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Eating Lyon: Le Garet, the perfect bouchon

Le Garet, Lyon

Lyon has a promising culinary reputation. Reputed to be the gastronomic heart of France, friends and natives had talked it up and I was worried it may not live up to my increasing expectations.

Le Garet, Lyon

I quickly secured a reservation at 2* Le Bec, the reviews are exceptional and it looks exciting, but much to my misfortune, they had water damage on the day I was to dine ,and were closed. 3 restaurant La Mere Brazier was also high on my list, but sadly (for me) they were closed for summer holidays. Paul Bocuse was mentioned but I had already decided to save that for my next trip, the prices are lofty, and the reviews mixed. I’ll visit another time with another food obsessive.

Le Garet, Lyon

Le Garet, Lyon

So, what to do? In truth, I was always more excited about the Lyonnaise Bouchons, peculiar to Lyon and serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Bouchons were always going to be the heart of the trip and there was a few I wanted to try out.

Le Garet, Lyon

The highlight of these was a recommendation from a Lyonnaise friend, Le Garet. We popped in on our first night, to discover that they were full so we made a reservation for lunch on our last day. Lesson No 1 – book your bouchons before you leave, the good ones are always booked up. There was  one I really wanted to try but it’s so popular with locals that I hadn’t a hope without an advance reservation.

Le Garet, Lyon

Le Garet, Lyon

On our return for lunch, just two hours before we were due at the train station to board our train back to London via Lille on the Eurostar, we were greeted with smiles and charm and on seating were presented with pork crackling. A large bowl of caper berries and a jar of cornichons were delivered shortly after. We were going to get on.

Le Garet, Lyon

Le Garet, Lyon

Le Garet is enchanting, warm red walls with walls packed with pictures and photographs and French eccentricities. It’s impossible not to be seduced. It’s a joyous place, the diners are enjoying their food and company, and the staff are smiling and friendly.

Le Garet, Lyon

The wine list is presented in a copybook, specials are writted on a mirror with marker and the menu otherwise, was one I had become very familiar with in other bouchons: Pieds de Veau (calves feet), Cervelles (brains), Rillettes d’Oie (goose rillettes), Grenouilles (frog legs), Tete de Veau (head cheese), Bavette, Saucisson, Foie de Veau (calves liver). A meaty offaly paradise, not for the faint hearted but for those who love flavour and rich food.

Le Garet, Lyon

Le Garet, Lyon
By now, I had visited many an eatery and following a visit to the market wanted colour and flavour. I needed something to repair my meat saturated soul and nurture me. I opted for lighter but still traditional dishes, starting with a glorious Tomates Steak et Ornue, Pistou et Parol Blanc – a fantastic tomato salad with large slices of tomato steak, slices from a smaller tomato, both drizzled with pistou and with cured ham on the side, predominantly fat, like lardo, with a little pink meat. A large basket of very good bread was served on the side.

Le Garet, Lyon

Le Garet, Lyon

Kat had the Rillettes d’Oie, which she had spotted the diners at the next table eating. We had assumed that they had a healthy portion for two but were gobsmacked when a whole Staub terrine full of Rillettes arrived for Kat alone. My salad was enormous also.

Le Garet, Lyon

Le Garet, Lyon

Main courses were Grenouilles Fraiche en Persillade (Fresh Frogs Legs with Persillade) for Kat and for me, a traditional Lyonnaise dish of Quenelle de Brochet a la Lyonnaise – a large set pike mousseline in a seafood broth. The frog legs were as perfect a representation of that dish could be, fiddly but tender and spiked with persillade, I had order envy. My quenelle de brochet was gorgeous, very light and spring served in a light marseillaise-style seafood broth with creamed spinach with nutmeg on the side. A perfect lunch dish.

Le Garet, Lyon

As is common at the end of a Bouchon meal, we each ordered a demi St Marcelin, a soft small cows milk cheese, perfectly round and like unleashing children from the school gates, the cheese blurted out then oozed from the rind once I put my knife through it. Swoooon.

We accompanied our meal with a Pot (46cl) of White Burgundy (St Veran Bourgogne Blanc), a bargain at €11. The vibe was friendly with perfect friendly service, and nearby tables were chatty too, we seemed to be the only tourists there that lunchtime.

Le Garet, Lyon

A special mention for the bathrooms, odd I know, but they were great. Decked out like a ladies boudoir, bloomers and old brassieres were hanging out of the drawers and over the lamps. The walls were decked with pictures as the floor below.

The meal came to approx €35 each, including extra service as it was very good and we had such a lovely time. I had an extra glass of wine and we had coffees too.

I would go back to Lyon just to eat here, it was a perfect two hours. I spied the bavette on the next table, it looked divine, and I am – almost – desperate to try it. Lyon is only 5 hours from London on the Eurostar. I think I can figure out an excuse to do it. Wait! I’ve got one: Le Garet.

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Marché St Antoine: Food Market, Lyon

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Ah, the glory of the French food market. Fresh produce, glorious flavours, bright colours, the smells of the fruit and lack of smell from the fish.

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Quai St Antoine Food Market

As the heart of gastronomic France, you would expect Lyon to have a very good one, and it does. In fact it has several, but time was restrictive on my two night Eurostar trip their last week, so I chose one in the heart of the city by the Rhone, the Quai St Antoine Food Market.

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Quai St Antoine Food Market

It winds along the river gently. Starting at 4 or 5 am and running until midday in the heart of the city, it’s a very popular and well sourced market. Everything was fantastic, the selection was varied, and better than all of that, in the main it was local.

Quai St Antoine Food Market

All kinds of tomatoes begged to be picked up, flat peaches radiated perfume and I swooned at the first bite. Bounties of herbs, garlic and fresh beans. Bright pink radishes with their green leafy hat, baskets of saucisson and legs of ham. Dripping gravy brown rotisserie chickens, turning seductively, challenging you not to buy.

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Best of all were the prices. So reasonable, there is no need to grace your strip lit supermarket here. That’s the way it should be. Why don’t we have such markets here?

Quai St Antoine Food Market

The weather is challenging, I know, and the costs of London markets for stallholders are prohibitive. Add to that the waiting lists for markets at Borough, but London could house so many more.

Quai St Antoine Food Market

We have so many spaces in central London that could house indoor markets – community halls and abandoned spaces. It would make so much sense to support small producers and create a cost effective space for locals to buy quality everyday produce. Not cupcakes or truffles or big chains that we see in all the markets now. I want to buy good tomatoes, salad, fresh eggs, vegetables, meat and fish from the people that grow or produce them. A good rotisserie chicken!

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Normal every day food from a normal every day market. Can’t we have one soon?

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Quai St Antoine Food Market

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A Postcard from Lyon

Flowers at Quai St Antoine Food Market, Lyon

Flowers at Quai St Antoine Food Market, Lyon

Whoooooosh! I am not sure if that is the sounds of the Eurostar, or the TGV (super fast French trains), or my trip to Lyon, but it all seemed to go by far too quickly. It seems like weeks ago that I boarded the Eurostar and travelled to Lyon, but it was only Tuesday morning. We travelled swiftly from grey wet London, current home of the bad hair day and soggy feet, to sparkling hot Lyon, home of bright intense sunshine, great wine and food, and a peep of sunburn. My Irish skin could barely handle the 34 degree heat that awaited us.

I love travelling by train. I could spend days and weeks travelling Europe by train, and anywhere else for that matter, it’s my perfect means of travel. The Lyon trip was a baby train journey but enjoyable nonetheless, taking a piddly 5 hours and allowing us a break for a glass of wine in Lille. A perfect two night break all in all. It was just lovely, holed up with my book, watching the countryside whizz by, with a glass of wine for company.

Why Lyon? It’s the gastronomic heart of France and it’s been top of my list for forever. The top of my list is extraordinarily well populated though so it’s taken me a while to get there. How I’ve longed to experience the seduction of a Lyonnaise Bouchon and delve into the menu with a bottle of glorious local wine.

I am just back, so this is just a wee photographic preview. I will be back with the details and full posts soon.

I never liked him anyway

TinTin was a Punk!

Quai St Antoine Food Market

Courgette Flowers & Courgettes at Quai St Antoine Food Market

Plums at Quai St Antoine Food Market

Plums at Quai St Antoine Food Market

Copybook Wine List at Le Garet, Lyon

Copybook Wine List at Le Garet, Lyon

Orangettes at Bernachon, Lyon

Orangettes at Bernachon, Lyon

Macarons at Bernachon, Lyon

Macarons at Bernachon, Lyon

Tomatoes at Quai St Antoine Food Market

Tomatoes at Quai St Antoine Food Market

Saucisson at Quai St Antoine Food Market

Saucisson at Quai St Antoine Food Market

Demi St Marcelin at Le Garet, Lyon

Demi St Marcelin at Le Garet, Lyon

Grenouilles (Frog Legs) with Persillade at Le Garet, Lyon

Grenouilles (Frog Legs) with Persillade at Le Garet, Lyon

Diners at Le Garet, Lyon

Diners at Le Garet, Lyon

The ladies bathroom at Le Garet, Lyon

The ladies bathroom at Le Garet, Lyon

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Supper Club: Stolen (Mark Hix Oyster & Chop House Night)

Stolen

With most restaurants now producing accompanying books, Stolen Supper Club is a brilliant idea. They recreate the dining experience of high end restaurants as far as they can, from a house in West London.

Stolen

How far do they take it? When I visited for Mark Hix Oyster & Chop House night, they had secured some Hix napkins, and Mark Hix wine for seafood. They found out who his suppliers were and sought them out e.g. they used Jack O’Shea steaks for the main course. They sourced the recipes from his new cookbook.

Stolen

On arrival, we had an apertif in the garden, which was supplied by our hosts. It was a small group, no more than 15, all very friendly and chatty. One of the worst things about supper clubs is the house envy and this was no exception. I wandered past the courgette flowers and strawberry plants, and coveted the kitchen. When can I live in a real house and not a pokey rented flat, please?!

Stolen

The starter was an Oyster Mary, six large Irish oysters each, sourced fresh from Billingsgate that morning, and served with a bloody mary granita on top. Great idea! Bold, cold and fruity ice on top of meaty fresh oysters which reminded of the sea. They were served on crushed ice and seaweed (it smacked of local beaches from my childhood) which was a lovely touch. I couldn’t resist some Tabasco on top as I love a bit of heat.

Stolen

Stolen

Stolen

With the oysters and as aperitif we had some Mark Hix white wine for seafood – Tonnix from the Douro – which was a lovely match. For the rest of the evening we were BYO, which I love, as it allows you to travel further up the virtual wine list than you could otherwise afford to.

Stolen

Main courses were rich Jack O’Shea rib eye steaks with chop house butter, béarnaise sauce and green sauce, with straw potatoes on the side. The steaks were delicious and perfectly medium rare, there are too many bad steaks gracing the steaks of London restaurants at the moment (I’ve not yet had one at Hix but would heartily recommend Hawksmoor or Goodman if you are seeking one out). The steaks were oven cooked and therefore had no char, which is fair enough as they were operating from a domestic kitchen. They still tasted great. The varied accompaniments was a nice touch, my favourites the béarnaise and green sauce.

Stolen

Dessert time, and I was really full. I left nothing on my plate though as the Sloe Gin Jelly Shots with Sorbet and Jersey Cream were too good to resist and naughtily alcoholic. It was a lovely end to robust and full flavoured meal.

Stolen

Mia was a wonderful host throughout, charming and smiling. The guests were all relaxed and happy. I’d highly recommend it. At £30 a head, I really don’t know how they can be making any money with such ingredients as above. They also do catering and have a food stall at Maida Hill market. Full details on their website.

http://www.stolen.it

Stolen
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Ode to a Crouton

Harissa Croutons

Harissa Croutons

Ode to A Crouton? A crouton?! No, croutons, plural and lots of them. I love them so.

Bready, crispy, chewy in the middle. In soup or salad, they add a base note, some crunchy substance and I like to think, a bit of personality.

I love them so much that, sometimes, I get overenthusiastic and ram lots in my soup, and then the soup disappears within the croutons, so that I am left with a soggy bready mess. Self control is important.

But, it’s just a crouton? No, my friends it’s not. I have spent a while playing with my croutons, and seeing what I could do with them, and I have come up with some nice little recipes for you to try at home.

Are you still with me?

So… have you ever thought of spicing your croutons? Yes, spicing them! Well, it seems so obvious now, but the first time I thought of it, I felt like a genius. Cheese? That extra umami whack from some parmesan on your crispy crouton will work wonders for your dish. How about aromas from some herbs?

Here are some of the ways:

First step – your actual crouton. Day old good bread, diced and waiting to be dressed up for the evening out. Second step – coating in the oil if using, only use enough to dress, don’t soak them or they’ll be unpleasant. Third step – season with sea salt & bake! Spread out in an even layer on a baking sheet (no overlapping or they won’t crisp) at 150 degrees or so  for 20 minutes or so until crisp.

Some heat & spice:

 – chop a red chilli and fry gently in about 100 mls olive oil. Take off the heat & let cool. Add a handful of chopped coriander and blitz.

– harissa and olive oil – 2tbsp harissa to 100 mls olive oil.

Toss your croutons in your chosen oil, just enough oil to coat them, season with sea salt and bake at a low heat on a single layer – 150 degrees or so  for 20 minutes until your croutons are nice and crispy. Try them with lentil and spinach soup, link from the picture at the end of the post.

Cheese

 – gruyere, manchego or parmesan or other hard cheeses are good. Grate finely and toss your croutons in the cheese. Add a little olive oil or bacon fat (oooo-er), just enough to lightly coat and bake, as above 150 degrees or so  for 20 minutes until your croutons are nice and crispy as above. These are great with onion soup.

Herb

 – make a herb oil by blitzing your herb(s) of choice in oil and as above, coatwith the oil, season and bake. Basil croutons are gorgeous with a tomato salad etc.

So, there you go. I hope that makes your Monday a little brighter.

Lentil & Spinach Soup w/ Harissa Croutons

Lentil & Spinach Soup w/ Harissa Croutons

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Supper Club: Ben Greeno’s at Tudor Rd

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

I was very disappointed to miss Ben Greeno at The Loft Project. People were a buzz with it, but it was sold out. I watched from the sidelines as the pictures unfolded, read the blog posts and felt quite sorry for myself. Then I heard that he was back in London from Copenhagen and would be starting his own supper club very soon.

I didn’t hesitate booking. Ben is an increasingly renowned culinary talent, a rising star. He started out in the UK at 21 Queen Street in his native Newcastle, and then to Sat Bains and over the last 9 years has graced the kitchens of many a restaurant that I hope to visit – notably the current No 1 in the world, Noma, where he was recently joint head pastry chef and David Chang’s Momofuku.

I was a little disorganised and found myself anxiously seeking a decent wine shop way too near the time of the supper club. Stamford Hill, where I live, is a fairly dry spot, more akin to synagogues (it’s one of the three largest Hassidic Jewish areas in the world) than wine shops. Hackney, where the supper club resides, is on the up, but is sadly lacking good independent wine shops that are open after 6pm. Grim! I couldn’t go and eat nice food with a poor bottle of wine.

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Twitter came to my rescue, and I was told of Bottle Apostle, a gorgeous and well stocked independent wine shop near Victoria Park. Committed and tenacious, I walked over a mile in my favourite red patent heels, and was delighted to discover it. Hackney-ites – take note, you should explore here.

With a lovely Alsatian Riesling from Bruno Sorg in hand and a decent bold Alentejo red from Portugal that I neglected to save the name of (touriga nacional & syrah blend – the wine improved the more it sat in the glass, I think we should have decanted it), we made our way to Ben’s abode. Ben greeted us with a chilled glass of prosecco and everyone settled in and started to chat.

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

It’s a small supper club, with only 10 seats. Everyone sits at one large table, and two chefs prepare and serve the food only a few feet away. Ben was assisted by Isaac of Elliot’s of Borough the night we attended.

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

After 45 minutes or so of very friendly mingling with prosecco and nibbles of raw carrots, courgettes, olives and zingy herb mayonnaise (it was much better than the description implies), we started.

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

The first dish was Mackerel, Umeboshi, Jostaberry and Horseradish. The mackerel had been salted and was perfectly fresh. The umeboshi and jostaberry brought the dish to life and distracted from that slight fishiness that mackerel always has, the horseradish was delicate and gentle and didn’t fight with the dish. The jostaberries were unusual and awoke a lovely taste memory, I have had these in my childhood and hadn’t had them for many years since. Nastutrium leaves added a lovely peppery note, and nasturtium flower butter graced the table.

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd
Grilled Onions, Pork Crisps, Garlic Capers was a delight. Pork Fat crumble! Why have I only had this for the first time now? I am shamelessly going to recreate it at home, and it will frequent my table more often than is right I am sure. The onions were sweet and delicate with a lovely char, pretty cucumber flowers decorated (you already know how much I love edible flowers).

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Slow Cooked Egg, Chicken Hearts and Wing, Bread Salad and Pickled Walnuts (picked and pickled in Bethnal Green) was superb. Eggs are so underrated, and I am sad that I didn’t take a photo of the egg once I pierced the yolk. Trust me when I say that it was gorgeous, you would almost want to swim in it. Chicken hearts were like meaty croutons. The flavours mingled and played with each other, it was divine.

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Lamb, Cauliflower, Oat Groats was a slow cooked and very tender lamb belly (also called lamb breast), with a gorgeous bright yellow flower (I think a very young courgette flower – I forgot to ask). I struggle with oat groats sometimes, but that’s a personal preference, otherwise the dish was very nice if not my favourite.

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Berries, Chamomile Meringue, Coffee, Fruit, Brioche was a spritely dessert. The calming chamomile in the crispy meingue, cosied up to the juicy strawberries, rose petals were pungent and fragrant and perfect with the rest. The coffee jelly gave some depth and smokey undertones. Now that is my kind of dessert.

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Ben Greeno's Supper Club - Tudor Rd

Coffee from Square Mile was served in gorgeous jacketed glass flasks with chocolate truffles that had a toffee-esque consistency and flavour.

The chefs sat down and chatted with everyone once their service was complete. It was a lovely, intimate evening, with great food and charming hosting. All for a bargain price of £35.

http://bengreeno.wordpress.com/

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Posh Lunch Club at Viajante: That 6 Course Lunch

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

A 6 course lunch. Some would say it’s greedy, gluttonous, wasteful even. I say it’s a perfect indulgence. You pay your £90 to see Madonna in concert at the O2, or to see Arsenal play in Highbury, whatever luxury you see fit. I’ll spend the same 3 hours enjoying the culinary highs and lows, the curiosities, the matched drinks, savouring every bite, anxiously awaiting the next, and tenderly arranging the first bite on my fork, before discovering what Nuno Mendes and his team has decided to put on my plate.

Of course, if you’re reading this, I expect you’re of a similar mindset to me, but I find myself justifying these jaunts frequently, to wide eyed friends, family and acquaintances. Why not, I say? I work hard for it, and I love it. But… you’re putting on weight (that’s my mother talking). I know, I know, I’ll deal with that later. After my 6 course lunch. Really, I will. I must!

Like the first time, we chose the number of courses, but had no clue what would arrive. We chose the drink matches, as they had lent so much to the menu last time.

We started at the bar, a little quiet and dark for me, with a glass of one of my favourite proseccos, Bisol Jeio. We moved to the bright restaurant, and were told that we would start with the amuses and they would take approximately 20 minutes. Very precise, and I liked it.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

They arrived swiftly and we progressed through them. The service was charming and swift, they have definitely ironed out any pre-existing service issues. The first amuse was house sashimi. At first bite I thought, unusual! The sashimi was marinated quite heavily. The edamame on top were deliciously sweet and crisp. We realised quite quickly that this wasn’t fish at all. But what was it? We think melon. How interesting! It was lovely and interesting, what would come next?

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Now before I go further, I should warn you I took no notes so this is all from memory. That was silly, but I really just wanted to enjoy it. Charred broad beans were fresh and small broad beans served in the pod. THey were resting on a bright and piquant creamy indulgence, with pea shoots peeking out the top, and served on top of some breadcrumbs. Tasty, charming and pretty as a picture. I loved it.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Amuse Bouche: Thai Explosion II

My coconutty friend from the last time, Thai Explosion II arrived next. I am still not enamoured with it, but the others enjoyed it.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Some more of that lovely, umami packed butter with chicken skin and jamon with hot crispy bread fresh from the oven arrived before we embarked on our courses.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

The first course of Tomatoes with Water and Strawberries was fresh and sparked with summer. It tasted like a strawberry gazpacho. It was lovely.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Roast Beetroot, Ash Goats Curd and Pumpkin Seeds was a surprisingly traditional combination of ingredients, but was pretty and tasted great. Little golden and red beetroots dotted the plate, cosying up to rugged ash goats curd as they did.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Braised Salmon Skin and Fried Aubergine was the least convincing dish for me. Confit salmon nestled under a ceiling of floppy fish skin, and was surrounded by one of my favourite things, fish roe. I love that fishy bubble wrap, every bite a mini salty sea infused explosion of savoury. I could see why the dish would work and the flavours were good, but I didn’t like the texture of the fish skin and it killed the dish for me.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Lemon Sole, Confit Egg, Asparagus and Tapioca was a delight. Egg yolks are possibly one of my favourite things in this world, and confited, well swoon. The tapioca was infused with basil and coconut and was served on top of the egg yolk so that it looked like a bubbly excited egg yolk. The fish was perfect and the asparagus fresh and crisp and unchallenging, it played a rare supporting role. Loved it.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Pork Loin with Langoustine and Rye was perfect. It really was. Every bite was heavenly. The rich iberico pork loin, caressed by the rye folm. The roast langoustine was meaty and rich, the roasted flavour working perfectly with the rye. The onions brightened it. The rioja that was served with it (La Rioja Alta “Vina Arana” Reserva 2001) was one of the most delicious wines that I have had this year. It was the perfect finishing savoury dish, and I would go back for that dish and wine alone.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Lemon and thai basil cleared our palates as before.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Crumbed Polenta, Lemon Paste, Strawberries and Citrus Powder was a lively and bright summer dessert.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Petit fours were once again that wonderful cep truffle and a bouncy and delicious passion fruit marshmallow.

The bill this time was £90 each. Worth it? I think so. The wines were terrific, sadly I was too rushed to write about them today, and the food in the main was very very good. It’s always a surprise, and it’s always delicious. Beautiful, gentle, exciting food. The service is relaxed and professional, and always with a smile. I recommend you go there for lunch and try it. As quickly as you can.

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Posh Lunch Club: Living it Large at Viajante

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Life is for living eh? And I do know how to indulge. Viajante,  new player in the playground that is London’s restaurant scene, offers something different in the gentle wilds of Hackney. Nestled in the new hotel at Bethnal Green Town Hall, it is  a mere 10 minutes on the train from my flat, and I have found myself there three times. That’s not the only reason I have gone of course, being a Londoner, I am spoiled for places to spend my hard earned dosh and can relieve myself of my salary in eating establishments in record times  should I choose to (I try not to very often, there is rent and all that!). I do like what Nuno Mendes is doing at Viajante though, and they do a tremendous posh lunch.

I had been awaiting the launch for some time. I must be one of the few bloggers in London at the time to miss his previous restaurant Bacchus, and I’d heard great things about what he would do in Hackney. Often hailed as one of the most interesting and innovating chefs in London, he started The Loft Project in between, and I never made it there either (althoguh I hope to soon). Sigh.

But then Viajante opened its doors, and against my normal rules, I visited. I rarely go to restaurants just after they open, preferring the hype to simmer down and the restaurant to settle in – I make exceptions sometimes but rarely blog them. I found myself there very early on, on the opening weekend. Aidan Brooks, up and coming chef and blogger extraordinaire (although sadly he has stopped), would be chef de partie there. I’ve met up with Aidan a number of times, in London and in Barcelona, so didn’t hesistate in checking it out.

The food was very good that evening, but the service remiss in parts. It had extended the soft launch so we let that slide, and I decided not to judge and to return later. I did so in mid-May for the 3 course lunch for £25. A bit of a bargain, especially compared to the loftier prices of the evening menu.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

The Open Kitchen at Viajante - Nuno Mendes to the left

I love the room, it’s big and bright and so calm. The kitchen is open, and the chefs move swiftly but gently, artfully arranging delicate food on curious plates with Lithuanian dental tweezers, chosen for their size (remind me never, ever, to go to a dentist in Lithuania, the tweezers are enormous and would fill me with fear).

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Amuse Bouche: Crostini de Romesco and Gordal Olives, Almonds, Jerez

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Amuse Bouche: Smokey Aubergine with Soy Milk

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Amuse Bouche: Thai Explosion II

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Hot Bread from the Oven with Whipped Butter with Chicken Skin

On this occasion we started with 3 amuse bouches, yes 3, a new record for Posh Lunch Club. Crostini de Romesco and Gordal Olives, Almonds, Jerez was a pretty, bright & piquant start. I loved a much underrated Smokey Aubergine with Soy Milk. I just love meatiness of aubergines and am forever blistering them on my stove as I can’t resist the smokey flavours they impart. Velvet smooth and rich with the gorgeous flatbread with aubergine caviar on top, I was disappointed to see this gone from the menu on my return last weekend. Thai Explosion II didn’t win me over, too coconuty and I found it a little unbalanced compared to the previous two.

Before the first course, hot bread from the oven with whipped butter and chicken skin arrived. Crisp rich bread with aerated & decadent creamy butter with purple flakes of jamon on top. I know! I want to know how they did that too.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Textures of Beetroot & Crab, Green Apples & Whipped Goat Curd

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Lemon Sole, Brioche, Yeast, Cauliflower (matched with a delicious champagen which inspired the dish)

We followed on that time with Textures of Beetroot & Crab, Green Apples & Whipped Goat Curd. Lovely, light, gentle and delicious and served with a beer that was aged for 2 years in barrel and contrasted wonderfully. A perfect pre-amble to the yeasty main course of  Lemon Sole, Brioche, Yeast, Cauliflower. A dish designed to match the champagne that it was served with. Bold and almost aggressive, the mustard gnocchi felt like shouty bouncers protecting the delicate fish. I loved it.

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Pre-Dessert: Lemon & Thai Basil

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Dark Chocolate & Water

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Creme Catalane

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Petits Fours. The truffles are *sensational* Cep Truffles.

An aniseed-y pre-dessert of lemon and thai basil sorbet cleared the palate perfectly. Dark Chocolate and Water for dessert was very nice and interesting although not amazing. I loved the cool granita on top which lightened the mood of the rich dark chocolate. The Gascony dessert wine served with it was rich and more-ish. I adored the cep chocolate truffle that was served with the coffee as petits fours. One of those right but wrong things, rich, so savoury, we’re talking like bovril here but in such a great way. Yum!

Matched drinks with three courses and all the extras like coffee came to £45 here. What next? Head back for 6.

6 courses! Yes. I waited a while as I had heard that the menu would change (approximately a dish changes every week). But, I’ve just realised that to cover 6 extra dishes now would be silliness, so I’ll do that tomorrow and leave you go in peace, to wonder what a 6 course lunch might hold. What else could you possibly think about?!

Meet you back here tomorrow, same time, same place to find out?

Vıajante, Patriot Square, London E2 9NF

http://www.viajante.co.uk/

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A Sneak Peek: Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Well, hello there strangers! Apologies for the radio silence but I have had no internet. No internet?! Liberating and detrimental at the same time, I am back now and you can expect a few posts from me over the coming days to make up for it.

Today, I am afraid I am useless. Sleep deprived with few words of my own, I am fit to only crawl into a corner with my book (a good one it is too – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). I have a had a wee tummy upset, grim at worst, tiring at best. However, in advance of my next post – Posh Lunch Club at Viajante (Oooooo-er!) – I would like to share some photos of a 3 course set lunch that I had at Viajante some months ago (mid May), but never got around to writing about. To whet your appetite in the short-term, while I gather mine.

I’ll be back soon, brim full of energy and bubbling with words to tell you all about the 6 course lunch I immersed myself in last weekend. Until then, enjoy these photos!

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

The Open Kitchen at Viajante - Nuno Mendes to the left

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

The menu - received only after the meal so that every dish is a surprise (I love that touch!)

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Amuse Bouche: Crostini de Romesco and Gordal Olives, Almonds, Jerez

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Amuse Bouche: Smokey Aubergine with Soy Milk

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Amuse Bouche: Thai Explosion II

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Hot Bread from the Oven with Whipped Butter with Chicken Skin

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Textures of Beetroot & Crab, Green Apples & Whipped Goat Curd

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Lemon Sole, Brioche, Yeast, Cauliflower (matched with a delicious champagen which inspired the dish)

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Pre-Dessert: Lemon & Thai Basil

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Dark Chocolate & Water

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Creme Catalane

Posh Lunch Club at Viajante

Petits Fours. The truffles are *sensational* Cep Truffles.

With matched drinks (3 – a beer, champagne & dessert wine) and coffee and petits fours, this came to £45. A bit of a fine dining bargain, no?

Vıajante, Patriot Square, London E2 9NF

http://www.viajante.co.uk/

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Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Food Critic by Ruth Reichl

It’s summer. A time of escape and holiday. When stuck at home, what better way to escape than with a great book?

There is a particular type of book that I love: the food memoir. Stories and anecdotes punctuated with recipes. Recipes of significance, from childhood and striking occasions, recipes that evoke memories and feelings, and warmth. Sometimes detailing such intimacy you feel you are in it, and when you finish the book it is with sadness, as all of the people you got to know, disappear.

I always seek them out, and recommend them to friends. I started to wonder why I wasn’t recommending them to you, so here you are. The first review in what will be many recommendations of books that you can escape in.

Gifted to me by a friend some years ago, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Food Critic is one of these lovely books. Authored by Ruth Reichl, ex editor of Gourmet and prior to that, critic for the NY Times, it’s a captivating read. I found it when moving flat, remembered how much I had enjoyed it and read it once more this past weekend.

Bracingly honest and moving, it details her time as the NY Times food critic. Her disguises, the characters she adopted, her relationships with colleagues, friends and family, the joy her son gets from his Mum’s costumes, her husbands honesty as he watches her become the critic, deceiving the doorman and the drama of buying the wigs. The lengths that she pushes herself to deliver anonymous trustworthy reviews is startling and very engaging. This is particularly interesting in these times, with so much debate around the celebrity status of critics, and the non anonymous reviewing of (some) critics and bloggers alike (my position is stated on my about page before you ask!).

I liked the book so much, I am going to offer one as a competition prize. I will buy a copy and send it to one of the people that comments on this post. I promise you will love it! So, leave a comment, and I will chose one at random on Friday, it’s as simple as that. Fair as always, every entrant has an equal chance of winning.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Food Critic

I am going to cook one of the recipes from the book next. Come back to see how it goes! :)

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Recipe: Spaghetti with Slow Cooked Tomatoes & Prawns

It was the day after my cousins wedding and I was tired. I had had an extraordinarily busy week and lots of rich food, and I found myself craving something fresh, comforting and healthy. My sister and I surveyed our options and thought – take away – as neither of us had the energy to cook. Thoughts of rich creamy Indian food quickly persuaded me that I should though. My tum couldn’t take anymore.

I love staying at my sisters house. It’s lovely to be home with family. They’re amazingly hospitable, even as I laze and graze, and it’s lovely to see my tiny 14 month old niece. There’s also her lovely garden with herbs and salad growing a plenty.

We agreed I’d cook and I surveyed the larder. Prawns, small juicy tomatoes, parsley & thyme from the garden, white wine and spaghetti. Fresh bright flavours, tastes of the sea and comfort. The deal was done.

I started with 8 small tomatoes, bigger than cherries but about half the size of normal tomatoes, they were full flavoured and juicy, a rarity these days. It seems a lot of effort but I skinned and desseded them, I hate spending time over food only to find myself picking tomato skins out of my teeth. Chopped into eighths, I put them to the side to await their fate.

I finely chopped a fat clove of garlic, sauteed for 30 seconds or so, taking care that it didn’t brown and turn bitter. I added the tomatoes and some thyme leaves from the garden, about a teaspoons worth and a small finely chopped red chilli to draw out the tomato flavour and add a little heat. Checking the flavours, it was clear that some balsamic vinegar would balance the sauce and draw out the tomatoes sweetness without it becoming too sweet.

I cooked them slowly over a very low heat for an hour, resulting in a jammy rich tomato sauce. A little too thick, I added a glass of Pinot Grigio from the fridge, unusually medium dry, I worried that it wouldn’t work, but it loosened the sauce and soothed the tomatoes intensity.

The tomato base was ready so I focussed my attention on the prawns and the pasta. I boiled the salted water and put the pasta on to cook. When there was just a few minutes left, I added the prawns, they take very little time, and overcooking them results in a rubbery slug which you don’t want luxuriating in your lovely laboured sauce.

A generous sprinkling of parsley lifted the sauce and added a freshness. The pasta was al dente and ready to be dressed. The sauce had thickened again and benefitted from a splash of the pasta water. A quick and thorough stir of the pasta and sauce and we were ready to eat.

It was everything that I wanted and needed. Comforting, fresh and healthy. I was happy as a clam as I nestled in front of the television and savoured every bite.

What do you turn to in the kitchen at times like this?

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A Demonstration & Tasting of the Art of Confectionery: Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

I embrace most foods and have few food hates. There are some that require a pep talk – tripe and drisheen would be an example, but there are some that have made me bawk. Hello dried fruit – particularly raisins.

I hate them. I really do. I attribute this to a kilo bag of raisins I ate as a child, and promptly vomited back up. Silly business. In recent years I have discovered some that I enjoy though, those big Spanish ones that are a dull green, juicy and tender and wonderful in salads, dried mangos and pineapple grace my table too. And then I realised that I was being really silly, so I have reintroduced them to my diet. I still hate those small brown raisins though. Why would you do that to a grape?!

Romanengo, the Genovese confectioner could have converted me immediately. They do wonderful things with dried fruits and since 1780 have been conserving fruits and flowers with skills transferred through the generations. Dried fruits is a poor term for their wonderful confections.
Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries
The family enterprise remains virtually unchanged since the 19th century, they have never embraced industrial processes, and have a small team of dedicated staff who treasure and maintain the family recipes.

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries
Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries
I caught them at Petersham Nurseries, home of Skye Gyngell’s Restaurant, in a very sunny Richmond the morning I visited. Starting with a delicious orange drink, we progressed through a terrific tasting of Caramellati (famously known as Romanengo’s sweets), chocolate truffles, iced candied fruits which were made as part of the demonstration and other gorgeous treats including rose petal preserve and syrups.

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

Those candied fruits were a revelation and their poor relations seen on these shores are incomparable. Juicy, succulent and tender, they pack so much flavour into a tiny colourful bite. They spoke of Christmas, childhood and gemstones. We also tried some very good chocolate, including their Santé, which is a healthy chocolate (although I need confirmation of some details for that. Wait! No I don’t).

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries
Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

Sugar primed (boing-boing!), we finished with a lunch from Petersham Nurseries which had used some of the products. Kicking off with a rose petal bellini made with the Romanengo rose petal syrup, a perfect aperitif on that gloriously sunny day, we made our way through a light two course lunch.

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

A main course of quail with rose and pistachio on griddled sourdough with a salad of melon, tomato and parsley salad was a lovely summer lunch dish, evocative of middle eastern flavours and sunshine. Dessert was Gelato con Crema di Marroni e Meringa – a lovely ice cream dish which was small but perfect given our earlier sugar consumption. I really couldn’t have eaten anything much bigger.

Romanengo at Petersham Nurseries

It was a lovely morning. The surroundings are gorgeous and eclectic and the food was very good. Very well priced too at £55 for over 3 hours and including lunch and two drinks. I would recommend keeping an eye on their website as they do many varied and interesting things. Recent events included an Introduction to Beekeeping, Brunch with Bill Granger and a Cooking with Tea workshop with Sky Gyngell.

http://www.petershamnurseries.com/

http://www.romanengo.com/eng/