Posted in Random | 48 Comments
  • A Busiata: Pasta Fresca in San Vito Lo Capo

    Posted at 7:58 pm , on September 25, 2010


    I just love it when by accident you happen across somewhere special. Wandering home from Cous Cous Fest, tired and no longer able to deal with the crowds, I saw a little doorway with people lingering outside. I spied the sign “a busiata” outside, and then, lo, above the door, “Fresh Pasta”.



    I peered through the rope doorway and saw a gorgeous little space with a few shelves lined with choice products, a fridge full of glorious handmade pastas, and a counter with some more. Fresh cous cous with herbs and dried cous cous were available, this is the town of cous cous after all. Local almonds, biscotti and other Sicilian biscuits (there are a lot!) graced the counter top and behind it, the matriarch was making busiati. What luck!


    I waited my turn and attempted to communicate (I really need to learn Italian properly!). I wanted everything, but mindful of RyanAir’s ridiculous restrictions I bought 2kg of fresh busiati – 1kg white & 1kg green for €10. A steal. It’s absolutely gorgeous, it may sound weird to say that about a pasta shape, however, I am well versed having spent the last few days eating it and looking for the perfect one to take home. I bought some thinking I had found it only an hour previously, but now I have this. RyanAir can eat my shorts. I may regret that in the morning.


    Busiata is an extremely old pasta from the fusilli family found commonly in West Sicily, especially ion the Trapani area. Records indicate a birth date of about 1000 BC and it is considered the oldest handmade pasta. They were making it before Marco Polo returned from China. I have really enjoyed the mealy flavour and texture, it is really firm and toothsome and is great with the local Pesto Trapinese (I will post a recipe for this soon). I have also had it with Pesto a la Sarde (Sardine Pesto) and, just today with mixed seafood, pancetta and almond cream. I’ve also seen it on menus a la nonna, which is with aubergine and tomatoes with grated ricotta on top.


    I am going to have lots of fun with this when I go home. 2kg is a hell of a lot of lunches and dinners. I can’t wait though. Come back and see if I am saying the same by Thursday.



    Posted in Italy, Pasta, Travel | 12 Comments
  • From Top to Bottom: Hello Sicily!

    Posted at 10:07 pm , on September 24, 2010
    Cous Cous Festival, Sicily


    I have been jesting that I have had all four seasons in one month and that is how I contracted a very early Winter cold this year. But, really, it is true. Sparkling summer in Lyon at 35° to London’s Autumn (let’s call it Spring for the story), bouncing over to Ireland for our all year round same season, save two weeks of Summer. Then to an early Winter in Lapland where we were in single digit evenings. Now, HELLO summer in Sicily.

    Hot hot hot, bright skies, turquoise seas, mosquitos a-go-go. And we’ve hit Autumn today with lots, and lots, of rain. Thundering rain. Wake you from your sleep rain. Electrical blackout rain.Flood your hotel room rain. Yes, it’s very wet here this evening.

    Fabulous though, I have loved every minute. I am never happier as when I am on the move exploring, trying new things, meeting new people, exploring new food cultures, trying new tastes. Generally successful although Tuna Salami is not my friend. Is it anyones? It actually beats Sweden’s fermented herring with its unexpected fishy power and grainy texture.

    And so back to Sicily. I am in a small town called San Vito Lo Capo, home to the 13th Annual International Cous Cous Fest, where I am a judge this year. There are ten of us on the panel, from a 2* Michelin chef, to a food journalist from La Stampa, a travel journalist from Condé Nast Traveller and three bloggers, two Italians and me. What illustrious company! More on that later.

    For now, let me tell you about Sicily. Rough and ready at times and achingly real, Sicily has preserved many of its customs. Driving from the airport locals harvest salt in the old manner, melons grow, vineyards and olive groves abound. In the mornings men sell vegetables from their vans to old ladies sitting outside their houses. 

    Sicily grabs you by the throat and challenges you to disagree. The streets are full of gorgeous big flowers simple yet proud and brightly coloured. Cacti, bigger than I’ve ever seen, lime trees, berries. At streets the night smell of Jasmine, beautifully fragrant, like Jasmine tea but lighter, sweeter and more seductive. The sea whispers and glistens, people try to entice you to their restaurants, and the streets come to life quite late.

    Here’s a selection of some photos, which will hopefully give you a taste of my experience. I am off to the Cous Cous Fest final now. All votes have been submitted. I am curious to see who wins.


    Nature Reserve outside San Vito Lo Capo


    Jasmine flowers gracing a nighttime balcony


    Morning fruit & veg deliveries


    Laid back

    niamh 345

    Fun times



    niamh 201

    Cactus proudly displaying it's edible fruit


    Belly dancer (with candles on her head!)

    Posted in Italy, Travel | 2 Comments
  • Skibbereen Food Festival

    Posted at 11:15 pm , on September 23, 2010

    Skibereen Food Festival

    I was very much looking forward to my friend’s wedding in Cork. Then she revealed that on the weekend of the wedding, just a  few miles away, a food festival would be taking place. A FOOD FESTIVAL! Wonderful.

    I was not in the best of shape, having spent most of Friday night lost in the woods on the way back to our house (yes, really, we were renting a cottage in a 10.5 acre private wood on a private island), but I bounded in regardless. West Cork has a terrific food reputation, and what I had seen already at the wedding really whet my appetite.

    Skibereen Food Festival

    I was surprised to see a big screen with the pope saying mass overseeing proceedings. It whisked me back to Pope Jaun Paul’s visit in 1979 (I think), when the country ground to a halt. I was but a nipper but I remember it so well, mainly because my Dad was glimpsed briefly on TV as he attended. Then I realised that they were just waiting for the All Ireland Gaelic Football Final to start on TV as Cork were playing. Ah, I just love Ireland sometimes. It can be a beautifully irreverent place.

    The festival itself was charming, featuring predominantly independent small artisan producers doing interesting things. That for me, is the beauty of Ireland, we really haven’t succumbed to the chains that much, individuality is prized, although sadly, I can see the out-of-a-box high street slowly creeping in.

    Food highlights at the festival were:

    Rebel Chilli make a variety of chilli sauces, mainly Mexican based and authentic, as one half of Rebel Chilli is Mexican. Others have Thai influences to appeal to the Irish palate (we do love Thai it seems!).

    Skibereen Food Festival

    Skibereen Food Festival

    I bought these great little lemon cucumbers from one stall. With a thicker skin than normal, and a slightly acidulated skin, they were a find. Sourced originally from new Mexico, these are popular in childerns lunch boxes, where they eat them like an egg (or kiwi, I guess). I like them sliced on their own in a salad. I would like to try pickling them too.

    Skibereen Food Festival

    Slightly terrified free range chickens kept these kids entertained while they waited for their match. I would imagine most of these kids are very familiar with them, being country types like myself, but it’s a good thing, nonetheless.

    Skibereen Food Festival

    Many of you will be familiar with Gubbeen, and mainly their cheeses which are widley available in good cheese shops in the UK. They also have terrific pork products. I bought a hock, some bacon, and some of this terrific enormous black pudding (incidentally not made by them but by a local artisan supplier).

    Skibereen Food Festival

    Skibereen Food Festival

    This chap makes fabulous raspberry vinegar and dressing, using local raspberries. Sadly, it’s only available in West Cork at the moment, but I hope that this will change soon.

    Skibereen Food Festival

    Brown Envelope Seeds sell a great range of heirloom and local seeds. These are available online too. I bought a few packets of seeds with interesting flowers for adding to my salads etc. next year. I really must continue my edible flowers series.

    Skibereen Food Festival

    Skibereen Food Festival

    Kalbo’s Café sold a great range of traditional and popular cakes, like coffee cake, a favourite in Ireland. They also sold a lifesaving gubbeen bacon and egg bap. How could I refuse post-wedding?! They have a café in Skibbereen too which I hear is worth checking out.


    Skibereen Food FestivalSkibereen Food Festival

    Skibereen Food Festival

    One clever guy had made a woodfired oven on wheels, and was making homemade pita with hummus and pizza.

    Skibereen Food Festival

    Looks good, doesn’t it? Bear in mind, this is a small regional town. Entry is only €5 and you’re entered into a raffle at that. Something for them to be very proud of, I think.

    Posted in Ireland, Travel | 5 Comments
  • Recipe: A little bit of Pitepalt

    Posted at 10:00 am , on September 18, 2010


    We’re going to eat Pitepalt. Pitepalt? Yes, pitepalt. I hadn’t done my research and had no idea what they were talking about. I chose to keep my mouth shut and wait and see.

    What a treat then to discover that we were going to be eating supreme comfort food, lakeside in Lapland. Potato dumplings, fried over an open fire with pork belly (YES! pork belly), and served with butter and the sugared lingonberries that we had just foraged. Rich, robust and nutty, the potato dumplings, heavier than gnocchi but delicious nonetheless, were coated with pork fat, with nuggets of pork belly for company, smothered in butter with the tartness of the lingonberries raising the tone.


    Lingonberries and sugar

    BUT, I can’t have any. Well, yes you can. Quick trip to IKEA for the lingonberries or lingonberry jam, and Bob’s your uncle. I can’t help you with the lake though.

    This recipe is a variation of one from Paltakademin (the Academy of Palt, an association whose mission it is to spread the word of the pitepalt and help people all over the world to find out about it and enjoy it.

    Greta’s Pitepalt (serves 10)

    Peel and  grate 2 litres of waxy potatoes, preferably almond potatoes but as you’re not in Lapland, Anya or similar will do. Leave in a colander for at least 15 minutes to get rid of some of the moisture.

    Mix the potatoes with 3 tablespoons of salt and 1 litre flour.

    Cut 1 kg of cured belly of pork into dice.

    In a big pan bring to the boil 5 litres of water with 4 tablespoons of salt and a piece of pork rind (optional).

    Roll the paltballs (about the size of a walnut) with wet hands. If you want to fill them put some flour on the tips of two fingers, make a whole in the middle of the palt and put in about 1 tablespoon porkdice in each, then roll them again till round.

    When they’re ready lower the palts into the boling water and boil on low heat for 45 minutes. Take them up with a slotted spoon. Serve with butter, the pork and lingonberries

    If you haven’t filled them and want to fry them you cut up the balls, have a hot pan with loads of butter and fry until they’re golden. Serve with the pork, extra butter and lingonberries. This is also a good way to use up leftovers from filled palt.

    Recipe from the Culinary Academy of Sweden.

    The official Palt academy:

    Posted in Pork, Recipe, Sweden, Travel | 7 Comments
  • Hel Yes! Scandinavian to the Finnish (Har har!)

    Posted at 4:03 pm , on September 16, 2010

    HEL YES!

    (Apologies. I couldn’t resist the title :)

    My name is Niamh and it’s been 2 days since I’ve had lingonberries. TWO WHOLE DAYS. So there was nothing for it, I had to make my way to Hel Yes! in Shoreditch, a Finnish Pop Up restaurant that is in London throughout London Design Week (for 14 days from September 15th). I was actually there for a press preview, but the lingonberry thing, well that’s important.

    Scandinavia is everywhere, isn’t it? It certainly is in my life at the moment. Ensconced in Londonewcastle Depot and surrounded by council flats, the setting is certainly urban. Once inside though, it’s all wood and candles, gentle and inviting. Of course there’s also the fibreoptic bat. And this guy, who is apparently Finland’s answer to Jodie Harsh.

    HEL YES!

    Serving a set menu of 2 courses for £22 and 3 courses for £25, the menu is traditionally Finnish,serving key Finnish ingredients such as fish roe, game and preserved plants from Finland with the rest of the daily ingredients sourced by the Hel Yes! team of hunters and gatherers from around London. We started with drinks, a kind of Lingonberry slush puppy, which along with Cloudberry 9’s, is responsible for me being a little frazzled today. Great drinks though.

    HEL YES!

    HEL YES!

    We had a bit of everything. A spritely and perfectly fresh sea bass tartar was a delight. The bread was a bit dense for my taste but I could see how it would work in the cold of Finland. Ox tongue with wild mushrooms was interesting and very rustic, the ox tongue proving challenging for some but I quite liked it. The mushrooms were rich and a lovely complement ton the grainy tongue. Beetroot, sour cream and dill was delicious. The beetroot were packed with flavour and served whole.

    HEL YES!

    HEL YES!

    HEL YES!

    Main courses were popular. Lamb neck with dill was tender and rich. Slow cooked it fell apart at the touch of a fork. Anchovy and potato bake with granny’s cucumbers was rich, unctuous and crispy, smacking with umami and a lovely side to the lamb (even though that wasn’t the intention). The cucumbers were very like Irish pickled cucumber, I enjoyed them immensely. Wild mushroom hash, egg and foraged herbs was my favourite. The hash had turnip of some kind, the eggs were perfectly poached (a rarity in this city sadly) and the mushrooms were rich. I wonder if they foraged any of them here?

    HEL YES!

    HEL YES!

    HEL YES!

    Desserts were a deliciously fruity whipped raspberry manna with vanilla milk, a very alcoholic sorbet with cinnamon vodka and a burned liquorice cream which I didn’t get to try.

    HEL YES!

    Overall impressions? A fun evening. Buzzing with good food, nice wines, unusual and delicious cocktails and good prices. Sadly, it’s booked out in the evenings already, but you can pop in during the day for drinks and coffee. Get yourself on the waiting list for one of the evenings too. Just watch that pesky Old St station. Every single time, I get confused in there. How many exits does a tube station need?!

    Outside London? They’ve posted some recipes here, so you can recreate it at home.

    Hel Yes! runs until 3rd October. Further details here:

    Posted in Random | 11 Comments
  • And so now we have Autumn

    Posted at 4:50 pm , on September 15, 2010
    Shrooms in Stockholm

    Mushrooms at a market in Stockholm

    That was a quick seasonal change, wasn’t it? Over 24 hours?

    I should have been really miserable yesterday. Utterly miserable. I had a horrible cold (I still have it). I sneezed so many times in a row on the plane back from Stockholm that a neighbouring German businessman looked at me with horror. I can only imagine that I must have sounded like an ebola monkey and looked worse. Grim it was, and I was not happy about it.

    Chanterelles in Stockholm

    Mushrooms at a market in Stockholm

    Returning to work yesterday, I was so congested as to be inaudible. Scratch that, more indecipherable. The cold and my vowels had co-conspired, consonants were absent, and someone actually asked me if I was speaking Irish. No, I am not, but I think I might have started talking to myself in frustration.

    Shrooms in Stockholm

    Mushrooms at a market in Stockholm

    Roll on yesterday evening, as I dragged my corpse north towards home. I had plans to go to a gig (Iron & Wine if you are interested), but it seemed silly and unfair to anyone near me. So, like a melting sugar mouse, I pushed further North, waiting for the bus in the rain with at least 80 other people. Thinking, I quite like this change of seasons.

    I know! It surprised me too. However, I do love the impending evenings that are crisp outdoors and toasty inside. I love the  winter coats and snug boots. Thick tights, mulled wine, warm jumpers and toasty dresses. I was excited at the prospect of all of this, and even more so by the autumnal food that I would cook. 

    Last night, I wanted something earthy and delicious that smacked of the seasonal change and raised two fingers to the rain. That I would eat while listening to the thundering pitter patter on the flat roof. A dish that would befriend a nice glass of red wine and ease me to my bed and to sleep. That would take no more than 15 minutes to cook.


    Mushrooms at a market in Stockholm

    I had lots of wild mushrooms that I had bought in Stockholm, papardelle, garlic, herbs and cream. I had bread from the local Jewish bakers. A big white crusty loaf, warm from the oven. I wanted something simple and bold that would take no time at all with aroma, crunch and comforting carbohydrate. Slippery pasta, and crispy toast. So, what to do?

    It was a bit of a carb feast in the end. I started with a super quick toast with wild mushrooms and herbs and followed with a wild mushroom papardelle. No recipes required, a brief description is all you need. The first will take 5 minutes and is comforting to the point of distraction. the second no more than 15. Enjoy!

    (Amounts will serve 2)


    All of those mushrooms in my frying pan :)

    Shrooms on Toast

    Wild Mushrooms on Toast

    Wild Mushrooms on Toast: some bacon or lardons (about 2 slices of streaky or pancetta if you have it), fried until not quite crispy, a chopped clove of garlic added for 30 seconds, a couple of handfuls of mixed wild mushrooms fried for a few minutes, a lick of butter and/or cream with some chopped fresh parsley and/or thyme to finish. on toast. Et voila.

    Shrooms! Lots of them with Papardelle

    Papardelle with Wild Mushrooms

    Papardelle with Wild Mushrooms:  some bacon or lardons as above, followed by garlic. A couple of handfuls of mushrooms. A splash of white wine. Reduce over a moderate heat until the alcohol is cooked off, a couple of minutes should do. A little more cream than before, enough to coat the papardelle (which will have cooked by now). some chopped fresh parsley and/or thyme to finish. Add the papardelle and a little of the cooking water. Eat immediately.

    Posted in Pasta | 5 Comments
  • Greetings from Sweden: Postcard No 3

    Posted at 11:48 am , on September 14, 2010

    And, here we are! At the end of the Lapland trip. It was so wonderful. Beautiful countryside, lovely people and so interesting and mainly delicious. I am still not a lover of herring though (ducks for cover).

    Another series of photos for you. More detail soon too.

    Lovely lake in Lapland

    Me, in Swedish Lapland. See, I told you I was there.

    Tree Hotel

    The Tree Hotel. I know.

    Sweden Day 4

    How beautiful is that bright sunshine?



    Wild Cranberries


    Fishing Rainbow Trout

    Fishing (and actually catching) Rainbow Trout


    Lingonberries for lunch, and extra for jam

    Sweden Day 4

    Beautiful lake. We stayed on the shore of this.

    Sweden Day 4

    Bleak fish, pre popping for roe

    Posted in Sweden, Travel | 16 Comments
  • Greetings from Sweden: Postcard No 2

    Posted at 8:24 am , on September 11, 2010

    Sweden Day 3, Lapland

    And so we’re still in Lapland. We’ve migrated South from Kiruna, just beyond the Arctic Circle. We’re now by the river, looking at Finland. If I waved, they could see me.

    Today involved an exploration of indigenous Sami food. Greta, a native Sami, brought reindeer heart, candied angelica, and other things to try. We also did some fishing, although failed to catch any fish. I blame the boys ;)

    We finished the evening with a sauna dinner. I must confess that I didn’t participate in the sauna and hot tub  (I forgot my swimsuit!), but I did enjoy the dinner. And I loved sitting on the terrace, looking at Finland, eating lots of herring, reindeer and local specialities, whilst gazing at the starry sky, and… Finland!

    Photographic highlights:

    Day 3 in Sweden, Lapland

    Reindeer Heart

    Day 3 in Sweden, Lapland

    Arctic Raspberries

    Day 3 in Sweden, Lapland

    Greta, a wonderful Sami lady

    Day 3 in Sweden, Lapland

    Wild Mushrooms

    Day 3 in Sweden, Lapland

    Perfect Spot for Lunch

    Sweden Day 3, Lapland

    Fresh Lingonberries

    Sweden Day 3, Lapland

    Hot Smoked White Fish

    Sweden Day 3, Lapland

    Hot Smoked White Fish


    Posted in Sweden, Travel | 15 Comments
  • Greetings from Sweden: Postcard No 1

    Posted at 11:44 pm , on September 9, 2010

    Greetings from Lapland!

    The Culinary Institute of Sweden arranged a trip to Lapland for food journalists and bloggers from all over Europe to experience their food culture for 5 days, and here I am. I have been having the most wonderful time. Over the next 5 days, where possible, I will upload a postcard in the form of the photos that represent the best part of the day, that hopefully you will enjoy. Details later. Here is the first. From Kiruna, within the Arctic Circle.

    Day 1: Kiruna

    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland

    Just before Kiruna, from the air

    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland

    Kiruna, Lapland, from the air

    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland

    Greetings from the bar of the Ice Hotel

    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland

    Stewed Cloudberries with Cream

    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland

    Smoked Reindeer with Lingonberry Jam and Flatbread

    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland

    Cooking Reindeer over an Open Fire

    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland


    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland


    Sweden Day 2 - Kiruna/Lapland

    Pigs in Space

    Wonderful, eh? Back tomorrow :)

    Posted in Sweden, Travel | 10 Comments
  • Bitesize: Providores Pop-Up, Mark Best at the Loft Project & Hel Yes!

    Posted at 7:54 am , on September 9, 2010

    Earlier this year, a trip to Providores & Prudence, a pop-up restaurant at the Sipsmith Distillery in London between Sipsmith & Peter Gordon’s Providores, sparked a lot of attention. I received emails from anxious readers who would have loved to have gone, but found out after they had read it here.

    Can you let us know in advance next time? Well, of course. And that’s one of the reasons that I started Bitesize, my infrequent update on happenings of interest in London.

    So, here I have a teeny bit of a scoop for you. I believe I am the first with this information (at least I was when they sent it last night). On Tuesday October 19th, The Providores will have another pop-up, this time in Village Underground performance space in Shoreditch.

    Date: Tuesday 19 October 2010
    Tickets: £125
    Time: 7pm canapés and sparkling wine, seated for a four course meal
    at 7.30pm sharp
    For tickets please email:

    Bar Manager Melanie Ellis, Manager Sophie Uddin and Head Chef Cristian Hossack
    as they cook and serve a delicious four course dinner with canapés alongside some of their favourite wines and vineyards. There will be representatives from each vineyard at the dinner who you’ll get the chance to meet during the evening.


    Hel Yes! Pop Up Finnish Restaurant from Helsinki in London

    HEL YES! is a temporary restaurant and exhibition commissioned by the Finnish institute and imagined and realised by a creative team of Finnish designers and food folks. Running for 14 days, from September 15th, it will serve as a melting pot of people and ideas during London Design Festival.

    In the HEL YES! kitchen tastes from the Nordic forests will be brought to the dinner table by top chefs lead by executive chef Antto Melasniemi in straightforward and simple style.

    Though some key Finnish ingredients such as fish roe, game and preserved plants will come from Finland, most of the daily ingredients will be sourced by the HEL YES! team of hunters and gatherers from around London.

    “It is all about the delicacies of primitive Finnish cuisine, which is typically more about pure ingredients than, for example, restaurant culture. We will use the best vegetables and fish as well as traditional cooking methods, making our own interpretations along the way. We will avoid decorative elements and focus on substance. There will be Karelian stew, whipped lingonberry manna and spruce shoots – Catches of the Day!”


    Mark Best of Marque restaurant, Sydney at the Loft Project

    For one night only, acclaimed chef Mark Best will be cooking a very special degustation dinner at Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel, as part of a collaboration with The Loft Project.

    Mark Best started by discovering the stoves accidentally and ended up becoming an unquestionable symbol of the new Australian Cuisine. His perseverance and his ‘eternal dissatisfaction’ (as he calls it himself) are the vitamins for his spectacular professional development.

    On Thursday 16th September, the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants Award Breakthrough winner 2010, holder of ‘Three Hats’, Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Chef of the Year’, and Time Out Sydney’s ‘Restaurant of the Year, will be serving dinner to 12 guests on one large table in the De Montfort Suite.

    Guests will be able to sample a culinary exploration echoing the menu at Marque, Mark Best’s award winning Sydney restaurant. Each course from the proposed menu which is laid out below is subject to Mark Best’s market visit, to be undertaken as soon as he touches down in the UK. He will amend his dishes to make use of the best in local seasonal ingredients available in London. Mark’s resolute ethos is such that only the very best of ingredients have a place in his food. The resulting dishes are delicious, harmonious and aesthetic, where the technique is hidden and the ingredients shine.

    This is the first time Mark has showcased his cooking in the UK and is a unique opportunity to sample his eclectic and boundary-breaking style.

    Location: The De Montfort Suite
    Town Hall Hotel
    8 Patriot Square
    Bethnal Green
    E2 9NF

    Time: 7.30pm
    Price: £160 including all food and wine.
    To reserve a place: Please contact Clarise Faria at

    Posted in Random | 1 Comment
  • Review: Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    Posted at 1:10 pm , on September 6, 2010

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    A good day for ducks it was, and not in the rain sense. Those lucky fellas on the Dalston stretch of the Regents Canal got to listen to beautiful classical music from a String Quartet as the sun set on last Friday evening. Towpath? String Quartet Dinner? Ducks? Ok, let me start from the beginning.

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    Towpath is a cute, very urban and achingly hip new-ish café on a stretch of the canal in Dalston. It’s space is tiny, just barely containing the counter, coffee machine, and essential bits like that. Another adjacent cubby hole houses some tables and a blackboard menu, and tables and chairs line the canal. Owned and run by Italian-American food writer Lori De Mori and her husband, food photographer Jason Lowe, expectations were high, but having previously enjoyed lunches there, I was sure it would be a nice evening.

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    What’s not to like? Good coffee, decent wine, good food, and you eat it all by the canal. A London canal I know, friend to many a shopping trolley but also a friend of mine. I miss the water having grown up next to the sea, and find myself down there a lot, walking to Victoria Park or sipping and dining at Towpath.

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    Last week, while waiting to be served I overheard a conversation about a looming String Quartet Dinner. My ears pricked like a cat, and when it was my turn to be served, I enquired after some spaces, afraid it was booked out. My luck was in, and that was how I found myself dining there last week. Well, clearly, I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise, now would I?

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    Dinner started at 7pm, the day was still bright, the air warm and starting to crisp. The String Quartet played as the sun started to set. Fresh and bright radishes and turnips with a mayo dip and Tuscan red wine kept us company as we listened on the water on a little – well it was almost like a tall raft with tables and chairs on top.

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    At 8ish we sat down and  the String Quartet took a break. We were at a communal table perched at the end by an apple tree (on the canal!) and a roaring fire in one of those barbecue barrels. The table was set with gorgeous mismatched vintage crockery and tablecloths.

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    We started with a globe artichoke each with butter vinaigrette. Simple, lovely and soaking up the creamy, rich, slippery butter vinagrette.

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    Fish pie for mains was as good a fish pie that I have ever had. Served family style with large fish pies to share, we were very happy to get the biggest, greedy lot that we are. The eggs in the pie were perfect, not quite hard boiled, the sauce light, and the fish extremely fresh. The mash was fluffy and crisp on top. We had with it some beetroot and yellow beans, and I felt healthy. Until I had more wine.  

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    The String Quartet started again, and we had more wine (why not, eh?), and chatted and warmed ourselves by the fire. September was here now. A perfect Tarte Tatin with cream arrived, and summed up exactly what Towpath is about. Good food, cooked well in lovely surroundings. So relaxing too.

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    And that was that. £30 a head, wine was £24 a bottle for the red with options of red, white, prosecco or rosé. Service was charming and so friendly, even allowing us seconds of the Tarte Tatin. The only thing that my evening missed was perhaps a pinch of some dessert wine, to go with the lovely Tarte Tatin.

    Towpath String Quartet Dinner

    You know, it even makes me smile to write this, and think about what a lovely evening Friday was. I do hope they do it again. If they do, I highly recommend that you check it out.

    Posted in Random | 7 Comments
  • Pop Up Restaurant: Elliot’s in the Park

    Posted at 5:00 pm , on September 3, 2010


    Elliot’s of Borough is somewhere you should go. Except you can’t. And for this, I am sorry. It’s not open yet you see. How do I know you should go? Well, I was one of the lucky ones that wangled a seat at their Summer pop-up at the Pavillion in Victoria Park: Elliot’s in the Park. Don’t worry though, it opens early next year, maybe even before then, watch this space.


    I saw a tweet about it (Twitter is mighty useful!), and booked straight away. Way in advance of going. I really enjoyed it and asked to be put on the waiting list for another night. And I waited. I thought it would never happen but two nights before the last night, 4 people cancelled, and we got their seats. Hooray!

    Isaac Mc Hale

    Elliot’s chef, Isaac McHale, is one of the new breed of chefs, Noma inspired with local sourcing and vegetables the stars of the show. Isaac specifically is all about edible flowers (as you know I love them too!), and the food is so interesting and colourful. It’s a delight to eat with your eyes, before you ever disassemble it with your fork.


    The evening starts with prosecco and canapés outside the gorgeous dome shaped Pavillion Café, perched on the little lake in Victoria Park. It’s so sociable and buzzy. And the canapés are very very good. Carried away with too much excitement, and possibly prosecco, on my first visit, when it was gloriously sunny and picture perfect, I sabotaged my attempt to photograph by forgetting my memory card. I was so very unhappy with myself. The second time I forgot nothing, armed with memory cards, chargers, lenses, everything I could possibly need, I charged through the park, and snapped all kinds of delights.


    Oglesshield cheese gougeres were luxurious and rich.


    Buttermilk fried chicken with pine salt served in a bowl of pine branches and pine cones was fantasically more-ish, I must admit I had far more than my share. It’s interesting too that this seems to be popping up everywhere at the moment. I must wheel out Thomas Keller’s version of it soon for you here, you have to experience buttermilk fried chicken yourself at home.


    Chegworth Valley radishes with black sesame (no doubt an homage to Noma’s edible soil) were delicious, unusual and pretty as a picture.


    Grouse sausages with liquorice, mace and elderberry jelly were fantastic and it was lovely to try this unusual use of the bird. Every dish was a delight and the setting was beautiful.


    The Pavillion itself was like one of those people, who when they make the effort to dress up surprise and delight. Long candlelit sharing tables awaited us inside.


    5 courses with matched wines from Bottle Apostle carried us through the night. Starting with Oldt Style Tomatoes with Shiso and Iced Goats Milk. The tomatoes were flavour packed and interesting, the sour iced goats milk and peppery shiso were interesting contrasts. I liked this a lot and it was a perfect showcase of the humble tomato. Gruner Veltliner Gmork 2009 accompanied.

    Cornish Mackerel with Celtic Mustard, Nasturtiums and Dill Pickled Cucumbers was terrific. Two self confessed mackerel haters were enthralled. I adore nasturtiums in food, both the leaf and the flower, and it was lovely to see large nasturtium leaves gracing the plate. Every ingredient, however pretty, had a purpose. The savoury pepperiness of the leaves was lovely with the creamy mackerel, and the celtic mustard was tangy and rich. I want the recipe for that one.


    Slow Cooked Organic Egg with Scottish Chanterelles, Truffles and Fonduta was a treat and not dissimilar to a dish we had at Ben Greeno’s the week before. Not surprising as Isaac was in the kitchen that night too helping out, and it is one of those dishes that is popular right now. It was so indulgent, all hail the humble egg in it’s truffle jacket. A psychedelic looking Wild Boy Chardonnay 2009 accompanied this course, bold and rich, it was delicious, although maybe a little overpowering for this delicate course.



    Smoked Pork Belly with Victoria Park Apples, Cider and Kohlrabi was the highlight of the night (har har to you too you Pork Belly snarks ;) My photos of this dish do it no justice sadly. Not particularly smokey, it was a near perfect piece of pork otherwise, rich with flavour, tender and delicate. The apples were presented in slices and rounds, and as before it was dainty and gorgeous. This was served with Cidre Pays d’Auge Brut from Camembert, a natural and very good match.


    Next, and finally came the lamb (Cumbrian Lamb with Sumer Squash, Curry Leaves and Date Puree). And now I am torn as I loved that one too. It was tender and gentle yet the flavour had brute force and intensity. My kind of food. Interestingly the squash was very lightly cooked squash, almost raw, and it really showcased the best of its flavour. Sadly, I was so full at this point, I couldn’t finish it. (I know).

    A pre dessert of Amalfi Lemonade was a delight, slightly fizzy (space dust for sure), like raw meringue and with that gorgeous amalfi lemon flavour. I want this recipe too.


    Very full now, I hadn’t much hope for the dessert, it’s not my dish of choice anyway. I was very pleasantly surprised by Chicory Mousse, Banana Bread and Yogurt though. It felt like my granny had met Hugh Fearnley Whittingsall gone to Jamaica on holiday, and come up this recipe. Velvet smooth and chicory-ish, bold banana bread and caramelised banana. An inspiration. served with a rich Emilio Lustaz Sherry too, lovely.

    And that was that! And, wasn’t that good? At £50 each time including wine, a bargain too. But more than that, it was so interesting to see it evolve from the first time I had gone during the Summer and really enjoyed it, but had seen it wasn’t perfect and needed a little work. This time, it was tweaked and smoothed out, and I can confidently say, this meal defined this London summer for me. Quirky, bright, intersting and exciting. I do hope they open soon.

    Other photos from the night:






    Posted in Random | 7 Comments
  • Eating Lyon: Bernachon

    Posted at 5:40 pm , on September 1, 2010

    Bernachon, Lyon

    Chocolate is not a treat or a sweet but true gourmet food.

    Maurice Bernachon

    When Claude Bosi (chef-proprietor at 2* Hibiscus) starts giving tips on where you should eat in Lyon, you take notice. So happily he did exactly that, just a few days before I went to Lyon, in a piece in the Financial Times.

    Bernachon, Lyon

    I was a little smug (just a tiny bit – promise), when I discovered that the market we were planning to go to, and Le Bec, which we had already booked were on his list. Bernachon wasn’t on my radar, however, so I looked it up and added it to the list.

    Bernachon, Lyon

    Bernachon, Lyon

    Bernachon is like a museum for edible treats. A mini cathedral to food. You could hear a pin drop. The best of chocolate, sweet and excellent savoury treats. Before you even enter the shop, you’re salivating. Glorious cakes, springy brioche, perfect quenelles, macarons, chocolates, swoon. It has the air of a Sloane St designer shop, only here we are not paying homage to Jimmy Choo or Prada, here the macaron and chocolates are king. Isn’t that the way it should be? Certainly for me, anyway.

    Maurice Bernachon trained as an apprentice in the art of chocolate from the the age of fourteen. He later joined the workshop of master chocolate maker Monsieur Durand ane when he retired in 1953, he offered Maurice Bernachon his chocolate and candy shop. Today his grandchildren – Candice, Stéphanie and Philippe Bernachon – now run the enterprise.  The raw cocoa beans are roasted, grinded, blended and conched in-house. There’s that attention to detail and sourcing that is the hallmark of an excellent product.

    I have a mini tradition now, every time I go to France I bring back a box of macarons. I know Pierre Hermé and Ladurée are in town but it’s such a nice souveneir to bring home, and one that doesn’t last very long, granted. But, swoon, these were small spritely delights. And there’s nothing better, once greeted by the glorious English rain, than a macaron to evoke a petite taste memory of your lovely little holiday.

    Bernachon, 42, courts Franklin-Roosevelt, tel: +33 04 78 24 37 98,

    Bernachon, Lyon

    Bernachon, Lyon

    Bernachon, Lyon

    Posted in France, Lyon, Travel | 6 Comments
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