Check out some of the places I'm raving about....

PACHAMAMA

18 Thayer Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 3JY

A good friend of mine recommended this Peruvian delight a while ago so when I had to make a last minute decision on where to eat earlier this week it was a no brainer.

I was early and shown straight to a table, the restaurant is quite big and opens right up into the basement. It’s dimly lit, with cute, quirky décor. We also passed mama’s kitchen on the way, you can’t miss it really. My friend soon arrived and we browsed the a la carte menu and tasting menu over a glass of Spanish rose. We decided the tasting menu might be just too much food, twelve plates in total when our total haul was seven, glad we didn’t but it would lovely if you’re absolutely ravenous or dining with people who can eat an awful lot of food, we’re all different!

First up snacks, beef short rib croquetas and the traditional padron peppers, which might I add were huge! The croquetas were crunchy on the outside and soft of the middle, pure perfection. Next up were the mains, although everything gets served as and when it’s ready in no particular order. We went big on the fish, yellow fin tuna ceviche with pickled potatoes and cucumber as well as sea bream tiradito with tigers milk and purple cauliflower. The bream was so refreshing we saved some to have right at the end. Fried aubergine, smoked yoghurt and pecans was my fave. I’ve never actually loved aubergine until recently so every time I eat out, I try to order it. It was so soft and just melted in your mouth, and the pecan added a nice crunch to outside, if you get anything, get this. The duck on rice arrived last and was delicious, I don’t know what kind of creamy sauce it was served with but it was delicious.

Dessert to share, yes please, it was toss up between the quinoa ice cream or the pumpkin custard and almond sponge so the waiter helped us. Pumpkin custard won. A super light, tasty, dessert, the pumpkin was subtle with the chocolate and orange flavours coming through from the garnishes.

Any downsides, just one because we were left quite a while between our mains being cleared and dessert being ordered, as well as asking for the bill, a little bit like we’d been forgotten about. The service had been outstanding up until that point. Their sister restaurant Chicama is next on my list.

No food photo’s this time, trying to actually enjoy meal times rather than spending all my time taking photos, social interaction at its finest. These guys also have an all day bar, with a pisco focused cocktail menu and a happy hour which runs from midday until 7pm, as the world famous master of the tick once said, #justdoit

SOM SAA

43a Commercial Street, London, E1 6BD

This one has been on the list for a while now, I’ve not heard a dodgy word about it, but hadn’t managed to get there as it’s a trek from West London – I know, first world problems. You see, I’m a lover of food from South East Asia, always have been and will continue to be. In fact, this year I’ve committed myself that I’ll cook more of this style food at home, so keep your eyes peeled. It’s simple, flavoursome and full of nutrient packed ingredients, no brainer really.

As they don’t take reservations for groups under four, the two of us, arrived promptly at 6PM when they opened, were greeted by a friendly guy who advised us our table would only be ten minutes. We took a set and read through the drinks menu. The front is filled with high and low seating, bar stools and booths and feels very organic, lots of wood and plants. The bar staff also wear Thai style shirts which is nice touch. From the front the space is also quite deceiving and looks small, but on the other side of the bar, it’s big and open right up, filled again with different tables and seating styles and an open kitchen at the back.

We opted to share four dishes with accompanying rice (which might I add, is unlimited, perfect for a rice fiend like me!) Like many places the dishes arrive when they are ready, so first to arrive was the gai yang, (Thai style grilled chicken leg with a tamarind dipping sauce) som tam Thai (green papaya salad) and some sticky rice. The tamarind dressing was so good we kept it on the table for the entire meal. The papaya salad was full of crunch and flavour, with ample spice. Next arrived the kuri squash curry with some jasmine rice. This was my favourite dish of the night, and is photographed below. The squash was still firm, the cherry tomatoes popped in your mouth and the curry sauce was just bloody amazing! The special was last to arrive (pollock with red curry sauce wrapped in banana leaf). We were surprised the kitchen had prepared a little something extra for us as we’d ordered the first special of the night and it had taken them a little longer to prepare (although we were busy feasting so hadn’t noticed). So also put down on the table was the lon pla kem, a dipping relish made of pork and salted mackerel. This one’s popular in Thailand but can be missed by tourists as it’s a bit off the beaten track. It arrived with herbs, mini Thai cucumbers and other raw veg for dipping, so we got stuck in. Salty yet also creamy, due to the coconut cream. However, the mackerel was just a bit much for me personally and I just couldn’t get used to the taste. I love the concept and the fact it’s so traditional, just not for me.

From the second we walked into Som Saa I knew it would be great, the service was spot on, the entire space smelled entirely of Thai food and the food represented that. Any chance there might be one opening a little more….West?

IPPUDO

31A Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6ND

There is a concurrent theme running through here, I know, typically south east Asian food, but there will be other reviews to come along I promise. It’s just at the moment these are the types of places I tend to hang out in, and for good reason. Ippudo is located directly across the road from Bests Bootcamp where I teach cycle, albeit I have the permanent Wednesday morning slot so therefore ramen or any kind of hot Asian dish at this time of day isn’t really what I tend to go for. That being said I’ve ventured here twice in the last month and haven’t left disappointed. Famed for their ramen, which I opted for on visit one, last week during the grip of snowmageddon I went for the chicken donburi, purely because of my absolute love of rice. I’ve only ever tasted the donburi served at Wagamama’s which is also delicious so when this one arrived, it did look a little different.

Let me introduce you to chicken nanban don - The rice was ample sticky, the chicken, fried and crispy and the nanban sauce on the top adds a lovely creamy flavour, as it’s a secret sauce you don’t know what to expect, so I won’t ruin the flavour profile for you. You also get some lovely accompaniments of pickles and tartar sauce, and the tables are only set with chopsticks so it’s great for practicing your technique. Oh and I almost forgot to mention the steamed hirata buns, which I’ve shared with my co-diner on both occasions. On weekdays before 7pm you can get three of these beauties and a beer for £10 – good deal considering the size of both the buns and the main courses I’d opt for sharing these as a starter. And get the variety pack, one veggie, one pork belly and one chicken, then cut them in half (you’ll need to ask for a knife as it’s tricky using the chopsticks for this!)

It’s cheap, cheerful and I’ve been welcomed with a smile every time I’ve walked in the door. We have never waited for a table, and whilst it’s cosy and the tables are close to together it works.

By the way: quickly on the ramen, not only do they use different broths but they also offer you different noodles depending on how hard you like them, personally I’ve gone for medium which meant they still had texture to them. And poached eggs in most cases are an option as well, so you can bolt them on if you fancy it or if you want and added protein and fat fix. And if I’m brutally honest I actually cannot remember which one I chose the first time but have a sneaking suspicion it may have been the hakata niku ton, with a poached egg, obvs!
They also have branches in Soho and Canary Wharf. Plan a visit, while the weathers still cold (ish)

26 GRAINS

2 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9DP

Quite frankly I needed porridge inspiration for the winter months ahead, so it’s a no brainer why this was my café of choice.
Opening at 8am in the secluded and overly cute Neal’s Yard I wrongly thought this place wouldn’t really get busy until 9ish. Luckily my friend arrived first and got us a table, we shared with two other diners and there was more than enough room. It’s small and cosy with an open kitchen out the front leaving the warming smell of oats throughout. We both opted for the savoury oats, I’ve been wanting to try this for a while now (due to my love of eggs) so it was the perfect opportunity – I also think Carly didn’t want food envy so decided on devouring the same. And two flat whites, of course. We did witness the Nordic Pear bowl arriving next to us which looked beautiful and for second we wondered if we’d made the right decision, but not for long.
The oats were creamy, the avocado perfectly ripe, egg yolk runny and the sirracha added the absolute right amount of spice. I haven’t had alfalfa for years and it really topped it off bringing a different texture and ever so fresh taste. Top tip – chop everything up and mix it all together, promise it works! Service was brilliant, friendly, not over the top just casual but completely on the ball, all the time.
So if you are going, get there at opening, it’s not a place to linger, but hey it doesn’t take that long to devour a bowl of oats! I’m contemplating buying the cookbook.

PASTAIO

Ganton Street, Soho, London, W1F 9BN

Homemade pasta. Nothing quite like it. This popped up on one of my social feeds and it was instantly on my list of places to get to. Sometimes at home we also make our own pasta, it’s super easy and really does taste different to the pre-made stuff.

Only open for about six months these guys certainly know what they are doing (I even took my Italian friend and she gave it the thumbs up) and I love the fact they use British produce too. Backed by Stevie Parle, no need to say more, they operate a short menu. Simple things done well is something I’m a massive fan of. I arrived early (the don’t take reservations) and was seated on a table for two at the back against a beautiful mural by Rob Lowe, A.KA. Supermundane. They also have three long sharing tables in the middle and a cute outside area, although at this time of year we are severely struggling with the weather!

I aptly ordered an aperol spritz, perfect (except for the paper straw). I get it, we need to do this for the environment and I fully support it. I just purely don’t like the texture of them so it’s no more straws for me. Once my friend arrived we ordered. First up we shared the fried mozzarella, nduja & honey sandwich. I mean, severe fat intake right there, but it was on point. Creamy yet with a bit of spice from the nduja and the bread was crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. Tip – make sure you lean over the plate as the juices might drip out!

It was a tough decision for the mains, I opted for the cavolo nero, smoked ricotta and casarecce, it arrived bright green and was delicious. The smoked ricotta added and extra depth of flavour which I wasn’t expecting and the casarecce was al dente. My friend chose the fonduta ravioli del plin, chicken broth which is on limited availability. She told me “if it’s good, it’s good” so I was intrigued to see what arrived. A bowl of chicken broth with tiny ravioli floating on the top. I took a spoonful, savoured the saltiness of the broth and then the creaminess of the ravioli. I’m ordering this next time!

Dessert. Cannoli, ricotta, orange and pistachio. Something I associate with The Sopranos yet still haven’t tried one. Again creamy inside and crunchy outside, one was enough to share.

Customer service is brilliant, we asked quite a few questions about the food and weren’t left wondering. Food was delivered promptly, even though by the time we were half was through our meal a queue was building outside. Reasonably priced too with mains from £6 to £12.

They say on their website they also have great music. This is true. If you aren’t into food, just go for the music and the bar menu! Bellissimo!

FARMSTAND

42 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5AJ

Same Aussie friend as the last review, she conveniently works right near here, it makes for great breakfast and lunch dates. We popped in, with an hour on the clock. I arrived first and sat at the only vacant table I saw, then realised they have a wealth of seating downstairs, well thought out design feature. The food is pretty simple, the menu is on big boards behind the counter and the food itself is right there in front of you as you order. This does help when deciding, I certainly changed my mind on what I was having at least three times when I actually saw the food itself.
I went for the harissa chicken, coconut dahl and autumn slaw and said friend had the smokey aubergine (which I also heard loads of people order, proving the theory that more of us are going plant based) with coconut dahl and green beans. Every bite was tastier than the previous one. The harissa chicken wasn’t too spicy and was made with thighs for added flavour which I personally loved. The dahl was soft and creamy and the slaw added the perfect crunch. It also packs a punch in the nutrition stakes too, lean protein for muscle recovery, cell growth and repair and fibre from the lentils to aid digestion and maintain optimum gut health. I often fear fibre has been forgotten, check our my blog post from earlier this year for more info on how to achieve a higher intake.

Price wise – its pretty good, £7.50 for mine and £6.75 for friends, also if you just want a plate of three sides with no meat, fish or veggie main, which I would totally opt for next time, it’s £5.95. Bargain!
Later on, I also sampled their organic filter coffee and a brownie. Perfectly portion sized I must add and for £3.00 in total I believe it to be another bargain.

Perfect pitstop, and also great to dwell a little longer if you need to. As a famous robot once said, I’ll be back.

MAM

16 All Saints Road, Notting Hill W11 1HH

This one popped up on my social feeds recently and immediately it went into SOON (my most recent APP purchase which holds lists of cafes, bars, books, music and loads more, ideal if you freelance and are looking for somewhere to eat nearby, find it in the appstore). Ever since visiting Vietnam in 2016 I’ve fallen in love with Vietnamese food, the flavours are simply so fresh and delicious and we could do with more of it in the UK.
I visited with friends so we shared some An-Hoi, small plates, to start. The wings are insane, we actually ordered a second portion they were that good. TOP TIP: when they are delivered they are steaming hot so give it a few minutes to avoid burning the sh*t out of your mouth and not enjoying the rest of the meal. The Banh Xeo was next, I actually made these savoury crepes at a cooking school in Hoi An, they were just as good and the crunchy veg on the side mixes up the texture nicely. Finally the dumplings, which were divine, possibly a little bit too much spring onion garnish, but mior detail.
I had to go for the Pho Bo (beef) for main, it’s exactly what I fancied and didn’t disappoint. The beef was rare and cooked in the stock as I consumed the noodles and veg, They also have sriracha sauce on the tables if you want to spice things up a bit more.
As for drinks The Worldwide Cuba is a delicious gin cocktail and the Notting Hill Spritz (their twist on a tradition Aperol) is light and refreshing, Be wary of A Guyanan in Louisiane, it’s strong (that’ll be the absinthe) and will make your face scrunch up, you know the look I mean…..
And all in all, two cocktails, enough food for a small army and service for under £40, in West London, that’ll do nicely, thanks!
Next time, I’ll be sampling the Vietnamese BBQ and my even make a trip to their sister restaurant Salvation in Noodles

SQUIRREL

11 Harrington Road, South Kensington, SW7 3ES

With my recent teaching spot at Bests Cycle a few doors down, I’ve visited this cute café on a number of occasions, and it will more than likely become a habit. The concept of the café is great, with their custom made bowls and brekkies with the added option of making it bespoke if you wish. They also have a “treehouse” where you can escape from the ground floor and chill, read or look over the balcony at what’s going on down below. Coffee, tea, juices and a drinking well keep things interesting and I simply love the idea of warming tonics especially with winter just around the corner.
The last time I visited was for lunch and I opted for the Guac n Roll – a #massive salad with a carb base of brown rice and a protein source of chicken. It’s worth the £8.50 as the portion was epic, albeit mostly bulked with spinach, but as we don’t eat enough fruit and veg in this country I get where they are going with it (and it’s a cheap ingredient). I’ve also sampled the feta egg bowl which was delicious and value for money under £5.00 – particularly love the black beans which are so versatile but not used very often.
I did however wait quite a while to be served, it was lunchtime and there was only one staff member on the very long counter. However, I was greeted by an exceptional customer service assistant when the time came, who chatted whilst making my lunch and also refiled my water bottle. Sometimes it really is the little things that make the difference. The only other downside is that I’ve recently started having oat milk in my coffee sometimes because I like the taste, but on two occasions they haven’t had it even though it’s advertised.
I’d recommend a careful watch on the food names, agree they are pretty fun, but some, such as Thai Clean Curry can be seen in a negative light with the recent clean eating debate and links to negative and positive foods.
I’ll be back for some takeaway avo toast after my next cycle class!