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Posh Lunch Club: Quo Vadis

Posh Lunch Club this week was slightly hampered. It was preceded by an intense mozarella session, a promised tasting, but in the end, a wolf in sheeps clothing. Instead of the expected tasting,we were presented with an online conference where over 20 countries indulged in lengthy cheese chatter while we watched in rows, asking questions like how the locals enjoyed mozarella in Madrid. Moldova, how about you? Do Moldovans enjoy mozarella? There’s no doubting it, from Madrid to Moldova, they love the mozarella. I do too, but I don’t need constant affirmation of the fact via a web conference.

Eventually it ended and there was an opportunity to try some. Starved and slightly stressed following the monstrous and unexpected cheesey conference, I wolfed some down before running to Soho to meet Helen (World Foodie Guide) at Quo Vadis.

Quo Vadis is owned by Sam and Eddie Hart, who also own the acclaimed Fino & Barrafina. They recently restored and reopened the Soho stalwart, a restaurant originally opened in 1926, it to its former glory. It was a pleasure to see both Hart brothers manning the floor attentively, rarely do you see retaurateurs with several restaurants so involved.

Quo Vadis
The restaurant is a bright airy room, with lots of business clientele. Understated, yet elegant, furnished simply but to a high standard. I spied Helen, patient and smiling as ever, at a softly lit corner table, perusing the menu. There was a very generous three choices for each of three courses, very well priced at £17.50 for two courses or £19.50 for three courses. There is also a cover charge to include homemade sourdough bread and unlimited eau de vie still or sparkling filtered water for £2 per person.

Quo Vadis

Flooded with adrenaline, and hot on the heels of my quick cheesey snack, I viewed the menu. I went with the ham hock terrine to start. It was very good, with a mustard flecked jelly holding large chunks of salty hock together, but I think I prefer the lighter style that I had at Arbutus the previous week. It was too heavy and sturdy for me, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. This could of course have been down to the quick scoffing of the mozarella. I could see that I would enjoy this as an independent bite, but not as a course in a 3 course meal. It was too big. Helen had the brown shrimp on sourdough which she really enjoyed and found the perfect size for a starter.

Quo Vadis

For mains, I had confit halibut with capers and leek vinaigrette. Confit fish is gracing several menus at the moment, and I was looking forward to checking it out. It was a stellar main, deceptively simple and perfectly executed. The confit halibut was tender, with the appearance of cooked egg white, and fantastically delicate both in flavour and texture. The caper and leek vinaigrette was a perfect accompaniment, soft and piquant, and a great partner to each forkful of fish. A crisp and buttery fish skin lay atop, like a thin slice of crisp buttery toffee. It was perfect, I adored every mouthful.

Quo Vadis

Helen ordered the crisp pork belly, with jerusalem artichoke and apple sauce. I had to have a taste and found it gorgeous and tender, with flesh that pulled with the lightest touch of a fork. Exactly as I like it to be, a succulent slow roast with great crispy crackling.

Quo Vadis
We didn’t have time nor the inclination for desserts, although I was tempted by the bitter chocolate mousse with salted caramel. Next time!

On the a la carte menu, the starters are £8, and the mains £19.50, so this really is a fantastic bargain, and a great way to sample the restaurants offerings. Despite my issues with the terrine, overall it really impressed and I’ll certainly be going again. The set menu is available for reservations between 12 and 2.30pm and 5.30pm and 6pm. Give it a try, I don’t think you will regret it.

http://www.quovadissoho.co.uk/

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A Guerilla Wine Tasting

Wine is one of my favourite things. A glass with a friend or over dinner is one of the most pleasant ways to spend an evening. A bold and spicy glass of red for winter, or a gorgeous sparkler for summer, for every season and occasion there’s a glass of wine.

I’ve been exploring and learned a lot this last few years. It’s been one of the many pleasures I’ve indulged in since starting blogging. I have always had a healthy interest, but have been further investigating regions, vintages, grape varieties and it has been an enormous education.

It seems a great shame that for most people, exposure is limited. People fear it’s scientific and that they will get it wrong. Perceived to be an elitist sport, they stick to the supermarket offerings, anxious that they will be exposed in a local wine shop as someone who doesn’t understand.

Guerilla Wine Tasting

I felt like this too once, until I realised that it is personal and subjective and the only way to learn and appreciate is to try. There’s so much to try, and so much fun to be had in the process, so why not do something different, available and democratic?

We thought that we would get out there, and do a Guerilla Wine Tasting and make it fun. Crowd sourced over twiter and open to everyone, a merry band of some friends and some strangers collected on the South Bank and explored some fine Portugese Wines and a delicious French Sauternes. We had a great time and discovered some great new wines in the process. We also had a wine tasting gorilla. Why not, eh?

Thanks to Casa Leal, Quinta de Lagoalva and Nicole for donating the wines, and to Ailbhe for the photos. The inimitable Wine Sleuth was at her best, you can see how much so in the video below.

The Portugese red wines were particular favourites of all whoe tried. I’ll be writing about these more soon, as I was lucky enough to visit Quinta de Lagoalva late last year.

Watch this space for further Guerilla Wine Tastings!

In the meanwhile, enjoy the ridiculous but fun video.

Post on The Wine Sleuth on the Guerilla Wine Tasting.

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Chinese New Year: A Recipe For Jiaozi (Beijing Dumplings) and a Wine Match

Chinese New Year 2008 - London

Chinese New Year. Now that’s my kind of New Year. Celebrated for 2 weeks and centred on food, bright colours, parades packed with drama, and people having fun. I have always had an affection for it. Clearly, I have a strong sense of food occasion, the only bit that I don’t like is the whole tidying thing you have to do in advance. I am still waiting until I am wealthy enough to pay someone to do all of that stuff for me. As I am not Chinese I don’t adhere to that, I do enjoy the food though, and always indulge.

I love Chinese food as a rule, not the shiny food glistening with cornstarch and gloop that you get in your local take away but real Chinese food from many corners of that huge country, food that is increasingly widely available in London. My particular favourite is Sichuan, spicy, numbing and hot, bursting with flavour, boldly embracing all kinds of offal and other bits coldly disregarded from Western tables.

Chinese New Year 2008 - London

For this dish, I am going to Beijing land of the dumpling, cosy velvet pouches of steamy savoury goodness. Dumplings are excellent comfort food, especially when dipped in black vinegar and chilli oil, and they’re really easy to make too. A little finicky at first, but like everything, after a few Frankenstein attempts, you’ll reward yourself with a perfect little dumpling and a glorious bite.

Not content with being soothing for the soul and your tum, dumplings symbolise wealth, resembling the golden ingots used as currency during the Ming Dynasty. . Serving them at Chinese New Year brings the promise of wealth, good luck and prosperity. I’ll have some of that lovely symbolism thank you very much; I want a new camera and will take all of the lucky symbolism that I can get.

Chinese New Year 2008 - London

Regular readers will have noticed my tenacity, ok obsessive tendencies, with food that I like. So it won’t be any surprise that I have been making these for a week in an attempt to unlock their secrets. I researched many recipes, and tried different techniques and fillings. There are many ways of doing them, and the fillings are supremely flexible. Pork is a popular choice, particularly popular with me, so no surprise then that it was one of my favourites. Some like to cook the filling first, I prefer to put the filling in raw, it helps to shape the dumpling and the resulting texture is solid and the flavours are more fused. Cooking the filling, meat ones at least, results in a more fragmented filling with a drier texture. I could see that cooking would be essential for some vegetarian fillings but it’s not for me otherwise.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

My research included two very good recipes from Helen at World Foodie Guide and Rasa Malaysia that I would highly recommend. My trials revealed two further personal favourites, one plain ground pork with Chinese chives, spring onion some rice wine, a little sesame oil and shredded spring onion. I varied it slightly for another version adding approximately a quarter of the volume of pork, in raw chopped prawns. The fillings are so flexible, play around until you hit the one you like the best. I used white pepper instead of black pepper for seasoning as it’s so good with pork, and the Chinese use it a lot. It has a lovely gentle spice and a strong aroma, not for everyone but I love it. Irish people use it a lot too, incidentally. We had no black pepper in our house growing up.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

If you can, I urge you to make the dough. It’s infinitely superior and not that challenging, it just takes time. The texture is also more gentle and malleable for rolling and shaping, and it tastes so much better. However, there is no real harm in buying jiaozi wrappers in your local Chinese shop (if you have one) and are short on time.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

There’s no perfect meal without a good wine, and when that wine matches, well, life is sweet and that little bit more in tune. The jiaozi are quite delicate, with no strong spicing, save some white pepper so a crisp white wine with body, creaminess and a little zing matches well. I tried two, a Marlborough Pinot Gris from Wither Hills (2008), at a very good £9.99 at Waitrose. It was lovely and fresh with lots of sweetness and aromas of honeysuckle and quince. It had a gentle sweetness and creaminess, but I felt wasn’t crisp enough to be a perfect match. I preferred the second, Petaluma Riesling 2008 Hanlin Hill, Clare Valley, Australia, which had a really refreshing acidity and was sufficiently dry yet fruity. It was a lovely wine and was a great match for the Jiaozi. Also available at Waitrose for a bargain £9.49.

Beijing Dumplings (Jiaozi)

Jiaozi Recipe

Dumpling Wrapper Ingredients

1 cup dumpling flour from your local Chinese shop OR plain flour

¼ cup water

A pinch of salt

Filling Ingredients:

450g minced pork

3 spring onions finely, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

A handful of finely chopped Chinese chives (or normal chives)

I tbsp rice wine vinegar

½ tsp sesame oil

Salt & white pepper to taste

To serve: black vinegar & chilli oil

Method:

Filling: mix the ingredients and leave covered in the fridge while you make the dumpling wrappers. This will allow the flavours to integrate.
Wrappers: combine the flour, salt and water and mix. Knead until shiny and elastic for 10 minutes, or chuck in your mixer and let it do the work for 5 minutes. This is what I did!

You may want to add more water or flour; you want a mixture that is firm without being too wet.

Cover in cling film or put in a plastic bag for 30 minutes in the fridge. Roll your jiaozi wrappers by pulling off little balls, smaller than a 10p piece, and rolling until thin, about as thin as pasta, and about three inches in diameter. Roughly!

Brush the edges of the wrappers lightly with water (not too much as they’ll get soggy). Place a teaspoon of filling in the centre and fold in a half moon shape and press closed ensuring they are sealed.

Add to boiling water for a few minutes, when they rise to the top they are cooked in theory but do check by cutting into one, as you don’t want to eat raw pork. I didn’t have any problems with this, they were always cooked through, so don’t worry too much. Be careful not to boil for too long, as the wrapper may burst if it’s quite thin.

Serve with a dipping sauce of Chinese black vinegar with some chilli oil.

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This Little Piggy Went to Pig Masterclass

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This little piggy loves eating out, and doing all sorts of things relating to food, you may have noticed. I especially love new places and trying new things, learning new skills, watching someone and learning from them. So, as often as I can, I’ll get out there and try something or somewhere new.

London is a big city with lots of options and it won’t surprise you that I’ve not been everywhere yet Far from it. So, when I received an invite from a restaurant on my hit list, Trinity, to attend a pig master class, where the head chef would do a butchery demonstration at the kitchen table, followed by a dinner matched with Trimbach wines from Alsace, I was thrilled. I love Alsatian wines, I first discovered my love for them at a Hugel tasting a couple of years ago. Trimbach were particularly interesting as they are a small house, family run for many generations. Just my cup of tea, or should I say glass of Gewurz.

Trinity is a highly regarded restaurant in Clapham, South London. Food critic Giles Coren is a fan, having called it “The perfect restaurant” and it was awarded AA London Restaurant of the Year 2007/2008 and Time Out Best Local Restaurant 2007/2008. It’s a blogger’s favourite also, and frankly, the only reason that I haven’t visited is it is so bloody far away from where I live.

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Rushing, as always, I was greeted with a glass of wine and some pretty impressive looking pig carcass that the head chef, Adam Byatt was presiding over, cleaver in hand and smile on his face. I felt welcome, and slightly overwhelmed but I was desperate to catch up. It was really interesting, he made deft work of the butchering, and presented several joints at the end, some stuffed with sausage meat.

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I found it quite inspiring really and wanted to get stuck in myself and discover how to do it hands on, should they run a hands on course, I will be down there in a flash. It makes so much sense when it comes to quality and price, if you have the space and the inclination. I’ve been considering getting a half pig this year and giving this a try, if my new home has enough space for a big freezer.

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Class adjourned, we ate some spoils from the butchery, some prune pork sausages with rosemary, seductively moist and succulent and some delicious smoky taramasalata, made with cod roe from a small smokehouse in the UK, I intend to source some, it was utterly divine, smooth and rich.

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The meal commenced with a creamy and milky white onion and thyme velouté. Delicately scented and light, it soothed the tastebuds and set us up nicely for the smoked eel, steamed oyster and sole goujons. My dining companions were enthralled by the leek, but frankly, no contest, the eel was the star of the show. Gentle starts for the two robust courses that were to follow.

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Pigs trotters served on sourdough with fried quail egg, sauce gribiche and crackling over shadowed this. It is one of Trinity’s signature dishes, and it really impressed. With a shard of crackling protecting it, it didn’t stand a chance for I had it devoured in record time. A perfect example of producing something very fine and delicate with bold flavours using the cheapest of meat cuts, the simple crubeen (Irish for trotter).

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One of my favourite cuts followed, pork belly, which was served with black olive oil mash, braised celery hearts and cockle and saffron vinaigrette. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this as much. It had been cooked sous vide for 16 hours, and I felt it didn’t do the meat any favors. Instead of the tender fragments of meat rendered by slow roasting, the meat was dense and compacted and while full of flavour, I didn’t enjoy the texture, which seemed a great shame considering how much work had gone into it. I did enjoy the fragrant cockle and saffron vinaigrette though. One slight shadow on an otherwise lovely meal.

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We finished with an intensely sweet and delicious quince tarte tatin and honey ice cream, which was everything a tarte tatin should be: fruity, intense, caramelised and golden. Nothing complex, a simple dessert that was well executed, exactly how I like my desserts to be.

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The wines were a real treat, the rieslings were particularly good. Two shone out particularly, the 2001 375th anniversary cuvee, beautifully dry with lots of mineral and a real pleasure to drink. The final wine was a very fine Gewurztraminer, the Gewurztraminer Selection des Grains Nobiles 1989.

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Overall impressions were extremely positive, Trinity is a lovely local restaurant offering very fine food, lovely service and a warm and cosy atmosphere. The Trimbach wines were really excellent, and it was a real pleasure to be taken through the tasting by Jean Trimbach himself. I was pleased to see a Trimbach wine in my local Waitrose recently, the Trimbach Riesling Réserve 2007,very well priced at £13.29, I will be trying it soon.

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Should you fancy going to the Trinity Pig Masterclass costs £70 per person, and includes the butchery demonstration and lunch, matched with ciders and perrys. It runs from 10am-1pm and is well worth a visit.

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http://www.trinityrestaurant.co.uk/

Trimbach Wines

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Announcing Posh Lunch Club: First Stop, Arbutus

I want to do something new. I want to do something fun. A mini project that I will want to write about, an injection of passion, an objective. As you know, I like to be fed. So, I present to you: Posh Lunch Club.

Posh Lunch Club is all about the set menus in great restaurants, wonderful food at bargain prices. There will be the occasional defection to the expensive side of the fence, The Fat Duck has got to be done, and there’s a few others that will creep in at high prices. Guest members are allowed, and most welcome. I do love the occasional solo lunch with a book, so will be sure to have a number of these. In the main though, this is about tripping about London as a gourmand, at surprising prices. It’s always possible to source a great bargain.

Where to start? It had to be Arbutus, Anthony Demetre and Will Smith’s modern British restaurant in Soho. I’ve eaten there before, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but didn’t blog it. I was lunching with a visiting friend and decided to leave the camera at home. It’s perfect for Posh Lunch Club, really good food and the set lunch and early bird menu is an absolute bargain, at £16.95 for three courses.

arbutus-set-menu

I visited on a Friday, I hadn’t booked, and got a seat at the bar with no fuss. Perched with my book, I was happy, and swiftly ordered a reasonably priced carafe of Syrah/Grenache for £6.50. Sourdough (brown or white) was offered with some butter. I knew immediately what I wanted, and was also very hungry, so I ordered swiftly and shortly after was tucking into a country terrine with fruit chutney. The terrine, served with toast, was delicate and velveteen countered nicely by the sharp chutney. Wafers of radish were a lovely fresh addition. I liked it.

Lunch at Arbutus

I couldn’t resist the caillette for mains, an old fashioned pork meatball, served atop crushed winter root vegetables, primarily swede. The swede was delicious, a much under rated and under used vegetable, I scolded myself for not using it more in my kitchen. The caillette was rich and savoury, with nice contrasting textures, chunks of pork amidst minced, with a lovely lick of what seemed to be gravy on top. Another success, I was very happy with it.

Lunch at Arbutus

Finally a warm polenta and olive oil cake with seville orange marmalade and chantilly cream, followed by an espresso. The cake was nice and light, the cream delicious, the marmalade was tangy and sharp, seasonal, but I think I would have preferred something sweeter. The espresso cost £3.50 extra, but I needed my coffee, and it was a nice rich shot of dark caffeinated goodness, which terminated the meal nicely.

Lunch at Arbutus

Service was friendly and swift, it’s perfectly quick for lunch, I had 3 courses in under an hour and a half. It’s high on my list and I highly recommend it. Next, I must get the cookbook, I am keen to try some of Anthony’s recipes at home.

So, that was it. The first Posh Lunch Club, a very good lunch for a very good price. I can’t wait for the next one.

http://www.arbutusrestaurant.co.uk/

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Blaggers’ Banquet: final total raised & thanks!

It is with great pride and pleasure that I announce the total fundraised by the Blaggers’ Banquet & Auction for Action Against Hunger – a whopping £9349.49.

Many thanks to everyone who supported us and donated food, drink, prizes and miscellaneous essentials. Special thanks go to Hawksmoor for being our inaugural hosts.

The Blaggers’ Banquet could never have happened without our sterling team of volunteers, those on the night and those who worked tirelessly building it, blagging and running the auction. Many hands make light work, unless you’re dealing with paypal and ebay who caused us endless problems, so particular thanks go to Kavey, Sig, Linda, Susie and Ailbhe who toiled tirelessly.

We learned a lot and look forward to doing it again. Watch this space for details on our Food Lovers Sports Day for Action Against Hunger (official name tbc!).

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For What Ails You: Lemon, Ginger & Honey Tea

Lemons & Limes @ Borough Market, London

I’ve been ill again. I don’t ever remember a time in my life where I have had such a succession of bugs and annoyances. This time, the visitor was a most unwelcome norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug. I am sure there are much better ways of describing it, it is the most vicious, invasive, overwhelming bug that I have had the misfortune to be slayed by. It brought me around to thinking about the food that we eat when we are sick, to get better.

Everyone has their particular favourites, some offer comfort from childhood, most are family remedies. Often they make no sense at all. Almost everyone seems to turn to fizzy drinks when ill. Even me. And I won’t touch them when I am not ill, unless they are partnering a spirit. The sugar is good, and some like ginger ale have ginger, but isn’t it better to go straight to source and make a fresh ginger tea?

Now, I know it sounds laborious, and when your sick, struggling to the loo is probably the most you can manage, but it’s easy, quick, delicious, and it’s of enormous benefit in times of tummy upset. Ginger relieves nausea, stimulates digestion, relieves gas and bloating and helps stop diarrhoea. Lemon juice with honey aids bowel movement. Honey is soothing for distressed throats and oesophaguses. Lemon is alkalinizing for a poor acidic stomach, this means it neutralizes the acid, or at least starts to.

This is not insipid like a herbal tea from a tea bag, it’s full of flavour and texture. I drink this regularly, as it’s really tasty and comforting,  I find it especially soothing at times like these.

Want to make it? Per mug I make mine with fresh ginger, peeled and sliced, about an inch of it, the juice of half an organic unwaxed lemon and a teaspoon of honey. I top this up with hot water, leave to infuse for a few minutes and drink slowly.

Everything that passes my mouth now has intense diplomatic negotiations to face once they hit the stomach, and the folks down there are slow and gurgly. They like this lemon, ginger and honey tea though. It seems about the only thing that has diplomatic immunity at the moment!

What do you eat and drink when ill?

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Girls Just Want to Have Steak! [Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor, London]

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Girls like steak, of course we do. We also like lots of other things perceived to be manly territory, so when Hawksmoor suggested Girls Steak Club, how could we not but jump at it.

I’ve blogged about Hawksmoor before, I really like it there, and it was our venue for our inaugural Blaggers’ Banquet. It’s got great steak, is buzzy and vibrant, and there’s great cocktails and a nice wine list. Service is friendly and informal. It promised to be good.

Now, it was controversial, the boys were not pleased, and organised their own night to counteract it, Blokes Eat Beef at Goodman Steakhouse, which looked great, they even enticed my favourite Irish salmon smoker Frank Hederman. However, it’s not a competition (or is it?), and much as I don’t think a proliferation of single gender events is wise, Girls Steak Club was a great night, with luscious food, delectable wine, friendly fun company, and lots of banter.

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Secured in the private room, behind a thick velvet curtain, we were treated to top notch cocktails. Starters of sublime tamworth belly ribs or chargrilled squid followed. I chose the ribs, they were excellent, with a lovely spice rub and perfect char, coating tender meat that fell off the bone. I also had a taste of the squid and it was I think, the better preliminary dish, light and fresh with lovely smoky flavours and cooked very briefly as squid needs to be (unless you cook it for a long time, there is no middle ground with squid, in middle ground there is chewiness).

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

The main event came swiftly, where was the evening going? I opted for an enormous 600g bone in sirloin, a 400g rib-eye was also up for grabs. Served with sides of macaroni cheese, sprout tops, creamed spinach, salad & triple cooked chips, I did wonder how I was going to fit it all in.

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

It was all so good, and the chips were the best that I have had at Hawksmoor, perfectly golden and crispy with a fluffy interior. The steak was perfect, served rare at my request, with a ruby centre and gorgeous charred exterior. Full flavoured, these are Ginger Pig Longhorn Steaks, dry aged for 40 days,

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Girls Steak Club at Hawksmoor

Some ladies opted for dessert, I was not woman enough. Stuffed to the gills, I carried on with some wine and chatter, and went home very happy, with a steak doggy bag. The menu, including cocktail and excluding wine was an absolute bargain at £40. Hawksmoor plan to hold it again and I’ll be going. If you’re a London lady, you should look into it too.

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In the kitchen at L’Anima with Francesco Mazzei: Linguine Vongole

Vongole at L'Anima

I was very excited, and also a little hot and bothered. I had to be in Liverpool St at 5pm, but I didn’t finish work until 5.30pm, and I work an hour away. Eish! What to do?! Thankfully, Francesco and his team were patient and flexible, and unfazed when I burst through the door, earlier than I thought possible, but later than arranged, red and frizzy and ready for vongole.

Vongole? What’s that? It’s one of the best Italian culinary offerings, and when nestled with linguine, a real treat. Fresh and lively, salty and sweet, fruity and toothsome, you can’t beat it.

I’ve cooked this at home, but not for a while. It’s one of those things that has to be done right, great vongole from an even better fishmonger, great pasta and some time. That’s all. Like anything else, there are ways to do it to do it and to do it right you need to adhere to the rules, but really it’s not that complicated, and once you know the steps, it’s utterly achievable. It’s a weeknight dish should you choose it to be one or a perfect quick weekend treat.

Vongole at L'Anima

Italian cuisine is one of my favourites; it’s so fresh and full of flavour. Loaded with character and variety, how could you not love it? I love the attention to detail, the adherence to quality and the sociable nature of it all. I love that everyone is confident about food, we should be here too. Everyone has a secret family recipe, knows local wines and heartily recommends favourites. They want to take you to their favourite places, and share their culinary heritage, for they are very proud of it, and so they should be. So, I wasn’t surprised when Francesco seemed to represent all of these qualities, fizzing with enthusiasm and passion, and ready to share his knowledge.

L’Anima is a lovely space, airy and bright, perhaps leaning on stark, but very stylish. We started at the bar with some snacks and a prosecco, and then progressed to the kitchen, which was stacked with food and chefs, and while busy-busy, it was very calm. Waiting by one of the sinks were enormous and very fresh clams, that had been rinsed to rid them of any sand that they had retained from the sea bed, they were ready to become vongole.

Vongole at L'Anima

Francesco whizzed through the recipe, it really is very quick. Patient and attentive, occasionally making reference to how red I was, with a chuckle. I was at pains to explain that I am Irish and can’t cope with extremes of anything – hot or cold. Ireland is mild and temperate, and this is what my body demands, but rarely receives. So, there you go! I am doomed to have a big red face in warm environments. But that’s ok.

Vongole at L'Anima

The vongole had already been cleaned and were gleaming and ready for action. Using a bronze cut linguine, Francesco starts the dish with a light south Italian olive oil, that won’t over power the clams. The pasta is put on, and some garlic slices and chilli are gently fried. The vongole are added shortly after with a glass of white wine, and cooked gently until they start to open. The pasta is added with some of it’s starchy cooking water, creating an emulsion with the vongole sauce as it is stirred. The pasta looks to be about half cooked at this stage, and Francesco stirs it, until it it’s al dente and nestled is a beautiful creamy sauce. I love this technique of cooking pasta by absorption, a technique that delivers a much superior pasta, and costs nothing but time and a littler exertion. Not unlike the creaminess that you get from risotto rice, when you give it all of that care and attention.

The dish is finished with a handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, and is ready to eat.  We had a taste, and I was in heaven.

Vongole at L'Anima

I was loathe to leave the kitchen and that luscious linguine behind, but Francesco assured me that I would have some more soon, over dinner in the private room, where 8 of us gathered and participated in a feast.

Vongole at L'Anima

A gorgeous starter of muscles cooked in a josper oven, a powerful charcoal oven, just briefly, for a minute or so until they popped open. They retained their memory of the sea, in those last drops of sea water that they had held onto from when they were caught. These were superb, a real highlight, tasting of fire and water with embers from the josper oven and sea water, with a meaty mussel embracing it in the middle, and some delicious n’duja sausage with some fennel seeds.

Vongole at L'Anima

Our linguine vongole escapades were next. Three different types, all perfectly executed, although one fusion one, while lovely, was not to my taste. I prefer the more familiar rustic Italian flavours of garlic, chilli and tomato. We had a lovely wine with the linguine, a delicious Soave, so good, I proclaimed that it was worth going that night to discover that wine alone.

Vongole at L'Anima

We finished with a frozen chocolate truffle. An icy large truffle with chocolate sauce oozing out of the middle. Delicious. I know that word is over used but I don’t care, because that’s what it was.

And there you have it. A perfect evening. Linguine vongole is on the bar menu at L’Anima, it’s well worth a try with that glorious Soave. Francesco Mazzei is certainly one to watch and I look forward to trying L’Anima again.

I will make this dish soon and post the recipe. Give it a go, there or at home. You’ll be very happy with yourself.

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January in food and frolics: the roundup

It seemed like January was never-ending, truly a bottomless pit of rushing to work while skidding on ice and low heavy skies. Skies that were so heavy, I felt like chicken licken, and wanted to roar to the world “The sky is falling in!”.

But then, it was gone. Gone! Just like that. And suddenly it was February. How can that be? To stay so long, then leave so quickly. My sense of time is distorted, and now what do I do that I no longer have January to blame for everything?

As much as I proclaimed the misery of it all, the heart wrenching, grey boredom that January cruelly bestows on me, there were some culinary moments that may make my best of 2010. Some really fun and utterly delicious adventures. An evening where I was demolished not by January, but by vodka and my own lack of sense, some time in the kitchen with Francesco Mazzei, a Bisol cookoff, a very good pie crafted by my own fair hands, and a new way with pork, for me at least.

How can this be? You’ve only read of the pork. COUGH. Like I said, I blame January. Be patient with me, I promise to give you the details soon. For now, here’s my summary.

Vongole at L'Anima

January started with an evening that I had been waiting for, for some time. The vongole evening at L’Anima, where I would get a chance to spend time with Francesco Mazzei in his kitchen, where he would demonstrate his technique for cooking linguine vongole (linguine with clams). It was a lovely experience. Francesco is a lovely guy, and very knowledgable. L’Anima is a lovely place too, with a kitchen that is enviable, I watched every beautiful pot and pan, envied their piles of vongole, and watched with glee as he took us through it, step by step.

Vongole at L'Anima

The kitchen was hot, I was beetroot red, which and impending video will testify for me. It was a treat though, and I enjoyed watching him cooking the linguine by absorption, a great technique for extruding the creaminess of the pasta without adding dairy by adding water or stock slowly and stirring, not too unlike making a creamy risotto. I do this at home all the time, the end result demands it. I should really blog about that soon too, shouldn’t I?

Vongole at L'Anima
The cooking was followed by a dinner, themed on vongole and shellfish in a luxurious private room at the restaurant. The vongole was stand out, as was the mussel starter, the mussels had been cooked in a Josper charcoal oven for only a minute until they popped open revealing a tender meaty interior, bathing in some salty sea water that the mussel had retained when it closed its shell for that last time by the sea, before it ended up in the L’Anima kitchen. We also had a wine that I loved, it was worth going for that alone, San Michele Soave Classico, perfect with the vongole, and delicious to drink on its own. I found it online circling a bargainous £12 mark. I will be stocking up on it soon.

Vongole at L'Anima

From one lovely wine to another, the next adventure was the Bisol Jeio Prosecco Cook-Off at Bibendum Wines, where three finalists that had entered the competition on this blog, cooked furiously and presented their dishes to be judged by Roberto of Bisol, Rupert of Trinity and Gal of Bibendum Wine. All entrants were excellent, a crisp and clean sea trout dish from Ailbhe; a creamy, rich and indulgent pork dish from Dan and the winning entry, a warm Winter pheasant salad from Danny. It was great fun, and we decamped to the pub after where the two Irish lasses appeared to overwhelm those Essex geezers. It seemed they could not keep up with our chatter and were mildly amused by it all. As were we!

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Some time at home followed with a Moro recipe, Lomo Con Leche, pork cooked in milk with cinnamon and bay to you and I. Delicious it was, but could do with a few tweaks I think. I look forward to experimenting.

Pork cooked in milk with cinnamon & bay

Brunch baked eggs became a Sunday feature, well eggs en cocotte this time. Eggs cosied in individual ramekins sitting on a cushion of fried bacon, leak and shallots, with a cream and gruyere topping, and baked in a bain marie. Sounds complex and fussy, but they’re quick easy and wickedly indulgent. Take that, January!

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Pigs (plural) was about to feature in a very big way. Starting with a fantastic Pig Masterclass and wine dinner at Trinity, where I got to try some great Alsace wines from small producer Trimbach. Jean Trimbach talked us through them, and we had matched food from Trinity, including their fantastic trotter dish, more on that soon.

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St John Restaurant, famed for it’s offaly goodness, was next on the menu. A group of us were trying the suckling pig. I’d always wanted to try this so was quite excited. The suckling pig was tender, moist and full of flavour. I even got to try a bit of the tongue which had a dense texture and intense piggy flavour. Starters of bone marrow and crab were perfect. I am not really a big fan of the desserts chosen, so I didn’t pay much attention to these. All in all, a successful food adventure, even with a few problems with slow service.

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A Sunday indoors was perfect with a roast loin of pork with spiced apple sauce.

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The annual Bibendum tasting at the Saatchi Gallery was immense as always, with fantastic wines. It was lovely to see Alice of Bruno Paillard and the Chapel Down Crew again. It was a great day.

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We’ve clearly headed from the pig section to the alcohol section. I had a lovely evening at Thorsten of the Wine Rambler‘s house, sampling some German wines with food. We had a really interesting German Syrah from Pfalz (Knipser 2003). I also discovered the delights of chocolate baklava which I bought for dessert from a local baklava salon.

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An exciting vintage vodka tasting at Bob Bob Ricard managed to be both the high and low point of the month. High point: wonderful food, lovely hosts and superb vodka. Low point: there should be a heigh requirement, noone my height can drink that much vodka, be coherent and manage a normal day the day after. The food was great, lots of Russian food that I hadn’t had before, including a superb ox tongue in aspic, which was elegant and graceful, a fantastic egg mayo with anchovies, some caviar with blinis, delicious creamy lardo, and some standout meaty dumplings which were rich, dense and creamy. There was lots more which I’ll write about in more detail soon. The vodka was very good indeed, all Russian and served at -18 degrees.

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And that was it. I think we defeated January. Ka-pow!

Thanks for reading, as always :)