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Preview: Foxlow, St John St, London

foxlow-kitchen-chef

St John St is a busy street, and in a very good way. Home to St John’s restaurant (from Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver), and also wine bar & restaurant Vinoteca (across the road), with Bistro Bruno Loubet (which I have eaten at 3 times but neglected to blog, a huge oversight), and The Zetter Townhouse around the corner (one of my favourite spots for drinks and bar snacks). There are lots more and I could type all day, but my point is, that this isn’t an area that has been crying out for great new restaurants. This hasn’t stopped the Hawksmoor team from taking a stab at it, and given their pedigree (I am a fan of their Hawksmoor steakhouses and bar), I was curious as to what they planned to deliver and how. I knew that this wasn’t going to be another Hawksmoor, but I was expecting it to be quite meaty. And so it was. In a very good way.[Read more]

Lunchtime at Bouillon Chartier in Paris
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When In Paris: Lunch at Bouillon Chartier

Most declare a fond love for Paris. Some find it rude. Those poor Parisians have a reputation to maintain, earned for them, from what I can see, by a small handful of people. Sure, there are some rough characters, but we have them here too, right? I think mainly, we are just intimidated by the language, and their lack of patience for us attempting to speak it. I can’t blame them. I muddle through like a cat that has just had her tongue removed. Limping by, mumbling French through an Irish accent, expecting at any moment to be told off. And I sometimes am.

On a trip to Paris last weekend (very brief and just for one night), I ate at a restaurant that has a reputation for being brusque, rude and maybe not very good at all at times. So why did I go? Because it is a slice of Parisian history and I am eternally curious. Bouillon Chartier is tucked away down an alley off a side street. One of the turn of the (20th) century soup kitchens, Bouillons were established so that anyone could get affordable traditional French food and bouillon (a broth – hence the name), and speedily. Very few are left, and Chartier still serves traditional Bouillon fare, and very cheaply, with starters priced from €1 – €6.80 and mains not exceeding €13.50 (and that includes steak).

Bouillon Chartier, Paris

Bouillon Chartier, Paris

A queue usually snakes outside – at meal times anyway – but it moves very quickly. I expected a lot of tourists, but we seemed to be surrounded by French people. The queue was managed in French too, so I resurrected by primitive teenage French discourse and managed to communicate our needs (he would have spoken English if I wanted him to, but I wanted to practice so persevered). It wasn’t long before we were seated in a beautiful vast room, elbow to elbow with some strangers on a shared table. Which was absolutely fine.

Bouillon Board - Meat Origins

Bouillon Board – Meat Origins

Coats are tossed above your table on baggage racks, and orders scribbled on your table cloth. Service is at times impatient, our waiter marched off at one point as we were taking too long. Maybe it is because London is a great leveller, but I found it more efficient than rude, and wasn’t bothered at all. This is a restaurant that was established to serve speedy well priced food, and this is what it is, plus you get what you pay for.

Starters were traditional, and I couldn’t resist an aggressively unapologetic egg mayonnaise – priced at €2.20 – and two halves of an egg, slapped yolk down, with lots of (good) mayonnaise dumped on top. But it tasted great, even if the egg yolk was lined grey from too much time in the pot. At €2.20 another starter was called for, and I felt a salad might be good. Especially if it was dripping in bacon fat and covered in crispy bacon and croutons. So frisee with lardons and croutons was divined, and some escargots bathing in bright green garlic rich butter came along side (there were two of us, in case you are worrying).

For mains we had fresh sausage with lentils. The lentils had long ago stopped pretending to be firm, and were languid in their dressing, but the flavour was good, and the sausage, crisp and rich, was great. Veal chop, Normandy style in a cream cider sauce with mushrooms was spot on and comforting. The spaghetti on the side, bloated as a depression era fat cat in a butter coat, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Desserts called. Chou with chantilly, an overbearing (but delicious) bun filled with sweet cream, and a delicate puffed prune clafoutis with custard.

We washed our meal down with a bottle of water and a very drinkable bottle of Cahors, and it all came to €65, for two. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again. And, I never say this, but it is worth it for the room alone. A restaurant experience is never just about your meal. It is about the room, the service, the company and everything in between. We seemed to get most things right last Saturday.

http://www.bouillon-chartier.com/

7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009 Paris, France ‎+33 1 47 70 86 29

I travelled to France with Eurostar on their #wheninparis campaign

And – you will see that I am fiddling around with the design – please don’t be alarmed and I welcome your feedback – I am doing it live and it is only half way there at the moment. The pumpkins are a temporary measure! :)

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Eating Buenos Aires! La Cabrera: Your Sweetbreads, are My Weak-Ness

(the title should make sense to those compos mentis in the 80s ;)


In Argentina, you seek out beef. That’s a given. The Argentine and particularly gaucho diets until relatively recently consisted almost entirely of beef and all sorts of offal. All cuts fired over parrilla flames and served toppling on platters.

Nothing is  wasted when an animal is slaughtered here, Argentines absolutely love offal. The sweetbreads (thymus and pancreas) are some of the best that I have ever eaten, simply cooked with lemon juice over some hot coals, the crisp offal taste rich and delicate. The chewy rich chitterlings (intestines) are fought over by children. When the bullocks are castrated, the testicles are slung on the parrilla to be eaten. It’s a time of year that all farmers here look forward to.

Wine list at La Cabrera

So, the Aubergine Parrillas (BBQs) are a must and they are everywhere. In Buenos Aires, I explored and visited quite a few. I have 3 favourites (so far!), the first being La Cabrera in Palermo.

Palermo is like the Notting Hill of Buenos Aires. Once quite a rough area it is now all glamour and gloss, with the associated price tag. It does have some really good restaurants though, and naturally the tourists flock here. With La Cabrera there is a lot of hype and so it is insanely popular (even now in low season) but it really lives up to the chatter.

It is actually split over two restaurants, and we chose to sit outside as it was a beautiful sunny day. We were lucky that we didn’t have to wait, but worry not if you do, they will give you sparkling wine to ease the torture.

Provoleta at La Cabrera

A must when in Argentina is the provoleta, a hallmark of the strong Italian influence here, it is an Argentine variant of Italian provolone cheese, waxy and firm, it cooks beautifully. Cooked in cast iron little pots until gooey and crisp, usually with herbs and olive oil it’s incredibly more-ish. A rich starter when lots of meat is due, but it is a must.

La Cabrera in Buenos Aires

La Cabrera is famous for its sweetbreads so we had to order those. We also, wisely, ordered a large rib eye between 3, and trust me that at lunchtime, with all of the side dishes and the salad (simply to ward off scurvy you understand!), it was enough. We needed to leave room for dinner.

Spinach with Tarragon / Mustard Sauce at La Cabrera

A word of warning when you order here, the Argentines like their beef well done, so be sure to order it to your liking. The sweetbreads arrived, and were enormous. Beef pancreas I expect.. I was grateful that I wasn’t eating on my own as I often do.

Sweetbreads at La Cabrera

A thin crisp coating gave way to a succulent rich mass. An uninitiated diner described them of tasting of delicious crispy fat. I couldn’t put it better although it does ignore the gorgeous lighter interior. The steak was rich and large. And all of those sides (all delivered with every order on the house) were playful and a nice distraction from all of that meat. Some spinach with a tarragon mustard sauce was gorgeous and we just slathered it all over the steak.

BEEF! Lots of beef at La Cabrera, Buenos Aires

Meaty spread at La Cabrera, Buenos Aires

We toddled off happily after. Not slayed but pleasantly full. Which is an acquired talent when eating out in Buenos Aires. A siesta is always in order here though, especially after a parrilla indulgence, so make sure you fit one in.

La Cabrera, José Antonio Cabrera 5127, Buenos Aires

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The Tio Pepe Tapas Trail: Barrica, Fino & Pinchito Tapas

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

London is an interesting city. Waves of enthusiasm seem to infect leading to trends in food and otherwise. Trends drive me crazy, food is food after all, and if it’s good it’s good. So what if I want to eat sun dried tomatoes and it’s not 1997?! I like ‘em. Sometimes they bring benefits though, and I am happy to succumb. One such trend is the interest in Spanish food and drink and the corresponding surge in quality tapas restaurants in London.

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Centrally this has seen the arrival of Barrica, Fino (relaunched last year) and Pinchito Tapas. Spanish style (perhaps Irish style too!),we embarked on a crawl of these three, taking advantage of the Tio Pepe Tapas Trail. Tio Pepe fino, one of my favourite summer drinks, was available free with any tapa over £4.50. What fun!

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

We started at Barrica. My first time there, I was taken with the warmth of the traditional room with the sunny yellow walls. Lots of wood, a big counter, some tables and high stools. We opted for bar seats and chose Tortilla; Morcilla (Spanish black pudding); Clams, White Beans & Girolles and Galician Octopus. Some of my favourite dishes and Spanish staples (the girolle dish aside), they would be a good test of the kitchen.

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

The tortilla was eggy and runny in the centre and rich, exactly as it should be, tick. The morcilla was very good, a lovely spicey version and finely sliced like a cured sausage, I devoured it quickly. The Galician octopus was tender and delicate. So far so good. The Clams, White Beans & Girolles felt as though it was missing something, I would imagine this is a vegetarian version of clams, white beans and chorizo. It felt like it was missing a fruitiness with the earthiness of the girolles too dominant. Prices circled a very fair £4-6. We sipped on our Tio Pepe Finos and headed on to Fino. Boom boom!

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Fino, an offering from the Hart brothers, owners of Barrafina and Quo Vadis is very smart.  The most expensive of the three we would visit, Fino is a basement room with low ceilings, it’s been very good on previous visits, but it had been some time so I was looking forward to checking in. We grabbed seats by the bar again – the best place to sit always, isn’t it? – and ordered another Spanish staple Pane con Tomate, a lovely fresh & fruity version, some more Morcilla (I can never resist!) – Marcilla Iberica, Fried Quails Eggs, Chorizo Chips (small chorizo sausages wrapped in wafer thin potato and fried), Braised Iberian Pig Cheeks, sensationally rich and tender, they were irresistable. Another glass of Tio Pepe Fino here, but we also indulged in an extra glass of Tio Pepe En Rama, the celebratory 175th anniversary vintage which sold out in hours, but is available at Fino (and also Pinchito) at £5.90 a glass. This was gorgeous and silky with great depth of flavour. We had to have another one when we visited Pinchito next! We are indulgent…

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Before we left we watched a suckling pig (a a very tiny one – seriously not much bigger than a cat) being prepared in the kitchen. Despite concerns for the age of the tiny piglet, we watched with envy. That has got to be done soon.

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Final stop was Pinchito. I have only been there for drinks before, and at that at the Shoreditch one. First impressions are of a trendy bar, which always worries me when it comes to the quality of food (am I an old crank or what?!), however, Pinchito really delivered, and I thought it was probably the closest to what you would get in Spain right now.

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

The staff are also immensely knowledgable, we were all very impressed with our waiter Guillaume, who was so enthusiastic and helpful and full of information. We bought him a glass of En Rama and asked him to join us, which he did, although only briefly before he diligently went back to work.

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

We had Pa amb tomaquet (bread and tomato) which was a terrific version of the dish. The tomato was fruity and had spice with some lovely vinegary back notes. Alioli (garlic dip with toasted bread) was simple and perfect. I was very impressed by now. We hadn’t had croquetas yet so we ordered Croquetas de cocido madrileño (mixed meat croquettes) which were rich and dense. Mixed meat is a nerve wracking description but this worked well, whatever it was.

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

We also had Chorizo a la sidra (chorizo with cider & apple sauce), again simple, rustic and high quality and a plate of very good manchego. More Tio Pepe fino (again free as part of the Tapas trail), an irresistible glass of En Rama and a cocktail – Sevilla Fizz made with Sherry & Cava (costing £6.50) and very, very good, as everything had been until this point.

Tio Pepe Tapas Trail

We were ready to bounce out of there by now, and we did. It was a great evening, and a very good showcase of Spanish food in London with only one weakish dish. Barrica was relaxed and a lovely place to catch up with friends, Fino a smarter setting with more elegant food, but the standout for me was Pinchito. High quality, relaxed, friendly and innovative, that’s Spanish cuisine in a sentence for me, and we have it here now in London. I want to go back to try Albondigas (meat balls with green olive sauce) and Hanger steak with paprika alioli (and more cocktails of course). Watch this space, I will tell you all about it when I do.

The Tio Pepe Sherry trail runs from 12-18th of July. It’s brilliant fun and if possible, I’ll be indulging in another glass or two at Iberica and Moro before the week is out.

http://www.pinchito.co.uk/

http://www.finorestaurant.com/

http://www.barrica.co.uk/

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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 Texture

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

There has been a lull in the transmission of Posh Lunch Club – apologies. The lull was only a week, but a week is a long time in politics blogging. I have been busy moving house and it has been a difficult transition. My new place is better located, and lovely and bright, but it is much smaller, and as a result I have a ridiculous amount of excess stuff. This takes sorting and dispensing, so it was lovely to escape from the chaos and indulge in a Posh Lunch with Sig of Scandilicious once more.

We had chosen to go to Texture, an Icelandic restaurant near Marble Arch. Iceland you say? You’ve heard of that recently? Well, this is possibly the star in the Icelandic crown. Forget attention seeking Eyjafjallajokull, that infernal volcano spouting puffing ash clouds all over the northern horizon and ruining everyone’s holiday plans. Forget about the collapse of the economy. Londoners, when you think of Iceland, you need to think Texture and you need to go there.

Why? Well, it’s a Posh Lunch Club bargain at £22 for 3 courses. The menu is pure simplicity, and deceptive for the food is intricate, and oh-so pretty. Each dish is like a woodland scene, I expected to spy a mini gruffalo peep out from behind a frond of dill amid Sig’s main course. I wanted to scoop my parmesan snow into a lunchbox and keep it forever in my freezer at home, like a parmesan ice queen. It’s modern yet in tune with nature, using normal ingredients (for us: chicken, salmon, asparagus, prawns) in creative ways.

Agnar Sverrisson is the culinary brainchild behind the operation. Icelandic, he started his culinary career in Reykjavik and has built an impressive CV including a stint as the Head Chef at La Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons. There he met Xavier Rousset (Sommelier), and they left to setup Texture in 2007. They’ve just received their first Michelin star, and I really think this is one to watch.

Texture

We started with a plate of crispy bits – I am sure they have a better name! Crispy sheets of parmesan, potato, bread and cod skin with wasabi and lettuce emulsion and yoghurt and barley dip for dipping. The dip was fresh, and it was perfect, save the cod skin for me which was a little too fishy, although Sig loved that. This was followed by a gorgeous little amuse of pea and mint, what appeared to be soup, but was a combination of textures and flavours, some mousse with pea, mint & I think I detected some asparagus on top. The pea was almost frozen in parts, and the whole dish was packed with flavour, and had a purity to it with very clean and sharp flavours.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

The menu offers two choices per course, we each chose one so that we could try everything. Honestly, nothing disappointed. My starter of New Season English Asparagus, Parmesan Snow, Hazelnuts, Olive Bread was stunning. The crisp steamed asparagus was carpeted with a gentle icy parmesan snow. The hazelnuts were a great complement, and the texture of the crispy bread was perfect with the melting snow.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Sig went for Greenland Prawns, Gazpacho, Avocado, Tapenade. This dish had a touch of drama with the bright red gazpacho poured over at the table. The prawns were deliciously sweet and plentiful and the dish, from my brief tasting, worked beautifully.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

For mains I went for chicken – more precisely Corn Fed Free Range Chicken Breast & Leg, Barley, Chicken Jus. Chicken is normally absent on a Michelin starred menu and I was curious. Sig went for the Organic Scottish Salmon, Sorrel, New Potatoes, Cucumber. I was pleased when the waitress advised that they don’t cook the salmon through, as this is how I love to eat it (even if it’s not my dish!).

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

The dishes were breathtakingly pretty and packed with flavour. Mine had white breast meat and dark leg meat, with nuggets of barley and tiny dark brown mushrooms throughout. It was rich but not heavy, with two delicious spears of sprouting broccoli and carrots. I knew that not only was this delicious, but it was doing me good. Sig’s salmon was tender and flaked beautifully, she was very happy with her main course.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Desserts: I chose Mango & Pineapple Soup, Lemongrass, Basil, Olive Oil. The soup was poured at the table, a nice touch, and was fragrant and fruity and a fitting end to the meal. Sig couldn’t resist the Valrhona White Chocolate Mousse, Ice Cream, Dill Cucumber, mainly to see what they would do with the dill and cucumber. Again, she really enjoyed it, and we both agreed that we would love to go again, and as soon as possible. We finished with coffees and delicious petits fours, a pretty and delicious little macaron and truffles. Just enough to satiate and not enough to feel guilty.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Overall the food showed a real lightness of touch, both in the artfulness of the dishes and a purity and sharpness of flavour. At the end of the meal, we both agreed that we were satiated but perfectly so, perhaps because Sverrisson doesn’t use cream or butter in his savoury food, and you can really feel the difference. Not that I am knocking cream or butter, but it is nice to have somewhere that goes without and produces something this wonderful.

Posh Lunch Club at Texture

Much has been said of the wine, of the wide variety and the keen pricing. We didn’t explore this very thoroughly as it was just lunch after all. We wanted something light, with a bit of life, that wouldn’t knock us out and that would complement the food. We requested a suggestion for under £30. A Spanish wine from Rueda was proposed at £29 (Verdejo, José Pariente, Bodegas dos Victoria, 2008), and it fitted the bill perfectly, not unlike a Sauvignon but lacking those limey/gooseberry flavours, it matched the savoury dishes nicely.

All of this wonderful lunch came to £45 each including service. If that’s not a bargain for this gorgeous michelin starred lunch, tell me what is.

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Posh Lunch Club at Racine

Lunch at Racine

Friends were visiting from Ireland recently and staying in Knightsbridge. As always happens these days, recommendations were requested, and I had one must visit for them in the area – Racine. I couldn’t get through to them, and when I finally did they announced that they had already happened upon it and loved it. High praise from two Francophiles indeed. I was delighted that they had had a chance to try it, I feel now that everyone should.

Racine is a classic French restaurant that serves very elegant, well executed food. Henry Harris is at the helm, with impeccable credentials having trained at Hilaire with Simon Hopkinson. I’ve eaten there a few times now and have never been disappointed. Each dish delivers what you expect and more. It’s classic French food, rich but not heavy with excellent sourcing of ingredients that are cooked in perfect harmony.

I went here for Posh Lunch Club but for the first time fell off of the horse. Posh Lunch Club is about fine dining at bargain prices, only from the set menu, no matter how enticing the main menu is. I blame my dining companion Derek, he went off piste, and then I had to. It’s all his fault you see. I have decided to include it in Posh Lunch Club anyway, if only because I am going there for regular posh lunches from now on, and they are a steal at £17.50 for 3 courses. Also, despite matching wines to each course and going off piste, it came in at the same price as The Ledbury set lunch (£50), and I enjoyed it just as much.

So, what did we have? We started with the stunning bone marrow, spring garlic and bacon toast pictured at the top of this post. It was gentle, eloquent, and just the right side of intense. The garlic distracted from the bone marrows fervor and gave it a lovely aromatic and slightly nutty quality.

Lunch at Racine

Mains were, for me, and from the set menu, confit pork belly with sauce diable. Derek had confit de canard aux lentilles. I wanted each as much as the other. My pork belly was perfect. The flesh was tender and packed with flavour, the skin was crispy but not teeth shatteringly so, it had a lovely crunch. The sauce diable was creamy but with a beautiful acidity, which was perfect with the fatty pork. The confit de canard was the best I’ve had, crispy, succulent, more-ish and the lentils were a perfect savoury accompaniment.

Lunch at Racine

I went off piste for the dessert, for I have to have the rhubarb as you know. We’re almost out of season and I am in a near panic. Poached Yorkshire rhubarb, mandarin sorbet, grand Marnier and orange curd was a beautiful tribute to my favourite fruit, the rhubarb meshed with the ice cream, bright pink and meltingly tender. I see it’s still on the menu now. Derek had the cheese board which was generous and well selected, and had the most delicious walnuts, from memory they were gently spiced and candied.

Lunch at Racine

The menu changes daily and offers great variety – it is updated on their website and I can’t resist peeking frequently and planning future outings there. This was one of my favourite posh lunch clubs by far, and it’s placed high in my affections for dinner too. A classic restaurant, driven by passion, knowledge and fierce attention to detail. If you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend you go.

Lunch at Racine

Racine Restaurant

www.racine-restaurant.com

239 Brompton Road
London SW3 2EP
020 7584 4477

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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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Posh Lunch Club at Kitchen W8, Kensington

Posh Lunch Club last week could only be a success, for I was to be in affable company. Oliver Thring, fellow blogger and now writer, joined me for a sojourn to the wilds of Kensington. Always cheerful and ever sharp, I knew we would have some fun.

We had booked lunch at Kitchen W8, a restaurant not on my radar at all, and for that reason, I was keen to try it. It’s like watching a film without seeing a trailer, or reading a review, and not really being sure what to expect as a result.  It can be very successful or perplexing, I wondered what I would get. En route, I spied a tweet from Ollie, stating that they had tried to seat us at the worst table in the room, even though the restaurant was empty. I sighed and speeded on, as ever a fashionable ten minutes late. Chronoptimism, my faithful stalker.

On arrival I spied a beige room, with lots of emaciated blonde older diners, lots of Ladies-What-Lunch. As a less svelte brunette, I wondered if there was a notice barring my sort that I hadn’t spied, the sort with single barreled names, and double barreled bellies. I wondered where these ladies put the food they were eating. Must have been in their handbags or down the loo.  I perused the menu, it was intriguing and I was in excellent company and ready to tuck in.

We were interested in the set menu, fine dining on a budget is what Posh Lunch Club is, as you know. There were three courses on offer for a very reasonable £19.50, two options for each course. We opted for a bottle of house red, a French Cabernet Sauvignon, to power us through it.

For starter I went for a Raviolo of Duck with Rhubarb Chutney and Trompette de la Mort. My second raviolo with rhubarb in as many weeks, I am aware. I may need to change the name of this venture to Rhubarb Club if I continue.

It was a curious dish. The raviolo was lovely, with dense full flavoured and moist duck, enveloped in extremely graceful and delicate pasta, perfect in it’s supporting role, as it should be. There was some finely minced duck on top, which was a lovely textural contrast, but the rhubarb chutney underneath just didn’t work. I really don’t think it was a chutney either, it was just rhubarb. To quote Ollie, in order to be stylish, you take one item off before you leave the house. This dish should have taken this sage advice and left the rhubarb in the kitchen, it would have been perfectly lovely with a simple jus.

The room was filling up now, and a hushed but vibrant atmosphere was developing. Maybe I was settling into the wine. We both opted for the Peppered Flatiron Steak with Pommes Salardaise, Crushed Turnip and Bone Marrow. This was a fine dish, the steak served medium-rare as suggested, with a fine wedge of bone marrow atop. The pommes salardaise were stellar, a firm slice of rich potatoes with a delicious and intensely savoury crust. The flatiron steak was rich and full-flavoured. This was a bold meal with great flavours. An extra green side salad was dressed perfectly, and a good accompaniment. The only thing was I am sure that that turnip was in fact celeriac. No matter, I prefer it and was happy. I liked this course a lot.

Rhubarb obsessed and hoping for a better interpretation than the starter offered, I chose the Poached Yorksire Rhubarb with Stem Ginger, Almond & Orange for dessert. I never can resist it, I had it for lunch today too! I expected a compote but what arrived was some rhubarb on a cake base of sorts, with jelly and icecream and some wafers, effectively. Much better and I enjoyed it, it was understated but tasty and good for the price.

Our meal was over, time for coffee? No. More wine please! A whole bottle. Why not, we thought, it had been a while and we were enjoying catching up. It is precisely for this reason that I am now the proud owner of retro jelly moulds, a new moka and a retro icing set purchased on the way home.

Overall, it really was a pleasant lunch. The service was very professional and swift, the food was well executed and there is some good if adventurous and at times misguided cooking coming out of the kitchen. If in the area I might pop in for lunch again and see if I fared better, I don’t think I would go out of my way to explore. We did have a great time though and it is a lunch to remember, if not for the food, for the laughs and stories shared over the wine. And isn’t that what lunch is all about sometimes?

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

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

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January in food and frolics: the roundup

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

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

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

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

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

Vongole at L'Anima

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

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

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

Pork cooked in milk with cinnamon & bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, as always :)

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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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The Civet Cat Club

Another day, another supper club. It would be easy to be cynical, but this trend of challenging the established, and the chains, and doing your own thing, utterly independent and free from any driving force but your own, is to be championed.

What’s to lose? At worst: a poor evening, at best: a fantastic experience, sometimes: in the middle, offering something utterly pleasant and different, an insight into another home, chatter with your neighbouring guests, and a warm fuzzy feeling on the way home.

Recently, I had the pleasure of an invite to a new supper club in Newington Green, London: The Civet Cat Club, nestled in the loft of a gorgeous flat, that filled me with such envy and admiration that I was happy to sit there and pretend that it was my own, if only for a few hours.  Seated at a communal table with the ever charming Gastrogeek, we tucked into our prosecco (you know I am a fan!) and stole a few moments to catch up, before chatting to  our neighbors, sharing lots of laughs and wine (from a vineyard local to a co-seatee from Italy). Much fun.

The food? Lovely. Particularly the delicious Bangra bangers, which I woke up on Saturday mornng with a craving for that could not be satiated. BANGRAS! I wanted them. Beautifully spiced and deliciously firey pork sausages from a recipe that has been handed from grandfather to grandson. I am told that they will be available soon for the public, of which I count myself a patient member.

Otherwise? Expect a charming hostess, good food, chilli vodka. And… if you’re lucky, a drunken Irish lass may teach you to Irish dance after said chilli vodka… but that costs extra. Namely, you have to bring me ;)

I really enjoyed it. The informality, charm and friendliness, the lovely food and the banter with new people over shared food and wines made for a really pleasant evening. They promise variety, a different combination of friends will cook each time, offering a unique experience. Time will tell what these will be, but doesn’t that make it interesting?

http://thecivetcatclub.wordpress.com/

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Dine with Dos Hermanos at The Bull & Last

A bit of a photostory for you today. Last night I had the pleasure of attending another wonderful Dine with Dos Hermanos at The Bull & Last in Highgate. It was a great night with really excellent food, and fun company. The theme was Best of British and was fantastically well executed.

Favourites (and it’s tough to chose) were a wonderful hand of pork, shoulder of mutton with lentils, steak tartare with quails egg yolk and fried cornish skate cheeks with tartare sauce. It really was all wonderful. There wasn’t a weak dish, and the deep fried calves brains were intriguing, almost like a mozarella fritter, I now know why a brain dish is called head cheese!

Starting with the snacks while mingling and drinking martinis, we proceeded to the main course and dessert, which we ate at one enormous table, family style. I was a little worried about this, as my memories of family style usually mean some eat really well and others badly. That was not a worry here, there was so much food. Courses were matched with drinks starting with a fine martini made with Plymouth Gin and finishing with Compass Box Oak Cross Whisky. The dishes in between were matched with some great beers that I’ll be seeking out. All at £40 a head inclusive of drinks, bargainous.

Simon excelled himself once more. The Bull & Last was gorgeous, intimate and friendly, I would highly recommend it and I will be going back. If you are interested in future Dine with Dos Hermanos, be sure to join their facebook group.

Simon and the chef at The Bull & Last

Simon and the chef at The Bull & Last

I’m off now to raid my enormous goodie bag from last night. LOOT!

The Bull & Last, 68 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, NW5 1QS, Tel: 020 7267 364

View the full photoset on flickr.

THE “BEST OF BRITISH” @ THE BULL & LAST

ENGLISH SNACKS

Fried Cornish Skate Cheeks (Tartare Sauce)
Scottish Razor Clams w/ Tomato, Garlic & Parley
Steak Tartare (Quail Egg Yolk)
Arbroath Smokie & Horseradish
Caerphilly Sticks, Pork Scratchings & Marinated Caper berries
Deep-Fried Calves Brains w/ Gribiche & Pickled Cabbage

DRINK: Plymouth Gin Martini

STARTER:

Rare Hare Loin, Roast Pumpkin, Walnuts, Hairy Bitter Cress & Cabernet Vinaigrette

MATCHING BEER: Fuller’s London Pride

MAIN COURSE:

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Mutton, Prunes & Bacon
Roast Hand of Pork, w/ Apple Sauce
Served with Black Cabbage, Creamed Potatoes & Roast Salsify

MATCHING BEER: Badger

DESSERT:

Trifle
Eton Mess

MATCHING BEER: Thornbridge Brewery Jaipur IPA

CHEESE: Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

Coffee & Petits

DRINK: Compass Box Oak Cross Whisky

Fried Cornish Skate Cheeks (Tartare Sauce)

Fried Cornish Skate Cheeks (Tartare Sauce)

Arbroath Smokie & Horseradish

Arbroath Smokie & Horseradish

Deep-Fried Calves Brains w/ Gribiche & Pickled Cabbage

Deep-Fried Calves Brains w/ Gribiche & Pickled Cabbage

Scottish Razor Clams w/ Tomato, Garlic & Parley

Scottish Razor Clams w/ Tomato, Garlic & Parley

Steak Tartare (Quail Egg Yolk)

Steak Tartare (Quail Egg Yolk)

Rare Hare Loin, Roast Pumpkin, Walnuts, Hairy Bitter Cress & Cabernet Vinaigrette

Rare Hare Loin, Roast Pumpkin, Walnuts, Hairy Bitter Cress & Cabernet Vinaigrette

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Mutton, Prunes & Bacon

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Mutton, Prunes & Bacon

Roast Hand of Pork, w/ Apple Sauce

Roast Hand of Pork, w/ Apple Sauce

Eton Mess

Eton Mess

Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

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Julie & Julia – in 3 Parts

Warning: contains spoilers

There’s been a lot of buzzing and hashtagging of Julie & Julia on twitter of late and I couldn’t help but be intrigued, given I read Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously last year, and read her follow up Cleaving last month. Always keen to engage and align with other food obsessives, I looked forward to reading about her adventures.

I hadn’t heard of the book but was browsing a remainder book shop last year and spotted it. The cover roared chick lit but I read the blurb and bought it – the obsessive foodie nature of the project reeled me in. Julie Powell, desperate to escape the quotidian banalities of her job and life, started blogging a behemoth project, cooking her way through the entire of Julia Child’s tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. 536 recipes in 365 days and she had never eaten an egg. It seemed like the kind of overly ambitious, introspective project that I would find myself in. An indulgence, a divergence and a challenge.

I had heard of Julia Child but I didn’t know much. Despite basing her book on French cuisine, she doesn’t seem to be very well known this side of the pond. So, I picked up Julie Powell’s book about cooking through it, dived in and powered through it.

I could identify with the stresses and strains of unrealistic and to the outside observer pointless deadlines. I loved her geeky obsessions, and found her relationship with her husband and childhood sweetheart charming and endearing. It was self indulgent, as all of these books are, but with a happy ending, where she dragged herself from her circadian corporate nest and pursued a career in food, living happily ever after with her husband.

Seems too perfect? It was.

I picked up Cleaving, the follow up, in a local Oxfam over a month ago. I hadn’t heard about it and was surprised to see it. I was really curious about what had happened after that first book. Had she pursued food writing, and made a career of it? Had she another project?

In short, yes, she was now an apprentice butcher, and this was exciting, but the book was only half about this. The other half was about an obsessive affair with an old college friend, horribly depressing flings saturated in self loathing and otherwise destructive behaviour. I was surprised and in truth a little dismayed.

Genuinely, I am not one to judge but I did feel for her husband, he may never read this book, but everyone else surely will, and he will be horribly exposed. It seemed extremely selfish. I hoped that maybe it was a clever scheme to make more money. It was clear that the first book was too good to be true, at least in the long term, and for them I guess.

I really didn’t know what to make of this, it felt like it wasn’t what I had signed up for and was now spending a lot of time reading. I pursued it and Julie and I had a breakthrough of sorts half way through, when I started to feel empathy, or maybe sympathy. She had lost control and I think we can all relate to that to some extent. She was lost. It is an interesting read, but be prepared for graphic descriptions of the flesh, human and animal. And there’s no happy endings this time, perhaps it’s more realistic than the first book.

On to the film. How would Julie be portrayed? Why wasn’t Cleaving yet published in the US but is available here? Are they afraid that it will affect box office figures? The twitterati loved it and I was keen to see.

Sadly they stripped out most of Julie Powell’s geekiness and, for me, she was portrayed as a lot more mainstream than I gave her credit for. I found this slightly annoying, although I am sure that those that haven’t read the book won’t give a hoot. The real gem in the film and inspiration was Meryl Streep’s amazing performance as Julia Child. Stunning, engaging and entertaining. Never giving up and putting everything she had into writing her cookbook, rejected by publishers, going on for 8 years, relentlessly. Embarking on a new career late, at a time when she would have been thrust on the scrap heap as a childless woman in her forties. I would recommend that you go see it to see her alone. It’s unashamedly sentimental but I loved it for this.

I got a copy of Julia Child’s memoirs – My Life in France – at the screening and am looking forward to reading that. Now I just need to get my hands on a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I want to make that Boeuf Bourgignon!

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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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The Providores Tapa Room

The Providores

I adore the tapas room at The Providores in Marylebone. Such a lovely place. Good food, fusion done well, one of the rare places that manages it, and delivers food that isn’t over powered by the sensation of the experiment. Great for dinner with a wonderful wine list to accompany the lovely food, and fabulous for brunch. I’ve blogged about my Sunday brunches there before and those wonderful Turkish Eggs. I also promised a post on the fine dining, but failed to deliver – apologies. I’ll need to go again!

For now, excuse this brief and effusive post, but I wanted to share my photos of a recent lovely dinner there with old friends. I’d recommend you try it. Everything was really good, except perhaps the snails which were too earthy for my taste, but still intriguing and comfortable amongst the deliciousness of the other dishes.

Effusive, yes. Good meal, yes. Recommended, yes. Enjoy!

Pimientos de Padron

Ginger and garlic roast pumpkin with Goat’s curd, grilled artichokes, cape gooseberries, black vinegar dressing, walnuts and sumac lavosh

Crispy crab and tapioca cakes with Sriracha yoghurt


Cyprus Lamb and bulgar wheat köfte with orange and olive salad, Turkish yoghurt and pomegranate molasses dressing

Sautéed garlic snails on chorizo mash with Oloroso and parsley

Twice cooked Middlewhite pork belly on massaman lentils with spinach and sambal bajak

Spring rolls of confit duck and chicken, shiitake and feta with green chilli jam