Peckham Bazaar, Peckham

A few years ago I decided to give up on Greek restaurants in the UK. I obviously love Greek food, and I feel quite homesick at the best of times, so there’s a limit on how many times I can get served dishes accompanied with that weird bright-orange passata, or charged £6 for a shot of ouzo, before I buy myself a one-way ticket back home.

The thing is, Greek food is not too hard to make, but does rely on lovely fresh ingredients that are not always cheap or easy to find here. In Greece, my mum will come back with a huge carrier bag stuffed with peppers, courgettes, aubergines, for little over €10. Every time I try to make moussaka in the UK, the aubergines cost substantially more than the mince.

I’m saying all this because, plot twist, there is a really good Greek (/Balkan) restaurant in London and finally, after months of drooling over their online menus, I made it there.

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We turned up for Saturday lunch with the right number of people to allow us to try everything on the menu. We had a couple of our own bottles of wine as this was their first BYOB lunch, but we also tried a Monemvasios from their extensive (mostly) Greek wine list. The restaurant is relatively small but bright, and the big open grill is visible from the tables. The smell from it hits you as you walk in and, together with the music, it set the tone for an authentic-feeling afternoon.

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Overall, everything on the menu tasted fantastic; both familiar but also with some interesting twists and additions. This is pretty authentic stuff – the presentation is more refined but the flavours are punchy. I enjoyed everything but below are some photos of my favourites.

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The octopus with fava (a houmous-style puree made from yellow split peas) was the dish I was mostly looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. The octopus had the right amount of chewiness and good char, and went well with the earthiness of the fava. Pretty to look at, too.

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This was the squid with Israeli cous cous, cabbage and orange. Flash-grilled squid on brilliantly chewy cous cous, with the orange segments keeping it fresh and interesting.

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Anchovies were perfectly fried and served alongside gem dressed with a very savoury graviera (my favourite Greek cheese!) sauce. I might have licked the plate.

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Lovely pork chop and, as the rest of the meats, it came in 6 slices, which was presumably to make sharing between the 6 of us easier. A nice touch. I love gigantes (giant butter beans in tomato and herb sauce) and this was a great example of them.

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One of the highlights, even for meat lovers, was the imam: aubergines roasted with tomatoes and olive oil till silky soft, served alongside stuffed Turkish peppers.

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We finished with Greek (or Turkish, if you prefer) coffee, a bottle of Samos sweet wine and a couple of puddings to share. The pistachio cake with mastiha ice cream was my favourite. Mastiha is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s really fragrant and an interesting alternative to vanilla ice cream. My boyfriend normally complains it tastes like soap, but he seemed to be enjoying this version of it just fine.

We ended up stretching our lunch to about 3 hours, threw in a spot of wine tasting, and left full and happy. The 6 of us paid around £30/head for all the starters and mains, 4 desserts, a bottle of red, a small bottle of dessert wine, and coffees. It’d be great to go back when the weather improves and sit out on the patio. Maybe for an Easter-special spit-roast lamb?

Chilli Cool, Bloomsbury

Saying that Chilli Cool has been reviewed by many before is certainly an understatement. I was already well informed about what to order from this and this and this post. And I knew I would love it.

This is the kind of place you want to go with sharers. There are so many lovely dishes and you really don’t want to be stuck eating just one of them while staring at other people’s food!

The starters were cold, which was maybe a little surprising, but the Szechuan Chicken was very tender.

Even better was the Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce which was so thinly sliced and silky that it actually took me a while to figure out what I was eating. And somehow I mean this as a compliment!

The beans were brilliant, crunchy, charred, salty, with porky bits to add flavour. As an added bonus, you felt you were almost being healthy eating them.

I can’t actually find a picture of a dish I loved, the shredded pork. Maybe because I was too busy stuffing my face with it. But above is my real favourite, as expected, the Sea Spicy Aubergine. This was so awesome that I am still dreaming about it, a few weeks later. It was silky, sweet, spicy and resulted in a certain male companion sheepishly admitting it was his favourite dish. He seemed relieved when we told him there was pork in there too and tried to pretend he knew all along, but that’s high praise coming from him thinking it was a vegetarian dish!

High point: The aubergines.

Low point: Not many. When I ate a chilli?

The money: £12 with tea and tip, and we ate until we ached. Bargain.

Go with: Friends who like to share. Bonus points for liking tripe.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury, Holborn

Even if the Cambridge food scene isn’t very interesting, I feel like I’m not allowed to say such a thing, having yet to visit places like Midsummer House and Alimentum. It’s just that in London the choices multiply and the prices (at least for the quality you’re getting) drop. I can’t but love it.

A weekend in early June we found ourselves heading down to the capital for a little food adventure. After stuffing our faces with the brilliant (and unexpectedly large) lunch at Launceston Place, we headed to our next stop: Bea’s of Bloomsbury. I had never heard of it before, but a friend works nearby and had great things to say about the little cafe in Holborn.

We were booked in for afternoon tea which includes a scone and several mini brownies and cupcakes. I started with the mini raspberry meringue, which turned out to be my least favourite. It was pretty to look at and lovely to eat, with a crumbly texture, but I found it a little too sweet for my liking. I still hadn’t recovered from lunch though, so maybe that was the problem.

The scone, obviously served with clotted cream and jam, was one of the best I’ve had. It’s been over two months since then but I can still remember the moist, crumbly texture and the slightly salty taste that went perfectly with the sweet jam. It was rich but somehow still light and I could have eaten them all day.

I was hoping that my Lapsang Souchong would help me digest my lunch and manage some of the cakes but, after having the scone, things started to look pretty desperate. Thankfully, we all agreed we’d rather take the rest of the cakes away and try again later in the day. When we did manage them, I was pleasantly surprised at how moist the sponge was and how fruity the icing. It was a close competition but the favourite was probably the passion fruit one.

If I had to complain about something it would have to be the place itself. We were there on a hot summer’s afternoon and since there was no air conditioning it was quite stuffy. I am sure that’s not a problem for most of the year, thanks to the glorious British weather, but maybe it’s worth looking into it for the few summer days we get. I did like the fact that from where we were sitting we could see the kitchen; it makes you feel that they haven’t got anything to hide!

Bea’s of Bloomsbury does afternoon tea for just under £10 per person and it is well worth it for the quality and amount of stuff you get. You can add savoury mini baguettes for an extra £3. Or you can just drop in and choose a slice (or two) of cake to take away.

Launceston Place, Kensington

I had been looking forward to visiting Launceston Place for a good few months; actually, since I saw Tristan Welch working his magic on Great British Menu. Starting the day with a massive hangover and a 3-hour journey to Kensington was probably not the best appetizer, but the weather was lovely and the short walk from the tube station helped the recovery process.

I have to say, I felt a little intimidated when we walked in, but the waiters were very nice and things got off to a good start when someone cracked a joke and got the sommelier giggling while taking our order for a lovely bottle of Rioja – I just wish I had managed more than a small glass.

We were also given some homemade crisps, tied up with a cute black ribbon, one for each person. We were having the 3-course set menu, so I was pleasantly surprised when a little amuse turned up soon after we ordered. It was a yoghurt sorbet with little pickled cucumber strips, which tasted, unsurprisingly, quite a lot like Indian raitha. It was nice.

For my starter I chose the beef and beetroot risotto, where beetroot bits were playing the role of the rice. It was served with some wild garlic foam, which was yummy and some bone marrow, which freaked me out a bit with its slimy texture, but Alex finished it off quite happily. The thin cured beef slices were absolutely stunning and I really could have eaten a lot more.

The other starter was probably the best dish of the meal. A perfectly poached goose egg, about which we talked for days after, was served alongside some toasted bread with mushroom pate and shaved truffle. There were two mushroom haters that ordered this and declared it a success, so I don’t think it can get much better than that.

My main was a perfect little cylinder of tender lamb, served with the creamiest mashed potato I’ve had in a while and some crunchy, minty stuff on the top. There was also some clear broth that the waiter poured on our plates, and I just felt sad that I didn’t have a spoon to scoop it all up.

After mains, there was another little surprise in the form of Pimm’s gelly topped with lemon and lime granita. Although my hangover wasn’t thankful about the extra alcohol, this little pre-dessert was absolutely yummy, just tart enough and perfectly summery.

I convinced a friend to share the Apple Tart Tatin with me, while everyone else had the Chocolate and Rasberry Mousse. They were both lovely, the tart was as good as they come, with sweet caramelised apples topping flaky puff pastry and served with some superb homemade clotted cream. The mousse was dark and intensely chocolatey.

We turned down coffee as we were planning afternoon tea soon after, but we were still offered a couple of pots of warm mini sponges and cream that were incredibly light and fluffy.

We spent a good few hours after the meal talking about how brilliant everything was and, at £20, it’s a complete bargain. The service was great, the waiters were attentive and we never felt rushed – a perfect lunch.

9/10