There is nothing Odd about Oddbox

I cannot remember how I came across Oddbox but I am glad I did. In a world where food waste is reaching shocking amounts, I am a firm supporter of any company or person who is trying to tackle it.

I hate waste. I hate throwing food away unnecessarily. I am that person that ignores the sell by dates and will freeze it to preserve it rather than throw it away.

Oddbox is a company that has been born out of the food waste problem. They are committed to fighting food waste through saving wonky fruit and veg –  that stuff the supermarkets do not want as it does not fit their description of what a vegetable should look like! They work directly with local farmers to take the wonky fruit and vegetables and deliver it straight to your door.

I love this idea! I have no idea when or where supermarkets decided that food had to look a certain way. Whenever I go to a market in France, Italy or Spain you are welcomed by the brightly coloured fruit and vegetable stalls. Piled high with all shapes and sizes. Not a plastic wrapped carrot in sight. Why did we, the British start doing this? What is wrong with a wonky carrot or a nobbly potato?

The all inclusive French market. nothing classed as a wonky here

Intrigued by the service Oddbox are offering I decided to take the leap and sign up for their vegetable delivery service. So last Friday we had our first delivery ( delivery time and day is dictated by your post code in London). My only problem with the service is the delivery time. For our post code it comes from 11pm to 7am. Now I am lucky and live in a block of flats where the concierge can sign for the package but not everyone has this. Nor do most people in London have safe locations you can leave things that the foxes will not get to.

Big box of Vegetables

Negatives aside, we woke to a big old box ( we have gone for the medium vegetable box) of fresh vegetables. For the most part I cannot tell what is wonky about it. The carrots were huge, the spring onions all looked the same, the cabbage – cabbage like. I cannot for the life of me understand why supermarkets would turn this stuff down.

Someone please tell me what is odd about this?
Dirty vegetables… whatever next!

Everything looked great. All it needed was a good clean ( yes that’s right the potatoes and carrots were dirty –  farm fresh mud! ) and it was ready for the fridge.

The box it came in is cardboard, so that can be recycled as well! In fact they ask you to leave it outside for your next delivery as they will take it away and re-use it.

I have been really pleased with the contents of my Oddbox. The medium box has kept us fed for over a week –  a few spring onions still going – but I am ready for our next box to arrive on Friday. We have started on a box every two weeks to see how we go but may well swap to weekly orders. At £10.99 for a box of vegetables every two weeks I think this is a bargain. It means that we are saving food from the waste but also saves us time shopping for it.

I would highly recommend this service if you live in London.

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Gluten free Japan

Going gluten free in Japan was hard! Harder than I thought it would be. Research had been done, blogs read, and Facebook groups joined. If we had not done the research in advance I think we would have struggled..

Saying that, do not let the difficulties put you off travelling to Japan. There is a challenge in finding places to eat but if you have those little stars waiting for you on google maps then it makes things much easier. Now I am not coeliac just gluten intolerant which does make things a bit simpler as cross contamination is not a problem.

A great deal of recommendations and advice came from a Facebook group, it was a true saving grace! The group is Gluten Free Expats Japan, and if you are planning a trip to Japan I highly recommend you join. Also, get one of the Gluten Free translations cards. We took one with us and used it a couple of times when we were unsure of the menu. They can be found on various websites online, some free and some you pay for.

Our starting point was to take our own gluten free soy sauce with us, carefully packed in the suitcase wrapped in bubble wrap ( a small dance was done when we arrived and it had not leaked!). It is possible to get tamari in Japan but we didn’t want to have spend time looking for it as it seems to be quite elusive. With google maps full of saved places to eat (thanks to the amazing Facebook group) we set out to explore.

Tokyo was by far the easiest place to get gluten free options. Osaka was the hardest. So many of the local foods in Osaka are battered or fried/breaded that it meant missing out.

Below are a list of places that we tried and loved.

My top Gluten Free places in Japan

Tokyo

Noodle Stand Tokyo : This is the place for GF ramen. Its delicious. The restaurant is tiny but fast moving. Its also down stairs in a bigger building so keep an eye out for the sign. You choose your ramen from the machine and it has the option of gluten free noodles – choose that one. The staff have a little English so any issues using the machine they will understand you. Once noodles chosen then grab a seat and slurp away.

Bills, Ginza: This is a chain of restaurants by Bill Granger an Australian chef. The food is Aussie style with a Japanese twist. The restaurants are modern and a touch refined. We told the waitress we were gluten free and she brought over their big list of allergens so we could choose GF options. The food was delicious, fresh and was a nice change from the traditional Japanese we had been eating up to that point.

Little Bird: Now we never actually got to Little Bird but its a completely GF restaurant and everyone raves about it. Its a little tricky to find, but we will definitely be going next time.

Hommage: this was a beautifully exquisite Michelin star dining experience. We informed them in advance of our intolerance and they perfectly adapted the menu. We never once felt like we were missing out. If you fancy splashing out on a fine dining experience in Tokyo, I highly recommend this one.

Kanazawa

Little Spice: This was a Thai restaurant down a little street and was delicious. Really relaxed and chilled out. Lots of rice and rice noodle dishes on the menu which are gluten free. It was cash only. The staff were really friendly.

Oink Oink: this is a pork restaurant, with pork in all its forms. Now we didn’t specifically ask for anything gluten free here, but we ate around the menu. Its very meat heavy but I am sure the staff could advise. Some of the pork came with sauce so you could have it without. It was delicious though. This was one of those meals we threw caution to the wind.

 

Hiroshima

Cafe Ponte: Now I wouldn’t normally be eating at an Italian restaurant in Japan but we were desperate. Saying that the food was nice and staff friendly. They had run out of GF pasta so we had risotto. This place has its own GF menu! Our reason for eating here was because our first choice Art Cafe Elk had closed down.

Nagata-Ya: Next door to Ponte and has GF Okonomiyaki. Although they do warn you about cross contamination. There is always a queue so do not go too hungry as you may be waiting a little while.

Osaka

We didn’t eat at any proper GF places in Osaka ( although there are a few out there). Here are a couple of places we did eat at and enjoyed

Sex Machine: fabulous BBQ place. We sat at the bar and watched the chefs prepare the meat. The English menu was pretty easy to understand. Pick your meat and then cook it! It was very gluten free if you do not use any of the dipping sauces.

Rotary Sushi, Osaka:  Great conveyer belt sushi place. Loads of choice. We took our own soy sauce. If Coeliac probably worth showing your card to the waitress to see if its ok to eat as I know sometimes the vinegars used in the rice can contain gluten.

 

Kyoto

Engine Ramen: delicious gluten free ramen! Again you choose your dish from the machine and give the ticket to the waitress. Once you have picked your ramen you select GF noodles. We had intended to have lunch here but they were closed, but open for dinner. It seems that restaurants in Japan do not always open when their online times say they do so watch out.

Breizh Cafe Creperie: There are a few of these places dotted around Japan so keep an eye out. They do delicious buckwheat crepes. Staff speak good English as well. Its just around the corner from Engine so if one or the other is closed then it has a back up.

Ki Bar: not food but a cute little bar we found. Its run by a Canadian chap who has lived in Japan for many years. He has a good selection of local and wider Japanese drinks.

Nara

Gluten free is the new black: Amazing cafe tucked away in Nara. The owner is really nice. She makes everything herself. Lots of different cakes and sandwiches. Definitely worth going. We grabbed a picnic of sandwiches and cakes ( and cakes for later) to take into Nara Park with us.

 

I would recommend taking lots of gluten free snacks from home as these just are not available. I know that some supermarkets or health food stores do have rice cakes etc but it means going to look for them. When on holiday I want to relax and know that there is a cereal bar in my bag if I want one. We also took out bread with us for breakfasts.

The hotels we stayed at all had excellent breakfasts, lots of eggs and fruit and if you want to go full Japanese you can. None had gluten free bread or cereal so we did take that with us. If you want to get things locally then the Facebook group recommended above has some suggestions on where to get it.

I hope this has been useful for any gluten free brothers and sisters planning on going to Japan. Its not the easiest destination for us but it can be done and Japan is fabulous so I highly recommend going. Any questions just shout!

 

Afternoon Tea at the Corinthia Hotel

It’s fair to say that over my 30 something years I have eaten many an afternoon tea. I have enjoyed them around London, around the country and even overseas. There is something delightfully enjoyable about tiny sandwiches and cakes.

I remember being a teenager and afternoon tea was a treat, an indulgence. It was a rarity in my early life. Now, they are everywhere. Ranging in quality, price and theme. It seems like every hotel puts on their own variation of afternoon tea, throwing in novelty themes to fill the seats because apparently dainty sandwiches and scones just do not do it anymore. Saying that, gentlemen’s afternoon tea can be quite fun….

I do not want to get all snobby about afternoon tea, but on a recent trip to the Corinthia Hotel to enjoy their offering I was reminded of what a traditional afternoon tea was, the simplicity of it, the elegance. The Corinthia really does ooze elegance not only in its hotel but in its afternoon tea.

This visit was my first afternoon tea since going gluten-free 18 months ago so I was not quite sure what to expect on quality and choice, but I was pleasantly surprised. There was very little from the normal cake selection that we couldn’t have and they even brought us out substitutes.

The Corinthia Hotel afternoon tea, it was agreed by the party, was the most relaxed afternoon tea any of us have ever had. We were presented each section one at a time which I thought was a lovely touch, rather than being faced all at once with a great tower of goods. You could eat your way through each section at your own pace, and even go back for more sandwiches if you wanted ( at great glee to the men in attendance). The gluten-free sandwiches were all on lovely soft and firm white bread – no cotton wool concoction in sight – while the normal tea was on flavoured bread, but fillings all the same. The sandwiches were delicious. Lovely and fresh and flavoursome.

Elegant afternoon tea at the Corinthia Hotel
delicious gluten free finger sandwiches

Next came the scones presented in a box  – very cute. The gluten-free versions were, well, ok. I am yet to find a decent gluten-free scone. They elude me. These were nice, but pretty dense. Fine once covered in jam and clotted cream.

Gluten Free scones …. small but ok!

The real delight came when a lovely waitress wheeled over the cake trolley! yes that’s right, a trolley of beautifully crafted patisserie. She carefully went through what was gluten-free and filled our stand with scrummy items. A short while later her colleague presented us with a couple more gluten free options from the kitchen.

the scrummy tower of gluten free cakes
more cakes….
Chocolate cake and a fruit cheesecake
This chocolate sphere were divine!

Each little cake was full of flavour and beautifully made. It was almost a shame to eat them.

At no point did we ever feel rushed as we sat scoffing our faces while the piano was gracefully played behind us. Staff were friendly and welcoming.

This afternoon tea at the Corinthia hotel could quickly become my favourite.

Margate, a delightful day trip

It’s hard to deny that the UK is having a pretty incredible summer, the weather over the last couple of months has been amazing and we are only in the start of July. With such great weather its been hard to not take advantage of the amazing outdoor activities and nature at our finger tips.

Being in old London town means that due to the train connections a host of day trips are on offer, well assuming the trains are working! But we are lucky, that in about an hour and a half we can be sat on the beach or taking a walk in the lovely British countryside. There is something for everyone.

The other weekend we decided that we needed to get out of the hot city and explore somewhere new, so out of a hat we picked Margate. Neither of us had been before but had heard good things. Margate keeps popping up on lists of places to visit for the day or weekend thanks to recent investment in the town, from the Turner Contemporary and Dreamland. I know there is some contention over the hipsters and gentrification pushing up rents and making it harder for those who have always lived there. However, I saw an interesting balance of the old school seaside resort with its fish and chip shops, arcades and rock shops, with art galleries, antique shops and amazing seafood restaurants. I believe that the rebirth of Margate has allowed it to appeal to a wider group of people, there is really something for everyone in Margate, and of course there is that fabulous golden sand beach where all are welcome and everyone really is the same when sat on the beach or dipping your toes in that ever so cold water.

The moment you step out of the Margate train station you are hit by the site of the glorious British Seaside. You are just a few meters from the sand. The sun is shining, and like a child I want to run to the sand, but alas I must be a grown up, museum first.

Golden Sands of Margate

We walked along the sea front passing the shops and restaurants, pondering where to return to for lunch. I pulled the other half past the arcades, to which we would return later and headed to Harbour Arm for a mid morning caffeine hit. The Harbour Arm is great, its lined with excellent independent cafes and bars. Taking to a deck chair I enjoyed my tea and people watched.

The Harbour Arm

The Harbour Arm stretches out from the new Turner Contemporary Gallery, whose modern architecture using glass to offer excellent views out onto the sea. It’s a lovely gallery, it’s incredibly welcoming. The spaces are light and airy and even on a busy Saturday you never felt cramped looking at the exhibitions.

From here we set about to explore the old town and its winding streets. They are full of all sorts of treasures from vintage and antique shops to cake shops and restaurants. Of course its sunny, hot and lunch time so everywhere is very busy. Having done my research I had a couple of seafood restaurants noted down, the first of which was full (Hantvertk & Found). So we headed back towards the sea in search of Angela’s, again it was full except for a little table outside on the pavement in the shade, we took it, and patted ourselves on the back after lunch for making such a great decision.

Angela’s was an utter delight, a short and simple fresh seafood menu from a tiny little kitchen. They themselves call their food uncomplicated, which is exactly what you want when it comes to fresh seafood. I sometimes think in today’s restaurant world there is too much over complication of food, we forget the simplicity of a perfectly grilled piece of fish with a simple sauce!

We started with scallops to share, which melted in the mouth like butter. The main was the star, a Dover Sole for two to share in a crab and butter sauce with sapphire. We had a side of potatoes to dip in the sauce and greens. It was delicious! the fish was flaky and the filets came off the bone a treat. The sauce was addictively good, making sure we got every scrap of it.

Angela’s!
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wp-image-304″ src=”https://lifelondonfooddotcom.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/img_7666.jpg?w=225″ alt=”” width=”225″ height=”300″ /> Divine Scallops at Angela’s[/caption]

This is great British food at its finest. Local, sustainable food, that is seasonal and wonderfully cooked.

Another highlight of the restaurant was its wine list, championing local wine from Kent. As a lover of English wine I am always on the look out for one I haven’t tried, and the staff were very nice in letting me try a  couple, one of which was Westwell Wines.

Margate is a town of hidden gems be it edible or not. There is much more to see and do but we ran out of time due to a long lunch and pre booked return train tickets –  next time we will stay over night! But there was time to hit the old school arcades and try our luck at the 2p machines. One place we must try to visit next time is Dreamland, the amusement park that has in some form or another stood on the site since the 1870’s. It was reopened in 2015 and looks like great fun.

This was a taster trip to lovely Margate and I will definitely need to return to keep exploring. I also feel this seaside gem has more edible delights to uncover and of course I want to go back and try Angela’s dinner menu!

Cinnamon Kitchen Battersea

The area around the iconic Battersea Power Station is fast becoming the place for restaurants to open. In the next few years I wouldnt be surprised if this becomes the new hip place to be once the power station developments have finished. One of the new restaurants that has opened in the development, housed in an archway of the railway bridge is Cinnamon Kitchen.

I am a huge fan of Cinnamon Club in Westminster, a delightfully delicious Indian fine dining experience by Vivek Singh, so was very happy when I got an email through to say that they were opening a Cinnamon Kitchen in Battersea.

I love modern Indian cuisine, the depth of flavour, the imaginative use of spices and sometimes the simplicity of a dish. It brings the best of Indian food to the plate. Do not get me wrong I love a curry but there is something refreshing and usually imaginative about modern Indian cooking.

Cinnamon Kitchen at Battersea Power Station continues the high standard of cooking that you would associate with Vivek Singh and his restaturants. The setting is quite urban chic, lots of explosed brick and metal but with comfortable plus seats. The open kitchen means that you can see all that is going on and smell the beautiful cooking going on inside.

We visited for lunch, which offers small plates, large plates or a very reasonably priced set menu. I will definitely have to return for dinner to further experience the menu.

This is a lovely restaurant with delicious food and friendly staff. Hopefully this will become a mainstay in the region.

The Crown Inn, Amersham

The Crown is located in the picturesque old town of Amersham which is a very quaint market town. It’s an open air museum of British architecture through the ages. You can meander up and down the high street of the old town taking in the shops and many pubs. Further afield it’s perfectly located for a country walk. In fact there are some walks all planned out for you to explore the surrounding area and villages.

With Amersham on the periphery of London, and still on the tube line this is the perfect place to escape the city for a night or two. Arriving on Friday night, a little later than expected due to a ticket kerfuffle ( all my fault), we were checked in by a very friendly member of staff and we went off to find our room. Watching our heads on the low ceilings and beams ( love an Elizabethan beam!!) we got to our room which was very spacious.

The large radiator was a godsend as it was freezing outside, once that was turned all the way up we had a toasty room with a big bed and perfectly sized room for a couple of nights. Our room was located in the main building but there are a selection of rooms that are located in the converted out buildings. The only negative with our room was the noise. As we were located above the kitchen we could hear the staff going in and out at the end of the night to what I presume were the bins, but also when waking up, you could hear them below in the kitchen. Now it wasn’t noisy enough to warrant moving as we are both pretty heavy sleepers and I wear ear plugs but if you are a light sleeper you may want to think about one of the rooms away from the main building.

In need of food we headed down to the bar which advertised as selling bar snacks, but the bar itself was tiny and most of the tables were set up like those in the restaurant. The 2 or 3 small tables left were already occupied. Disappointed we headed out onto the high street and had a very nice meal in a Cote Brasserie, always somewhere I overlook but I never have a bad meal there.

The next day we set out to explore the countryside after a delicious breakfast, of course this was the only day of the whole week that it was going to rain!

A great breakfast to start the day with

After exploring the high street in the day light we headed for the walk we had found online. Across a cricket ground, past a stately home, a field of many horses and we ended up in the lovely little village of Little Missenden . Cold and wet we popped into a very cute looking pub also called the Crown Inn. Filled with locals we couldn’t help but feel like we were being watched as we walked in. Very local! A cup of tea later (this may have been the reasons for the stares) we headed back out and carried on through the village. With time ticking on it was time to head back to Amersham for lunch and then to the Spa!

We had a quick lunch at a very delightful place called The Grocer offering a selection of gluten-free sweet and savory options. I highly recommend the cakes.

One of the reasons for booking the Crown was that it had a Spa attached. The Red House Spa. It was a warm and welcoming place, where I had a very delightful massage.

The second reason for booking the Crown was the restaurant. The Hawkyns restaurant is owned by Atul Kochhar, the proprietor of Benares, a restaurant we like very much. Intrigued by what the restaurant could offer we of course had to dine here on Saturday night.

Overall it was an enjoyable evening and the food delicious but the restaurant definitely needed to make a few improvements, mostly with its staff. All evening there was  a sense of slight chaos brewing. We had about 3 or 4 different waiters serving us throughout the night, they obviously hadn’t worked out the whole sections thing. With the multiple waiters we had to explain to three different people that we both had a gluten intolerance –  still not sure they really took it in. Luckily we are pretty good at working out a menu on our own. After telling two waiters ( they tried to bring us bread and amouse bouche twice) we finally got the gluten-free options. The food that we got was lovely, with its Indian influence and spice. It was simple, perfectly portioned and presented with care.

I enjoy watching a restaurant in action, watching the staff, the customers, you see a lot, and I saw the staff running far too much. Yes the restaurant was busy, but its a small restaurant. The air of chaos carried on through the night, with the odd table being apologised to for the wait or wrong plate coming out. It’s a shame because if they can work this out, get the staff trained up, timings in place for taking orders this could be a lovely restaurant to make Amersham proud.  Unfortunately the chaos carried over to breakfast on Sunday which was a shame as Saturday’s breakfast was relaxed and lovely.

Coming down with a good 45 minutes to spare on breakfast service we found one lonely waitress trying to cope with a lot of tables. We obviously started a trend as after we arrived in the breakfast room, so did several other couples. However we found the breakfast selection depleted. In the breakfast rush, no one had restocked the cereal, fruit or pastries. It was a poor show. After flagging down the lone waitress we managed to get our breakfast order in, but it came out a lesser version of the previous days, with one rasher of bacon rather than 2, half a mushroom rather than a full one… all a bit strange. They were obviously running out of supplies, so why not stop the full English and encourage people on the other options if you do not have enough. I ordered the eggs Benedict and it was rather nice.

This was a lovely stay in a hotel I would recommend if you are looking for an easy weekend away from London with country walks and good food. It’s a shame that the staff let things down a bit but a little bit of work will improve that quite quickly. If you are ever in the area I would suggest a meal at Hawkyns as the food was very yummy, and if you cannot get yourself to Benares you can experience a little bit of Atol Kochers divine Indian cooking here. We booked the stay through Mr and Mrs Smith which I would do again as they always have little special extras attached to bookings which is a nice touch!

 

Going Plastic Free

The recent Blue Planet II series on BBC 1 not only showed us the wonders of the sea but has shocked many of us at how we are damaging the seas and oceans. The amount of plastic that is polluting the waters of this planet is breathtakingly bad. In recent weeks it has become quite the hot topic and is now starting to get the attention of the government. It has recently been announced that the Mayor of London is going to start putting in public fountains to discourage people from buying bottled water in the capital. Coffee shops are also on the band wagon by giving people discounts for bringing their reusable cups. Now this is great and all heading to the right direction, however if ordinary people do not make changes to their daily use of plastic then we will not get anywhere. Also water fountains need to go nationwide, not just in London. Network rail recently announced that they will be putting more fountains at stations which will certainly help commuters and travelers.

I really want to make an effort to bring down our household plastic consumption and generally just get a bit better for the environment. Now I love a canvas bag so stopped using those nasty old plastic bags a while back and of course, who doesn’t love the good old reusable tuppa wear! I have a cupboard full of the stuff. However, it starts to get harder when you try to stop using things like cling film or sandwich bags for storing things, like your lunch. This every day object that you use without thinking to wrap up left overs or the odd sandwich.

After a little wander around the internet I came across Beeswax wraps. They are adhesive thanks to the bees and reusable. I have successfully used them all week for wrapping up lunches and snacks and will definitely be investing in some more of varying sizes as these are great little inventions and British made!

 

One sandwich all wrapped up

 

Lunch survived!

The other thing I have found are cloth covers which again can be washed and reused.

Cloth Bowl Covers

I still need to get some of those silicone covers that you can use on top of things in the microwave but I feel like I am making a step in the right direction.

Now on first inspection the beeswax wraps are not cheap, but they are reusable so it’s all an investment as you are normally paying £2 or so for a roll of cling film. The cloth covers are cheaper but again washable and reusable.

However, this will be the problem going forward as it always has been, the cost of doing the right thing environmentally. Hopefully the more popular items like beeswax wraps or cloth covers become then they will be more readily available and more affordable for everyone. But as we are fighting what seems to be a loosing battle with the number of people in poverty in the UK at the moment getting everyone on the band wagon will be impossible. It is those people rocking the middle class world that need to be tackled – the regular coffee shop users and the smart water drinkers ( still not actually sure that is!). Even making one small change like getting a reusable cup or water bottle will start to make a difference.

Going forward I feel like pressure needs to be made on food manufacturers and supermarkets  – why does all the fruit and vegetables need to be wrapped in plastic? You do not get that at a market. If supermarkets stop wrapping things up in unnecessary packaging then you instantly stop throwing it away! People need to start buying loose produce and it will show the shops that there is a reduced demand for pre packed fruit and vegetables.

Its going to be a long up hill battle as people want convenience, they have got used to it. You do not want to have to think about where you will be able to refill your bottle, where do you put the reusable coffee cup when you are done with it. It’s about people making one change at a time, with shops and the government making it easier and of course the odd incentive it will encourage more people.

I believe that people are making the step in the right direction but it needs momentum, everyone to stay motivated and if you occasionally slip its fine. Just look at the drop in use of plastic bags since a 5p charge came in. People can change their habits.

We need to start making changes otherwise we will continue to kill our planet. The everyday person may not be able to stop oil rigs leaking into the sea, or power plants spewing chemicals into the air but we can make small changes like reducing plastic ( and using cars less!) to make sure that we do not end up killing off species that have just as much right to be here as us!