Despite frequenting The Alchemist for a number of years, I’ve never given the cocktail citadel a proper review.

This could be, perhaps, because I’ve typically only drank in the bar’s North England venues. The first Alchemist launched in Manchester’s Deansgate in 2010 on the site of a former 19th century ‘den of iniquity and alchemy’ (giving the bar its name) and I hadn’t actually visited the brand’s London sites since my hometown return.

Luckily, the whole affair met past expectations – their St Martins Lane outpost is a little bit of alco-theatre in the theatre district. And then some.

The cocktails fizz, smoke, pop and – well – transmogrify like they have for years while the food menu tantalises in its own way; there is a little bit of everything and a lot to keep your mouth watering.

After toasting with a Smokey Old Fashioned (Woodford Reserve, maple syrup, Jerry Thomas bitters and smoke), my dinner date and I shared tempura prawn lollipops, steamed pork buns and duck gyoza – all of which went down a simple but delicious treat.

I was especially surprised to see the menu championing seitan (both in ‘nuggets’ and boneless ‘wings’) but decided to forgo my vegan favourite for a later date so we could share some mains.

Forgoing the pant stretch of the Vietnamese Banh Mi (my favourite street food of all time), we opted for the tandoori seabass (unbelievably flavoursome) and poke bowl (which, while loaded, was a little more ‘great vegan salad’ than ‘poke bowl’).

All in all, it’s wonderful to know I can line my stomach with an array of affordable yet appealing bites when fate leads me, inevitably, back to The Alchemist.

Their Penicillin (Ardbeg 10 yearr, Chase Marmalade vodka, lemon and burnt cinnamon) is the only dessert I’ll ever need.

the alchemist london review

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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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You ask for it and you get it, guys and dolls: the bolognese recipe to beat all bolognese recipes. The rather impromptu Instagram Stories how-to I posted a few weeks ago received more comments than any other Story I have uploaded to date.

A lot of drool emojis. A lot of recipe requests. A lot of “why don’t you just use a packet sauce, Lela?”.

Because once you have the best you don’t mess with the rest, mi amigos.

Luckily, this bolognese looks (and tastes) far more complex than it is in practice. The recipe is all about layering flavours and textures, not any kind of culinary finesse. My favourite part of the recipe is actually its secret ingredient – a can of Nescafe Azera Nitro. I’ve only added it to the recipe within the last month and a few swigs of its super-smooth, nitrogen-infused coffee practically turns the moreish sauce into edible velvet.

(If that’s not selling point enough, it’s also worth noting that a caffeine and carb combo might be the undiscovered pick-me-up food hack of the century.)

Enjoy!

Ingredients:
– Your pasta of choice (I’m not going to be precious about it – the magic is in the sauce)
– A can of Nescafe Azera Nitro Americano (to taste)
– A glug of cheap red wine (scientific measurement)
– A box/tube/of high quality passata
– Three cloves of garlic
– One large carrot, finely chopped
– One onion, finely chopped
– An aubergine, some mushrooms, or whatever else you like the ‘squish’ of
– A 500g pack of beef mince (or a vegetarian substitute)
– One beef stock cube (again, so veggie if preferred)
– A large stalk of celery, finely chopped
– Two raw chillis
– One red pepper
– A lifetime supply or oregano (or about 10 tablespoons)
– Cacao nibs
– Two bay leaves
– High quality olive oil
– One tablespoon of truffle oil
– A sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano or grated cheddar
– Salt and pepper (to taste). A good salt, like Halen Mon (my favourite) or Maldon (more readily available), will make a huge difference.

How to make the best bolognese in the universe:
1. Chop all your veg to death. Microscopic style.
2. Throw your garlic, chillis and onion into a small pool of olive oil in a large frying pan. Cook at a medium-high heat for one to two minutes.
3. Add the rest of your chopped veg incrementally, based on weight. This translates to carrots first, celery last.
4. Season with salt and pepper once cooked and push to the side of the pan.
5. Next to the veg, pop your mince in and cover it in oregano. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Once one side is browned, flip the mince over neatly and oregano the bejesus out of the other side.
7. Break the mince down and combine with the veg. Add the truffle oil and sprinkle a beef stock cube over the mixture.
8. After a minute or so of cooking, cover everything in passata, sprinkle on some cacao nibs, and dust in as much dried chilli as you can handle.
9. While that cooks, prepare your pasta in a separate pan.
10. As the liquid begins to reduce, add glugs of wine and Azera Nitro Americano. The wine will add sweetness, if preferred, but I prefer to pour more coffee in. Taste as you go.
11. After ten or so minutes – when everything smells and tastes like you’ve died and gone to Italy – combine the sauce and pasta.
12. Dish out with some Parmigiano Reggiano and drink the rest of the wine you didn’t use. Bon appetit!

best bolognese recipe
best bolognese recipe
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