Otto - Cornmeal crust pizza

Tom and Rich quit their jobs, flew to the US, hired a VW camper and set off on a three month road trip. In Portland, Oregan they were taken to a Pizzeria which would change their lives forever. This particular Pizzeria, Dove Vivi, was notable for its cornmeal crust and so enamoured by this revelation the chaps saw an opportunity back in London. With the help of the pizzaiolos at Dovevivi Tom and Rich have since set up shop in Notting Hill.

Unlike conventional flour dough these crusts lend themselves to an altogether different pizza experience. Due the the qualities of cornmeal and the double baking the bases can be shaped into a kind of casing not unlike a quiche or tart. A lip of a centimeter or so enables the boys at Otto to fill rather than top their pizzas. Instead of relying on the dough to do the talking as with more traditional pizzas here it is the fillings that rule, heavily laden and bold seems the be the Otto mantra. 'House made fennel sausage, caramelised onion, marinated green pepper, tomato sauce and parmesan' is their best seller. Diners can even order the 'Taster' with six different flavor combos on one 12" crust. Currently the most wacky offering is a Cranberry sauce, mozzarella, sauteed kale and butternut squash bonanza. Shy they are not!

With the extra deep filled pizza pies at 12" most would be hard pushed to cram it all in; while they are most certainly not a light meal sharing is caring and this also means you get to sample more of the constantly changing seasonal specials. A small selection full bodied wines and US caft beers have been chose to partner Otto's oozy pies. With little else on the menu save for a few choice salads and some puds Tom and Rich are keeping things simple and their eye firmly on the ball.

Otto can be found just off Westbourne Grove, a well-to-do patch that lends itself to foot fall. The cornmeal crust is a novel extension of our beloved pizza pie and with such a new venture we will be keen to see how things pan out. Take away is available and the prices are reasonable so you've no excuse not to check it out.

6 Chepstow Road, London, W2 5BH
Tel: 0207 792 4088

Spotted in Waitrose, Heston's vanilla mayo has jumped from the three starred dish pictured below (Salmon poached in liquorice gel with artichokes & vanilla mayonnaise) to our supermarket shelves. It will be interesting to see if the rolling out of product lines from 'haute' to the mass produced gathers pace. BOGOF's on tins of mock turtle soup anyone?

York & Albany

Those well aquainted with Blackadder the Third will know that The Prince Regent was not blessed with political prowess. Instead he was more of an extravagant dandy dedicated to a lavish lifestyle resulting in life-threatening obesity and a nasty laudanum habit. Fortunately for us though some pretty spectacular architecture & aesthetic follies survive from his indulgent reign. including a coaching inn overlooking Regents Park that now houses York & Albany.

I think the porky prince would have approved of this Ramsay restaurant with rooms headed up by Angela Hartnett and head chef Colin Buchan. This multifaceted operation includes three dining areas; a bar, slightly beige main area and a cosy downstairs with a view of the pass and open kitchen. Rooms are available upstairs and a deli is open next door during the day, all adding to the self appointed ‘lifestyle experience’ that is popular with a range of customers from preened waggies to business men and more casual Camden types.

We ordered the quail breast ravioli with spinach, truffle and shallot along with grilled ox tongue with macadamia, carrot and pickled mushrooms. Mains might include cannon of lamb, onion purée, rainbow chard, confit potatoes & green olives or roasted pollock on toast, cauliflower purée, pine nut cream & caper beurre noisette. These dishes aren’t shy but self-assured with the main ingredient sitting proud. Clever portion sizing means that the richness doesn’t overwhelm and there is room for pud. Location and splendid surroundings do come at a price don’t forget, with starters at around the £10 mark and mains more like £20.

Attention to detail makes all the difference. An aversion to wheat was expertly accommodated and gluten free bread was bought out. Wine by the carafe and a list organised by flavour is a real help and knowledgeable unfaltering staff bolstered the experience.

York & Albany

127-129 Parkway



Tel: 020 7388 3344

Aces and Eights

Brits tend not to combine binge drinking with food all that well and there are three very scientific reasons why. Eating wastes valuable boozing time before the last orders bell tolls, legend has it that solids ‘absorb’ alcohol thus preventing maximum pissedness and lastly money spent on unnecessary solids dent the beery budget too much. All these factors considered its very easy to understand why many eschew a tasty bite whilst getting silly with their friends of an evening out.

Rock, Liquor, Pizza is the strapline above the door of the Tufnell Park bar Aces & Eights and at this Yankee dive bar there is no excuse not to line your stomach with Pizzas made on-site by the crew from Il Bacio. With a cocktail list centered firmly around bourbon and some popular US beers the brothers behind Islington's Slim Jim’s Liquor Store are on to something hot. Compared with the hassle and expense of installing a kitchen, creating a food menu and paying staff, this solution is a stroke of genius: find an existing pizza company with a good reputation and offer them your back room…

Morat the pizzaiolo resides behind his topping counter with his pin ball machine for company. Food is ordered directly from the chef and served by him, all the bar staff have to do is collect the wooden serving boards and for this small gesture they are plied with complementary pizza – Its win win for everybody. While Il Bacio concentrate on pizza Aces & Eights do the rock thing.

The extended yet classic pizza menu takes after the other Il Bacio outposts, delicious Sardinian sausage, pecorino & jalapeno is a champion choice. Odder options include the Passione d’Amore with avocado, capers, mint & aubergine. Fortunately the toppings are concise & balanced & rule over thin & crispy bases. 12" and 16" pizzas are available at £7.95 & £15.95 sit in or take away, either way no reason not to enjoy a lovingly mixed Old Fashioned while your there. If your a north Londoner its definitely worth checking out.

156-158 Fortess Road
London NW5 2HP


With the new Mayfair branch opening next week I made the overdue visit to Alan Yau's flagship on Hanway Place. I tried not to get my expectations up too much, nothing is more bitter than a high-end celebrity studded hang out failing to live up to expectations, getting by on exorbitant prices and reputation alone. Hakkasan, now nearly ten year old, is a mecca for glitzy types after westernised Chinese or 'oriental inspired' fine dining. Almost weekly the tabloid spreads and lifestyle mags show images of tarted up 'slebs spilling out of the discreet side street portal. But what about all those diners who travel far and spend their hard earned on the celebration of the year, for such an expensive and well regarded restaurant they had to be able to offer something for those not on the corporate account or loaded enough not to care - especially in a time of apparent economic austerity.

The atmospheric interior feels like an erotic gaol, an underground hanger has been cunningly compartmentalised in to more intimate spaces by intricately carved wooden divides. Just enough of the restaurant and other diners can be seen through the screens to make the the place feel energised but also covert and exotic. A long but narrow bar runs down the back wall serving equally long and 'feminine' cocktails. Less time spent at the bar with the less than cognizant bartenders and more table time is advisable.

Large groups are made to pre-order food when booking which, irritating as it sounds, (seemingly only benefiting the well-oiled Hakkatron) is actually quite a good thing due to the sharing sized plates and the mass of offerings and we were able supplement our pre-decided dishes on the night. Some up-selling on the wine front can be outmaneuvered Christine Parkinson's recently shortlisted list does offer some cheaper bins for the less moneyed.

To start:

Salt and pepper squid

Dim sum platter
scallop shumai, har gau, Chinese chive dumpling and shimeji dumpling

Duck salad

Tea smoked ribs

soft shell crab


Stir-fry black pepper rib-eye beef
with merlot

silver cod with champagne and Chinese honey sauce


Spicy prawns



Jivara hazelnut bomb milk chocolate and hazelnut ice cream parfait, hot chocolate sauce

As a group on ten we are able to try lots of dishes; the stand out ones being the dim sum, ribs, beef and cod. Amazing precision had gone into the dim sum and on these alone I would go back for the mores extensive day time dim sum. The ribs had a wonderful tea smoked dimension and attention to the beef was on a par, spectacularly smokey and subtle. The cod came with a smile inducing sauce of champagne and Chinese honey - zesty, silky and rich. The fish was so perfectly cooked and elegant that any preconception hyped of elitist dining went out the window and left me feeling a little bit bad about having cast Hakkasan into the style over substance trough.

Sadly a dining experience like this does come at a cost, a big one. A fifty percent discount on the total bill was available through a long serving employee and friend of mine that made the evening, which included a cocktail and half a bottle of wine, very good value at £54 including service. Had I paid the full £100+ whack it would have to have been a petty important occasion

8 Hanway Place

Beer & Pork Scratchings

The hairy bar snack is a strange and delicious thing. Skin from a pigs leg fried in its own lard with a bunch of seasoning is enough to make some balk but for the wise and initiated the porky crunch and salty fat is a filling treat, best consumed with moderation over some good beer and convivial pubby cheer.

Beer Genie have taken the scratchings and beer concept pretty far and developed a six course tasting menu. Suffers of high cholesterol need not apply.

We ate:

Five Scratchings
(Clockwise from top of plate) Once cooked, twice cooked, curry, p0rk crunch & leaf Bank's Mild, Harvey's Sussex Best, Sol, Carslberg Export, Captain Smith Strong Ale

Pork terrine with scratchings
St. Austell Clouded Yellow

Ram's Horn & Crunch Scratchings with guacamole
Oakham JHB

Ram's Horn & Crunch Scratchings with gooseberry dip
Blanche de Bruxelles

Fish pie with gratin pork scratching top with parsnip and green beans
Goose Island 312

Pork chipolates & vanilla ice cream
Mackeson Milk stout

The tasting plate to start included the
familiar 'once' and 'twice' cooked scratching, the 'curry' (a hideous angry Monster Munch like mess in the mouth) the 'crunch', a delicious porky Quaver and the 'leaf ' that was described by our host Rupert as 'something ones dog would turn down'. So a mixed bag but it was very interesting to compare them with the five beers alongside. Some worked well and other less so. Bank's Mild was well matched with the salty puffy skin on the twice cooked the Harvey's bitter was mellow and allied with the bulky once cooked horn-like scratch. Oddly the curry found favour with the Mexican Sol. Carlsberg was brilliant with almost all, the strength of the lager held up well against the salt and the full bodied sweetness of the Strong ale was good with the traditional once and twice cooked.

For the rest of this fat fest more cultivated beers were matched. The terrine studded with scratchings made for some exciting textures and the
St. Austell Clouded Yellow was light and summery with vanilla mixing going well with yet more pork. Inspired by Thomasina Miers the third course of scratchings and guacamole was the least interesting although the spice was nicely beaten down by the zingy Oakham English ale. As with pork and apple the gooseberry dip was a revelation with the once cooked scratching and the sweet fragrant bananary Belgian wheat beer. With stomach space rapidly diminishing the fish pie with scratching gratin was not all that welcome but room was made for the bacony topping that was lifted by the zesty lightness of the US brewed Goose Island 312 a real champion ale that will gain popularity fast in the UK. In fact this Chicago brewed wheat beer was a recent gift from President Obama to David Cameron as the result of a World Cup bet. Those of us who had made it this far were really challenged by the zany dessert of chocolate dipped scratchings with Mackleson Milk Stout. Wowzers - what a combo! Salty chocolate is good, Reese's and chocolate pretzels for example, but add some pig and this is a properly pimped out snack. Fortunately the sweet vanilla ice cream was on site to cut though the intensity when one needed to take time out. The Milk Stout's chocolaty tones was a good but not entirely essential pairing.

I wouldn't jump at the opportunity to guzzle that many deep fried curly ones again any time soon but to have had the opportunity to do so has opened my mind and much as it closed the arteries. Some pretty fine beers were showcased alongside a unique Midlands treasure. This was one tasting session that was definitely out of the box. Thanks to Beer Genie, R&R Teamwork and The White Horse for hosing.

Meals From Scratch

Ready meals have a pretty bad reputation, sodium filled, vac packed dishes for loners who simply can't be arsed - easy options for those to busy to cook or the only option for those who can't. It easy to see why supermarket chiller isles team with a boggling array of pre-packed dinner decisions. There is an ever growing populous who want to cook, love food but find it tricky to plan ahead in order to eat healthy freshly prepared food at home.

Enter Scratch; set up by an young entrepreneurial trio to combat the ready meal dilemma who produce pre-prepared ingredients for you to cook at home. 'We do the hard bits, you do the fun bits' is their tag line, these packages offer healthy fresh and cost effective meals. I caught up with the founder Phil who explained that 'it's ridiculous to go out and buy every single ingredient for an entire recipe', so Scratch put all these together for you.You get a box with all the chopped, washed and weighed ingredients as well as the instructions to cook your meal from scratch. The meals are for one and cook in around 15 minutes with one or two pans. Armed with a willing test cook who only owns two saucepans we put Scratch to the test.

We cooked two out of the four menu options, a moroccan chicken tagine and a chorizo jambalaya:

Instructions are concise and accurate

Even a butter portion is provided to add to the cous cous

The tagine

The jambalaya

Left to her own devices the erstwhile sous sauteed, browned, stirred and reduced; in a little over the recommended time allowance the two dishes were ready for tasting. Having been cooked both dishes were more sizable than we had been expecting and are just generous enough to sate. The tagine was the less bold of the two but the sweetness of the currants chimed in nicely and the amount of sauce soaked into the cous cous. The lemons and limes provided with both was a great lift that you never see in more traditional one box meals. The jambalaya was the definite winner of the two in terms of flavour and appearance, brave heat levels may be too much for some fairies but we loved the intensity. Smoky chorizo and peppers really hit the spot and I would have been more than happy if I had knocked it up myself.

The other two meals available are
a vegetable red thai curry and a crayfish, tomato and feta pasta all at a fiver a pop. Good value if you consider how much a lunchtime visit to Pret can cost and certainly much less than the price of all the ingredients combined when cooked for one. While you don't have complete creative control in the kitchen and the satisfaction of adding just the right amount of this and that has been removed you do have a tasty, healthy dish cooked yourself using fresh and well sourced ingredients. This until now had been a gaping hole in the market and it makes you wonder how the world of convenience food is heading and so great that a group of young food lovers have got this going on - not just the man trying to make us spend more!

You can get their meals from the website. Alternatively find them in Wholefoods on Kensington High Street, in Sourced Market Kings Cross St Pancras station, Budgens in Islington, the Grocery in Shoreditch, Kennards in Bloomsbury and Couture Food Hall in Woolwich Arsenal.