in to save me from the horrors of job applications and interviews. For instance, this week Inez and I went on an anime binge together with an Indian takeaway and didn't talk about work once. Bliss.

...woken up to a thin blanket of snow. I love the hush that falls over the urban landscape when snow falls - although the disruption to London's fragile transport system, not so much.

...seen a fair amount of art and culture. I took a trip to the Tate Modern last weekend to get in touch with my inner art historian. Above, Richard Tuttle's giant sculpture in the Turbine Hall, reminiscent of an aircraft in the Tate's hangar-like space. I also saw the Sigmar Polke and Marlene Dumas retrospectives, and found myself falling head over heels for the unique painterly style of the latter. The Dumas exhibition is on until May and absolutely worth a visit for anyone into figurative paintings with female concerns at their core. I also saw the amazing Wedding Dresses exhibition at the V&A (featuring Kate Moss's incredible dress, which I raved about on my Instagram...) I've also been seeing a lot of musical theatre, the highlight being a very special production of City of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse.

...got a wee bit excited when I saw an violet-tinged winter storm hovering threateningly over Westminster, which created the perfect dramatic backdrop for Big Ben. 

...chopped six inches off my mane, which was frankly a bit out of control. My hair feels much lighter  and healthier now. It probably deserves a bit more care though, since I've been waking up to strange 80's waves (as above) and sometimes random pieces sticking straight up! Yup, I live the glamorous life.

What have you all been up to? I've got a bit of free time this afternoon so am hugely looking forward to catching up with my inundated Bloglovin' feed. I'd love to follow a few new blogs too, if anyone has any recommendations!

Hungry for more? Continue the adventure on Bloglovin' | Twitter | Instagram!


Galvin La Chapelle

Mere minutes away from the hubbub of Spitalfields' designer emporiums and eponymous market is a temple dedicated to fine dining. Or, more accurately, a chapel. Chris and Jeff Galvin's third restaurant, Galvin La Chapelle, is housed in a vast Victorian former chapel, all airy beams and basilica-like atmosphere. Not to take the ecclesiastical vibe too far here, but I honestly felt blessed eating at Galvin.

It was the night before Christmas Eve when my sister and I visited Galvin together (yes, yes, my blogging backlog is horrendous, I know). What better place to dine in the holy season than a former chapel?

The last time I consumed alcohol in a church, I was twelve and forcing back a sip of cloying communion wine. A Twinkle cocktail (vodka, elderflower cordial, lime juice and champagne) was far more palatable.

The food, of course, is worthy of benediction and hymn. My starter, warm smoked eel, was perfectly offset by creamy bone marrow, bacon and cubes of caramelised pineapple. My sister's crab lasagne, anointed in French butter, looked and tasted incredible.

Rare meat will always be Bri's Kryptonite. So much so that I could barely capture her Chateaubriand with potato Millefeuille before it had disappeared into her mouth. I take it that she approved.

My main, meanwhile, was a stand-out. Presented in a traditional Moroccan tagine dish, this was tagine as I'd never had it - combining the elegance of Michelin-starred dining with all the flavours of Jemaa el-Fnaa. A tender cut of Brest pigeon lay on top of a minuscule bed of couscous, enlivened with hazelnuts, sultanas, a crunchy pigeon pastilla and harissa sauce, which came in the teensiest of saucepans on the side. I licked my plate clean.

And finally, desserts. We ordered some perfectly delicious classics - chocolate, honeycomb and ice cream and tarte tatin. But for the third time that evening, my order was my favourite. (This never happens! I always like my fellow diner's food better than my own...See what I mean about blessed?) 

Lychee soufflé with rose and lychee syrup and sorbet. The waiter completed the dish in an almost ceremonious fashion at the table, cutting a cross into the soufflé and baptising it with syrup. My kind of communion. I thought the flavours were delicate and balanced harmoniously (no overpowering rose here!) and the soufflé was perfectly light and fluffy. Made me feel like a putto diving into a heavenly lychee-scented cloud. 

With excellent food, great company and a wonderful ambience, my experience at Galvin La Chapelle verged on the spiritual. 100% a contender for my best meal of 2014, and I'd love to return someday. I'll definitely be seeking out meals at the other Galvin restaurants to see if they're as divine!

And a parting shot from Bri, who can't help posing on Spitalfields' wonderfully atmospheric Georgian cobbled streets. I definitely haven't whiled away the morning lusting after the incredible 18th century terraced houses off Brick Lane on Rightmove. Definitely haven't at all. (I've decided I want to live in a 1724 townhouse once occupied by a Huguenot silk merchant. Now I just need an extra three million pounds or so...)

Hungry for more? Continue the adventure on Bloglovin' | Twitter | Instagram!