London’s markets: Portobello, Camden & Covent Garden

I’m an absolute market fiend, whether I’m at home or on my travels. I love visiting markets at home because it takes me out of my regular world for a while, and forces me to adapt to market pace, whatever that may be on any given day. This is good for me, because I’m a bit of an OCD control freak, and I know that isn’t a healthy way to live 24/7. I love markets while I’m travelling because I firmly believe that the only real way to assimilate oneself into a new culture is via the markets. Eat there, shop there, talk to people there; ignore the nice restaurants and shopping malls, the markets are where you find real life, no matter where you are in the world.

While I was in London last year, we hit three markets in the space of about 48 hours, one better than the next! They weren’t “hidden treasures” or secret markets, they were three big ones that everyone knows about. But they’re all definitely worth visiting!

Portobello Road Market
Portobello Road, stretching from Pembridge Rd near Notting Hill Gate, all the way down to Golborne Rd

This website gives a great guide to sections of the market and operational hours, so I won’t bother to regurgitate all of that. We went on a Saturday and it was fantastic, with my highlights being the antiques/vintage sections, and Acklam Village, which was a killed street food and bar area. Basically, you could get your food from any of the numerous vendors leading to the bar, then grab yourself a beer or cider and enjoy some live music and your drink and food in a communal area! Amazing! This was also my favourite market of the lot – it was a very mixed crowd, a bit of a hipster vibe, super laid back with great variety and excellent food options. That’s happy for me.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

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Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Camden Markets
Catch the train to Camden Town and follow the hoards!

London’s most well known market, it’s just a sprawling metropolis of market goodness. I found this website really helpful as a guide when I visited, but you’re basically looking at a collection of adjoining markets collectively known as Camden Markets or Camden Lock. It has a reputation for an alternative kind of crowd, but again, it’s that big that you’ll find people from literally all walks of life there. I thoroughly enjoyed their international food area (seeing a pattern here?!) which you could have spent a day eating your way through. Actually, on that note, leave at least half a day to enjoy this market properly, it’s amazing and you’ll kick yourself if you have to rush through it!

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Covent Garden Market
Take the Piccadilly line to Covent Garden! Easy!

This was a smaller but more intimate market experience than the others, in my opinion. I really liked it. There were lots of little stalls and shop fronts within the market, amazing baked goods and food items as well as beautiful handcrafted jewellery, stationery, hats, accessories, art work and more. You can see some of the vendors on their website; I particularly liked the Apple Market area. Definitely worth the visit, and the general Covent Garden area was really lovely, too.

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Cook this: hands down best ever chocolate mug cake (no, really!)

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Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. Tuesday night was one of those times. It was one of those “F-the-world-and-give-me-chocolate” nights. Only problem was that all I had to work with was cocoa powder and some cacao nibs. Couldn’t even make a cake, because I had no damn eggs in the house. Dire straits. Then I remembered, Google can usually solve all of life’s problems, so I Googled “egg free chocolate mug cake” and praise the chocolate gods, I found this recipe on Table for Two’s blog. I kinda scoffed at the claim of the most moist and magnificent mug cake ever, but HOLY WOW!! It actually, genuinely, dead set is! This is absolutely incredible!!! I’ll no longer be making my mug cakes with eggs! In the name of quality control, I also made it again last night, with a few changes. The result was probably the only chocolate cake I’ll ever make again.

To make yourself a little cup of heaven, you’re going to need:

  • ¼ cup plain flour
  • 1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • small pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup + 1 tbsp. milk
  • a few drops of vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil

This next bit is pretty easy…
1. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large mug.
2. Stir in the milk, vanilla and vegetable oil; this is what you’ll get:
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Because that wasn’t quite enough for me, I then took a large Caramello Koala, broke it up into pieces, and stirred that in, too. If I’d had any peanut butter, I’d have used that instead, and in fact plan to try that out over the weekend. Nutella will work too, I’d assume. Or a combination of all.

I microwaved mine for a minute and a half, this will probably depend on your microwave. I took mine out when it looked like this (and then sprinkled some cacao nibs on top for good measure):
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The result was sheer chocolate cake perfection. It is a surprisingly light and fluffy and moist cake, where as most mug cakes I’ve tried have been fairly dry and almost a little rubbery. This was soft and airy and full of happiness. Now get off your computer and make one.

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Eat here: Le P’tit Troquet, Paris, France

Le P’Tit Troquet
28 Rue de l’Exposition, Paris, France
https://www.facebook.com/Leptittroquet

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We found this place, as so many stories go, by a fortunate chance. I had been browsing TripAdvisor reviews of Parisian restaurants, not really knowing what I was looking for, other than something on the way to the Moulin Rouge from our hotel near the Eiffel Tower. I got bored after 10 minutes, tossed my phone aside, and got on with picking out some warm clothes for the night ahead. About 2 hours from show time, we left our hotel and started walking in the general direction; the idea was to find somewhere for dinner on the way to the show. When we saw this place, I actually recognised the name from a favourable online review, so we decided that’d be good enough for us!

What we found was a gorgeous little bistro, with the friendliest staff we’d encountered in Paris. We also found an amazing and surprisingly well priced dinner menu – from memory, it was around 30 euro for an entrée, main course and dessert each. I tried not to annoy husband by shoving my camera in his food, but my three courses looked like this:

Entrée: salmon, apple and fennel salad

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Main: Beef bourguignon (meat so soft it really fell away at the fork!)

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Dessert: apple and almond cart/cake

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Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much, because at that point, my Paris experience hadn’t been amazing. But this meal really blew me away. It was such a beautiful, warm, cosy little spot, the service was so lovely, the food was incredible, and so was the wine. It wasn’t very busy either, and it felt like it was our own little corner of the world for that dinner time. We’re not a very lovey-dovey kinda couple, but if we were, I’d have said this place was just a little bit special and romantic. I’m really glad I took a business card and the address of this place, because if I ever do go back to Paris, this will be one spot I’ll definitely be re-visiting.

Time Out Melbourne Food Awards 2014

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It was completely on a whim that husband and I decided to get tickets to the second annual Time Out Melbourne Food Awards, which was held last night. I noticed it on their app while I was looking for something to do a few weekends ago, and figured, why not? It was held at the brand spanking new Pastuso, the fresh Peruvian venture brought to us by the guys from San Telmo. $50.00 per person got you a spot in the crowd to celebrate the best of Melbourne’s food scene, as well as a pretty amazing food service, great wine from Pepperjack, beer from Vale Ale, and gin cocktails made with Appletiser sparkling apple juice.

So yeah, we were those plebs, food nerds, “regular people,” that turned up for the great food and a fun night out on a Monday. We were probably two of the only non-industry people in there, and we really didn’t care! We turned up at exactly the right time to be seated along the bar on the higher level of the restaurant, with a great view over one of the food prep stations, and the mingling crowd at the bar in front of us.

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The real reason for the night was the awards that were doled out, so here’s what went down in each category:

HOT TALENT:
Lucy David, Rosa’s Kitchen
Matt Falon, Du Nord
Victor Liong, Lee Ho Fook
Nick Stanton, Nieuw Amsterdam
Dave Verheul, Town Mouse
Winner: DAVE VERHEUL, TOWN MOUSE

BEST NEW RESTAURANT:
Bomba
Brae
Lee Ho Fook
Prix Fixe
Saint Crispin
Winner:  SAINT CRISPIN

BEST CASUAL RESTAURANT:
Bomba
B’Stilla
Nieuw Amsterdam
Rockwell and Sons
Uncle
Winner:  NIEUW AMSTERDAM

BEST BANG FOR BUCK:
Babu Ji
Jimmy Grants
Jinda Thai
Seoul Soul
ShanDong Mama
Winner:  JIMMY GRANTS

BEST CAFE:
Barry Coffee and Food
Hammer and Tong 412
Hawthorn Common
Operator25
Stagger Lee’s
Winner:  HAMMER AND TONG 412

PEOPLE’S CHOICE:
Bangpop
Bomba
B’Stilla
Chin Chin
Huxtable
Le Bon Ton
Lee Ho Fook
Northern Light
Smith and Daughters
The Town Mouse
Winner:  SMITH AND DAUGHTERS

LEGEND AWARD:  Flower Drum

CHEF OF THE YEAR:
Mick Bolam, ex-Epocha
Dan Hunter, Brae
Ben Shrewry, Attica
Philippa Sibley, Prix Fixe
Chris Watson, Luxembourg
Winner:  PHILLIPA SIBLEY, PRIX FIXE

RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR:
Brae
Attica
Epocha
Saint Crispin
Town Mouse
Press Club
Pei Modern
Moon Under Water
Café Di Stasio
Prix Fixe
Winner:  BRAE

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Congrats to the winners – was nice to see two of my favourites, Jimmy Grants and Nieuw Amsterdam get up there for a win! Also gave me some great new places to try – I’m particularly keen to get to Smith and Daughters, and Le Bon Ton.

But now the serious business of the night: the food. It was a great menu, offering plenty of variety and food I probably wouldn’t have otherwise ordered given the choice. Pastuso are doing some really great stuff right now, and I’d be very keen to head back in with a group of friends for a big dinner session now!

Our menu last night entailed (and apologies for the not-so-amazing quality photos, it was dark and I did my best!)…

Las leches cevicheras – a selection of traditional ceviche marinades “Tiger’s milk” served with NZ snapper. Options were:
– Leche de tigre con aji Amarillo – Yellow Peruvian chilli
– Leche de tigre verde – Coriander
– Sangre de tigre – Peruvian hot pepper

I went with the coriander version because I’m a wimp, husband went with the hot pepper version. They were really good, I loved the tangy lime flavour, and the plantain chips were delicious!

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Conchitas – seared scallop with sweet corn puree and cancha (roasted Andean corn). These were a lovely surprise – they smelt really fishy coming out, but tasted like sweet corn. The crunchy corn pieces were particularly delicious.

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Causa – Yellow Peruvian potato terrine topped with Alaskan crabmeat (the colourful one you can see in the background was the vegetarian version). Simple, but delicious – the crab meat was great.

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Ceviche vegetariano – marinated daikon and salso criolla. Nothing too exciting with the daikon, but the salsa was fantastic.

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Aroz con pato – confit duck with traditional Peruvian coriander and a beer based rice. The duck was incredible, it was just a pity that we seemed to get the last dregs servings, and it wasn’t really warm by the time it got to us.

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Pan con chicharron – slow cooked pork belly with a crispy outer, server on a brioche bun with coriander mayonnaise. My pick for savoury of the night, because I am a slave to the pork belly. This was phenomenal. The coriander mayo was just wow, and the pork was beautiful and soft. The brioche bun was really good too, my only qualm was that every time a fresh tray come out, the waitress seemed to skip our seats. I was a little shitty that I only got one, because they were that good. Sad for me.

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Suspiro a la limena – creamy Peruvian caramel with PX meringue pieces. So as I mentioned earlier, we were sitting directly above one of the food prep stations, and I guess the guys working there heard my lamenting over missed slider opportunities and cold rice, because come dessert time, one of them turned around and hooked us up with the first serves of dessert. Not one, but 2 cups each. Of each dessert. Made my night, thanks boys!! The caramel was smooth and the meringue pieces were amazing! Loved this one.

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Mousse de chocolate – chocolate mousse with Peruvian hot pepper jam and flourless chocolate sponge. Being the incessant chocoholic that I am, this was my hands down favourite. The mousse was perfectly smooth and creamy, unbelievably so, and the sponge cake was chocolatey perfection. But the surprise for me was the jam – it wasn’t hot or spicy at all, it was rich and sweet and absolutely incredible! I demolished my 2 cups of this one like a seasoned professional, eyeing off a third before husband dragged me off.

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All up, it was a really fun night, despite the fact we were just another two non-industry plebs (though the fact we had no one to “mingle” with meant we could just kick back and enjoy the people watching, which was great!), well worth the $50 each (non-stop food and drinks being served), I just wish it wasn’t a Monday night so I could have taken better advantage of the free-flowing drinks! And more pork belly!!!

 

Cook this: quick & healthy – chicken with chickpeas & chorizo

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I do my weekly grocery shop at the Preston Market, which is full of incredible food and fantastic inspiration. Because it’s a market, you know you’re looking at great seasonal produce week after week, and a whole lot of regional foods from places like Greece, Italy, China and Vietnam. A stall that always gets my attention is one with a whole lot of cured meats and sausages; last week I grabbed a few chorizo sausages to make dinner with.

This is a great meal to make; with a few ingredients and about half an hour of your time, you can make a delicious and pretty healthy meal that’ll serve 6 people (or two for dinner with left overs for lunch for a few days!). If it’s not quite filling enough, you can also add a little rice or cous cous to make it a little more substantial.

To make 6 serves, you’ll need:
- 800g chicken thigh, chopped into bite-sized pieces
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 3 garlic cloves, crushed (mortar & pestle works best)
– 2 tsp sweet paprika
– 2 medium chorizo sausages, halved length ways, then sliced
– 2 medium zucchinis, halved length ways, then sliced
– 2 x 400g tins of chickpeas
– 2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
– 3 large tomatoes, diced
– fresh parsley and balsamic glaze, to serve

To make it:
1. Place the chicken, oil, garlic and paprika in a large bowl or plastic tub. Mix to coat the chicken, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Heat a large fry pan over high heat, and cook the chicken for 5 minutes or so, until browned and cooked most of the way through. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Cook the chorizo, zucchini and chickpeas in the same pan, until the chorizo is golden and a little crispy. Then return the chicken to the pan, along with the peas. Cook for another few minutes, until the chicken is completely cooked through and the peas are warm.
4. Serve topped with fresh tomato, a little parsley and balsamic glaze.

 

Through my eyes: the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

I really liked Hanoi – it was just the right mix of crazy and busy and so much to see. The food was unreal, particularly the street food scene. I felt that the people were more wary of foreigners in Hanoi than they were in Hoi An and Saigon, but that’s ok; they were still very friendly and as helpful as they could be with the language barrier. It’s hard to explain the streets of Hanoi… I guess chaotic, but also charming, in their own ways. I’d go back tomorrow, without question, there’s still so much I didn’t get to see..

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Street art, donuts & books – great weekend!

Despite the fact I’ve totally screwed my lower back and am currently wearing a super attractive back brace (Yoga 1 – Jess 0), it’s been a pretty good weekend. Here’s the round up…

1. Lime brulee donut from All Day Donuts
I was a little sad I didn’t get to try this one last time I visited. Absolutely LOVED this guy, crunchy, burnt sugar crust with phenomenal lime curd type filling.

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2. Wine time at Naked for Satan on Brunswick St
Couldn’t help being distracted by the bright colours and people walking past the window from our seat on the second floor near the kitchen…

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3. Salted caramel filled donut from Big Lou’s.
I was pretty impressed with the regular donuts last time, so I was excited to try a filled one, and my hands were tied when I saw salted caramel in the window. It was pretty amazing. My only qualm would be that the caramel taste wasn’t strong enough, but the donut was cakey and light and delicious, powdered sugar on top was a nice touch and balanced out the salted caramel surprisingly well.

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4. Street art on Johnston St
I believe we were near La Condesa Taqueria when I noticed this – gorgeous colours, beautifully done!

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5. Grub Street Bookshop, Fitzroy
AKA Jess’s happy place. My never-leave-empty-handed streak continues. Great weekend buys to add to my to-read pile. Which seems to keep growing despite the decent speed I can read at.

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