Blacklock Shoreditch

There’s no shortage of great bbq joints around East London but I think I’ve now found a solid favourite, by way of Blacklock which has three locations in Soho, Monument and Shoreditch. Their restaurant in Shoreditch is their biggest site and it’s the one Conor and I visited for some late birthday celebrations.

You’ll find their Shoreditch chophouse based in one of those classic Shoreditch ex-warehouse spaces, complete with exposed brick walls, large industrial-style windows and polished concrete floors. They have completed the renovated the old furniture factory with dark leather banquette seats and mid-century furniture.

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For those unfamiliar with Blacklock, they serve chops. You can opt for them ‘skinny’ at a mere £4 a pop, or ‘big’ served in increments of 100g. They come in various forms, think lamb cutlets, lamb t-bones, beef rump, beef rib, pork belly, porterhouse – I could go on, the list is endless.

All their meats are sourced from The Warren Family Farm in Cornwell whose animals are allowed to roam on the moors and live on a natural grass-fed diet. At Blacklock, they cook all their meats over charcoal and they sear them with an antique Blacklock Foundry clothes iron from the 1800s.

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But first, let’s talk about their drinks. They have a decent selection of cocktails for a fiver, namely the Gimlet, Negroni and Beefy Mary, and then they have their more ‘expensive’ cocktails priced at £7.75 (although in London that’s an absolute bargain)  with 25p from each cocktail being donated to End Youth Homelessness.

Anyone who knows me knows I can’t resist a Bloody Mary and for a woman who loves her meat, the added beef jus was a massive bonus and is the perfect accompaniment to the chops.

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To start, we opted for the pig’s head on toast and burrata on toast. For me, the burrata wasn’t runny enough, when you cut into it, it should ooze all over your plate and bread should be used to soak it up. Mine was served already cut in half and solid, like standard mozzarella. Don’t get me wrong, it still tasted creamy and delicious and paired beautifully with asparagus ribbons, radishes, fresh peas, pea shoots and spring onions.

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But the clear winner was the pig’s head. The fatty meat from the cut coated the charred slice of toast and topped with (a rather generous amount) of sliced red chillis, which cut through the oiliness of the meat perfectly. The best way to enjoy this dish is to pour liberal amounts of gravy all over it – I swear Conor and I would have drunk it straight from the jug if we were in the comfort of our own home.

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After the starters, we decided to go ‘All In’, which is the best way to go at Blacklock at a steal for just £20 per person. First, you receive three varieties of pre-chop bites – they’re basically little canapes. We were served a mix of egg and anchovy, cheese and pickle, chicken and horseradish, atop of circular crispbreads. I wish egg one came with more scrambled egg because the anchovies sure packed a salty punch and drowned out the rest of the flavour from the small bite. The chicken was by far our favourite, the unconventional pairing of horseradish was surprisingly delicious.

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Next up comes the pile of perfectly cooked beef, lamb and pork chops sat on top of two thick slices of flatbread, which help to soak up all those meaty juices. The meats are perfectly cooked, with the pork belly being the highlight from the platter. The fat was well rendered and starting to caramelise. Be prepared to use your hands here, otherwise you’ll miss out on all the scavenging possibilities.

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With the deal, you also receive two sides. We opted for the beef dripping fries and charred broccoli, sugar snap peas and asparagus (this is probably you’re only opportunity to get some greens in). The chips were crisp on the outside but tasted like they had been reheated – dip them in béarnaise and you won’t notice.

Blacklock is a meat lovers paradise and makes a meat feast so much more affordable than your traditional steakhouses. Come from a plate of chops, it’s bound to put you in a food coma.

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Blacklock Shoreditch, 28-30 Rivington St, Hackney, London EC2A 3DZ

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5 vegan grab-and-go highstreet lunches

Slate it all you want, but attempting Veganuary and not eating animal products for a month requires real dedication. I’ve never really considered myself a “meat-lover” and I actually was vegetarian for almost a year back in my teens (purely because my dad bet that I couldn’t do it…). But I am someone who would happily have fish or cheese with every meal, plus when I do go out for dinner, I often always order a meat dish. So for me, Veganuary, is a real test of my self-restraint.

With food chains and supermarkets waking up to the fact more and more people want tasty vegan food, the range of options has been growing year on year. Because of this, it is easier than ever to have a plant-based diet, which is why I have compiled my top 5 high street vegan lunch options that won’t break the bank.

Leon – Meatless Meatballs

A firm favourite of mine which is really helping me get through Veganuary. These meatless meatballs from Leon are a real winter warmer, the tomato sauce is almost like a hearty soup with the texture of the aubergine, black olive and rosemary meatballs satisfying my meaty cravings. Topped with a vegan garlic aioli, these are a must try for any first time vegans or those trying a plant-based diet.

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Pret – Avo, Olives & Toms Baguette

After opening their first ‘Veggie Pret’ back in the summer of 2016, Pret have been changing their offerings due to a rise in veganism. They now boast four purely veggie shops – three in London and one in Manchester. They have an impressive selection of vegan lunch options and although not all of them are available in every branch, the avo, olives and toms baguette is a real winner in my eyes. This baguette is made from sliced avocado, olive tapenade, roasted tomatoes plus a handful of rocket. Garnished with fresh basil leaves and pine nuts.

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Arancini  Brothers – Nuddy Box

Back in January 2018, Arancini Brothers turned their Old Street shop into a 100% vegan eatery and it was so successful that now all their restaurants only offer up plant-based options. Apart from the classic option of vegan burgers and wraps, the Nuddy box is a hit. The risotto balls sit proudly on top of a bed of salad (which rotates daily), topped with roasted mushrooms, onion jam, aubergine tomato sauce and a sprinkling of seeds for good measure.

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Itsu – Veggie Sushi Collection

I have a sushi addiction and eating a plant-based diet this Veganary means I can’t get my mitts on salmon nigiri which I adore so much. I am a mad Itsu fan, and since working in London, it has remained a firm favourite. Luckily for me, Itsu have four vegan sushi dishes which are helping to curb my cravings. The most popular thing on their vegan menu is the veggie sushi collection. In the box, you’ll find crunchy veggie maki rolls, baby avocado rolls and steamed veggie dumplings on an edamame bean salad.

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Crussh – Cheese Toastie

Crussh has over 50 vegan options on its menu and as a Veganuary special, their Soho store has become 100% plant-based for the entire month of January. They were the first high street outlet to serve a vegan cheese toastie – which is perfect for a hungover lunch at the office. Their vegan smoked gouda-style cheese is served with red pepper tapenade and rocket, in between slices of spelt sourdough.

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Still hungry? Check out Veganuary’s list of chain restaurants which serve up plant-based dishes to sink your teeth into.

There’s dumpling you should know about Baoziinn

Baoziinn is easily one of my favourite restaurants in London. I could and would happily live on their dim sum. There’s nothing that I love more than little handmade doughy parcels with a crispy bottom stuffed with crunchy prawns, steamed pork or salty mushrooms. Baoziinn is a small joint located on Romilly Street in the heart of Soho and is named after the Cantonese baozi dumpling.

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Situated in a converted corner townhouse, Baoziin is arranged over three floors and divided into five distinct dining spaces. Each room is decked with traditional Asian lanterns and decorative shutters, yet has some contemporary touches – with sleek slate floors, exposed brickwork and light oak tables.

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Here the dumplings steal the show from their other dim sum offerings and are a real work of art. They are cased in vivid pinks and bright greens from the dough which has been coloured with natural flavourings such as beetroot and spinach, meaning they are perfect from the ‘gram. However it’s not just the instagrammable appeal of Baoziin’s food, but the bursts of flavour that come with each bite.

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All of the dishes here are perfect for sharing, so just order a bunch for the table. Get the xiao long bao which are steamed dumplings made from a mix of spinach and turmeric juice and are filled with the classic pork mince, with a broth which explodes from the parcels as your bite into them.

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The ruby prawn dumplings wrapped in beetroot pastry, a spinach pastry containing prawn and chive dumplings and watercress prawn dumplings encased in turmeric pastry are a trio not to be missed. They were all perfectly steamed, with the flavoured pastry adding subtle extra depth to each dish.

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But enough about the dumplings, for you can’t go to Baoziinn are not order the pork baozi buns; either in spinach juice dough or just plain. They’re soft and fluffy on the outside, but sweet and sticky on the inside.

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I recommend ordering the ma la beancurd sheet minced pork and prawn rolls from the grilled section. The crisp beancurd wrapped around plump prawns comes in six bite-sized pieces which are crunchy and delicious. By using beancurd sheets rather than traditional pasty gives the rolls a texture and flavour that will leave you wanting more.

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The dan dan noodles also impressed me, the homemade noodles are not too thin nor too fat. They’re served tender and fresh but in a spicy, flavoursome sesame and peanut sauce, which is topped with minced pork and Sichuanese preserved mustard greens – this dish really does pack a punch. So if you’re lucky enough to visit with your spice wimp boyfriend, you can gobble the whole dish to yourself.

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Baoziinn has quickly become my go-to place in London for affordable and tasty dumplings. If you’re a dim sum fan, Baoziinn should be next on your hit list.

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Baoziinn, 24 Romilly St, Soho, London W1D 5AH

Lima London

When you take a seat in Lima, it doesn’t feel like you’re about to dine in a Michelin starred restaurant – it’s not the arty-farty, stuffy type. You’ll find this Peruvian dining spot on Rathbone Place in Fitzrovia, surrounded by pubs and casual pizza joints – so it’s not surprising that the vibe it extrudes is equally as relaxed. Without Conor grabbing my hand and pulling me in, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance.

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The restaurant itself is light and airy, complete with simple wooden tables and vibrant Peruvian artworks. There are a few seats available for al fresco dining, where we lounged in the sun and tried our best to decipher the menu. With 14 small plates and 12 large to choose from, as well as five ‘snacks’, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

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How I’ve never had a pisco sour is beyond me, pisco (a type of brandy) is mixed with egg whites, lime and sugar. Prepare to drink a few – and get the duck confit rocoto crisp to go with it. Rocoto is a type of a pepper which has been ground down into a paste and then dehydrated to turn it into a crisp, with a duck confit mousse on top. Hidden inside the confit are some delicious pomegranate seed surprises. It’s a total texture mash-up for your mouth, and it’s gone within seconds.

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The prawn and avocado ceviche is excellent – it’s like a circus cocktail with a chilli kick. Dig under the generous serving of plantain crisps and you’ll find fish which is tender and flavoursome, but the only problem was that the little bowl it was served in wasn’t nearly enough for Conor and me to share.

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Next up the came the Octopus Olivo, where seared octopus chunks come served on a bed of yellow quinoa, with lilac spots of alfonso olive mayonaise dotted around the plate. These little bubbles were incredibly tasty, but the octopus was a little too tough for my liking.

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Get the asparagus huancaina to cleanse your plate before moving onto their meat dishes. Stems of asparagus and cherry tomatoes are covered in a spicy, creamy sauce. We had the duck escabeche alongside it – which means the duck is basically is marinated in vinegar.  Thick, juicy, tender pieces of duck were served in a sweet syrup sauce with slices of radishes and bits of orange.

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Last up, my favourite dish of the evening, and a Lima signature – the beef tiradito. Thinly sliced raw beef pieces are presented in between swills of amarillo sauce, with flakes of parmesan and coriander cress sprinkled over the top. The beef melts in your mouth, I’d have seconds and thirds if my budget allowed me.

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It’s worth noting that they do a lunch and pre-theatre menu, so if you want to try unfamiliar flavours, with plates full of colours and ceviche, I’d book a table in to take full advantage of their deals.

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Lima London, 31 Rathbone Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1JH

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Brunch at Bristrotheque

Is there anything more quintessentially East London than having brunch in a converted warehouse?

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Enter Bistrotechque – a restaurant in a converted warehouse hidden away in Dalston.

You’ll probably find yourself checking Google Maps, wondering if you’ve gone wrong along the way, and questioning all the endless rows of old warehouses and houses without a hint of ‘there’s a restaurant in here’ as you walk down the street – but don’t let that put you off.

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The only marker that you’re reached Bistrotechque is a discreet little opening between a couple of buildings, which is given away by some dangling lights and some foliage.

Once you head inside and make your way up the stairs, you’re greeted with a massive bright, airy, white room. There’s a large bar running down the side of the restaurant, with an open kitchen at one end, and a piano at the other.

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The room is stark and is simply decorated with industrial drop lighting, original concrete floors and brick walls, plus it comes complete with white-clothed tables, which really brings the place together.

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The menu at Bristotheque is filled with your standard brunch fare, but with a few surprises thrown into the mix. I was gutted to find out that only two weeks after we visited that they added a soft shell crab benedict to their menu!

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I opted for the Bistrotheque Breakfast, which comes with sausage, bacon, baked beans, layered potato, eggs, and toast. It’s a whole lot of food and Conor had to help me finish it off as I couldn’t quite manage it.

Their layered potatoes are something else though – they’re basically fried potatoes but served as stacked, thinly sliced cubes… I dread to think about how many calories they contained.

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Conor went for the Eggs Royale, which was served the traditional way on English muffins but it comes with a little twist, however, as the eggs are topped with caviar.

Now brunch isn’t brunch without a bloody mary (or two), and Bistrotheque mixes up a knockout – just don’t get your spice wimp boyfriend to try it because it really packs a punch.

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Bristotheque, 23-27 Wadeson St, London E2 9DR

 

 

 

Pastaio London

Pastaio. It means pasta-maker in Italian and making pasta is exactly what they do here. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend the whole time pronouncing it wrong when people ask you where you’re going for dinner that week.

It’s a no-bookings style restaurant which serves up plates of handmade pasta with powerful sauces. It’s located just off Carnaby Street in Soho, with a huge large glass front plus a bright, Insta-friendly art mural along the back wall. It comes complete with an open kitchen where you can watch the Pastaio’s at work and rows of communal tables.

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Their starters are pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook them. We opted for the burrata which was served swimming in olive oil and had chilli and oregano sprinkled over it.

As their burrata is incredibly creamy, if not a little too juicy, you’ll need to grab yourself a side of their sourdough bread to help you mop up all that cheesy goodness.

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The main event: the crab, chilli, agretti, black & white spaghetti, and now that spring is just around the corner, this is the type of food I long for. It packs a punch and the crab does well to hold it’s own.

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Their slow-cooked sausage malloredus keeps the standards high and it’s a brilliant vehicle for another great sauce. It’s a dish comprised of small, striped shells of pasta and the sausage sauce is topped with crust crumbs from the bread – which really cuts through the richness.

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To help wash all the carbs down, we ordered the prosecco slushies. Their blood orange one giving me flash blacks to wandering Milan from bar to bar drinking Aperol Spritz.

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Would I go back? Most definitely – although I can’t help but feeling that I’m cheating on Padella.

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Pastaio, 19 Ganton St, Carnaby, London W1F 9BN

*Main photo courtesy of Pastaio 

 

Brunch at Strut & Cluck

If you’re anything like me, your weekday breakfast often consists of eggs or avos – so by the time the weekend rolls around, I’m in the mood for something different. That’s where Strut & Cluck step in. Originally just specialising in dishes featuring the turkey, they’ve branched out to a menu which really showcases Eastern Mediterranean flavours, which they’re known and loved for.

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You’ll find Struct & Cluck on a prime spot on Commerical Street, literally around the corner from Shoreditch High Street overground station. It’s got a glass-fronted exterior which looks into a brightly lit room. It’s filled with rustic wood tables, exposed light bulbs and hanging plants. The now-classic East London look and definitely something I’d love for my own flat.

I went post-gym class at the Adidas Studio and met up with my sister. She ordered the hand-pulled turkey shawarma, which is topped with a fried egg and served with dates, pine nuts, tahini on top of a pita.

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I went for the classic shakshuka, two eggs cooked in a pan with tomatoes, peppers, onions, chilli and chorizo, served with a warm pita for scooping. My eggs, unfortunately, were served undercooked, but the staff took the dish away no problem and gave me a free coffee as an apology.

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It’s a calm little oasis in the heart of Shoreditch – a perfect spot to rest your legs and refuel after a morning of touring East London.

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Strut & Cluck, 151 Commercial St, London E1 6BJ

*Main photo courtesy of Strut & Cluck