Thursday, 25 November 2010

St John's New Bakery and Pop-Up Shop

St John Brown Sourdough Loaf

The months of anticipation are over.  At last the aroma of freshly baked bread has started to drift from railway arch 72 on Druid Street.  Three arches up from Tony Booth’s fruit and veg HQ my favourite baker in London, Justin Piers Gellatly, is baking his fantastic sourdoughs, wholemeals, ryes, sticks and more for Fergus Henderson in St John’s new bakery hub.   A week spent adjusting to a new oven and fluctuating temperatures in the newly fitted out space, and the bread is emerging better than ever.  The new oven’s feature of a steam element, which helps in the final proving of the dough, is creating a beautiful doming to the sourdough and a light crispness to the crust.  
As if delicious fresh-out-of-the-oven bread wasn’t enough of a draw, there are also freshly baked St John Eccles Cakes, and  brownies.  Now that they have a dedicated bakery they are also making what used to be a Sunday-only treat of doughnuts filled with crème patissière more frequently.  The good news for Saturday morning shoppers is that Arch 72 raises  its shutters for retail trade, along with the other traders on my Bermondsey Trail (posting 16 September 2010).  The imminent opening of St John’s new venture – a hotel and restaurant in Soho where the old Manzi’s restaurant used to be – means new lines are likely to be introduced to meet its demands.  St John will also supply Neals Yard Dairy at Borough Market and their Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden shop when the bakery is fully up to speed.
It has to be said that for those of us who happily picked up our loaf from St John Bread and Wine,  Justin's previous base, there is a downside in the shape of increased bread prices.  Reasoned by a combination of higher wheat prices and the costs associated with the new premises.   There are grumbles from the regulars but who else in London is in this league, other than perhaps Poilane in Belgravia?  

A slice of brown sourdough, a hunk of stichelton cheese from Neal's Yard and a bottle of Porter from the Kernel Brewery - heaven. 
St John’s Bakery
Arch 72 Druid Street
London SE1
Open Saturdays at the Arch 09.00-16.00 or until the loaves run out

Monday, 22 November 2010

Barbecoa the Butchers

Barbecoa - the Butchers

Located on Watling Street, a stone’s throw from St Paul’s, the new Barbecoa Butchers is an arresting sight.  With huge, glass-fronted cold-rooms displaying whole and part carcasses, this is in-your-face carnivore theatre.  Jamie Oliver and American barbecue expert Adam Perry Lang’s Barbecoa restaurant close by may be getting some mixed reviews whilst they get their formula right, but they’ve clearly chosen wisely with the butchery staff in the shop.  Recognising a number of the butchers from quality London shops I had no hesitation in taking a closer look at what was on offer.    
The provenance of the meats is not specified beyond, according to the official website, “Animals from carefully selected British farms and co-operatives are typically delivered whole, then butchered on site”.  At least the ageing, storing and skills of the butchers are more transparent.  Normally I would want to know more about the origins of my food before handing over hard-earned cash, but on this occasion I trusted the butcher and bought some rib-eye steaks.  Two minutes either side on a fierce smoking griddle,and five minutes rest to let the flesh relax, rendered them tender and juicy with a good mature flavour.  Bearing in mind the marketing blurb about animals being typically delivered whole, and the professional look of the place, I tried to buy some fresh suet for a Christmas Pudding I had planned.  No success.  The explanation - the suet layer surrounding an animal’s kidneys is these days stripped out at the abattoir.  Presumably our loss is Atora's gain!
Prices are comparable with other good London butchers, though significantly less than Lidgate’s in Notting Hill (considered by many to be the best butchers in London). 
Barbecoa the restaurant describes itself as “A celebration of the relationship between fire and food” and has committed to cooking the food without gas or electricity - “fire, smoke, wood and charcoal” are used instead.  Those who have been detect Perry Lang’s influence in the distinct New York feel.  Barbecoa’s location at One New Change, in the heart of the City of London with close-up views of St Pauls, will probably ensure its success.  It will need to pull in the punters to pay for the reported £3m spent on it.  The fact the website has a section headed “Interior & Branding” says a lot about the intentions for rolling this concept out elsewhere.   For the moment, Jamie Oliver has stated his intention to work at the Pass but given all his other commitments …….

UPDATE: Butcher, Nathan Mills, now has his own business "The Butchery" - currently open for retail Saturdays in Bermondsey SE1,
Barbecoa The Butchers
82 Watling Street
London EC4M 9BX
Mon-Fri 07.00-19.00
Sat 09.00-17.00

Monday, 15 November 2010

Leila's - a Spitalfields jewel

Leila's Shop & Cafe

Following another strand from The Bermondsey Trail brought me to Leila's shop and cafe on Calvert Avenue, which runs between Arnold Circus and Shoreditch High Street but falls within the Spitalfields are of London.  Leila McAlister first came to my attention several years ago with her Polish sausages and pickles stall on Borough Market, and now also trading on Druid Street, Bermondsey.  Her shop on Calvert Avenue is a jewel. 
In fact the shop has a history as a grocers at least as far back as 1900 when Albert Raymond opened his fruit and vegetable shop, and was succeeded by his son Alfred until his death in 1966.   Follow this link and you’ll find a wonderful photograph dated to 1902 by Joan Rose, the granddaughter of Albert, and more on the history
To describe Leila’s as a grocery store really wouldn’t do it justice, yet essentially it is a grocers but for the way we live now.  In the age of the supermarket, what Leila’s doesn’t try to do is carry a small stock of a large range of goods.   Instead it offers an eclectic range of foods from the best individual sources.  A browse around the shop leaves you feeling a great deal of thought is given to the sourcing and the display and most of the produce hasn't travelled far.  The fruits and vegetables on offer are absolutely seasonal.  For example, at the moment you can find 3 varieties of quince – an English one, a French coing, and a variety brought round by a neighbour from their garden.  For those who think you can get better value in a supermarket, how about autumn purple sprouting broccoli at £1 a bunch?  That’s around £4.00 a kg as compared to £8.95 a kilo at my local waitrose, and even if it was British grown (it wasn't), I wonder how many food miles were involved in putting it on the supermarket shelf.  Of course if I could get my act together I wouldn't have to buy autumn brocolli at all but I've never yet managed to ensure I plant more than the spring sprouting varieties. 

Fresh herbs and strings of whole dried chillies are arranged alongside the Porters' baskets of fruit and vegetables.  Incidentally, the baskets are the same as the ones you can see in the 1902 photograph.  Leila's also stocks a few top quality cheeses, breads from nearby St John, excellent meats including lamb from Montague Farm, as well as the Topolski range of Polish foods.  Preserves are from the excellent Portuguese Rainha Santa, jars of Mel de Cana Sacarina, the hard to find dark and luscious liquid mollases, as well as locally made jams.  There is a dry-goods section with intriguing deep pots containing lentils, pulses, rice and more, all sold by weight, as well as vanilla pods, and chunks of chocolate crying out to be melted into mugs of hot milk.  Every neighbourhood should have a shop like this
As for the cafe next door, you feel like you've just stepped into someone's kitchen.  The kitchen is open to the seating area.  Slightly disconcerting at first as although most of us have by now experienced "open kitchens" in restaurants, there is usually at least the demarcation line of a bar.  Here the cook will rustle up a pan of fried eggs and Serrano ham within a few paces of your table and bring it over to you in the pan when it's ready.  Served with good bread and a generous slab of butter, this is really just good home cooking, as they freely admit, but you'll leave feeling like you've been fed well by your favourite Auntie, or Uncle, in a well-used room just made for company.  You'll also find a soup of the day, brownies and cakes and Monmouth coffee. 
It has to be said that not everyone gets it.  Some people find the place underwhelming, some unwelcoming.  Others would like to move in.  The whole set-up puts me in mind of the original Villandry shop and cafe run by Rose and Jean-Charles Cararini which used to be on Marylebone High Street, before the street became over-gentrified.  I used to almost live there.  I'm told weekends at Leila's are very busy - I'd definitely avoid Sunday mornings as it is too close to Columbia Road flower market for comfort.
Leila's Shop & Cafe
17 Calvert Avenue
London E2 7JP
Tues-Sat 9-6pm
Sun 11-5pm
Nearest Tube: Old Street

UPDATE MAY 2012: Leila's now provides weekly veg boxes

If you can't get to Leila's, here's my take on ham and eggs:

Fried Eggs with Cured Ham for 2
Take a cast-iron pan (around 25cm), add a knob of butter and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Heat until bubbling.  Crack two or more eggs into the pan and cook over a moderate heat until the whites are are almost set.  Add slices of Serrano or other cured ham, nestling them between the eggs, and cook, turning once, for another minute.  Spoon some of the fat over the yolks to set lightly.  Take the pan to the table and share.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Romney Lamb from Montague Farm

Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder - Adapted from 
a recipe in "today's special" by Anthony Demetre

I’m particularly fond of slow-cooked meat dishes.  You know, the ones that are easy to prepare, you can put them in the oven, get on with your life, take the dish out several hours later and voila!  No stress, foolproof and delicious – or that’s how it should work.   A shoulder of lamb is a perfect candidate for this treatment and I have the easy recipe of your dreams. 
First, the lamb.  Romney is one of the most ancient breeds of lamb in Britain.  They have long wool, a large frame, are hardy and docile, and good foragers.  This is the breed raised on Montague Farm at Hankham, a 300 acre organic farm and nature reserve on the western edge of the Pevensey levels in East Sussex.  Three quarters of this wetland is designated an area of Special Scientific Interest.  The rest is permanent grazing marshes, running southwards from Pevensey Castle.  The ewes live outside all year round grazing the grass pastures and leys, alternating with cattle.  In winter they are fed hay and during lambing the diet of the ewes is supplemented with rolled oats.  A policy of minimum intervention is practiced.  The emphasis is on good quality feed and rotational grazing.  Lambing takes place in April (the natural time for ewes to give birth), and the farm uses an abattoir just twenty minutes away, thus reducing stress on the animals.  I can’t think of a better lamb to recommend.
Given the quality of the meat, Montague Farm’s prices are competitive.  The Romney Lamb Box looks particularly good value at £89.00 for approximately 7kg – 1 whole shoulder, 1 leg, 8 loin chops and 1 rack (6/7 bones).  At £7.00/kg I picked up a whole shoulder of lamb for £13.50 (easily fed 6 people) for this recipe.  So good was the lamb that I decided to cook the recipe again a couple of weeks later, this time using a half shoulder and reducing the other ingredients in my list by half, to make sure of the quality of the lamb before posting this piece.  It cooked every bit as well as the first. 

A note about my inspiration for this recipe: Anthony Demetre is chef (and co-owner with Will Smith) of Wild Honey and Arbutus restaurants in Mayfair and Soho respectively .  His book "today's special - a new take on bistro food"  is full of recipes using the less glamorous, and less expensive, ingredients showing you just how tasty they can be.  It's an excellent book with staightforward recipes which will inspire you to think differently about what you buy and how you cook.
Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb (Adapted from a recipe in  "today's special" by Anthony Demetre)
1 lamb shoulder (2-2.5kg or 4-5lb)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
40g (1½ oz) butter 
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large or 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Few sprigs of savory or lemon thyme
2 bay leaves
300ml (10fl oz) white wine                                                                   
A deep cast-iron pot which has a tight fitting lid is ideal for this recipe but a roasting pan tightly covered with foil will do.  Preheat the oven to 120oC/gas ½

Heat the butter and oil in your pot.  Season the lamb shoulder well with salt and pepper and brown in the pot on all sides.  Remove the lamb and keep warm.  Add the sliced onion, garlic and herbs to the pot and soften slightly.  Add the wine and bring to the boil.  Return the lamb to the pot. Cover tightly and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 4-5 hours.  When the flesh is meltingly soft, raise the heat to  120oC/gas 6 and cook, uncovered, for a further 20 minutes. 

Leave to rest for a further 20 minutes out of the oven.  I usually accompany this with potatoes, scrubbed, rolled in olive oil and sea salt, and baked in a dish popped in the oven 60 minutes before I plan to serve up.
Montague Farm supplies butchers shops in London and the south-east.  
Also on Saturdays at 104 Druid Street, Bermondsey (see my posting 'The Bermondsey Trail').

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Bonfire Night Gingerbread


Ah, Bonfire Night.  You either love it or hate it.  Despite the concerted attempts of the marketeers to turn Hallowe'en into the big event of the autumn months, Bonfire Night, 5 days later, still has a hold on we Brits. Whilst Hallowe'en festivities are much older and used to include bonfires, it is now all about dressing up, making lanterns, apple bobbing and, if you're lucky, ghost stories.  Come 5 November burning an effigy on a fire and setting off a lot of noisy fireworks appeals to a deep rooted anarchic streak in the British psyche.  Rarely does Guy Fawkes top our bonfires these days to symbolise his failed attempt to blow up the English Parliament in 1605, but rather an effigy of some hate figure who has emerged over the previous 12 months.

At least the excuse for a good bonfire means an opportunity to gather round, cook and eat. Traditionally it would have been food that could be cooked in the embers of the fire after the initial blaze and would, at least, have been potatoes in their skins. Wrapped in foil and tossed into the glowing remains they are a must for bonfire night but I'm sure you are planning to be more imaginative.  Here's my contribution - Gingerbread.  Not to be confused with the Gingerbread Biscuit mixture, this is most definitely a cake but was traditionally named 'Gingerbread'.  In some parts of the country the preference for a Bonfire Night cake would be for Parkin (made with the addition of fine oatmeal) but this gloriously spicy, treacly cake is my preference.  You can butter it or serve with a slice of Lancashire cheese but it's very good just as it comes.  The recipe is adapted from The Bread Book by Linda Colister & Anthony Blake.  Make it TWO DAYS ahead of your bonfire party to enjoy it at its sticky best.

Gingerbread slice

(for a 2lb loaf tin)

225g(8oz) self-raising flour
1tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tbsp ground ginger (if you use the last ingredient listed, reduce this to 1 dessertspoon)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground mixed spice
110g (4oz) cold, diced butter
110g (4oz) black treacle
110g (4oz) golden syrup
110g (4oz)  muscovado sugar
280ml (10fl oz) milk
1 large egg
Optional: 3 knobs of stem ginger in syrup, thiny sliced

Butter and bottom line a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper.  Pre-heat oven to 180oC/gas 4. Melt the treacle and syrup together, then cool to blood heat.  Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar in the milk, stirring.  Sift together flour, bicarbonate soda and spices.  Rub in the butter until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.  Whisk in the milk and sugar mix, followed by the treacle mix, then the egg.  If using, fold in the sliced stem ginger.  You should have a thin batter.  Pour this into the prepared loaf tin.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  The cake will sink back a little.  Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out and peel off the lining paper.  Wrap the cake in fresh greaseproof paper, then in foil.   If you can resist, keep for two days before slicing.