About a week ago, I found myself heading to Leiths School of Food and Wine (off Askew Road in West London) after work. I had been invited to a cooking and food styling and food photography class there hosted by Microsoft Devices. Ever keen to play with yet another gadget, I accepted the invitation to this blogger event. It turned out to be a fun night!

Phones were lent to us that evening and after the event, the photos taken on them were sent to us. So, all the photos in this post were taken using the Nokia Lumia 1520 (running Windows Phone 8). As you can see, the photos are quite good for having been taken using a phone camera; the only downside I can see to this particular model is its size. It’s massive and I have tiny hands so…cue a lot of fumbling. I was glad for the chance to play around with a Windows phone, however, and can see why lots of people like it.

We started with an introduction by Jessica Mills, who ran us through the dishes we would be cooking that day and who gave us various cooking and styling tips as well. She would also help us with styling the dishes after we had finished cooking them all.

Jessica Mills

We then moved across to the other side of the (gigantic) kitchen where Jenny Dowling then gave us a demonstration on how to prepare a rack of lamb. It was inspiring…so much so that I chose to tackle the lamb myself!

Jenny Dowling

Anyway, we divided up into teams and yes, I did get stuck in with the lamb. My hot teammates were Rosana of Hot % Chilli and Cathia of jingle jungle. While I prepared the lamb, Rosana made the salad starter while Cathia was in charge of the pavlova dessert.

Best End of Lamb

That lamb was a pain to prepare. All that fat had to first be trimmed and then the bones scraped. Scrape, scrape, scrape rasped my knife along the bone. Scrape scrape scrape scrape scrape. After what felt like hours, I had a couple of clean bones, a couple awful looking bones and a bone that was falling off. Brilliant. Jenny took pity on me and helped me clean it all up and I then spread the mustard breadcrumb crust on top and here’s how they finally looked.

Racks, Prepared

By the way, if anyone’s expecting me to prepare this at home, they can dream on; I now fully appreciate everything that a butcher can do.

By the time I had finished with the lamb and the accompanying tomato and mint salsa (there were a lot of tomatoes to chop!), Rosana was already plating her spinach and bacon salad with chilli and mango. Isn’t it gorgeous? Jenny had her think about colours and textures and even the background for the dish. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that this kind of styling is beyond my abilities (and let’s be honest, it’s not fun to eat cold food).

Spinach and Bacon Salad with Red Chilli and Mango

After we all tucked into our salad starters (unstyled for the rest of us), the racks of lamb had already come out of the ovens and were resting, waiting for their turn on the catwalk.

And here’s the love I gave our serving of rack of lamb with mustard and breadcrumbs and tomato and mint salsa. The main thing I really enjoyed about this food styling session? The selection of plates that were laid out for us – wow, I wish I had a cupboard and a budget big enough to house them all! They were beautiful! It was difficult to choose between them when it came to plating.

Rack of Lamb with Mustard and Breadcrumbs and Tomato and Mint Salsa

This plate seemed perfect though when it came to my hasty family-style plating of the rack of lamb to serve our team…and I almost prefer it! This is really how I like to style my food at home, though I appreciate how much work goes into one of those artily styled food photos.

Rack of Lamb with Mustard and Breadcrumbs and Tomato and Mint Salsa

Dessert time! The meringues made by Cathia turned out beautifully! I couldn’t help myself and before I knew it, a meringue had entered my mouth. And they really were wonderful – all crisp on the outside and incredibly chewy on the inside. (And that’s the phone there in the shot below.)

Meringues for Pavlova

Cathia had prepared all the fruit – papaya, pomegranate and passion fruit – and we all had a go at plating up our own dessert. Dollops of cream, scatterings of fruit and we had our masterpieces. My mouth is watering as I write this post!

Pavlova with Mint, Papaya, Pomegranate and Passion Fruit

Pavlova with Passion Fruit

Thank you very much to axicom and Microsoft Devices for the invitation! All my photos from the event (taken with that borrowed Nokia Lumia 1520) can be seen in this Flickr album.

I’ve only recently discovered the Japanese recipe website Cookpad; it’s full of both traditional and modern recipes all provided by the Japanese public. Of course, I don’t read Japanese so I’m eternally grateful to the the translators who do translate the more popular recipes to English. On the Japanese site, the collection is currently at over 1.5 million recipes and at the time of writing, over 18,000 recipes have been translated – that’s still more than one could ever try to cook in a lifetime!

It was on Cookpad (and all the browsing through recipes I’ve done on the site) that I encountered this very simple way of presenting a Japanese nabe: sliced pork and sliced Chinese cabbage are placed upright in layers to great effect. The recipe I present below is a very simple one, with very few ingredients, and it feels quite light and healthy for a cold day (June, what is wrong with you?!). The presentation makes it feel that bit more special.

Pork and Chinese Cabbage Nabe

Pork and Cabbage Nabe
serves 2.

Half a large Chinese cabbage
A length of pork loin (how much depends on how hungry you are)
Soy sauce
Shaoxing rice wine
about 400-500ml chicken stock (I made it from a bouillon powder)
Salt and ground white pepper

Slice the pork loin crosswise as thinly as possible (this will be easier if it’s half frozen). Marinate it with a little soy sauce and a little rice wine. Slice the Chinese cabbage into wide strips crosswise. Layer the cabbage and pork together, alternating the layers, in a large clay pot (nabe) as in the photo. Pour over the chicken stock and season with salt and white pepper, if desired. A little soy sauce here wouldn’t hurt either. You’ll see that I also put in some mushrooms that I had lying about; some spring onions would be good too.

Place the lid on the nabe and place it over high heat. When it all starts steaming, reduce the heat and let it all simmer until everything is cooked. Serve with lots of white rice.

I woke up early last Saturday morning. Very early. I was meeting a good friend for breakfast and he had chosen Koya Bar, which surprisingly, with my love for the original Koya, I had not yet tried. This slightly smaller neighbouring restaurant was open all day, from breakfast to dinner, and I’ve been keen to try their morning menu. We found the place half empty that morning, though whether it was because it was breakfast time or because it was a bank holiday, I’m not sure.

Koya Bar

Their breakfast menu is full of both udon and rice dishes and it was one particular rice dish (actually a rice porridge) that was on my list of things to try. Their kedgeree (£9.90).


What is served to you at the bar is a tray with a bowl of the rice porridge and a side dish of umami-rich fish flakes. Snuggled in the warm embrace of the thick porridge is an onsen egg (a slow poached almost half-cooked soft egg) and next to that were scattered a few shards of crispy fried fish skin and thin slices of spring onion.


We stirred the fish flakes and all the toppings into the thick porridge and also found pieces of smoked haddock within. We spooned the mixture into our mouths and to my surprise, the curry used in the kedgeree tasted like a proper Indian-style curry powder rather than a Japanese curry. It was excellent, all warm and savoury and soothing. It was gone in no time.

Fish Flakes

I do need to try the rest of the breakfast options at Koya, especially the onigiri I saw on the specials board. Highly recommended for a fortifying yet quiet and relaxing start to the day!

Koya Bar
50 Frith Street
London W1D 4SQ

Koya Bar on Urbanspoon

I suspect my new neighbourhood is full of little gems that need wheedling out. One that never needed any investigation is An Nam, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Wing Yip Centre on the Purley Way. Their chef has won local awards and while it’s not as crowded as Tai Tung (the Cantonese restaurant) at the front of the centre, they more than hold their own. We’re pretty much regulars there now.

However, we’ve mainly had their starters and one dish meals – very similar to the casual street food you’d encounter in Vietnam. On our most recent trip, we brought my brother along and he gave the place a hearty thumbs up – the kind of thing I like to hear from someone who did a long work placement in the country! Anyway, we didn’t eat all that you see below on just one visit; this must have been over at least four, I reckon.

I love Chả Giò (£4.50) and the version here at An Nam is fantastic. I love the sticky, crispy rice paper wrapped pork rolls and I love that they’re served properly with the lettuce and herbs and pickles, all to wrap around the fried rolls.

Chả Giò

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm (£4.50) are the fresh summer rolls filled with salad, rice vermicelli and prawns and their rolls are light and not at all stodgy like others I’ve had.

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm

Their Bánh Cuốn Thịt (£4.50) are definitely one of our favourites. These thin rice rolls are filled with seasoned minced pork and mushrooms and are just gorgeous with all those herbs and the usual side of nước chấm. They do have a tendency to slip out between one’s chopsticks though!

Bánh Cuốn Thịt

Bún Chả Giò (£6.50) makes a meal of the chả giò with the addition of the bún (rice vermicelli) and salad and pickles (daikon and carrot). Pour over that nuoc cham and dig in!

Bún Chả Giò

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (£7) normally has bún but we can substitute rice…which is what we clearly did here. This is accompanied by fabulously delicious grilled marinated pork slices, complete with crispy edges. And there’s a generous pile of the thinly sliced, tender pork too.

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (but with rice)

Wait for it…..Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò (£7.50)…. combines the best of both worlds – the grilled pork and the fried rolls.

Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng (£7.50) is another rice dish which can also be served with bun. There’s a grilled pork chop (drool, so good), a slice of steamed pork and egg loaf and shredded pork and pig skin; it’s a winning combo.

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng

It’s not all just stuff on rice and noodles. They have noodle soups too. Their Bún Bò Hue (£7) is a spicy bowl full of thick rice noodles and tender stewed beef. This really hit the spot on that cold night when our heating wasn’t working yet!

Bún Bò Hue

We are going to have to try more of their main dishes soon though. A spicy steamed aubergine we ordered as a side vegetable for dinner one night was brilliant – the soft, silky, steamed aubergine had been sliced and laid flat and then topped with a mixture of soy, garlic, chilli, scallions and fried shallots.

Spicy Steamed Aubergine

Next on my list to try there (if you can tear me away from any of the bun bowls) is their deep fried fish – I saw a massive platter go by our table one night and it looked fantastic. Their pho is also pretty solid as is their fried rice (why is Vietnamese fried rice always ridiculously good? What secret ingredient do they put in there?!). The only thing that was a dud so far was a random pork udon soup we once ordered but if you stick to the Vietnamese classics (and anything that says it’s their specialty), you won’t go wrong.

An Nam Vietnamese Restaurant
Wing Yip Centre
544 Purley Way
Croydon CR0 4NZ

An Nam on Urbanspoon

A group of us headed to the new branch of the Big Easy in Covent Garden last Sunday night to try their barbecue, after hearing quite good things about it. We were led down to the basement when we replied in the positive to a question as to whether we’d like to be near the live band. It became clear to us that this place was huge and even on a Sunday night was packed with family groups, couples, friends. And each table was groaning with huge platters of food – seafood and barbecue. It’s loud, it’s bustling, it’s huge – it’s all quite American really.

Drinks first. A fresh watermelon juice (£3) was refreshing if, ironically, a bit on a small side. A friend’s watermelon juice with a shot of tequila was deemed nasty however.

Watermelon Juice

We could see around us that portion sizes were huge and our waiter confirmed it, giving us the thumbs up when we decided to split a few things. The Grand Appetizer Platter For Two (£19.50) was split between four. Please forgive the horrendously blurry photo but I’m hoping it gives you an idea of the size of it!

Grand Appetizer Platter For Two

There were Voodoo chicken wings (great), Pit-smoked Bar.B.Q. wings (alright), Hush puppies (excellent), Calamari (very good), Deep fried jumbo shrimp (pretty good). Nestled in the middle of it all was a token amount of dressed salad leaves – I actually did eat most of it, realising that this was the only bit of vegetal matter I’d be consuming that night. The platter is definitely a good deal but if only two people were to consume it, I’m not sure they’d have any space left for anything else!

For our main course, we again split two orders of the Bar.B.Q Blow Out (£15.95pp, minimum 2 people) between four. This gave us a generous portion of their Pit-Smoked Bar.B.Q Chicken, their Dry-Rubbed St Louis Pork Ribs, and their Carolina Pulled Pork. Their pulled pork was quite good – meaty and tender  – and their ribs weren’t too bad either. I just wish there had been more of the rub on the latter – the accompanying gravy boat of barbecue sauce wasn’t entirely to my taste. It was fine, but just a bit to sweet and … sweet. The chicken was very moist and tender (at least my drumstick was) but again I found the sauce on the skin a bit on the sweet side – and yeah, to me pork > chicken.

Bar.B.Q Blow Out

Some sides were included: Pit smoked beans, the annoyingly named ‘Slaw, Potato salad, Cornbread, Barbecue sauce. The cornbread was pretty good, not too dry. The coleslaw and potato salad were both fine if a bit dull. The beans I thought were excellent, with a great smokey flavour.

The Bar

On our way out, we noticed the bar for the first time and it’s quite a gorgeous one. Oh, and the band? Not bad! The food overall is a bit of a mixed bag. I might return to try the seafood but I suspect it’ll be a bit hit and miss too. It’s a good spot for groups though and its central location is certainly a plus.

Big Easy
12 Maiden Lane
London WC2E 7NA

Big Easy on Urbanspoon

After many many years in West London (Acton), we’ve now moved to South London (Croydon). It’s quite a change but transport in this area is pretty good and we can both get to work quite easily from here. Anyway, I thought I’d do a round up of our favourite places to eat in Acton – some I’ve blogged before and some I never got around to blogging. I do miss them all but I’m also quite excited about trying all the places in our new neighbourhood.

Pinto Thai – Ah, one of our favourites. In addition to their usual a la carte menu, they also offer an excellent lunch deal, as shown below in the first photo.

A last lunch in Acton at Pinto Thai. Pad kra pao made with minced beef. Hot hot hot!

Thai dinner

Fried Sea Bass

Pinto Thai Kitchen
46 High Street
London W3 6LG

Pinto Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

L’Oriental – I never blogged about this one and I’m not entirely sure why. This tiny Lebanese place has been on Churchfield Road for years and the local community association holds their dinners and quizzes in their basement. Their food is great and I only recently discovered their excellent lunch deals.

Today is all about cleaning our old flat... And that requires fortification in the form of Lebanese chicken kebab and chips and salad.

Lebanese Takeaway

94 Churchfield Road
London W3 6DH

L'Oriental on Urbanspoon

Woody Grill – Again, another one never blogged. I like the Turkish dishes they usually have in hot water baths on display and their kebabs are pretty tasty too. Why don’t I have any photos of the food?!

Woody Grill
187-189 High Street
London W3 9DJ

Woody Grill Acton on Urbanspoon

Persian Nights – This one I did blog! I love this restaurant and its party atmosphere on a Saturday night!

Khoresht-e fesenjan - Persian walnut and pomegranate stew with chicken

Kabob koobideh with freshly baked nan

Persian Nights
379 Uxbridge Road
London W3 9SA

Persian Nights Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sanabel Lebanese Bakery – This is a little Lebanese bakery and cafe in between Acton and Ealing Common and I loved their freshly baked manakeesh with zataar or spiced lamb. Their falafel was pretty good too as were their whole grilled chickens.

Falafel at the local Lebanese bakery

Picked up dinner at our local Lebanese bakery and these had just come out of the oven

Sanabel Lebanese Bakery
387 Uxbridge Road
London W3 9SA

Laveli Bakery – This one’s down Churchfield Road and is right by Acton Central overground station. It was the second branch of a bakery that originally opened on Askew Road near Shepherds Bush and it was the first proper bakery in the Acton area. We went there often for their excellent breads and pastries.

Breakfast at Laveli.


Laveli Bakery
5 Churchfield Road
London W3 6BH

Frank’s Cafe – This is our go-to cafe for fry ups. I usually order one of their gigantic omelettes – mushroom and cheese for me! One of those will set you up for the day.

Omelette and Fry Up

Frank’s Cafe
128 Churchfield Road
London W3 6PJ

Ciambella – This Italian cafe and restaurant just opened a few weeks before we moved out of the area but we just managed to squeeze in a light dinner there, splitting one of their excellent thin crusted pizzas. Their homemade desserts are also excellent! Again, no photos.

257 High Street
London W3 9BY

CJ’s Cafe – Another never blogged. By day, they serve fry ups and some rice and noodle dishes. By night, they have a full Thai and Malaysian menus. I really like their nasi goreng and mee goreng.

A day of packing is fueled by mee goreng at a local cafe

CJ’s Cafe
15 The Vale
London W3 7SH

C J's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Not far from where we used to live in Acton is Ealing Common and we had a few favourites there too.

Kiraku – Ah, another favourite. The best time to eat there is lunch as their lunch menu is more affordable and full of great sets.

My half udon, half maguro yamakake don lunch set at Kiraku

The husband's yakiniku lunch set this afternoon at Kiraku

Dragon Roll

8 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
Ealing Common
London W5 3LD

Kiraku on Urbanspoon

Atari-Ya – This Atari-Ya is on the site of the old Sushi Hiro. Their sushi is still excellent.

It's too hot to cook - sushi time!

There’s also an Atari-Ya shop at West Acton.

1 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road, Ealing
London W5 3LD

Atari-Ya on Urbanspoon

Mugi – This little Serbian cafe sells delicious boreks, which we often bought for takeaway. Their spit roast pork and cevapi were also excellent.


Spit Roast Pork

Cevapi and Chips

15 Station Parade
Uxbridge Rd
London W5 3LD

Mugi on Urbanspoon

Duri – I don’t seem to have many photos of food we’ve bought from Duri, a little Korean shop in Ealing Common. Here’s a Korean Pear that we tried; it was ridiculously sweet and juicy. They have a couple of tables for you to eat their bibimbaps or jjigaes that they serve hot in the shop.

Korean Pear

9 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
London W5 3LD

Natural Natural – This isn’t actually a cafe or restaurant but a Japanese food shop with a great selection of ready made meals in their fridge. I like their bentos; the Japanese kids with their pocket money like the skewers of karaage and croquettes.

Chicken Karaage Bento

Natural Natural
20 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
Ealing Common
W5 3LD

Yo Yo Kitchen – This one’s not in Ealing Common exactly but a little further north at West Acton. It’s a little Japanese deli with bentos and sushi and other bits and pieces and it’s extremely popular with local Japanese families and the schoolchildren from the local Japanese school.

Yo Yo Kitchen
4 Station Parade
Noel Road
London W3 0DS

Yoyo Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something but I hope I haven’t! Do let me know if there’s anything I should add to this list!

At Ravenscourt Park (between Hammersmith and Chiswick), there’s a massive Polish Social and Cultural Centre with a library, bookshop, cinema, jazz club, and, of course, a restaurant and cafe (amongst many other services). I, of course, was keen to try the final two.

We headed to their main restaurant Lowiczanka one Saturday night and just managed to grab one of the last tables for two (we hadn’t made a reservation but it was clear that we should have!). This was prior to Christmas and there were lots of groups dressed up and partying. There was live music and disco lights and a dancefloor and couples would just randomly get up and dance. We felt very underdressed.

We skipped starters that evening and went straight to mains. Sausage with hunters stew was a large grilled specimen served with a sauerkraut based stew cooked with various porky bits.

Sausage with Hunters Stew

Blai’s breast of duck served with cherry sauce was the real winner – a large roast duck portion with a sweet and tangy cherry compote. It was even served in a baked apple, though this could have been baked for longer.

Breast of Duck served with Cherry Sauce

These were served with beetroot and carrot salads..

Beetroot and Carrot Salads

…and we also got a sour cabbage salad as we didn’t originally order the beetroot one. Plus one for service!

Sour Cabbage Salad

Overall, the mains were fine though not spectacular. We were a little surprised at the atypically modest portion sizes; in our experience, most Polish restaurants have massive portions.

Much much better were their desserts! I chose a coffee gateau while Blai had some ice cream. It was all brilliant in an old-fashioned kind of way; I almost expected the desserts to come out on a trolley!

Coffee Gateau

Ice Cream

Lowiczanka Restaurant
First Floor
Polish Centre
238-246 King St
London W6 0RF

We took a peek at the jazz cafe before we left and it looks fantastic! It’s a great space with seating at tables and on the floor (with pillows) and if I were a fan, I’d definitely head there.

On another afternoon, I popped into their cafe on the ground floor for a quick lunch; it’s a much more casual place and the prices reflect that. Mixed pierogi were calling out to me and I opted for a mixture of sauerkraut+mushroom and minced meat. They had all been fried in lard and were hearty and comforting, with their sides of carrot and beetroot salads. I preferred the tang of the sauerkraut+mushrooms perogi, finding the minced meat ones a bit heavy (perfect for winter though!).

Mixed Pierogi (Sauerkraut + Mushroom and Meat

Their cake selection was looking incredible that day (it was a Saturday afternoon) and I chose something I’d certainly never seen before – this cheese and apple slice. The biscuit layers were amazingly light and melted in the mouth while the yellow cheese layer was like a cross between custard and cheesecake. All that and the applesauce layered in between, mmmmm….

Cheese and Apple Slice

If you do see their cheesecake on the counter (sernik), do ensure you get a slice! Their baked cheesecake is amazingly light and fluffy and we love it!

Last night I discovered Polish sernik, a baked cheesecake that's my most favourite cheesecake ever so far. It's so light and fluffy!

Cafe Maya
Ground Floor
Polish Centre
238-246 King St
London W6 0RF

Personally, I prefer the casual cafe to the more formal restaurant upstairs but for classic Polish food, both are pretty good bets.


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