Monday, March 2, 2015

Beela Bakes: London Food Diary: Part 2

The Five Fields, Chelsea

Dinner here was planned by my husband as a surprise to celebrate our three year anniversary, and boy was it good. So good infact that it was easily one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. There is a waiting list for reservations to dine here which alone can take upto three months. Focusing on British cooking, but with a modern and playful twist, each dish at The Five Fields is made with native British artisanal produce and changes seasonally. The dining room itself is a small intimate space which made it feel all the more special and gave an air of what felt like a traditional English gentleman's private club.

I loved that they personalised the menu for our special occasion. I started with the simply named Garden - a playful combination of herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables which tasted just as colourful as it looked. I tried turbot for the first time for my main, and it was served with laver seaweed, razor clams and blackberries. Dessert options looked incredible and we couldn't hold back from ordering two - the lemon brulee with butternut squash ice-cream, and the cucumber basil white chocolate with dill. Even so, we were given a third complimentary dessert - an example of the attention and care taken by the restaurant to ensure a great experience. Every dish was perfection, beautifully presented and the service was stellar. Lots of delicate herbs, pretty colours and artfully combined flavours. At the end of the meal we were given a complimentary box of housemade confectionary. Truly ones of the best meals I've had and it definitely lives up to its reputation - just read its exemplary reviews.

Joe and The Juice, Regent Street

Another spot which I discovered with friends during my last year of uni. The urban-style juice bar which originally hails from Denmark offers a selection of fruit juices and smoothies, as well as snacks and sandwiches. It kind of has a very similar feel to Tom & Serg in Dubai in terms of the decor and ambience, and you can watch your juice being blended up on the open space counter bar. Seating comes in a variety of styles, including window seats, sofas, table and chairs and a more communal space in the upstairs area. It's a lovely spot to catch up with friends, or especially one to retreat to after a busy few hours most likely shopping on nearby Oxford Street (totally guilty)! Infact I also love it for people-watching. They do however have branches in Fitzrovia and Dean Street as well. On this trip I went for 'Joe's Sweet Kiss', a blend of raspberry, apple and ginger. It was fresh, zingy and frankly a better alternative to the usual Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero nearby. Saying that there is coffee on the menu too for those who still need their caffeine fix. I didn't eat anything this time round though I can vouch for their avocado sandwich being very good.

Pret A Manger, all over London

Good 'ol Pret. I simply can't tell you how many times Pret has literally saved my life. From A-Level school days grabbing a quick lunchtime sandwich during private study breaks, to university again where it practically made up for at least one less meal to worry about everyday. And of course this is precisely what makes it so good - its ethos is handmade, natural food without any preservatives or additives, and it truly caters to the everyday person; one looking to refuel with good 'fast-food' in a city where time is unfortunately always of the essence. In fact I don't think there is anything Pret does which could be considered 'bad' - sandwiches, wraps, soups, hot savoury pastries, freshly bottled smoothies and juices, healthy crisps, snack bars, dessert pots, everything it does it does so well. Oh and did I mention how amazing the avocado wrap is? Hand on heart, this is one sandwich I could eat everyday for the rest of my life. You can find a Pret on virtually every street corner in central London now and to be honest, with such good honest food I'm all the more grateful for it. Pret I love you.

P.S. I've now long heard whispers about Pret A Manger coming to Dubai, more specifically to the airport, and I really hope its true!

Box Park, Shoreditch

Box Park is a pop-up mall concept in the hipper east part of London, which sees a mix of independent fashion brands, cafes and restaurants housed in shipping containers. Infact it's a concept very similarly adopted, if not copied (!), by the newly opened Box Park on Al Wasl Road in Dubai. I came here specifically on a hunt for gourmet doughnuts (something which I will be posting about soon) but enjoyed lunch at Thai and Lao Street Food which serves up a variety of South East Asian street food and uses fresh ingredients for meals which are cooked to order. I went for a steaming hot pad thai with prawns, which was just the thing I needed on a dreary damp day, and especially as the open containers don't allow much for keeping out the cold even when seated inside. The husband went instead for a Korean bulgogi beef salad box with kimchi from Korrito. With a rooftop style garden its definitely a great place to check out in the British summer and enjoy al fresco style lunches and dinners.

Roasted Chestnut's, Oxford Street

One of my absolute fondest memories from my childhood is enjoying hot roasted chestnuts from Victorian-style wooden carts in Knightsbridge during the winter months. There is something about the charcoally smell of chestnuts roasting, and the delight in peeling back the hot individual shells which is forever engraved in my mind. It romantically takes me back to trips into central London with my parents on the weekends, when my mum and I would buy a small crispy white paper bag of roast chestnuts each and sit on a side-street bench enjoying their soft rubbery sweet flesh one by one, or in our laps trying not to make a mess in the car ride back home. Today it is impossible for me to pass a street seller without stopping to buy a bag and I especially look forward to seeking them out when I'm in the city for winter. I'm not sure if they are sold in Knightsbridge anymore but I bought from a seller on Oxford Street this time and in the past have seen them sold on The Strand as well. Quintessentially British, to me they are a symbol of a bygone era of street-life still preserved in today's London.

Read Part 1 of my London Food Diary here 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Beela Bakes London Food Diary: Part 1

Its already been few months now since I came back from a short trip to my beloved London. Still I've been meaning to share this post so here it is. Although the winter had already settled in when I was there, I'm glad to say I didn't let it deter me and I honestly had one of the best 'holidays' I have had since moving away from the city four years ago. Is it just me or is the city's food scene thriving more than ever before? Fine dining, cafe's, deli's, bakeries, markets, pop-up stalls - there seemed to be so much to discover everywhere I turned. Like most Londoners, I've always held a special place in my heart for the festive season, and I really think this contributed to my enjoyment of this trip even more. Hot street roasted chestnuts, the Harrod's window displays, and Christmas lights on Oxford Street are traditions which made winter in London what it was for me as a child. As I go back to visit over the years I'm always glad to see they are all traditions which are very much still alive, never failing to add that special atmosphere to this time of the year especially.

Obviously I arrived with a list the length of my arm of places I wanted to try, and even though I didn't get to try them all, there was certainly the odd day where I ended up eating three mini lunches just so I could fit in said places all in one go! Of course, as a self-proclaimed sweet-tooth there were also plenty of days when dessert naturally replaced lunch or dinner - the things we do as a food blogger! I admit, a few of the places I visited were based on other food blogger's recommendations, but I did try to add spots in of my own, and I also tried to visit some of my favourite places having grown up as a Londoner. Since there are too many to fit into one post, look out for a follow up post soon.

GAILS Artisan Bakery, Portobello Road

I made a point to visit Portobello Road and the Notting Hill area as its a part of London I used to frequent often during my school years as a teenager, and hadn't explored in a while. Gails was on my list to visit and I am so happy I did. They have a huge selection of in-house freshly made sandwiches, beautiful baked breads, baked sweets and pastries. I had the mini sesame bun with avocado guacamole and plum tomato, and a mini poppy seed roll with smoked wild salmon and chives (as seen in the first image). Both were out of this world - so so fresh, and I for one am not even a bread person. My only complaint is that I couldn't try more of their selection as this was lunch no.2 for the day. This is somewhere I definitely plan on visiting again and again whenever I am back.


Millies Cookies, Hammersmith Station

Foodies have always claimed Ben's Cookies as being the best, but I have never really understood this - if you ask me, Millie's Cookies is where its really at. As a school girl in Hammersmith, I had to navigate my way through the Broadway Centre everyday to get to the tube station, and buying cookies from the Millie's Cookies stall became a mandatory ritual. Sort of a welcome comforting respite after a long school day. So much so that an employee ended up giving me a special discount card reserved for ...shhh, Millie's Cookies staff. Guess who became the envy of all her friends? Fact.
So naturally when I found myself getting off at Hammersmith this time to change tube lines, I had to make a little stop to the same stall and reminisce over my favourite milk chocolate chip, and salted caramel and pecan. One each, just as when I was a school girl.
They're super soft, buttery, a little chewy but with an ever so slightly crunchy exterior. Whats great is they still taste exactly the same as they did all those years ago, and really, nothing made my tube journey home that much better.

L'Eto Caffe, Knightsbridge

Having heard so much about L'Eto Caffe from friends, family and bloggers this was the first stop on my list. A visit to the Knightsbridge branch for lunch was made to refuel post a gorgeous walk in nearby Holland Park with the husband. I ordered the Pumpkin and Feta Cannelloni with Roasted Butternut Squash Puree & Baby Spinach off their menu. I wasn't expecting the portion to be quite so small, but I genuinely loved it and especially liked the way it was presented. However I was totally in awe of their fantastic platter display and in hindsight it was a mistake to order off the menu. I would definitely go for their seasonal salads next time! For dessert I got their popular Honey Cake which had also been recommended to me by many, and it was definitely the best version I've tried. The dessert display is a real spectacle (even when compared to Dubai brunch dessert displays!) and I lost count at how many passers-by stopped to glare in through the window.


Tinseltown, Ealing Broadway

As a Muslim who only ever eats halal, it naturally became more difficult to find halal-friendly food that wasn't only Asian or Lebanese, once I was living away at university. So you can imagine how amazing it was as a uni student to discover Tinseltown, an American style diner which served halal burgers in the city. Tinseltown ended up becoming a great spot for birthday get together's as well as late night impromptu meals.

It only made sense then to make sure I brought my husband here during our trip. We decided to visit the Ealing branch, as it was closer to where we were staying, although my previous visits were always either to the one in Hampstead or Farringdon. We ordered a garlic chicken burger and a classic beef burger along with a side of fries, but no trip to Tinseltown is complete without a milkshake. They are especially known for these, which you can custom make from literally any popular chocolate bar you can think of. I know what you're thinking - aren't there lots of milkshake places like this now (Shakeism in Barsha, Dubai is my favourite) but back then (2007!) it was one of the only places to have this concept, at least in London. My milkshake of choice this time? The Wunder Kind - a Kinder Bueno and ice-cream milkshake topped with whipped cream, rich toffee sauce, chocolate sprinkles and a wafer. The perfect compliment to an American style diner meal.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate, Liverpool Street

We stumbled upon this beautiful minimalist coffee shop whilst trying to seek refuge from heavy rain. The focus here is on serving a high quality selection of coffee and teas, as well as a variety of sweet treats. We both ordered a hot chocolate made with Koko Deluxe - a hot cocoa brand which uses some of the worlds finest cocoas and all natural ingredients. The result was a rich drink which certainly had a true chocolate taste, and was the perfect respite from the cold weather in the late afternoon.

Novikov, Berkley Street Mayfair

I have to admit I had never heard of Novikov until we were invited out to dine here for my aunt's birthday during this trip, and I was hugely impressed. The Mayfair fine-dining establishment is divided essentially into two restaurants - the front half a pan-Asian mix serving Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian, and the back focused on Italian. We were booked in for the Asian, but what is great again here is that the food served in both rooms is halal. They have a huge market-like display of fresh seafood and vegetables, along with an open plan kitchen, and their waiters were extremely knowledgable in helping us select our fish for the mains. Being used to choosing mocktails off dining menus in the UAE also meant I was happy to see they had a large selection of non-alcoholic drinks to choose from, other than just the usual juices. These were visually beautiful in themselves.

For our starters we ordered a variety of dim sum including spicy prawn moneybags, chicken buns and sashimi. I was especially taken by their grilled asparagus and even the non-veg eaters amongst us were captivated by its seriously delicious marinade. The ginger and soy steamed seabass was the star of our mains, alongside pak choi, sweet and sour chicken wings, Singapore noodles and prawn fried rice. Although this is what we settled on, I honestly would have chosen pretty much anything from the menu as nothing makes me more happy than good Asian food. Everything was so well prepared, cooked and presented.

Yes it is on the expensive side, and it does mostly serve a 'certain' crowd but the food is stellar and its just the kind of place if you're looking to celebrate an occasion with good food. I can't wait to bring my parents here for our next trip to the city.

Jaimie's Italian, Kingston

I'm ashamed to admit here as a foodie that I had never actually been to Jaime's before this visit. Apart from the huge faux pas made when the waiter served me and my friend alcoholic instead of the non-alcoholic drinks we had ordered, the food luckily made up for it. We started with the Italian Nachos - crispy fried ravioli stuffed with three cheeses and served with arrabiata sauce, the type of starter perfect for sharing and every bit as good as it sounds. For mains I had the Vegetable Rotolo Al Forno - seasonal pumpkin, squash and spinach rolled in fresh pasta sheets, baked with tomato and topped with herby parmesan crumbs, and it was perfection. My friend had the Prawn Linguine which she loved, and her young son had the fish fingers with crispy potato wedges from the kids menu, probably the most appetising version of the classic kids meal I've seen. Dessert was a beautiful Chocolate, Pear & Honeycomb Pavlova, one of those combinations you just know you have to try.

Granger & Co., Notting Hill

Australian chef Bill Granger needs no introduction and this was a place I solely visited due to blogger recommendations. I went on a mid-afternoon weekday and yet the casual dining restaurant was packed and bustling with diners, so much so that I had to perch myself on the ample-spaced bar top, albeit quite happily. I ordered their Quinoa, Sunflower Seed, Beetroot, Chili and Feta salad, which was extremely generous, wholesome, filling and full of interesting textures and flavours like any salad should be. As odd as it may sound I had this along with a hot chocolate - the real reason behind why I was compelled to visit, its made with hot milk poured over Callebaut chocolate drops. Though it was definitely good, it probably wasn't the best combo with my salad, and also teaches me to maybe not so blindly always follow other blogger recommendations..! The dessert display here was another feast for the eyes and its a shame I didn't have space to try what was on offer.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Rose, Orange Blossom & Pistachio Breakfast Parfait

The past month or so has been super fun-filled and packed starting with a trip 'home' to London, birthdays, anniversaries and ending with my first event selling my artwork under Biha Designs, at the Dubai Garden Centre Fashion Festival a couple of weekends back. Infact I've been so tied up that I didn't even get a chance to do a post for my 2 year blogiversary, but we'll see if I can do something about that soon ;) 

In the meantime if you follow me on Instagram you'll be aware of my frequent love of posting my breakfast pics. Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day (lunch is a very close second), probably because its when my energy is at its highest. I namely have one of two things pretty much every morning - either a loaded smoothie, or a fruit parfait with granola. I love to use whatever I have on hand, but I also like to be creative with my fruit and flavour combinations.

No surprise really then, that eventually my fondness for all things rose and pistachio would soon creep into my breakfast too. I'm not going to wax lyrical about how much I enjoy using these ingredients because my previous posts are evident enough, but I can't believe I didn't come up with this Middle Eastern inspired yoghurt parfait sooner!

It has all the usual layered goodness of a breakfast parfait - alternating layers of yoghurt, granola and fruit, but its the rose water, orange blossom water, pomegranate, dried rose petals and pistachio slivers here which give it that Arabian touch. What's even better is that this parfait can equally double up as a healthy dessert treat. Mixed into the yoghurt, both the rose and orange blossom lend that subtle floral aroma which I so love in desserts - and it is quite subtle here, as you don't want it to be too overpowering for breakfast! Raspberries and pomegranate arils make up the fruit layer, because these complement the flavours so well both visually and in taste, and of course pomegranate carries on the Arabian theme. The pistachio and dried rose petal granola provide the necessary crunch we all need in a breakfast parfait, and can really just be mixed into whatever granola you already have on hand.

Since I don't believe something like breakfast should be made to the T, please feel free to change around the fruits, type of granola, or yoghurt you use. I used plain yoghurt instead of Greek as I find its less heavy on the stomach, and I also think strawberries would be a good substitute or addition to the fruit layer. There's no added or refined sugar here too - just a drizzle of honey for a touch of sweetness. 

Rose, Orange Blossom & Pistachio Breakfast Parfait
Makes 1 large serving

1 cup plain/Greek yoghurt
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp orange blossom water
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
8-10 raspberries
1/3 cup granola (homemade or bought)
2 tbsp pistachio slivers
1 tbsp dried edible rose petals, crushed 
Honey, to drizzle 

1. In a small bowl mix the rose and orange blossom water into the yoghurt.
2. Mix the pistachio slivers and dried rose petals into the granola.
3. In a jar, glass or bowl scoop a layer of granola to the bottom. Next add a generous amount of the yoghurt, with a drizzle of honey, before adding the fruit on top. 
4. Repeat layers until the glass is full, and serve. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Moroccan Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salad

I was looking through my blog the other day, and was shocked to see how infrequent my posts have become. The reality is I am forever planning my next blog post, even if I never actually find time to get in the kitchen to make my recipe, take photographs and then write up about it. I often feel like much of my day is spent preparing breakfast, eating it, preparing lunch, eating it and preparing dinner just to eat it too. Don't get me wrong, food is my passion. But perhaps that's why as my days have become more and more busier in recent months, I've found less time to bake and dedicate my blog to posting about what 'Beela bakes.'

Instead I've become more inventive with my meals, and one of my favourite things is to come up with creative lunch options for my husband to take to work with him. And that's exactly how this Moroccan inspired quinoa salad came to be. In truth, the recipe for this quinoa salad is already about a year old now, and I have to admit that it's not really made solely for the husband anymore. But rather it has since become one of my favourites, if not the most favourite lunch to make.

This recipe gave birth to my love of roasting veggies, as well as my love for this particular spice blend. It's become second nature to put the oven on whilst I quickly chop some carrot, beetroot and coloured peppers, and add in the amazing mixture of spices. In fact I don't really measure the spices out, and you don't have to stick to the measurements in the recipe below either. Sometimes I add some chopped broccoli or mushrooms too. For brussel sprout haters (me included) they work really well when roasted with the spice blend here - they actually become bearable, I promise! Regardless, the smell of these vegetables roasting in the oven makes this a lunch which I always look forward to, and which I'm pretty sure will have you wanting to make it a regular lunch too.

I've always loved strong spices and the combination of cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, paprika powders, as well as dried chilli flakes and a dried herb mix, really lifts the vegetables in this salad from just being an average quinoa salad into one that's special. Moroccan cuisine was definitely an inspiration here, hence the aptly named title, and I played on the idea of how cous cous could be swapped out for the quinoa. Feel free to also swap out the baby spinach for any salad leaves - I've often added mint, coriander or parsley too. 

The recipe below makes enough to share between two, and tastes just as great eaten the next day. Its healthy, filling, and so relevant to the types of nourishing wholesome salads which are so regularly craved today. I think its even great served as a sharing platter for entertaining guests. If you do only one thing from this recipe, have a go at roasting the veggies mentioned here (beetroot, carrot & coloured bell peppers) in the spices mentioned too. I've always loved my veggies, but it's given me a whole new love for them, and it just might for you too. 

Moroccan Veg Roasted Quinoa Salad

50g or half a carrot, peeled & cubed
40g red, orange or yellow peppers, diced
50g beetroot, peeled & cubed
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch of paprika powder
Pinch of dried chili flakes
Pinch of mixed dried herbs (thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary all work well)
1 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tsp extra
80g quinoa (about half a cup)
1 cup water (chicken or vegetable stock if preferred)
Salt to season
2 cups baby spinach
Squeeze of lemon 

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Meanwhile prepare to cook the quinoa in a medium pan with the water or stock, using your usual method. See here for how to cook quinoa. (I don't always have stock on hand and add like a little dried stock cube to my pan if I'm only using water). 
2. Put the chopped carrot, beetroot and pepper into a small bowl. Add all the spices, season with salt and mix well so the spices are evenly distributed through the vegetables. Add one tablespoon of the olive oil and mix well until vegetables are coated.
3. Spread the vegetables evenly on a baking tray lined with foil and put in the oven to roast. Switch off the oven after fifteen minutes, but leave the vegetables to sit for a little while. 
4. In the bowl used to mix the vegetables, add the remaining one teaspoon of olive oil, plus a generous squeeze of lemon, mixing to catch all the remaining spice residue. Keep aside.
5. Prepare your serving dish by layering the spinach leaves first, and adding the cooked quinoa on top. Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven and add onto the quinoa. Use the reserved olive oil mix to pour over the salad.
6. Serve straight away or enjoy as leftovers the next day!