Author Archives: Carla B

About Carla B

London lifestyle blogger.

Bill’s secret Marmite menu

Years ago we had family friends who lived in Brighton. Every now and then we’d head down to see them, stopping at this little independent restaurant called Bill’s for brunch on the way.

Today Bill’s is a nationwide chain, with branches up and down the country looking just like the original. Amazingly the quality of the food and drink hasn’t changed either.

As a huge Marmite fan I was very excited to be invited to try a secret Marmite menu they were offering at the end of January.

marmite menu bills restaurant

Choosing what to eat didn’t take long. For £12 you got a fancy cheese on toast and a Bloody Mary (or for £10 you got the toast and a Virgin Mary).

marmite bloody mary

The Marmite Bloody Mary was good. Really good. Bill’s have always done a decent Bloody Mary but the mix of Chivas Regal whisky, Harvey’s Bristol Cream and a Marmite reduction gave it an extra special hit.

You needed a large appetite to get through the cheese on toast.

marmite cheese on toast

Two slices of crunchy sourdough swimming in melted cheese and Marmite. And topped with two perfectly runny poached eggs.

bill's poached egg

We got a side of broccoli because we’re healthy like that.

broccoli bills restaurant

And I gotta say that it’s the best broccoli I’ve ever had in a restaurant. It pretty much deserves it’s own garlicky, crunchy and flavoursome review.

When the bill came we were presented with two cute little Marmite samples to take home with us. I’ll be saving mine for a pimped up Bloody Mary.

mini marmite sachet

It’s the perfect brunch but we ate this for dinner because we like to do crazy things like eat breakfast for dinner sometimes.

Essentially a Bill’s brunch is the perfect meal whatever time of day, whether you’re a Marmite fan or not. And what other national chain can you think of that could serve perfectly cooked poached eggs every. single. time. you visit?

Our meal was complimentary but as always all views are my own.

​A newbie’s guide to drinking whisky 

whisky and bourbon

My colleague recently asked everyone in the office what their favourite spirit was. I surprised myself by answering ‘whisky’ instead of ‘gin’.

To be honest it’s still a close call (rum is also rapidly climbing up the list) but there’s something about whisky that has me hooked.

I think the first drink I ever ordered for myself at a bar was a JD and Coke at Madame Jojo’s. I ordered it because I thought I looked cool but I didn’t really like it. A couple of months later and my university housemate cracked open a bottle of Jack, which led to me infamously saying ‘it gets nicer the more you drink’ six shots in.

Needless to say I stopped drinking alcohol I didn’t like shortly after, which meant I didn’t touch a drop of whisky until five years later.

It wasn’t until my Dad created a bourbon signature cocktail for a party he was throwing that I ventured back to the stuff. If you’re new to liquid sunshine, here are a few worth trying…

Jim Beam
Bourbon is sweeter and generally more palatable than whisky. I use it in 90% of my bourbon cocktail recipes as it’s reasonable, sweet and even non-whisky drinkers tend to enjoy it.

Woodford Reserve
There are some bourbon cocktails where Jim Beam just won’t do. A good Old Fashioned or Manhattan is made predominantly from bourbon and you need something better than Jim Beam if you’re practically drinking bourbon neat. I like to use Woodford Reserve in my take on an Old Fashioned recipe (and not just because the brand ambassador put my recipe behind the bar at one of my favourite London hotel bars #humblebrag).

Nikka from the Barrel
I’m a sucker for good design and found myself drawn to a bottle of Nikka from the Barrel a few years ago. It’s quite the transition to jump from bourbon to whisky but I found this Japanese whiskey palatable and really started to enjoy it after I’d had it a few times.

Nikka Coffey Grain
The kind folks over at 31Dover sent me a bottle of Nikka coffey grain to try and it’s unlike any other whisky I’ve ever had. It has the same smoothness that I’ve come to expect from the standard Nikka, but you can really taste the coffee. It’s lovely neat as it has a sweet and mellow taste.

Do you drink whisky? I’d love to know your favourite.

31Dover stock a huge range of spirits and wines at the best prices. Best of all they do next day delivery, perfect for us car-free Londoners who don’t fancy schlepping bottles of booze back from Tesco on the day of a party.

Roasted cauliflower and broad bean salad with pomegranate

​In the words of Bart Simpson, “you don’t win friends with salad! You don’t win friends with salad! You don’t win friends with salad!”

Surely I’m not the only person who sings that song whenever anyone asks if I’d like salad?!

It’s not that I don’t like salad. It’s just that I don’t like boring salad. I mean a bag of iceberg lettuce, a week-old tomato and a bit of cucumber hardly captures the imagination. 

There are some salads I love, and generally they’re the ones with plenty of flavour and a variety of textures. This roasted cauliflower and broad bean salad with pomegranate ticks both the flavour and texture boxes.

This recipe is courtesy of the Savage Salads cookbook, a real source of inspiration that proves salads aren’t just for summer. Davide and Kristina believe that ‘salads should taste amazing, look beautiful and leave you full’, a statement I heartily support. 

I adapted their salad slightly as I didn’t have any bread in the house, so it’s perfect for anyone who follows a gluten-free diet.

Roasted cauliflower and broad bean salad recipe

Ingredients 

  • Tin of butter beans
  • One cauliflower 
  • Olive oil
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • One pomegranate
  • Fresh parsley  (although dried parsley will do if you’re desperate)
  • Salt and black pepper

    Method

    • Cut the cauliflower into florets, drizzle with oil and roast for 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool.
    • Empty your tin of beans into a saucepan and heat gently for five minutes, stirring frequently.
    • Rinse beans under cold running water.
    • Mix the cooled butter beans with the cooled cauliflower and pomegranate seeds.
    • Dress with olive oil, grated lemon zest and lemon juice.
    • Season with salt and pepper and then add the chopped parsley. 

    Enjoy!

    Houses of Parliament tour

    ​You know those really annoying people who say they would rather spend money on experiences than buy loads of stuff, just after you’ve bought a YouTube-worthy haul of make-up in Boots? Sometimes they have a point.*

    That’s why for the last few years my brother and I have chosen to I.O.U. a day out rather than give our Mum a gift on Mother’s Day.

    The I.O.U. for Mother’s Day this year was for a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament, so that’s why we paid a visit to one of London’s most historic buildings a couple of weeks ago (somehow it’s taken us four months to coordinate schedules and deliver our promise, but better late than never I say).

    You have a few options available to you if you’d like to visit the Houses of Parliament. You can either book an audio tour, book a guided tour or contact your MP in advance to arrange a tour through them.

    We went with the guided tour and my expectations were high. There’s a steep £25 admission fee – always a shocker when most of London’s buildings and museums are free to enter – but it was worth every penny.

    We were escorted by a blue badge guide who answered every random question thrown his way with confidence and who really brought the history of the place to life. His repertoire of Dad jokes was second to none, and his topical ‘we may have left Europe but please stay to the right’ comment won me over from the start.

    The tour takes you through buildings of various ages. Some parts are 1000 years old whilst others are relatively new, rebuilt after numerous fires and bombings.

    Other highlights included standing inside the
    House of Commons and the House of Lords. Oh, and the fact that photos are banned and therefore I didn’t have to go off on a mumbled rant about how much I hate the selfie stick.

    All of us enjoyed the tour and we left with a better understanding of the history of Parliament. And once again we stood amongst tourists who’d travelled from afar, and marvelled at the fact that when abroad we visit all the tourist attractions, yet in our own city we rarely do.

    *I’ve always been more of an experience kinda person but what can I say, I’m a sucker for beauty products.

    P.S. I know that’s a photo of Big Ben and not the Houses of Parliament…

    Reinventing the Gin and Tonic

    Growing up we never celebrated Christmas. On the day we got together as a family but we never bought gifts for each other and we certainly never ate turkey. 

    This all changed when I was 18 years old. Christmas mania kicked in within weeks of starting University, and I started to hear all these wonderful stories about Christmas stockings and festive rituals.

    My parents were more on board than I could have imagined and I woke up on Christmas Day to my first ever stocking. We had scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast, prepped the veg and got ourselves dressed and ready for the day.

    Whilst we waited for the rest of our family to arrive my mum made me a gin and tonic, and the rest as they say is history. If it’s 1pm on Christmas Day you’ll find me with a gin and tonic in my hand. Always served in the same glass. And always with a slice of lemon.

    So when I heard Bombay Sapphire were reinventing the gin and tonic, I questioned what needed reinventing. It’s a classic drink, easy to make and even easier to drink – so why mess with it?

    Throughout the year I’m a fussy gin and tonic drinker. Different gins warrant different garnishes. I’m a tonic snob. Please don’t give me a single measure of gin in a huge glass.

    But then I remembered Christmas Day. My G&T is made with whatever gin is in the cupboard, topped up with supermarket tonic and always served with a slice of lemon. And it’s always the best G&T I’ve had all year.

    So yeah, I’m open to a bit of reinvention. And by a bit, I mean a lot. Which is just as well because I recently tried six insane gin and tonics that explored what can happen when you throw a bit of imagination in when you mix two simple ingredients together.

    Bombay Sapphire tasked six mixologists from some of my favourite London bars to reinterpret the ultimate gin and tonic. The results were innovative, slightly crazy and absolutely delicious.

    A new Gin and Tonic

    Nature’s Yield
    George Simmons from Heddon Street Kitchen

    Yes that is a Bonsai Tree with hanging tonic droplets. And yes that is exactly what you’ll receive at your table when you order one at the bar. Seriously.

    Whoops Daisy
    Andy Mill from Cocktail Trading Company

    Gin and Tonic is a cocktail steeped in history, and Andy’s cocktail focuses on the journey it’s take over the last 20 years. And yes, once again this is exactly how your drink will be served.

    Nettle Beer Collins
    Marcis Dzelzainis from Sager & Wilde

    Alcohol historically cured all manor of ailments (hot toddy anyone?) and Marcis’ concoction focuses on the health benefits of tonic back in the 1920s.

    Gateway to Bombay
    Dean Shurry from Chiltern Firehouse

    Shurry’s drink gives a nod towards India, the birthplace of the gin and tonic.

    G & Ice-T
    Dav Eames from Gilbert Scott

    This is the only thing I want to drink right now in this bizzare London heat. I mean how good does thyme and elderflower tonic snow sound?

    Ariana’s Garden
    Constanca Cordeiro from Peg & Patriot 

    After an insane day at work can you think of anything better than popping over to Peg & Patriot, ordering one of these, slipping a pair of headphones on and escaping into nature? This is a cocktail inspired by the garden that comes with its own soundtrack so you can really escape for a little while.

    You have six months to try all these delicious cocktails. On your marks, get set…

    P.S. some photos from inside the Bombay Sapphire Distillery coming soon!

    ​​The Botanist Wild Cherry cocktail

    The Friday Night Cocktail is back! It’s been a while but I promise this week’s offering is a good one.

    I can make such a lofty promise because I didn’t create this cocktail myself… this week’s cocktail is a yummy little number that the clever people behind The Botanist gin created.

    The Botanist is a new gin that is handcrafted on the Island of Islay. Yes, really. That little island may be more famous for its whiskey but it’s turning out some really decent gin too.


    Funny story – apparently nearly everyone who lives on Islay works for a distillery. An insider tells me that nobody has ever gotten together sober on the island! Post work Friday night drinks must be on another level.

    Back to the gin… the Botanist is made with 31 botanicals, including 22 hand-foraged botanicals from Islay. I’d never usually list a bunch of botanicals in a Friday Night Cocktail post but just look at this list! Apple mint, chamomile, creeping thistle, downy birch, elder, gorse, hawthorn, heather, juniper, lady’s bedstraw, lemon balm, meadowsweet, mugwort, red clover, spear mint, sweet cicely, bog myrtle, tansy, water mint, white clover, wild thyme and wood sage. It’s bringing back memories of the gin and making me giggle at the same time – bog myrtle and lady’s bedstraw have to be two of the best names of all time.


    The Botanist Wild Cherry cocktail

    Ingredients

    25ml The Botanist infused lavender, rosemary, long peppercorn and pink peppercorn

    17.5ml The Botanist Gin

    15ml elderflower cordial

    ½ lemon juice

    4 x black cherries, muddled

    Top up with ginger ale.

    Garnish with a single mint leaf and one black cherry and enjoy.

    Although there are a fair few ingredients in this cocktail, the ingredients enhance the flavour of the gin rather than hiding it. I think you can test the quality of a gin best through a simple gin and tonic, and the Botanist certainly makes a delicious one of those.

    Have a great weekend!

    Could you help your local London Foodbank this summer?

    tomatoes

    Nobody living in the UK should have to worry about putting food on the table or have to use newspaper as a sanitary towel. However with 1 in 5 of the UK population living below the poverty line these are both realities for many.

    Foodbanks are there when people really need them. They provide three days of nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to people referred in a crisis to ensure nobody in the UK goes hungry.

    Over the last few years I’ve spent time with Brent Foodbank, meeting volunteers and helping to run a drop-off point from our office. They do a fantastic job but right now they really need some help!

    There are two events coming up that they need volunteers for, National Rail Foodbank Friday and their Summer Food Drive.

    National Rail Foodbank Friday

    Could you spare a few hours on Friday 24th June between 7am-7pm? Volunteers are needed to help with a bucket collection at Kings’s Cross Rail Station.

    Summer Food Drive

    An annual Tesco collection where volunteers are needed at their local store to receive donated food items from customers. Brent Foodbank need volunteers in Harlesden and Wembley on Thursday 30th June, Friday 1st July, Saturday 2nd July and Sunday 3rd July between 9am and 10pm.

    If you have any questions or are keen to volunteer please email info@brent.foodbank.org.uk to register.