José Pizarro, London

Apologies for any delay in posting this continuation from the all day session that started with Lantana Cafe, just the usual stuff like life getting in the way again. So after brunch at Lantana, a steady wander around Spitalfields and a few drinks later at a local pub followed. As always the idea of sustenance was never far from our minds, so the job came to me to find somewhere to graze – tapas was the suggested option. Fine, I was ok with that and had a couple of suggestions up my sleeve – the first was Copita Del Mercado, bit was the closest but their opening hours didn’t work for us. So my second option José Pizarro, part of the regeneration of Broadgate Circle worked out perfectly as it’s open all day!

With classy interiors and legs of ham hung from the bar, the place means business and all the better for it, as we were all well up for a mid-afternoon feed to match the watering we’d already had. Greeted by friendly staff, even though we had an idea of must-haves from the menu, our server was well on hand to make suggestions, which on this occasion I was happy to receive.

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All initial thoughts of ‘we’ll just order a few dishes….’, ended up becoming quite a feast with a few bottles of Reisling added for good measure and we enjoyed every second of it. The service was lovely and the food was impeccable, including a sublime marinated octopus, beautiful Iberico ham where the fat simply dissolves on the tongue and the meat is rich, nutty and flavourful, gloriously uber soft meaty pork cheeks and prawn fritters with unctuous aioli (which I might have to try make at home). 

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Mushroom croquetas
Iberico pigs cheek with red wine sauce  
Spicy prawn fritters with aioli
Jamon Iberico!!!!
Patatas Bravas
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Padron peppers, Cornish sea salt
Marinated octopus with JP Pimenton dressing
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Spicy chicken skewers, romesco sauce
Pan con tomate
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We ate mid Saturday afternoon so the place was very quiet, with us being the only customers at the time, but I can imagine that after work weekdays it’s probably doing a good trade and I can see why. Pizarro’s has two other eateries in Bermondsey, both of which I’d love to try out…..!

José Pizarro Broadgate 

36 Broadgate Circle

London

EC2M 1QS

http://www.josepizarro.com/jose-pizarro-broadgate/

 

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Lantana Cafe, Shoreditch

I’ve openly declared my love of brunch plenty of times here, in particular the boozy variety, but where did it all start….well a trip to Dublin where friends introduced us to the past-time at one of their favourite haunts Dillinger’s started the love affair and the rest is history. A couple of weekends ago we had a long overdue catch up but without crossing the Irish Sea, as they now live in London which is great for us! Being within easy driving distance we arrived at their flat in the Hoxton area of the city and deliberately hadn’t eaten all morning in readiness for late Saturday brunch and an ensuing all day session. A spot of research pointed me in the direction of Lantana Cafe on City Road and we arrived during what seemed peak time – just before 12pm, joining the back of a queue 5/6 deep.

After waiting around 10/15 minutes a member of staff looked at the queue and proceeded talking to the front half taking note of party numbers, whilst ignoring the rest of us! Pretty poor form, the issue was they hadn’t got an overall view of numbers they could’ve seated customers much more effectively with the tables they had remaining. Unfortunately they didn’t, so when it was our turn to be seated next, staff hadn’t accounted for our party of five and the next available tables only accommodated couples or a group of four. Basically meaning people who’d literally just walked in got seated straight away, we’d been waiting at least 25/30 minutes by then. All that without any form of apology whatsoever, we’d hoped for a better start. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand how it can be when a place is busy and staff are trying their best to please everyone. I’ve worked in restaurants and been in the same situation, but the basics should be paramount.

After one further wait we sat down, we quickly perused the food menu and briskly got our drinks order while we had the attention from a staff member – all zoning in on cocktails. The waitress asked if we’d wanted any coffees, we and simply replied ‘oh no, cocktails please!!’ A few Bloody Mary’s, an Aperol Spritz and mimosa ordered, it took a little while to get them so in the meantime we nabbed a staff member to take our food order. Aperol Spritz and mimosa are hard to get wrong and as it turned out were thirst quenchingly refreshing, however the Bloody Mary’s were very much on the tame side, lacked kick and were due a couple of twists of cracked black pepper, tabasco and some celery salt.

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The food looked great, but it didn’t arrive at the same time, with one of us having a sizeable wait (actually the whole table, because we didn’t want to be rude and start eating) and once again no apology when it was brought over.

Service aside, my breakfast burger was just what I needed with a really tasty meaty/herby sausage patty, crisp streaky bacon, a perfect fried egg with compulsory runny yolk, avocado and a little kick from a chilli ketchup. Supposedly there was some smoked cheese in the mix – the cheese element was definitely apparent, the smokiness not so much, whether it actually needed it was another question. On paper it sounded a lot, but in reality it wasn’t too large, I didn’t feel overfaced and if I’m honest was a bit relieved, especially knowing full well how all day sessions with these lot pan out.

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There was a similar feeling about the food across the table – we couldn’t grumble on portion size, the food cooked well, was tasty and did what a good brunch does and set us up nicely for the day ahead. There was spicy chorizo, runny poached eggs, silky scrambled eggs, salty crispy bacon and charred halloumi there to please. It was the niggles with service that made our experience really frustrating, and it was a shame because for me, having great service is so important! Apart from the initial wait, trying time after time to get the attention of waiting staff, and it wasn’t if we weren’t making it plainly obvious, while staff wandered past us countless times, without even an acknowledgment to the point where we just gave up. 

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Corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach, roast tomatoes, smashed avocado, lemon crème fraiche with extra chorizo and halloumi cheese
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Poached eggs and pork and leek sausages on toast
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The Full Lantana – poached eggs with fried potato bread, bacon, roasted mushrooms, house baked beans and extra black pudding

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Scrambled eggs with streaky bacon on toast

Overall the food at Lantana was great, the Bloody Mary and their service needs work. 

Lantana Cafe

Unit 2

1 Oliver’s Yard

55 City Rd

London

EC1Y 1HQ

Ox Club @ Headrow House, Leeds

The Leeds food scene continues to grow from strength to strength, and one which has stood out from the crowd of this new breed is Ox Club. Anyone who loves food, who’s been in Leeds over the last year will probably have eaten something from Belgrave Music Hall conjured up by Ben Davy, the mastermind behind Dough Boys, Patty Smiths and British Street Food Award winners Fu-Schnikens. Ox Club’s hangar steak had already become a hit after a few flirtations at Belgrave, however it was their highly anticipated opening in Headrow House, even though delayed which became a bonus early Christmas present for Leeds folk. Its launch had the desired effect with a steady stream of yummy photos filling my Instagram feed, doing the inevitable and making me very eager to get my chops around some Ox Club fare! 

With dismay I thought it may be months until I’d be back in the north, but the food gods looked favourably upon me with a mates’ birthday dinner. Reading the news literally made me whoop with utter joy, so I decided to try brunch too – nothing wrong with a double whammy, eh?!

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Having seen the space in its early building site days and as Big Lil’s, its previous guise, the place is completely transformed with an understated dining space – bare wood, concrete floors and white painted brick walls. An open kitchen is adorned with the beast of a Grillworks Grill, providing the fire power to bring out the best in local produce showcased in the menu. Their thoughtful menus salute inspiration from a range of food cultures, in particular from a trip in North American with influences subtly reflected.

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Let’s start with brunch first – as per usual drinks to whet the appetite were of major importance with a Bloody Mary, Ox Club have a pimped up version with a simply genius move of using their very own steak infused vodka…yes you read right – S.T.E.A.K I.N.F.U.S.E.D V.O.D.K.A! So not only is there a balancing act from a smack of Tabasco heat, tomato sourness etc….there’s also steak meatiness! At the time this was the only brunch cocktail on the books, much to my disappointment, so I stuck to a trusty North Star coffee. 

Service is relaxed and easy going, all in a good way as people don’t take themselves too seriously here, but still give a helping hand with the menu if required. Expect food that’s something a little different from the norm – where boundaries are pushed as far as mainstream breakfast or brunch goes. There were three of us, but four dishes ordered – why? Well, I’m basically a greedy little bugger and didn’t want to settle on one, ordering a conservative two.

For all establishments serving breakfast/brunch it’s hard to get away from having a version of the full English on the roster. However, similarly to their evolution of Bloody Mary they have their own take which includes pork belly, German sausage and home fries. With extra bacon added on the side the other half was suitably well fed to tackle the rest of the day. In fact, the pork belly was so good they should put that on the sides menu, because I’d be all over it!

Ox Club breakfast

Kimchi chicken was my first port of call – the amalgamation of a multitude of tastes and textures playing around in my mouth was a joy! Crispy chicken, sourness and heat of fermented kimchi, balanced by the nutty wild rice and the addition of a fried egg with runny yolk makes it a winning dish!

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Kimchi chicken

Cassoulet was my second choice – a comforting dish with some tasty elements; in particular the sausages and Guinea fowl. However it lacked a little something, mainly because the flageolet beans were a touch under seasoned.

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Cassoulet

Their evening menu follows the small plates trend with dishes like hangar steak, ox cheek and razor clams, as well as plenty to tempt vegetable lovers. Notably a roasted cauliflower plate that’s quickly gained cult status and been at the forefront of diners memories!

Highlights off the menu were many, my favourite picks – chicken schmaltz, not on the menu as such but it was an opening gambit I’d be happy to start a meal with any day! Some restaurants may offer olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, not here – this nectar from the food gods was basically like chicken dripping, or in my mind roast chicken in liquid form. 

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Chicken schmaltz

The burrata was another favourite, something so simple giving maximum pleasure – beautifully creamy and smokey, treated simply with fennel, lemon and black pepper was a treat!

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Smoked burrata
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Nocellara olives on ice, orange and bay
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Ham hock rillettes, pickles and sour rye

Melt in the mouth Ox cheek that’d been cooked until its meaty gelatinous texture lovingly gave up in my mouth, bringing along with it deep flavours – sublime! Hangar steak beautifully cooked, a little more salsa verde with its umami herbiness would’ve made it even more awesome. It came with cracking chips too, with smoked sea salt and Bloody Mary ketchup – they’ve really thought of everything! 

Ox cheek 
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Hangar steak with salsa verde and watercress

Roasted cauliflower – this supposed ‘side dish’ has been winning the hearts of everyone and I’m not surprised. I’ve tried this veg roasted a few times, not always successfully. When done well it’s incredible and full of flavour, the innate taste of the vegetable changes and it’s brilliant at taking on more intense flavours. With a piquant romesco sauce and flaked almonds it’s a must order dish, even if your not a fan of the veg, this dish could win you over.

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Roasted cauliflower, romesco sauce, almonds and sherry vinegar
Coal roasted beetroot, goat’s curd, muscovado walnuts and chervil

Dessert-wise the lemon tart was always my first choice, I’m not the greatest dessert lover usually, but I can be tempted by something citrusy and this is one of my favourites, so much so it was our wedding dessert. As this only needs a few ingredients a lot can go wrong, so a pastry that’s short and crumbly is compulsory, filled with a silky creamy lemon filling, possessing a sharp enough hit of lemon just enough so you don’t wince. Ox Club’s was right up there and top notch. 

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Lemon tart with meringues and cream

It was only a matter of time before food maestro Ben Davy and his pals would open up a fully fledged establishment, with grown up plates of food which don’t cost the earth – Leeds is a very lucky place to have them! 

Ox Club

Headrow House

Bramleys Yard

The Headrow

Leeds

LS1 6PU

Birthday brunch @ Balans Soho Society, Kensington 

If an actual reason was needed for Sunday brunch, then the morning after a night of birthday celebrations is as good a reason as any!! We’d stayed the night at a mates in Fulham and wanted to keep things local, no one fancies traipsing across London in search of a morning feed after a late night! Balans Soho Society had a good combination of location, menu choice and price so after a short hop on the bus to Kensington High Street we were there and within minutes we’d ordered a compulsory bloody Mary and prosecco!

 

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Their all day brunch menu has a mix of global influences resulting in a wide choice, including eggs Benedict, masala omelette, quesadilla, roast chicken and bacon cobb with ranch dressing or Thai inspired rare beef salad.

Welcoming, friendly service and a relaxed, warm atmosphere made it a good place to spend a few hours while we gradually woke ourselves up from the night before. My High Society Eggs Benedict was basically a pimped up eggs Benedict with additional crispy bacon, avocado and lobster. Avocado seems to have cult status at the moment, so any dish where it graces a presence tends to be a popular one! I would’ve liked more acidity in the hollandaise and would criticise the meagre amount of lobster on the plate – I’d built my hopes up after spying an Instagram photo which had a far more generous amount! Despite any minor faults it was a yummy plate of food though.

The Soho Full English – this classic breakfast can sometimes look like a car crash on a plate, however there are some, such as The Greedy Pig’s version (full on meat or veggie alternative) which always looks picture perfect and delivers on the aim of satisfying the morning hunger pangs. This one looked the part with the compulsory elements spruced up with poached eggs, field mushrooms and potatoes and was well received.

The birthday girl was celebrating another year with French toast and a scattering of banana, strawberries and syrup. This would’ve been the last thing I would’ve chosen, with my hatred for bananas and sickly sweet syrup. However, who was I to argue when the birthday girl who normally eats very slowly and predictably finishes her plate last, was the first to finish and by a long stretch at that!  

Masala omelette was a tasty affair – well spiced with a whack of chilli heat, cooked so soft in the middle and sat alongside their fried potatoes making it a filling mid morning meal! 

All in all Balans is a good brunch option in London, fairly priced and with a few spots around the city your not limited by location. 

Balans Soho Society

187 Kensington High Street

London

W8 6SH

Salt Yard, London 

Birthday celebration meals can be a little tricky to organise for large groups I reckon, trying to satisfy different tastes can be a fiddly problem to get your head around and having something that pleases the whole crowd can take some thought!

For a mates birthday, we had a few of these issues to work around and after a bit of research I went for tapas at Salt Yard, on Goodge Street in central London. With specific dietary requirements at the forefront of my mind I was keen to make this was a matter of importance when booking. The staff at Salt Yard couldn’t be faulted in this respect, producing an individual menu for a friend with a severe egg allergy and providing extra fish and veg dishes for a couple who were Halal.

Being the Christmas season the restaurant offered two set menus, at £40 and £45 per person, with plenty of choice on each we collectively decided on the less expensive of the two. On the night, three of the party were running very late and with a need to vacate our table by 9pm, I was a little worried we’d struggle for time and knowing how stressful it can be for staff I was a bit concerned. Forty-five minutes later we were all accounted for and dinner could begin – a steady stream of dishes came thick and fast, it was obvious the kitchen and waiting staff were trying their best to get food to our table, which pleased me no end because I was starving!!

Of all the dishes, my favourites were the salt cod brandade with egg which was beautiful, a perfectly poached egg with a yolk that runs effortlessly and paired with the slightly salty brandade it was a favourite amongst the table, oh also the pork belly (typical I know!). The deep fried courgette flowers were the source of amusement on the plate, but that’s just us being childish and facetious, they tasted great though even though the batter could’ve been lighter. The meat dishes were popular, in particular the pork belly which was one of the stand out dishes of the evening. The bavette of venison may’ve looked like a mess on the plate, but the meat was beautiful, I’ve had better roasted cauliflower though (Ox Club in Leeds!!!).

Not everything was a success with the whole table – the cured mackerel was a little hit and miss, it pretty much depended on which bit you took. Some pieces were chunkier than others making them harder to eat, I was canny to choose the thinner pieces so didn’t have the same problem. The ricotta doughnuts didn’t work for me – the grainy texture was off putting and after trying a couple I sadly left the rest. 

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Smoked almonds
Brown shrimp with rocket and pesto salad
Chargrilled flat bread with homemade butter
Smoked eel croquettes, with beetroot and horseradish, mini chorizo with potato crisp and pickle peppers, crispy squash with salsa verde
Grilled polenta crostini with gorgonzola dulce
Salt Yard chilli and marjoram salami
Manchego with quince
Patatas bravas with aioli and bravas sauce
Cured mackerel with golden beetroot, sherry and shaved Jamon Iberico 
Courgette flowers stuffed with goats cheese, drizzled with honey
Salt cod brandade with poached duck egg, braised cavalo nero and crispy artichokes
Arroz negro with sautéed squid and gremolata
Venison tartare with truffle, aioli, muscatel and sour dough croutons

Confit of Old Spot pork belly with rosemary scented cannelloni beans
Beetroot with goats curd, baby chard and toasted pine nuts
Grilled bavette with roast cauliflower, spiced cauliflower puree and garlic migas
Mascarpone and vanilla cheese cake, spiced apple compote and toasted almonds
Home made Cantucci, bitter chocolate and pistachio fudge
Saffron poached pear, chocolate and hazelnut mousse with crushed Turron
Ricotta dumplings with lemon curd and raspberry compote

On the whole, I reckon the group had an enjoyable evening and the birthday girl was certainly happy with the restaurant choice. We were all pretty stuffed, even though some dishes were loved more than others, I think it’s hard to please everyone with such a diverse menu.

Salt Yard

54 Goodge Street

London

W1T 4NA

http://www.saltyard.co.uk