Saturday, 30 May 2015

Gin Cake

Yes, gin cake. No tonic. Just gin.

I've been wanting to try out a recipe for a gin & tonic cake for a while but due to my mixing and matching of certain recipes, the tonic has been ommitted from this particular version! I've added a note at the bottom of this post to show how you can adapt it.

Do not be put off by the amount of gin that goes into this cake. It sounds (and looks) a lot for a small cake but, with a bit of persistance, it will mix in and most of the pungent gin flavour will cook off. This may not be in keeping with my aim to do "healthy recipes" but I can't resist anything gin based, especially with the season of alfresco drinking and BBQs approaching. With the bitterness of the lemon and the floral notes of the gin, this makes for a surprisngly refreshing cake. Be warned - only a small slice is needed. But what better way to finish a gin drinking session than by eating gin too?

The quantities of butter, sugar and flour will vary depending on how heavy your eggs are! Weigh yours eggs together, in their shells, and then use that same amount of butter, sugar and flour.

You Will Need: 
-4 eggs, weighed in their shells
-caster sugar
-self-raising flour
-2 lemons
-4-5 shots of gin

For the icing:
-500g icing sugar
-250g butter
-2-3 shots of gin

First off, preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and line a 1kg loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (this can be done by hand although a food processor is a more pain-free process!)

Crack in the eggs and beat until combined. Sieve in the flour whilst mixing then grate in the zest of both lemons. Stir through the juice of one lemon and add 4-5 shots of gin. Pour into a 1kg loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes. I'd suggest checking it at 30 minutes and covering with foil if it is browning too much. 

Once the cake is cooked, transfer it to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Meanwhile, you can make the butter icing by simply mixing together the butter, icing sugar and 2-3 shots of gin(depending how strong you want it!). Once cool, spread the icing over the cake and it's ready to serve.

NB: if the butter icing is something you want to avoid, you can make a drizzle instead which includes tonic. Simply combine 150g granulated sugar, 4-5 shots gin, a dash of tonic and the juice of one lemon. Prick the surface of the cake and the drizzle it over!


Hotbox - Bottomless Booze Brunch

Being in my twenties, there's no place I'd rather be living right now than London. As much as the hustle and bustle can sometimes get on my nerves (the morning commute will never be fun), I still have the freedom and enthusiasm to enjoy London whilst I can. After all, it won't last forever. However, with busy lives, relationships, work, moving etc. it can become increasingly difficult to spend some quality time with your nearest and dearest.

That's why, when the opportunity FINALLY arose, my best girlfriend and I decided to check out the bottomless boozy brunch at Hotbox. We wanted something relaxed, relatively inexpensive and fun, but also something we wouldn't do every day of the week. Hotbox delivered on all accounts.
Located a 3 minute walk from Aldgate East station, Hotbox is close to the hubbub of Spitalfields. Normal people following a map would find this very easily, being the only outlandish black building in sight, but two blondes together? Not so much. It would help if the neon red Hotbox sign was on the outside as well as the inside but who am I to judge the creative!

Hotbox is known in the area more for its grill and BBQ angle than for the brunch. Look up any review and you will see them all raving about the succulent meat, generous portions and overall great atmosphere. I can safely say the brunch standard is just as high.
So what's the deal? With statings up until 2pm, you pay £25 for two solid hours of unlimited prosecco/mimosas/Bloody Marys (we opted for the prosecco purely because I'm very particular with Bloody Marys and mimosas would get too sickly!). Food is paid for on top of the £25 but, with the majority of items coming in at under £10, it's still a great offer. Compare it to some other bottomless brunch venues(£50 charges, restricted drink choices, less than two hours of boozing) and I'd say Hotbox is a winner.

Once inside, the wooden interior, bench tables and open kitchen make for a really relaxed feel. As soon as we were seated, we had our first glass of prosecco poured which was topped up by the attentive staff without prompting throughout our time there. God knows how much booze we actually got through but it was well worth the £25!
The brunch menu itself spoils you for choice. Our waiter was so patient with our incessant questions and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the food; a rarity in many restaurants these days.

I went for one of the veggie options: Mushroom Taco with Crispy Shallot, Rocket and Chipotle Mayo. I also got a side of poached eggs as I had no idea what the tacos would turn out like. They were AMAZING. I never thought I'd say that about something which, on paper, seem pretty bland but whatever they'd sauteed the mushrooms in worked a treat. The shallots added a much needed crunch to the tacos as well as adding to the flavour combination with the chipotle. A surefire winner for any vegetarian but also for the non-veggies it would seem! The presentation couldn't be faulted either. Why use plates when you can use a tree trunk?

For the non-veggies and aspiring New Yorkers, this next offering should appeal to you: Buttermilk Pankcakes with Maple Syrup and Bacon. As requested, the bacon was cooked until crispy and was presented on a stack of four super-thick, super-stodgy pankcakes. Just how they should be. The maple syrup is definitely needed to add moisture to the overall dish but, if this doesn't appeal, you can always go for the berries and banana option. It's safe to say you no longer need to travel across the pond to get some good old-fashioned American-style pancakes.

Having not seen each other for a while, time ran away with us and our two hours of prosecco was up. The great thing was we weren't rushed out. We stayed there for a good half hour longer just catching up and deciding what to do next (just an FYI - do not decide it's a good idea to go and get something pierced after drinking solidly for two hours. You will be laughed and at given a firm "no"). 

There's been a few places across London now that I have reviewed for this blog and, apart from the odd few, I generally give positive reviews. However, if you are looking for the whole package eg: great food, good prices, great atmosphere and great service, I would put Hotbox at the top. I will definitely be going back in the not too distant future.

(And just for those who were wondering what we did end up doing after being rejected from the piercing place, it basically consisted of booze, booze and a tad more booze, topped off with a good old game of scrabble in the pub. Pure class).


Friday, 1 May 2015


As much as I love to explore bars and restaurants all over London, it's also pretty convenient when you know you have something half decent a stones throw from your front door. One of the things I love about Balham is its total abundance of places to eat and/or drink; a lot of which are unique to the area. There's something for everyone and every mood and, considering I was combating a raging hangover, the new branch of Haché seemed like a good destination.

Famed primarily for it's burgers, Haché actually manages to appeal to the likes of myself (who can be fussy with meat) and my housemate (who is a total meat-dodging veggie). Anyone living in Balham would probably have spotted the advertisements which have been put on the wall alongside the escalators. By the time you get to the top, you've pretty much booked yourself in for a table that night. Located on Bedford Hill, it's centrality makes it an easy get to for almost anyone in the area.

With only three salad options, the menu is strictly reserved for the hardcore burger fan. With a range of traditional steak burgers, they also have lamb, chicken, pork and even a duck burger. Vegetarians need not despair though! Gone are the days of dried out old bean patties. Haché offer two variants of a falafel burger, and a goats cheese with portobello mushroom option too.

Food can either make or break a hangover. In this case, our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs but we were too fragile to care. We ordered a few sides; grilled halloumi, sweet potato fries, and onion rings.

Now, in my opinion, you can't go too wrong with any of these. Sweet potato fries are always a winner in my eyes and a much more appealing alternative to regular fries. The onion rings weren't great... it was more batter, less onion in this case. The halloumi was exactly as you'd expect it to be! Salty and rubbery but weirdly awesome. Although at £5.95, a massive waste of money for what we actually got!

Obviously Haché is all about the burgers. On any other day, I may have been strict and gone for one of the salads. But today was not one of those days. I went for the Steak Mexican. A medium cooked steak burger with Cajun spices, salsa, guacamole, jalapéno peppers and sour cream all served up in a ciabatta bun. 

I have to admit, I was expecting them to make more of the presentation. Ultimately, this was served up as plain burger with a few dips. But then I guess you're going to put it all together in some way anyway so it doesn't really make too much difference. I know a few burger connoisseurs who have raved about the burgers here. I have to say I actually found this a little dry. The Cajun spices had been incorporated into the meat which gave it a really nice smokey flavour but it didn't disguise the texture itself. Having the condiments definitely helped but, if you're going to a burger restaurant, it's the burger itself that you expect to be good. 

My veggie companion went for the Falafel Blue Cheese burger which was exactly what it says it would be (falafel topped with blue cheese, in case there was any confusion). 

It's not often I get food envy, purely because I'm the Queen of picking the best menu option. But, it has to be said, I was jealous. It was served up to look a lot more appealing than mine at the very least. Having said that, the blue cheese and dense falafel combination made it incredibly rich. The brioche bun got totally ignored. In this case, the veggie wins (I blame the hangover for my clouded judgement of my own choice).

An indulgent meal wouldn't be complete without a totally unnecessary desert. There was nothing more appropriate for this occasion than a homemade banoffee pie the size of your head. This isn't my usual cup of tea but the menu described it as not for the faint-hearted. I felt like I was being challenged and I wasn't willing to back down, goddammit!

As banoffee pies go, this one was definitely up with the best of them. You could tell it had been freshly made that day (the open-view kitchen proved it) and, had I not been so full, I'm sure I would've enjoyed it a lot more than I actually did! Yet another case of going too far...

With the average price of the burgers being around £10, you'd be looking at spending in the region of £18 once you include sides and drinks. Haché is a definite step up from the typical burger chains so, for that reason alone, I'd say it was generally good value. Just don't go for the halloumi!