The Pudding Bar

When I heard about The Pudding Bar I thought that I must be dreaming.  A whole place dedicated to puddings?!  It was like Christmas and all my birthdays had come at once!  So last time I was in London, I refused to leave without visiting this heavenly little café that made all my senses tingle the second I opened the door.

FullSizeRender

After The Great British Bake-Off’s Baked Alaska ‘bingate’ tragedy, I could not resist the temptation to sample the mouth-wateringly tempting Spiced Apple Baked Alaska with Maple Syrup Ice Cream.  Luckily, no one had left the ice cream out of the freezer this time and my Baked Alaska was served as a visual masterpiece.  No one could ever regret making this choice.  My mouth and taste buds have never been blessed with such an explosion of fantastic flavours.  I am not even sure that there are words to describe my experience at The Pudding Bar.  I am completely and utterly enamoured with the place.

Cutting my fork into my pudding, it slid through the soft, gooey, marshmallow-like Italian meringue that coated the wonderful frozen surprise of thick and creamy maple syrup ice cream and warm, spiced apple cake.  It was like heaven on a fork and I just could not comprehend how perfect the flavour combination that entered my mouth was.  The fact that this was all accompanied by a warm maple syrup sauce truly was just the icing on the cake.  It was phenomenal.  And the crunchy caramelised apples on the side were a lovely addition that just added an extra textural dimension to the whole dish.

The deep tones of the spiced apple cake were the perfect balance to the smokey maple syrup icing and the sweetest most beautiful meringue I have ever tasted.  The Pudding Bar certainly knows what it is doing when it comes to pudding!  This is not a place to miss out on, and considering it is only a pop-up bar, you need to get your skates on or you may be too late!  What are you waiting for?  Go!

The Great Hummingbird Bake-Off: September 2014

Sticky Toffee Pudding vs.

Chocolate Orange

Every month the Hummingbird Bakery, which is one of my favourite cupcake shops EVER, creates two new, special edition cupcakes.  Every month, these cupcakes go head-to-head, battling it out for the number one spot.

September 2014 has seen the rivalry of two delicious cupcakes: Sticky Toffee Pudding vs. Chocolate Orange.  One is a rich chocolate sponge topped with a decadent chocolate orange frosting; the other is a fruity and toffee delight.  But which cupcake deserves the number one title this month?

Sticky Toffee Pudding

FullSizeRender

I have to be honest and say that I have never really been a fan of sticky toffee pudding.  However, this cupcake transformed all of my negative feelings towards sticky toffee pudding into thoughts of pure joy.  The date and toffee sponge was rich, fruity, and moist, and was perfectly complimented by the sweet, toffee frosting with a caramel drizzle.  I honestly could have eaten this cake all day long quite happily.  This was the perfect accompaniment for my Caramel Frappucino that I had picked up from Starbucks on my way to the Hummingbird Bakery!

Chocolate Orange

FullSizeRender

Hummingbird have transformed their standard chocolate sponge into a festively orange delight to bring in the autumn and winter months with a bang.  The chocolate sponge has a fantastic zesty zing that totally tantalises your tastebuds, and the sweet sugar-coated orange peel is a delicious addition on top of the thick, luxurious chocolate orange frosting.

Nevertheless, whilst chocolate and orange are usually one of my favourite flavour combinations, I could not get over how absolutely fabulous the Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake was, especially in comparison to my preconceived ideas of what it would taste like.  Therefore, the Sticky Toffee Pudding Special Edition Cupcake is September’s star bake in my Great Hummingbird Bake-Off competition.

High Tea at Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason is possibly one of the most quintessentially English afternoon tea establishments in London.  It is a favourite with the tourists and British alike, and is known for its impeccably high standards.  It also happens to make the perfect family afternoon tea destination, as it caters to the fussiest of eaters with three different types of afternoon tea: the traditional sandwich, scone, and cake combination; a savoury afternoon tea for those who do not have a sweet tooth; and the more luxurious high tea for those who fancy a hot dish rather than sandwiches, but still want to indulge in the afternoon tea experience.  As it was my birthday, and we were sitting down to eat around dinner time, the high tea seemed like the perfect option.  And I can confirm that we most certainly were not disappointed!

It was quite exciting waiting for our first dish to arrive, as we had all ordered something different from the Tea Salon Savouries menu.  My mum had chosen the Twice-Baked Shropshire Ham & Barbers Cheddar Soufflé with Honey Mustard Butter Sauce, my dad had gone for the Scotch Egg Kedgeree, Mild Curry Butter Sauce, Raisin Puree dish, and I  couldn’t resist the Lobster Omelette Victoria with Lobster Bisque & Shaved Truffle.  Of course I had to go for the most decadent item on the menu, it was my birthday!

On aesthetics, the Scotch Egg Kedgeree won hands down.

photo 5

The colours were evidently as vibrant, rich, and luxurious as the taste, with my dad claiming that it was the best scotch egg he’d ever tasted (and trust me, he has eaten a LOT of scotch eggs in his time)!  Considering that Fortnum & Mason claim to have invented the scotch egg, this is an excitingly historical dish with a story, and is a treat that is not to be missed!

My mum was also very impressed with her Cheese Soufflé.

photo 4

However, when one is indulging in the luxuries of Fortnum & Mason, one believes that one should go all out and order the most extravagant and lavish item on the menu: the Lobster Omelette!

photo 2

It may not have the aesthetic appeal of the scotch egg, but the taste is simply fabulous and unlike anything I have ever had before, and with the generous amount of large chunks of lobster, this dish is a complete treat.  The lobster bisque and eggs are clearly combined together to make the omelette, and the truffle, which can be seen on top of the omelette, gives the taste a whole new dimension.  I’m not sure words can even describe how wonderful this dish truly is, so you just need to try it!

Once we had finished feasting on our savoury delicacies and were waiting for the rest of our afternoon tea to arrive, my mum and I turned our attention to the tea.

photo 1

The tea is actually the first part of the experience that is served to the table, but with my delicate mouth not being able to handle the hot temperature when it first arrived, and the excitement of the main course, it wasn’t until the table was cleared of food that I felt ready to indulge myself into the full tea experience!  I had chosen the only yellow tea on the menu: Huang Ya Cha Yellow Buds.  With its light and fragrant flavour, this was a truly lovely tea to accompany the whole meal.  My mum opted for the Russian Caravan, which was also a light tea, but not quite as delicate as the Huang Ya Cha Yellow Buds.  I’m not a massive tea fan, but I actually really enjoyed both of these delights!  The menu also gives a good description of the origin and history of each tea, so it was quite fun knowing that we had the tea of the Tsars sitting on our table!

When the afternoon tea stands did arrive, it was a really exciting surprise to find out exactly what sweet treats we had been given, as the menu gives nothing away!

photo 2

Each little delicacy was completely perfect-looking, and it was hard to decide where to begin!  I started with the rose éclair, as I had never tried anything fragranced with flowers before, and I was actually really excited by this cute, little pink delight!  It turned out to be my absolute favourite pastry of the whole selection, and I even ended up taking some home with me!  The flavour was so light and delicate, that it almost tiptoed on your tongue.  If I could return and just request a plate of these little beauties, I think I actually would!

Exploring the plate in a clockwise direction (from the éclair), the milk chocolate stick had a lovely crunchy mint surprise, the pistachio dome unexpectedly oozed a beautiful red jam when bitten into, the macaroon was filled with a delightful caramel sauce, and the dark chocolate square was extremely rich in flavour.  Everything was carefully thought out to bring the maximum amount of pleasure, through taste, texture, and looks, as well as a little unexpected surprise in almost every one!

There was also a dessert trolley if these little bite-size puddings don’t quite satisfy your sweet tooth!  The best part about the dessert trolley is that if you are celebrating something special, the attentive waiters will bring a slice of cake to your table, with a candle glowing, whilst the pianist plays ‘Happy Birthday’ on the piano!  My mum was presented with a giant slice of Raspberry Trifle Cake, and I was given a slice of Bakewell Tart.

photo 3 photo 4

We were also allowed to order whatever else we wanted from the trolley, which was a huge relief as I had been eyeing up the Battenberg from the moment we had arrived!  Luckily, they let me take a slice home instead of forcing me to eat it there, as I was stuffed after everything we had already eaten!

Obviously, we were also served up a lovely helping of scones: 1 plain, and 1 fruit scone each.

photo 3

These were beautifully crumbly and warm, and were absolutely perfect with the blueberry and raspberry jams and clotted cream that we smothered on top.

photo 5

At Fortnum & Mason it really is the little things that go a long way, and I loved the cute messages on the inside of the jam lids.

The atmosphere was also beautiful with the grand piano playing in the background the whole time.  At one point, the pianist even played ‘Colours of Wind’ from Pocahontas and I got ridiculously excited and started singing along!

photo 1

This truly is a lovely and special place to spend your time indulging in afternoon tea.  The service is attentive, smart, and friendly; the food is absolutely beautiful; and to top it all off, there is a whole department store to entertain yourself with before or after the whole experience!  I for one cannot wait to return to indulge in my favourite treat at quite possibly my favourite store!

Le Déjeuner á Balthazar Boulangerie

Clearly, when it comes to writing about authentic French cafés in the heart of London, my GCSE French comes in rather handy (for once)!  Not that I can say much more than ‘Lunch at Balthazar Boulangerie’… But no one needs to know that!

I have to admit that Paris is one of my favourite European cities, and the one that I have visited the most considering it’s a short train ride away from London.  Somehow it manages to keep so much charm and French amour, despite the hoards of tourists that are constantly flocking to this beautiful, romantic city.  For me, part of the beauty and romance of the French capital are its small, cramped, simplistic wooden cafés and restaurants that are crammed into the backstreets, with menus that even Google Translate can barely help me with.  However, I jump for joy when I spot one with fresh sandwiches and cakes piled high on display, assembled to highlight an array of colourful meats, salads, and pastries, so I couldn’t be happier to find that Balthazar Boulangerie has captured my favourite part of Paris right on my doorstep!

photo 5

The choice was phenomenal, as every sandwich was bursting with a rainbow of fresh ingredients and the salads stood out vibrantly.  Eventually, my mum and I decided to share a sandwich and two salads.  And at the end of it all, we decided that we couldn’t resist a cheeky dessert to finish off the whole experience!  Truth be told, we’d been oohing and ahhing over the sugar-filled treats long before choosing our savoury ‘main’!

photo 3

We started our Parisian taste trip with a lovely salami, mozzarella and salad-filled sandwich on paysan (potato and onion) bread.  The flavours were a beautiful combination, and the bread was so light and fluffy, with a bit of a chewy crunch on the outside.  It was quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying in London.

The service was absolutely impeccable too.  Having told them that we were going to share the sandwich, they served it cut in half for us both to enjoy without having to battle with the cutting it in half ourselves.  You would be shocked at how many cafés and restaurants have served us things to share without extra cutlery, plates, or splitting it prior to serving.  Balthazar is one of those places that you instantly feel relaxed as the staff are so friendly and helpful and are actually good at their job!

photo 4

Usually I can give or take a salad, but these salads were to die for and I will definitely be returning for these time and time again!  The salad on the left consisted of gorgeous maple-roasted tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, pine nuts, lentils and caramelised onions.  Despite watching the mass of tourists, huddling under umbrellas and hoarding into Covent Garden on a typical London day in the season of April showers, the European and Mediterranean feel of the flavours and ingredients allowed your thoughts to wander to those days of summer, lounging by the swimming pool, basking in the hot, hot rays of the sun and enjoying the freshest and most delicious salads on your sun bed.  However, my favourite was the salad on the right: chickpea and cucumber salad with currants, mint, mixed spices, and Greek yoghurt.  It was the coronation chicken of salads, but with chickpeas instead of chicken!  The dressing was absolutely wonderful with the slight curry flavour sweetened dramatically with the tiny currants that made their way into every mouthful.  I literally could have eaten this all day!

photo 2

I then washed the whole thing down with a powerfully refreshing home made ginger ice tea.  It was fantastically fiery and sweet all at the same time.  I would definitely recommend one of these, especially if you’re feeling a bit bunged up; it most certainly ‘blows away the cobwebs’ as my dad would say!

photo 1

And to finish it all off we chose to indulge in a wonderful strawberries and cream choux pastry.  I have actually attempted to make choux pastry swans in the rather recent past, and I think my attempt (if it can even be called that) really allowed me to appreciate every little bite of this marvellous treat!  The pastry was crisp and light, and the gloriously sweet cream, combined with the freshest of strawberries really allowed the flavours of this beautiful treat to prevail.  I doubt I’ll be able to walk past Balthazar in the future without popping in to see what lovely French treats are on display for me to enjoy!

Brilliant Bill’s

Everybody I know has been raving about Bill’s, a small chain that has grown over recent years to become a foodie favourite.  I first heard about it from my best friend, who enjoyed her first experience at the new Bristol branch about 6 months ago.  Then one of my friends in London mentioned that she really wanted to try their afternoon tea, as she’d been told about their delectable homemade jam.  Having heard great reviews, I was hardly going to turn her down!

Unfortunately, my first experience at Bill’s did not quite meet my expectations, as the staff at the Covent Garden (St Martin’s Courtyard) restaurant were rather rude and abrupt when dealing with our complaint that our afternoon teas had been apportioned unequally across the two stands that six of us were told to share from.  Aside from the unpleasant service, the food was rather good, with an excellent variety of sandwiches; warm scones, clotted cream, and fresh jam; chocolate cake, strawberry and cream tarts, lemon meringue pies, and flapjacks, especially when you consider the bargain price of £9.95.  If there is one thing that Bill’s cannot be praised enough for, it is their dedication to providing good food at excellent prices.

Luckily, Bill’s in Bristol saved the day with their impeccable and friendly customer service, whilst still managing to serve great food, exactly as expected from all the wonderful things I had heard about this restaurant.  Whilst my best friend tucked into her burger, I started on dish one of five: hot cross buns with a whipped cinnamon butter.

photo 3

As it is coming up to Easter, I decided to treat myself to a traditional holiday indulgence.  I was automatically drawn to this dish on Bill’s menu, as I have always loved hot cross buns, but have never seen them served with a cinnamon butter.  I have to admit the flavours in this butter were a great addition to these warm, toasted, fruity hot cross buns; it was almost like a sweet, melted peanut butter.  These would make the perfect Easter treat in between shopping for Easter eggs!  (Plus, Bill’s have some extremely colourful chicken shaped ‘eggs’ for you to pick up on your way out if you’re much more interested in the easy life like me!)

photo

Next up were these beautifully fresh mini cinnamon doughnuts, with sweet strawberries and a pot of hot melted chocolate sauce, all served on a cute, rustic wooden board, with an elegantly designed greaseproof paper.  These were literally bite-size pieces of heaven.  Soft, warm, and sugary, there was no mistaking how fresh and wonderful these mini doughnuts were, and the chocolate sauce just completed the whole package.

photo 5

My favourite dish was the pecan pie accompanied by banana ice cream.  I find that pecan pie is one of those desserts that feature so infrequently on restaurant menus that I get insanely excited when they do eventually pop up!  Pecan pie was my favourite dessert growing up, until Marks & Spencer discontinued my one true love and created a pecan pudding shaped hole in my life, and I have spent those long, empty years trying to find the perfect pecan pie to fill that void.  Tonight, I may have finally found a winner! This pecan pie was everything that it should be: soft, sweet, gooey, with so much pecan goodness you could weep with joy.  I literally couldn’t be happier right now!

photo 2

I followed up the pecan pie with what I assumed was going to be my favourite pudding of the evening (as normally the pecan pie is a complete disappointment and everyone knows I am a MASSIVE fan of jaffa cakes)!  However, I was shocked that I was quite happy to leave half of this pudding due to the fact that I did not fall head-over-heels in love with it.  It certainly had all of the right components to make a jaffa cake: an indulgent chocolatey coating and a soft cake bottom, which sandwiched an orange jelly elegantly in between them.  However, something just wasn’t quite right, and I believe it was the cake:chocolate:orange ratio.  Essentially, the orange was wonderfully strong in flavour (this is certainly not a criticism; I am never one to complain about too much flavour!), but the chocolate was overwhelmingly thick on the edges and the cake was disappointingly thin in contrast.  It also wasn’t as fun to eat as a traditional jaffa cake, as I’m one of those people who love to tear the cake off from the delicate jaffa centre, leaving the best bit for last.  However, if you have a real craving for something chocolate orange after your main, this is definitely the dessert to go for!

photo 4

My last pudding was the crème brûlée with raspberries and shortcake biscuits.  This was truly a beautiful crème brûlée: it was smooth and creamy, with a beautifully crunchy caramelised topping.  Unfortunately, there was only one raspberry in my dessert, but the raspberry certainly added a lovely contrast in flavour to the delicious vanilla custard.  I loved the fact that the vanilla seeds were visible in every spoonful, confirming that the freshest ingredients are used for every dessert.

photo 1

All of this was washed down with my favourite drink of all time: a pink lemonade and vanilla ice cream float (a drink that I discovered on my first trip to Bill’s).  Attention to detail is as prominent as ever, with a delicate strawberry propped onto the side of the glass.

This was a truly wonderful evening – great company, great food, and great service.  I am glad that I finally got to experience the side of Bill’s that everyone has been raving about for so long, and I can’t wait for my next visit, where I might try something a little more savoury from the menu (finished off with a large slice of pecan pie, obviously)!

Luscious Ladurée

Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe; it has fashion, it has fascinating architecture, but most of all, it has macaroons.  So when I stumbled across the small Ladurée shop and café in the courtyard of Covent Garden, it took no time at all for me to become a regular customer!

photo 4

There is something a little bit special about macaroons, with their beautifully coloured delicate shells, which simply crumble into your mouth with every bite.  They are by far the cutest confectionary treat that you can just pop into your mouth when you’re craving something just a little bit sweet!  (Although, if you do this, you are not getting the full macaroon experience in my opinion; you’re missing out on that slight crunch, followed by a prolonged chewy softness that just oozes pure flavour into your mouth that you only considered possible in fairy tales until now!) The macaroon is an experience to be savoured!

As I was (supposed to be) sharing my macaroons with my boyfriend, I only picked out four flavours.  I thought it would be easier to resist eating them all if I’d already tried that specific macaroon; it wasn’t!  Unfortunately, the little leaflet that the waitress gave me detailing all of the flavours is wrong, so I won’t be able to refer to all of them by their official fancy French names, but after savouring each and every beautiful mouthful I can most definitely tell you what flavours they consisted of!

The first macaroon was salted caramel. This sweet little bundle of joy simply oozed its very generous helping of caramel filling into my very ready and welcoming mouth, and as I pulled the macaroon away from my lingering lips I felt the satisfying pull of the ‘gooey’ texture.  I know this sounds like a love story, but that’s because it is! I am officially in love with Ladurée!

Carrying on my sweet little journey, I encountered the rather special strawberry flavoured marshmallow macaroon.  This pink little ball of perfection epitomises exactly how I would imagine food in a Disney princess film to look, taste, and feel! Whilst it did taste a little bit like bubblegum (not that I’m complaining; it only furthered my nostalgic return to my childhood), I thoroughly enjoyed the change in texture with its marshmallow centre creating a slightly thicker and chewier experience than the rest of the macaroons.  Furthermore, the sprinkling of sugar encasing this miniature delight not only made it even sweeter, but also added a nice extra crunch to each bite.

The third macaroon was coffee and chocolate.  This was actually my boyfriend’s favourite.  The chocolate to coffee ratio was absolutely perfect; it had a very distinct, sweet coffee taste, which was followed up by an almost caramel-tasting chocolate flavour, which was reminiscent of the caramel Frappuccinos at Starbucks.  It was certainly a nice pick-me-up in the middle of a busy and stressful afternoon!

Last, but not least, was the chocolate and orange flavoured macaroon.  Far from tasting like normal chocolate orange flavoured confectionaries, which are predominantly chocolatey and simply complemented by a sweet orange flavour, this macaroon created a flavour sensation that was altogether extraordinary in comparison.  The orange macaroon was sharp and tangy, and stood out in contrast to the subtle sweetness of the chocolate filling.  With flavours that were both complimentary and distinctively different, this macaroon was special and confusing all at the same time; a definite unexpected adventure for your taste buds!

However, the pièce de résistance (my love of random French phrases being very appropriate for this post) was the Caramel Apple Macaroon.

photo 2

This giant macaroon was an absolute dream.  Even with a fresh, cooked-apple filling, which oozed a creamy surprise in the centre, and a sticky caramel filling sandwiching the whole dessert together, the macaroons retained their beautiful, crumbly crunch without the slightest hint of sogginess (my Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood judging hat came on here)!  And the whole thing was finished off with a ridiculously sweet and crunchy caramel drizzle and tiny apple pieces cooked to perfection to keep with the consistent softness of the whole pudding (apart from when you were ocassionally greeted with the satisfying crunch of the caramel drizzle)!

Whatever you choose as your Ladurée treat, I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed!  Everything is perfected right down to the last little detail on all of their confectionary delights, and I absolutely adore choosing from their massive collection of flavours and desserts every time I find the time and money to visit!  It won’t be a cheap trip, but every mouthful will be worth every penny!

 

Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream Cupcakes!

photo 1

Yesterday, one of my best friends and I finished our day at university and the library with a well-deserved trip to the Häagen-Dazs café in Leicester Square.  Whilst I found the concept of an ice cream café quite odd when I first moved to London, especially due to the lack of sea in the capital, I have happily accepted its offering of ice cream-themed desserts with open arms, no matter what the season!  From ice cream sundaes, to pancakes, waffles, and chocolate fondue (all involving ice cream, of course!) the menu has an incredible collection of puddings to choose from.  I know this is a very common theme of my blog posts, but I really couldn’t decide what to have!  However, my decision was made slightly easier by the presence of a particular pudding that seemed pretty unique to me: the ice cream cupcakes.

I have to admit that these cupcakes were an absolute frozen dream and were completely unlike anything else I have ever experienced.  Each one consisted of a freshly baked muffin base, with a layer of indulgent Häagen-Dazs ice cream to complete the cupcake shape, topped with a generous helping of lightly whipped cream, and finished off with a decorative and tasty topping.  Oh, and did I mention that each cupcake had its own saucy little surprise in the centre?!  Quite frankly, they were completely and utterly delicious!

Having spent the whole time going on about how amazing each and every one of these cupcakes were, Carrie asked me to rank them in order of preference.  I simply couldn’t!  They were just all amazing!

I started my ice cream cupcake adventure with the ‘Chocolate Indulgence’, and indulgent it most certainly was!  With a chocolate muffin base, Belgian Chocolate ice cream, and a beautiful chocolate fudge sauce centre, this cupcake was every chocolate lover’s dream.  The combination of the crunchy chocolate balls, on top of the light, fluffy whipped cream, leading to the soft chocolate ice cream and hard muffin base created a beautiful textured adventure.

My adventure continued with the ‘Summer Berry Dream’.  With a delicious blueberry muffin base, sweet Strawberries & Cream ice cream, and a contrasting sharp raspberry coulis centre, each mouthful was an explosion of flavour.  I’ll definitely be craving one of these during the Wimbledon final this year!

The ‘Caramel Delight’ was a bit subtler in flavour than the other two, but, as promised, it was a complete and utter delight.  This time, the chocolate sponge was topped with Salted Caramel ice cream, and there was a butterscotch sauce surprise in the centre.  The nuts were a beautiful addition and really completed the overall taste and quality of this cupcake, as each soft mouthful was completed with a crunch.

After such a wonderful experience, I am already excited for my next visit and can’t wait to try the chocolate fondue!  Let’s face it, if there’s anything that Häagen-Dazs know how to do well, it’s definitely flavoursome puddings!

photo 2