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The Underground Restaurant

A recession makes for interesting times. Success does not rely on large financial outlay and clever marketing schemes, customers have less money to spend and want to spend it well. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the birth of the Underground Restaurant or Pop-Up Restaurant movement in London coincides with our depressing economics times. Quirky and individual they offer a unique experience and a talking point, and the opportunity to immerse yourself in someone elses domestic environment for a few hours while you indulge in the comforts of their home cooking. I dined at one such restaurant in London recently, run by a fellow food blogger MsMarmiteLover from her gorgeous home.

The Underground Restaurant

We food bloggers travel in packs to these kind of things, I went with Helen of Food Stories, Lizzie of Hollow Legs and Chris of Cheese & Biscuits. My usual partners in crime in food forays and otherwise, and always good indicators of a fun night out.

The Underground Restaurant

We arrived promptly and were greeted warmly with a Kir Semi-Royale. We had no idea what to expect, having only had the pleasure of MsMarmiteLover’s company online, and were immediately at ease and chattering with fellow diners before sitting to eat at 7.30pm.

MsMarmiteLover offers a 3 course meal with aperetif for £25 a head. Her daughter and her friend waited on us, and were a very charming addition to the evening. The Spring menu was on offer the evening we dined there. A lovely comforting home cooked affair, starting with raviolo stuffed with Portobello (bought from Portobello Rd market), oyster and button mushrooms with an onion cappuccino cooked by Charlie Nelson, a velvety affair with an earthy mushroom interior. I can vouch for Charlie’s sauce particularly, as later on I spied two food bloggers sipping from the ladle and licking the spoon ;)

raviolo

The main course followed, salmon en papillote with creme fraiche and dill with Aga-roasted exquisa potatoes in olive oil and herbs served with foccacia. I could have sworn there was nutmeg in the spiced salmon crust, alas my palette failed me, the salmon was delicately cooked and very moist and the spice crust, fragrant and crispy, is something I plan to try and replicate at home.

salmon en papillote

A brief trip to the lovely terrace followed. I experienced serious flat envy all the while, MsMarmiteLover’s lovely home represents my ideal, homely, comforting and quirky with a lovely terrace and steps to a big garden.

The evening was drawing to a close and it was time for desserts and coffee. Tarte au Citron served with meringues and coffee from the thing I coveted the most, a gorgeous porcelain moka. This was a nice finish, perfectly light, the tartness of the lemon perfectly complemented the preceding salmon.

To our surprise, Chris confessed that he could play piano, and we were treated to a session of requests which was fantastic, there’s a certain energy brought to a room with such an impromptu affair. It all felt very Gatsbyesque, without music or food, where would we be? A great night, MsMarmiteLover’s warm personality, delicious home-cooked food and lovely home provide a decadent escape fromthe day-to-day grind. I’ve got it on my list for visitors to London, we’re lucky to have such things, let’s make the most of them!

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St Patrick’s Day – Chilli Roast Salmon and Potato Salad

Chilli Roast Salon and Potato Salad

I love St Patrick’s Day. Traditionally a day of indulgence, we were allowed to eat all of the sweets we’d been storing over lent and weren’t allowed to eat (we always gave them up and *always* failed). It’s a bank holiday in Ireland and most towns hold their own parade. Filled with irish dancing floats, marching bands, local groups and often filled with adverts from local companies. Dancing nurofen anyone? I actually saw that once, and loved it when it threw me sweets. I’ve since bought a lot of nurofen. Connection?

The day always started bright and relatively early with mass, or more accurately my mother’s battle to organise us all and get us out the door to mass. It was essential to wear green to mass on Paddy’s Day. I’m not kidding. At least in my house. We’d stop at my grandmothers and she’d douse us and pin us with some fresh shamrock, gleaming and dripping on our jumpers, and competing for space with the traditional St Patrick’s Day badges and ribbons, and off we’d go, thinking all the time of the parade we’d attend later and often participate in as scouts, or brownies (not the food!), Irish dancers and even once, age 12 as a pioneer.

So, what does it mean to me when it comes to food? I was always jealous of people who got to eat green things, although I can see now that that is madness and not good for any child. When I think food for Paddy’s Day I think of Irish food. Irish food? I think of Beef Stew, Liver & Onions, Steak & Onions, Peas, Stewed Apple, Black Pudding, White Pudding even more so, Pork Sausages, Peppered Pork Chops, Crubeens, Pig Cheeks, Bacon and Cabbage, Lamb, Soda Bread, Smoked Salmon, Fried Potatoes, Spiced Beef, Boiled Ham, Apple Tart, Rhubarb… so many things. Rustic comforting food, all made with great produce.

In recent years I think of my childhood favourites and the new ones from the fantastic producers all over Ireland, the wonderful cheeses and sausages, the smokeries and their salmon and eels. A personal favourite is Frank Hederman’s salmon. He smokes and does all kinds of wonderful things with wild salmon. I’ve never tasted better. What better way to celebrate our national day, than with a green white and gold salad, which has some of his salmon and potatoes? So, that’s what I did.

I toyed with the dressing and it’s not perfect but it worked well, I may add some white wine vinegar also next time to cut through the fat in the cheese. Use a light white wine, as a stronger one dominates. Use any roast salmon in this, although I will say Frank’s is pretty special if you can get it. This recipe is a guide, use your eye and alter to taste.

Roast Chilli Smoked Salmon & Potato Salad with Cream Cheese Dressing

Ingredients (for one)

Salad:

1 large potato, cooked, cooled and diced finely
2 spring onions, sliced
Fresh parsley, chopped, approx 1 tbsp
As much of the smoked salmon as you like, I used the same as the potato, half and half, flaked

Dressing:

1 tbsp cream cheese
2 tbsp light white wine
1/2 tsp grain mustard

Seasoning: salt & pepper

Method:

It’s pretty simple really. Prepare your dressing by mixing your ingredients. A mini whisk is very useful or whisk with a fork. After mixing all your salad ingredients, drizzle the dressing on top, and gobble it up.

Enjoy!

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February Roundup!

Foccacia

And now, ladies and gentlemen, my second round up of the year. A lengthy and late one it is too, my apologies. I should rename February “the month of pork belly”. I could! At least in my own independent republic, population of one. If if the first president of Turkmenistan could rename the days & months of the year, after his family and himself, I don’t see why not!

All joking aside, it’s not that I didn’t cook anything else, but with my recent compressed timelines, filled with work and visitors (and I am not complaining about either), I haven’t had time to blog any of the other lovely things I did. Which is a shame as there were delicious things like sprout tops, forced rhubarb, cavolo nero. I even baked bread!

Snow day in London

My feet in the snow outside my front door

It was a busy, busy month. New job, and I have moved again, albeit temporarily but to a lovely flat in Primrose Hill. Somewhere more permanent is winking at me on the horizon. Hurrah! I really can’t tell you how much I want/need a proper home again. Should this one work out, I shall have a range cooker in a large kitchen and an open fire. In London.

So, back to February. Here, it started with snow, which was fun, and pretty, and would have been even better if I could have had a snow day like the rest of London, but I was already off work, having finished with TrustedPlaces and not yet started my new job. London is lovely in the snow but I was preoccupied with some issues with my heating, namely it wasn’t working, so my cooking tended towards dishes with minimal prep so that I wasn’t cold in the kitchen.

Bring on the tortilla pizza and roasts!

The roasts had the extra benefit of warming my small kitchen while they were cooking. The tortilla pizza was the hit of the month, and is something that I have been making for years but never blogged before. It’s so easy it doesn’t warrant a recipe, but it is delicious. Any of your favourite sandwich combinations will be great on there, as long as they’re light and toast well. Roast, well, I’ve become predictable but it was predominantly pork and dare I say it, belly. I’m broadening my horizons this month (except for one night, which I’ll tell you about in a few weeks – it’s worth the wait, I promise).

Tortilla Pizza

Tortilla Pizza

Next up was a long overdue visit to Franco Manca. I’d wanted to go here for ages, ever since I heard that the owner brought over a Neapolitan mozarella maker to teach the cheesemakers at Alham Wood Buffalo Farm how to make authentic Neapolitan buffalo mozarella, as near as they can anyway. Then there’s the fact that they serve woodfired sourdough crusts, with minimal toppings, the way pizza should be. To top it off, it’s cheap, and everyone I know and trust seems to love it. The critics love it too. I went one weekday lunchtime with Lizzie of Hollow Legs and Kerri of Dinner Diary, and as much as we wanted to love it, it just didn’t happen for us. There was no buffalo mozarella for a start, and the white wine was grim. The pizza base was lovely, very good, and the side salad quite light and refreshing, but I didn’t enjoy the anchovy and wild mushroom topping as much as I thought I might. Perhaps it was a bad day for them, I’ll not discount them yet.

Pizza at Franco Manca

Pizza at Franco Manca

That evening a group of us assembled in a fellow bloggers house for our long awaited Guilty Pleasures Dinner Party. Spam Ramen, Dirty mac and cheese, bovril on toast grab your fancy? Read all about it here.

How to complete that 24 hours? The next morning, at 8am sharp(ish!) I met Dan of Bibendum and accompanied him to the Taste of London launch breakfast. They hadn’t invited any bloggers, which surprised me, especially as they have a large online initiative this year. However, a lovely morning was had drinking champagne and scoffing breakfast goodies cooked by Giorgio Locatelli, Theo Randall, and Shane Osborn. It was an interesting morning, and I look forward to hearing more about what they’ve in store, particularly in the online space.

Giorgio Locatelli Cooks Up Breakfast

Giorgio Locatelli Cooks Up Breakfast

Looming large on the culinary horizons was an indulgent brunch of baked eggs, an Irish Huevos Rancheros if you will. Bright, colourful, filling and delicious, ikt was the perfect start for a Spring Sunday, and one I’ll be making again.

Brunch Bakes Eggs

Brunch Baked Eggs

Nearly there! Dos Hermanos celebrated their blogiversary with a group of readers (incl some of us readers that are also bloggers!) with a wonderful wine tasting and meal at Vinoteca. The following night I was there again for a fantastic Iberian Wine Tasting hosted by Vinoteca & Catavino. I won’t say more about these now, as I plan to blog about them separately.

Some exciting news next. Time Out included me in their list of “London’s Best Food Blogs and Websites”. What an honour! To top it off, I remained at No. 2 on the Wikio Gastronomy Blog List. I’m in very good company there too.

How to finish the month? I roasted some pork belly for a friend who’s moving abroad and wanted to sample some before she left these shores. Great evening, but even I am getting tired of it now, I think the obssession is wearing thin. Some variety for the coming month, I promise!

I can feel Spring now, and can almost smell the wild garlic. As the daffodill’s awaken, so too do my senses. I do love the seasons, but bring on Spring, the extra hour in the evenings, and all it’s gustatory delights. Yup, I am over Winter! But snow is pretty, so I wil leave you with a photo of the view from my kitchen on snow day.