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A Solo Sicilian Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo

Cous Cous Festival, Sicily

San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily

I have so many posts to write I don’t even know where to start. I’ve yet to write about my lovely trip to the Isle of Wight this summer. There’s so much yet to write about other recent travels to Sweden, Lyon, Glasgow. I still have to tell you about the final of the Cous Cous Fest. I have recipes to post, restaurants to write about. I recently went for lunch at the revamped Savoy and I have yet to write about that. It’s all a bit silly isn’t it? No matter, it’s all stuff I love to write about and I shall do it soon. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it too.

Today I am going to write about something a little abstract, as I find I have been thinking about it a lot recently.  A Solo Sicilian Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo. The meal itself was funny for its own reasons (solo female diner in Sicily might give you a hint) but the food was lovely, and very inspiring. I’ve found myself gathering ingredients to recreate it this last few days.

So, what’s so interesting? Sicily is an island (yes, we all know that), so there’s lots of seafood as you would expect but the almond is ever present in the cuisine. There isn’t much dairy, but they create almond milk and almond cream and use these instead. And they are delicious. Nutty and rich, gripping the winding busiati pasta, buffering shellfish, thickening sauces. Pleasantly grainy, and velvety too.

On my last day, I really wanted to experience some of the local cuisine that I hadn’t experienced yet. I had had busiati with trapanese pesto (made with almonds, tomatoes, garlic & basil) but wanted to try it again, and otherwise, was open to everything except cous cous, for I had had a lot of that.

The restaurant had other ideas.

I went to Syrah, recommended as one of the best in the town by people who knew what they were talking about and had been there the night before. I am guessing, in hindsight, that a solo female diner was an unusual prospect.

I perused the menu and asked for advice, then made my choices. They were rejected.

No, you shall not have that! You have to have some cous cous! I have had a lot of cous cous this week, I would like to try something else. But our cous cous is very good! We have a whole menu of it!

I really can’t I am sorry. Ok, have instead our special busiati with pancetta, mixed seafood and almond cream. I’d rather have the trapanese pesto? No, I insist. Have our special. OK.

Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo, SicilyS

For mains, I queried the veal, I was curious. Well, yes, you could have that but have the local red tuna with almond. But, I am already having a seafood starter? I’d like the veal. No not the veal, have the tuna. His voice was fierce, he was determined, I faltered. OK.

Wine, I would just like a glass please of something local, perhaps a Nero d’Avola or a Grillo. Have  a chardonnay from a local grower, it’s very good. I have had that one already it wasn’t to my taste, no thank you. Do you have a Grillo? No, it’s ok you should have this chardonnay, it’s very good. But really, I don’t like it, I have had it already. Don’t worry I will pour you a glass, it’s fine.

I sat slightly anxiously, with a glass of wine that I didn’t like, watching the smiling people around me share their meals wondering what in the name of god have I signed up for. Two dishes I didn’t want were coming to my table. A glass of wine poked fun at my tastebuds. It felt like a hostage situation. I wanted to leave.

Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo, SicilyS

The starter arrived. It was enormous. It smelled beautiful, of the sea with the sweetness of tomatoes and a nutty background. The pasta was so good, great firm texture and great flavour. So much fresh seafood and that pancetta was as good as I’ve had. The almond cream was terrific. It was all very good indeed but so big. What to do? I ate half, I just could not take any more and left it. I had been eating so much all week you see, judging the cous cous competition.

The waiter came to clear my table. Didn’t you like it? I did, I really did, but it was so big, I couldn’t finish it. That is a normal portion for us here, he said. I felt bad.

Dejected I awaited my tuna, wondering how I could digest it, and sipped my unwanted chardonnay watching the happy tables around me converse.

Lunch at Syrah, San Vito Lo Capo, SicilyS

The tuna came, in an almond crust with a wedge of lime. A little overcooked for me, I like it rare, it was nevertheless gorgeous and I ate every bit. Carb free too, I could just manage it with a green salad on the side to keep me hydrated.

No dessert, I was so full now, after 6 days of endurance eating, crowned with this very good, but very big meal. That was that.

A perfect Sicilian experience, great food, local specialties, told what to do. I want to recreate each dish and learn more about their cuisine, and go back.

The only thing I don’t forgive them is the wine, but I am glad that they forced me to try their specials, even if I did age a few years in the process.

If in the area, do go. It really is very good.

Syrah, Via Savoia 5, 91010 San Vito lo Capo, Sicilia, Italia
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Wild Venison with Wild Blackberry Sauce

Blackberries

It’s been a tough week. My Dad is ill in hospital and, while thankfully he’s stabilising now, it was touch and go for a few days. Naturally, I’ve come home to Ireland, and while here have not had many opportunities to cook. I am really starting to feel it.

Cooking, whichever meal, is one of the few times in my day that I am completely focussed and I find it utterly relaxing. I love playing with my food. I have not been cooking at home or eating well though, instead I have been eating at the hospital café, and really, I am sure Scotch Broth soup is not supposed to taste like damp warm socks, or coffee like grainy Bovril. ICK. They do have the beloved toasted special there but with plastic reconstituted cheese and I just can’t do it. Shouldn’t hospitals have good food, to help people get better, and to help ease the stresses of those visiting?

Luckily across the road from the hospital there is a very nice shop which sells almost everything and also sells very good food. Lots of local produce and interesting more widespread Irish produce. So I stocked up with the intention of eating a bit better and exploring local products I had yet to try. There are still a few!

I started with some wild venison. I wondered what to do with it, and while out walking past some brambles, I spied some blackberries which were still fresh and juicy, and it seemed like the most obvious thing in the world.

I figured that blackberries, cooked with some of that nice rioja that I had at the house and a little balsamic as they were very a little sweet rather than the more sour blackberries earlier in the season. The rich balsamic tang would be good with the gamey venison too. Some honey would reassert the balance if required, and some fresh meat stock would add depth. A brown stock like veal stock would be best here but I had fresh chicken stock so I used that.

The sauce was a revelation, rich with the rioja and the stock with the juicy and slightly sour blackberries flirting with the balsamic. I want to try it with game birds too, I think it would be very good. The only odd thing is, it really does look like a puddle of blood underneath Bambi, but try not to think about that ;)

You will have to forgive the poor char on the venison, I was a bit distracted and didn’t heat the pan enough (you really need to heat those for a good 5 minutes until they are as hot as the center of the sun). It deserved a crisp char but it still tasted great though. The lean venison, served rare with that rich and juicy blackberry sauce was perfect. Some sauté potatoes and some kale or cavolo nero would be a great accompaniment. Alos beetroot, which is a perfect partner to the balsamic in the sauce.

With regard to the recipe for the sauce, this like anything you cook, requires you to taste it. Volumes of each ingredient depend on the sweetness of the blackberries, the richness of your stock and the wine you use.  It’s very flexible so feel free to adjust to your likeness.

Serves 2

Wild Venison with Blackberry Sauce

Not the prettiest, but it tastes great. (The flecks are black pepper :)

 

Wild Venison with Wild Blackberry Sauce

Ingredients

2 wild venison steaks about 2cm thickness (what ever cut you can get – I had quite a lean bit of loin)

Sauce:
125g blackberries
A glass of red wine (rioja or something similarily full bodies works – whatever you have)
250ml meat stock (fresh if possible, veal of light beef best but chicken works too)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey

Method

Sauce

Add the wine to a pan over a high heat and burn off the alcohol (you will smell it in the air) for a couple of minutes.
Add the blackberries, vinegar and stock and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes until the blackberries are cooked and mushy.
Add honey to taste.
Serve warm under the steak.

Steak

Ensure that your venison is at room temperature. Salt & Pepper your steaks on each side and rub with a small bit of neutral oil (rapeseed or sunflower work – try not to use one that is strong flavoured). The pepper isn’t essntial but l like it.
Heat a griddle or similar until extremely hot. For a good 5 minutes if you can.
Fry the steaks for 2-3 minutes on either side for rare (which is really how you should eat good wild venison), 3-4 for medium, 5-6 for well done (but please don’t do that!).

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MacGrath’s Butchers in Lismore & Some Thoughts on Butchery

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Growing up in Ireland there were many local butchers, there still are. The small area that my grandmother lived in had two, and each of them reared, killed and butchered their own meat. This was common practice, until very recently.

I have many fond memories of going to the butchers. Our local butcher was the son of a family friend and our grandmother would send us there to get some minced beef and a t-bone steak with an onion. An onion? Well, my father thought he hated onions, but my grandmother craftily had the onion minced in with the meat and to this day, he doesn’t know that he has been eating onions all his life. I told him once and he refused to believe me.

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In Ireland we have always consumed a lot of beef, and produced a lot more. We export 80% of our beef on average, and while beef consumption isn’t as high as it used to be, 55% of the population still consume beef regularly. Our cattle population is on a par with the human population – in fact there are more of them (5.93 million in 2008).

Things have changed now though.  A change in the law relating to abattoirs  and the increased presence of supermarkets (generally offering meat that is below par), combined with the BSE crisis, has resulted in the closure of a lot of these local abattoirs and butchers. They just can’t compete or suffer the increased costs and this is a great shame.

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Not his fault - I asked him to pose like this :)

There are some gems remaining, one of which is McGrath’s Butchers in Lismore, Co Waterford. They’ve been in the butchery business since the early 1800s, and in the current shop, the latest generation – fourth – butcher presides with his third generation father. They farm their own beef and have an abattoir at the back of the shop where they  butcher their own animals weekly.

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It seems strange to talk about being charmed by this operation, but really, you can tell that they run this with great care and respect, resulting in a top quality product. The abattoir is a key stage of the meat production process – whether we want to address it or not – and it’s important that it’s right.

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The shop itself is sweet and very old school. The cash register is located away from the meat counter and  handled by the lady of the house. Hygienic, it makes perfect sense. Why did we stop doing that? Staff  overheads? A kitchen behind provides ample cups of tea and biscuits and a comforting large range.

McGrath’s supply the michelin starred Cliff House Hotel and also Ballyvolane House and O’Brien’s Chop House. Those guys really know a good thing when they see it. It’s so important that we support local butchers like this. It’s better for us, for flavour and health, for our communities and for local economies.

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The better supermarkets can give you the name of the farmer, but what’s better than buying from the farmer himself and knowing that he raised those animals in the green fields nearby? Outdoor reared? These animals have so much room to roam, it makes me feel so sorry for those poor ones interned in intensive farms. The animals are local too, there are no long distances for them to travel. That is traceability and sustainability, right there. We should support it. We need to if it’s to survive.

So, next time you think of going to the supermarket for your meat, just try your local butcher, I promise the quality will exceed. If it’s more expensive,and it very well may be in cities at least, remember the care and attention that went into it, how very much better it is for you, and once you become an established customer there are always perks. Free bone marrow anyone? Expert advice on how to cook it?

I always say with meat, shop local (or in a good butchers at least), eat less, taste more, and enjoy it.

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An Afternoon at Ballymaloe, Cork

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Ballymaloe is an Irish institution. Home to three generations of Irish culinary matriarchs, it is the home of the internationally famous Ballymaloe Cookery School and Myrtle, Darina and Rachel Allen. I had the immense pleasure of meeting Darina last week there, she was nothing short of an inspiration. You canreally see how she has become a lynchpin in the modern Irish food scene.

Set on a farm (where they grow products for their market stall at Midleton Farmer’s Market nearby in Cork), the school is housed in a beautiful building along with the shop and café. I wanted to move there. We enjoyed some great pizzas (part of their Saturday Pizza afternoons run by Cookery School tutor and 4th generation butcher Philip Dennhardt) and a gentle amble. A great constitutional following our prevoious days endurance eating on our tour of Co Waterford.

http://www.cookingisfun.ie/

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Putting Dungarvan on Ireland’s Food Map: The Tannery Restaurant & Cookery School, Dungarvan, Ireland

Cooking Class at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

Paul Flynn’s return to his (and mine) native Dungarvan put a bright pin firmly on the map of Gourmet Ireland when he opened The Tannery 13 years ago, and subsequently the Tannery Cookery School & Townhouse. Award winning (it recently won Best Cookery School in Ireland at the RAI Restaurant Awards) it is a lovely space offering lessons that are casual, relaxed, informative and fun.

We pitched up for a lunchtime demonstration and Paul led us through a lovely 3 course lunch, which we subsequently ate with wine. Paul’s style of cooking is charming and accessible, offering tips that even experienced cooks can benefit hugely from. He champions flavour, and has slimmed down his cooking style from his days as head chef at 3 michelin starred Chez Nico in London. Basically, you can do it too.  

He draws influence from his surroundings and sources as much as he can locally. Not always possible, he cites the difficulties in sourcing local seafood despite being next to the sea, he uses them where he can.

Cooking Class at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

Mushroom on brioche - Cooking class at the Tannery Dungarvan

We started with a decadent mushroom starter. Brioche with mushroom purée, with a roast mushroom (roasted with butter and herbs) on top, dribbled with beurre blanc. Swoon – utterly delicious.

Paul’s version of bouillabaisse followed. Lovely it was too, light, fragrant and delicate, it was perfect for lunch. A very accessible recipe too – I didn’t have to gouge out fish eyes this time. Shiver.

Cooking Class at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

Dessert was gorgeous nectarines roasted with spiced butter on baked oat cakes. Really very good. The oats were of course from Waterford – Flahavan’s best and my favourite.

Cooking Class at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

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Cooking Class at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

We ate at a large dining table in a gorgeous bright room with lots of quirky detail and a beautiful vintage hosting trolley. Paul himself dished up the meal, the wine was plentiful, and we all bounded on happily after.

Cooking Class at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

Cooking Class at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

I am always impressed by the pricing at the Tannery. The lunchtime classes are ridiculously well priced at  €45 with all day demos at €150 per person. I also really fancy The Tannery House Party, a night at The Tannery Townhouse (which is gorgeous) and a dinner party cooked by Paul for €100 per person sharing. I mean, why wouldn’t you? I have plans to on a trip home soon.

Not enough detail? Don’t worry – I’ll be back with the recipes soon. That is if you want them? I am very sure you do :)

Previous post on The Tannery:  Hidden Ireland: The Tannery, Dungarvan

Tannery Cookery School:  http://www.tannery.ie/cookery-school.html

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A Weekend Exploring the Food & Drink of Ireland (Part 1 of Many)

Kinsale Harbour, Cork

Kinsale Harbour, Cork

Irish Food & Drink, so very under rated and so very, very good. We have some excellent culinary figureheads and ambassadors that you will already know: Darina Allen, Rachel Allen and Richard Corrigan perhaps. What about the produce and the producers though, the integrity of production and passion for good local food? It is  not something that a lot of people outside of Ireland are aware of and I want to change that.

I really want people to know more, to try, explore, maybe even visit, and enjoy it as much as the four food & drink passionistas that I brought to Ireland last weekend. I go home frequently – you will have noticed – but it was fun and delicious to see other food bloggers experience and enjoy it for the first time.

Irish food is interesting, and Ireland in general. It has changed so much in recent generations, sparking from a colony to a republic, a struggling economy to a world leading one and back. A relative and recent affluence inspired a restaurant boom, which quickly suffered in our recent recession. A nation of dairy farmers and soggy with rain, we have great pastures and correspondingly great butter and cheeses.

Crossing the road in Ireland can result in a corresponding change of accent, and also a change in soil and terroir resulting in small local pockets that are like mothers milk for crops like potatoes (which grow brilliantly in seaside areas where seaweed is a fantastic fertiliser) next to areas devoted to other produce. Waters rich with seafood, plenty to forage like mushrooms, and really, the potatoes are so much better at home, you might like them as much as we do if you had them on your doorstep.

Great butchers are everywhere, often butchering their own meat in small local abbatoirs. Most animals are free range out doors reared, resulting in meat that is packed with flavour. Local chickens wandering around, cock-a-doodle-dooing us into the mornings, delivering fresh eggs and flavoursome meat. We have terrific bacon, black and white puddings and beef. What I love most is the sense of individuality combined with commonality. It makes for an interesting cuisine.

Sure, not everything is good, and mostly local places offer standard food of a reasonable quality. But if you are interested in seeking out good local food and interesting , inspiring ingredients and cuisine, we’ve got lots of that to show you.

It was important to me that my relatively unexplored home county and food hidden gem, Waterford, was central to the visit and after that my adopted home and home of my mother, Cork. So, I started there, and will be making many trips back to different parts over the coming months to explore and uncover, and share it with you here.

Photographic highlights of this trip with more details to come are:

The five food muskateers in my hometown of Dungarvan

The five food muskateers in my hometown of Dungarvan

Paul Flynn at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

Paul Flynn at The Tannery Cookery School, Dungarvan

Sea Trout at Fishy Fishy in Kinsale

Sea Trout at Fishy Fishy in Kinsale Making Pizzas for Saturday Pizza at Ballymaloe

Darina Allen and I at Midleton Farmer's Market, Cork

Darina Allen and I at Midleton Farmer's Market, Cork

Lemon Dessert at Cafe Paradiso, Cork

Lemon Dessert at Cafe Paradiso, Cork

Murphy's Stout & Red Lemonade in Kinsale, Cork

Murphy's Stout & Red Lemonade in Kinsale, Cork

MacGrath's Butchers in Lismore, Waterford

MacGrath's Butchers in Lismore, Waterford

Cork Butter Museum

Cork Butter Museum

1000 year Old Bog Butter

1000 year Old Bog Butter at the Cork Butter Museum

Sea Bass at the Castlemartyr Resport, Cork

Sea Bass at the Castlemartyr Resport, Cork

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One Night in Stockholm: Dinner at Bakfickan

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

On my recent trip to Lapland, I had a few hours in Stockholm the night before I flew there. I was determined to find somewhere local, interesting and good that might give me an insight to their food culture. Always my three objectives, I am not always successful when I have only one option, this time, however, it was a resounding success.

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

Bakfickan – translated as the Hip Pocket – and meaning the small place behind the posh place basically, is embedded in the back of the Opera House next to its more formal and higher end sibling, Operabaren. It’s known for serving traditional Swedish food although there is clearly a strong French influence on the food here too. The two restaurants share a kitchen – although not a menu – at significantly different prices. It was definitely the one to try.

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

A large counter dominates and staff busy themselves behind, swiftly and efficiently deploying food and drinks to the diners seated around them. It feels very old school with formal service but also very relaxed. Rustic food with attention to detail appears here, lots of flavours and contrasts but with tenderness too.

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

I opted for the Uppsala Stew, tasting like a refined Irish stew with lighter glistening stock, gorgeous tender brisket and a sprinkling of fresh horseradish which livened it up. Root vegetables and sweet anka potatoes added sweetness and bulk. It was a delicious and comforting plate of food.

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

My dining companions had fried trout with lemon, creamed leeks and potatoes and the haché, I tried them both and they were excellent plates of food. The chips that came with the haché deserve a special mention as they were perfect (a rarity in most restaurants) with crispy outsides and hot fluffy interiors.

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

Sweden is famous for expensive alcohol, and Bakfickan is no exception. I opted for an ordinary enough glass of Cotes du Ventoux which cost about £8/9 per glass, about twice what I would expect to pay in London. But it’s not London, it’s Sweden, so I indulged but just had one. I find it impossible to eat out and not have wine with dinner, what wouldbe the point? 

Trip to Sweden - Stockholm, Day 1 - Dinner at Bakficken

And that was it, a brief but gorgeous sample of what Bakfickan has to offer. I’ll definitely go back, if only to sample the deep-fried sweetbreads with apples and truffle mayonnaise, and also pay a visit to the haughtier sibling next door.

Bakfickan, Operahuset, Karl XII:S torg, Box 1616, SE-111 86 Stockholm

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Bitesize: David Chang at Hibiscus, Bompass & Parr’s Artisinal Chewing Gum Factory, Hendrick’s Horseless Carriage of Curiosities, London Cocktail Week & New Openings

London is an exciting place to be at the moment, for those interested in food and drink. As you are here, let’s assume you are. Those with spaces in their diaries should all check out these.

DAVID CHANG AT HIBISCUS FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY

David Chang of Momofuku is coming to London for one night only, tomorrow Saturday 9th. One of  S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant chefs,  he will be cooking a special 6 course tasting menu at Hibiscus (Momofuku Style!). It’s £120 per person but I think you will be talking about it for a long time after. there’s a few places left, I wouldn’t miss it. Call Hibiscus to book. Menu: http://www.theworlds50best.com/special-happening-at-hibiscus/5314

ARTISANAL CHEWING GUM FACTORY  

Bompass & Parr is building an Artisanal Chewing Gum Factory at Whiteleys Shopping Centre opening 25 -31 October. People are invited to learn the secrets of chewing gum manufacture at the world’s first micro-factory.

Each visitor will be able to choose and combine a 200 familiar and unusual flavours including iris, gin, damp soil or yeast. In total 40,000 flavour combinations are possible.

www.jellymongers.co.uk
Whiteleys Shopping Centre, Bayswater, London, W24 YN 25th – 31st October between Noon – 6pm Entry free, Gum £2.50

THE HENDRICK’S HORSELESS CARRIAGE OF CURIOSITIES

The Hendrick’s Horseless Carriage of Curiosities  – a converted rail carriage stuffed full of objects with unusual history and function – will be pulling into Clerkenwell for the inaugural London Cocktail Week (11th – 17th October).  A programme full of informative and agreeable events throughout the week will both bewilder and charm visitors to the carriage.

From the 12th – 15th October, you can purchase tickets to board the carriage for an intimate dining experience.  Guest bartenders from leading establishments throughout London will be creating cocktails to accompany each course of a dinner by Bompass & Parr.

http://www.hendrickshorselesscarriage.com
100 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1M 5RJ
12th-15th October at 7pm

LONDON COCKTAIL WEEK

The first London Cocktail week is here! Some of London’s most exclusive member’s bars will be throwing open their doors and some of the world’s top mixologists will be shaking drinks and sharing their knowledge. Distillers and blenders from all spirits categories will be conducting tutored tastings and talking about their products. Lots to do, see and drink from the Bartender’s Bloody Mary Breakfast to Sipsmith’s Alpine Cocktail Competiton. Sounds like fun to me.

More details here: http://www.londoncocktailweek.com/

NEW OPENINGS

Throwing open their doors next week are The Savoy and Les Deux Salons. The Savoy has been in a protracted period of restoration (costing £100 million!). Les Deux Salons is the third restaurant from the folks behind Arbutus and Wild Honey. In soft launch (and 50% off) until Thursday, it opens it’s doors officially next Friday on the same street as one of my London favourites, Terroirs.

http://www.the-savoy.com/

http://www.lesdeuxsalons.co.uk/

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Ode to the Toasted Special

Toasted in Camden

Not THE toastie, just A toastie.

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the one. Where you are zapped from inside out, perhaps you’ve drank too much, perhaps you’ve not slept enough, someone is rapping on your head at work or maybe you are actually ill? You’re probably hungover, let’s be honest.

I had one of those days recently. I felt like my brain was tucked too tightly in my skull and surrounded by bubble wrap, with just enough room for a tiny annoying creature with a pin to roam around squeezing through and bursting one bubble after another.

What to do? Well, I was in Ireland so I had to seek out the Toasted Special.

The Toasted Special is a thing of beauty and simplicity and should not under any circumstances be messed around with. There was a time when every pub in Ireland sold them. A simple toasted sandwich with ham, cheese, onion, tomato. Ideally some butter on the outside of the bread so that they brown and crisp beautifully. I will forgive you some parsley but never, ever, under any circumstances relish or any other ingredients which folk think will gentrify this humble sandwich. They don’t. They kill it.

Don’t dare give me panini bread, or foccacia. Sliced pan (Irish for sliced bread ;), that’s all, you hear me? Where have they all gone? I trekked the streets of Cork searching in vain. Foccacia, panini, relish. I gave up. Almost (as you know I never do). We decided to just settle for a drink instead and, I thought while at the bar, why not just ask?

Do you do food?

No, only toasted specials?

Toasted specials?!

Do you put anything like relish in them?

I’m sorry, no.

Great. Do you use normal bread? No paninis or anything like that?

Sorry, yes, just normal bread.

TWO PLEASE!

Oh, that crispy bread, slippery melted cheese and onion, juicy tomatoes, and porky ham. It was perfect. It redeemed the day for 20 minutes. And then we went and looked for another one. We failed. That’s ok, I am home now with my toasted sandwich maker and I can eat toasted sandwiches all I like.

Toasted in Camden

We love toasted sandwiches in Ireland. Love them. There is a café in Camden that sells only toasted sandwiches. Owned by an Irish man. Of course. Toasted sandwiches with crisps on the side. Toasted sandwiches with chilli and cheese inside (do try one: sinful but glorious).

What do you put in your toasties? They’re so underrated! The Toasted Special is king but I love plain cheese and onion sometimes. Chorizo and manchego. You really can’t beat a tomato in the mix. I’ve had leftover chilli and cheese in there as Toasted do. Sausages. Eggs. Jam (I was only about 8). the B3: brie, bacon and broccoli is surpirsingly delicious. Leeks are good in there too.

Fried sandwiches are good but the toasted sandwich maker tops all, where the steam comes rushing out in a cheeky effort to burn your fingers or your tongue and often succeeds.

Always forgiven though. You can’t beat the humble toastie.