More birthday cheer at Kettner's Soho

"Too far"
"Too expensive"
"That just looks strange"

We had a bit of trouble deciding on a birthday place - trying to strike the balance between good food, a nice atmosphere and reasonable prices is tough stuff. After sifting through pages and pages of Toptable restaurants, we thought it would be wise to consult the all-knowing crystal ball, the oracle that is Facebook.

Friends dropped comments on my S.O.S status update almost immediately and one recommendation stood out: Kettner's. (The fact that the description of the restaurant included the words "Oscar Wilde" and "pudding bar" definitely helped).

29, Romilly Street.
London, W1D 5HP
020 7734 6112

The interior is pretty, clean lines, a little frill here and there and the atmosphere inviting, with the low din of happy chatter.

Crotin of Goats Cheese, Roasted Beetroot, Balsamic Glaze - our vegetarian's choice.

Steamed Cornish Mussels - a generous portion and beautifully flavoured.

Poached duck egg on asparagus, my pick for a starter. If there's something I have to perfect over the summer, it's definitely how to poach an egg. I love a good, creamy yolk and this one was done just the way I like it.

Sapna with her Maldon Oysters with Shallot Vinaigrette, right before she polished them off. They were so good she wasn't in the mood to share though she did stop to tell us that the shallot vinaigrette was fantastic.

Crisp Duck Confit, Spinach, Sarladaise Potatoes. I have a soft spot for duck so picking my main was a bit of a no-brainer for me, and I do have to say that my gut instinct was right on the money. The duck was tender and had a lovely, crispy skin. The soft spinach and thin layers of potato provided a delicious balance to it all.

Some other noteworthy dishes include the roasted vegetable tart (the tart of the day), the crispy seabass and roasted cod as well as the Beef Bourguignon which came with some excellent mashed potatoes.

We couldn't help but notice the plates of pudding that were making their way around the room while we enjoyed our first two courses, including a fantastic looking mille-feuille. Dessert came in the form of a white chocolate and passion fruit mousse cake from Patisserie Valerie, a delightful end to the meal.

Kettner's is a good place for special occasions - the food is generally well cooked, the atmosphere warm and the service excellent. It's definitely a place I'd happily go back to, if only to pick out the mille-feuille from the pudding bar, because really, any place with a pudding bar is worth more than one visit, with Toptable's 50% off promotion (valid on Mondays and Tuesdays), of course.

One for the album - the May babies and the housemates.

An early birthday at Jamie's Italian Canary Wharf

I promised the shortbread-lover that I'd start this post with a little shout-out, so here goes:
"Hello, Dominic Lam!"

May has always been a big birthday month for us -three girls, three birthdays, three bulls. Ever since I can remember, May has also always been the month for exams so birthday celebrations have always been a bit of a jigsaw puzzle for us. One of my pieces of the puzzle this year was a rather early birthday celebration at a little Italian place that I had been wanting to visit for awhile now.

Jamie's Italian
Churchill Place Mall,
Canary Wharf
London, E14 5RB

There's definitely a novelty that comes with eating at a restaurant owned by a celebrity chef. The travel and food channel has always been a favourite of mine and I remember when it started airing some of Jamie Oliver's cooking shows - unlike most other cooking shows that time, these episodes featured a laidback, rather scruffy looking Englishman that made cooking look incredibly easy. Nothing ever seemed overly complicated with him. I suppose I identified with that, being someone who loves the freedom of just tossing anything and everything into the pan to see what happens.
The first thing you'd notice when you step into the restaurant is the relaxed vibe that it exudes - it's warm and inviting but without any of the stiffness that sometimes comes with the fancier restaurants.

After a rather extensive session of "hmmming" and "harrring", we finally order, some of us choosing to start with some antipasti.

Pumpkin and burrata with chilli, sage and herby shoots.

Truffle Salami - artisan salami, mildly flavoured with truffle and black pepper

Diana and I couldn't resist ordering some crsipy fried squid with garlicky mayo, something we picked out even before it was recommended by our waiter. We both loved the "really garlicky mayo" that was an excellent complement to the crsipy squid. My only gripe is that I wished the portion of squid was a little larger.

Rabbit Ragu Pappardelle. I have to admit, I'm the type of person who likes to take a quick look at a restaurant's website before I visit it and this was the dish that stood out for me when I took a look at the menu on the website. I wasn't disappointed - the slow-cooked rabbit was tender and flavourful but not overpowering and one cannot help but be a little amused by the curly pasta.

Seafood linguine. The restaurant also runs a daily specials menu and we picked this one off it.

The very aptly named Fish in a Bag

Truffle Pasta.

Some other pasta dishes and mains that made it to our table were the wild truffle risotto and the lamb chops.

Nothing, however, prepared me for dessert.

When they brought out this gorgeous looking cake, I couldn't believe that it was homemade. I cannot think of anything better - a cake made out of frozen yoghurt in my favourite flavour (green tea!) and some of my favourite toppings (strawberries and chocolate brownies!). Absolutely perfect. The fact that my friends had thought up something like that (and proceeded to produce such a divine cake) made me feel extremely loved. I'm probably not the most sentimental person by nature, but oh boy was I touched.

Jamie's Italian is good for special occasions - food is of a high quality, service is pleasant and while it's perhaps a little pricier than the average Italian restaurant, there's that added novelty of sitting down to a meal at a celebrity chef restaurant. The menu seems to be seasonal as the last time I checked, some of the things we had aren't on the menu anymore but any form of seafood linguine or ragu pasta would be a good way to go. What I'll remember most about the visit though won't be the food or the service but the way good company managed to take my mind of a less-than-pleasant first final exam and make me feel like I was queen of the world.

Very Berry Shortbread

After our black forest cake adventure, we had a little extra berry filling left. While it sat in a little bowl at the corner of the refrigerator, I toyed with the idea of making a berry pie and even entertained the thought of attempting a swissroll of some sort. In the end, it was the simple shortbread cookie that won out (after a housemate not-so-subtley hinted that he could really do with some shortbread cookies).

I made a lemon-orange-less version of the shortbread cookies and topped them off with the berry filling from the summer black forest cake.

I'd call them a lazy person's version of scones - it's got all the buttery goodness of the scones, without the extra technique involved in producing them.

Another one of those perfect late-night-study snacks.

A Summer Black Forest Cake

Cake and ice cream - they were real treats growing up, only making appearances when birthdays came around. Back then, before the days of indulgent mousse-filled triple-decker cakes from large chain bakeries, the black forest cake was the crowd pleaser. In some households, it was probably second only to to the equally crowd-pleasing jelly-topped pandan cake. The black forest cakes of my childhood were probably more a celebration of whipped cream than anything else - I can picture in my minds eye, the marachino cherries and the chocolate curls adorning the thick layer of cream on top of the cake. With that said, I still absolutely loved how the cream would give way to the soft chocolate sponge. Yes, I was all about the chocolate, often scooping out the cherry filling and leaving it at a little corner on the plate.

"What would boys like?"

We were going through some cake recipes, trying to pick one for Hanad's birthday and the black forest cake came to mind. Chocolate for the boys - check. Fruits to help the girls feel just a little bit better about having cake - check.

We decided to add a little summer spin to it because we simply couldn't resist those lovely strawberries that we get this time of year.

Based on Linda Greer's Black Forest Cake I Recipe


2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cans black cherries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice of 1 lemon
8-10 strawberries
whipped cream

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Grease and flour two 9 inch cake tins.
In a large bowl, combine flour, 2 cups sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil, vanilla and beat until well blended.
Pour and equal amount of batter into the prepared cake tins and bake for 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool before removing them from the tins.

Drain cherries, reserving 1/2 cup juice.
Combine the reserved juice, cherries, sugar, cornstarch and strawberries in a saucepan. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly.
Stir in vanilla and add lemon juice. Allow to cool before using.

Spread a generous layer of berry filling on one of the cakes before topping it off with the whipped cream. Gently place the second cake on top of the first one, creating a sandwich.

We made it a little easier on ourselves by only having two layers of cake - horizontally splitting the cakes to create more layers seemed a little too ambitious for us. The strawberries gave the filling a freshness (and a little something to remind us of the better weather) that I loved while the slight zing from the lemons provided a foil to all that sweetness.

"But where's that whipped cream topping?", you say.

We decided to use a simple chocolate frosting to finish off the cake (yes, even more chocolate for the boys!) and let everyone have free rein of how much cream they want with their cake. I think the birthday boy enjoyed this little interactive bit - treating the can of whipped cream like a weapon and taking joy in completely covering his cake with a mountain of cream.

So there we go, my grown up Black Forest Cake - less cream-laden, marachino cherry-less and absolutely delicious.