Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pierre Herme, London - Sloane Square

Recently I've been on a macaron kick. It was never really something I'd gotten before, I've had a few grocery store macarons & maybe even one or two 'meh' restaurant ones, so I wasn't passionate about them. I did know, however, that there must be something to them considering how many people flip their wigs over a box.

My first port of call was Laduree near my flat,  and I really enjoyed it - take a look at that Laduree review for more info. From there, my interest in macarons was kindled, so I went peeping around to try and find the best of the best in London!'s a short list. Apparently, even though the proximity to Paris would suggest otherwise, French patisserie is in a bit of short supply here. Because, you know, British people hate sweet & creamy treats. It's not like there as an entire traditional meal built around biscuits, cakes, and cream. So...wouldn't be a success here, I guess.

You can find macarons in lots of places, to be fair, but in terms of the best it's all basically "Get on a Eurostar, or Laduree (done) or Pierre Herme." Correct me if I'm wrong - because I'd love to try some more good ones!

Anyway, we went to Pierre Herme over the weekend to finish up our sampling of the best of the best in London. I wish it would've taken a bit longer to finish, haha.

It's in a fancy area that I rarely go to, but it's a very nice & accessible looking cafe - hardly too ritzy for the average t-shirt & sneakers wearing Creamy Steaks.

There were chocolates available, boxed tea, some sweets (jellies and the like) and a couple bagged biscuits - of course, also macarons. I had already been forewarned that this boutique doesn't stock any of Pierre Herme's amazing looking pastries, but I was still disappointed to find out that yes, it was true. A couple of loaf cakes, and that's it. I have no idea why the patisserie element of this shop isn't being utilized - to be fair, this is a very small space so I know nothing could be made fresh in that specific location. However, I don't get why they're not being made...somewhere in Britain.

I know that creamy cakes couldn't withstand being shipped from France. But surely British people would be interested in some fine patisserie from Pierre Herme, in addition to the macarons and chocolate? Frankly, I'd nix the chocolate and add patisserie. That's the USP - lots of nice chocolate by well known chocolatiers to be had here in the UK, but choux, saint honore, and all manner of well-crafted pastries is kind of a French thing, and the good stuff is hard to find here. I just think they're missing a trick not offering stuff like this...It can be done, as Patisserie des Reves & Laduree shows, and William Curley has an amazing selection of patisserie as well. So why not here? No idea. Maybe in the future, I can hope upon hope. I actually had a crazy idea that the French Tourism board discourages patisseries from opening up overseas, to maintain the amount of food tourism France currently receives. Hey, it makes sense kinda!

So, after much ado: the flavors we chose were Infiniment Vanilla, Passionfruit & Milk Chocolate (Mogador), Matcha & Black Sesame (Imagine), Honey & Meadowsweet (Jardins des Pres), Olive Oil & Mandarin Orange, and Pistachio, Cinnamon, & Cherry (Mosaic).

Infiniment Vanilla is a special blend of three vanillas: Madagascan, Tahitian, and Mexican. Some of the toppest-class vanillas in town, I might add. The ganache filling was cooling & buttery with a ton of vanilla flavor: it reminded me of a vanilla bean ice cream. I really enjoyed it, and it definitely was more special than a regular 'vanilla' flavored anything. It's a shame I'm not describing it very well at all: if you like vanilla, you'll enjoy this even more. I've had a perfume before, Comptoir Sud Pacifique, that smelled a lot like how this tasted. It was 'gourmand' in the same way a vanilla perfume would be - but don't worry, it wasn't at all sharp or alcoholic - just the fact that there seemed to be notes to it, that's the similarity.

 The macaron 'shell' was crispy & chewy, slightly less chewy than Laduree. This was the same for all of the following flavors, as well.

Mogador is Passionfruit & Milk Chocolate, emphasis on the passionfruit. This one was my husband's favorite, very tangy with a very light & creamy milk chocolate. I'd say that the ganache was like that of a firm truffle filling, infused with passionfruit of course. This one was a bit more firm inside than the rest, probably do to the inclusion of chocolate.

Imagine is Matcha & Black Sesame, one of them that I chose. Slightly bitter & earthy matcha matched with nutty black sesame. The inside of this one had a black sesame 'crisp', in addition to the cream being infused with the two flavors mentioned. One of my favorites, but really only for green tea/matcha fans, as it was quite strong. For me, this was a really good thing. For others, might be a bit too much.

Jardin des Pres was Honey & Meadowsweet. Meadowsweet is apparently a type of herb - it looks like the sort of thing that would make me feel water-y eyed & sneezy, but it tasted delicious. It was incredibly sweet, but had the soft & ever so slightly herbaceous or flowery quality of a fancy honey. This one came in 1st place for me. It was also quite attractive, with a natural color & a cute clover stamp to remind you of meadows.

Olive Oil & Mandarin Orange is a unique flavor, but funny enough it's actually part of one of my favorite shower gels of all time, Lush's Olive Branch. I really presumed I wouldn't taste any olive oil, but I did. It was just a bare hint, but the savory & 'umami' olive flavor did come through just the tiniest bit to contrast to the tangy & sweet mandarin. This one was nice, but honestly not super memorable, I do seem to recollect that the center had a bit of jelly rather than just straight ganache.

Mosaic was an intriguing combination of cherry, pistachio, and cinnamon. Flavors that I love separately, but couldn't really picture together. It did work quite well. It was mostly cherry & cinnamon, and I think the pistachio really blended in with the cherry in the same way a nutty almond flavor will taste vaguely of cherry. This one was unique, but very approachable. Well balanced between tart, spicy, and sweet.

All they need to do is start bringing over some of those delicious creamy pastries over, and Pierre Herme would be an amazing addition to the sweet scene in London.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Manor

We went out to eat with my in-laws to celebrate their anniversary a few weeks ago (happy anniversary by the way, guys!) and The Manor in Clapham was chosen as the place to be. It's just opened recently, and it's from the same people who run The Dairy, a very popular restaurant in the same area. This style of food, sort of new British or European cuisine, it's not really something I'm terribly familiar with - so don't take this review as that of an expert: I'm a humble American raised on Kraft Mac & Cheese and frozen burritos, haha.

We started with cocktails and a quick amuse bouche - it was a puffed cracker and tasted quite a bit like mayonnaise with a hint of the sea. To be honest, I can barely remember it. I remember that I liked it at the time, but it must not've been the most memorable part of the night! Really, you're in trouble if an amuse bouche is the most memorable part of your meal. The cocktail I had was one of my top favs so far this year, and I've had some good ones. I highly recommend the Clockwork Orange to my fellow tangy 'n' zesty citrus fans.

We were recommended to have four courses each, which would've been a ton of food. I had three & a half and felt very full, as did everyone else at the table. I mean, maybe at dinner four courses would be more reasonable, but at lunchtime it would've been wild. The portion sizes vary, but my vegetable & fish course was both quite sizable and would've been enough as just two courses, even.

We ordered the sourdough bread with chicken butter - definitely a great start. Warm, and sour & slightly lactic sourdough (one of my favorite breads, not terribly easy to find a good one here in the UK) with whipped butter dotted with fried tiny bits o' chicken skin. Salty, savory, and just a little bit sour: this was a lovely beginning. It was served in a cloth bag that kept it warm, and was presented all together very charmingly. No pictures, by this time we were quite hungry, haha.

My first chosen dish, however, was my favorite - spiced beef droe wors. Droe wors is a South African sausage snack, It's traditionally dried and quite chewy, but in this case it may have been made more fresh & therefore was softer like a cured salami or summer sausage. It had a strong beefiness & spicy hits of coriander, black pepper, chili, and perhaps paprika. This one was super tasty, I'd happily have just wolfed down a double-sized portion of these.

The vegetable course was burnt kale, cavalo nero, and toasted almonds. It was slightly bitter & tasted a bit like Parmesan, in the pleasant way that kale does, and reminded me a bit of burnt popcorn - being burnt, in all, it's just char. Masses upon masses of it was set upon the plate. The almonds & the addition of butter made it seem quite decadent, and I think the amount of butter probably evened out the healthiness of the kale, haha. If you ever chomp down happily on the charred bit of anything, you'd probably love this. I like burnt crusts & burnt bits of brownie, so I was a big fan. Interesting to note that kale & cavalo nero are almost the same thing.

I also had the "Lady Hamilton" smoked pollock, cultured cream, new potatoes and sorrel. The fish was, pardon, swimming in the cultured cream, which at first I was into, but quickly became a bit much. I love cream: sour, fresh, fraiche, whipped, sweetened, whatever. This is a thin cream with a sour tang, presumably 'cultured' in the same way yogurt is - similar to buttermilk. The fish was exceedingly well-cooked,very soft & tender flesh with a light smokiness, but that cream...just too much. Every mouthful of every thing on the plate had to be eaten with about half a tablespoon of cream. And I love cream, and I'm even partial to buttermilk, but this stuff was just too much. I nearly enjoyed this dish, but it really just had to have about half the amount of cream that it did, and it would've still been quite a lot.

I had heard that there was a dessert bar of sorts, a 'make your own sundae' style bar with more adult toppings. Unfortunately, I'm always a bit nervy to ask about 'off menu' things and this sundae bar wasn't listed anywhere or being advertised anywhere in the restaurant - I had only heard about it via the Heroine in Heels blog. I'm sure had I asked our server about it, I would've gotten an answer - maybe it's only available at weekends, et cetera, but I clammed up. That's my fault! My guess is it is just for dinner time.

All is fair though, because I did get a delicious spiced dark chocolate mousse & blood orange, and brown bread ice cream platter. The mousse was creamy and quite heavily spiced, the blood orange came in the form of lightly sweetened slices and a bit of syrup, and the brown bread ice cream was malty & delicious. There were also crisps that tasted like cocoa nibs - all in all, a well-balanced & tasty end to the meal.

...but it wasn't the end! We also got little cubes of jelly that were like malty quince. Very nice - I actually would've happily taken a box of these home, and I'm not usually a jelly fan.

All in all a very good meal with far more hits than misses - just the fish wasn't so good, just because of the amount of cream. I've seen a few other pictures online of this dish, and it seemed to have less cream - so I think that I may have just accidentally gotten more. I'd highly recommend trying the bread, the droe wors, and of course the sundae bar that I couldn't find, ha. A very nice meal, and good service - I'd go back for sure, and I'd like to try The Dairy as well.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mikan Orange Pretz | Ramen Pretz | Ghana Black Chocolate Shrimp Chips

I've got lots of Japanese snacks to review - both things left over from my vacation there last year, and new things I've ordered for myself in the interim. I'm a glutton for snacks, especially ones which are different. Therefore, I'm an unstoppable force when it comes to ordering foreign (to me, that is) snacks. Japanese ones are definitely the most accessible, as they are highly regarded the world over. I'll be trying to tackle multiple at once so I can clear the load a bit, to make room for more sundry snacks later on. Today is an odd mix - salty, sweet, and shrimpy.

The following two Pretz were promotional packs for regional mascots to promote their region's best known product. I'm not sure what the other variants were off the top of my head, but the two I tried here were Tochigi Ramen and Mikan Orange.

The ramen Pretz have an adorable dog with an upended ramen bowl on his head. Super cute! They tasted almost exactly like Chicken in a Biskits to me, maybe just ever so slightly sweeter.

 If you've never had one of those crackers, they taste a bit like well, funny enough, the chicken flavor seasoning in an instant ramen, but slightly more herbaceous & sweet. They were very moreish, and we quickly polished off the box. I'd get these again.

The mikan orange Pretz are sponsored by a strange little duck, done in a sweet Kawaii Pet Megu kinda style.  They were also tasty! Sweet & mellow - more like an orange cream soda from the USA than anything tart & orange. Just sweet &  creamy, perhaps this is the way a mikan orange tastes?

It was a simple flavor, and there was no salty or savory aspects to it, but I thought there might've been since it's a pretzel cracker base. There was also an awful lot of the flavor powder on the sticks themselves, which wasn't a bad thing to me, but might perturb others who are more fussy about getting mucky while they snack. They're just like sort of graham sticks with a creamy orange flavor - I'd eat them again if someone handed me a pack, but probably wouldn't purchase. They reminded me a lot of the sweet version of Goldfish crackers that have came out in recent years.

The Ghana Black Chocolate Shrimp Crackers...well, they weren't kiddin' folks! These crackers taste like dried shrimp, or more accurately, prawn crackers - covered in a semi-sweet dark chocolate. The texture is puffy & light, sort of melt-in-your-mouth, and the coating is shiny and attractive...they're super weird, but not disgusting.

 Worth a try, but would I get another bag? absolutely not. It did however encourage me to seek out Ghana dark chocolate & shrimp crackers...separately. Smart marketing if you ask me, in a country where new things come out with such frequency as in Japan, making something this distinct will drive attention to your products. I'm sure Ghana's dark chocolate & those shrimp chips both experienced a boost in sales afterwards.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Laduree in the City, London

I hope everyone's been having an awesome Easter break! We just recently moved into the heart of the city of London from the suburbs, so we've taken a couple extra days off on either side to explore our new digs. One of the biggest shocks for me was finding out that there is a Laduree about 10 - 15 minutes away from us now. I've recently been on a real kick for patisserie & hunting around for cool bakeries in Paris (wistfully, all the while) so Laduree was on my radar as I passed by it on a bus journey back towards our new flat.

This location is sort of across the street from The Royal Exchange, where a Paul A Young shop is...a perfect corner of the world, sweets-wise, if you ask me. It's amazing - I don't know how I missed it! Not only is this Laduree nearby, it keeps pretty decent hours during the week (early morning 'til 8 pm) but is closed at the weekend entirely. That's the only downside to this neighborhood, everything is shut at the weekend. However, if you find yourself on the side of town (or within a 10 minute walk or so, like the Liverpool St area) during the week with some free time, I highly recommend having a stroll & a piece of cake or chocolate around here. It's just so much less busy & fretful than Soho or Covent Garden, provided it isn't before work, during lunch, or straight after work.

There is no seating inside that I could see, but they had a menu of hot drinks in addition to the macarons & a few other pastries - literally, like 3 left. I asked the lady working there if they usually had more patisserie options, and she said yes, they just so happened to sell out early on that day - maybe because it was the Thursday before the bank holiday. Fair enough, hopefully I'll be a bit more lucky next time because they have some cool stuff with lots of cream on the website. I was really most interested in trying their most famous treats of crispity-creamity flavorsome macaron-y, anyway!

We chose a box of 6, which ended up being a good amount for two to share as a light afternoon snack. The flavors we selected were Cherry Blossom, Pistachio, Chestnut, Yuzu Ginger, and two Marie Antoinettes. In hindsight, we made the absolute right choice in getting one Marie Antoinette each, as it was easily the best flavor. They were all very soft & creamy centered with a crispy meringue style cap 'n' bottom. Can you tell I'm no expert on macarons? I can count on one hand the amount of times I've eaten them, counting this Laduree trip.

The Marie Antoinette macaron was flavored with a special Laduree house blend tea, unsurprisingly also called Marie Antoinette. It had a lovely delicate black tea backnote, with a citrus-and-honey top flavor. The black tea base just sort of grounds it & keeps it from being too sweet or too zesty. It reminded me of an earl gray tea with just a splash of milk, but sweeter. Hey, it is a macaron after all. A really lovely refreshing flavor.

Pistachio macaron was nutty & a weensy bit salty, and was super accurate to the taste of pistachio in ice cream or cake. Was it like a real pistachio? No, but that's a good thing - they can be a bit bitter & oddly tart for a nut. This wasn't though, thank goodness! Went particularly well with the tea, perhaps because it was less sweet than the rest.

Chestnut macaron was also nutty & sweet, no salt - with a bit of a vanilla note as well. Reminded me a lot of mont blanc pastry, which are some of my favorites. Not a whole lot to say about this one, it was sweet, nutty & vanilla-y...hard to go wrong.

Yuzu Ginger macaron was my husband's favorite, and I was a fan too. I think the best flavors at Laduree (in my incredibly limited experience of...this trip) are the citrus & fruit ones. They certainly had the most unique & true tastes, brightest & cheeriest colors, and refreshing, revitalizing flavors. This one was a honeyed yuzu with just a bit of warming spice from ginger. I'm usually not a fan of ginger, but it plays nicely here.

Cherry blossom macaron had an oddly rosy taste, with a hint of sweetened cherry flavor. Can't say it really reminded me of other cherry blossom/sakura sweets I've had, but it was nice all the same. The predominant flavor really did seem to be rose, with a bit of fruity sweetness.

They were all quite tasty, no losers in the bunch. The over all winner is definitely the Marie Antoinette, followed closely by the Yuzu Ginger. Next time I want to try Lemon & the Orange Blossom, as I thought the citrus flavors were best of the bunch. I'd fill the rest of the box with more Marie Antoinettes, and then try a cup of the namesake tea. Or, if they had more pastries out, I'd get something creamy!

Just before I forget, another cool thing about this location is that they sell Laduree candles as well. There are a few really nice ones, including 'Incense' and 'Coffee'. They're expensive, but a nice luxury if you're a home fragrance fan!