Friday, 29 September 2017

Porcini, Ceps and Penny Buns

Porcini, Ceps, or Penny Buns

I love early autumn for many reasons - turning leaves on the trees, misty mornings, steamed-up windows, long walks, ankle-deep piles of fallen leaves, pub fires, thick wooly jumpers, mugs of hot chocolate.  To be honest, this year, apart from the very first hints of leaf colour, I've seen none of these yet.  Summer and autumn are battling for supremacy here, the seasons see-sawing back and forth from day to day.  Summer is reluctant to give way, which means at the end of September I'm still harvesting courgettes and runner beans from the allotment.

But one day of dampness and another of warm sun seems to be perfect for the growth of wild mushrooms this year.  I don't forage for them because I really don't know my mushrooms from my toadstools.  Only a few mushroom varieties have been successfully cultivated and none of those can match the flavour of uncultivated ones.  They lack the predictability of cultured mushrooms so are expensive, but a little goes a long way.  If you dehydrate them, the flavour goes even further.

In Scotland, conditions have been perfect for Chanterelle mushrooms with their delicate brown caps and spindly yellow stems and the stockier yellow Girolles (of the same family as Chanterelles and, so, sometimes also offered as 'Chanterelles') whose flesh is white when cut and smells faintly of apricots.  The earthy flavour of uncultivated mushrooms, redolent of bosky, mossy woodland is the essence of autumn in the kitchen.  But its the strapping Boletus edulis - Porcini, Cep, Penny Bun - which have a symbiotic relationship with oak, beech, birch and coniferous trees, that I'm focusing on here.  Although they do grow in the UK, they are much more prolific in Italy and France and, having just returned from Piedmont I can tell you they are all over the market stalls there right now.  They can range hugely in size and the small ones are good sliced and eaten raw.  They have a cap that looks like a crusty bread roll - hence their English name, Penny Bun - and a stem that is thick and swollen.  Underneath the cap, the fine pores are white but age to yellow before becoming green and spongy.  The stem should be thick and firm but it becomes yielding with age and/or the attention of worms, who like them as much as we do.  With proper cooking this fungi's firm texture and earthy, mildly-meaty flavour takes on a caramelic quality.

It's generally agreed that frying is the best way to cook mushrooms.  The oil or butter, or mixture of both, should be heated highly enough to sear the mushrooms rather than stew them.  I always season mine at the end of cooking as salt draws out their water content in the pan affecting caramelisation.  The simpler the treatment in the kitchen the better.  Garlic and parsley are essential, I think.  You could stop right there for me and just pile the contents of the pan on a slice of toast.  But I am fond of this recipe which introduces its carbohydrate in the form of potatoes.  Not just any potato but a firm, waxy variety like La Ratte, Anya, Charlotte or Pink Fir Apple.  It's based on Simon Hopkinson's 'Persillade of ceps & potatoes' from his book The Vegetarian Option.  A book which is on and off my bookcase with remarkable frequency, as it is packed with dishes which appeal whether you are vegetarian or not.


Persillade of Ceps & Potatoes


Persillade of Ceps & Potatoes
(Serves 2)

2-3 medium-sized waxy potatoes (like La Ratte, Anya, Charlotte or Pink Fir Apple), peeled
4 medium sized Ceps, brushed clean of soil and trimmed
A good handful of fresh flat-leaved parsley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Finely shred the potatoes and wash in several changes of cold water until the water is clear.
Drain and dry well.
Slice the ceps thinly.
*Chop together the crushed garlic and parsley leaves.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan.  Fry the ceps until lightly coloured, season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a plate and put aside.
Add the rest of the oil to the pan and sauté the shredded potatoes until beginning to colour.  Season with salt and pepper.
Add the cooked ceps and the mixture of chopped garlic and parsley and cook on a medium high heat for another minute or two.

Eat immediately!

* Simon Hopkinson is insistent that garlic and parsley should  be chopped together, not separately, for the particular aroma and flavour this produces - I think he's right.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Birch, Bristol

Tomato Salad with summer herbs and salted elderberries
at Birch, Bristol

It's late summer and you see a 'Tomato Salad' listed on the menu.  How many times has it been a let down?  Being presented with some tough-skinned, watery, flavourless sliced fruit happens far too often, and yet still we order in hope.  As you can see, there was no such experience at Birch, my favourite restaurant in Bristol and one of my favourites anywhere.  Ripe, juicy, herb-dressed and pepped-up with salted green elderberries.  Summer's peak.  Home-made Sourdough bread, which came with home-made butter, mopped up the juices.  Perfect, and if I could eat this dish every day for the rest of the season I would.


Courgettes with Westcombe ricotta and oatcake
at Birch, Bristol

Local and seasonal is what Birch is about.  True seasonality.  No "spring lamb" in March, when well-farmed lambs aren't ready until mid-summer.  No out of season peas or broad beans.  When ingredients are at their best, they go on the menu.  And a great many of those ingredients are grown organically by the restaurant owners, in a three-quarter acre field on the southern fringe of Bristol. Gathered in the morning, prepped in the the kitchen in the afternoon, and on your plate in the evening.  Excess bounty is cannily preserved for the leaner months.  If they can't grow it, they forage for it and source it from people they know well and trust implicitly.

Sweetcorn and Langoustine broth
at Birch, Bristol

The dedication required shows in plate after plate.  This is a truly ingredient-led restaurant in the hands of owners Sam Leach, in the kitchen, and wife Beccy who runs the most welcoming front-of-house you are ever likely to find.  The menu is usually mostly small plates with a couple of mains, a few puddings and a perfectly ripe cheese.  I don't live in Bristol but have managed to eat at this little neighbourhood restaurant on a residential street in Southville four times.  Each visit has been a joy.

Speckled face Mutton with monk's beard
at Birch, Bristol

Last week we were served that very Tomato Salad with summer herbs and salted elderberries; slices of Air Dried Beef, made in-house, were a superior Bresaola; Sweetcorn and Langoustine broth was deeply fragranced with summer herbs; freshly picked sliced raw courgettes came with a house-made oatcake spread with Westcombe Dairy cow's milk ricotta; Spider crab rolls were rich crabmeat encircled by flavourful ribbons of cucumber topped with borage flowers; a main of Speckled face mutton, served pink, was juicy, tender and full of flavour, and came with the restaurant's lovingly grown monk's beard and a deep-green kale sauce.

Greengage and rye pudding
at Birch, Bristol

Dessert included a Greengage and Rye pudding with Jersey cream, the rye flour bringing a depth of flavour but no heaviness, a nice pairing with these most luscious of plums.  After all that, a Blackcurrant Baked Alaska for 2 was, sadly, out of the question, but a scoop of deeply-flavoured Blackcurrant and yogurt ice cream came with, as you might hope, a crisp buttery biscuit on the side. Prices start at £2.50 for oysters, £6-8.00 for small plates, £14-17.00 for mains and £5.50-7.00 for desserts or cheese.

Blackcurrant and yogurt ice cream
at Birch, Bristol

Wine is from suppliers who specialise in low intervention, small domaine, producers.  I particularly enjoyed a glass of Les Vignerons d'Estezargues Rhone red for £4.20 and a Henri Lapouble-Laplace Jurancon at £6.00.  Cider and Perry drinkers are well catered for, this is the West Country after all.

So good to see Birch packed with regular customers on our visit.  Do book and cross the Gaol Ferry Bridge to neighbourly Southville.  

Birch
47 Raleigh Road
Southville
Bristol  BS3 1QS
Tel: 01179028326

Currently open for
Dinner: Wednesday-Saturday
Lunch: Saturday

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Westerns Laundry

Cockles with Fennel
at Westerns Laundry

Finding a really good fish and seafood restaurant in London is, to my mind, a challenge.  We are an island so how can we consistently get it so wrong? Yes, I know there are a few names that come up when fish is mentioned but the place that always has Lobster Thermidor and Grilled Dover Sole on the menu is not what I'm looking for.  What I want is a place where the menu is lead by the fish that has been landed by day boats; where the menu changes daily and where a quick look at the chef's notepad for that week gives you a coherent picture of the thinking going in to it.  I don't believe I'm being unrealistic in expecting this yet I am so often disappointed.  So, here is my dream London restaurant that is "Focusing on produce from the sea" Westerns Laundry.  Not only does head chef David Gingell sit down to write those notes but he posts a photo of the notepad before service.

Front Row
at Westerns Laundry

The name, Westerns Laundry, doesn't so much conjure up pictures of pan-fried John Dory as memories of hauling a bag of washing down to the laundrette.  The space was once a laundry and I like a bit of history.  A single visit will have you appreciating the semi-industrial feel, attention to detail and convince you this is a seriously good place to eat.  The 1950's factory-style building stands out in the middle of a residential street on Lower Holloway's Drayton Park so even though, at the time of writing, there is no sign to draw your attention, you really can't miss it.  Part of the ground floor is now home to this second neighbourhood restaurant for the team behind Primeur, with its more meat-based menu a 20 minute walk away in Stoke Newington.

John Dory with Roasted Fennel
at Westerns Laundry

Westerns Laundry has a truly ingredient-led kitchen where David Gingell's true love of fish is clear. Expect British and southern European flavours with a little Asian influence.  Prime ingredients are highly seasonal and sensitively cooked, whether they are dealing with a fillet of Brill or a fennel bulb, the skill of the kitchen in bringing out flavours in everything I have eaten here, in two visits, is joyous.  Cod cheeks, crumbed, deep-fried and served with an exemplary tartare sauce; a bowl of Cockles with shaved fennel followed by the freshest fat, juicy fillets of John Dory with fennel which, in some hands I can think of, would have been a bad idea to order.  Here the shaved fennel had been acidified to a slight softness and, for the John Dory, roasted to bring out the vegetable's natural sugars.  On a second visit I've had a plate of roasted courgettes and fennel with the freshest ricotta and an opalescent fillet of cod on a bed of braised courgette.


Roasted Fennel and Courgettes with Ricotta
at Westerns Laundry

I'm drawing attention to these vegetables to make a point.  They appear on the menu a lot right now, and rightly so as they are at their best.  By judicious use of cooking techniques and flavouring - with herbs in particular - they have never been at all 'samey'.  I've had Beetroot with roasted shallots and parsley which sounded way too simple, even for me.  Next time I see it on the menu I won't hesitate to order it.  I've shared a scalding pan of fideo - one of their favourite dishes (and mine too).  This one was Baked Squid with Cockle, making use of the squid ink, of course, and veal stock, with the finest of pasta and a generous dollop of alioli.  I'm on for the Baked Lobster version at some point.  The pudding list is short and sweet.  If there are at least 2 of you, go for the fantastic Rum Baba for sharing, and/or a glass of Botrytis Pinot Gris.

Rum Baba for two
at Westerns Laundry

Plates are for sharing, with appetisers £2.00 upwards, small plates to large ranging from £4.50 to around £16.00.  There's a large sharing table too.  There will be good bread - if ever there was a place for needing bread to mop up, it is here.  The food achieves a fantastic juiciness and you won't want to leave a drop.  The wine list is mainly natural/low intervention and range from £4.50-£12.00 a glass.  They had a particularly lovely Savagnin Cavarodes 'Pressé' Jura on my last visit at £9.00.  If you enjoy water kefir, as I do, you could start with a refreshing glass of Agua de Madre.   

Currently Westerns Laundry is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday, but only Friday-Sunday for lunch, reflecting its neighbourhood nature.  Dinner gets busy, so best to book ahead.  The kitchen brigade are highly skilled and front of house staff are amiable, knowledgeable and attentive.  For me, this is my go to place in London where the focus is firmly on produce from the sea and where there is a really good wine list to go with it.  And, carnivores, don't worry, there's always something on the menu for you.

Out front
at Westerns Laundry

Westerns Laundry
34 Drayton Park
London N5

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Two Kitchens

Peaches poached with rosé and honey
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

First things first; I know the author of Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome.  I also tested some of the recipes in the book before publication.  This review is, naturally, informed by both.  I hesitated to write it but how could I not when Simon Hopkinson, no less, says "Rachel Roddy describing how to boil potatoes would inspire me.  I want to live under Rachel's kitchen table.  There are very few who possess such a supremely uncluttered culinary voice as hers, just now".  I agree completely, so, here is my review.

Born and raised in England, Rachel Roddy took flight to Sicily 12 years ago with a vague idea of finding a Caravaggio, a volcano and a degree of equilibrium.  Needing to learn the language, she went to Rome.  Here she found her balance in an area of the city called Testaccio - in the day to day life of its people; in learning more than just the language but the habits and traditions; in finding love with Vincenzo, a Sicilian no less; and in becoming a mother to Luca.

Panelle di Fabrizia made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

Rachel Roddy's second book, Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome is a closely linked follow-up to her award winning Five Quarters - Recipes and notes from a kitchen in Rome and, again, you get so much more than just recipes.  This time we join her in both Rome and Gela, the little town which guide books advise you to drive straight past.  To Rachel it is "... full of disrepair and despair but quietly beautiful and intriguing if you give it time ...".  It is Gela that blew away any romantic ideas about Sicily for the author - the utopian Mediterranean holiday island is a far cry from real life in the south east corner of the island.  Poverty, dilapidation and bad agricultural practices are a fact of life that are not glossed over in the book.  Yet the way of life in Gela has captivated her.

Pesce alla Ghiotta made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy


"Ask someone to show you how to cook something and there's a good chance you will get more than just a recipe.  Recipes live in stories .....".  It's this approach to everyday life that enables Rachel Roddy to bring her Italian and English food worlds together.  In Five Quarters it was the lives of her friends and neighbours in Rome that inspired her writing as she got to grips with cooking Roman food.  In Two Kitchens she immerses the reader once again in her Roman life interweaved with the kitchen in Gela which for so many years was the domain of Sara, Vincenzo's Nonna.  Each year now the family returns for sojourns in Sicily to unlock the house, pull up the blinds, and stand at the faded, slightly sunken marks in the kitchen, testimony to Sara's long hours at the stove preserving the harvests of Sicily.  In this tiny space she made bread, preserved the tomatoes, reduced wine dregs to must, and salted ricotta into a hard grating cheese that would keep.

Much of the book is devoted to life on Gela, even though the town's central market is long gone. These days the produce borne out of hard work on the land is sold on street corners and pavements, at front doors and from garages.  It is available for what seems like a pittance to a non-Sicilian.  Here, the food they eat is the food they grow - intensely flavoured tomatoes, dense and creamy aubergines, cucuzze squash greens,  onions "the size of frisbees", honeyed figs, peaches that go from perfectly ripe to mush in hours, and grapes "that burst in your mouth and taste almost drunken".

La torta salata di Carla made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel 
Roddy

So, what of the recipes?  This is straightforward, family cooking that follows the seasons and the author is generous in crediting sources and influences.  They are rich in vegetables, pulses and fruits, are adaptable and need little in the way of equipment to prepare.  This is reflective of the way the author lives and cooks in a small flat in Rome and a little ramshackle house with a tiny kitchen in Gela.  Whilst respecting the traditional ways of both, the recipes are her own interpretations of what she has learned - "anarchic, resourceful and personal".

The book is structured as: Vegetables & Herbs; Fruit & Nuts; Meat, Fish & Dairy; and Storecupboard.  Within these chapters lies the essence of the food of Rome and Gela.  A Sicilian dish of Pasta chi vrocculi arriminati (Pasta with cauliflower, anchovies, saffron, pine nuts and raisins) is high on my list of 'must cook'.  Peaches poached with rosé and honey is the dish I prepared just before sitting down to write this review.  With skins removed, in the Sicilian way, they were as soft and pink as a baby's bottom, luscious and lightly perfumed with bay leaf.  It's a recipe I know I'll reach for every time those first irresistible, though not quite ripe, peaches of the season arrive.  I'm already hooked on Pesce alla Ghiotta (Fish in spicy tomato sauce with capers and olives), a dish from Messina which was traditionally made with swordfish but which is adaptable and, in my experience, particularly good made with salt cod.  Oh, a and I badly want to make Salsiccia alluvia e cipolla (Sausages with grapes and red onions) straight out of Middle-Eastern influenced Sicilian cuisine.

Pesce al forno con le patate made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

In the Meat, Fish & Dairy chapter you'll find Pesce al forno con le patate (Baked fish with potatoes) with a method straight out of the kitchen of the wonderful Carla Tomasi; and a recipe for Brutta ma buoni (Ugly-but-good) biscuits which are great for using up leftover egg whites and feed my love of hazelnuts.  From the Storecupboard chapter I would bring to your attention Zuppa di lenticchie e castagne (Lentil and chestnut soup) - sweet, nutty earthiness in a bowl which I will be eating through the coming winter; and Pasta, alici e cipolle (Pasta with anchovies and onions) because it's an irresistible combination.  

I urge you to start cooking from this book with the first recipe I tried: Panelle di Fabrizia (Fabrizia's chickpea fritters) - "Ideally the first one should be so hot that it sizzles in your mouth".  Just the best thing to get you into the rhythm of this book.   The very last recipe comes as a surprise as it's the very English Queen of Puddings.  It's there not just as a gratuitous link to the author's Englishness but an example of how she sees the connections that are constantly bringing her Italian and English Food worlds together.  In this case, a Sicilian ricotta, lemon and breadcrumb cake brought this classic English pudding to mind and provides a sweet ending to the book.

Brutta ma buoni made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

The introductions to each chapter, and to each of the sections within, are evocative and full of warmth, wit and understanding.  Every chapter makes you feel you are there; chatting with Filippo at his stall on Testaccio market and sampling the peas he has grown on his farm near Scauri; reassuring Rosa that whatever her husband Giuseppe is growing and hauling back to her garage shop is exactly what you want to buy; glimpsing private lives through the ubiquitous 'curtain doors' in Gela; or teaching English to enthusiastic five year old Romans using the language of food.  If I use this book half as much as I use Rachel's first, Five Quarters, it will have earned its place in my little kitchen.

Peaches poached with rosé and honey made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

Read Two Kitchens and you too will "want to live under Rachel's kitchen table".  As I said, I have a little partiality about this book but can such respected food voices as Simon Hopkinson, Anna del Conte and Jill Norman be wrong?




Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Gooseberry and hazelnut frangipane tart

Gooseberry and hazelnut frangipane tart

I'd like to say this 'rustic' look was deliberate but, in truth, I overfilled the tart case and just got away without a Vesuvius-like eruption all over the oven floor.  As it turned out, it was definitely worth the risk.

For the first year I can remember the start of the gooseberry harvest didn't coincide with the blossoming of the Elder trees, at least not on my allotment.  Gooseberries and Elderflowers are linked so intrinsically in my mind that when one appears I look, and expect to find, the other. There is no arguing with some seasonal pairings.  The pulling of the first garden rhubarb calls for the leaves of Sweet Cicely which I grow alongside the rhubarb; the arrival of the first peaches makes me look for sherbetty Lemon Verbena which each year sprout from the most unpromising looking stems, and the best high-summer tomatoes co-incide with the short time, in our climate, when we can grow basil outside.

The elderflower being over before the gooseberries were ready meant reaching for the Elderflower cordial for a flavour of flowery muscat in syrup form this year - arguably even better!  Right now we can't pick gooseberries quickly enough.  Containers of green to honey-coloured globes are being passed to friends to feed a need for the unique, grassy, tartness.

I've posted a few recipes for gooseberries before but here's a new one inspired by some particularly delicious frangipane tarts recently eaten, but cooked by others.  I often pair hazelnuts with gooseberries - sprinkled on a compote topped with a creamy syllabub, or with hazelnut meringue and cream so the frangipane here is made with ground hazelnuts rather than the more usual almonds.  Pre-bake the tart case really well and, if the compote is very loose, sieve out excessive juice to prevent  too liquid a bottom layer.  You could, instead, use gooseberry jam if you have it.  Out of Gooseberry season you could dispense with the whole gooseberries and use compote or jam for your base.  You'll get the flavour of gooseberries but without the sharp tang of the unsweetened berries which adds an extra dimension.

Gooseberry and hazelnut frangipane tart slice


Gooseberry and hazelnut frangipane tart
(Serves 6-8)

PASTRY (makes 2 x 20cm x 3.5cm deep tart cases – you’ll need one for this recipe, but raw pastry freezes well):
250g (10oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) ground almonds
Pinch of salt
150g(6oz) cold butter
75g (3oz) icing sugar
Grated rind of half a lemon
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk

FRANGIPANE:
150g room temperature unsalted butter 
150g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
150g ground hazelnuts 

GOOSEBERRY COMPOTE:
150g gooseberries, topped and tailed
20g butter 
30g caster sugar
1tbsp elderflower cordial (optional)

150g whole gooseberries, topped and tailed


Make the compote by melting the butter and adding the berries.  Place a lid on the pan and cook for about 5 minutes until the berries turn yellow.  Remove from the heat, mash lightly with a fork and add the sugar and elderflower cordial (if using). Put aside to cool.

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the ground almonds and salt. Add the butter and rub in with fingertips. Sift in icing sugar and add grated lemon rind and mix. Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and stir it into the dry ingredients. Mix just until the dough just comes together then turn out and knead gently to smooth the surface.  Wrap half of the pastry and rest in fridge for just 30 minutes (wrap and freeze the other half for another time).  

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven) Lightly butter a 20cm x 3.5cm deep loose-bottomed tart tin.   Roll out the pastry thinly and line the tin, smoothing off the top and pricking the base. Rest in the fridge for a further 15-30 minutes.  Line with greasproof paper and dried beans and bake the tart blind for 12 minutes.  Remove the lining and beans and return the tart to the oven for a further 5 minutes or so to make sure the base is cooked and lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and put to one side. 

Turn the oven temperature down to 180C (160C fan oven).  
Mix the butter then add the caster sugar and mix really well.  Mix the eggs together and add gradually to the mixture beating really well.  Gently fold in the ground hazelnuts.  
Spread the gooseberry compote over the base of the tart.  Spread the frangipane right to the edges of the tart.  Push the whole gooseberries into the frangipane.  
Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes then check to see if it's browning too much - if it is, place a piece of foil over the tart and continue cooking for a further 10-15 minutes.  The filling should be set almost to the centre of the tart.


* If you'd prefer a more refined looking tart with the gooseberries visible, reduce the frangipane ingredients to 100g butter/100g caster sugar/1 large egg/100g hazelnuts.  Or you may have a slightly bigger tart tin you can use to contain any possible lava flow!



Links to other Gooseberry recipes:

Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub
Gooseberry Polenta Cake
Gooseberry Meringue Pie

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Lisbon Highlights

Jacaranda Tree in Lisbon

When you live in London, as I do, you never take it for granted when you wake up in another city each morning to sunny skies.  Lisbon is one of my cities of choice for banishing the grey and revelling in the blue.  The Jacaranda trees were at their best on our visit, highlighting just how much the few trees I know of in London struggle with our climate.  The scent released from the flowers is so much stronger too.  You don't have to go to the Jardim do Botanico to see these in Lisbon - which is just as well as it's currently undergoing some much needed tlc - Jacaranda trees are everywhere.  I've written about Lisbon before (links below) so I'll keep this brief and mostly about eating and drinking.

Street view from Garrafeira Alfaia, Lisbon


EATING & DRINKING:
For a glass of good Portuguese wine from an extensive selection of regional wines by the glass (copo)  or bottle in a typical Lisbon-style bar head for the Bairro Alto and the tiny Garrafeira Alfaia at Rua Diário de Notícias, 125.  You can get a few small plates of food here too including expertly carved Pata Negra and Portuguese cheeses.  There's a recently opened small restaurant across the street which has the same owner.  We didn't need it on this trip but just down the street at No 83 is The Old Pharmacy which came recommended for wine and small plates.

For fresh shellfish, everyone goes to Cerverjaria Ramiro but 20 minutes in a hot, crowded holding pen with a token-operated beer tap on the steamiest of nights (no the water misters didn't help) was enough to send us hot-footing it to Sol e Pesca.  This tiny unchanging former fishing tackle shop still hits the spot when all you want is a cold Super Bock beer, or glass of Vinho Verde, a few plates of quality tinned fish and a basket of bread.  Close to the heaving Cais do Sodré riverside in Baixa-Chiado, we found the young, energetic staff as welcoming as ever.

Meeting up with a friend one night we headed to Bairro do Avillez in Chiado for a late dinner. Owned by Chef José Avillez, who has two Michelin stars at his Belcanto restaurant, it sounded promising.  There is more than one style of restaurant in this Avillez complex on Rua Nova da Trinidad.  We ate at the Taberna which was buzzy and, once again, you needed to be patient.  We were, but was it worth the wait?  Small dishes of XL Exploding Olives and Spicy Pork Skin "Popcorn" were less exciting than they sound.  I chose pretty well with a dish of Salt Cod with a Chorizo Crumb and onion cream, and the Douro wine was delicious, but a Tuna Steak looked overcooked, and Pluma Alentejano definitely was.  The bill for three came to around Euros 80. Maybe the Pateo, which specialises in fish and seafood would have suited us better but it wasn't offered.  Neither did we qualify for the walk down the "hidden passageway" to Beco - Gourmet Cabaret.  I notice the dress code is "casual chic" and the atmosphere "exclusive, bohemian and sophisticated"!  If that's what you want, you'll need to book.

We lunched on plump, fresh Sardinhas at old Lisbon-style Marisqueira O Palácio in Largo de Alcântara.  It's very simple and traditional.  You'll be lunching with locals, and it's value for money - less than Euros 30 including service for two for starters and main plus coffee - and you won't leave hungry.

Carapau (Atlantic Horse Mackerel)
at Horacio e Teresa's, Mercado de Alvalade Norte, Lisbon

Our best lunch came thanks to a trip to Mercado de Alvalade Norte, the local food market in the north of the city.  After watching a magnificent Atum (Tuna) being expertly 'butchered', we found Horacio e Teresa's fish stall displaying beautiful Linguado (Sole), large Peixe Galo (John Dory) and Tamboril (Monkfish) proudly offered with their liver intact to show freshness.  Who better to ask where to lunch on fresh, simply cooked fish?  A place they supply, of course.


Linguado at 
Restaurante Grelha Dom Feijao, Lisbon

And so we arrived at Restaurante Grelha Dom Feijão, about 15 minutes walk south on Avenida de Roma.  Don't be put off by the  commercial location.  Walk up to the first floor and you'll find the restaurant with a peaceful outside terrace well populated by locals and business people.  Get there early or book for an outside table.  The menu is not in English but the staff will help you.  The usual house dishes, always brought to table for eating or rejecting, are not to be ignored here - melting Beef Croquettes, crisp pastry Chicken Pies, excellent olives and bread. Whole grilled Sole (that Linguado) served with bitter greens, broccoli and particularly good potatoes, both plain boiled and baked in their skins with olive oil and salt.  A bottle of completely delicious house wine, Monte Velho from Alentejo, and Espresso to finish brought the bill to Euros 54 for two.  Great value for money and a place I'd definitely go back to.


Pasteis de Nata
at Cafe Manteigaria

There was Pasteis de Nata, of course, and no need to go out to Belem specially for them this time. Cafe Manteigaria in Chiado bakes on the premises from 08.00-24.00.  There's a stretch of stand-up bar where you can watch the bakers make the custard tarts while you eat one still warm from the oven.  Now, if they could only get the coffee right it would be perfect.

Sorry, but good coffee is important to me and this time we found it in Lisbon at Copenhagen Coffee Lab Lisbon.  I make no apologies for it not being Portuguese, though our love of this find could partly be explained by our discovery of a former Monmouth Coffee manager serving up the shots expertly.  This is also a great place for breakfast when you just can't take another Pasteis de Nata, however good.  You'll find it on Rua Nova Piedade, mid-way between the Museu Nacional de Historia Natural e de Ciencia/Jardim Botanico and Praça São Bento.  

Street Tiling

ART AND CULTURE:
Tiling is hard to ignore in Lisbon and if you have the slightest interest then head for the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (tile museum) in the cloister of a 14th century convent to see a collection going back five centuries.  We didn't take the tram to Belem on this visit but if you haven't been, you should go for the spectacular UNESCO listed Mosteiro dos Jeronimos; the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, built to honour Portugal's great explorers, and Museo Coleccao Berardo Belem for the collection of modern art.  While there you'd have to try the Pasteis de Nata at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, though it is much more of a tourist attraction these days than it used to be.


Artwork by Maria José Oliveira
at Sociedade Nacional De Belas-Artes, Lisbon

Interesting temporary exhibitions may be found at the Sociedade Nacional De Belas-Artes on the Rua Barata Salgueiro, just off the Avenida de Liberdade where we saw 40 Anos de Trabalho by Maria José Oliveira and por entre arvores a linked exhibition of ink drawings by Carol Archer and image and text works by Kit Kelen.

Detail of 'Peacock and Hunting Trophies' by J Weenix 1708
at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
Above all, find time for the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian close to Praça de Espanha.  A fine way to end a visit to Lisbon - just allow enough time for this one.

Trams on Elevador da Gloria, Lisbon

Places we didn't get to on this visit and wish we had:
A Taberna da Rua das Flores in Chiado/Cais do Sodré.  We went five years ago and such is its popularity now we have never been able to get back in.  Book ahead or be prepared for a long wait.
Tagide Restaurant and Tagide Wine & Tapas in Chiado - because everybody mentions them.
Bairro Alto Hotel Rooftop Bar - for the views.

We did finally go to LX Factory in Alcantara (on the way to Belem) and were disappointed to find it was, to our eyes, less about artisan makers than it was about places to hang out.  Lots of eating and drinking opportunities here.  If you like the atmosphere of Ropewalk in London's Bermondsey ('Maltby Street Market'), this may appeal.

Link to Previous Lisbon Post:
Lisbon - Autumn 2015
Lisbon - Summer 2012