Monday, 21 November 2011

Lunch at Ladurée

This week's blog post takes a short trip away from Cambridge to our fine, foodie capital. A few weekends ago we spent the day in London as a birthday treat for my husband. Having splurged on theatre tickets and a posh dinner reservation we thought we'd go for a cheap lunch. Fair enough I felt, and I truly believed we would. Until we decided to look at the baby things in Harrods(purely for a bit of a giggle, a £3,500 crystal encrusted Moses basket isn't really for us) and I spotted a sign for Ladurée. That was it, I couldn't not go and I promptly dragged my poor man through the corridors towards certain expense. After all Miss B, from agirlastyle raves about Ladurée macarons and I'd never tried one. 

I assured Mr BWC that it would just be a cuppa and a macaron or five and we sat down. Two club sandwiches (£16.50 each), a strawberry milkshake (£5.80) and a cup of Thé Jardin Bleu Royal (£2.95) later he was full, but a little shellshocked.

The club sandwich was good, as far as club sandwiches go and the milkshake was a delightfully fruity and creamy concoction, but for me it was my tea that made lunch so special. It was infused with wild strawberry and rhubarb and was like a taste of summer in a china cup. Being a girl with a penchant for all things afternoon tea I felt the whole experience made up for the rather steep prices. The birthday boy wasn't convinced, but I don't suppose a selection of tiny puffs of meringue in pastel shades were ever aimed at a Geordie rugby player.

The best bit After our sandwiches I got to go and choose a selection of macarons. Just the beauty of the box alone made me smile, and tucking into them as we enjoyed our front row Warhorse seats made a lovely change from rustling a box of Maltesers.

Something to work on The clientele. Surrounded by minor royals, Russian oligarchs and American billionaires, we felt positively inadequate. I can imagine there might be a flaw in my request here, so more realistically, perhaps they could remember to put the bacon inside the sandwich next time? [see picture above]

Ladurée Tea Rooms, Ground Floor, Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Road  Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7XL 020 7730 1234,

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Recipe - Jammy Biscuits

When days are dull and dreary, there's only one thing to brighten your mood and that's some good old-fashioned baking. In my book the most heart-warming kind includes recipes that reminds you of your childhood. For me that's gooey apple and saltana flapjack (we used to add at least double the golden syrup), simple fairy cakes decorated with crazy faces and jammy biscuits, the ones with a large thumb print in the middle, filled with strawberry jam. 

I remember loving pushing my thumb into each one and dolloping a big spoonful of jam on top. I think my mum liked making them because they are nice and easy and she could leave me to finish them without worrying about me. [And she did have reason to worry, I was so greedy as a child that I once pushed my finger through a metal icing nozzle (one with very sharp 'teeth') to get the last bit of icing out, and then couldn't get my finger back out again. Hours, and many tears, later dad had to saw the nozzle off. I wasn't allowed to ice things after that.]   

I made these biscuits again recently and because I had been bought some lovely edible flowers for my birthday I sprinkled them on top for a nice, grown-up touch. I also used my very own homemade rhubarb jam instead of the traditional strawberry. The best bit about these biscuits is that although I say biscuits they are really a cake-cum-biscuit. Because of the self-raising flour they rise a bit and the final result is soft and chewy.

Jammy biscuits
200g self-raising flour
100g caster sugar
100g butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 tbsp jam - whatever flavour you like best

Heat oven to 190C/gas mark 5. 

Get your hands stuck in and rub the flour, sugar and butter together and then add the egg until the mixture comes together to form a stiff dough. Tip: If you want your jammy biscuits to come out perfectly round then put the dough in the fridge for an hour at this point, if you're not that fussy then read on.

Divide your dough up into even, small balls, remember these will spread and rise slightly and so they will come out bigger than they go in. Place on baking tray and push down, making a small dent with your thumb (or end of wooden spoon if you don't want to use your hands), then drop a teaspoon (or more) of jam in the centre. Bake for 10-15 mins until slightly risen and just golden. 

Perfect at 3pm with a glass of milk.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Review: The Red Lion at Whittlesford Bridge

The newly refurbished Red Lion at Whittlesford Bridge

I like to think I keep up-to-date with the comings and goings on the local food scene, but when I saw various Twitter mentions of a new and improved restaurant just a mile from my front door, I realised I might have fallen behind a tad. The Red Lion at Whittlesford Bridge has been around for quite sometime (since the 13th century in fact), but it's one of those places I've never thought to visit. It might have something to do with the fact that I stared at it every morning for two years when commuting to London from Whittlesford station next door. But now the pub, hotel and restaurant has undergone a major refurbishment and boasts a large conference room, a cosy bar and restaurant, and most importantly, a tempting new menu. The words 'home-cooked' 'hearty' and 'traditional favourites' had me booking a table in no time.

We popped along quite early on a Thursday evening and the bar area was already bustling and had a lovely, welcoming atmosphere. The pub is right next door to a large new Holiday Inn Express but far from competing with the budget hotel, they warmly welcome residents for dinner and a drink in the evening. This means the pub has a nice mix of business types sitting down to dinner, locals in need of a pint and families after a homemade bite to eat. There are lots of cosy little alcoves to hide away in and the pub plans to have a roaring inglenook fireplace in the snug area very soon. 

Homemade pork cracklings
We decided to indulge in some homemade pork crackling while we decided what to eat. It was very good indeed, crispy but not teeth-breakingly so, chewy but not in that undercooked, limp way. It came with a nice pot of sweet apple sauce, and the sweet and salty appetiser was a great start to our meal.

I've gone from being a 'leave-room-for-sweet girl' to one who much prefers a starter. I always find starters the most tempting dishes on the menu. And in this case it was an easy choice for me. I can't get enough beetroot at this time of year and so I tucked into a starter of beetroot carpaccio. Carpaccio is perhaps a little too grand an explanation for the dish but it was a lovely salad nonetheless, with walnuts and slivers of Grana Padano to compliment the earthy beetroot.

Beetroot carpaccio
I am a real retro lover and the mere whiff of the past attracts me, so obviously I had to go for the 1970s style homemade chicken kiev. It was perfect – oozing garlic butter and served with creamy mash and a deep fried leek. I should have ordered some fresh veg as could have done with some crisp freshness to go with it but that was my oversight. My ever-predictable husband tested the bangers and mash. It’s the marker he tests every cook by and he certain wolfed this one down quickly.

1970s style chicken kiev
The lovely general manager, Ross from Edinburgh, showed us around the renovated hotel. There are 18 unique guest rooms, we had a peak in what would be the bridal suite (the hotel does weddings too) and it was very luxurious. It had a bath in the bedroom and was beautifully decked out in cosy looking fabrics and vintage furniture. As a hotel, The Red Lion is the perfect option for visiting family or those who fancy a trip to the war museum nearby. Ross also filled us in on some interesting facts about the historic building - for example the alcohol license dates back to a visit from James I in 1619, and the large oak table in the new atrium area in made from an old beam that used to run the length of the hotel.  

We enjoyed our visit and will certainly be returning for more hearty food soon. And once that inglenook fireplace goes in you'll have to get there early to beat us to the sofas in front of it!

The best bit The pub and restaurant is a cosy cuddle of a place. Everything about The Red Lion is welcoming - from the staff to the traditional food on offer. 

Something to work on As a local girl I would love to see the pub on Twitter and tweeting regular offers and incentives – but then I would say that!

Station Road East, Whittlesford, Cambridge CB22 4NL
01223 832047, (new look website coming soon)