I have to admit I am not big on classically British foods. I have never quite gotten to grasp with the concept of a roast dinner, didn't enjoy my only ever taste of fish & chips, even when I lived by the seaside in Hastings and don't rate festive minced pies, digestives or even the most holly of British things, tea. However there are a select few quintessentially British things that I do love. What are these foods you may wonder? Well I have soft spot for Crunchie bars (so does my mum who insists on me bringing her at least two multipacks whenever I visit her in Germany), scones aren't half bad once in a while with clotted cream and jam, proper vinegar crisps that bring tears to ones eyes are hard to beat and I also bloody love a millionaire's shortbread.
Although there is some controversy whether they are originally Australian or Scottish, I will go with the Scottish origin story which could explains its widespread popularity in the UK and the shortbread element. For those not familiar millionaire's shortbread - it is a layered biscuit composed of a crunchy and rich rectangular shortbread biscuit base topped with a chewy and soft caramel filling and a shiny chocolate topping. You can buy them ready made in most British supermarket bakery sections which is how I first discovered this beautiful sweet treat and they aren't half bad (if you go for ready made try Waitrose's plain chocolate squares) but once I had made them myself using this recipe I realised just HOW superior the homemade version was.
I love using good quality dark chocolate in my version of millionaire's shortbread as I think it works well to balance out the very sweet caramel layer, which is also way thicker and smoother than in any shop bought version, but you can substitute it with milk chocolate if you prefer, and you don't even need to turn on your oven to rustle up your own tray of these.
I have to say that they are an instant crowd pleaser and incredibly tasty - be warned you'll be making them again and again and again! With ingredients that wont cost over a fiver and taking about an hour in total with waiting time to make, I urge you to make them asap, for me you can't get much better when it comes to an indulgent treat and a British one at that!
Ingredients: 250g shortbread biscuits, crushed 55g melted butter 150g dark brown soft sugar 150g butter 397g can Carnation Condensed Milk 250g dark chocolate
You will also need...A 20cm brownie tin, lined with baking parchment
1. Put crushed biscuit into a bowl with the melted butter. My tip for quick crushed biscuits? Use a grater! Mix it together thoroughly, then press the mixture into the base of your tin. Chill for ten minutes.
2. Heat the sugar and remaining butter in a non-stick pan gently, stirring, until melted. Add the Carnation condensed milk and bring to a rapid boil, stirring continuously. Cook for a minute or so or until the filling has thickened. Pour the caramel over the base. Cool, then chill until set.
3. Melt the chocolate. I put mine, broken up in chunks, into the microwave for 30 seconds at a time before stirring to avoid burning the chocolate. Pour the dark chocolate over the caramel.
4. Chill until set. Remove from the tin and cut into squares.
The millionaire's shortbread will keep well for a week in the fridge and you can even freeze it so you have it ready whenever a craving comes over you, I can't wait to tuck into my supply in a moment of millionaire's shortbread need!
Let’s be honest birthdays were basically invented to give us all an excuse to celebrate and indulge a little more than usual and I took this VERY seriously for my 27th birthday this year, not only eating and drinking well on the day but basically having a week of festivities instead. I was absolutely spoiled by my nearest and dearest and had too many foodie highlights to just mention one so below a little diary of the best of my birthday feasting with a few recommendations along the way because it doesn’t have to be your birthday for some delicious dining, hey it does only come around every 365 days…..
I know it is a bit Insta-girl basic but I can’t deny…I bloody love a macaroon, especially the real deal French ones from Laduree that cost you a small fortune. I don’t have them very often but when I do they are the perfect extravagant sweet indulgence. My office isn’t far from Covent Garden where you can find one of a few Laduree London locations and on this occasion I used my lunchtime to discover the super cute and slightly hidden tea room above the shop, away from the tourist masses.
Yes, I wont be able to afford a rose champagne and macaroon lunches regularly but with excellent service and sophisticated surroundings it was the perfect spot to kick of the birthday weekend in style. My tip go for a triple threat macaroon selection- vanilla, salted caramel and rose are classic flavours that are hard to beat.
THE BIRTHDAY CAKE TO BEAT ALL BIRTHDAY CAKES: PRINCESS CAKE FROM BAGERIET
I have sang the praises of this cake many times before and boy did it once again not disappoint. I don’t even like cake and devoured about 3 slices of it before it had disappeared in the office. The combination of marzipan outside and cream, custard, light vanilla sponge and jam inside is a dream, like eating a beautiful cloud and for £35 you can order a cake that can easily feed 10 people from super cute and authentic Swedish bakery Bageriet. If you are not quite after a whole cake you can also buy it by the slice to have in in the cute yet tiny bakery space or have it to take away. One of my all time favourite sweet treats and a cake I will be wishing for for many birthdays to come.
Cecconi’s Shoreditch had instantly won me over with their ridiculously good Sunday feasting offering which I reviewed a few months back. On that occasion I had also discovered that they have a private dining table towards the back of the restaurant which I booked then and there for my birthday celebrations. Accommodating up to 12 people, you are tucked away from the rather loud (though no doubt old school beautiful) dining room which was perfect for the Friday night of my birthday dinner as it allowed my big group of friends to get to know each other without shouting across the room.
Cecconi’s isn’t cheap but you do get Soho House (they own the restaurant) standard service and drinks, the espresso martini is a must order, and the large sharing pasta plates were a great way to feed a crowd, getting a taste of everything without the huge bill.
To start we shared zucchini fritti with lemon aioli (excellent) and a couple of truffle pizzas (good not amazing) for the table which proved a good way to soak up the delicious rose we ordered to follow cocktails. Between 10 we ordered 3 large pasta bowls which perhaps weren’t quite enough and I have to say on this occasion the pasta wasn’t as well cooked, seasoned or present as it was during the feast, one dish in fact basically uncooked pasta in a limp tomato sauce.
Still, the atmosphere and private table were fantastic, especially on a Friday night in London, and the food was decent, especially when the evening was more about good company, good drinks and having our privacy. A recommendation for any one looking to book a dinner for a larger party, though perhaps on a busy Friday night stick to smaller plates and pizza to avoid pasta disappointment.
THAI TAKEAWAY THAT EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS @ RABIENG
Feeling a little fragile on my actual birthday I decided to combat the hangover with a bit of culture, heading to the rather fantastic new Christian Dior exhibition at the V&A , and by inviting one of my best friends over for a girly sleepover. Of course that saw us consuming copious amounts of sweet things- lindors, macaroons and toffee popcorn galore, but also meant we fancied some decent dinner without having to leave my flat or god forbid cook.
Thank god for Deliveroo then and the fact that you can nowadays get restaurant quality food delivered to your front door. I usually go for Rosa’s when it comes to Thai food but when I spotted Laksa (yes I know not strictly Thai but whatever) on Rabieng’s menu I was ready to take the risk and try a new Thai takeaway spot and my friend was more than on board after studying the menu too. A mere 20 minutes later we had a feast in front of use, with my laksa being of a fantastic quality, full of fresh prawns, well cooked tofu, a fragrant broth and more noodles than even the most starving person could manage. My friend’s chicken dish was equally delicious and a side of basil stir fried veg was fresh and flavourful.
This was all amazing quality food and I can see why the bricks and mortar Rabieng restaurant on Angel’s Upper street gets as good reviews as the deliveries. One to add to my list of trusted takeaways and a very worthy birthday dinner.
AN OLD BRUNCH FAVOURITE THAT STILL DELIVERS: OZONE
Following a quick Barry’s session to undo some of the birthday eating damage, I met one of my oldest London friends Steve and his baby Hunter for brunch at Ozone. Ozone has been one of my tried and tested brunch and coffee spots east for many years now and I knew it was going to be a decent offering even if I hadn’t eaten there in a while. The menu has lots of imaginative twists on brunch and breakfast classics (pancakes with intercepted strawberry compote, quince ricotta, vanilla & dark chocolate anyone?!) is reasonably priced and offers swift and friendly service.
The dining room has a lofty industrial feel and even when super busy on Sunday didn’t feel cramped (little Hunter though slightly bewildered coped well I may add). I ended up going for the field mushrooms on sourdough w fermented chilli, pickled onion, parmesan & house crème fraiche and a poached egg, in the mood for something savoury after one too many macaroons and loved the earthy flavours, perfectly cooked eggs and slightly sour note from the crème fraiche. I was torn between many veggie friendly options that have been added to the menu since my last visit and will surely return. An old favourite that has stood the test of time!
I finished my weekend with a no frills yet absolutely fantastic Korean dinner at Waterloo spot GoGo Pocha. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, expect to queue and don’t think you can linger after you have finished your food. Expats with a desire for taste of home love this place and the servers know that. Food is swiftly ordered and served, wine is cheap and heck you honestly feel like you’ve stepped into a local gem in Seoul, not a restaurant a stones throw away from the not so glamorous Waterloo station.
Stick to the classics, we had kimchi pancakes, rice cakes and even more fresh kimchi before settling for their outstanding and ridiculously cheap variations of Bimbimbap for mains. My veggie one with, you guessed it, even more Kimchi was an utter delight and beat anything I have had at more hip Korean spots in London like On the Bab, while my fellow diners were gushing about their meat versions. They also have a range of Korean stews to share and plenty of other noodle and rice dishes so that there is something for everyone on the menu.
I don’t want to tell you too much about the place because to be honest it is that kind of hidden gem you don’t want people to find, a hole in the wall kinda spot that serves real deal Korean food at prices you seldom find in London. Let’s keep it on the low down because GoGo Pocha is a foodie treasure worth preserving.