Duck and Waffling

I’ve been thoroughly spoilt for my birthday, with A buying me my coveted 45mm lens for the perfect blurry background. I ran around the flat taking photos of everything in excitement, how sad am I?!

My new lens had its first proper outing when we headed out to Duck and Waffle. I’ve been wanting to try their menu for years, but we just hadn’t got round to it until now. It’s a meat-heavy post so veggies look away now!

Getting to Duck and Waffle for the lunch hour rush involved dodging many a suited-and-booted city worker dressed head to toe in black or grey. We went through the wrong entrance, got redirected by a security guard, then finally found ourselves whizzing up the speedy glass lift to what felt like the top of the world.

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The food and the ambience in Duck and Waffle were pretty special. It’s pricey – we paid £50 a head for a substantial meal, and two non-alcoholic drinks. For a special occasion, definitely worth it, but certainly not a weekly affair!

Crispy pig ears to start off with, smoky with paprika, and absolutely delicious.

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Then juicy bacon wrapped dates followed next, with a mustardy sauce for dipping. We had some spicy n’duja and gruyere bread on the side with this.

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Then came the small plates of oxtail doughnut and foie gras creme brulée. The doughnut was an interesting combination of sweet and savoury.

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Cut through to reveal the interior…

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The foie gras brulée looked incredible, and I really wanted to love it, but it was just too rich for me, so that one was happily polished off by A.

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Finally, the famous duck and waffle, with a side of beautifully cooked broccoli. Truly the star of the show, the duck glisteningly crispy, the duck egg golden-yolked and perfectly runny. This was a dish we really consumed with glee.

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Side note – nail colour is Essie’s Watermelon. My latest favourite – just loving bright colours again as we are heading towards Spring again.

So, after all that food, we really needed to walk it off, so went for a long stroll along the river, giving the tums a bit of a much needed rest, before heading down to catch the train back out of London.

It’s feels like such a treat so save up special occasions like this, and I would definitely recommend Duck and Waffle for occasions where you want good food, a central location, great views and don’t mind splashing out a bit more than normal. The other such place I have had my eye on for some time is the afternoon tea at Sketch, so that will probably be my next treat destination… perhaps this time again next year!

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Nomming Through Naples

“See Naples and die.”

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Thus goes the saying, referring to a time when Naples was so beautiful you had to see it in your lifetime. These days? Well, I travelled to Naples this Autumn, and I can’t help thinking the saying takes on a whole new meaning.

Naples has a pretty unsavoury reputation. Before my visit, I’d heard stories about the strong mafia presence, heavy crime levels and piles of refuse heaping the streets. As soon as we exited the airport, it looked like the rumours were true. An angry taxi driver gesticulated and shouted at quaking young tourist. The mêlée of screeching crowds vying with zigzagging mopeds in the dirty, graffiti-plastered historic centre was both dismayingly loud and claustrophobic.

So it’s not an inviting city, that’s fair to say. The historical centre, with its narrow almost derelict houses and swathes of laundry, almost feels like a step back into the middle ages. People fling buckets of dirty water out into the street, household refuse piles up in unsuspecting corners, and vagrants paw through the communual rubbish bins. By day, there is a certain charm about some of the streets, peddling their wares of nativity scenes, red horns to protect against the evil eye, gelato, and local specialities. By night, the poorly lit alleyways are menacing rather than exciting.

We did try our hardest to explore Naples, and behind its grimy coating, the city does offer some bright, albeit well-hidden gems. Traditional taverna Cantina del Gallo was the best place we ate at. We arrived at the doorway, only to be warmly welcomed by the owner and tempted with plate after plate of delicious nibbles.

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The arancini were delicious, as were as the mini pizzettes and the croquetes. The pizzas you could watch being made in the open plan kitchen and they came generously topped and full of fresh flavours.

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For the home of pizza we tried out a fair few. Neopolitan favourite Gino Sorbillo also do a roaring trade in traditional stonebaked pizzas. You won’t get good customer service, but you will get a very very tasty pizza. Go early or be prepared to queue for a very, very long time.

For the sweeter-toothed, Pastisserie S. Caparelli did the best sfogliatella, delicious ricotta filled pastries, and you got them with a smile too, which was a bonus.

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Gay Odin do very tasty fruit sorbets, gelato and the Italian classic, torrone morbido. I’m going to try and make some of this soft, almost truffley torrone soon once I find a workable recipe.

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There aren’t a lot of exciting attractions to see in Naples otherwise. The archeological museum is worth a glimpse for the stunning mosaics and rude roman paraphenalia, but often the good exhibits are shut due to staff shortages. The Capella Sansevero is worth a visit due for the beautiful sculptures and anatomical machines. Italy has a wealth of beautiful churches, and I guess once you’ve seen a few, there’s only so much you can gasp in awe.

I imagine most travellers use Naples as a pit stop for the Almalfi coastline (where we didn’t go, sob) or the sights of Pompeii. It’s probably quite harsh of me to say so, but I certainly wouldn’t regard Naples as a place to return to again. There are a few goodies, but it’s not enough to entice me back.

Deliciousness in Dubrovnik

After all that hard slog, it was time for a break. I went away for a blissful few days, involving plenty of sunshine, glistening blue seas, and delicious seafood…may gratuitous shots of food commence!

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Evenings spent beside the Old Town Harbour, eating our bodyweight in seafood, and hungry stray cats lingering for nibbles.

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A trip to the Elaphite Islands brought even more beauty.

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And of course, even more deliciousness. There is such a wealth of fresh seafood in Croatia. It’s cooked and dressed simply, and tastes gorgeous.

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After all that eating, we did a little exercise too. A short hike up Mount Srd rewards you with stunning views across the whole city.

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Dubrovnik is used as a location for a lot of scenes in the Game of Thrones TV series, so some of the places look oddly familiar. I’m not a big fan of Game of Thrones myself, but it is always a novelty to see places on the screen in their reality.

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And then after all that, a little more food was needed. Seafood, naturally! I got a telling off by the restaurant proprietor – I think he thought I was trying to eat my meal with my hands instead of cutlery – but how else are you supposed to peel a prawn?

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By Day five, we were really craving meat, and this meat platter from Taj Mahal (which confusingly, is actually a restaurant serving Bosnian cuisine) ticked all the boxes.

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Some more hairy incidents involving a trip to hospital and my car losing some of its front parts happened along the way too, but I’ll try and focus less on the downers, which always inevitably happen when you least want them to. I can confidently say that should you need medical care in Dubrovnik, you won’t be waiting anywhere near as long as you would be in an A&E department here in the UK!

I never end up buying much in the way of souvenirs on holiday, but I did come back with many packets of hazelnut wafers. You can find them all over continental Europe, but rarely, Pink Wafers aside, in the UK. Anyone know why? I’d love to see more of them in the biscuit aisles.

And now, back home, I’ve got the travel bug again. I can’t wait to get planning my next trip away!

Brasserie Vlaming, Amsterdam

The Netherlands isn’t really internationally renown for the quality of its good food, but during my time there I was thoroughly impressed. On the recommendation of one of my travelling companions, we popped into a nearby underfloor restaurant for a spot of dinner. The atmosphere is great from the moment you step inside – the tables are arranged to give the diners a sense of privacy and at the same time, it’s incredibly friendly and sociable.

The cheerful, chatty waitress joked with us as we placed our orders, and we got to watch everything being cooked up behind a counter where the chefs were working away in the kitchen area.

I can’t help thinking that the quality of bread is a great precursor for what the food will be like. So when a huge quantity of delicious warm crusty bread came over to our table with a fantastic herb sauce for spreading, I had high hopes for the rest.

My main was heavenly. An island of crispy salmon fillet, surrounded by a sea of hollandaise sauce. Possibly the best salmon I had ever eaten. We had fries on the side with mayonnaise – standard fare, but yummy. I didn’t take any pictures, so I borrowed one from my friend A, whose photography skills far surpass my own.

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For dessert, a pear and cherry crumble topped with a spoonful of ice-cream. This was almost too sweet for me, but I am notoriously picky when it comes to desserts. I would have preferred fresh cherries without syrup, but the crumble topping was superb.

We wandered out of Brasserie Vlaming full and content, and I would certainly return there again if I am in Amsterdam in the near future!

La Renaissance Cafe on The Rocks, Sydney

I’ve found pastry nirvana in Sydney. and it just so happened to be right on my doorstep.

This French bakery shines with its gorgeous, fresh and flavoursome produce. First I was hooked with their excellent almond croissants. Meltingly divine -a crisp sugary crust, buttery layers of pastry underneath, then finally the soft almond cream heart.

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I couldn’t resist going back to try their other creations. The pear danish was a sumptuous blend of sweet, tender fruit under a bed of crisp pastry.

Then came la piece de resistance – the tartlets. I picked traditional flavours – going for a glazed mixed fruit tart on a bed of creme patisserie, then a Valrhona chocolate tart with a peanut caramel filling. Both were sheer heaven.

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La renaissance cafe has given me some inspiration to continue improving my own baking. I could definitely anticipate adding a nutty caramel twist to a chocolate tart, or challenging myself by learning how to make creme patisserie for a tart filling, instead of plumping for easier alternatives.

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Bourke Street Bakery, Sydney

Bourke Street Bakery has an international reputation that surpasses any bakery in Australia. I knew as soon as I landed at the airport I would be paying Bourke Street a visit. Nestled in an inauspicious corner of Sydney, the premises are surprisingly tiny – the window crammed full of rustic breads and tarts. As it was lunchtime, I opted for savoury bake in the form of a cute quiche. The sweet offerings looked so tantalising I couldn’t resist and ordered two tarts – chocolate and a ginger creme brûlée.

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The quiche was very ordinary in taste, with a tough unamenable pastry crust. A little dissatisfied with that, I eyed up the two sweet tarts with trepidation.

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Well I needn’t have worried there, because they were brilliant. The chocolate tart had just the right balance of creamy, sweet and rich. The creme brûlée tart had a powerful ginger kick, with a delightful caramelised sugar crust and unctuous oozy creamy filling. I left knowing that just for that ginger creme brûlée tart, it had been worth it. I am now intrigued to know if the bakery publish a version of their recipe as I’d been keen to try it out!