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Behind the Scenes at Ottolenghi and Lunch

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Sami Tamimi of Ottolenghi, cooks us lunch

Some of you are going to hate me now, but here goes.

Yesterday I went for lunch behind the scenes at Ottolenghi. The hub of all Ottolenghi activity, where recipes are developed and a lot of the restaurant items and most of the deli items are made.

Ottolenghi are proud of their sourcing, and this is evident from the food. Each bite has an intensity of flavour and freshness that isn’t delivered unless you take extreme care with your ingredients, and how they are stored. Secret places and people. Every good restaurant has these. They generally don’t share them with us.

Except Ottolenghi does now. In response to readers craving exotic ingredients from the books in order to recreate the food at home, Ottolenghi have now set up an online store, and they deliver all over the world. Ingredients, products, and wine too.

Exciting, eh? And really delicious. Date molasses, sumac, za’atar, rose petals, (proper) rose water, dukkah. Fragrant and delicious. I cook a lot with rose petals (see the rose petal butter in my book among others), dried and fresh, but the dried rose petals that we ate there, were fantastic in their fragrance. I was surprised. At once delighted that I could source them, and disappointed with the ones that I had been using before.

Yotam’s co-author and business partner, Sami, cooked us lunch. A gorgeous meal peppered with stories of Sami’s cooking with his grandmother, and stories making homemade mograbiah and pomegranate molasses in the Palestinian sun.

The food was divine, I will be digging out the recipes and recreating them at home for myself and for friends. Great wines too, an unusually complex and rich prosecco from Casa Coste Piane di Loris Follador, a spicy rich orange wine, Tenuta Grillo from Baccabianca, and a spicy soft fruity red wine, a Nerello Mascalese from Caruso & Minini.

Most of the recipes are from Ottolenghi’s books and Guardian column, and all ingredients are available online. So you can also recreate yourself at home.

Enjoy!

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Sweet potato purée with date syrup and black sesame seeds

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Labneh sprinkled with za’atar

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Dukkah

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Halibut wrapped in vine leaves, fresh from the oven

Halibut wrapped in vine leaves, grilled with dukkah and lemon and served with piccolo pepper, cherry tomato, caper, basil and chopped herb salsa

Halibut wrapped in vine leaves, grilled with dukkah and lemon and served with piccolo pepper, cherry tomato, caper, basil and chopped herb salsa

Roasted chicken with sumac, za'atar and fresh lemon

Roasted chicken with sumac, za’atar and fresh lemon

Muftoul & mograbiah salad with dried Iranian lime, celery, tomatoes & cucumber

Muftoul & mograbiah salad with dried Iranian lime, celery, tomatoes & cucumber

Rose cupcakes

Rose cupcakes

Black glutinous rice pudding, with orange blossom, pineapple, banana, rose and green pistachios. Toast with halva on the side (I was greedy!)

Black glutinous rice pudding, with orange blossom, pineapple, banana, rose and green pistachios. Toast with halva on the side (I was greedy!)

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Those rose petals

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Halva on toast – will be my new favourite breakfast although it will have to fight with the rice pudding

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Eating Buenos Aires: Pizza, Fugazzetta & Empanadas at El Cuartito

So you’re in Buenos Aires. Well, you’ve got to eat like a Porteño and go get yourself some pizza. You weren’t expecting that now, were you?

El Cuartito has been making pizza in downtown Buenos Aires since 1934. Not just any ole pizza, they serve the pizza peculiar to Buenos Aires, the fugazzetta (or fugazza con queso).

Fugazzetta at El Cuartito

Why pizza? There was a huge influx of Italian immigrants, particularly from Genoa in the 19th and 20th centuries to Argentina. Now, 25 million Argentines are of Italian descent (that is up to 60% of the total population). So, this naturally has had an enormous influence. There are Italian restaurants and pizzerias all over Buenos Aires, and El Cuartito is one of the old standards.

El Cuartito

Why go?

It’s brusque, big and noisy and fun. Bustling and joyful, I loved it. Eat at the counter or queue for a table. Either way, you will be having a proper local experience.

El Cuartito

The fugazetta is a slightly insane extremely rich deep cheese and onion pizza. If you eat a whole one I will clap you on the back and then call the ambulance. A couple of slices though, particularly at the end of the night, is heavenly. You haven’t been to Buenos Aires if you haven’t tried the fugazzetta.

El Cuartito

Empanadas are very good. Try the spicy beef one and the jamon y queso one.

El Cuartito

They serve fainá, a traditional chickpea based flatbread. You have to try that too.

El Cuartito

So go, and love it as much as I did. And don’t make the same mistake as me, have the dulce de leche flan. The fugazzetta and empanadas floored me and I couldn’t face it. In my defence, I had had a big lunch and dinner!

El Cuartito, Talcahuano 937, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Hidden Ireland: The Tannery, Dungarvan

The Tannery, Dungarvan

And on to The Tannery. You’ve been waiting for this one, haven’t you?

Dungarvan was never really a food destination, not until Paul & Máire Flynn moved in and opened The Tannery in 1997. The Tannery was an old leather factory, I remember it very well from my youth. One distinct time when very young I recall lots of people working with animal hides which were hanging very visibly, lots of steam, and a sense of industry. I remember people in hats and my surprise when I was told exactly where those skins came from. From animals! I remember the stench. I was very small.

The Tannery, Dungarvan

Since then, I’ve noticed a very big change in attitudes to food in the area. Maybe this was happening already, and the opening of The Tannery crystallised it, but I think it’s fair to say that they were critical to this development. They’ve since opened an award winning guesthouse (Tannery Townhouse) and an award winning Cookery School which I have yet to check out. I have enjoyed food at the restaurant though, and last Sunday, I returned for Sunday lunch with my sister.

The Tannery, Dungarvan

Set by the Quay in Dungarvan in the old tannery, The Tannery restaurant is encased in a gorgeous old stone building. Downstairs in the foyer you can have a drink while you wait for your table, upstairs is the restaurant, bright and airy with hints of it’s Tannery past. With a population of 17,000 people, Dungarvan is a small town by anyones standards, but people travel to eat there now.

The Tannery, Dungarvan

We opted for a set Sunday lunch which offers 3 courses for €30. Comprehensive, offering 5 options for each course, it was very difficult to decide what to have as it was all very appealing. My sister could not resist the Crab Creme Brulee with Pickled Cucumber and Melba Toast and she advised that I had to try the Tannery Tasting Plate, offering a selection of 4 starters: Vichysoisse, Ketafi of Cooleney Camembert, Chicken Liver Parfait with Plum Chutney & Pork Rillette with Onion Marmalade.

The Tannery, Dungarvan

The Crab Creme Brulee was fantastic, ambrosial, rich and still light. Gorgeous. The Tasting Plate was wonderful too, the Vichysoisse was all you could ever want from that cold summer soup, the Chicken Liver Parfait creamy, light and rich, the Ketafi of Cooleney Camembert was a wonderful addition, with crisp noodles surrounding oozy creamy camembert, and the Pork Rillette as good as everything before. I loved it.

Choosing a main course was challenging too. Grilled Hake with Bouillabaise Sauce, French Beans & Aioli; Glazed Pork Belly, Apple Sauce & Celeriac Cream; traditional Roast Chicken with Stuffing, Carrots & Peas; Seared Scallops, Romesco Sauce & Chorizo Croquettes or Wild Garlic Risotto with Crispy Shallots. How to choose?

The Tannery, Dungarvan

I decided on the scallops as I loved the idea of the chorizo croquettes and they have been something that I have wanted to make for a while. Nodlaig went for the wild garlic risotto. A side order of intensely buttery mash was served with my main. Both were executed perfectly again, no less than 7 scallops with strips of pickled courgette (I think!), charred scallions, a roast tomato with charred slice of garlic on top and dreamy, creamy, spicy chorizo croquettes. The wild garlic risotto was lovely, bright green and packed with flavour, the rice was al dente and had a lovely bite as it should, the crispy shallots served as a perfect contrast.

The Tannery, Dungarvan

The Tannery, Dungarvan

The Tannery, Dungarvan

Time for dessert. Soft Baked Meringue with Strawberries and Lemon Curd was irresistible for me, and Nodlaig went for her favourite Chocolate Truffle Cake. I loved mine, it was light, fruity and summery, not rich, and the chocolate truffle cake was mousse-like and reminded me of the River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis. Very good indeed.

The Tannery, Dungarvan

The Tannery, Dungarvan

Coffees were included and I had two very good and very well priced wines by the glass. A Bergerac Sauvignon- Semillon for €6.50 and a chilled red Beaujolais at the same price. We had a lovely lunch, it really has everything nailed: great room, great food, friendly and efficient service and very well priced. The food is detailed and delicate but has a lovely homely quality too. It stands up to and beats some michelin starred meals that I have had in London, and I think that the people of Dungarvan are very lucky to have it there.

Just last night they won an award for the Best Restaurant in Munster, Ireland, and the Best Irish Cookery School, so it’s definitely one to visit. Make sure you stick around and enjoy the area and all it has to offer, if you do.

http://tannery.ie/

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Posh Lunch Club at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

Another day, another Posh Lunch Club. This, my friends, is why none of my clothes fit me right now. I wish I was exaggerating! How can I go about continuing my lifestyle as savoury cookie monster, without putting on weight, or going to the gym? No purging either please. There has got to be an answer. Answers in a comment.

This lunch date was at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, one of the Galvin brothers numerous outposts in London. I ate at sister restaurant Galvin La Chapelle last year and really enjoyed the well executed and elegant French food. I was very much looking forward to (belatedly) trying the Bistrot. It has been recommended to me by many people for years.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

I was meeting fellow blogger and good friend, Sig of Scandilicious for lunch. I arrived first, and was immediately taken by the authentic Parisian buzz, high ceilings, low lit and low lamps, mirrors lining the walls, and lots of diners chattering surrounded by hues of brown and cream. It was a very elegant space with a charming atmosphere. I was glad Sig had suggested it, and was asking myself why I hadn’t been before.

I sat down and absorbed it all, perusing the set lunch menu, which is an absolute bargain at £15.50, running 7 days a week, including Sunday. This, in my Posh Lunch Club experience is fairly unusual. The set menu is also available in the evenings from 6-7pm.

There are two options for each course, which is normal for this kind of deal, and absolutely fine for me. It may be a bit trickier for vegetarians, impossible for those that don’t eat fish, but it is a French restaurant, and they don’t do vegetarian well. I am tempted to say Why Should They? Not because I dislike vegetarians, or vegetarian options, I often order them myself. Done well, vegetarian food can be fantastic. French food, however, is steeped in a history of rich meaty stocks and marrow, and I don’t think they should change that to suit a minority.

Sig and I chose a nice carafe of white wine, we asked the sommelier for something that would broadly suit our choices and it was a lovely one, which sadly, I can’t remember. It’s in a notebook somewhere, no doubt under a box, and in another box by now.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

For starter I had the Velouté of Pumpkin & Parmesan, which was a really perfect soup. Rich and savoury, with the fruitiness of the pumpkin playing with the umami rich parmesan, I was thinking about it for a few days. Sig went for the Mackerel Escabeche, which was perfectly nice, but nothing could extract me psychologically from my soup, sorry velouté, so I took a hurried bite and retreated swiftly to my bowl of liquid pleasure.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

We went for the same main course, Roast Pavé of Icelandic Cod, Pistou Vegetables. The cod was very nice, well cooked, nice crispy skin, but the pistou vegetables were a little underwhelming. Not bad for the price overall but a little lacking in ooomph. Grilled Calves Liver, White Polenta and Smoked Bacon was also on offer.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

For dessert, how could I resist the rhubarb? We’re almost out of the pretty-in-pink forced rhubarb season, and that sends me into a blind culinary panic. It came in the form of Buttermilk Panacaotta, Poached Rhubarb. I enjoyed the slight tang of the wobbly panacotta, but found the rhubarb a bit tough, which is a shame. Perhaps they undercooked them to retain a firm shape for presentation, but it took from the dessert. Brie de Meaux with Walnut and Raising Loaf was the other option. Once I saw the R word, I was blind to it though.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

So, overall, I really enjoyed it, after all, a meal is the sum of its parts, not just about the food, while it is very important. While the service was quite formal, it really fitted with the room and, dare I say it, it felt truly French. I really felt removed from my everyday existence here, I felt like I was in Paris. Sometimes, that’s all you need. The food was good overall, the wine a great match and a good sipper, and Sig was excellent company. What a bargain it was too. I heartily recommend it, and will be there again myself soon.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe
66 Baker Street,
London, W1U 7DJ
United Kingdom

T: +44 (0) 20 7935 4007

http://www.galvinrestaurants.com

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Posh Lunch Club at Terroirs

I have several bad habits, who doesn’t? One is not writing about some of my favourite places. It occured to me recently, and I wondered why. I suspect that it’s part not wanting to taint a lovely dining/wine-ing experience by dissecting it for a review, and part confident that I will be there again soon and I can review it then. A little greedy bit of me may not want to share, I like this part less than you do. So, I’ve decided to write a list of these places, and start ticking them off.

The first one that I will review is Terroirs in Charing Cross, for no reason other than that I was meeting a visiting friend and wine blogger (Vaguely Vinous) there, and I love it. It had the makings of a perfect afternoon.

Terroirs is a natural wine bar and restaurant in Charing Cross, French in character offering a vast selection of natural/biodynamic wines, and a great food selection. It’s bright with lots of light, and is always busy.

It’s always so lovely to find a wine bar that cares as much about the food as the wine, Vinoteca is one (review soon!) and Terroirs another. I trek there a lot, with friends or sometimes solo. I like to perch at the bar with a small plate, glass of wine and a good book, and pass a couple of indulgent hours. The food menu has a variety of snacks, small bites, plats du jour and cheese. The wine list is enormous and comprehensive and I have had the pleasure of discovering some new favourite wines there.

In the spirit of Posh Lunch Club, I had to indulge in the irresistible lunch special, which today was Chickpeas, Chorizo & Clams with a glass of Red Cuvée des Drilles, Gauillac or a glass of White Chateau Clement-Termes, Gauillac for £10. £10?! That is tremendous value. I opted for the red, which was light and very easy, a good lunch choice, and a nice match for the food.

The Chickpeas, Chorizo and Clams were lovely, served with some good aioli, there was lots of clams, with good chickpeas, no ropey tinned rubbish here. These chickpeas had a lovely nutty bite, which, in my experience you only get from homecooking. There was a fine dice of chorizo, so that each mouthful had a combination of the different flavours and textures and a gentle heat. Some bread mopped up the sauce at the end with large, guilty dollops of aioli. It was a very good dish.

Dining companions had the steak tartare, at a very reasonable £7, and really enjoyed it with some robust red wine. A plate of cheese graced the table, and while I didn’t indulge, others were very happy.

We finished with a lovely bottle of red from Bergerac, Le Combal Cahors 2006. Initially quite farmyardy, which natural wines sometimes are, it opened up quickly to reveal some fruity flavours that I really enjoyed. It was a treat at £34, but was worth the spend.

I enjoyed it so much, I almost went back for dinner. However, that would have been silly, and silly I can be, but I curtailed myself tonight. I have enjoyed several dinners there before and can recommend based on these, particularly the bavette served at the restaurant downstairs.

So, there you have it, a bargain fine lunch, in a lovely wine bar. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you check it out, as it’s marvellous. A real London gem for me.

Terroirs Wine Bar & Restaurant
www.terroirswinebar.com
5 William IV Street
London WC2
020 7036 0660

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Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I love the River Cafe. It’s so bright and cheerful. By the Thames, the room is lined with high large windows and the room is flooded with light. A big woodfired oven blazes at the end of the room, and the kitchen and bar line the restaurant. Staff buzz behind and high ceilings mean the surrounding customer chatter isn’t imposing. It’s really nice and lively. Even the toilets are cheerful with big bright doors of different colours.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

It’s at the high end of most budgets, and mine is no exception, so it’s been a while since I visited. Some years ago, pre blog days in fact. Imagine, there was a time when I didn’t blog?! I have long been a fan of their style of cooking, simple flavoursome Italian far so I was excited at the prospect of a return visit, especially as I had secured a reservation with the Winter lunch offer of 3 courses for £24.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray are accredited with changing perceptions of Italian food in this country, and many established chefs like Jamie Oliver have passed through their kitchens, crediting River Cafe as an inspiration, in terms of their food and their values. Sadly, co-founder and one of the chefs Rose Gray passed away after a long illness recently, and our reservation was moved as a result. Impressively, Ruth Rogers was there, manning the pass. I really like the fact that they never expanded or formed a chain, and stayed dedicated to their restaurant, still cooking and creating. It’s rare these days, no?

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The set menu offers lots of choice, and I wanted every main on it (there were four). We decided to forego the appetisers and to have a primi, secondi and dolce (starter, main and sweet). I was sorely tempted to go the whole hog, but that’s enough for lunch, when you’ve been eating out as much as I have been lately.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I chose the Ribolita for primi, and my friend Caroline, fellow Irish gal and market buddy dining with me that day, chose the Gnocchi di Spinaci. I couldn’t resist two of my favourite ingredients, borlotti beans and cavolo nero but sadly it wasn’t remarkable. It was too wintry for me now that we are in Spring. I would have been happy with it at home, but at River Cafe I wanted something with more vibrance and more appeal. It just didn’t have any va-va-voom. The gnocchi were much better. Light, springy and bursting with flavour in a delicious lively sage butter.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

My main promised to be better and delivered. Coscia d’Agnello ai Ferri – chargrilled leg of lamb with cannelinni beans , parsley and slow cooked florence fennel. Bright pink in the centre with a gorgeous charred exterior and a beautiful texture, the lamb was perfect. The beans and fennel were a lovely compliment, the beans had a perfect bite, these were not depressing supermarket tinned beans that I loathe so much. Beans are so very underrated, I love the liberal placement of them in the River Cafe menu.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Caroline had the Coda di Rospo alla Griglia – chargrilled monkfish with anchovy and rosemary sauce, soft polenta with butter and parmesan, and cicoria. Caroline was worried that the polenta would be heavy, but I was confident that this would be the real deal, light and fluffy having been made with great care and over time. Polenta, like risotto, needs careful handling and lots of love, and this had liberal amounts of both. She loved it.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The famous chocolate nemesis had to be ordered for dessert, it was mousse like in texture and utterly more-ish with the intensity of dark chocolate but none of the heaviness common in most chocolate desserts. We also ordered the lemon tart which was light and zingy, and a perfect end to the meal.

We had a bottle of Greganico with the meal, a Sicilian white compared to Sauvignon. I preferred it and found it lovely and aromatic with nice acidity that worked well with our lunch. It was light enough not to feel too guilty about a second glass that early in the day! It was a very reasonable £17.50, and was a good indicator for the rest of the list, being the cheapest available.

So, overall a lovely experience, even if the ribolita failed to impress. The service was charming, friendly and very helpful, even when I hopped around the wine list interminably, failing to decide. With wine it came to £40 each, which for the River Cafe is a bit of a bargain. The Winter Lunch Offer finishes at the end of March.

http://www.rivercafe.co.uk/

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

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

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A Roast Lunch with English Fizz

December 09 001

Borough Market is a frequent stomping ground, and as many years as I have been going there, there are some nooks still unexplored. One of these was Roast, a restaurant dedicated to British cooking using seasonal produce. I had sampled their breakfast wares on occasion, and they do a scoffable scotch egg, but on this occasion, I had an invite to lunch from Chapel Down Wines, one of our fantastic donors for the blaggers banquet and one of the market leaders in the budding English wine industry.

Chef Laurence Keogh

Chef Laurence Keogh

I know the sparkling well, I’ve had it many times, and I really like it. I also really like the Bacchus 2006, a fine white wine, but their other wines, and new beers were unexplored territory. Roast were making a lunch with some blind matches aranged by the chef and the winemaker. I really enjoy this kind of lunch, as it gives me an opportunity to learn some more about matching, and to speak to the people that produce the wine and make the food. We’re too dissociated from our food and drink, used to viewing items on supermarket shelves and not thinking of the winemaker, perfecting his craft and tinkling with his wine recipes (if that’s what they are called :) We rarely get a chance to speak to the chef, ask him how he came up with his dish, how he sources his food and what inspires him. It’s a rare opportunity to strip the facade and get to the bones of the matter, and I love it.

Winemaker, Owen Elias

Winemaker, Owen Elias

Nothing I do is without drama and this is no exception. I was flying from home that morning, and with my camera stolen, had precisely half an hour to locate my old camera, a memory card and charge the battery. No problem! I had had a 5am start, and an exhausting few days, so was very pleased to be handed a glass of Chapel Down Brut Rose on arrival. A lovely sweetish sparkling, with lots of strawberries on the palate, a nice appetiser.

Roast is a lovely space, upstairs in Borough Market, with lots of big windows perring down to the market below and letting in lots of bright grey November  light. It’s quite busy, lots of people what lunch and the place is abuzz right unil we finish our lunch.

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A quick perusal of the menu revealed a starter of smoked Lough Etive Trout with Dorset Crab Cakes, black pepper and lemon matched with Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004 and Chapel Down English Rose 2008. The smoked trout was delicious, a revelation. Smoky and peaty, it reminded me of Frank Hederman’s wonderful smoked salmon from Cork, in that it lacked oiliness and spoke only of delicioius trout flavour and the smokehouse. The crab cakes were a real nice light addition, and my preferred match was the Pinot Reserve 2004.

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The next course was Ramsey of Carluke haggis with celeriac and oxtail sauce, with a glass of Chapel Down Rondo Regent Pinot Noir NV. I like Haggis a lot, it’s aligned with black and white pudding in that family of foods made from unspeakable things that people are afraid of. But why? Ok, so it’s offal stuffed with offal, spiced and boiled for hours, but the result, is a fantastically savoury and intense dish, and if you didn’t know what it was and just ate it, you would love it. I found that the oxtail dominated it a bit too much sadly, but it was still a lovely dish. The Pinot Noir was light and had some nice spice which went nicely with the oxtail and haggis. We also had a Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut, which was great with the dish. You just can’t beat sparkling!

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The star of the show, our main course, and favourite of mine was next. Slow-roast Wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce, served with a glass of Roast Bacchus Reserve 2007. The pork belly was crisp and unctous and the Bacchus Reserve was quite floral and had a lovely acidity which made it a great match. The mash was again, Robuchon esque, more butter than sense, but who needs sense, when you can have great mash?!

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Desserts next, two of them. A very festive one too to start. Spiced clementine custard with anise biscuits, followed by a Warm Chestnut and Conference pear cake with hot chocolate sauce served with a glass of Chapel Down Nectar 2007. The first dessert was my favourite, nice and light but still indulgent and the citrus picked up some nice citrus notes in the wine.

Roast impressed as did the Chapel Down Wines. I look forward to exploring both further. They have put together a special menu and wine deal for readers, which screams excellent Christmas gift to me. Enjoy, and let me know if you try it.

Thanks to Chapel Down and Roast for a terrific lunch.

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Offer details:

– On arrival, a glass of Chapel Down Brut Rose

– Ramsey of Carluke haggis with celeriac and oxtail sauce, with a glass of Chapel Down Rondo Regent Pinot Noir NV

– Slow-roast Wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce, served with a glass of Roast Bacchus Reserve 2007 (NB this will be the full sized portion, not the sampler size you had yesterday)

– Spiced clementine custard with anise biscuits, served with a glass of Chapel Down Nectar 2007

– Tea or coffee

To take advantage of this menu, including the wine at just £44.50, quote Chapel Down Roast Bloggers’ Dinner when they ring the restaurant to book – 0845 034 7300.

As an extra special offer, Chapel Down have offered the fabulous Pinot Reserve 2004 for a remarkable price of £99 for a case of six including delivery to any UK mainland adddress. This wine would normally be £150 plus delivery. Christmas gifts sorted!

All you need to do is call the vineyard on 01580 763033, ask for Lizzie or Wendy and quote Blogger offer.

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Lunch at Galvin La Chapelle

The Galvin brothers have moved east and opened a new eatery in Spitalfields, or rather two, Galvin La Chapelle for high end dining, and attached, Galvin Cafe de Luxe for more relaxed dining. I’ve been pretty lax this year for checking in on new openings, so when Fiona Beckett, prolific author, blogger and twitterer invited me there for lunch, how could I say no? I couldn’t.

Housed in the former church hall of St Botolph’s in Spitalfields, on the new and spruced up Spital Square, an area once full of character, but sadly now more full of chains, Galvin La Chapelle sits on a corner. Behind an imperial grey doorway lies an arresting cavernous restaurant, with high vaulted ceilings and a glass walled mezzanine area housing the toilets at the back, and a private dining area at the front. It’s very impressive, and screams decadence. The clientele are, given the location, predominantly city types, donning designer suits and brandishing brandy. I am relieved when I spy Fiona, relaxed and smiling at a table by the back.

Fiona was perusing the wine list and in discussions with the somellier. We decided on the food and then asked the sommelier to provide matches by the glass, we also ordered a glass of hermitage to sample with the mains, which retails via an enomatic for circa £50 a glass. Mommmeeeeee, I was excited.

Fiona chose the Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle 1994 which would be matched with our mains of tagine of squab pigeon and harissa sauce for me and veal cheek for Fiona. First our starters, and again I must apologise for awful photos, my Canon DSLR was stolen (I may have mentiond), and my little camera is a disaster for me, as I have a benign and utterly harmless lifelong tremor, which means photography on less evolved devices with no flash = BLUR. Ah well.

For starter I went with lasagne of dorset crab, chanterelles and chervil which was matched with a robust glass of white from the Douro, which for me was too dominant, although a delicious white on it’s own. Fiona had the salad of red leg partridge with pomegranate and maple dressing which was deliciously sticky and festive. The Douro went really well with this so we traded our wines. Fiona’s lighter white (which I can’t recall sadly), went really well with my light, foamy and delicate starter.

Mains next, and this is where things were getting exciting. My pigeon tagine arrived. I eyed it with suspicion. My tagine is lived in and the lid is coated with tagine splutter and stains. This one was spick and span and when I touched it, cold. Eh? The lid was removed and underneath was an unexpected and very composed and deconstructed tagine with the squab pigeon in the centre squatted on a pile of cous cous. It wasn’t the unctous comfort food I was expecting but it was delicious and moreish. It went fantastically well with the Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle 1994, which, aware of how much of a treat this was, I sipped with caution and delight. The veal cheak was rich, with great depth, and served with a buttery and intense Robuchon style mash. Both dishes were great.

Next for dessert. I chose the blueberry soufflé, coulis and milk ice cream, and Fiona the pear tart tatin with crème fraîche. The blueberry soufflé was fantastic, a glorious and lively shade of lilac, which sadly the photgraph doesn’t show. It was light and very flavoursome, full of airY blueberry goodness and particularly good with the milky ice cream. I had a sparkling red dessert wine with it, Contero Brachetto d’Acqui, of which I wanted a lot more and will be seeking out again.

I really enjoyed it, and look forward to trying the more informal and cheaper Cafe de Luxe next door soon. I very much enjoyed the lunch, but Galvin La Chapelle’s prices are at the high end of the gourmands spectrum with my starter at £11.50, main at £22.50 and dessert at £8.50. The lunch set menu, however is a great deal, offering an enticing boudin noir with apple and pommes mousseline on the day we were there,and priced at £24.50 for three courses, it’s a bit of a bargain. Many thanks to Fiona for treating me to a delicious lunch.

Fiona’s Decanter Review.

Galvin La Chapelle, 35 Spital Square, London E1
020 7299 0400
www.galvinrestaurants.com

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Hawksmoor – The Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger. Everyone loves it. Often touted as the best burger in London by the food bloggerati, I had to try it. Fast forward to a Friday lunchtime and a decadent solo lunch.

Not everyone loves solo lunches, but I do. Every now and then, there’s nothing nicer than being very nice to yourself, allowing yourself some quiet time. You, a nice meal and a glass of nice wine in nice surroundings. Enter a book that’s grabbed your attention, and for me, that’s a perfect couple of hours. Of course, I also love more gregarious ones, they’re the most fun of all, but life’s about balance and contrast and to appreciate one you need the other.

Hawksmoor at lunchtime on Fridays is busy. Very busy. Lots of people, lots of chat, lots of steak on the tables and lots of people drinking wine. I like it. I seat myself at the bar and on the barman’s recommendation (I told him I would be ordering the burger and would like a red wine with body but also some fruit), ordered a glass of Main Divide Pinot Noir, 2007 from Pegasus Bay in New Zealand. I love NZ Pinot Noirs, and yet this one takes me by surprise, it’s really fruity yet has lots of structure. It feels like a delicious and naughty interlude while I wait for my burger. It’s only 1pm after all.

The Hawksmoor burger is at the high end of the London burger market at £15, but then Hawksmoor is no ordinary steakhouse. They carefully source their product, after much research settling on the Ginger Pig Longhorn cattle. They serve, in their words, dictionary- thick steaks from North Yorkshire dry aged for at least 35 days. Their philosophy is simple, they source high quality steak and do very little to it, simply searing it on a blisteringly hot charcoal grill, and delivering it with a gorgeous char ready to be devoured. I loved it when I was there last time and the burger now awaited me.

It was time – the burger arrived. I put down my wine glass and my book and surveyed this delicious looking creature. Delivered with triple cooked chips, pioneered by Heston Blumenthal and now replicated elsewhere, the burger glistens from beneath a seeded brioche, smelling intensely meaty and covered with a thin coating of Ogleshield Cheese from Somerset with a little salad. Just a little.

Burgers are to be eaten with your hands, and even though this is a big one, this is what I did. It’s a burger! Eat it the way it should be eaten. The flavour was so rich and gorgeous, full of umami. I felt like, in the best possible way, I was licking a roasting tray having slow roasted some meat over night. It was gorgeous, intense, moist and fatty. People complain about fat, but that’s where the flavour is, a good burger needs it. The chips were good, but I really didn’t care about them now, I wanted only the burger. The wine was a lovely accompaniment, I was only sad that I could only have one glass. It is lunchtime and I must have some standards. Occasionally.

Why is the burger so special? Like most deceptively simple things, it’s the attention to detail that delivers something that stands out. Consisting of of 100% Longhorn, it includes old fashioned cuts like Clod and Sticking and small nuggets of bone marrow. Ah bone marrow, now I understand the intensity.

So, hats off to Hawksmoor for delivering the finest burger that I have tasted in London. I look forward to trying it again, with a delicious glass of that lovely Pinot Noir.

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Jai Shri Krishna

Moving to a new area always has a little bit of a thrill, especially if it’s relatively unexplored (by your good self of course) and has gastronomic bounty to offer. My move to Turnpike Lane in North East London has been particularly good in this respect. I’ve found some great new Turkish restaurants (Antepliler, I salute you, and I’ll bring my camera next time!), am addicted to Turkish Lahmacun, particularly weak for it after a few drinks, and I have found a number of great food shops and a local butcher that I like.

This time, I won’t talk about Turkish food. This may seem odd for Londoners familiar with Green Lanes, packed with Turkish restaurants, food shops and Turkish men’s social clubs. Like many parts of London, Turnpike Lane is full of surprises, and turning a street corner can throw up some unexpected flavours. On Turnpike Lane itself, for example, there’s multi-ethnic eateries and shops with Lebanese, Caribbean, Malay and Indian flavours.

The ones that really impressed me recently and that I will describe now, are the Indian ones. I discovered a great little food shop that sells all sorts of usually unattainable delights, from fresh turmeric to tinda, tiger tomatoes to a myriad of squashes. Every spice and rice you could think of. I’m a regular visitor now. Just before you get there, a gem of a restaurant is tucked behind an understated facade, looking utterly unimpressive.

Jai Shri Krishna is a family run South Indian Vegetarian restaurant. I love South Indian Vegetarian food, particularly Keralan, and when I discovered there was a local restaurant, I swiftly checked it out.

A first glance at the window revealed a very cheap lunch deal and half price thali at lunch nestled beside the menu. Not always the most encouraging sign, but usual for restaurants like this. The menu was fairly large offering Keralan staples, dosas, uttapam, idli and a wide variety of curries and dals. It was all very cheap too, predominantly circling the £4 mark. There’s no alcohol on the menu but it is BYO and at a very reasonable 30p for each beer and I can’t quite remember the specifics but something like £1.50 for a bottle of wine.

aloo gobi

Service was quick, we were promptly brought a menu and some paper and a pen to note our choices. Now this worried me a little, as this wasn’t like some places where you tick next to the food you want. I was to write it out, and my writing is really very bad. I once signed a birthday card with my name Niamh, spelled N-I-A-M-H, and my friend asked, who’s David? Oh, no that’s just me, that’s N-I-A-M-H.  So, as clearly as I could I wrote our order, and then, armed with the knowledge of my terrible, terrible writing, went through each one with the waiter when he came to take it.

dosa

We ordered the masala dosa, nice and light, with a light and delicately seasoned light potato masala in the centre served with a lovely sambar and cocnut chutney. There was lots of interesting paneer dishes, we went with the pumpkin one. I thought it might be too sweet but it was very light and not overbearing, very enjoyable.  Aloo Gobi was delicious, the potatoes had a lovely caramelised flavour, surely, the ultimate comfort food. The pooris were light and fresh,and it was nice to have the option of brown rice. We washed it all down with some lime waters which were very good indeed. The only dish which  I wasn’t overjoyed with was the mushroom dopiaza, all is forgiven though as everything else was great and at that price, fantastic.

mushroom dopiaza

The second night we went we got a big wave, and they came down to say hello and apologised for being rushed the day before as they were very busy. I love local enterprises like this, family run, friendly, great value and with lots of integrity. I’ve really enjoyed it and will certainly go again. It’s very reasonable, well flavoured and spiced, and good value. A local treat. Try it if you’re in the area.

Jai Shri Krishna, 10 Turnpike Lane Hornsey London N8 0PT

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Alan Yau’s latest flavour – Cha Cha Moon

Cha Cha Moon

Another year, another stylish restaurant opening from Alan Yau. The entepreneur and restaurateur, native of Hong Kong, has taken London by storm in recent years with a succession of well received asian restaurants including two michelin starred restaurants (Yautcha & Hakkasan). He started with Wagamama in 1992 which he sold in 1998 when it comprised 2 restaurants. These were followed swiftly by Satsuma (for the Royal China Group), Busaba Eathai, Hakkasan, Yautcha, Sake no Hana and now Cha Cha Moon.

Cha Cha Moon

Famously, he was very unhappy with what happened with Wagamamas. It was a hostile buyout and he is quoted as saying that that was “was like seeing your baby brought up by strangers with different values”. He is seeking to make amends with Cha Cha Moon. It is intended to be the Chinese Wagamamas serving healthy, casual fast food.

On approach, Cha Cha Moon is even more startling and modern than previous offerings with bright panels of lights on the walls, broader than at Yautchas, a pretty neon sign by the door. The kitchen is open and, as you walk in, behind red glass, which lends it a surreal and exciting effect. Stylish, modern and in a great location, it’s a similar formula to some of his previous establishments offering communal eating on long wooden tables and food served swiftly as it’s ready. The menu, on first glance apperars very traditional, serving the likes dan dan noodles & szechuan wontons.

It was quite empty when we arrived at 7.15pm, I can only assume that not many people know that it’s there yet, and we had no trouble getting a table. In fact we had a large table to ourselves. I took a couple of photos until someone ran over quickly advising “no photos allowed”. I obliged and put my camera away, but really, it’s a little silly. Especially as I already had taken some ;)

We ordered a beer and a shibuya casual cocktail. The cocktail, made of lychee, sake and martini bianco, was delicious. It was also very pretty with four raspberries nestling on some white foam on top. To eat we ordered jasmine tea smoked chicke lao mian, seafood ho fun, szechuan wonton and spring onion pancakes.

I really enjoyed the chicken, it was delicately flavoured and light, and the noodles were flavoursome especially when blended with some nice accoutrements inluding a beautiful light bowl of light soup/stock. The seafood ho fun was extremely fresh and contained scallops, prawns and squid but the sauce overwhelmed. I am not a fan of black bean sauces generally, so I am sure this is why it disappointed on that front. Why order it then? It wasn’t my dish but my dining partners, he also was underwhelmed. The szechuan wonton was tasty, but not as firey as one I previously had at Angeles, a traditional szechuan restaurant in Kilburn in London. The spring onion pancakes were very flavoursome and a nice accopaniment.

Overall judgement? It opened only last weekend, and so, while they are perfecting their craft, all food on the menu is £3.50. Bargain! Therefore, I can’t really judge the food just yet, it wouldn’t be fair. First impressions are that it’s cheap, stylish, central and quick. I think it will be good for that stopgap on a busy evening or a quick sociable bite with friends.

Cha Cha Moon
15-21 Ganton St, Soho, W1F 9BN
020 72979800

28/05/08 Visited Cha Cha Moon again and had Sigapore fried noodles which were delicate, light and beautifully seasoned. Choi Sum on the side was well seasoned and flavoursome. Spring rolls were disappointing. More photos added to the post. I managed to take some this time! :-)