31 August 2015

Review: Crosstown Doughnuts

Here's another review I've been sitting on for a while, as I first went to Crosstown Doughnuts in April this year. I really must start putting pen to paper more frequently (or rather finger to keypad).

I first tried Crosstown doughnuts at their little coffee and doughnut nook in Piccadilly Station, which was a pop up store. I love doughnuts (obviously, who doesn't?) and was intrigued to hear about these unusual sourdough ones, so I swung by to try a couple. Since then they've opened a doughnut and coffee bar on Broadwick Street, Soho, and are about to open another location in Spitalfields market. As well as their own cafes, they also appear at various markets in London (such as Leather Lane) and are stocked in some shops too (I recently noticed them at Whole Foods Kensington). 

The difference with Crosstown doughhnuts, as I've mentioned, is that their dough is partly made with sourdough. This not only makes for a more substantial texture than your average doughnut (it feels more like eating a soft bread than a doughnut), it also makes them noticeably less greasy. Apparently this is because the closer crumb means less oil is absorbed in the deep fat frying process. I suppose that makes it ok to eat more than one then!

Crosstown have an interesting selection of doughnut flavours: some that you'd expect, and others that are more adventurous. Most recently I tried their Raspberry Jam doughnut. I hadn't tried it before as it's pretty vanilla as far as doughnut flavours go, but I was really surprised at how good it was. You can tell that the jam is homemade - it has a really nice, thick texture, with lots of fruit: far from the nondescript, sweet, red sauce that usually fills doughnuts. The jam was also reasonably tart which I liked - that worked well with the sweetness of the doughnut and stopped it from being sickly.

The jam could barely contain itself. Neither could I.

Other flavours I've tried include Sea Salt Caramel & Banana Cream. Now, I love both of those flavours separately but I was extremely sceptical about putting the two together. Turns out that they are in fact a match made in heaven. The doughnut itself is chocolate flavour, and it's filled with a smooth banana cream, and topped with the salted caramel, as well as some crunchy chocolate 'soil' - well, why not? It is very sweet though - make sure to have a coffee or glass of milk on standby when trying this one.

I've also tried the Lamnut, so called because it's inspired by the Australian Lamington cake (a chocolate and coconut sponge). It had a great flavour, but the cake doughnut was a bit dry for me. I suppose this is when that little bit of extra fat picked up in the cooking process would have helped. A thin layer of raspberry jam across the middle of the doughnut nicely lifts the particularly dense texture of this one.

So many flavours!

There are lots of flavours left for me to try... the Peanut Butter & Berry one is definitely calling my name. You can see the full list of flavours here.

As well as doughnuts, Crosstown Soho also serves coffee, with London-based roasting company Assembly providing the beans. They also sell Sandow's cold brew coffee.

If you have a sweet tooth, I'm sure you'll enjoy trying Crosstown's wares! And if you really, really like them, make sure you pick up one of their loyalty cards so you can get your seventh doughnut free.

What's your favourite type of doughnut?

10 August 2015

Restaurant Review: Shoryu Ramen

Having recently announced my sojourn to Japan, it seemed like a good time to write up the review of a ramen restaurant that I went to a while back - Shoryu Ramen.

I actually first ate at Shoryu Ramen a couple of years ago, as a pre-theatre dinner before seeing Book of Mormon (it's brilliant, do go and see it if you haven't already). Created by the team behind Japan Centre, Shoryu Ramen had a pop up restaurant on Denman Street for about a month at the time (it has now became a permanent restaurant). I remember having the Dracula Tonkotsu, which was topped with caramelised black garlic oil and garlic chips. It was pungent, fiery and delicious. It really did live up to its name... there was so much garlic in it that you didn't have to worry about a living being, let alone a vampire, wishing to get too close to you after eating it.

I visited Shoryu Ramen again more recently, and this time decided to go for a slightly more sociable ramen. I ate at their branch on Regent Street (they now have four dine-in restaurants, including the original Soho restaurant and locations in Liverpool Street and Carnaby Street).

All of the ramen served at Shoryu are tonkotsu style - this means that the base of the ramen broth is created by slowly simmering pork bones for over 12 hours to create a rich stock. At Shoryu, the ramen are specifically Hakata tonkotsu, hailing from the Hakata district in Fukuoka in Kyushu, Japan. I'm actually stopping over in Fukuoka when I fly over to Japan in October, so I'm going to see if I can find any authentic Hakata tonkotsu ramen to sample at the airport!

So, as I was saying, I wanted to steer clear of the garlic this time, and so I kept it simple and went for the signature ramen: Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu. As with all the other ramen on the menu, this comes topped with char siu barbecue pork belly, nitamago egg (soft-boiled and seasoned with soy sauce), spring onions, sesame, ginger and nori seaweed.

Shoryu ganso tonkotsu ramen

There is something so soothing about ramen: the combination of hot, savoury broth and hearty, filling noodles does it. Soup is said to soothe the soul, and this one certainly does -  the rich, creamy flavour of the broth has a real depth to it, making it incredibly satisfying. All the toppings help to take it to another level, - the pickled ginger really cutting through the richness, the tender, sweet pork belly echoes the flavour of the broth, and the soft boiled egg is simply delicious in its own right. The different textures and flavours of the toppings really help make it an interesting dish - usually I would get bored halfway through eating a bowl of soup but certainly not with this.

And because you can never have too much pork (never!), I also had a char siu barbecue pork belly hirata bun.

I love the soft, springy texture of these buns! A slice of cucumber and some salad added welcome crunch to the mix, either side of the tender, flavoursome pork. The lashings of mayonnaise made the whole thing particularly moreish. I could have eaten a couple for sure!

I'm looking forward to trying some more regional variations of ramen when I travel to Japan. And because I'll be living there for a while, I'm sure I'll also be tucking into instant ramen pots every now and then, particularly on those days when I just can't face cooking (or need a quick hangover cure!). Instant noodles were actually voted the invention most Japanese are proud of recently. You can't deny that they are kind of brilliant.

But if you're looking for real ramen in London, Shoryu Ramen is a good place to start!

Have you been to Shoryu Ramen? Do you have a favourite ramen bar or Japanese restaurant?

07 August 2015

Ride London 100 (well, 50 for me)

On Sunday 2 August, I arrived at the Olympic Park in Stratford along with 25,000 other cyclists, to take on the challenge of riding 100 miles. Having discovered I had a place in February, and having started training in May, this event had loomed large on the horizon for some time. When my alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 4.30am that morning, it was hard to believe that THE BIG DAY had finally arrived. Before I talk about the day itself, I'm going to say a few things about my training (because I never got around to posting a training update - oops!).

Beautiful rides in Richmond Park

Going on some long rides in this beautiful Royal Park was definitely a highlight of my training. Richmond Park is heaven for cyclists (and indeed runners). One loop of the park is about 7 miles and there are enough undulations and hills (and deer!) to keep things interesting.

Wattbike classes at Cadence Performance
I made sure to regularly attend wattbike sessions during my training. They proved a great way to have a high intensity session on the bike without having to worry about navigating, bike handling and all the other annoying things you have to think about when riding on the road. I'm lucky to have Cadence Performance a stone's throw away from my house. It's a brilliant hub for cyclists, offering everything from bike fitting and servicing/repairs to coaching, lactate threshold testing, yoga lessons and more: even a (very practical) inner tube vending machine for those passing by with a puncture.

Indoor cycling classes on wattbikes are available at Cadence every day, and I tried to go once a week during training. Wattbikes are different to your regular spin studio bike in a number of ways... they allow you to check your pedal technique, and have a combination of air and magnetic braking which means they feel more like a real bike. The instructors at Cadence were also brilliant, making every lesson challenging and different to the last.

Indoor cycling studio at Cadence Performance

Training Nutrition
I like to use a mixture of 'real' food and sports supplements when training. A special thanks to Thanks For Frank's for providing me with some of their top notch granola bars to see me through my training. This is the sort of real food that I like to eat to keep me going on a long ride... oats are a great low GI food so they release the energy slowly over time; plus the sugar in the bars gives you the instant pick-me-up you need to prevent bonking. These also come in a number of different flavours so I could mix it up a bit and not get bored... but Salted Caramel was the best!

I also used High5 zero tabs to replenish my electrolytes whilst hydrating, and Clif Shot Blocks (these are a brilliant alternative to sports gels, and much tastier!). On the day itself, I used all of the above, plus the old classic: fig rolls.

OK, now on to THE BIG DAY.

As said BIG DAY approached, I began to worry less about finishing 100 miles (I was sure that I had the stamina and endurance to do this), and more about being able to cycle fast enough to make it to each of the hubs before their respective cut-off times. Unfortunately, my worry proved to be justified. My mountain bike frame was just too heavy to go as fast as required (on average, just under 12mph) and so I ended up missing the cut-off time at the half way point of Newlands Corner.

However, my Ride London 50 was an incredible experience nonetheless. Riding through the closed streets of London was an amazing opportunity - it felt so liberating, and it really was as if cyclists were reclaiming the streets! There was a brilliant atmosphere throughout, especially in some of the Surrey towns where they'd made a proper day of it, creating a festival/fair for the spectators to enjoy whilst watching the race. It was great to cycle through Surrey, especially parts that I didn't know as well... it has some truly beautiful parts - I just wish I'd had the time to stop and admire some of the views!

Even though I was immensely disappointed to not finish, I figure there are many things I should be grateful for:
  • I didn't have a mechanical failure or puncture (plenty of others did... I saw people every mile or so crouched by the side of the road trying to fix their bikes)
  • I didn't have an accident, either in training or on the day (there were a couple of nasty crashes on the day, mainly at tight corners. My friend's dad also had a horrible accident during his last training ride before the event, but luckily he's going to be ok)
  • It was a beautiful and warm day, with enough wind to keep cool (conditions were the polar opposite of the 2014 event's post - Hurricane Bertha conditions, which were so bad that the route had to be cut short)
  • I had a wicked time, and the organisers and volunteers took care of me and the other cyclists extremely well - I felt safe and looked after the whole time
The 4.5 hours or so I spent in the saddle where brilliant, and it was a shame to cut the day short - but at least I have lots of positives to look back on!

The ballot for Ride London 2016 opens on Monday 10 August. If you enjoy cycling even in the slightest I definitely recommend entering - just make sure you use a road bike if you get a place!!

Did you participate in or watch Ride London? Have you ever DNF'd (did not finish) in a race?