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Review: DF Mexico

DF Mexico

DF Mexico is the latest creation from the stable of London-based Mexican stalwart Wahaca. It takes the same Mexican-street-food-with-an-Anglo-American-twist concept and goes a bit hipster on it to match its location bang in the middle of Shoreditch in the Old Truman Brewery. Every aspect is ramped up in the cool factor: the branding and interior decor are boldly industrial, food is counter service, drinks are self-serve and bottomless… even the social media team is sharp and well-pitched. If you were being cheesy you could call it Wahaca’s younger, cooler brother or something. Naturally it wasn’t going to be long before I found myself there, and that day came on Monday evening.

DF Mexico

It seems to have got off to a flying start, with a short queue at the door even on a Monday and a lively buzz around the dining room. There’s a huge communal table next to the obligatory open-plan kitchen and plenty of smaller tables and booths, so the wait to be seated wasn’t long.

DF Mexico
DF Mexico

The concept is explained via a cool brochure and the menu reads very well indeed. Unlike Wahaca, the food isn’t tapas-sized but built for large appetites and/or sharing. The main offerings are burritos, large tacos, tortas, build-your-own boards, grills and salads, with a (un)healthy sprinkling of sides and sharing dishes too. The hardest part is deciding what to go for.

DF Mexico

Obviously, we massively over-ordered just to get a little taster of a few things. The Bad Boy burrito comes with white and blue corn chips and an optional side for a couple of quid extra. It packed quite the whack of flavour, with tomato and habanero running through the rice and a core of tasty feta cheese, all wrapped in a chargrilled tortilla.

DF Mexico

A side of veggie nachos was huge for just £4.95 and was similarly punchy. The topping of refried beans, cheese, pink onions and salsa wiggled into the all the gaps in the chips so you didn’t get that disappointing moment when you run out of topping before chips. Not that we got near to that point; it was too big to finish!

DF Mexico

Chilli fries were ordered just because, but they were probably my favourite thing: properly salty and hot with a chipotle dip on the side. The cup of corn, sweetly served in a teacup, sat in a creamy puddle of moreish broth and was topped with tangy Lancashire cheese.

DF Mexico

Self-serve bottomless horchata cooled it all down nicely. There’s also soft-serve ice cream for dessert, but we rolled out defeated before considering it.

The bill for this feast? Like Wahaca it’s a real bargain: just £22.50 for a large main, smaller sharing dish, two sides and two bottomless soft drinks. My only critique is I actually wish the portions were a bit smaller more like Wahaca, so you can mix/match and share easier. It’s pretty great to have this place pretty close to home for when I get peckish for big, bad Mexican flavours, and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before I’m back again to try more of the menu and soak up more of the DF vibes (also I’m working nearby and they do take-out…). Nice job, chaps.

Afternoon tea with Truly

Tea at The Capital

Picking special presents year after year can be a bit of a pain, especially when you’re like us and have no room left in your flat for any more physical objects! That’s why I love giving and receiving ‘experiences’ instead: dinner, cooking classes, something that you can enjoy and/or learn from rather than accumulating more stuff. So when Truly contacted me I was pretty excited. Their premise is great: you pick from a fantastic range of do-able gifts – especially strong on restaurants and food experiences but there are spa days, city breaks and outdoor activities too. Put in your recipient’s address and they get a lovely smart box in the post with a simple number/email to contact Truly’s concierge and make the reservation. No messing around booking something and hoping they are free on the date (or ruining the surprise by asking), but you can still pick out something personal.

Tea at The Capital

Truly kindly gave me the chance to try one of their experiences out, and I opted for Champagne Afternoon Tea at the Capital Hotel. I invited my wonderful mum along because she’s a little envious of all the nice things Josh and I do in London, so it was great to be able to share something with her. She was delighted to get the box in the post and phoned me immediately to say thank you! She was down in London last weekend so we got the chance to book it up.

Tea at The Capital

The Capital hotel is literally around the corner from Harrods. I’d never ever been in Harrods before, so a nose round the food hall was mandatory (wow, it’s busy in there). Tea is served in a pretty and cosy sitting room – with wallpaper and books lining the walls and a window open to the pleasant day outside it was a lovely place to spend the afternoon. We started with a glass of champagne while browsing the extensive tea menu.

Tea at The Capital

Before long a tiered stand laden with goodies arrived. Delicate finger sandwiches on the bottom and a whole plate of sweet things for each of us – treacle tart, passion fruit tart, lemon sponge, baby trifle and a hibiscus maracon. They were all delicious – the moist sponge and creamy tart especially. If you run out or particularly enjoyed anything, the waiters will gladly restock it for you.

Tea at The Capital

There was only one vegetarian sandwich but I didn’t even think to ask for a replacement; I’m sure they would have switched one of the others for a veggie option if requested. Never mind, more room for cake!

Tea at The Capital

Just when we were reaching peak cake, freshly baked scones arrived with cream and jam. They were so buttery and flaky – my Devon-raised mum approved. You can even pack up anything you don’t eat into takeout boxes.

Tea at The Capital

One happy mum and some serious daughter points for me! This was a great experience and my mum really appreciated it. Truly have this and loads of other luxurious gift experiences on their site including lots of Michelin-starred restaurants like The Square, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (which I reviewed here), Hakkasan and La Manoir. Any would do for my birthday present, in case you’re wondering. Thanks, Truly! Anyone else love to give or receive foody gifts?

Truly supplied my afternoon tea experience for review; views are my own

A Vegetarian tasting menu at L’Atelier Joel Robuchon

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

I apologise for it being blogger-perk frenzy round here at the moment. I’ve had a good run lately! The latest was the chance to try the tasting menu with matching wine selection at Michelin-starred restaurant L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, on the borders of Covent Garden and Soho, where a new executive chef (Xavier Boyer) and pastry chef (Francois Delaire) have just been appointed.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

We started by going up the first floor for a delicious cocktail in the plushy bar. There’s a lovely terrace which on this warm evening was full.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Downstairs, we were seated at the central bar with a view directly into the working kitchen. Quite uniquely for a Michelin restaurant, the food is informally served by the bar staff/waiters, as was the wine for each course. I really liked this less stuffy approach and our waiters were relaxed and funny – a nice change from formal fine dining.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

In what must be a first, L’Atelier Joel Robuchon is a Michelin-starred French restaurant with a vegetarian tasting menu. Gosh, I do love the treat of seeing a list of delicious-sounding food where I can eat all of it!

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Each course was beautifully dainty and almost too pretty to eat. It was a real ode to the humble and lovely vegetable, whether a mushroom whipped into a silky veloute or an heirloom tomato simply dressed and served zingily red in a martini glass with pickles and flowers.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Asparagus with comte; a beautiful girolle and truffle risotto; crisped glazed tofu with wild mushrooms. It was all perfectly pitched and a delight to eat. Unlike some tasting menus, the pacing and portion size were spot on: it never felt like an onslaught and I didn’t feel uncomfortably full at the end.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Josh went for the omnivore tasting menu; he declared the ox cheek gyoza to be a particular standout dish. Personally I loved the blingy gold toast rack and gilt leaf on the caviar and salmon starter.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

As a special side we were given some of the infamous Robuchon pommes puree, made with 50% butter to 50% potato. Jeez, I could feel my arteries furring up as I ate it but it is just so good I didn’t care.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

The dainty portions meant we had space for dessert, hurrah. Josh’s was a beautiful physics-defying orb of shiny gold, with a delicate citrus mousse inside.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

I had an equally gorgeous concoction; light as air milk chocolate mousse with bitter dark chocolate sorbet and Oreo crumbs.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L'Atelier Joel Robuchon

Each course was matched with the sommelier’s selection of wine, and wow – they were all utterly amazing. I don’t know much about wine at all, but I loved how our choices featured some really unusual ones with tasting notes like smoke, mushroom, cellar, and minerals. Even the dessert wine which I don’t usually drink was a sweet, light red that was perfect with the chocolate.

This was one of the most enjoyable fine dining experiences I’ve had; partly for the superb food and partly for the unique relaxed ambiance and friendly service. For a special occasion meal I would certainly go back.

I was a guest of L’Atelier Joel Robuchon for my dinner; views my own.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon on Urbanspoon

Breddos for brunch & dinner

Breddos tacos

So excited we were that Breddos Tacos were popping-up just down the road in Haggerston, we visited on consecutive weekends right after it opened earlier this month. Well, there’s both the American-style brunch and night-time Mexican street food menus to check out, so it’d be silly not to really.

Breddos tacos

First up, a foray down to grab some breakfast just a couple of days after the opening night. The pop-up is in Trip Space, cultural/events centre just behind Haggerston station. It was half-full with a relaxed buzz about it, with a mix of local hipsters and families at the tables.

Breddos tacos
Breddos tacos

The menu looks promising; mostly American breakfast classics with a stab at healthiness in the avocado toast and granola options. Ain’t nobody got time for that, though…

Breddos tacos

His n’ hers coffees to start

Breddos tacos

Josh went for the chorizo, egg and bacon muffin: a pimped up Egg McMuffin with requisite fluffy bun and ooozy innards, complete with chipotle ketchup to slather on.

Breddos tacos

I had huevos rancheros. They let me swap the chorizo for a second egg, and it was a great example of one of my favourite dishes: the tomato sauce and guacamole were spot on and there was a good balance of all the elements.

Breddos tacos

We shared a portion of triple-cooked potatoes, perfectly crispy-skinned and fluffy inside.

Breddos tacos
Breddos tacos

A week later we were back for round two, taco edition. Booking is pretty essential in the evenings and it was much busier. There’s a short but well-judged range of wines, cocktails and local beers. I started with an Anejo Sour, which is basically all my favourite things in a drink: rum, honey, lime, ginger, bitters. Ace.

Breddos tacos

The food menu is small but mega appealing: there aren’t tons of vegetarian taco or plancha options but there’s a whole section of veggie sides which we hit hard. The food comes as it’s ready from the kitchen and the menu changes up often.

Breddos tacos

First up we got the charred spring onions with queso fresco, and a slaw salad. Both were super fresh and full of vibrant flavour. In fact I’m going to copy the spring onion idea as a taco filling at home.

Breddos tacos

I ordered the mushroom, porcini and peanut tacos and was really impressed. I think it’s hard to make a vegetarian taco reach the same mouthwatering levels as say, pulled pork, but this was a really good stab: the mushrooms cooked down to a meaty reduction, given an extra whack of umami and crunch from the roasted peanuts and topped with a fresh salsa and baby greens. Very clever. Devoured immediately.

Breddos tacos

Grilled corn is a street food classic, and this had that intense buttery flavour offset by a sprinkling of habanero. I also liked the little jar of pickled chillies (jalapeno and habanero) you get for the table so you can dial up the heat to your liking – a nod to their Netil Market stall where a big jar stands waiting for the brave. (The even braver neck the pickling brine as a chilliback shot – yikes!)

Breddos tacos
Breddos tacos

Not quite full, we has space for a second cocktail and a wedge of key lime pie to finish. It could have done with a bit more lime for my taste, but the curd was smooth and creamy and the base biscuity-crisp perfection.

It’s ever so slightly dangerous to have all this yumminess just down the road for a few more months; I feel we’ll be back sooner rather than later. See here for opening hours and here for a bit more about Breddos.

Dim sum masterclass at Ping Pong

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Last week Ping Pong invited me to take a dim sum masterclass at their Westfield Stratford restaurant. The restaurant only opened there last month, and I’m glad to have one close to home as I love their food. So I was excited to go and learn how to make their tasty dumplings myself…

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Armed with a delicious – and rather potent – cocktail (which may or may not have hampered our dim sum success) we first got an introduction to the art of dumpling from Ping Pong’s head chef, before being let loose on the ingredients. The dough for these steamed dumplings is made from fine wheat flour, potato starch and water, which gives it the characteristic chewiness. You can also add colouring from natural vegetable sources (spinach for green, beetroot for pink, carrot for orange etc) and they are then stuffed with a meat, seafood or vegetable filling before being steamed to plump deliciousness.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

There’s a technique to getting the perfect little scalloped shape: tuck, fold, press. Naturally the chefs who make up to 3,000 dumplings a day are pro at rolling out perfect ones each time, but us mortals struggled a bit to get the hang of it. With their encouragement, I got a few looking quite neat.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

Some of us took it more seriously than others…

Ping Pong Dum Sum

There was a friendly competition for the best dim sum roller amongst our group. I won, and got a bottle of bubbly for my efforts! I have to confess, I probably had a head start as I learned a similar technique on the Japanese cooking class I did a while ago.

Ping Pong Dum Sum

After our handmade efforts came back from being steamed, we got to enjoy them, then we were treated to several more classic Ping Pong dishes too. We all went home pretty stuffed and merry from the cocktails. If you fancy taking a class yourself, they can be privately booked for a group at a cost of £40 per head, which includes the masterclass and meal afterwards. Check Ping Pong’s site for details.