Monday, 15 December 2014

Soft launch at Copita del Mercado

Although East London is known for being full of hipsters and new cool restaurant openings, that's actually more just Shoreditch and until this year there has been a bit of a dead area around Aldgate and the bottom of Commercial Road. A smattering of new openings and redevelopment around there has started to change things however, it started with misschu back at the end of last year and has continued with the likes of Discount Suit Company (love them) and the Culpepper (still on my list of places to visit). I'm always excited to hear about a new opening as that area is the perfect mid-point between home and work for me and so the ideal place to head for a weeknight dinner.

When I read that not only was a new tapas restaurant, Copita del Mercado, opening but that they would be doing a soft launch with 25% off food, I immediately got myself booked in. Booking into a new restaurant is always a bit of a gamble but Copita del Mercado has been opened by the same people behind Copita in Soho and so I was hopeful that the food, even in soft launch phase would be decent.

After pre-drinks at Discount Suit Company (I told you I love them) we left to find Copita, luckily it's on the same road, Wentworth Street so it wasn't too difficult. Located in one of the commercial spaces in the bottom of a new development, there is currently no sign outside but the other retail units aren't really occupied quite yet so it's more a case of spotting the one with the lights on than having to investigate too closely.

Although the building and retail unit are new, the people behind the fit-out have done a pretty good job of making the place feel like it isn't brand new and bare. It feels cosy and warm. 

We were seated in a table towards the back, tucked away from the main body of the restaurant, not the best table with a view into the kitchen as staff came and went, not the fancy open kitchen at the front (although I did also have a view of that) but the kitchen prep area at the back. If you can, try and get a table in the main part as it definitely has a better vibe there. 

We sat down to contemplate the extensive drinks menu. In addition to an impressive selection of sherry and other drinks, they also have a special gin and tonic menu. Although I do love a good G&T, we opted for wine instead, next time though we'll definitely have to sample something from the G&T menu.

The menu is set out on the place mat along with the daily special, it's a nice balanced menu with plenty of choices to suit all tastes. We were offered bread and oil which we nibbled on while we debated what to eat. In the end we settled on a selection of meat, fish and vegetable dishes. I can never resist the jamon iberico and so ordered that from the snacks section. Delicious and rich with fat that melts in your mouth, I could eat it all day.

We weren't quite sure how much to order and so chose two meat/fish dishes and a vegetable dish each. From where we sat we could hear our order being given by the head chef in the open kitchen. The first dish to be delivered to our table was the tuna tartare with tarragon butter, apple and pine kernels. I only had a small taste of this one as it was really my boyfriend's choice and so it was only fair he got the lion's share but this was good, nice and light with a balance of ingredients and what I thought was a hint of fennel in there too (a taste I've come to enjoy this year).

The tuna was swiftly followed by my boyfriend's choice of vegetable dish - truffled crushed potatoes, spinach, slow cooked duck egg yolk. Nice but the description of 'crushed' potatoes was probably a bit misleading as they would more accurately be described as mashed/pureed potatoes. 

Next up was the roast hake, toasted ajoblanco and grapes. Well cooked the toasted grapes were an interesting twist on the traditional ajoblanco and a nice addition to the dish. Although I was expecting tapas, these are definitely less tapas and more like small dishes. So, I'd advise ordering maybe two and a half dishes each - a vegetable dish, a meat/fish dish each and a dish to share would be perfect.

I am a big fan of sweet potato and so I couldn't resist the sweet potato, peanuts, salsa brava and alioli. The salsa brava gave the dish a little bit of a kick and the peanuts added some texture and crunch to the dish.

The pollo borracho (drunken chicken) was unbelievably tender and practically fell off the bones. It was one of my favourite dishes from our selection.

Pork was served pink with pincho moruno salsa and for my personal taste in pork, it was maybe a tad too pink. So as a dish, nice enough but not my favourite of the night

For dessert we shared the churros and chocolate. I loved that once we'd finished the churros the waitress brought over two spoons in case we wanted to delve straight into the remaining chocolate.

We also shared a pear tart which came a la mode. A good dessert, although a little tricky to cut through with just a spoon.

Our food bill came to around £65 (including 25% off for the soft launch) but we definitely over ordered a bit. However, having said that we over ordered, I asked my boyfriend what he'd drop if we we were to visit again in the future (which we will) and he said that he'd order exactly the same thing because he liked everything he had. Although of course I did point out that he would then be unable to try any of the other dishes he liked the sound of but didn't choose.

Although the staff need to become familiar with the menu (this will come with time and is obviously the reason for the soft launch), they were so obliging and keen to make sure we had everything we needed. I have confidence that this place is only going to get better and we really enjoyed our meal.  I'm so pleased Copita del Mercado has opened in the neighbourhood.

If you fancy trying it out for yourself, the soft launch is on until 23 December and offers 25% off food. You can book via their website.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The easiest Baked Alaska recipe ever

It's always when you're having a bit of a rubbish time that your friends really pull through and surprise you with just how sweet and lovely they are (not that my friends aren't sweet and lovely normally but sometimes they go above and beyond).

I'd been having a bit of a tough time of things over the course of the summer and one day at work a squishy parcel was delivered to my desk which was a surprise as I hadn't ordered anything that I could remember. I turned it over and saw the familiar handwriting of one of my friends, a girl I used to work with. I love her and she never fails to make me laugh, generally at the stuff she sends me, whether it be a quick text, a ridiculous link or an actual piece of post addressed to Lisa aka Chronic Bitch Face (god only knows what my postman thinks).

I opened the parcel and found a Moomin card together with this lovely apron:

It was only a few weeks after the GBBO great Baked Alaska disaster (aka bingate) and so very topical at the time. I was very touched by her lovely gesture.

So, of course I had to make something so I could wear my new apron and only a Baked Alaska seemed appropriate. Now I watched the GBBO contestants make Baked Alaska and I have also seen Mary Berry do one and let's be honest, it looked like a lot of work. It would be fine if you have all day to melt and freeze ice cream, bake sponge and then pipe meringue all over it, possibly with pretty colours. However, I have a job and and a course to study for and books to read and a navel to gaze at, basically anything other than spending several hours making dessert. Way too much effort. So I emailed home to get my nan's recipe for Baked Alaska.

My nan is one of those cooks who has dishes she can cook without referring to any sort of recipe and most of her measuring of ingredients is done without the aid of scales but is done by eye. She also has asbestos fingers. Her Baked Alaska is one of the desserts that regularly made an appearance after Sunday dinner over the years. It's not a Mary Berry showstopper in terms of looks, nor is it a traditional Baked Alaska but it is the most ridiculously easy recipe ever and can be knocked up and on the table in about half an hour (can Mary Berry say that about hers?).

So I thought I'd share it, just in case you also fancied Baked Alaska but thought that a meringue-y, ice-cream-y, cake-y treat was out of reach without Master Baker skills and hours of time.


Jam swiss roll (ideally without buttercream in, if possible)
Block ice cream (not soft scoop)
Punnet of strawberries
3 egg whites
6 oz caster sugar
A few drops of vanilla essence
1 tsp white vinegar

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius and butter an oven dish. My nan uses a deep Pyrex dish but I don't have one so I used my round le Creuset casserole dish and it worked just as well.

Step 2: Make the meringue mixture by whipping the egg whites until stiff, beat in half the caster sugar, vanilla essence and white vinegar until the mixture forms stiff peaks, then fold in the remainder of caster sugar. Set aside.

Step 3: Place slices of jam Swiss roll about an inch thick in the bottom of the buttered dish to cover the base of the dish.

Step 4: Cover the Swiss roll with a layer of strawberries.

Step 5: Cover with slices of the block ice cream.

Step 6: Cover the top completely with the meringue mixture.

Step 7: Bake until golden brown (it should be around 8-10 minutes).

Step 8: Remove from the oven and serve family style on a trivet (the dish will be very hot so don't place it directly onto your table). Then dig in with a couple of big serving spoons.

The meringue layer should have a crisp top which gives way to softer meringue underneath, the ice cream should have only melted slightly in the time it was in the oven but should still be firm and then you get the strawberries which will have been in contact with both the chill of the ice cream and the warmth of the sponge. 

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Saturday, 6 December 2014

My one day off in Tokyo

My day off in Japan was eagerly anticipated and (in my own opinion) very well deserved after a week of long days, jet lag and hard work. However, despite a week of averaging about three hours of sleep a night, I set my alarm early on Saturday morning with the intention of visiting Tsukiji Fish Market. It was a real effort but I knew that the Fish Market starts and closes early and not only did I want to see it but I also generally wanted to make the most of my day and so I had to be up and at 'em.

It's an amazing place and full of sights - still wriggling crabs and prawns, live fish, fish being prepared, boxes and boxes of fish for sale and lots of things I couldn't even identify. It's hard to explain it. One thing I hadn't really anticipated though is just how massive tuna are!

In addition to the fish market itself, there are lots of little sushi restaurants surrounding the market where you can sample the wares of the market and so, a fishy breakfast was on the cards. Some of the restaurants were very popular and people were queuing for hours to get in. Unfortunately I didn't have time for that so I picked one which seemed busy enough but would allow me to actually see something else that day.

It was definitely not what I usually have for breakfast!

After the Fish Market I was keen to head up to Asakusa and during my research I realised that I could take a water bus up the Sumida River ending at Asakusa. One of the departure points for the boat was the Hama Rikyu Park and so my first destinations was the park. Entrance to the Park is only a small fee (less than £2) and it's a pretty enough park with bridges, lakes and a tea house.

Unfortunately I missed the first boat by about five minutes but it gave me a chance to explore the Park a little more and the although it was the middle of November, the weather was gorgeous and mild and sunny (so much so that I didn't even need a coat) so I was content to wander around.

The water bus to Asakusa took about 40 minutes in total and there was auto-commentary in Japanese, Chinese and English. On a nice day it was a much more pleasant way to cross the city than taking the metro. The thing with the Japanese metro is that different lines are owned by different companies (according to my understanding anyway) and so it's not as simple as just buying a ticket to the destination you want. I'm sure that if I'd been there longer than a day that I'd have worked out the whole transfer ticket thing but the water bus was definitely less confusing!

Upon disembarkation from the water bus, I was greeted by some pretty amazing buildings. The big tower is the Tokyo Skytree which at 2080ft tall is the second largest structure in the world and the weird gold thing is the Asahi beer flame which sits atop one of the buildings of the Asahi Beer Headquarters and was designed by Philippe Starck.

It had been my hope that I could go up the Sky Tree but on a Saturday lunch time it was phenomenally busy and they were issuing tickets which gave you a time slot two hours later when you could come back and buy a ticket. So my advice if you're going and want to go up would be to either book in advance, go early or be prepared to wait. If you do decide to wait then at the base of the Sky Tree is a great shopping mall with everything you could want. Personally I didn't have enough time to wait around and so decided to press on with my day but vowing to go up there on my next visit to Japan (and there will be a next visit!).

Instead of hanging around waiting to be able to buy a ticket for the Skytree, I headed back across the river to go and visit Senso-ji Temple. The first thing you see on the approach is the outer gate and I, along with seemingly the whole of Tokyo, stopped for a photo in front of it. 

Once you inch your way through the crowds at the gate you reach a shopping street called Nakamise, along which you can buy all sorts of Japanese souvenirs; yukata, fans, chopsticks etc. There are also various food stalls and after a day on the go I refuelled with a cup of hot sweet sake and little deep fried dough balls encasing fillings like sweet potato and custard cream.

The smoke in the courtyard is coming from a large incense burner. Incense can be bought and is then lit and placed in the burner where the smoke is then wafted by visitors towards themselves as the smoke is believed to have healing properties.

At the Temple I took the opportunity to receive a fortune. You shake a box of sticks and hope for a good fortune and then shake one out. You then match up the number on the stick (in Japanese characters) with a drawer and extract a piece of paper with a fortune on.

Mine was not a good one. So harsh!

So I folded up my fortune and tied it to a rack of metal wires with the other bad fortunes in the hope that my bad fortune would remain there and not follow me. 

The Temple was phenomenally busy but it was easy to see the beauty of the place.

As it was by this point late afternoon, the light was starting to fade and so I decided to head back to the metro station and back into the city. I'd read about a gyoza restaurant in Harajuku which was supposed to be good - Harajuku Gyoza Lou - and decided to head there. Although I was there early (around 5pm-ish) there was already a queue. I joined the queue but being on my own didn't have to wait too long for a seat at the bar.


I've done a fair bit of working away for business, albeit normally nowhere near as glamorous as Japan (I once spent three months living in a Travelodge for work) and so I became used to eating out alone and although I'm ok with it, it's always still a little odd. However, Japanese restaurants are often very well set up for the solo diner with counters rather than only tables and it was great to sit at the bar and watch the gyoza being made in front of me without feeling uncomfortable on my own.

The restaurant offers two gyoza fillings - original and garlic and chive - and both come either steamed or pan fried. I ordered three sets of six, both fillings pan-fried and steamed garlic and chive ones. In my view the crispy pan-fried garlic and chive ones won out. 

Full and refreshed I trudged my weary feet back to the hotel. Unfortunately the hotel I'd been in all week had no availability for Saturday night and so I had to change hotels and lug my very heavy suitcase to another hotel. Once I was checked into my hotel for the night I had an amazing warm bath and although I had considered going out to see the winter illuminations at Shiodome, my exhaustion finally caught up with me and with a morning flight home the next day, I crawled into bed, pulled the duvet around me and promptly fell asleep.

The problem with having had a taster of Japan is that now I want more, but my plan hadn't been to go until 2020 when the Summer Olympics are in Tokyo. Maybe I'll have to see if I can arrange a trip before then.

I'm so lucky (despite that bad fortune) that not only do I enjoy my job but that it offers me some fantastic opportunities like this.

Read more on my first impressions of Tokyo and remember to enter my giveaway of goodies I picked up in Japan.

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