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.

I didn’t have much time in Naples, the reason being a wedding to attend on the nearby island of Ischia! It’s a short ferry ride away, first past the island of Procida and in our case, arriving at the town of Forio. Our hotel was not too far away and they had sent some transportation to move us and our luggage.

We soon were back in Forio town that night in search of a place to eat. After walking round the town and finding the Chiesa Soccorso, we ended up at Il Soccorso, just at its foot and had a feast while watching an all-night outdoor performance by the town’s children. A few bits and bobs were first shared by the table for antipasti and my favourite was the incredibly tender octopus salad with chunks of potato and lots of olives.

Octopus Salad

A friend and I split two dishes. Paccheri with clams and zucchini was perfectly al dente and the combination of clams and zucchini is one I hope to replicate at home!

Paccheri with Clams and Zucchini

Scaloppine di Vitello al Limone was indeed very lemony and tender and delicious. The entire region is famous for its lemons and I certainly got my fill of lemony goodness on this trip.

Scaloppine di Vitello al Limone

A bit of a delay with the pizzas on the table (some were incredible, with ricotta stuffed crusts) resulted in chilled glasses of a local liquor arriving as an apology. It’s a dark sweet fruity liquor called rucolino…and yes, it’s made from rucola (rocket)! Fascinating!

Rucolino

Il Soccorso
Via Soccorso, 5
80075 Forio
Isola d’Ischia, Italy

On the day of the wedding, a few of us hopped on a bus for the town of Ischia Porto from where we would walk to the neighbouring town of Ischia Ponte where we could access the Castello Aragonese.

Castello Aragonese

It wasn’t too taxing a walk to the top and we were rewarded with amazing views and a delicious lunch at the restaurant. My stuffed omelette (with ham and cheese) hit the spot. Best to avoid their pizza though.

Stuffed Omelette

Ischia Ponte

The wedding that evening was beautiful and I’m so happy for the now married couple. And what a reception it was – I think it was pretty epic, even for Italian wedding standards! Highlights included a boat of oysters,….

La Barchetta dell'Ostricaro

…a dedicated chef for deep fried nibbles from Naples,…

L'Angolo dell'Olio Caldo

… and sea bream baked in a salt crust.

Il Secondo - Il Filetto di Orata in Crosta di Sale

I was utterly stuffed.

The next day (well… the same day…as the night was long) I woke late and could barely stomach the thought of more food. It was time for a day rest and relaxation and I hoped to achieve it at the Giardini Poseidon Terme, a thermal spa with multiple pools of  naturally heated water and water jets. But just before I entered, a man with a fruit cart (more like a fruit van?) outside had me distracted and I ended up entering the spa with a bag of the juiciest cherries and sweetest giant figs. Then it was an afternoon of soaking and napping and soaking again.

Cherries and Figs

Giardini Poseidon Terme

Though the food offerings at Poseidon did look very good, I thought I’d explore the beach area a bit and so for lunch (ok, I found some space in my stomach later in the day) chose a place called Bar-Ristorante Bagno Teresa, the only restaurant along the beach that advertised daily specials. I started with a classic melon and prosciutto …

Prosciutto e Melone

…followed by one of their daily specials – linguine with lemon and scampi. This was incredible, with the shellfish as fresh as it could be and the island’s famous lemons very clear in the simple sauce.

Linguine al Limone e Scampi

Bar-Ristorante Bagno Teresa
Via Giovanni Mazzella
Forio, Isola d’Ischia
Italy

That evening (a Sunday), I headed into the town of Forio to find it packed with families out for la passeggiata, the evening’s promenade. Feeling only a little peckish, I joined the queues of families buying little snacky bits from stands outside on the street.

Fried

I stopped at a stand in front of a rosticceria and picked up a small pizza (average but outstanding tomato sauce that I licked up) and this excellent fried potato croquette filled with salami and cheese. It was not exactly light but it was good. I sat by the Chiesa Soccorso and watched the sun go down.

Fried Potato Thing With Salami and Cheese

Oh, and if you see this little drinks stand below in Forio, do try their lemon granita. It was the best I’d tried on the island.

Lemon Stand

On my last full day on the island, I headed for Sant’Angelo, a beautiful town on the south coast of Ischia.

Sant'Angelo

The pastries in the display case outside Bar Pasticceria Rosticceria Dolce e la Vita caught my attention. After failing to get into the Terme Cavascura (ugh, after a water taxi ride and walking through a gorge, I found it closed), I headed back to  Sant’Angelo and entered the cafe, grabbing one of the prime seats-with-a-view in the back, in the shade.

Lunch with a View

As suggested by IschiaTown on Twitter, I tried a zingara, a sandwich invented on Ischia. The toasted sandwich I ordered was filled with mayonnaise, prosciutto, cheese, tomato and lettuce. Delicious though perhaps a hot toasted sandwich wasn’t the best choice in the heat!

Zingara

I was really looking forward to my sweet – a Dolci Pensieri, according to the label in the window. The wild strawberry topped confections had been calling out my name since I first saw them and I greedily chose the one with both crema and nata (or was it panna? What’s the word for Italian for whipped cream?) inside.

Dolci Pensieri

More specifically, it was a crisp flaky pastry cup lined in dark chocolate, filled with crema (custard), then a layer of sponge cake, a layer of nata/panna and then the wild strawberries. It was insanely good.

Inside the Dolci Pensieri

Bar Pasticceria Rosticceria Dolce e la Vita
Via Nazario Sauro
Loc di Serrara Fontana
Sant’Angelo, Serrara Fontana
Isola d’Ischia, Italy

Anyway, this has become a bit of a novel so my last two meals on Ischia and in Naples will be in the next post! I’d just like to end this post by saying how surprised I was that there was never a dud meal on Ischia – everything is just extremely fresh, simply and expertly prepared and delicious. You won’t eat badly if you holiday there!

I’m a big fan of the American baked goods sold by Outsider Tart in Chiswick. They have cookies the size of your head, gorgeous brownies and amazing cheesecakes. I don’t stop by as often as I’d like but I know it’s there, waiting for me to have a cheesecake craving. Relatively recently, they expanded their premises to take in the shop space next door (where there used to be an unsuccessful raw pizza place – I mean, why?!) and they’ve used this new space for cafe seating.

They call it Blue Plate and they offer hot breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes there. My friend and I visited on a Sunday morning and grabbed two seats at the large communal table, the smaller tables were all already full. Their menu that day (I think it changes often) read like a dream – pancakes, grits, hash, hot meaty sandwiches. Diner food galore.

Johnnycakes with blueberries (£6.50 for a short stack – 2 pancakes) were thick, fluffy, cornmeal pancakes studded with lots of the purple fruit and served already drizzled with syrup. We, of course, needed more and helped ourselves to the little pitcher set out. As with all pancakes, they fill me up something ridiculous and I have no idea how anyone can put down more than two (and if you can, they sell stacks of 2, 3, or 4).

Johnnycakes with Blueberries

I can’t only have sweet for brunch or breakfast though – savoury is mandatory in my books. Cheesy grits with fried eggs and sausage (£9) immediately stood out on the menu to us and a bowl of the creamy, cheesy grits, studded with sausage bits and topped with fried eggs soon arrived at our table. And a biscuit! I think this was my first biscuit in London and it was a mighty fine one it was too. The grits went down a treat, especially with a bit of hot sauce. They’re creamy and comforting and about a million times better than a bowl of oatmeal.

Fried Eggs and Grits with Sausage

Blai and I went back for brunch this morning. Blai was utterly rapturous about his cheesy grits and biscuit while I decided to try something else and went for the migas (£9.50), an excellent Tex-Mex mixture of scrambled eggs here with sausage, blue corn tortilla chips, onions, jalapenos and sour cream. There was also a good chunk of excellent cornbread.

Migas

The only thing missing there? Those bottomless cups of brewed coffee – they only sold Americanos here and only by the single cup (of course). There are freshly squeezed juices and smoothies and bottled American soft drinks also available.

They’re open 8am-6pm everyday and on Thursdays they stay open until 10pm. I’ll be back…often.

Outsider Tart
83 Chiswick High Road
London W4 2EF

Outsider Tart on Urbanspoon

A trip to the centre beckoned – I needed to buy a new winter coat and Blai required some books from Foyles. The pressure was on me to find someplace interesting to eat. Looking at my map of places I want to try (I organise it all on a Google map accessible on my mobile), I spied the Riding House Café not too far away from Oxford Circus. That’s where we would go.

This all day eatery was absolutely packed when we arrived (usually a good sign) and as we didn’t have a booking, we sat at the bar when a couple seats freed up. After perusal of the Sunday menu, we decided to split a few small plates as well as a brunch dish between us.

The first small plate was Salt Cod Fritters, Red Pepper Aioli (£5). I can’t say I was particularly thrilled to see that all my fiver got me was three overly salty fritters, each the size of my thumb. And I have small hands.

Salt Cod Fritters, Red Pepper Aioli

From the cheapest price bracket came the Smoked Mackerel Pate, Horseradish, Keta (£3). This was alright, a mild smoked mackerel paste with no horseradish flavour whatsoever. I learned something new though – keta is the salmon roe on top (I think).

Smoked Mackerel Pate, Horseradish, Keta

A Braised Rabbit, Soft Polenta, Parmesan (£5) rounded off our small plate selection and was the best of the lot with the tender, flavourful rabbit pairing well with the bland polenta. But once again, the size of the portion…

Braised Rabbit, Soft Polenta, Parmesan

My verdict on the small plates – yeah, way too expensive for what they were. They should be called tiny plates.

Our brunch dish of Chorizo Hash Brown, Mushroom, Poached Eggs (£10.50) fared better. The giant hash brown was delicious, all studded with chunks of chorizo and I was really looking forward to the poached eggs on top. Unfortunately, our first eggs were sadly overcooked but when our attentive waitress checked how we were doing, I pointed them out to her and she swiftly replaced them for two perfectly cooked ones. It was nice to have the green spinach on the side and it had been dressed but just a little too saltily for me.

Chorizo Hash Brown, Mushroom, Poached Eggs

Overcooked

Knowing that the day wasn’t going to be particularly healthy, consumption-wise, I insisted on getting us some greens as well. The Autumn Greens, Chestnut Butter (£3.50) were fine though while I could see the chestnut bits, I couldn’t taste them.

Autumn Greens, Chestnut Butter

We had our eye on one dessert (I think it was a chocolate fondant) but learned that the restaurant had run out of a few of the options including the one we wanted. I found this quite surprising – it’s a big place and surely they could have anticipated that a number of desserts were needed. We decided to skip it and have it elsewhere.

So, Riding House Café…sadly, food-wise, you were quite underwhelming. If you’re going, I’d stay away from the small plates and order the main meals instead. I like the space though and I could see myself rocking up to meet someone for a drink there.

The Riding House Café
43-51 Great Titchfield Street
London W1W 7PQ

The Riding House Cafe on Urbanspoon

I wanted poutine, that glorious (or possibly gruesome, if you’ve never had it, I suppose) combination of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, while I was in Canada; yes, I know that poutine is Quebecois but I also know that it’s available everywhere in the country. Growing up in Vancouver, even Burger King offered it. When Renée heard of my need, she directed me to Gilead Café, known throughout the city to serve a very good, but modern, poutine. We were staying a stone’s throw from the Distillery District in Toronto and Gilead Café is a stone’s throw from that, making the café just two stones’ throws from us; yes, I could drag my colleagues there one morning.

I knew nothing about the cafe and even less so about Jamie Kennedy, the chef-owner. From what I can gather online, he’s quite a star chef in Toronto and he cares very much about where all the food he uses is sourced. I knew nothing of this when we entered Gilead Café for brunch that Sunday morning. The space is big and bright and I loved the walls lined with homemade preserves. Do come relatively early as we did and get seated immediately – there was a small queue as we were eating.

Three of us opted for the Hash with Sunny Side Up Eggs and Greens. The hash changes on a regular basis and the chalkboard indicated that today’s was going to be with succotash and bacon. Large chunks of potato were fried together with the corn and bacon mixture and served in a piping hot cast iron frying pan. It was a delicious start to the morning but I have a small quibble – I just wished the potatoes were cubed smaller, increasing the amount of fried surface area.

Hash with Sunny Side Up Eggs and Greens

One colleague ordered the Howdy Pard’ner, an open faced Sloppy Joe with a poached egg served with fries. He seemed pleased with it.

Howdy Pard'ner

And of course, the main reason I was there, a Poutine which I ordered for the table. A bowlful of well-browned fries (the way I like it) came out topped with cheese and the same meat topping as in the Howdy Pard’ner (actually they had layered the ingredients, ensuring that you always get something good with your fries). A big dollop of sour cream topped it all. It wasn’t a classic poutine by any means but it was certainly very good.

Poutine

As you can see from this Flickr search, the toppings seem to change regularly. The pork confit version looks amazing.

I couldn’t leave without trying one of their sweets and so bought a little butter tart to split between the four of us. It really was a very small one and so divvying it up did look a bit silly but I’m glad of just partaking in a single bite – it was ludicrously sweet.

Butter Tart

I’ve heard good things about their French toast for dessert though so that might be something to try if you’re there. The place is open for breakfast and lunch and turns into a bistro at night for dinner.

Gilead Café
4 Gilead Pl
Toronto, ON
M5A 3C9

Gilead Cafe on Urbanspoon

And that ends my short roundup of Toronto eats – as usual, all my photos of my trip can be found in this Flickr photoset. It was a fun trip – apart from the conference I attended, I also went up the CN Tower, visited Niagara Falls (not to be missed!), and was privileged to be invited to dinner at Shayma’s (the beautiful Shayma of The Spice Spoon). And of course, the St Lawrence Market is not to be missed, especially on a Saturday when the farmers all set up stands too. I enjoyed a delicious peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery, bought mustard from Kozliks, and shared a gorgeous wild blueberry strudel from Oodles of Strudels. Toronto is yummy.

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