Foody Friday: Church Farm Ardeley and the Jolly Waggoner

A few months ago, on a drive into the countryside to visit friends, we passed Church Farm in Ardeley and our attention was grabbed….. a mixed, ecological farm, producing the widest range of meat, fruit and vegetables, Church Farm also serve fresh food from the farm at the Farm Butchery & Store, Farm Cafe and Jolly Waggoner Pub. We made a quick stop on our way back to explore the lovely little farm shop, buying up some amazing fresh eggs and other bits, and made a mental note to find out more about the place once back at home.

And we were so delighted we did! We soon discovered we could get a weekly delivery of vegetables from the farm and quickly placed our order….we now look forward to each delivery of amazingly fresh and carefully grown veg, not to mention cooking it and eating it! The produce tastes like things used to in my opinion….carrots have that wonderfully sweet and earthy fragrance, and cauliflowers have that great peppery taste. We used to have an Able and Cole box whilst we lived in London, but are finding the Church Farm box much more home-grown and honest, and it’s wonderful to know our food has barely travelled!

And it doesn’t end with the veggie stuff…. The free range livestock (and subsequent produce!) ticks all the boxes for us….They keep their animals in small extensive herds & flocks, using older slower growing traditional breeds to produce the best meat from healthy, happy animals. You can visit the animals to see for yourself, and the farm was set up with the advice and help of some of the UK’s foremost farm animal welfare experts.

“All the animals are kept extensively and allowed to mature before slaughter. All animals can and are seen everyday by our farmers, co-farmers, and visitors. Our mortality rates are very low and our animals live on average twice as long as those in more intensive farm systems. We have a fully qualified on-site vet and call upon the RVC/Westpoint vet partnership for support where needed. The only way we differ from the Soil Association husbandry guides for all species (the highest welfare standards in the UK) is that we buy local straw and silage feed from local farms which are not organic.”

Well how could we resist?! As a treat to ourselves then earlier this week, we visited the charming pub opposite the farm, The Jolly Waggoner, to sample some of the farm’s other produce. The menu totally spoiled us, with stacks of us-friendly meat choices, as well as several very tempting veggie options. Adam and I both opted for the lamb though, his Dad the fish and chips, and his Mum the pork belly. ALL the dishes were amazing! Our lamb was perfectly cooked and accompanied by delicious pommes Anna and a scrummy jus….the pork belly was laden with amazing crackling and the huge battered hake was just perfect.

Prone to temptation as we are, we all went on to relish a pudding of walnut cake with butterscotch sauce….this too was just to die for and left us all very jolly and contented indeed! They serve real ales too, with a selection of guest ales from local breweries, and the wine list is pretty impressive too. We are sure to be back in search of a Sunday Roast!

Church Farm also boasts a woodland play area, walking trails, tea rooms and a campsite! All in all, seriosuly worth a visit!

Ems x

About these ads

Foodie Friday: The Copper Beech Tea Room

I do love a quaint little tea room, and when we recently found this charming place I knew it would become a firm favourite. In fact, we took my Mummy there last weekend for her birthday, and she just adored it too!

The Copper Beech Tea Room is actually part of the Copper Beech Art Gallery, which is just a short drive away from Hitchin, Letchworth or Stevenage in Little Wymondley. The gallery sits within an oak-beamed barn on a working farm, and hosts both resident and guest local artists, as well as workshops….. you can learn cake decorating, painting in many styles, mosaicking, lino printing, hand applique, gilding and lots more! The owner actually spotted the self-made dinosaur necklace I was wearing, and once we got chatting about what I do invited me to bring some of my work along for her to see and perhaps sell!

We love having a wander around the gallery as we wait for our drinks to arrive, but then it’s time to settle down in the darling little tea room!

Nothing matches in the cosy little cafe….there are charmingly mis-matched chairs, tea cups on totally different patterned saucers and art work of all styles on the walls. One wall is dominated by a gorgeous large dresser, upon which stand various home made cakes for you to gape at! The menu is great for us…nearly all veggie, but plenty varied to boot. There’s a quorn spag bol, toasted ciabattas with your choice of fillings, pasta dishes and soup. For just £7.50 you can get any drink of your choice with any main meal, and for £10 you can also choose a cake!

On our most recent visit I opted for the mushroom bake, which is a seriously yummy sort of pattie with loads of cheese inside and all crispy and breadcrumby on the outside. All the main meals come with delicious home made coleslaw, pasta salad and a nice leafy salad (which I am happy to say is not dominated by rocket or raw onion which often spoils a side salad for me!). Adam and Mummy had toasted ciabattas, both of which were devoured! We can also really recommend the (pictured) stuffed mushrooms (with with parmesan risotto or with goats cheese and onion marmalade) as well as the goats cheese puff which we’ve had on previous visits.

Tea for one comes in a pretty little tea pot, whilst my hot chocolate was served in a huge mug topped with stacks of cream and hundreds and thousands! The meals are way too big to be able to tackle a cake straight afterwards (especially as the cake portions are massive too!) so our waitress kindly wrapped up our two slices of pineapple cake and slice of apple cake to take home! We made the right choice too….the huge portions made a nice pudding about an hour after we got home, and then stretched to pudding after our supper too! Both cakes were amazing to boot….seriously tasty and moist, just like a home made cake should be.

We’ll definitely be going again soon and couldn’t recommend the place enough….it may be small but it’s certainly perfectly formed, and beats the in-town chain lunch haunts hands down!

Ems x

Vienna: Eats

Whilst I’ve never actually *chosen* a holiday destination based on the food I’d expect to get there, food is often the first thing that makes me fall in love with a place. And Vienna will certainly be remembered as one of my favourite cities for that very reason!

We were so impressed by the meals we had on our little city break there last October, whether it was in a traditional restaurant, a quirky canteen or from an outdoor vendor. The biggest benefit for us was that so much of the meat there is Organic…..Adam and I only eat free range meat, so eating out is often a bit tricky for us, although we do allow ourselves a little more freedom whilst on holidays. It wasn’t just the meat that impressed us though….everything we ate was of such high quality, served with a smile (not to mention a great deal of patience with my poor German-speaking-ordering!) and I’d definitely say the food was a highlight of our trip!

To that end, I thought I’d share with you some of the places we most enjoyed eating whilst in Vienna….I hope you’ll want to try them if you’re ever there!

One of our most memorable meals was the incredible lunch buffet at Brandauer’s Schlossbrau. A grand ‘beer hall’ (and huge beer garden in the warmer months!) set inside one of Vienna’s last Biedermeier dance halls, this place feels both fancy and informal, with dozens of tables all over the former dance floor and even on the old velvet-draped stage. There is a wonderful beer selection (I’m afraid I can’t remember which one I had, but it was the waitress’ recommendation and very yummy!) as well as an incredibly good value all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Never one to turn down such a challenge, I relished the chance to try all the different traditional Austrian dishes, and I would heartily recommend doing so yourself, especially for the bargainous price of €7.50 (Monday to Friday, 11:30am to 3pm). I devoured three plates full, including an amazing potato soup, sauerkraut, schnitzel and goulash. I can imagine it pays to get there early during the summer months, especially if you’d like a pretty table outside under a chestnut tree, but it’s certainly an excellent place to visit if you’re going to see the nearby Schloss Shonbrunn…..Get the U4 to Shonbrunn (just about half a dozen stops from Karlsplatz going towards Hutteldorf) and visit the Schloss in the morning, and then walk off your big lunch around the Schloss grounds, zoo and very good copy of Kew!

I love a foody market, so Vienna’s Naschmarkt was a must for our trip. The Borough Market sized treasure is a few minutes’ walk from the centre (about ten minutes from the opera house and just over the road from the stunning Secession gallery) and is crammed with cute wooden stalls bursting with fresh produce. There are a good few sit-in restaurants and cafes there, but you’ll possibly be even more tempted to buy up lots of treats from the various stalls.

And still on markets, I couldn’t resist raving about the famous Viennese Christmas markets, which provided me with some of my favourite meals during our trip! There are a number of wonderful traditional dishes available at the various Chistkindlmarkts, and all of the ones I tried were AMAZING! I adored the savoury Pretzels and Langos (huge deep fried bread smothered in garlic sauce), but most of all the incredible Kartoffelpuffer (a sort of giant hash brown brushed with a yummy garlic sauce). We also enjoyed some amazing sweet things, like Lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits), Maroni (roasted chestnuts),  and the yummy marshmallow-filled pastry rolls (can’t remember the name, but it was like the Hungarian Chimney Cakes, only filled like a Tunnocks Tea Cake!) as well as several mugs of the glorious Gluhwein (mulled wine). The biggest market is the one in front of the Rathaus, but you’ll find Christkindlmarkts all over the city from November onwards.

Still outdoors, I just have to share in the joy of the amazing Bitzinger Wurstelstand. You can find this gem right behind the iconic Staatsoper opera house, just around the corner from the famous Cafe Sacher. Famous in its own right, this sausage stand is often frequented by smart businessmen on their way home, as well as glamourously dressed opera-goers, all yumming up the no-frills offerings. There’s a good range of different sausages, sauces, breads and sides, and I just loved standing at the tall table integrated into the stand, underneath their heat lamp. This is how fast food should be!

Lastly, and probably our best meal whilst in Vienna, I can’t recommend enough the delicious offerings at Shone Perle. It’s a bit of a jaunt out of the main hub (nearest U-bahn station is Taborstrasse on U2), but this all-orgainc canteen style Neo-Beisl serves the most amazing food and is well worth the trip. I chose the Wiener Schnitzel (massive favourite of mine) which came with yummy potato salad, whilst Adam had the incredible Tafelspitz (prime boiled beef) which came along with a sort of giant potato rosti. Both dishes were accompanied with lovely sauces and sides, and we were delighted with the Austrian wines we chose too. I’d happily take the trip back here at the first chance….whilst the place isn’t fancy or terribly convenient to the main tourist attractions, I’d say you can’t beat it for quality and value.

Mahlzeit!

Ems x

Something from the weekend…..brownies, shopping and a very Austrian Hen Do!

Once again I’m utterly shattered after the weekend! It’s been another busy one, and the horrid weather has taken it out of me too. It was however lots of fun…..

The weekend started early, as my lovely friend Brigitte came up for a little visit. After a cup of coffee and a slice of the amazing Peanut Butter and Chocolate Brownie she’d made for us, we took a good look around the brilliant Antiques and Collectables Market that takes place each Friday in Hitchin. We also had a good snoop around all the charity shops in town, as well as the cook shops, and came away with a good few treasures! I made us a sweet potato and coconut soup for lunch, then after we’d taken Cooper outside into the garden to play with his ball for a while, Brigitte made her way back to London and I set about getting ready for the weekend.

Gifts from the lovely Brigitte!

Hitchin Market Treasure

I had a little lie in on Saturday morning, although as I’ve been getting up earlier since we got Cooper, it was a far more reasonable hour than usual! As it was raining, Cooper and I walked up to meet Adam’s Mum, so that she could show me her rainy day walking route. Despite the wet, I rather enjoyed myself, especially as we decided it was time to let Cooper off his lead for the first time! He was very good, and came back when called (eventually at least!), and had a nice play with some other dogs we met along the way.

Adam made us a yummy omelette for breakfast when I got back, which set me up well for the rest of the day….at midday I made my way to the station to meet up with the girls, and we all headed into Covent Garden for the start of our friend Katie’s Hen Do! We had a great lunch in Belgo’s (pils, moules et frittes, yummy!) then popped just round the corner to Pineapple Dance Studios, where we were to take a dance class together!

The Bride To Be with her goodies!

Yummy lunch

Starting as she means to go on with a chocolate Schnapps

It was amusing to us getting ready in the changing rooms, alongside lots of professional dancers putting on pointe shoes and whatnot….it was awesome to be there though! Once all ready in the studio, our lovely teacher announced that we’d be learning the Gangnam Style routine and the hilarity commenced as we all started learning the moves! It was all pretty bonkers, but great fun watching each other as we all rather inexpertly made our way through the routine, and we were shattered after our hour of exercise!

Pineapple!

Concentrating….

Once we’d all changed into our evening outfits and scoffed a load of jelly beans, we made our way out West to drink cocktails and play Hen Do games. Katie was made to pick out her hubby-to-be Peter’s body parts from a stack of photos of eyes, belly buttons and elbows…..she managed to guess most correctly but got landed with a couple of forfeits for the ones she didn’t (and I don’t think she ever completed them, tut tut!). Then there was a quiz of questions which Peter had been made to answer already, and Katie had to guess what he had answered….there was lots of giggling and ah-ing as we heard some rather silly and soppy answers!

Next it was off for dinner at the Tiroler Hut, a fabulous Austrian restaurant and music venue at Bayswater. Katie’s sisters had dressed her up in a wonderfully silly Austrian style outfit, including ridiculous blonde plaited wig, and we all joined in the silliness by plaiting our hair into pigtails. After a delicious dinner (Ungarische Krautroulade, cheese Fondue and Kaiserschmarrn for me!) the entertainment began, and we were soon rolling around with laughter watching Katie join in with the cow bell playing! There was lots of singing along to tunes from Sound of Music, as well as dancing to the birdie song and the okey cokey! It was a brilliant night of fun (I’d VERY much recommend a night out at the Tiroler Hut!), and I was absolutely shattered as we journeyed home…..I wasn’t back at the house until 2:30 and was delighted to hear our hound guarding the place as he barked and bounded downstairs before realising it was me and coming for a cuddle before he settled back down on his bed!

Despite the late night, I still managed to get up at a far more reasonable hour than most Sundays, and we headed off to Oughton Head Common for a nice long walk. The cold morning woke me up in no time, although I was glad I’d taken along another bit of Brigitte’s brownie to eat along the way, as I was in need of calories! It was gorgeous to see all of the trees starting to sprout little bits of green, and to find some blossom finally blooming!

Spring springing

After heading home for a quick breakfast, we dropped the hound off with Adam’s Mum, and went over to Biggleswade with Adam’s Dad to a little antiques fair. It takes place there at the Weatherly Centre every month and is clearly very popular as it was packed with stalls and fellow shoppers. I saw far too many treasures I wanted to bring home with me, and despite being fairly good, I couldn’t resist buying a very delicate string of Art Deco pearls, as well as a 1930s necklace which will be kept as ‘special’ for my wedding outfit!

Antiques fair

We picked up the hound and then stopped into our local, The Half Moon, for a half pint (Belly Dancer for me, Dog Dancer for Adam!). It was so lovely to take him there for the first time and he soon made himself at home!

Pub pooch

The rest of the evening was spent slobbing about and cooking up a big fry-up for supper….I felt the treat was well deserved (and needed!), as was the early night I got (asleep by 9:30!).

Ems x

Something from the weekend…. Time Banking, Singin’ in the Rain and welcoming a new arrival

Well that was an eventful weekend! Whilst we knew we had a bit going on, it turned out much busier than we’d planned, but all the more fun for it!

On Friday evening we went for a somewhat impromptu meal out…. some old friends of Adam’s family  had come over from Seattle and so a big bunch of us met up for a curry and catch up. It was great to meet such lovely people and to natter the evening away over a yummy meal! It was home fairly early though as I had to be up quite early for work on Saturday….

I’ve been working with North Herts Centre for Voluntary Service for a couple of months now, helping out with their events programme. On Saturday we launched the new Stevenage Time Bank at an event to introduce the concept to the local community. Time Banking is a great way to volunteer….it’s free to join and you can give as much time as you like, and totally flexibly, then you get an hour back to spend how you like for every hour you give! It’s a fantastic way to build communities, and has been working really well in North Herts for a while now….people might give an hour a week walking someone’s dog, then spend their saved up hours on getting help fixing up their garden for example. The event had a great turn out, including the Mayor of Stevenage who was very positive about the project. We signed up a good few new members and got lots of people thinking about how they can get involved.

At the Stevenage Time Bank Launch

Shortly after my return home from the event I had a call from the local Greyhound Rescue who we’d recently fostered for…. as you may remember we took on a gorgeous pup called Cooper as a foster hound, but then I got so upset after we found him a ‘forever home’ that we decided we’d just have to adopt rather than foster! We’ve been looking for the perfect pooch since, and were due to meet a couple of girl greyhounds on Sunday morning, but when our homing officer (Cheryl) called on Saturday she dropped a bit of a bombshell! It turns out that Cooper’s new home hadn’t worked out, so he was coming back to the Rescue and Cheryl wanted to give us first refusal to either foster him again or adopt him!

Apparently he’d been a bit too playful with his new home’s existing greyhound, and wasn’t reading her signals to back off, so she would snap at him, which was worrying his new owners. So, we had a tricky decision to make quite fast, whether to take Cooper back and give him all the training he needs to be able to socialise better, or go ahead and meet the girls on Sunday morning. I was convinced it was fate….that timing-wise he had just become available again as we were looking to adopt our forever hound….so we decided to have Cooper back (on a foster basis to begin with and see how he gets on, then hopefuly adopt him) and I began to get excited about his arrival!

We made our way into London on Saturday evening, as we’d booked tickets to the screening of Singin’ in the Rain at the Royal Albert Hall as a birthday gift for Adam’s Mum. Adam had found and booked a meal at a little Moroccan restaurant near the Hall at South Kensington, so we made our way there first and were delighted to find the wonderfully quaint Cous Cous Darna. We were served the most delicious meal, with excellent service and in wonderful surroundings…. Adam and I often feel short-changed when ordering vegetarian meals, but our Vegetarian Tagine and Vegetable Cous Cous were amazing, as was the Moroccan wine we had along side, and the Moroccan mint and orange blossom tea we had in lieu of pudding (too stuffed!).

Zinc table top at Cous Cous Darna

Amazing Vegetable Tagine at Cous Cous Darna

After the meal, we took the walk along to the Royal Albert Hall…I never fail to be impressed by the stunning building as we approach! The performance was actually a 60th Anniversary screening of the newly re-mastered film ‘Singin’ in the Rain‘, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Neil Thomson. The score has been painstakingly pieced back together by John Wilson, who was commissioned by MGM to reconstruct the lost orchestrations of all their major musicals including High Society, Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon and An American in Paris.

The ever-impressive Royal Albert Hall

The result was just phenomenal, as Wilson had completely brought back to life the film’s iconic soundtrack, which was played live against the re-mastered film on the big screen with the original vocals and dialog intact.The evening was introduced by Patricia Ward Kelly, wife of the film’s star Gene Kelly….we were all laughing and also brought to tears by her lovely introduction, as she regaled us with amusing stories from the film-making, quashed rumors, and told us how much she wished Gene was there to see what we were about to experience. I sobbed in fact through most of the film….it was just magical to hear the score performed live alongside the film. The event was a special two-night only anniversary celebration, but I’d very much recommend your seeing it if it’s ever done again.

The big screen!

On Sunday morning we had what was perhaps our last lie in! We heard in the morning that Cheryl was collecting Cooper at lunch time, so he would be with us by the early afternoon! I began beavering away to get the house ready for him…hiding cleaning products and plumping up the dog beds! Then at about 2pm he arrived!

Arthur waiting for Cooper’s return!

Cheryl says that he clearly remembered the house, as she pretended to walk past but he pushed his way through the gate, and his tail wagged madly as he came up to the front door! He quickly settled back in, and nestled into his bed (his favourite place, second only to the sofa!). I took him into the garden for a bit, but he was most happy when we all snuggled up on the sofa, where I read one of Cesar Milan’s books about puppy training.

It was a bit of a mission to get him outside into the snowy cold for his afternoon walk, but he was very well behaved whilst out and did us proud as we met other dogs out walking. Once home, he got a visit from his Grandma Liz (!), Adam’s Mum, and she cooked dinner for us before having a nice long cuddle with him back on the sofa. Cooper was sorry to see her go back home to her own dogs Newton and Piper, but he’ll get to meet them again soon anyway.

Contented hound

Adam and I spent the rest of the evening slobbing on the sofa, with a very content hound curled up next to us! We started to watch The 10th Kingdom, which I’m yet to really buy into….Adam says I have to give it time, but at the minute I’m struggling!

Bed time was pretty successful, and Cooper soon remembered our routine and settled down nicely on his bed without trespassing on our own bed! And so I went to sleep very content indeed after a fun-packed weekend, and with our new family member at home too!

Hope you had a wonderful weekend too!

Ems x

Living for the weekend…. August Bank Holiday 2012 in London

Loooooong weekend!!!!! Yes, it’s here….the last bank holiday before Christmas!

We will acutally be up in Hitchin, where we’re moving next month. But I know that if we weren’t I’d be making the most of all the things going on in London….in fact we’ll be taking every opportunity to make the most of London before we leave in a few weeks!

Here’s my pick of the best stuff to do this weekend….maybe I’ll even get chance to pop along to one or two things on Monday…..

London Picnic Club at the Skyroom

“Running for the duration of the Olympics and Paralympics, the Skyroom designed by young architect David Kohn (creator of a Room for London atop the Queen Elizabeth Hall in South Bank) will gradually undergo a transformation into a garden with a difference- a colourful, living and breathing roof top oasis allowing guests to retreat from the London chaos below.

Share and enjoy exquisite food presented in the form of surprising picnic hampers, take part in garden games, catch a variety of exclusive and intimate  live music acts or stretch out on blankets and cushions to watch one of our especially selected movies at our mini screen on the green. The primary focus of the London Picnic Club involves a progressive and evolving food and drink menu that will show a strong relation to our developing roof top garden installation- keeping things seasonal and directly interactive with our space.

The experience is aimed to be surprising at all times, where our guests will discover new flavours in a playful and dynamic environment that brims full of creativity and connects people in new ways…

Platterform’s new head chef Alejandro Bello (of Ceviche fame) has collected and carefully reinvented select dishes from various corners of the world all assembled beautifully inside an iconic British picnic hamper. Designed as a sharing meal, expect London Picnic Club hampers to contain inspirational tapas style hot dishes, innovative ceviches and fresh garden salads as well as a fine selection of produce from local suppliers including artisanal bread from St. John’s Bakery, cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy and charcuterie from Brindisa all served with home-made preserves and dips. Exotic desserts, fresh Summer fruits and surprising treats complete the package.

Drinks take inspiration from the quintessential British Summer garden where Platterform delve into the world of experimentation using their own garden ingredients to make shrubs (fruit preserves), infusions, cordials and bitters to combine with premium spirits, fresh fruits and hand picked garden herbs.

Grab your favourite picnic blanket and gather your friends for a once in a life time picnic experience!”

 £35 per person, advanced bookings via www.londonpicnicclub.eventbrite.com

Until 8th September (Monday-Friday  11am-10.30pm, Saturday  12pm-10.30pm)

The Floating Market moves to Little Venice

As you may have read, I went along to the floating market on Regent’s Canal a few weeks ago, whilst it was at Mile End….. the market has now set sail for pretty Little Venice though, so head there for yummy cakes, hat stalls, floating book shops and all sorts!

Until 2nd September, free entry

Frightfest

“Originally conceived by Paul McEvoy, Ian Rattray and Alan Jones, FrightFest staged its first event in 2000 at the Prince Charles cinema, near London’s Leicester Square. Its August Bank Holiday weekend date has remained a fixture ever since……. The objective of FrightFest was to provide the UK with a horror fantasy festival of similar stature to the market leaders in Europe, Sitges (Spain) and Brussels (Belgium). FrightFest has since evolved into a community where audiences and guests alike travel from all over the world to be part of the event’s unique atmosphere.”

Tickets are available from the Empire Cinema box office and here

Festival passes for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday are £160.  Single tickets are £12.

 

“Guilty Pleasures is London’s biggest, boldest, brashest and best night out. Packed with relentlessly energetic djs, acrobatic bedazzling dancers, live bands and speciality performers galore, over seven years it has established itself as the capital’s number one top spot for a P.A.R.T.Y. This Saturday 25th August, in collaboration with Time Out Live and MGM HD GP are bringing the most ambitious and thrilling party at London’s decadent Troxy Cinema with a live, interactive and exciting event where the worlds of cinema, music and nightlife collide in one colossal party…… 80s pop takes centre stage as Guilty Pleasures Cinema Party presents: Desperately Seeking Susan.”
The Troxy, Commercial Road
Saturday 25th August, 8pm – 2am, £10

Supperclub Carnival Weekend

“This weekend, we will be having an exceptionally turned on line up with our outside inside carnival special with a carnival themed menu with a serious twist…… With an extra special line up of entertainment for the club night we will be taking the carnival from the streets onto the sheets where we will be inviting party goers down for our carnival afterparty to enjoy our beds and booze late into the night.”

General Admission is £20

Events on over the whole weekend

If I make it to just one thing on Monday, it’ll have to be this!…..

Paw Pageant 2012

“The capital’s best-dressed, fugliest and smartest dogs will be hitting the dogwalk here at Old Spitalfields Market on Monday 27th August. Paw-perfect pooches will be competing to win prizes in eight categories, from ‘Dressed Up to the K-Nines’ to ‘Shoreditch Show Off’. There will also be a small specialist market selling a variety of great gear and tasty grub to pamper your pooch. In addition a glorious raffle by canine couturist’s LoveMyDog will be auctioned in aid of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.”

Monday, Old Spitalfields Market, 1pm to 3:30pm, free

Have a fab one whatever you do!

Ems x

The Stew House by The Dead Dolls Club

As far as pop-up restaurants go, I’m not terribly experienced. But in view of this year’s resolution to not miss out on things, and having only just made it to the very last night of the Minotaur pop-up, we booked early for The Dead Doll’s Club‘s new venture.

The Stew House is rather charming in its modesty, purveying the no-fuss staple alongside contemporary art. But despite the no-frills menu, the ‘secret’ location (shared only by invitation shortly before our booking date) and the request to dress up, was enough to capture my attention.

20120123-170231.jpg

We arrived to an unknown (to us) corner of Hackney, intrepidly seeking out the transformed venue, and finding our target behind heavy double doors and a red and gold glowing window. Inside we were met by a wonderfully long table set with candelabras, vases of pheasant quills and old liqueur bottles for water…..Above us, broad streamers made up a false ceiling, cleverly lit from behind in hot tones creating a cosy glow…..And on the walls false windows and fireplaces in thick black ink on white, interspersed with real framed drawings of antlered skeletons and strange portraits of men wearing feathers. The effect is of an opulent, ancient feast, somehow sprung up in a contemporary picture book, and as guests arrived dressed fopishly in top hats and blousey shirts I felt rather transported into a strange time that never existed.

20120123-170312.jpg

Our cocktails (a yummy LDC of Gin, Elderflower and Lychee) arrived in cute hexagonal jam jars as we chatted to our neighbours on our large, sociable table. And having been asked if we were hungry to start (yes we are!), we were brought pretty starters on slates. We did our usual half and half switch, as Adam started off with the veggie tart and I took the meat option before swapping half way through. The goats cheese and red onion tart was tasty enough and based on an excellent puff pastry. But the ham hock terrine with piccalilli was sublime and melt in the mouth tasty.

20120123-170341.jpg

And for the main event, we chose what seemed to be the super popular choices of Welsh Cawl and Venison with Port and Chocolate. The latter was made up of deliciously tender and tasty meat, but the sauce was rather too rich for both of us and we needed several of the hunks of seeded bread to get through. The Welsh Cawl however boasted both perfectly cooked meat and perfectly balanced sauce….everything was beautifully cooked and seasoned and brimming with fresh, hearty flavours.

I was somewhat upset that the bread and butter pudding the sample menu hinted at wasn’t on the evening’s menu, but the apple crumble with fresh custard that came as our pudding was by no means a disappointment (especially accompanied by a gorgeous Dark and Stormy cocktail).

But it’s really the surroundings and the fabulous atmosphere that will take us back to The Stew House, and probably next time with friends….I think it’s less of a couples night out and more of a group thing. And if they happen to pop up elsewhere in the summer, it’ll certainly make my list of birthday events!

The Stew House has been extended into February now….catch it whilst you can!