marcos new york italian
Somewhere between dining at Marco Pierre White’s Marco’s New York Italian and sitting down to write this review, my memory card got well and truly corrupted.

I spent more than a few days trying to repair the little square’s wrongs, to no avail, before I released my growing indignation wasn’t very, well, Marco of me. And everyone could stand to be a little more Marco.

Pierre White is, and will always be, the enfant terrible of celebrity chefs. I knew it the second my bored teenage curiosity sat me in front of a copy of White Heat, I knew it the fateful day I somehow shared a kitchen with the man, and I – unexpectedly – knew it when I left his new Milton Keynes restaurant impressed.

Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much. The shiny-but-simple New York Italian is attached to the Holiday Inn Milton Keynes and, if experience has taught me anything, I know to keep most hotel-connected restaurant expectations to a minimum.

As the fact that I’m even blogging this might suggest, I had to surrender my caution almost as soon as I sat down. The staff were lovely. The food was lovely. The drinks were l- well, actually…the drinks deserve an adjective of their own.

Marco’s new menu is Pierre White done unobtrusively; classic American starters, mains and desserts dusted with Italian flavour and flair. Affordably. It fits the perfect hole that Bardolino, Mr. White’s, Wheeler’s of St James, Koffman and Mr White’s and his eponymous steakhouse had yet to fill in the chef’s portfolio.

We started with as-you’d-expect calamari fritto misto (with salsa-ed mayo) and buffalo wings before being blown away by the surf ‘n’ turf – a rare 10oz ribeye, New Orleans blackened shrimps in garlic and rosemary butter, with some subbed-in sweet potato fries.

The dish – and the bloody behemoth wine list – was incredible. We took our time with the Amarone della Valpolicella Classico throughout the meal – an incredibly elegant and rich Venetian made for red meat. Though it wasn’t a two-bottle sort of night, the Waipara Hills Sauvignon Blanc, – one of my favourite Kiwi wines – stood out as another unexpectedly fantastic option.

It’s not a restaurant I’m going to travel to Milton Keynes for, but it is absolutely a restaurant I’m going to want to visit when I’m in Milton Keynes. It’s an experience that sent my eyebrows up to the high heavens in an oblivious candid. And that counts for something.

* A decade later, it would be described as “the most influential recipe book of the last 20 years” by my equally-beloved Jay Rayner.

pork and apple burger recipe
I get really excited to cook over the Winter months. Though I get a decent amount out of rustling up something special throughout the year, being forced to spend more time indoors offers a great excuse to test new recipes; in this case, HelloFresh‘s Pork and Apple burger recipe reimagined.

It is fast food done healthy and, with my little tweaks, a lunch or dinner full of festive flavour. Treat yo’ self.

Pork and Apple burger recipe (with rosemary chips and festive tweaks!)

Ingredients:
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 small potatoes
1 green apple
250g pork mince
2 brioche buns
A few raisins and walnuts (if preferred)
Cinnamon
A few walnuts/raisins (optional)

Directions:
1. Take the pork out of the fridge 40+ minutes beforehand to get it to room temperature.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees and strip the leaves from the rosemary before chopping super fine.

3. After scrubbing the potatoes under water, chop them into fries or chips and toss in a swig of olive oil. Add the rosemary and salt/pepper to taste.

4. Cook on the top shelf of the oven for roughly 30 minutes, turning once.

5. Peel the apple and grate 3/4 of it into a bowl. Add the pork to the bowl with some cinnamon (to taste – I like a lot), high-quality ground salt and pepper.

6. Form the mixture into 2 patties (they’re best if they are held together, not pushed together – it allows the meat to cook evenly).

7. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil on medium-high heat in a non-stick pan. Once hot, place the patties in and cook for roughly 5 minutes on each side. It is important for each side to form a crust before flipping so they don’t break up.

8. Cut the remaining apple into small chunks and add walnuts and raisins, if desired (they tie all the flavours together beautifully).

9. Get everything out of the heat, place your chopped apple mixture on top of the finished burgers, and chow down!

pork and apple burger recipe
pork and apple burger recipe

toblerone christmas
Christmas quite literally crept up out of nowhere, didn’t it?

It’s been a little bit different to the traditional ‘sands through the hourglass’ surprises of yesteryears for 2018. I have been so genuinely bogged down in work, life and their inconsequential demands that the shops seemed to trade their bikinis for baubles in the blink of an eye.

Stress, naturally, set in. While I’m fortunate to spend Christmas with some of the most unbelievable people this universe has to spare me, I am an impossibly idealist gift giver. My partner needs perfection. My Secret Santa needs every sensation £50 can afford. The children in my life need Christmas magic.

They’re not unattainable ideals. But they’re not really Christmas, either.

Through most of my adolescence, Christmas was marked by transit. Being chaperoned to people across land and sky. Always hoping snow would be a halcyon. And always gazing longingly at duty free Toblerone bars.

It seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? That triangle-shaped blocks of chocolate could form memories that last decades. But they did.

Sadly, long security queues and no money to call my own worked against me. I would scuttle past the mass of mini-mountains year after year with just enough time to question how I might, one day, get my hands on the holy grail.

Somewhere between the airports and adulting, I forgot. I forgot how the smallest gift would have meant the world to me. A £9.99 mountain of milk chocolate and nougat. A super-value selection pack of milk, white, dark or fruit and nut chocolate (at £7.99). To this day, I still think of these simple Swiss chocolates as the perfect gift; for Secret Santa surprises, for stockings, et al.

A sweet gesture, at one time, would be more than enough for all of us. Whether you’re buying for one or one-hundred this Christmas, gift with that in mind.

(Just please don’t buy me any more Toblerone, friends and family, because this realisation has instigated something of a hoarders situation.)
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A lot has happened since my first trip to Doha. Both personally and…Qatar-ily. In the three years that followed the country has pushed full steam ahead to build all things World Cup 2022, fallen into an unexpected diplomatic crisis (severing ties with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain), and developed faster than any country I’ve visited in my lifetime.

The skyline is no longer a skyline. What was once a handful of aspirant skyscrapers has become a pop-up book of investment, expansion and pride.

One which now harbours much more than you’d expect from the eminent stopover destination…

(All outfit details at the end of the post!)
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wine purifier
There is much ado about sulphites in the drinks industry. They breed contention; many aficionados say sulphites are essential to prevent oxidation and preserve freshness in wine. On the other hand, EU law tars sulphites as recognised allergens and insists their presence is acknowledged on bottle labels, even setting a maximum of 150mg per litre for red wines and 200mg per litre for white and rose.

The controversy piqued my interest and led me straight to a £70 ‘wine purifier’ I was sure I didn’t need.

The Ullo wine purifier seemed too stylish to be scientific, yet promised to remove sulphites with ‘Selective Sulfite Capture technology’, separate sediment, aerate and – wait for it – improve the taste of wine.

While I’m fortunate not to suffer from any sulphite allergies or sensitivities, I’m not fortunate to willfully ignore something telling me it will make something I love even better.

I ordered a few terrible bottles of wine and waited for my Ullo to arrive.

When it did, I found myself both impressed and bewildered. The luxe UFO masquerading as a purifier didn’t actually purify a thing. Without the accompanying filters, the Ullo is well-designed rubber and plastic.

I considered swapping the contraption for a bottle neck-friendly funnel, but persisted. And I’m glad I did. A night spent taste-testing mocked my scepticism. Each drop of wine that passed through Ullo’s tea bag-shaped filters came out the way, I’m sure, its winemakers wished it would. Each was increasingly pure, smooth and dangerously drinkable.

The Ullo did not, of course, make cheap vino more than mediocre. You can’t remove sulphites from something bad and call it good in the same way you can’t remove Harry Styles from One Direction and make them tolerable. Nothing can. But it will work wonders on wine you would actually drink.

The more I’ve used it since that pivotal trial, the more I’ve come to appreciate it. Friends with sulphite sensitivities have got on with every wine I’ve sat in front of them. I’ve felt a noticeable difference the morning after aerating Syrahs with the Ullo, compared to other aerators. I’ve wasted a filter on a glass of champagne (the filter, naturally, removes carbonation). And I’ve had a curiously crowd-pleasing device blow persnickety plonk lovers’ minds.

The Ullo has been far more useful than anticipated; particularly, its drip-proof display base that captures filter-caught droplets and stores the whole thing away neatly.

It is, annoyingly, as valuable as it is stylish. While a DIY filter and funnel system could do a similar job, the Ullo – and the wines you’re treating it to – deserves to be championed.

Science aside, it’s also a phenomenal way to trick your friends into thinking you’ve bought a bottle ten times more expensive than the one you got on offer. Ahem.

There’s simply no better way to remove sulphites, sediment and second thoughts.

wine purifier