One of the motivations for moving into my own flat is so I could have people over without it feeling weird. Not that any of my previous flatmates would have minded, but I was always hyper aware that my having friends over pretty much put the living room/kitchen off limits. We have all had that moment of walking into a room in pajamas only to see your flatmate and friends gathered around a wine bottle or two.

But dinner parties are something I love, they are a shed load cheaper for people than going out to a restaurant and a lot more relaxing without the rest of London breathing down your neck. The problem has been that I am a complete newbie when it comes to cooking. I can cook a multi course feast under my Mums watchful eye (aka, she warns me when I am about to do something irreparably stupid) but on a normal day I struggle to feed myself without burnt bits, strangely runny bit and awkward flavours that never quite work. I mean I guess if I followed a recipe I might have more luck, but I don’t deal well with being told what to do…

Previously I knew that putting time in would work, the Christmas feasts take two days to prepare. But particularly in London no one has time to spend all day cooking, no one has time for anything, if I had to spend that long cooking I would never throw dinner parties. So instead I have just leapt in feet first and decided to figure it out along the way. Because SPOILER you only get comfortable cooking for other people….when you cook for other people.

I have had four dinner parties in my new flat and so far have not killed anyone (that I know of, if I have please let me know). Each time I do it I cut the time down by half (the Galentines dinner last night only took me an hour to cook and that includes cleaning the flat), I learn another little thing to make it easier and of course something goes wrong. So far over my collection of dinner parties I have learned:

  • Make the first person who arrived in charge of getting everyone else drinks as they arrive. Trying to get someone wine while the food is burning and you just got chili in your eye is less than fun.
  • Heat up your dishes (like whatever you serve the food in) before you put the food in, turns out that when you have a group of people food cools down really quickly.
  • Literally no one flatting in London has enough plates or cutlery for more than four people, people are happy to bring their own or steal from your closest friend.
  • If you keep drinking it won’t matter when all the food goes wrong

What I have learned is that even if the food does go terribly wrong people are NICE. They wont say anything because at the end of the day it is more about getting people together than perfect chef made food.  And I’m learning, each time I cook for someone else I am slightly less stressed, slightly less drunk, and enjoying it far more.

Sorry this turned into a ramble. What I meant to say was, you can’t expect to be good at something overnight and you can’t let inexperience stop you from having fun. If you want to have people over, start with paper plates and pizza and step by step work your way up.

And if anyone can tell me how to figure out how much food a group of people would eat it would be much appreciated, at the moment there is an equal chance of cooking twice the amount I need or everyone starving.

Jamie Oliver Cooking School roast pork

A couple of weeks ago I was invited along to the Jamie Oliver cooking school to learn how to cook a roast pork belly; Jamie Oliver essentially saved Christmas.When I first arrived in the UK I was a wizard in the kitchen out of necessity; I was skint and couldn’t afford any food with packaging. I made everything from scratch (including Nutella because it was 50p cheaper than buying it) and was confident trying something new or tweaking old favourites. Fast forward four years and one stressful job later and takeaways reigned supreme. I was incapable of cooking the most simple of dinners. These days I have a fridge to myself and am vaguely more stable, so the land of cooking is in my sights. I wanted to cook something spectacular for Sinta-Thanksgiving and thankfully (see what I did there) I had one week between the Jamie Oliver Cookery School and the big day to perfect my roast pork belly.

The thing with pork belly is that is a cheap cut of meat, and as long as you have time to cook it to death then it is affordable and quite hard to screw up. Pork belly has such a good amount of fat in it that it is you can’t overcook it, making it ideal for easily distracted millennials. As you might notice above my pork belly had nipples, which meant we had to spend at least ten minutes making jokes about nipples – see, easily distracted.

To have a go yourself you cut up a random selection of vegetables (these are just to stop the pork touching the juices, and you can use them later for the gravy) and then balance the pork belly on top. Using a fiercely sharp knife you need to score the top and then literally rub salt (and some herbs) into the wound. And that is pretty much it for the pork. The magic really all happens in the cooking – high oven for 15 minutes or until the skin starts to bubble, then throw in 500ml of stock and cook for 2-4 hours. Seriously just leave that sucker in there and maybe add some white wine to the tray when there is half an hour to go.

I really liked the style of the classes, you prepare your own pork belly over a glass of wine (a very important part of cooking), and at the end you sit down as a group and eat the one that was cooking throughout the class. Here is the magic bit, you take home the one you prepared during class – you even get to keep the tray it is in. I was thinking that I would learn to cook it in the class and then replicate it from scratch the following weekend, but actually I was able to just take my nippley pork home and throw it in the freezer. When it came to the day all I had to do was defrost and cook.

I have been to a few cooking classes in my attempt to be a functioning human adult, and this is by far the best. You got your own station which means you had to practice every step yourself. It was very relaxed with plenty of time for questions and to swap pork belly horror stories – aka as well as being a fun evening it actually helped me learn how to cook. A winning formula really. Check them out on twitter here.

Typing Room Bethnal Green  for a celebration dinner

London can keep you on a panic high for months. You are so busy riding the London stress train with flats, friends and visas all going wrong at once and there never seems to be an end point. Soon, you tell yourself, I will be done and I can relax and enjoy life. I will be one of those girls on Instagram eating pulled pork next to a live band while some guy in a beard and three quarter chinos takes my photo. I will start enjoying London just as soon as I have figured my life out.

Truth cliff: you never will.

There is always something in life, particularly in London. Just when you figure one visa out, the next immigration stress begins. As soon as you have settled into your new flat your landlord announces they are going to sell. Work is a rollercoaster that depends on colleagues, projects, lunch options and the weather. And don’t even get me started on relationships. There is never a perfect time. You will never reach the point that it is all working out. So, you need to draw a line in the sand.

Typing Room Bethnal Green  tasting menu

You need to accept that life will be messy because we are all humans trying to figure it out. But messiness should not stop you from enjoyment, it should not stop you from living the life you want.  All that stress you are going through that seems so heightened and tough, is because you live in London. You live in London not for the bad bits but in spite of them, London was your end goal for a reason. If you forget that? Unhappiness reigns.

I combat the malaise by celebrating my London anniversary every year, it is my line in the sand. On April Fools day (the most auspicious day for starting life in a new country) you will find me dressed to the nines, solo dining at one of the top restaurants in London. I save for this for months just to have my moment of careless abandon, of self-celebration. This year it was the Typing Room in the Bethnal Green Hotel eating a seven course dinner and drinking wine in a burbling room.

I sat at that table and emailed my sister to tell her what she means to me. I scrolled through the photos on my phone to remember the best parts of my life in London. I messaged the friends I have made here to say how much I love them. I read some old blog post from the bad times and the good. I for a moment separated myself from the sometimes overwhelming life stress and exhaustion to remember that I chose this, I chose a life I love.

Typing Room Bethnal Green  sweets

This is my way of celebrating London, but you seriously need to find one of your own. It could be travel, seeing a play that would never make it to your home town, capturing monuments, or even drinking in a pub with a friend. Remind yourself that you have chosen London, and all the crap is just what you put up with so you can live the life you want. Don’t let yourself drown, find your line in the sand.

P.s. Dinner was awesome, the marmite butter slightly life changing and you need to go if you have the time and the money.

 

The Art of Dining at the oil and steam museum

Sometimes I think I love London just for the weirdness. As you grow up and some of the magic of childhood slips away (at 27 my belief in Santa is down to the dregs) carefully curated weirdness is worth its weight in cynical gold.  I was first introduced to the Art of Dining pop-ups when my partner in crime and I went to the Colour Dinner, a complete mind-fuck of a night that was delicious and entertaining all in one. When that the Art of Dining girls had put together a Victorian themed industrial dinner where you might get cholera…HELLS YES.

The Art of Dining pop up

The evening started with a attempt to find the London Museum of Water and Steam, a mission that involved bus, tube, bike and train. Rather fitting given that we were about to go to a temple of locomotion. Our first stop was the heart of the engine itself where potentially cholera laced cocktails were waiting for us. Given that cholera can take 2-3 days to show symptoms we figured that catching it at this point wouldn’t interrupt our dinner – so we dove face first into the warm spiced cider while contemplating the six story engine surrounding us.

Once nicely infected with a disease from Victorian London, we were greeted by a ghost from that time as well. The ghost was the only man to ever have died operating this behemoth of an engine, and he was to be our guide for the evening. Leading us down a candlelit path, through the darkened halls of the museum, we arrived at our tables. In a room filled with four very sexy Victorian engines (complete with a pensioner to make them puff for us over the evening) we were to begin our feast.

The Engine Room wine matches

Because we are both London millennials, aka functioning alcoholics, we went for the wine matches for the five course dinner – each of which was delivered in a cute Alice and Wonderland type glass bottle. Side note: ultimate life hack, sit next to sober looking adults who can only finish half their wine matches, they will then be nice and give you ALL THEIR WINE.

The courses were each named after a component from the amazing engines surrounding us; Oil, Mineral, Steam, Smoke and Fire. The names for the courses were sometimes inspiration for the flavours or sometimes just for the plating, but all times delicious. The oil course for example was an ink and fennel braised cuttlefish on garlic toast, where the highlight was the accompanying sauce being served in a tiny oil drum. The Steam course however was a little more literal with the Asian style salmon being steamed.

In between each course our ghost would appear, telling the history of each of the engines in turn. It was just enough to be an entertaining diversion rather than cheesy dinner theatre. After our ghostly check-ins we had time to finish up our 24th glass of wine and wander around the Victorian Machines. I have to say drunk me fucking loves engines and can apparently talk about them with a pensioner until my next course is cold.

The Engine Room pop-up

I think the Mineral course was my favourite by far. The dish placed in front of you was just the sauces, the main event was in a basket that was being passed down the communal table. A note written on the basket instructed us to take three and pass along, oh and whatever you do DON’T EAT THE DOUGH. The basket was revealed to contain carrots, beetroot and potatoes all baked in a salt dough. After digging through the dough (and eating a little because we were the rebels who ate playdough in kindergarten) the succulent vegetables were smooshed into the pickled za’atar, date puree and labneh on our plates; as one the 50 cholera riddled strangers orgasmed in delight.

I love the Art of Dining pop-ups. The food is always on point, and even after going to a couple I am in love each time. I mean it helps that I go with people who are certifiably insane and get into the wine stealing fun of it, but they just do it all so well.

Keep an eye out for their next pop-up and make sure you don’t miss out!

 

The best pop up dinner in London