Everyone loves Abergavenny. Touted as one of the best food festivals for very serious food lovers such as us, I don’t know why it took me so long to get there.
Abergavenny (or in local speak Aber-gaa-veiny) is a sleepy town in Wales, and home to two of the best restaurants in Wales and – I have been told and am yet to eat at either – the UK generally: The Walnut Tree and The Hardwick.
The festival was charming. Gentle corporate sponsorship that didn’t interfere with proceedings supported it. It was rich with masterclasses from the likes of Bill Granger, Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson, Lucas Hollweg, Henry Harris, Richard Bertinet, Signe Johansen, Trina Hahnemann, James Ramsden and lil ole me. I made lots of blaas – literally hundreds – and homemade butter from raw cream. I loved it. What brilliant company too, I had to pinch myself.
Highlights for me were:
Hello London! I am back. I didn’t want to come, but then when I did, I remembered how much I love it here. Hello, hello, hello.
So, I have lots of places to tell you about that I have been to over the summer. I’ll start with one that really charmed me, Joe’s Cafe in South Kensington.
Owned by the Joseph clothes brand – now stay with me and don’t be put off – they very sensibly have paid attention to the food that they are serving and have put Maria Elia at the helm. Maria Elia grew up in her Cypriot parents restaurant kitchen in London, before spending time at El Bulli and Elena Arzack. Impressive, no? She most recently worked at The Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room before moving on to Joe’s earlier this summer.
Why did I like it? Maria is clearly very talented, and the food it effortless and flavourful. No doubt it is very complicated and detailed, but the food belies this. There is no pretentiousness, this is simply great food from a talented chef who loves what she is doing, I can’t wait to go back again soon.
We started with a gorgeous halibut carpaccio which was delicate and flavoursome. The star dish, the “Textures of X” – I tried both pea and tomato, is a dish with 4 small dishes where X is the star. The tomato baklava was stunning, although it feels unfair to single out one thing as the pork was also delicious (and very large).
Go try it – you won’t be disappointed. I will be going back soon and am delighted to have found another great option near all of those fabulous museums (the other is Casa Brindisa of course).
Joe’s Cafe, 126 Draycott Ave London, SW3 3AH www.joseph.co.uk/joes-cafe/locations/
WHAT A WEEK! I feel like I went 10 rounds with Big Daddy last week at Electric Picnic. I am still shattered physically, which is ridiculous as I am not 95. El downside of this food writing business and my personality combined is that I am prone to laziness and indulgence (peppered with moments of frenetic activity), so recipe testing for my mini-tome Comfort & Spice and lots of Posh Lunch Clubs (mixed with Posh Dinners and more down and dirty guilty pleasures) mean I am now a little larger and more slow moving than before. A disgrace.
A good friend in Ireland dispensed some much needed advice this week: “Niamh, food and drink is your business. You will always eat and drink. Always. You need a personal trainer. ”
And woe, I fear it has come to that.
There is a little interview with me in The Independent Magazine (My Secret Life – Niamh Shields) this morning with a really fun photo which was the result of a really fun shoot but all I could think was OOOOPS! Did I really do that to myself? So, personal trainer it is. I also thought it would be a head shot – I SHOULD HAVE IRONED MY SKIRT. Ah well. It adds character, no?
I am a happy sort though and just go with it, so I am not stressing or anything just acknowledging, it’s the downside of this business.
In other news, the Bridgestone Guide folks published a review of my book which nearly knocked me off my chair. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that people in Ireland – especially these people – like my book as much as they do. Thanks so much.
Niamh Shields, celebrated Waterford-born food blogger at @eatlikeagirl, has written her first cookery book and, in the process, she’s also written her first novel.
“We took the Eurostar at stupid o’clock…”.
“Add the spices and stir for a minute or so to temper them”.
”A Blaa is a fluffy white bread roll with a floury top, so expect to get a flour moustache as you eat them”.
“When you fry the rolls the meat crumbles, so when you bite in you find little pork crumbles fugitive amongst the noodles”.
Wow! What sort of inspired writing is that, and I could pull down fifty more examples where Ms Shields finds the perfect, poetic word: the pork crumbles fugitive amongst the noodles; stupid o’clock; the spices tempered; the funny, giggly flour moustache. Inspired. Most novelists never get with an ass’s roar of such wit and culture.
And if the writing is inspired, then the food is double inspired.
Before I go, let me leave you with a little Electric Picnic story which I have only recently heard and which granted me lots of laughter.
My friends who helped at the Comfort & Spice Pop Up Café at Electric Picnic are wonderful, but not all are comfortable cooks. One friend was shredding some spring onions for me, and really worried about it (I didn’t know), when Paul Flynn (of The Tannery Restaurant & Cookery School, ex head chef at 3* Chez Nico, tv celebrity chef and author of two books) saw her distress and asked: “Can I help with the onions?”.
My friend, who really is not into food and had no idea who Paul was asked frantically and in hushed tones so I couldn’t hear “Do you know ANYTHING about FOOOOOD?!”.
Paul graciously answered: “I think I can manage the onions”. And he did. Thanks Paul :)
Right! I have a date with those brownies from Electric Picnic. I will post the recipe soon. Have a lovely weekend all!
It was challenging. I have never delivered food on this scale with restricted access to equipment (pots, knives, you name it, my fault – bad planning and lack of experience). It didn’t help that I had to travel overnight from London the night before to even get there.
But I am so glad I did it. We delivered, people really liked it, and I have learned so much for next time.
Highlights for me were:
- the people – lots of great lovely people from my friends who helped, to customers, to chefs and restaurateurs in the Theatre of Food (which was absolutely fantastic too and a credit to Electric Picnic, the chefs and artisan food producers of Ireland). On the morning of the first brunch, I had had hardly any sleep, having prepped into the early hours. Paul Flynn – legendary Irish chef and fellow Dungarvan local – got stuck in and helped us with our prep.doffs hat
- there was no pretentiousness anywhere, lots of enthusiasm, people wanted to be involved, share their knowledge, help each other out and then have a laugh over a drink at the end of each day, with some live music thrown in for good measure.
– we made it to the front page of The Ticket fromThe Irish Times, who said we were the best brunch at Electric Picnic. Brilliant, but I must confess it filled me with mild panic, I wondered how we could cater for more. We managed, warning people that they may need to wait, we adjusted the menu where we could, and slow roast pork hash replaced the wildly popular chorizo hash when we ran out of it.
– we won a Bridgestone Award – a Bridgestone Award! – amazing and totally unexpected. Also an indication of how seriously Electric Picnic take their food. The Bridgestone Guides are the leading Irish food guide, and John and Sally McKenna saw fit to award us one of 5 awards, the judges award. I was thrilled, I still am. I can’t quite believe it.
- my brilliant friends. I honestly had no idea how hard it would be, but they pulled together fantastically and we got it done. I owe them all a big dinner, at the very least.
So that was it! My camera was stolen but my friends and Aoife of I Can Haz Cook pooled together some photos for me. Thanks so much all.
My next festival will be Abergavenny in Wales where I will be giving a Masterclass with James Ramsden. It’s a brilliant festival – not corporate and all about the food – tickets on sale for our masterclass but also ones by Signe Johansen & Trina Hahnemann on the Nordic Terroir; Hangover Cures Masterclass from Fergus Henderson, Shaun Hill and Chris Hirst and Tapas Abergavenny Style from José Pizarro. Lots more too. Tickets available on the Abergavenny website – they are selling out too so be quick!
Hope to see some of you there.
Hello folks! So this is not a recipe post or a food post, just a little plea. It looks like someone took my camera and lenses plus lots of memory cards not yet backed up, and my ipod touch from my prep kitchen at Electric Picnic last night. I was there until very late so it was late at night or this morning. I am hoping it was an accident and someone will find it. Or that if someone took it they will have a change of heart and get it back to me.
My camera has my only pictures of my pop up café and lots of my little niece and nephew. There’s lots of videos and pics plus recipe ideas on my ipod touch. They were both in a small black bag. I can’t afford to replace it just now so I am really in a bind. I don’t actually care if someone took it, just please get it back to me. Or the memory cards at least.
So, if you were there would really appreciate you asking around.
The good folks at Sainsbury’s Magazine cooked some of their favorite recipes from Comfort & Spice and shot them to be included in October’s Sainsbury’s Magazine – which is in Sainsbury’s from today.
They’ve done a terrific job and I was positively beaming when I saw it. They selected Chicken & Chorizo Pies, Blaas (those beautiful fluffy rolls), Halloumi & Pomegranate Salad and Orange & Cardamom Jelly.
So, if you’d like a preview – hot foot it to your local Sainsbury’s today. Comfort & Spice is also available in book shops and on Amazon now.
Piri Piri Poussin. Say it. Fabulous, isn’t it? Also delicious, and one of my favourite things to make. I’ve pimped this traditional dish with my favourite n’duja sausage in place of chilli and it works a treat. Bling bling.
There’s no great secret to great meat on the barbecue or roasted in the oven. On a basic level, all you need is a proper marinade and to marinade it for long enough.
Vinegar works wonders with meat, and is terrific when balanced with sugars – whether molasses, sugar or honey. Piri Piri is a terrific vinegar and chilli based marinade with some herbs, often oregano, from Portugal originally, but most often now associated with South Africa.
I’ve pimped my piri piri with some N’duja, that wonderful Calabrian spreadable sausage which I love, well you must be bored of it now. I have been writing about it for years. Did you miss my n’duja pig? (no?!).
Anyway, this is a great dish. Piri piri poussin, spatchcocked to increase surface area, all chilli and vinegar and herbs normally, becomes spicy sausage and vinegar and herbs with tomato for sweetness and balance.
It may seem weird to spread sausage on a poussin but it is thin like a pesto and spreads perfectly adding a rich spiced umami layer to the poussin, which with enough marinading perforates and tenderises the flesh. The poussin is especially perfect for it, packed with flavour, quick to cook and a perfect portion for one. It’s also super delicious.
If you have some marinade leftover, heat it and serve it on the side like a chutney and dip the chicken in it. I would even suggest making a bit extra to do this.
Recipe: Pimp My Piri Piri Poussin
2 x poussin, spatchcocked
90g n’duja sausage
1 good tomato, peeled deseeded & diced
1 tbsp fresh chopped oregano leaves + some for serving
2 tbsp good red wine vinegar
Peel the tomatoes by carving a cross in the base through the skin and submerging in boiling water for 15 – 30 seconds, until the skin starts to peel away. Remove the seeds and chop into fine dice.
Sauté over a low – medium heat for about 10 minutes until the tomato softens. Add the n’duja and stir until dissolved through. Add the vinegar and oregano.
Allow to cool and spread over the skin of the poussins. Massage into the skin and leave to marinade in the fridge for 2 – 4 hours or overnight if you have time.
Preheat your oven to 200 deg C.
Roast the poussins for 35 – 40 minutes checking on them and basting them halfway though. The sausage can get a bit crispy but basting prevents this.
Serve with some fresh oregano sprinkled on top, and enjoy, they’re delicious!
What, what, what? N’duja devilled eggs! What are those pray tell?
Well, dear reader, I think the devilled egg is much maligned. I love it in every form from the most simple, to one that’s been pimped with anything from spices to pork (or pork and spices), as I have done with this n’duja one.
I have written about n’duja many times, I even have an n’duja pig. It’s a spicy spreadable sausage from Calabria in Italy and is so utterly addictive, that I worry what is in it. This week, I have been working on some recipes that use it as an ingredient as I want to enter a competition (you know how I love them). So it’s been an n’duja kind of week.
I had a little left over at the end of my n’duja frenzy, and fancied something brunch-like and snack-like, so I pimped my devilled egg. This is simple, spicy and meaty, and is in an egg. What’s not to love?
Eggs love chilli and spices (egg curry, huevos rancheros), pork and eggs are a dream team (bacon and eggs etc.). I kept this simple, working with the strengths of the n’duja, the spiciness and richness, adding a little red wine vinegar to cut through the richness, a little fresh oregano to lift it and a fresh juicy seasonal English tomato, to give it some fruitiness.
It’s easy, quick and a little different for a weekend brunch. I think some little quail ones would make a lovely pre dinner canapé too.
Notes on the recipe:
N’duja is widely available through Waitrose and good Italian delis.
If in a rush you can substitute a tbsp of tomato puree for the tomato, but be sure to cook it through. A fresh tomato in season is fruitier though and will give better, lighter results.
To peel the tomato, cut a cross through the skin at the bottom and pour boiling water over for 15 seconds or until you see the skin at he cross start to pull away.
I think oregano works really well here but parsley would be a decent substitute.
Recipe: Naughty But Nice N’Duja Devilled Eggs
Serves approx 4 – they are quite rich
50g n’duja sausage
1 good tomato, peeled deseeded & diced
1 tbsp fresh chopped oregano leaves
1 tsp good red wine vinegar
Sauté the diced tomato gently for about 10 minutes in a little olive oil until soft.
Chop or tear the n’duja and add it to the tomato. Stir thoroughly and let it sit over a low heat.
Add the oregano and vinegar, stir and taste, adding more vinegar if necessary (that depends on your n’duja and tomato).
Boil the eggs until hard boiled (about 6 – 7 minutes from room temperature with boiling water from the kettle to start).
Cool by submerging in cold water (they will continue to cook otherwise). Peel , half, scoop out the yolk and mix with the n’duja mixture. Season to taste although you may not need any.
Put a teaspoon of the egg yolk and n’duja mixture back in each egg. Leftovers are chefs spoils.
Serve cold. Enjoy!
Sounds complicated, no? It really isn’t. This is the quickest most delicious dish you will make, and like all good things in food, it’s all down to the sourcing.
Burrata is a magical cheese from Puglia in Italy. It consists of an outer mozzarella coat filled with mozzarella bits and fresh cream. Shaped still warm, it is tied at the top, traditionally wrapped in leaves as an indicator of whether the cheese was good to eat. If the leaves were brown, it was off. Today it is more common to wrap it in plastic.
I still remember my surprise and delight the first time I cut into burrata and watched the cream sigh out. It is utterly decadent. It is also available truffled, which takes it to another level.
Burrata must be fresh. I sourced this one from a new deli in London – Melograno Deli – and, disclosure, it is owned by my friend and fellow blogger Dino. Dino has an incredible knowledge of food and a finely tuned palate, so I was very excited to hear it was opening.
I trekked over yesterday and was delighted with what I saw. I bought a lot to take home too so anticipate some fine cooking adventures. My favourite Pastificio dei Campi pasta is stocked there, SAP n’duja in the jar (remember my n’duja pig?), wonderful carefully selected charcuterie (easily some of, if not the best I have had in London), Square Mile Coffee, terrific parmesan and other cheeses, retaurant quality food to take home (from one of Dinos favourites – I can’t recall the name), Italian craft beers, a broad wine selection for all price ranges and much more. It’s a deli paradise.
But the burrata, what did I do with it? What exactly is in it? Well, another one of my favourite things is Isle of Wight Oak Smoked Tomatoes. I am going to the Isle of Wight tomorrow and it got me thinking about them and it and I fancied a pre Isle of Wight, Isle of Wight supper, if you know what I mean.
I get tomatoes from the Isle of Wight farm most weeks at the market, they are full flavoured and the antithesis of those awful Dutch waterbombs. The oak smoked are a whole other level, an intense tomato explosion. I came across them a few years ago and thought – TOMATO BACON! – there is that same umami whack and intensity with a sweet rich tomato base, I always have some in my fridge and was grateful when I spotted them lurking at the back to put with my burrata.
I decided that I would do a twist on a traditional caprese with the tomatoes inside in the burrata, just tucked in gently, paddling in the cream. I also made a quick basil oil to dress it with.
It was so quick, and really delicious. I think a dream starter to share for friends or an indulgent lunch for one.
Notes on the recipe: it is best to make the basil oil in advance but if you haven’t done this, just stir the basil into the oil and serve. It won’t be as full flavoured but will still be good. If you are making it, make more and keep it in your fridge for a week or so.
If you can’t get the tomatoes, subtitute with good sun dried, oven dried or semi dried tomatoes.
Recipe: Burrata with Oak Smoked Tomatoes & Basil Oil
1 x burrata (freshness is absolutely key)
Approx 12 oak smoked tomato halves
100ml extra virgin olive oil
handful of basil, shredded
Make the basil oil by adding the shredded basil to the oil. Allow to infuse overnight in the fridge if possible.
Gently unwrap the burrata and cut the top off – this is a chefs treat in my house and I devour it there and then.
Gently tease open the top and place the tomatoes inside, taking care not to squeeze the cream out.
Drizzle with basil oil, season and you’re ready to serve.
(This started as a food post, where I was going to share my recipes from the dinner I cooked for friends over the evening of the London riots and the evening after where we stayed in doors for fear of one. It became something else and I thought I would post it anyway)
I arrived back from Dubai on Monday evening extremely tired and happy to be home. I wandered slowly through the streets of Dalston, jetlag dragging on my limbs like deep pools of treacle, noting quickly the intense sirens and many helicopters. A quick browse of twitter and I discovered that London was up in arms and there were riots happening and brewing.
Living in East London, a lot of it was happening on my doorstep, although, thankfully not actually so. We could hear everything and stayed vigilant but as we live in a residential area with no shops or restaurants to loot, they didn’t trouble us. I followed poor Uyen’s trauma over twitter, hoping she would be ok with a car on fire outside her flat in Hackney. Thankfully they moved on and she was fine.
Remarkably, the local Turkish community defended their property and the rest of us, driving out the rioters. The Bangladeshi community in Brick Lane did the same and the Greek community in North London – do watch this great video on the Guardian.
I read many heartbreaking tweets from friends. One told of how in her local Hackney shop, she watched an elderly shopkeeper as he was told by two youths that they would burn down his shop that night. With tears in his eyes he graciously served them. I do hope his shop survived. Another friend tweeted of the fireman he found weeping in a nearby park.
Elsewhere, restaurants were vandalised and invaded with a mass mugging by looters at London favorite The Ledbury. Rioters took jewellery, wallets and mobile phones from diners before being chased out by chefs brandishing knives. I read first about it when a chef, Harry Wilkinson, whose parents were dining there told him and he tweeted it, then when one of the chefs, Isaac McHale, confirmed it on twitter himself. Touchingly, many regular customers turned up the next day offering to clean up. The Ledbury refused to close the next day too, bravely opening their doors to the public.
Most shops and restaurants closed but some, resilient, stayed open. I suspected things might stay calm yesterday but just in case, stocked up. Instead of riots, the reality yesterday in Dalston was that it was a gentle, calm and sunny evening, and there were no riots at all. No doubt due to the increased police presence all over London, and I think the riot frenzy had hit a climax the night before. I don’t envy their job, what a tough week they have had.
Frustratingly, clumsy mainstream media reporting decided to blame twitter and blackberry messaging for the rioting. Ridiculous to say the least, for me it was a sane and reliable source of information on the situation (this of course does depend on who you follow but most journalists are on there and were reporting from the scene). It is also where the heavily attended and extremely efficient #riotcleanup was, and continues to be, organised from. Celebrities like the Kaiser Chiefs got involved, and tweeted as they swept.
I saw someone tweet that blaming twitter for riots is liking blaming typewriters for death threats. Hear hear! It was nonsensical to do so.
Bigger issues were at play – where was our political leadership and why were the police so unable to cope until David Cameron finally returned from holiday and increased the numbers on the streets? Why are we even considering cutting their numbers?
I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but hope this is it for now. These riots are indicative of deep social problems that need to be understood and addressed. I am not defending the violence of the riots – that was wrong and criminal and cannibalistic to devour their own communities. That is the issue though, they don’t feel like they are their communities. The political leadership has disappointed so far, but can we please look into this? Otherwise, next time will be only worse. An inclusive, less elitist society should prevent it.
I will leave you on a nice note. London does pull together and most people are good. Just look at this riot shield tea tray, with tea from some good folks in Camden for the tired police in a calm instant mid-riot.
My naming conventions for my Toronto posts are even confusing me now. But I wrote a Part 1 then – HAD TO, JUST HAD TO WRITE – that bacon post, which has screwed things up a little. I am back now with the second and final part of my Toronto food highlights round up.
To re iterate, as it has been a little while, I was very impressed with the quality and variety of restaurants there and these are a few highlights. And their playlists! That’s a bit random I know but each one could have been playing from my iPod. There’s a strong indie buzz running through Tornto, both in fashion and music and I like it.
Here you go!
As soon as I get some time, I hope soon, I will publish a proper piece on my favourite places so that you can find them when you visit.
One of the many joys of travelling is discovering the hidden local food gems. Those foodstuffs that have developed there through local customs, locally grown or caught products or immigration. Everywhere has them, and Toronto has peameal bacon.
The name alone is enough for me to want to take a bite – something I haven’t eaten yet – an unexplored food joy. I find I am constantly seeking new experiences and I always find that first bite a wonder. Almost always good, sometimes – and rarely – awful. Tuna Salami I am looking at you, please don’t darken my door again!
It’s attributed to English influence – England at one point had a pork shortage and so imported bacon sides from Canada. I do wonder if we Irish had a hand in it though. Back bacon (which this is) is the favoured cut in Ireland, and it really reminds me of gammon. Toronto used to be called little Belfast too, and has a suburb which was once full of Cork people called Corktown. There is also Cabbage Town where Irish immigrants grew cabbages in their gardens to eat. I love that. Can’t my address also be in Cabbage Town?
Peameal bacon was made by using ground yellow peas as a cure during the war years. This treatment ensured a longer shelf life and less bacterial problems. Over time corn was adapted as cornmeal became more readily available and was even less risky from a bacterial perspective
What of the peameal bacon sandwich though? An essential pitstop while in Toronto is Carousel Bakery at St Lawrence Market. It is deservedly famous. Moist thick slices of peameal bacon with maple mustard in a hot bread roll is a perfect lunch. It reminded me so much of Irish bacon it whisked me right back to my childhood for a very pleasant ten minutes. Go.
St Lawrence Market, 92- 95 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E 1C3, Canada
Toronto had a lot of great food to offer. Burrata frequented more menus than I have seen anywhere else, and there is doubtless many strong multicultural influences (Greek, Japanese, Korean to name but a few).
I had several very good meals while I was there and tried as much local food and local Niagaran and Ontarian wine as I could. It was a wonderful few days.
Here’s a few highlights before I board my flight back.
So, Toronto Part 2! And another CN tower shot. I couldn’t resist.
Back from Niagara, I visited some local farmers and get a feel for the Toronto food culture from the roots up. Field to Fork and Nose to Tail.
I met Hannah from matchbox, a relative newcomer to the farming scene. An ex chef with a passion for good ingredients, Hannah set up Matchbox with her husband and grows approx 100 different crops from chillies to cabbage.
Mainly heirloom products, selected for flavour, with some sourced at the last Slow Food Terra Madre in Italy. Hard work, no doubt, but she does it with aplomb. Brilliant produce comes out of there.
I now need to get me some blue cabbage seeds.
Dingo farms was next.
A small family run farm just outside Toronto run by Denis & Denise with their 5 children pitching in. Cows and pigs are the focus of their operation with some rabbits too, a pet project of their son.
Denis & Denise do everything on site, even growing and drying their own feed. Naturally, their produce is in fierce demand from chefs in Toronto. They supply half or whole carcasses to them usually, to be used usually in a nose to tail manner.
Finally Cookstown Greens, from David Cohlmeyer, previously a food columnist at the Toronto Globe and Mail.
In his own words “For a lot of reasons, I concluded that “cheap-food/chemical-agriculture” cannot continue providing nutritious, satisfying food. So in 1988, with the support of several leading Toronto chefs, I set out to demonstrate a natural Canadian alternative.” Cookstown Greens is a magical spot with a wonderful selection of products.
Constantly innovating (in a natural non-invasive way) and sourcing new products, David supplies many of Torontos restaurants with his terrific heirloom tomatoes, pumpkin flowers and other edible flowers, purpole potatoes and many other ingredients.
Thanks to Tourism Toronto & Slow Food Toronto for helping arrange these visits. It was an education, and I loved seeing these producers names pop up on menus as I visited restaurants and trying them again, this time on a plate with a chefs touch as opposed to straight out of the ground.
Lots to think about, I think we could learn a lot from these guys.
Greetings from Toronto folks! It’s hot-hot-hot here, if you are looking for summer, we definitely have it.
I’ve been having a brilliant week, firstly visiting the Niagara Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration – a huge tasting and celebration of chardonnays made at 45 latitude. Really interesting, lovely wines and lots of winemakers who are only delighted to introduce you to their wines.
There was lots of great food – smoked barbecued pork chops with local peaches, ribs, pulled pork in buttermilk and corn bread, peach tarts (they’re in season!), blueberry french toast and so much more. And, those falls. Wow.
Then to food in Toronto which I have been very impressed with so far. Brilliant ingredients and a simplicity and elegance in cooking and presentation has really stood out. Lots of attention is paid to seasonality and local produce. It’s all about flavour here, and they have it in spades.
I have one more day here to cram lots in. So many places will have to wait until my next visit.
Some photo highlights for you now with more detail and recommendations soon.
My friend Kat from Florida always spoke of grits. I had never had any, and it seemed like the mystical Caesar from Canada (a bloody Mary made with clam juice – sounds wrong but oh my, is it wonderful). I wanted some.
But, where to start with grits? Tough to find in the UK (although Spuntino has recently put some on their menu). I did my research and some compared it to polenta. I could see that that wasn’t quite right as when I occasionally mentioned this to someone from the deep South, they reacted like I was insulting their mother.
I could see that there was quick cook and then old school. I wanted old school so when I went to Florida in February, I sourced proper Carolina plantation grits that came in their own little sack, and thus started a grits adventure.
I played around a bit and discovered that yes, they were gritty, and nutty too. Slightly grey in colour, they need long cooking – an hour to get the right texture (unless you are using quick grits).
I made some plain to have with a chorizo stew and had a eureka moment – why not put the chorizo in, with some ricotta (to make them light and fluffy) and bake them for the last half an hour to get fluffy grits packing a chorizo punch with a nice crispy crust.
I did, and I haven’t looked back. They are a Sunday staple now, and proudly, my Floridian friend has proclaimed them the best grits she ever had.
Notes on the recipe: it seems like a lot of water, it is a lot of water, an not much grits, but these dry little grits need it and they will expand. They will be fluffy, not soggy. Use good ricotta, the best dry stuff, or make your own (easy and recipe in a certain book “Comfort & Spice coming your way soon! :)
Recipe: Chorizo & Ricotta Grits
Serves 4 as part of breakfast (stunning with a fry up) or 2 for lunch
100g proper grits (not quick cook)
150g cured chorizo, diced
100g good ricotta (I used buffalo)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (OPTIONAL: I like heat so I add this but not essential)
Add the water to the grits in a solid pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for half an hour. They will look like grey molten tar, but don’t worry. Stir occasionally as they will stick.
Preheat your oven to 200 deg C. While it is heating and the grits are cooking, sauté the chorizo until softening in a little oil, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Take off the heat.
Add the ricotta, chorizo and garlic to the grits and mix. Pour into an oiled dish – the bigger the dish the more crispy crust you will have – and roast for 25 – 30 minutes until the crust is a dark orange but not burned.
Try and stop yourself from eating every last bit of them.
Bodega Salentein is really special and should be on everyone’s hit list when they visit Mendoza. Not only is there lots of interesting wine on offer, there is also an impressive large art gallery, outdoor sculptures, two restaurants and the most amazingly designed winery. You can stay at the posada too, which if staying in Mendoza is worth your while as it’s 1.5 hours from Mendoza City.
Bodega Salentein is stunning – breathtaking really – set at 1200m in the Valle de Uco in the Andes – only a few miles from where I had my gaucho day as it happens (you can plan to visit both better than I did – visiting days apart and staying in Mendoza in between is not the best way to do it).
Bodega Salentein is designed in the shape of a Jesuit cross, this is in homage to the origins of the wine industry in Argentina as the original vines were planted by Jesuit priests who needed the wine to celebrate mass.Things have progressed since and Argentine wines can compete internationally, and are more likely to appear on a restaurant wine list than in a church.
Far from traditional, the Bodega is sleek and modern yet fits beautifully into its surroundings in the Andes. The four wings of the Bodega cellar converge and meet at a circular central chamber which is it with daylight from above. It resembles an amphitheater and was inspired by ancient classical temples. This is no surprise when you are standing in the middle of it.
When you stand in the centre and speak – or shout or sing – bang in the centre – there is the most incredible sound as your voice bounces back from every wall to great you. The wines are stored around this in stainless steel tanks and aged in French oak casks. They often have concerts here too.
The wines were great. Three ranges at three different price levels are offered. I loved the Primus range, especially the Malbec which was rich with berries but also pepper and spice. A perfect match for an Argentine steak dinner. The lower priced Killka range had some terrific bargains worth seeking out including a lovely rich Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Magically I hit on the day when they were launching the Killka ranged and a new exhibit from a very successful local artist in their beautiful gallery. Some brilliant Argentine dishes like Locro were served up, and of course lots of empanadas.
I will have to return and stay in the posada on site on my next trip, it is beautiful and they run cookery classes, tasting tours, horse riding and much more. They also organise a Transfer + Tour & Tasting + Lunch for $150 per person.
Bodega Salentein is beautiful, cultural and delicious. Magical, I loved it. I just wish that I had more time there.
My expectations are always high for Shacklewell Nights. I’ve been several times and it is always excellent. A collaboration between supper club veteran Claire Roberson and St John chef Jonathan Woolway, great British food served family style is what you can expect here, wherever they decide to cook it (they are always on the move).
Restaurants in Residence is in an old office block in Canary Wharf looking with fantastic views of the fiscal skyline. We started with some great cocktails (£8 each) on the outdoor patio near the bar, taking it all in.
Tables are for 8, and are shared. Given the location the tables were labelled sales, typing pool etc. We hilariously were in sales, I couldn’t think of a job I would be worse at! It was all good fun though.
We opted for the wine matching chosen by the sommelier at St John (4 glasses for £32) but you can also choose by the bottle. A really vibrant summery dish started the night, Roast Tomato, Bobby Bean & Berkswell Cheese. I loved this, the tomatoes were beautifully sweet and some nice crisp croutons addictive.
Brown Shrimp, Cucumber & Chervil followed. This was beautiful and is responsible for me scooting to my fishmongers to buy some brown shrimp earlier! The salad was lush and the nutty brown shrimps plentiful. I couldn’t resist seconds even though I knew there was more to come.
Braised Lamb, Carrots & Mint Sauce were served for main (with Courgette, Goats Curd, Saffron & Mint for veggies). Both neck and shoulder were served and after the light starters we dived deep into rich flavours here. Both were slow cooked and tender with beautiful flavour.
Peach Sorbet, Elderflower & Schnapps cleansed pour palates and prepared us for the delicious Summer Berries, Meringue & Cream served on a big platter for sharing. Lovely and a perfect finish.
Shacklewell Nights is in residence in Canary Wharf for 5 nights. Last night was the second night. Tickets (at £45 excl drinks) for all remaining nights are still available online and over the phone on the day – do go, you won’t regret it. It’s fun, different, and the food is great.
It’s very common in Mendoza, to find wineries with good restaurants. I deliberately looked for the best of these as I wanted the full food & wine experience. Bodega Septima, even in Winter was a stunner, with a large light filled terrace overlooking the Andes. The air is clear and crisp and the sunlight warm.
I started my meal with a glass of their Maria sparkling wine on the terrace. Made using cava techniques it was quite rich and full bodied (no major surprise as Bodega Septima is owned by Spanish winery and cava producer, Codorniu).
Opting for the tasting menu, I had to start with some empanadas, a delicious caprese one (basil, tomato & mozarella), and of course a mendocino beef one.
This was followed by a beautifully fresh and tender beef carpaccio, served with Septima Malbec.
More beef? I know, wasn’t I getting sick of it by now? Not yet, and I knew these guys would do such a good job I had to try it for main course too. A huge hunk of beef was served perfectly medium rare with a herb crust and a beautiful light pumpkin mousse accompanied.
Dessert was a delicious take on a gaucho dish of fresh cheese with fruits and nuts and it was delicious. It was nice and light after all of that beef too. We had it with a Septima late harvest Gewurztraminer, a really nice pudding wine produced at Bodega Septima. It had a slight tartness which was great with the cheese.
The tasting menu was 190 pesos (£32) excluding wine. A bargain and definitely worth popping by for the full food and wine experience! I could have spent all day on that balcony sipping Maria sparkling wine.
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