Monday, 13 August 2018

La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers

La Grotta Ices book

Before I say a word about this book - La Grotta Ices which was published in June - I have to declare I know the author.  Given the trajectory of her career, I'm sure I ate Kitty Travers's food at a couple of favourite London restaurants before we met.  I love a good pudding, and ice creams in particular, so a good pastry chef is to be treasured.  Then I spotted a little Piaggio Ape van whizzing across south east London.  It was driven by a willowy tall, rosy-cheeked woman who seemed to have found the secret to happiness.  And she had.  She had followed her dream.

I'm not sure of many things but I firmly believe we all have ice cream memories.  Often it's that first lick of Mr Whippy soft-scoop vanilla (with a chocolate flake if you were flush) in a dry, brittle, tasteless cone.  It's a memory of taste, time and place that stays with us.  For me it's the jingling sound of Greensleeves announcing the arrival of the ice cream van.  A strawberry Mivvi, please.  For Kitty Travers, her memory is a slice of supermarket economy vanilla brick that, after suffering several re-freezes emerged from its damp cardboard box as a "curious foamy gum".  I remember it well.  I suspect few of our first ice cream memories would stand up to much scrutiny on taste, but they are no less fondly held.

La Grotta Ices - Scooping

As with most things, once you've tasted the good stuff, you want more.  In Kitty's case it was the flavours of abricot, cassis, groseille, and callison in a little glaciere off the Croissette in Cannes that began the seduction.  A scoop of ice cream became part of her morning ritual before a 16-hour waitressing shift.  A dip into Jeffrey Steingarten's book The Man Who Ate Everything, specifically the chapter "The Mother of All Ice Cream", fed a passion to discover how such flavours could be delivered in the form of ice cream.  An inheritance allowed her to fly to New York to study and to 'stage' for Mario Batali and Meredith Kurtzman at Otto Enoteca and for Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune.  She thrived and then the visa ran out.  The boost to her confidence returned her to London where Fergus Henderson was only too pleased to employ her at St John Bread & Wine where she scooped up her first ice cream - Fresh Mint - as pastry chef.  Holidays in Italy were spent working, sampling and learning about gelato in the best places for it - Rome, Naples and Sicily.  Not all was 'la dolce vita' and decision time came when she was assured by a gelato maker that she could never learn to make ice cream like an Italian (being in her twenties, she was far too old!).  She decided there and then that she would try to do something "relevant to the place" she came from and "make it perfect".  She would make ice cream.  La Grotta Ices was established in London in 2008, named in recognition of that little glaciere in Cannes which fed her early ice cream dreams.

If the La Grotta Ices book doesn't make you value the importance of seasonality, nothing will.  The order reflects the author's ice cream making year which changes constantly as ingredients come into their, often short, season and then bow out.  She reminds that if you buy with seasonality in mind you will find fruits that are not only ripe and tasting at their best but good value too.

Strawberry Salad Ice Cream
Recipe from La Grotta Ices

Achieving the perfect balance of water, sugar, fat, solids (proteins) and emulsifier is key.  The ethos is fresh, seasonal and minimally processed.  Expect recipes to include milk, cream, eggs, sugar, fruits and natural flavourings.  You'll find no 'fat-free' here, unless it's a sorbet - thank goodness. There's imaginativeness in flavours and textures in these 75 recipes but no 'let's see how off-the-wall we can get'.  Some combinations are creative and surprising but always thoughtful.  The recipes start logically in January with the arrival of sharp citrus fruits from Italy, their peels rich with oils, put to use in Kumquat Custard; Blood orange & Bergamot Sherbert; and Mimosa (blossom), Seville & Orange Rice.  We move through spring and summer's rhubarb, strawberries, cherries, peaches, apricots, blackcurrants and resiny early Pigeon Figs with ice creams like Leafy Blackcurrant Custard; Apricot Noyau; a sorbet of Tomato & White Peach; and Pigeon Figs & Pineau de Charentes.  Early autumn brings sticky figs, grapes, melons, plums, pear and quince, so we have Damson Grappa; Melon & Jasmine Sorbet; Pear, Myrtle & Ginger.  Late in the year there's a turn to richer flavours in the form of nuts, dried fruits, candied peels, butterscotch and malt so you'll find Pistachio; Medici Almond; and Butterscotch & Agen Prune.  Herbs, geranium leaves and fruit leaves are valued too, particularly useful if you are waiting impatiently for your fruits to ripen as the leaves (some are poisonous, so check) deliver interesting flavours on their own as well as adding another dimension to fruit ice creams.  There are recipes for Mint Chip; Blackberry and Rose Geranium; Blackcurrant Leaf Water; Peach Leaf Milk Ice; and several uses for the sublime fig leaf.

The writing around the recipes is pitch-perfect.  Little vignettes of the author's adventures in pursuit of a true passion: Memories of breakfasting on poached quince after feeding the livestock on an Urbino pig farm.  How to avoid, or enjoy, a Prickly Pear.  How eating too many Kiwis in the name of love led to a visit to a cowboy-hatted doctor, the part played by Mussolini in the drama, and how Italy can be too much if you're not careful.

Leafy Blackcurrant Custard
Recipe from La Grotta Ices

There's good advice too, like: Keep your Loganberry source to yourself - they are as rare as hen's teeth and short in season; why good quality cocoa powder works better than chocolate in ice cream; keep your eyes open and nose alert to walnut trees and lemon verbena bushes on common land; after sieving berries, use the pips for making a pip juice; and eat chocolate pudding flavoured ice cream with a good friend so they can wrestle it from you before you polish it off in one go!

I am certain I will make every recipe in this book because I have the advantage of knowing just how good La Grotta Ices is.  I already have summer favourites like Strawberry Salad, Tomato and Peach Sorbet and Leafy Blackcurrant Custard.  I badly want to make Tamarillo ice cream because of its thrillingly tropical flavour and the sumptuous colour it takes on; Carrot Seed because I'm a grower and I'm intrigued; Lime and Botanicals because I like a nice G&T; and Pistachio because it's pistachio.

The artwork in the book is eye-catching and fun and photographs, by Grant Cornett, capture perfectly the nostalgia around our ice cream memories.  I should tell you too that I attended one of Kitty Travers's early teaching classes at The School of Artisan Food.  She still runs regular Introduction courses there so I have included a link just in case you want to catch, as I did, some of her infectious enthusiasm for her passion.  And here's a link to the La Grotta Ices site for up-to-date info on where you can buy the ice creams in London.

I don't know about you, but I still wouldn't turn my nose up at my ice cream memory - though I'm told my Strawberry Mivvi has slipped from its stick for the last time.  Probably for the best.

Published by: Square Peg/Penguin Random House

I bought this book

Monday, 30 July 2018

Vienna Summer 2018

Otto Wagner's
Die Zeit Telegraph Office facade (1985 reconstruction)

It was more than 30 years since I'd walked the streets of Vienna.  Back then, in the space of a couple of hours we went from a balmy autumn London in October to grau winter in the Viennese capital.
Over three freezing days we layered-up in every stitch of clothing we had.  The streets were eerily quiet, making it very easy to conjure up the feeling that Harry Lime was watching from that shadowy baroque doorway (you must have read, or seen, The Third Man).  Vienna was a city at the intersection of East and West Europe - the Berlin wall had not yet fallen.


We walked the, what seemed to us, melancholy streets, ducking into churches, admiring the Baroque beauty along with the Juendstil (Art Nouveau) Modernism.  We took brisk walks in the freezing landscapes of the central Stadtpark and crossed town to Vienna's south eastern reaches to find the 
Schönbrunn, which was closed!  The roasted chestnut sellers were a godsend.  The hot, blistered  nuts bought to bury deep into our coat pockets to warm frost-nipped fingers until we could dive into a coffee house for Kaffe und Kuchen (Demel was our favourite).  The atmosphere may have exuded an air of mournfulness but the art on the walls of Vienna’s galleries dazzled.  Cash was tight. Anything that was free-to-see was seized upon.  The vibrant eroticism of Gustav Klimt’s portraits and friezes and Egon Schiele’s challenging and, sometimes, disturbing, body of work made a big impression.   Now we were back, this time in high summer, wondering whether that air of Traurigkeit (mournfulness) was real or all down to the weather.  

Vienna Secession

The draw this summer was the art as 2018 is an important anniversary year in the artistic history of Vienna.  It's 100 years since Klimt died of Pneumonia, to be followed 8 months later by Schiele who succumbed to Spanish Flu at the age of 28.  Between those losses, Otto Wagner - architect, urban planner, teacher - who took Vienna's architecture into the Modernist era, died.  All three were members of the revolutionary artist's association, Vienna Secession.  Like other European secessionist group, members sought to separate themselves from the art of the past and it was closely linked with art nouveau or jugendstil.  So, what better place to start than to create their own exhibition space - the Vienna Secession, Association of Visual Arts.  Though, on this visit, the outside was the nearest I was able to get to this decorative beauty close to Karlsplatz.  It was designed by one of the co-founders of Vienna Secession, Josef Olbrich.  Inside, Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze is the big draw but there is a constantly changing programme of modern-day artists' exhibitions.
Osterreichische Postparkasse (Austrian Savings Bank)

Next the Wien Museum, the venue for the Otto Wagner jubilee exhibition (until 7 October 2018).  Spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, Wagner's visionary designs offered a clear break from the past. For many defenders of the past, his modernist ideas which incorporated new building materials were too radical and many of his projects remained unrealised.

Osterreichische Postparkasse (Austrian Savings Bank)

Even if you don't make it to the Wien Museum exhibition, don't skip wandering into the Austrian Postal Savings Bank - Osterreichische Postparkasse - Wagner's most modern and important work.  Every detail bears Otto Wagner's hand, from door handles to counters to stools, lighting and clocks and were designed around his principle "What is impractical can never be beautiful".  Simply stunning.  

Kneeling female in orange dress
1010, Egon Schiele

The Leopold Museum was hosting the Egon Schiele: The Jubilee Show (until 4 November 2018).  Schiele is the central artist of the Leopold's collection so, as I had hoped, this exhibition was the most comprehensive collection of the artist's work I've ever seen.  So hard to choose just one photo to illustrate this visit.

Portrait of an old man
c1896, Gustav Klimt

The Leopold Museum was also the venue for Gustav Klimt: Artist of the Century (until 4 November 2018).  The chance to see a Gustav Klimt exhibition is never something I would pass up, but I think my appreciation of this one suffered from having seen the fantastic Schiele exhibition first.  Damn it, we didn't make it to the Belvedere on this trip, nor the Albertina.  You really should!

Florentina Pakosta
at The Albertina, Vienna

Time for a drink and something to eat.  A cocktail at Loos American Bar, of course.  But before the drink, there's the architect.  Adolf Loos,  designed this small, stylish, fin de siècle bar with his uncompromising commitment to lack of ornamentation.  Everything had to be economic, practical and functional in his work - views that were at odds with the Secessionists.  Mahogany, marble and onyx were used to great effect.  Loos's modernist works would influence Le Corbusier and Mies van de Rohe.  And the cocktails?  A Corpse Reviver No.2 and a Blackthorn English were fine.  As you can imagine, absolutely everyone from Sigmund Freud to Egon Schiele have crossed the threshold of Loosbar.  I wonder what they'd make of it now?  Got to say I was not taken with the invitation to "Lady Drinks" on Sundays!

Apple Strudel
at Meieiri, Vienna

Our food memories of Vienna were of the traditional rib-sticking Austro-Hungarian variety - nothing wrong with that, especially in winter.  There was Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz, and a glorious Goulash.  Had much changed on the food front? We arrived just in time for a late lunch at Meierei in the centre of Stadtpark and ate Goulash followed by Apfelstrudel for old time's sake. Meltingly tender beef in a sticky, lip-smacking sauce cut by sweet-sour pickled vegetables.  A fresh from the oven slice of Apple Strudel with the lightest vanilla sauce.  Huge windows open out onto the terrace where tables are set in fine weather.  With only the footpath above the Wienfluss between you and views over the park, it's a lovely oasis of calm in the city.  We didn't eat at its ** Michelin sister restaurant Steirereck alongside but I'm assured it's well worth the price.  The restaurants share an impressive cheese cave where 140 varieties of cheese - though mysteriously only one British example - await the dedicated europhile.

Confit fillet of Arctic Char
at MAST, Vienna

For dinner we took the Metro north to Friendensbrucke station to eat at Mast Weinbistro - so good we ate there twice.  This natural wine bar and bistro was perfect when you tire of the hearty traditional.  Though a dish of Smoked Pork and sauerkraut was on offer and happily eaten, as was the Stewed pork belly, chanterelles and green beans - the lightness of touch to both was much appreciated.  A Confit fillet of Arctic Char, bell pepper and zucchini was given zest by a little preserved lemon and a light cream basil emulsion.  The spicy notes of the basil and salt/sour of the lemon bringing just enough flavour and interest to not overpower the delicate fish.    Small plates of Mushrooms, peas, chicken skin and basil and Turnip, lentil humus and sesame were ideal with the excellent bread and raw milk butter to start.  The bread is bought in from Offerl a backerei an hour north of Vienna where the baker George Offerl made the excellent decision to take the family bakery back in time.  It ticks all the right boxes: organic ingredients, rare grains, handmade and most of all the breads taste fantastic.  You won't find this bread in many places in Vienna.  There was a particularly notable bottle of Weingutwerlitsch Ex Vero I but all the natural wines were good.  Here you can also taste roasts from Jonas Reindl's coffee - not supplied to just anyone in Vienna.  We didn't get to Jonas Rendl's own coffee bar but it would be a must for any future visit.

Elsewhere we were reminded of the joys of a simple bowl of beef consommé with shredded pancake and a plate of white asparagus with boiled potatoes and hollandaise but we searched in vain for a slice of Dobos Torte (cake) even in Cafe Central.  And, yes, we did return to Demel for kaffe und kuchen and, inevitably, found it not to be the haven we remembered but don't let that stop you.

Croissants and hot chocolate
at Paremi, Vienna

Parémi on Backerstrasse is a French style Boulangerie, Patisserie which became our favourite breakfast spot on this visit.  The young owners, Patricia and Remi have the baking and the service completely spot-on and it's a lovely, friendly place.  The pastries are outstanding and I can recommend the croissants with hot chocolate.  The patisserie tastes every bit as good as it looks and it was no surprise to learn that Pierre Hermé is a hero.  If you want more ceremony over breakfast, Meierei can provide it.

The Jesuit Church
There's St Stephens Cathedral to see, of course, with its fantastically tiled roof but 
Vienna has a copious number of churches, many decorated in elaborate baroque style.  The Jesuit Church at Dr Ignaz Seipel Platz may look plain from the outside but the interior is anything but.  Extravagantly ornate decoration in jade green, pearly pink, blood red and gold awaits.  And church music is still something easily found in Vienna.  


Green spaces are always a necessity, for me, in cities.  In Vienna, apart from Stadtpark, which we found ourselves cutting through often, there is Schönbrunn Palace - the Palmenhaus in the park in particular. And the Gartenpalais Liechtenstein - if you remember to book ahead for a guided tour, there is the Palais Liechtenstein there too - the walking route to which was where I found the deliciously decaying stretch of street (on Liechtensteinstrasse) in the photo above.  


So, was there still a cloak of Traurigkeit hanging over Vienna?  Maybe, after all, long summer days was all it took to lift the mantle.  The atmosphere was positively heiter

The book to take: Vienna, A Traveller's Literary Companion edited by Donald G. Daviau
A book that encourages a slow stroll.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Bright Restaurant

Fried mozzarella pastry & anchovy
at Bright Restaurant

Would Bright shine as strongly as I hoped?

What they say:
"While the full menu will be served throughout, we want people to feel as comfortable dropping in for a quick glass of wine or a bowl of pasta at the bar as they would booking a table for a special occasion and really getting stuck into the menu and the cellar."

It's impossible to write about Bright Restaurant without mentioning P. Franco, the wine shop and bar on Lower Clapton Road E5 set up by Noble Fine Liquor  that has been a mecca for good natural wines and food since spring 2014.  2017 saw it named by Eater London as its Restaurant of the Year, despite the bar's two-plate induction hob, miniscule kitchen set-up.  Said kitchen operates from Thursday to Sunday with a rolling roster of some of the best chefs in London.  William Gleave, Tim Spedding, Anna Tobias, Giuseppe Lacorazza and Peppe Belvedere have all cooked there.  Out of this much-loved Hackney bar has emerged Bright Restaurant and wine bar.  The promise of great wines, a proper kitchen, a strong kitchen brigade and front-of-house made for my most anticipated opening of the year.

Katsu sando
at Bright Restaurant

Located in the former home of the much admired Ellory Restaurant (now re-opened under the name Leroy in Shoreditch) Bright occupies the ground floor of Netil House, close to London Fields. So far, so involved, but the set-up at Bright couldn't be clearer. The kitchen brigade is strong and changes only in that there are two co-chefs: William Gleave, a Tasmanian with a clear love of Japanese food who earned his London reputation cooking at some of my favourite places like Brawn and 40 Maltby Street; and Giuseppe Belvedere, ex head-chef at Brawn who brings his Sardinian and Italian heritage to the kitchen.  As mentioned, both having served their time at P.Franco, of course.  Phil Bracey, half of Noble Fine Liquor is in charge of the drink and Lulu Tindal, formerly of Lyle's, Manages front-of-house.

Capicola calabrese
at Bright Restaurant

On the first visit, we dived right in.  It was the generous helping of Fried mozarella pastries with a slick of anchovy sauce and slice of preserved lemon that sparked our appetite.  Helped along by the glass of sparkling pink bulles, it set the tone for what was to follow.  And what followed was a plate of finely sliced, well-marbled Capicola Calabrese, with a richness of flavour that comes with the best quality salume; a punchy dish of Mezzo maniche (short-sleeved) pasta tossed in pesto cetarese and a southern Italian touch of fried breakcrumbs; delicacy followed in the form of a juicy steamed fillet of Silver Mullet with sea herbs; there was asparagus, baked, of course; sweetness arrived, before pudding, in the form of a pork chop. Cooked on the bone before being served de-boned and sliced, it was the fattiest piece of pork I've ever seen and the most delicious.  The slices of caper berries and sautéed radishes brought the right amount of heat and piquancy to cut the fat of this Swaledale beauty.

Mezze maniche, pesto cetarese
at Bright Restaurant

There was Iced milk & caramel, and Strawberries & cream, the epitome of lightness and with just enough of an element of surprise to make you glad you'd ordered them even if you were full. Portions throughout are generous.  Snacks and small plates range from £6-£13, pasta and mains £11.50-18.  Wines by the glass are reasonably priced - starting around £6 up to £11.  They're coming from a welk-stocked cellar so expect to find plenty of good bottles.

Steamed silver mullet & herbs
at Bright Restaurant

The second time a 'quick glass of wine' at the bar was the aim.  From the 'Snacks' menu came a Katsu sando - thick slice of pork dipped in batter, fried, topped with shredded raw cabbage, an aromatic sauce and sandwiched between white pappy bread - hot, hot English mustard on the side. So right.  A Pizza fritta arrived, puffed up and pillow-soft, topped with goat's curd and tomato, good olive oil and oregano.

Iced milk & caramel + Strawberries & cream
at Bright Restaurant

What at first seems an odd name for a restaurant makes sense once you've experienced this new opening in Hackney.  If the team are aiming for creativity of menu, vivid combinations, intensity of flavours and blazing delivery.  It's all there at Bright.  The sourcing is careful.  The menu changes to suit the best ingredients they can get their hands on.  The kitchen team is a dream, working with real flair backed up by sound techniques.  They can do gutsy or delicate with equal confidence. Everything I've eaten here has been deliciously seasonal and full of flavour.  The front-of-house team is friendly and know what they are about.  Whether I go for that quick glass, the bowl of pasta or to get stuck in, I think I'll be leaving happy.

Pizza fritta
at Bright Restaurant

1 Westgate Street
London E8 3RL
Tel: +44 (0) 2030 959407

Seating:  30 bookable + 20 walk-ins at the bar and a high table
Currently open: Wed-Sunday Dinner & Sat-Sun Lunch

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Lisbon Spring 2018

Lisbon street

This is less of a post than a quick 'give this a go' list.  Just back from Lisbon and with so many people telling me they are about to visit, and asking where to go, this up to date list might be useful - and I don't have to keep repeating myself.  I've also included some websites containing other people's recommendations on the Portuguese capital in case my Lisbon isn't quite your Lisbon. First, here are my tips.

Cockle, spinach, coriander and fried bread
at Restaurante Prado, Lisbon


Prado Restaurante, Travessa das Pedras Negras 2 (just off Rua da Madalena)
I'm starting with the best.  After 11 years working with Nuno Mendes, including as head chef at Taberna do Mercado in London, chef Antonio Galapito, and his fantastic staff are showing just how good modern Portuguese cooking can be.  A commitment to using the best Portuguese ingredients, and a "if it's not in season, it's not on the table" mind-set, is a great start.  Expect sound skills and flair from the kitchen and flavour, texture and thoughtfulness on the plate.  Definitely order the bread.  Don't order everything you want to eat at once.  Wines are all organic, biodynamic and natural.  Lighting is terrible (a table next to us resorted to phone torches to read the menu).

Cervejaria Ramiro, Avenida Almirante Reis 1. Still the place to eat seafood in Lisbon.  Everyone will tell you to go here, and you should.  Beautifully fresh and reasonably priced.  Favourite things: a copper pot of clams or razor clams in a broth with lots of garlic and coriander.  Mid-afternoon proved a good time to avoid the queues on this visit.

Restaurante Grelha Dom Feijão, Largo Machado de Assis 7D (Metro: Roma)
Neighbourhood restaurant serving really good grilled fish with boiled potatoes (a Portuguese staple).  The owner buys his fish from the best stall (Horacio e Terese's) at nearby Mercado de Alvalade Norte.  There is an outside terrace but get there for 12.00 to get a table outside.

Sol e Pesca, rue Nova do Carvalho 44 (Cais do Sodre area)
Very, very simple.  Tinned fish, basket of bread, glass of beer or Vinho Verde and you are done.  Has charm (have the Pinhais Petingas Picantes sardines or tuna from Acores).

Razor clams
at Cervejaria Ramiro, Lisbon

Manteigaria Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata, Rua do Loreto 2
A small and narrow space close to Baixa-Chiado Metro.  There is a small bar at the back where you can see the pastries being made.  My favourite place for a Pastel de Nata.  Pity about the coffee.  There is also a stall in the Time Out Market (see below).

Kiosk Cafes are regaining their popularity in Lisbon.  Here is a rundown of Quiosques.  Try Quiosque Lisboa, Praca Principe Real and nearby Quiosque de S. Pedro at the Miradouro on Rua Da Pedro V d'Alcantara which has a fine panoramic view taking in Castelo de S. Jorge in Alfama.

Time Out Market/Mercado do Ribeira at Cais do Sodre is useful to know about.  Lots of food stalls and open until midnight.

For ice cream, I like Gelateria Nannarella at Rua Nova da Piedade 54A off the lovely, quiet Praca des Flores. Made by Italians.  Natural ingredients.  It's a tiny shop and you are likely to have to queue but it's worth it.

For coffee, I like Copenhagen Coffee Lab, Rua Nova da Piedade 10 (+ 2 other locations)

Ginjinha hole-in-the-wall Gin Bars around Rossio Station - a shot, with or without sour cherries, for about 1 Euro.

Everybody recommends Taberna das Flores on Rua das Flores.  I'm including it for that reason rather than recommending it.  I loved it for lunch some years back but was disappointed with the dinner on this visit - and I queued and queued for the experience!

If you do find yourself on Rua das Flores and want to cool down, drink coffee/tea and eat chocolate cake, your are in a good place, look for Landau Chocolate cafe at No 70.

Japanese Kano Naizan Namban Screen detail
at Museu Nacional Di Arte Antiga, Lisbon


Museu Nacional Di Arte Antiga, Rua das Janelas Verdes.
12th-19th century paintings, sculpture, silver, gold, jewellery and decorative arts from Portugal and its former colonies.  A whole room full of Zurbaran (the saints), Saint Jerome by Albrecht Durer
National treasures like The Panels of Saint Vincent by Nuno Conclaves and the Belem Monstrance.  Also the Fantastic Japanese Kano Naizan Namban Screens which date from around 1600.

Museu Azulejo, Rua da Madre de Deus 4
If you aren't interested in tiles before you go to Lisbon you soon will be.  Housed in a former convent, the museum covers the history and evolution of the art of the ceramic tile since the 1500's.

Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian, Av. de Berna 45A
Huge international art collection.  Modernist architecture.  Beautiful garden.

Jardim Botanico, Principe Real, Lisbon

Universidade de Lisboa Jardim Botanico, Rua da Escola Politecnica 58
This is the botanical garden in central Lisbon - the Principe Real area.  There is another in Belem. This one is very un-manicured and all the better for it.  Atmospheric and the perfect place to cool off.

Bairro de Alfama
The best area to wander in when you don't mind getting lost in its winding streets.  A great view from the Mirador Santo Estêvão.  You may want to queue for entry to the Castelo Sao Jorge.

In Belem - Take Tram 15:
Monasteiros Geronimos Praça do Império, Belem.  Spectacular Cloisters and Church (Vasco da Gama is buried here).
Torre de Belem Avenida de Brasilia, Belem
Monument to the Discoveries Avenida de Brasilia, Belem
Antigua Confeiteria de Belem Rua de Belem 84
Right next door to Monasteries Geronimos for Pasteis de Nata but it's way too touristy now - you might be lucky and hit a quiet moment.  The tiling in the back rooms is worth a look.

In Cascais (train from Cais do Sodre station takes 40 minutes)
Museu Paula Rego Avenida da República 300, Cascais
Re-opens on 8 May with Paula Rego: Folktales and fairytales exhibition.  Great architecture.  

at Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon


Mercado da Ribeira, Avenida 24 de Julho (06.00-14.00).  These days very touristy, drawn by Time Out Market, with its dozens of prepared food stalls, occupying most of the building.  I'm not convinced this is helping the market traders, though some say the Time Out stalls buy fresh produce from them .
Mercado de Alvalade Norte, Av. Rio de Janeiro, near the junction of Av. de Roma and Av. da Igreja (Metro Avalade)
A real fresh food market - good for fish and fruit/vegetables.
Prado Mercearia, Rua das Pedras Negras 35
Linked to Restaurante Prado (see above), this is a lovely little deli/grocery near the restaurante selling Portuguese produce.  There is one small table and you can get a coffee and a little something.


Hot Clube de Portugal, Praca da Alegria 48
I love this jazz club.  Only 10 Euros to get in, reasonably-priced drinks, very friendly.  Strong Portuguese bias in the musicians.

Igreja, Lisbon

I wish I was coming with you!

Steve King's piece on Lisbon for Conde Nast Traveller describes the appeal of Lisbon really well, I think.
Nuno Mendes's Best Restaurant and Bars recommendations in Conde Nast Traveller.
You might also find the site Culinary Backstreets on Lisbon helpful.

Older postings of mine on Lisbon:
Lisbon highlights June 2017
Lisbon Autumn 2015

Friday, 30 March 2018

Fortitude Bakehouse

Sticky Bun
at Fortitude Bakehouse

The aroma of melting cheese and warm Bara Brith is wafting from the open door of Fortitude Bakehouse on a soggy spring morning.  It's a beguiling fusion of savoury and sweet on the nose. Spiced-up dried fruit and the right cheese have a harmonious relationship - Eccles Cake and Lancashire; Christmas fruitcake and Wensleydale; Malt Loaf and, well, take your pick but I'd go for tangy Cheshire.  I've come across a Christmas Cake flavoured cheese, but best not to go there!  At Fortitude today it's, maybe, fortuitous timing that sees me walking through the door to find Eccles Cakes on the counter, just-out-of-the-oven Bara Brith cooling in its loaf tin and Cheese & Leek Batons reaching peak aroma point in the oven.  Symphonic scents.

Fortitude Bakehouse is the new venture of Jorge Fernandez, founder of Fernandez & Wells and Dee Retalli, founder of Patisserie Organic and until recently Operations Manager for Fernandez & Wells.
Slow ferment Sourdough craft-baking, sweet and savoury, and single-farm coffee is their usp but there are gluten-free and vegan bakes too.  Wholesale and take-away is their focus but a strip of the small bakehouse is given over to those who can't wait to tuck-in and there is bench outside too.  A Victoria Arduino coffee machine expresses the single-farm coffee and there is stone-rolled tea from the excellent Postcard Teas.

Fortitude Bakehouse

As far as the waistline goes, it's a dangerous place to linger.  All the preparation and all the results are in full view, and smell.  There's a constantly changing parade of bakes - Dee Retalli clearly has quite a repertoire to place before us - but a slice of that Bara Brith is a good starting point.  Lightly spiced, good dried fruit and a great, satisfyingly chewy (in the best way) texture thanks to the sourdough ferment.  The Sticky Buns are irresistible and the muffins are what you always hope they will be but seldom are.  I've ordered enough bad ones to last a lifetime but my faith is restored by Dee's Carrot and Almond Muffin, not to mention the Bilberry version.  And don't miss the Boiled Orange & Almond  Cake - moist, sharp, sweet, bitter and fragrant.  Or the Bostock, which until now has always failed to hit the spot for me.

at Fortitude Bakehouse

Early-morning means a bowl of yogurt with granola (nut-free and delicious) with honey;  you may find a Berber omelette stuffed into a Breakfast Batbout (Moroccan Pitta bread).  There's an unmistakable Moorish influence in the Bakehouse.  By mid-day expect to see a soup on offer, a seasonal salad like a bowl of grains, herbs and roast vegetables, and a Ryebread Tartine.  Bread, right now, is not too much in the frame, - though rye, soda bread and flatbreads make an appearance.  There's a customer appetite for it.  Can they resist?

Carrot and almond muffin
at Fortitude Bakehouse

There are plans for baking classes and workshops and I, for one, can't wait.

You'll find Fortitude Bakehouse right behind Russell Square Tube Station.  The Bloomsbury Mews setting is just right - nicely tucked away and not too prettified.  The old 'Horse Hospital', now an arts venue, occupies the corner site right next door and is the signpost that you need to look for.  Or follow your nose to those harmonious scents of dried fruit, spice and cheese.

Fortitude Bakehouse
35 Colonnade
London WC1N

Friday, 9 February 2018

Sabor Restaurant, London

Pan Tomate, Cecina
at Sabor, London

I had to return quickly to Sabor to make sure that first visit hadn't just been a nice dream.  It so easily could have been given that the restaurant has been 11 months in the making and its opening so eagerly awaited.  On my visit last week, their first day open (something I almost never do), everyone involved was on their toes and ready to perform, though there was a palpable and endearing nervousness to the lunch service.  Food and service were spot-on. After a second visit, slipping into that seat at the kitchen counter already felt cosily familiar.

Undoubtedly the way I feel about Sabor is due partly to the fact Nieves Barrágan Mohacho is in charge in the kitchen and that José Etura is orchestrating front of house.  Until March 2017 both were mainstays of the much-loved Barrafina Group of tapas bars where Nieves earned a Michelin Star.  I noticed a few other staff have migrated a little further west to Sabor.  Barrafina are great at what they do but after 10 years, it's good to see Nieves able to give free-rein to her Basque roots at Sabor, and to see José spreading his talent for great service.

At time of writing the first-come-first-served ground floor restaurant, which wraps in an L-shape around the kitchen, is open.  Groups of up to 4 can be accommodated and the small bar alongside, is also open.  The cooking ranges from Andalucia through Galicia to Castile.  The upstairs, bookable, Asador space is to follow at the beginning of March.  Here the wood-fired oven (the Asador) will be roasting Suckling Pig and two enormous copper pans will be the cooking Octopus for traditional dishes the Castilian and Galician ways.

Arroz con Salmonete
at Sabor, London
Sabor translates into English as flavour and it's this that Nieves does so well.  There's a daily menu which changes slightly according to seasonal variations plus a specials board.  Pan Tomate Cecina was a slice of toasted bread topped with the juiciest tomato, expertly imbued with flavour despite the time of year, and topped with wafer-thin slices of jamon.  You have to have it.  And, of course the Tortilla.  We tried two, one with Jamon and Artichokes and, on the next visit a Salt Cod version - both wonderful.  Piquillo Croquetas, Zamorano were crisp as could be and mildly spicy with a buttery nuttiness from the Zamora province sheep's milk cheese.  The Arroz con Salmonete (Red Mullet) dish pictured above was, sadly, someone else's order. Top of my list to try next time.  We opted for the special of John Dory, which came with its fillets diced, tossed in flour and pimento then deep fried.  The deep frying of the head and skeleton, on which the fillets were then re-arranged was appreciated for the opportunity to fish-out the cheeks.  A tasty plate but, for me, the presentation didn't show the fish to its best advantage.  Our portion of Presa Iberica 5 Jotas, Mojo Verde, was served with slivers of crisply-fried parsnip and was a juicy chunk of just pink pork on a bed of the traditional zesty coriander-based sauce.  The Rabo de Toro (oxtail) was yielding and sticky from the richness of the sauce, the creamy potato side which came with it was expertly cut by a few slices of raw onion.  Sublime.

Rabo de Toro
at Sabor, London

The list of puddings is short but considered.  Seasonal rhubarb came in the form of Rhubarb and Mascarpone Tartaleta which made a very pretty plate - not yet tried.  Goat's cheese ice cream with Liquorice Sauce is an interesting combination.  Based on having tried the beautifully balanced Honey and Saffron Ice Cream, I look forward to trying it.  Cuajada de Turron, Oloroso Cream seems to be destined to be a fixture on the menu as it is so good.

Honey & Saffron ice cream
at Sabor, London

As far as wine is concerned, so far the Páramos de Nicasia from Rueda and the Pasion de Bobal have been excellent choices.  The list looks well worth exploring and Sabor Bar offers Spanish Vermouths, gins, sherries, txakolis, wines and beers to drink along with slices of Jamón Ibérico 5 Jotas, Ox tongue Carpaccio and little plates of Camarones fritos & fried egg.

If this is a dream, don't wake me up.

The Asador Kitchen brigade
Sabor, London

Sabor Restaurant
35-37 Heddon Street
London W1B 4BR

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Bar Gresca, Barcelona

Fried Gamba
at Bar Gresca, Barcelona

A few years ago I was taken to a very swanky restaurant in Barcelona.  As someone who tends to follow their nose when it comes to food, I was puzzled by the lack of cooking smells.  The plating was precise.  Tweezers had most certainly been employed.  The food was cool, very cool, and not in a good way.  The service was positively frosty.  It was the most sterile restaurant I have ever encountered.  I had to see the kitchen.  Taking a slow walk to the back of the room, ostensibly seeking the loo, the scene through the small glass panel in the kitchen door - there for the benefit of staff, not diners - was revealing.  Lengths of stainless steel tables, drawers, cupboards and fridges, some open anonymous containers, a few white-aproned chefs plating-up delicate morsels of food with forensic intensity.  This was more like a laboratory than a kitchen, a place where food was stripped of personality and presented as something denatured.  I like a well-plated dish and these were undeniably pretty but, to me, the whole experience was unappealing.

Fresh Anchovies marinated with sesame and lemon
at Bar Gresca, Barcelona

The next day, after sniffing-out possibilites, we walked into Gresca.  Owner/Chef Rafa Peña 
worked at Ferran Adrià's El Bulli and Martin Berasategui's Lasarte so the modern techniques were there, but so too were great Catalan ingredients being sympathetically handled.  Gresca made a much more positive impression on me.  I wrote about it here.  It was, and still is, a modern restaurant with a great love for Catalan ingredients.  It's a great place to go for a Catalan tasting menu.

Being in Barcelona last week we intended to return to Gresca but were lured into the place right next door, because what was there was Bar Gresca.  The original Gresca restaurant was slim and constrained.  Taking a lease on the premises next door has allowed for a loosening of corsets.  The two premises, now joined into a U shape has allowed for one large, well equipped kitchen to serve both restaurant and bar.  And, joy of joys, some of the bar seating is almost in the kitchen.  We went twice.  The first time, seated close enough to the kitchen to see every dish come out.  On the second visit we could almost shake a pan for them.  My kind of eating.  We'd also been told they kept good natural Catalan wines.  My kind of drinking.

Bikini of Lomo Iberia & Comte Cheese
at Bar Gresca, Barcelona

So, what was coming out of said kitchen?  Sea snails with mustard; Grilled beef liver with kimchi; Lacquered aubergine with herbs; Pork sandwich, creme fraiche and pickled vegetables; Cuttlefish with tomato; Lacquered mackerel; Pizza of burrata and black truffle; Veal cheeks with wine; Grilled Veal Nose; and a dish of Green peas with black truffle.  Desserts were on the classic side with Pear tarte tatin and Pavlova with figs.  This is small-plates dining and prices range from Euros 4 for a plate of Pan con Tomate to Euros 18 for Baby Cuttlefish with tomato.  For seasonal specials, like truffle dishes, expect to pay Euros 20-27 for a plate.

Berberechos with vegetable vinaigrette
at Bar Gresca, Barcelona

I'll spare you the full list but we ate Berberechos with vegetable vinaigrette - the freshest of cockles served in their half-shell on a bed of salt were sweet, citrusy morsels bathed in their liquor; plump fresh anchovies had been marinated in sesame oil and lemon;  Leeks in 'Salpicon' came as sliced roundels blanched, topped with spoonfuls of herby lactic cheese and strewn with sharp, piquant, pickled Guindilla peppers; Bikini of lomo iberico and Comte cheese - the thinnest slices of fried bread enclosing the filling to make the most addictive of sandwiches; Fried gamba were so sweet and crunchy that they begged to be eaten whole in their delicate shells; Surf-n-turf is rarely my thing but a dish of Meatballs with cuttlefish was outstandingly good - and refreshingly the least instagrammable plate of brown food I've seen for some time.  For me, Desserts weren't the best thing here, but of the four on offer last week, I'd very happily order again the French toast served with a scoop of chocolate ice cream.

Meatballs with cuttlefish
at Bar Gresca, Barcelona

We drank very good, modestly-priced natural Spanish wines by the glass recommended by Sommelier Sergi, and were very happy to find a bottle of Lluerna from Pinedes' Els Vinyerons, a label we recently discovered in London via importer Aubert & Mascoli.

French toast
at Bar Gresca, Barcelona

Bar Gresca is top of my list for the next visit to Barcelona.  The Gresca website is undergoing change - it's clearly not a priority for them - but here's a link to a recent review which echoes pretty well how we felt about Bar Gresca Bar Gresca visit by Food Barcelona, though I can't share Food Barcelona's longing for craft beer to join the drinks list!

My one criticism would be that the lighting was a challenge to my limited photographic skills but Gresca has lighting for cooking, not for styling.  And if you don't sit within a pan-shake of the kitchen, take a walk-by.  This is what a proper kitchen looks, and smells, like.

Gresca & Bar Gresca  
Calle Provença, 230
08036 (Eixample) Barcelona
Metro: Diagonal (Exit: Provenca)
Tel: (+34) 93 451 6193

Friday, 8 December 2017

Five Books for Food Lovers 2017

Five books for Food Lovers 2017

I bought so few food-related books in 2016 that I talked more about those trusted indispensables than the new in that round-up.  This year, I faired rather better on the new books front.  Here are the five I particularly want to recommend this year.  As usual, there's an older book in there.  And another was, strictly speaking, published in 2016.  The list could have been longer but I've got to draw the line somewhere.  There's a book to move my bread-making skills on from what has become my safe place; one to bring an antidote to that Sunday night gloom; there is a book that is spicing up my cooking; one to feed my mind with some serious talk about food production, culinary history and much more; and a book stuffed with recipes you really want to make again and again from a writer who moved Simon Hopkinson to say of her prose "Describing how to boil potatoes would inspire me...".   Here they are, in no particular order:

Two Kitchens: Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

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.  ... Read more ...

The Sunday Night Book: 52 Short Recipes to Make the Weekend Feel Longer
by Rosie Sykes

The Sunday Night Book: 52 Short Recipes to Make the Weekend Feel Longer 
by Rosie Sykes

I used to dread those last few sepulchral hours of the weekend, particularly in winter when it can feel like all traces of colour have leeched into the sodden earth.  That Sunday night feeling when the prospect of a whole week of school hit like a freight train.  How much more bearable those last few hours would have been if we had embraced the opportunity to cook together in the way chef Rosie Sykes's family did.  Based on the kind of food they liked to cook and eat, The Sunday Night Book is the antidote to that Sunday night curtains-drawn glumness.  But whatever the day of the week, it's uplifting cooking to banish the blues.  There are failsafe recipes for comforting dishes on toast; one-pot dishes that you deliberately make too much of just so you have leftovers for later in the week; a bowl of pasta, of course; something eggy; light salads for when the weekend has been too good; ideas for leftovers; and, at the end of the book, "if all else fails" there's a chapter on Cocktails and a little bite to eat.  ... Read more ...

Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes and the Fight for Real Cheese
by Bronwen & Francis Percival

Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes and the Fight for Real Cheese
by Bronwen & Francis Percival

I confess as a cheese appreciator I had been looking forward to this book, but Reinventing the Wheel is not just for cheese lovers.  It's a book for anyone who cares about the food they eat and the welfare of those who produce it.  It tackles the wisdom of mega-dairies and industrialisation and the tension between modernity and tradition.  Across 12 chapters, Bronwen and Francis Percival examine the culinary history, terroir, microbiology, sociology and politics of cheesemaking.  ... Read more ...

Fresh India: 130 Quick, Easy and Delicious Vegetarian Recipes for Every Day
by Meera Sodha

Fresh India: 130 Quick, Easy and Delicious Vegetarian Recipes for Every Day
by Meera Sodha
My bookshelves are light on Indian food books.  I love Indian food and relish it when someone who really knows what they are doing cooks it for me.  However, I've always been unconvinced that I can get the spicing right.  I think I do a reasonable Lamb Rogan Josh. This, I feel sure, would qualify as one of those dishes "swimming in brown sauce" which is far removed from the "fresh, vibrant and seasonal" Gujarati ones in this book.  I have a more than acceptable Chicken Biryani in my repertoire, thanks to the cook and food writer Sri Owen (yes, I know Sri Owen is Indonesian but she knows her way around a number of cuisines).  It comes with a long list of spices and yogurt for saucing and made me appreciate how subtle Indian spicing can be.  But it's the incredible range of vegetarian dishes which have come out of India that I most enjoy, and most want to be able to cook. My copy of Madhur Jaffrey's, admittedly weighty, World Vegetarian can only give me a glimpse of India.

Finally, I've found a book that is giving me the confidence to cook Indian vegetarian food myself. Fresh India by Meera Sodha is a follow-up to her well received first book Made in India.  ..... Read more ...

Tartine Book No. 3
by Chad Robertson

Tartine Book No 3
by Chad Robertson

My food books list back in 2014 included a recommendation for Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson.  He probably needs no introduction but the book is all about the use of natural leaven (levain or sourdough), which French bakers used for bread, croissants and brioche until the 1930's when commercial yeast became available.  After years of believing I could never produce a decent loaf in a domestic kitchen, I put my faith in Chad, and a 'Dutch Oven', and have never looked back. Tartine Book No. 3, published in 2013, was a welcome present this year to move my bread-making skills on from what has become my comfort zone.  Because there is much to be discovered beyond Country Whites, Wholewheats and Ryes.  A whole world of ancient, sprouted and double-fermented grains, porridge breads, crispbreads and pastries awaits.  I'm just getting started with Tartine Book No. 3 so you can take this book recommendation with a pinch of salt, but it's a recommendation built on the strength of my 'oven spring'.

If you are into bread making, or thinking about it, you might like this piece I wrote when I was getting started - The Sweet and the Sour