Friday, 30 December 2011

Where to eat in London in 2012

Crabs at Gergovie Wines
@ 40 Maltby Street

I love visiting other European towns and cities.  The food I eat is almost almost always the local style, and that is what I want.  It is just as well because, with the exception of Berlin and Paris, local cuisine is mostly what's on offer.  International hotel restaurants, serving standard "European dishes they fondly believe we visitors want, and the inevitable burger chains hold no appeal for me.  Good as 'local' usually is, if I were to stay longer than a few weeks I'm pretty sure I'd be scouring the back alleys for something a bit different.  That is, I think, the result of living in London.  London is different.  Here you can eat your way across the globe in a few square miles.  That's not to say British food isn't desirable.  The bad reputation it acquired after the 1940's has long gone but we do seem to be uniquely open-minded in our food tastes.  There's good food to meet all budgets in London, if you know where to look, and your palate need never be jaded. 

You do need a little help to sort the wheat from the chaff though.  Of the printed guides, Hardens is pretty good as the reviews are based on punters' reports as as well as those of the editors.  It's the one I mostly find myself agreeing with.  Food blogs give a more personal view and an internet search can turn up some very up-to-date reports, which is what we really want.  Here is my personal view looking back over 2011together with places on my radar for 2012.

2011 has seen Bermondsey Street blossom into a great place to find good food at fair prices - Josand Pizarro, Zucca, The Garrison, and more.  London has developed an appetite for both Mexican and Vietnamese food but the rise in popularity of Street Food, Pop-ups and Supper Clubs was the big story of 2011.  Closely, and laudably, aligned with an interest in foraging and food miles, they have a fleeting existence in any one place - which adds to the excitement.  It has to be said they are a mixed bunch, spawning some crackers along with the inevitable duds.  The writer Richard Johnson's site is worth checking out for its annual Street Food Awards.

The biggest buzz has probably been around the collaboration named Young Turks - being James Lowe (former head-chef at St John Bread & Wine), Issac McHale (a spell at Copenhagen's Noma and development chef at The Ledbury), and Ben Greeno (Noma and Sat Bains in Nottingham).  Currently offering £39 set four-courses at The Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields until 25 February.  Celebrated Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes is exciting similar interest with his Loft Project.  Though even these outfits divide opinion. It's an ever-changing picture and part of the appeal is finding out where they'll pop-up next.  The Mexican street food van Luardos is parked at Whitecross Street market each weekday 11-3. La Grotta Ices superb freshly made ice creams are sold from a tiny Piaggio van on Maltby Street some Saturdays (check site for updates).  Last, but far from least, is Street Kitchen.  Chefs Jun Tanaka and Mark Jankel park thier Airstream van in the heart of the City on Finsbury Avenue Square EC2 and have a second home, The Hatch by Ransome's Dock SW11 - both Monday-Friday lunchtimes. 

As I'm looking back here as well as forward, it's a good excuse to use my favourite photograph of those I took in 2011.  This is apt as it was taken in the place which has served me the most consistently good food and wine this year.  So, where to eat in London in 2012?

The places in London I'm certain to return to regularly in 2012:

Gergovie Wines at 40 Maltby Street Natural wines and David Cook's food.  Consistently good.

Pizarro  Jose Pizarro in the kitchen, in Bermondsey - this makes me very happy

St John Bread & Wine  for when you need steadying in Spitalfields

Zucca  River Cafe style at Bermondsey prices

Arbutus  Great value unfussy Michelin * lunch in the heart of Soho

The places I hope to visit more often in 2012:

Bocca di Lupo  Jacob Kenedy's exceptionally good Italian-influenced food in Soho

Brawn  Straight-up unpretentious British/French/Italian food in Bethnal Green

Barrafina Arguably London's best Spanish tapas bar in the heart of Soho

Roti Chai  Unpretentious Street Food from around India re-located to Marble Arch

Gauthier Soho  Seasonal, great flavours, good value classic French Michelin * from Alexis Gauthier

Le Gavroche  Michelin ** in Mayfair, Michel Roux Jnr in the kitchen.  Exceptional value 3 course set-lunch menu but book ahead.

Places I want to try in 2012:

Magdalen  So many friends have recommended this one in Bermondsey

Tinello  Giorgio Locatelli's influence but more affordable prices in Pimlico

Duck Soup  Natural wines and simple food in Soho - sounds tempting

Elliot's  Showcasing Borough Market traders - I like the ethos here

Pied a Terre  Fitzrovia Michelin **.  Straying from the good value set-lunch menu may call for someone else's wallet

If you get to any of these before me, let me know what you think.  Meanwhile,

Happy New Year

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Brockwell Bake's Bolo de Mel de Cana - Food find

Not content with milling biodynamically and organically grown wheat and baking great breads, Brockwell Bake have now introduced Bolo de Mel de Cana afrom their bakery in London.  On sale today at Jacob's Ladder Farms shop on Druid Stret SE1, this particular cane honey cake recipe comes from the Lambeth Maderian community.  It's a speciality which is particularly associated with Christmas, but actually available all year round on Madeira.  Using Weald light flour milled in Lambeth, this dense, sticky cake is full of other good things including sugar cane syrup, almonds, candied fruit, cloves, ginger, cardamom and Malmsey wine.  It will keep wrapped for up to a year and its texture and flavour should get even better.  Brockwell Bake is a wonderful community association in South London - take a look

Monday, 19 December 2011

21 Christmas gifts for food lovers

January Snowfall

Looking back over some of my posts this year made me think of all the things I, and I think other food lovers, would like to receive for Christmas.  Here are a few of my favourite things.  Most of these suggestions are to be found in London but for those of you living elsewhere, they might give you some ideas. 
  1. A ceramic coffee filter holder and papers, and don't forget some coffee from Monmouth Coffee c£15.
  2. Jesus Salami from The Ham & Cheese Company at 1 Ropewalk, London SE1 (open 22, 23 & 24 December) £24.
  3. A 100g tin of Nardin Smoked Anchovies from Brindisa at Borough Market £6.25.
  4. A jar of Romanengo Rose Petal Jam (new stock on 21 Dec) from La Fromagerie £11.40.
  5. Wooden-handled Nutcracker from Labour & Wait, 85 Redchurch Street E2 £9.50.
  6. A box of Classic Chocolate Brownies from Paul A Young - shops in Soho, Islington and the City - £3.75 each.
  7. A burr grinder for coffee beans - manual from Prufrock Coffee, Leather Lane EC1 c£40; electric (Krups) from John Lewis £40.
  8. A bottle of "Sassoscuro" Emilia Rosso (a perfect accompaniment to roast goose) from Gergovie Wines at 40 Maltby Street £22.
  9. 'A Late Dinner - Discovering the food of Spain' by Paul Richardson, from Daunt Books £7.99.
  10. A jar of Pains et gourmandises Crème de caramel au beurre salé Real France at Borough Market £6.
  11. A side of Smoked Salmon from Hansen & Lydersen at the Bermondsey Railway Arches (you can buy less) £70.
  12. A crate of beer from The Kernel Brewery  at 1 Ropewalk, Bermondsey SE1 and many stockists (open 22, 23 & 24 Dec) c£30.
  13. A tin of Peter's Yard Scandinavian Crackers from the John Lewis Food Hall, Oxford Street (and on-line - last orders 21 Dec) £7.75-11.25.
  14. A 'Kitchen Aid' Mixer from John Lewis, and other stores, c£400 - maybe wait for the sales?
  15. A quarter of Stichelton and 3 packs of oatcakes from Neal's Yard Dairy £42.50.
  16. An Ulcigrai Panettone from Leila's on Calvert Avenue or at Arch 104 Druid, Bermondsey SE1 (open 22, 23 & 24 Dec) or from Monmouth Coffee £16.00.
  17. A box of preserved Elvas Apricots from Rainha Santa at Borough Market c£12.
  18. A Stollen from Sally Clarke on Kensington Church Street £11.75.
  19. pure linen teatowel designed by Lucienne Day from TwentyTwentyOne in Islington £16.50.
  20. A Vacherin Mont d'Or from The Borough Cheese Company at Borough Market and at the Bermondsey railway arches 55 Stanworth Street SE1 from £10.00.
  21. A voucher for a course at The School of Artisan Food from £25

Happy Christmas Shopping

    Thursday, 15 December 2011

    Frangipane Mince Pies

    Frangipane mince pies

    If your only experience of mince pies at Christmas comes from the ones your boss brings into the office as a contribution to seasonal cheer you probably have a pretty negative view of this traditional Christmas pastry.  They will invariably have come from a supermarket, will have pastry that would sink a battleship and a meagre offering of filling.  The only taste sensations you'll get from them will be sweet and fatty and they'll leave you with a lingering regret that you didn't have the willpower to just say no.  There are a few exceptions, of course, but a mince pie should not have a long shelf-life.  It should have thin crisp pastry, be bursting with juicy, spiced fruits and be eaten the same day it is made.  Fresh from a good baker they are worth waiting all year for but best of all is to make your own and eat them still warm from the oven.

    Bath-based baker, Richard Bertinet, introduced me to the idea of a frangipane topping to mince pies instead of sandwiching the filling beyween two layers of pastry and it is, I think, a wonderful idea.  I've made them this way for the past couple of years and am hooked.  The lemony pastry in my recipe is the one I always use for mince pies.  The sweet mincemeat is home made but you can buy good mixes now if you don't want to make your own.  There's nothing wrong with using a good jar of mincemeat for this recipe but if you live in London, Neal's Yard Dairy keep a particularly good mix which you can buy in whatever quantity you want.  Sally Clarke in Kensington Church Street sells her own mincemeat, and mince pies by the half dozen which are filled to the brim.  Claire Ptak at Voilet Cakes also sells very fine mince pies if  you'd rather let someone else take the strain. 

    As food historian Ivan Day says, a lot of nonsense has been written about the history of mince pies.  You can read what he has to say about their origins here.  His reproduction of the recipe Minc't Pie published by Gervase Markham in 1615 in his book The English Housewife is worth checking out to see how much the recipe, and our taste, has changed in four centuries.

    It's important to get the balance right for mince pies. The pastry must be thin and, in this version, the mincemeat and frangipane of roughly equal proportions.  If you don't want to make the frangipane, topping the pie with a pastry star - as Sally Clarke does - or a crescent moon will give you a lighter result than the usual mincemeat sandwiched between two pastry discs. 

    Frangipane Mince Pies
    (makes 24)

    About 350g mincemeat
    50g almonds, skinned and flaked
    Icing sugar for dusting

    250g (10oz) plain flour
    25g (1oz) ground almonds
    Pinch of salt
    150g(6oz) butter
    75g (3oz) icing sugar
    Grated rind of half a lemon
    1 egg yolk
    3 tablespoons milk

    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 into the dry ingredients.  Mix until the dough just comes together then turn out and knead gently to smooth the surface.  Cover and rest in fridge for just 30 minutes.

    75g (3oz) softened  butter
    75g (3oz) caster sugar
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    75g (3oz) ground almonds

    Mix butter until soft.  Mix in the sugar until the mixture becomes pale.  Add the egg gradually while still beating.  Add ground almonds and mix well for 1-2 minutes. 
    Heat oven to 180C(gas 5).  Lighly butter 24 shallow patty tins.  Roll pastry out thinly on a lightly floured surface.  Use a 6cm(2½ inch ) cutter to stamp out 24 rounds to line the tins.  Add a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat and top with a heaped teaspoon of frangipane.  Scatter 3-4 flaked almonds on each pie.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.  Serve dusted with icing sugar. 

    Nb. Richard Bertinet's new book on baking is due for publication around the middle of 2012.  He also runs a cookery school, in Bath  of which I've heard very good reports.

    Tuesday, 13 December 2011

    Sweet Mincemeat

    Sweet mincemeat

    My favourite food shops are smelling heavenly and my first Christmas party is under my belt (apple tarts and amazing choc ices) so I can no longer ignore the fact that Christmas is upon us.  Christmas puddings are squirrelled away (if they taste good I'll post the recipe in 2012) and attention turns to mince pies.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves, there's the mincemeat filling to be considered first.
    There's nothing wrong with using a good jar of mincemeat, and you can always add some extra ingredients to make it more to your taste.  This year I was persuaded to make my own, whereas I would normally buy it from Neal's Yard Dairy .  If you live in London, they keep a particularly good mincemeat at this time of year and you can buy it in whatever quantity you want.  The fact I had some lovely lovely lemon peel which I'd candied in summer and some dried fruit from Christmas pudding making convinced me to have a go.

    Mincemeat has been popular since the middle ages and originally included meats such as tripe, beef or tongue mixed with dried fruits and spices. Having friends in Alaska, I know that Reindeer meat is still used in some of their mincemeat recipes. These days beef suet is more commonly added. This, of course, makes it a no-go area for vegetarians, although you can buy a 'vegetarian suet' now.  I've used butter instead in my recipe to provide the necessary fat content and keep everyone happy, and it works very well. 

    For those of you who have the time and inclination - the list of ingredients looks long but it takes little effort - here is my recipe for mincemeat.  You can use either butter or suet and if you prefer one fruit over another then just change the recipe to suit your taste.  Once mixed, cover the bowl and let it mature for a couple of days.  You can then keep it in the fridge for a week or so or fill sterilsied jars for longer keeping.

    Sweet Mincemeat
    (makes around 900g)

    150g (6oz) raisins
    75g (3oz) sultanas
    75g (3oz) currants
    50g (2oz) dried figs (or apricots or glace cherries if you prefer)
    75g (3oz) mixed peel
    50g (2oz) blanched almonds, chopped
    100g (4oz) apple (I prefer cooking apple), peeled and diced small
    100g (4oz) Muscovado sugar
    75g (3oz) melted and clarified butter
    1 teaspoon ground Allspice
    ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    Zest and juice of 1 orange
    Zest of 1 lemon
    2-3 tablespoons brandy(or rum if you prefer)

    Mix together all the ingredients.  Taste - add a little lemon juice if you think it needs sharpening up.  Cover the bowl and leave to macerate for 2-3 days, then keep covered in the fridge for a week or so, or pack into sterlised jars for longer keeping. 

    *** Check back in a couple of days for a recipe for mince pies with a twist ***

    Hansen & Lydersen join Bermondsey Trail

    You wait all year then two fish traders come along at once.  Joining Les of Christchurch Fish down at the Bermondsey arches on Saturday was Hansen & Lydersen salmon smokers.  With a Norwegian family history in the business stretching back to 1923, Ole Hansen now takes salmon farmed sustainably in the Faroe Isles and smokes them in his Stoke Newington Smokehouse using his great-grandfather's orginal recipe.  Smoked over wood, incuding Juniper, within 48 hours of being caught, Ole sells the smoked salmon cut in thick slices, the Norwegian way.  Lovely dense texture with a deep, aromatic flavour - for those who like a heavily smoked salmon.

    Hansen & Lydersen

    Thursday, 8 December 2011

    Pizarro lives up to expectations

    Bermondsey Street SE1

    Well, the soft opening is over.  Yes, I know I failed to alert you to it, but really the place has been packed.  Such is José Pizarro's hospitality that the guy's been working flat out trying not to disappoint anyone in the lead up to the formal opening this week.  I don't think I would have been doing him any favours by putting more pressure on the kitchen.  Anyway, Pizarro is now formally open, so get down to Bermondsey Street asap.  Informal and welcoming, the place looks a picture with much burnished wood, beautiful Spanish tiling and soft lighting.  You can take your pick of seating from cosy booths which could take as many as six slim people, tables for two or four, a long communal table and and a long table against the window facing the street.  At the back of the restaurant there's what I'd describe as a family table (pictured below) complete with shuttered window and lit by a chandelier.  Then there's the long inviting cava bar, running from the entrance to the open kitchen.  I'd say some 60 covers in all.  There's a private room too.

    Family table
    at Pizarro
    Eating there last Wednesday, when dishes were being tried out, we feasted on  meltingly soft Ham Croquetas, Quail with Romesco sauce, Squid, potatoes & alioli, Anchovy, pimentoes and soft boiled egg and Cured Salmon 3-ways topped with an egg yolk.  Out of all of these dishes we could only fault the Romesco and Alioli for not being punchy enough.  A succulent Lamb and lentil dish and Secreto Iberico with mashed potato & pimento followed along with the star dish of tender Partridge with casseroled beans.  After all that, we could only manage Pear Sorbet with cava - a delicious ice which, for me, didn't quite work with the cava.

    Despite the fact there was little room for improvement with the meal, it was striking how focused Jose and his staff were on getting feedback so that they could do better.  We left extremely well-fed and happy, but I've learned to eat at a restaurant at least twice before passing judgment so here is how my second visit went.

    Pizarro plating
    Secreto Iberico
    8pm and after adding our name to the list for dinner (Pizarro has a no-booking policy) we join the crush at the cava bar.  There are about 75 people clearly enjoying themselves in a room entirely made up of hard surfaces, yet it feels buzzy rather than noisy.  The lighting casts a flattering glow but can be a tad too low for reading the menu.  Half way through a glass of cava, somehow, they conjure up two seats at the food end of the bar.  We've scored ring-side seats for chatting to the chefs and observing the care they take in cooking and presenting the food.  It's a masterclass.

    The daily-changing menu offers a plate of Manuel Maldonado Jamon Iberico, at £20 the most expensive dish on the menu (with reason). Small dishes priced between £5.50 and £7.50 include Artichoke soup with truffle oil, and a choice of either crispy ham or manchego cheese; Butternut squash, Cabrales cheese and almonds; Duck livers, capers and fino; Prawns, cecina, chilli and garlic.  I have to check those Ham croquetas again - lovely flavoursome soft yielding inner and crunchy outer; and the marriage of Boquerones, red peppers and olives ticks the boxes of both delicious and virtuous.  Mains are priced between £12-15 and are large.   With our glasses of house red Jumilla (spicy and good), a Seabream dish comes as two beautifully cooked crispy-skinned fillets on a bed of fried potatoes.  Any oiliness is cut by a hot, sweet Vizcaina sauce (of onions, choriceros peppers and fish stock which comes from the Spanish Basque country, I think) and a few capers.  Pink-roasted Lamb comes on a bed of lentils and radicchio.  The piquancy and looseness of the lentil mix is a nice twist on the dish served to me a week ago.  We could have chosen Hake, black cabbage and clams; Secreto Iberico pork (a cut between the shoulder and loin), olive oil mash and piquillo peppers; or a dish of baked Manchego cheese canelones, silver chard and pine nuts. 

    Watching so many plates of Chocolate, toast and caramel ice cream being lovingly prepared, I think I know what to expect.  We share one.  A thin slice of crisply-toasted bread is topped with a scoop of chocolate mousse and another of caramel  ice cream - a tiny pinch of salt on which is not forgotten.  There's a a scattering of what looks like grated chocolate but turns out to be chocolate breadcrumbs. Lovely flavours and textures. A couple of good cafe cortados set us up for the walk home with a bill of less than £70 (excl service) for two.

    Service is excellent from an attentive and already pretty cohesive team and, despite the pressures of the kitchen, the chefs are enthusiastic and communicative.  The only problem now is choosing between Jos, just a few doors down, and Pizarro.  Choices, choices.

    194 Bermondsey Street
    London SE1 3TQ

    Wednesday, 7 December 2011

    Fitzbillies - a revitalised Cambridge institution

    Chelsea Bun

    Fitzbillies cake shop opened in Cambridge in 1922 and became a Cambridge institution.  Having catered to town and gown for nearly 90 years it was, reportedly, showing signs of wear and tear but its bankruptcy earlier this year came as quite a bombshell.  Depending on your particular predilection, chocolate cakes or apple pies drew you to Fitzbillies, but mostly it was the wonderful Chelsea buns - about which more later.  Tim Hayward and his wife Al moved quickly when the news broke - along with around 200 other interested parties - and set in motion a life-changing decision.  To cut a long story short - and you can read Tim's story, as I did, in the November Observer Food Monthly -  they bought the business.  It's inspirational stuff, but, as Tim makes clear, such an undertaking is not for the fainthearted.

    After much hard work, not a little calling in of favours and some good fortune where staffing is concerned, Fitzbillies re-opened nearly four months ago.   The exterior is still recognisably Fitzbillies but inside, the opening up of the shop next door has added a communal table cafe space where you can get a convivial quick coffee and cake.  Some sympathetic redesign has gone on, including some walls of beautiful blue tiling on walls which is definitely not old Fitzbillies and makes a successful statement, I think.  Beyond the cake shop is the restaurant, with white painted wood panelling and those tiles, defying the chintzy image of Cambridge. 

    My visit last week coincided with the first real chill of winter - one of those days when you really hope you'll find a good place to eat.  Fitzbillies was packed but by taking seats at the long communal table at the back, we got  ring-side seats to watch the comings and goings of the kitchen, and a chance to chat with Tim and the brigade as we ate.  With little direct recent experience in catering, it can't have been an easy four months for the Haywards.  Despite the added pressure of their first opening for dinner that evening, Chef Rosie Sykes (one of their 'good fortunes') was in control of a remarkably calm kitchen and Tim was cheerfully turning his hand to anything that needed doing.

    Rosie has an impressive CV having trained with Joyce Molyneux, Alistair Little and Shaun Hill, on to Eyre Brothers and recently working with Margot Henderson at Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch.  So, it was no surprise to learn Fitzbillies makes everything in-house including their own terrines, pates, charcuterie and preserves.  At the time of writing they aren't formally open for dinner.  The lunch menus offer 'Soups' such as parsnip & apple or swede & bacon; 'Savoury Pastry' which may be egg & bacon pie or sausage roll served with plum ketchup; 'On Toast' Welsh Rarebit, Mushrooms in a cream and sherry sauce or beef with dripping; 'Terrines' of, perhaps, potted Guinea Fowl and cornichons.  There are cheese plates, a good range of salads and one or two daily-changing dishes which have been cooked in the cooling bakery oven - how about beef with dumplings or ham, chickpea and pumpkin stew?  The lunch menus are still evolving and the planned opening for dinner Thursday-Saturday from 10 December will, no doubt, have an effect on them.  Lunch dishes are fairly priced between £5-8, hot lunch dishes around £9.

    We ate delicate cheese straws with a glass of decent French red from the small wine list while we waited for our order.  Anchovy and beetroot salad with just-from-the-oven soft soda bread followed and chard and Wissington cheese tart (lovely fine pastry) served with a well-dressed juicy radicchio salad.  Our restraint meant we were able to justify popping into the cafe later in the day to try out those Chelsea buns I mentioned.  My memories of these sticky fruity pastries from previous visits to Fitzbillies are good ones but I usually subscribe to the view that trying to recapture past joys is a bad idea.  How wrong can you be. This bun was magnificent.  A light, well-cooked dough encasing good quality currants, lots of spicing and a gorgeous slick of sugar syrup.  In fact it was better than I remembered.  Now, I know they were made by the same baker, Gill Abbs - another of the Hayward's 'good fortunes' - who has been Head Baker at Fitzbillies for 40 years, so how come?  Just maybe, it's because Fitzbillies is receiving a lot of much needed TLC.

    52 Trumpington Street
    Cambridge  CB2 1RG

    Sunday, 4 December 2011

    My top 3 books published in 2011

    Last December I posted on my top 3 books published in 2010.  This year, moving home has meant I've handled all of my books several times over - sorting (having an indulgent read), giving away, packing (having an indulgent read), unpacking (reading).  It's been a good opportunity to remind myself what I have, what I don't need and what I absolutely do.  So, I was tempted to do a December review of older books this year, but for consistency here are my top picks of 2011 food publications.  I will indulge myself with more reviews of older books in 2012.

    BOCCA Cookbook
    Jacob Kenedy
    BOCCA Cookbook comes out of chef Jacob Kenedy's travels experiencing the food of Italy.   In this book he makes clear the impossibility of pinning down "Italian" cuisine.  In Italy local food is of huge importance and pride and each region has a rich culinary tradition.   Kenedy, who cut his teeth at  restaurants Moro in London and Boulevard in San Francisco, here gives us his take on the dishes he devoured in Italy and his own dishes which they infuenced.  Authenticity is of less concern to him than honesty as he found  "...each city, hamlet and household has its own version of a dish ..." and " would be a hard task to find two ... who could agree on how to make (it) ..".   Having whiled away many an hour at Boccca di Lupo (Mouth of the Wolf) which he opened  in London's Soho after the inspiration of his travels, all I can say is Kenedy's food makes me very happy.  So, the recipes in this book, authentic or not, are deliciously familiar to me. The ingredients lists are admirably short, which is, I think, very Italian and  one of the reasons I like Italian food so much.  Simple appetisers such as Fried Olives stuffed with Pork and Veal from Le Marche region and  Fried Whole Artichokes from Lazio are here along with a beautiful original salad recipe of Shaved Radish and Celeriac with Pomegranate, Pecorino and Truffle Oil.  From Liguria comes Nettle and Chard Pansoti with Walnut Sauce, from Lazio Potato Gnocchi with Sausage Ragu, a Samphire and Clam Risotto from Emilia-Romagna, Sardines 'Beccafico' from Sicily and Hare in Salmi from Lombardy.  There are puddings too but Kenedy's thing is gelato, and he knows his subject well.  Particularly fine is his Milk-Free Espresso Gelato.  So nice to see credit given to one of my my favourite cooks, David Cook, in the acknowledgements section.

    The Good Cook
    Simon Hopkinson
    A highly regarded chef and writer, Hopkinson left the kitchens of London's Bibendum Restaurant in 1995 to concentrate on writing. Simon Hopkinson's cooking is timeless and his writing full of good sense.  This book calls for no fancy ingredients, there is no gimickry and no striving for novelty.   For him, provenance of ingredients are of less importance than the care taken in the cooking.  As anyone familiar with my blog will appreciate, this is a view I can't share.  For me they have equal import but it does not change my regard for this book.  The 100 recipes are divided into chapters in Hopkinson's distinctive straightforward fashion.  Basically a list of things he likes, such as Anchovy & Aubergine, to which he devotes 20 pages with recipes such as anchovy & onion tarts; Cheese & Wine, including the deeply comforting My mother's Lancashire cheese & onion pie, a perfect Coq au Vin and Poached Eggs in Coq au Vin gravy, in case you have any sauce left over - which brings to my mind the classic French dish of Oeufs en Meurette.   Desserts and Puddings are mainly classics including what may be the definitive recipes for the very English dishes of Rice Pudding and Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Just like Hopkinson's first book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, I know I will use this book again and again.

    a Spanish Cookbook
    Sam & Eddie Hart and
    Nieves Barragan Mohacho
    From the owners and Basque-born chef of one of the best tapas bars in London, this is a much anticipated book.  The Hart brothers are greatly admired on the London restaurant scene, having three restaurants of which Barrafina in Soho is, I think, the best.  Heavily influenced by Cal Pep in Barcelona's El Born district, Barrafina's authenticity is obvious from the moment you take a seat at the bar and watch the hugely talented Nieves orchestrating her team.  The photographs in this book are beautiful, almost too beautiful.  It could, and will, decorate a number of coffee tables.   A quick flick through could seduce you into thinking the recipes are short and, therefore, easy, and some are.  A deeper study will reveal the preparation work needed to produce others.   If you really love to cook Spanish food, as I do, you'll love this book, though you may find yourself having to substitute some recipe ingredients.   Delicious easy recipes include Razor clams with broad beans and jamon, Mussels with sherry vinaigrette, Calves liver with celeriac puree and caramelised onions, Beetroot salad with Picos cheese, Pisto and duck egg, Braised leg of milk-fed lamb with Manazanilla, Loin of venison with red cabbage, pinenuts and sultanas and Crema Catalana.  Finding I have Barrafina's recipe for Arrocina beans with chorizo, morcilla and pork belly in my hot little hands is enough to overcome any concerns about glossy presentation.

    Saturday, 3 December 2011

    Christchurch Fish at Maltby Street - Food Find

    Great to find a Dorset co-operative of small inshore fishing boats selling their Friday catch at the Bermondsey arches today.  Stating ecologically friendly fishing methods, they're normally to be found at Blackheath and Kensington Farmers' Markets Saturday and Sunday too.  Fantastically lively shrimp, crabs and lobsters, along with cockles, mussels and palourdes, beautiful fresh sole and 'three-bearded Rockling' - a new one on me but my research shows they make good eating if you can get them fresh.  Too soon to say if they'll be a permanent feature on my Bermonday Trail, but you should find them between 40 Maltby Street and The Ham & Cheese Company's arch at 1 Ropewalk every Saturday until Christmas.


    Sunday, 27 November 2011

    Update on The Little Bread Pedlar - Food Find

    Having already alerted you to the new chocolate brownies at Monmouth Coffee, look out for what I believe to be the best croissants you will find in London.   Starting this week, The Little Bread Pedlar will also be supplying Monmouth in Monmouth Street, Covent Garden and their shop on the corner of Park Street and Stoney Street in Borough SE1.  You can also find them, currently Friday-Sunday, at Leila's on Calvert Avenue, Shoreditch.

    Thursday, 24 November 2011

    Arbutus - exceptional value in Soho

    Cornish Silver Mullet
    at Arbutus

    At £16.95 for three-courses, is this the best value lunch in Soho?  There's certainly plenty of competition in the area, so keen-pricing goes with the territory, but Arbutus has to be right up there.  The daily-changing menu makes good use of seasonal foods and cheaper cuts enabling them to keep prices down without compromising quality.  After a recent faultless three-course set lunch, it was clear why Arbutus had been awarded a Michelin star in 2007, but lunch for two at less than £60 including wine and service?  Despite the accolades, Arbutus continues to offer exceptional value for money.

    The two rooms are stripped back but stylish and comfortable.  The cooking displays classical techniques without being fussy and flavour combinations are spot-on.  I'm normally very reluctant to photograph my food but in this case the presentation was, as you can see, too beautiful to pass-up.  The whole winelist is available by the 250ml carafe, making it easy to pair wines with dishes.  Service is friendly and highly focussed and, especially appealing to me, you can opt to eat at the marble bar.

    Arbutus opened in May 2006, the first of the three restaurants opened by Anthony Demetre and Will Smith, followed by Wild Honey and Les Deux Salons.  I've eaten well in all three but Arbutus is my favourite these days.  Looking to cheaper cuts of meat, the menu can include dishes like Slow-cooked Scottish Beef, Crispy Pig's head or Pieds et Paquets (lamb's tripe parcels and trotters ) but you can also expect to be offered something like a fresh Ricotta Gnocchi, Bouillabaisse, Grilled Cornish Gurnard or Steak Tartare.  Comforting puddings such as Clafoutis and Bread and Butter are particularly well done.
    Bread and Butter Pudding
    at Arbutus
    Our recent lunch started with a plate of delicate Warm Pork Porchetta and a homely seasonal Soup of Autumn Greens, lifted to a higher plain by the addition of lemon and nutmeg.  Next came perfectly cooked Cornish Silver Mullet served on a lovely salt-cod brandade and sweet mussels, and a dish of Slow Cooked Scottish Beef with carrots, served with a dish of perfect Gratin Dauphinoise potatoes.  Dessert was Bread and Butter Pudding with the addition of a salted caramel sauce.  With 2 carafes of Barbera D'Asti red from Piedmont £9.00 for a 250ml carafe (£26.50 a bottle) the bill for 2 people came to less than £60 including excellent service.

    Arbutus also offer 3-course pre-theatre menus at £16.95 and £18.95.  You can expect to pay around £35 per head for a la carte.  Open every day for lunch and dinner.

    63-64 Frith Street
    Soho, London  W1D 3JW
    Tel: 020 7734 4545

    Monday, 21 November 2011

    The Panettone is here - Food Find

    The Ulcigrai family began making Panettone five generations ago in Trieste. Having discovered this fantastic version of a "large bread" last November, I was so happy to see it again at arch 104 Druid Street, Bermondsey on Saturday.  It's a Leila McAlister discovery and you can buy it from the arch on Saturdays or from Leila's on Calvert Avenue, Shoreditch Tuesday-Sunday.  Made with top quality dried and candied fruits and a natural sourdough starter, this, for my money, is the best you can get in London and far from the most expensive.  Leila also supplies the Panettone to Monmouth Coffee, so look out for it between now and Christmas.  If you want to keep it until Christmas, I recommend you put it out of sight as the one I bought on Saturday is fast disappearing.

    Pasticceria Triestina Ulcigrai

    Saturday, 19 November 2011

    Butternut Squash & Sage Ravioli

    Butternut Squash
    & Sage Ravioli

    There is an abundance of winter squash and pumpkins around at the moment, some so beautiful to look at that you hardly want to cut them open.  Their names are equally lovely - Baby Bear, Butterball, Jack Be Little, Sweet Dumpling and Turk's Turban to mention just a few.  They are easy to grow and if you're short of space you can grow them up a wigwam of hazel sticks instead of horizontally.  The seeds can be planted straight in the ground once frosts have passed.  They need less water than summer squashes as they develop a good root system, and as they have hard skins they can be harvested in autumn and kept well into winter.  If you are planning to keep them a while, make sure you leave a good length of stalk when you severe the fruit from the plant to prevent rotting.  Squash generally have a better flavour and texture than pumpkins.

    Uchiki Kuri Squash

    Butternut squash has a rather boring flesh-coloured appearance by comparison, but it has a delicious nutty flavour and it's easy to find in the shops.  It also, mercifully, has quite a thin skin so it is possible to peel one without slicing a finger, unlike some, if you don't want to roast it skin-on.  Its firm flesh works really well as a filling for ravioli.  Toss chunks of the squash in olive oil and bake in the oven with a few sage leaves to allow the natural sugars to caramelise and the sage to crisp. Mash the ingredients together to a firm puree.  If the mixture is very stiff, you can let it down with just a little double cream.  A few gratings of parmesan add a salty piquancy to the sweetness of the squash.  This mixture can be made in advance and left in the fridge along with your home-made pasta - don't panic, pasta is easy.  You can buy some decent fresh pastas but for ravioli you really need to make your own.  You do need a hand-cranked pasta roller, or an attachment if you have a good electric mixer, but it's a purchase you will never regret.  The only expensive ingredient in this recipe is the pinenuts but you could toast hazelnuts or cobnuts instead.

    Filling the ravioli

    Dressed with a smattering of toasted nuts, fried sage leaves, grated parmesan, and a slick of best olive oil, there's nothing like serving up a ravioli to make you look like a serious cook.  The FILLING THE RAVIOLI section below is long as I've tried to be clear for the sake of those of you who have never made ravioli before.  Once done, you won't need to refer to it again.  You can carry out all of the following steps in advance right up to the COOK AND FINISH section.  So, let's start with that scary pasta.

    Squash & sage ravioli

    Butternut Squash & Sage Ravioli
    (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main)

    100g 'OO' flour
    1 large egg
    pinch of salt
    1 teaspoon olive oil
    A little polenta to help prevent sticking

    Put all ingredients in a mixer, or use your fingers, to mix just until everything holds together.  Either change to a doughhook and knead for 2 minutes or knead the dough on a work surface by hand for 10 minutes if you want an excellent work-out for your arm muscles (saves on gym fees).  If you use a machine, knead the dough by hand for a final half minute (the warmth of your hands finishes it off perfectly).  You will now have a smooth firm dough. Wrap it in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

    1 small-medium butternut squash
    1 tablespoon good olive oil
    2-3 sage leaves
    1 tablespoon Parmesan
    salt and pepper
    (1 tablespoon of cream if mixture is very stiff)

    Heat oven to 180C.  Peel the squash (or leave peel on and remove it after roasting), cut it into quarters then each quarter into 2 or 3 pieces.  Toss them in the tablespoon of olive oil with the sage leaves and roast in the oven on a baking tray for 20-25 minutes until soft and lightly browned.  After about 10 minutes check the sage leaves and when crisp remove them to a bowl while the squash continues cooking - you don't want the sage to burn.  Add the cooked squash to the bowl and mash or use a stick-blender to mix to a smooth paste flecked with sage leaves.  Add  cream if the mixture is very stiff, then parmesan and salt and pepper.  Once cool, cover and refrigerate.

    Feed the pasta dough through the pasta machine on its lowest setting.  Fold the dough and repeat 3 more times.  Increasing the setting by one mark each time, feed the dough through the machine once until you reach its highest setting (if you are as short of kitchen space as I am you'll want to cut your rolled pasta in half part way through the rolling to make it more manageable, so you end up with 2 sheets of pasta).  Sprinkle your work surface with a little polenta.  Place your sheet(s) of pasta on a work surface and put heaped teaspoons of squash mixture just over half way across and 3cm apart.  Use a pastry brush to paint the pasta lightly with water between the dollops of mixture all the way to the nearest edge and down that long edge.  Bring the untouched half of the pasta sheet over to gently meet the water-brushed edge (don't press it down yet).  Press down between the filling with the side of your hand to create separate pockets, easing the air out of the pockets as you go.  You can now press down all along the edge.  Neaten the edge with a knife, or pasta wheel if you have one, then cut to separate your filled pockets into individual raviolis.  Sprinkle a tray or plate with the polenta and lay the ravioli on this in a single layer to stop them sticking together until you're ready to cook them.

    A tablespoon or two of good olive oil
    A handful of sage leaves
    2-3 tablespoons of pinenuts (or hazelnuts or cobnuts)
    Grated Parmesan and a little extra virgin olive oil to serve

    While you bring a large pan of water to the boil, lightly brown the nuts in a dry frying pan.  Fry the sage leaves until just crisp in hot olive oil (takes just a few seconds) and drain them on kitchen paper.  Once it comes to the boil, salt the water and add the ravioli.  Bring back to the boil and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove the ravioli parcels gently to warmed plates (a little of the pasta water on the plate is a good thing), scatter the pinenuts, and crisp sage leaves over.  Finish with a few gratings of parmesan and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.

    Monday, 14 November 2011

    The Butchery - Food find

    'The Butchery' has arrived in my favourite shopping area of London.  Having bought meat from Nathan Mills at Ginger Pig and Barbecoa in the past, it was great to see him on Saturday behind the counter of his own business.   Nathan and his partner Ruth are buying in whole carcasses direct from small farmers, or in conjunction with The Traditional Breeds Meat Market, and butchering to the customers' needs.  Choosing rare breed animals, pasture-fed, organically reared and as chemical-free as possible - this is as good as it gets.  For now you will find them in the railway arch at 1 Ropewalk, Bermondsey SE1 along with The Ham & Cheese Company and The Kernel Brewery on Saturdays only.  Sign up to naththebutcher to keep up with The Butchery Ltd and check out these websites.  The Butchery is a great addition to the area which already has the excellent Jacob's Ladder butchers round the corner, in the arch at 104 Druid Street SE1.

    Saturday, 12 November 2011

    Genoa - Acciughe to Stoccafisso

    Adding sugar syrup to
    pistachio dragees
    at Romanengo fu Stefano

    Just back from a short trip to Genoa, which unfortunately coincided with a massive two day storm, but that's another story.  I thought you might be interested in my food experiences in this capital of the region known as Liguria.  Located in the coastal centre of the narrow strip of land bordering the French Riviera, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, the Italian city of Genoa is about a 90 minute drive south of Milan.  It bridges what locals refer to as the Riviera di Levante and Riviera de Ponente. Tumbling down to the Mediterannean Sea, it was home to Christopher Colombus and the banking houses which bankrolled the Spanish conquest of the Americas.  The people are proud without being boastful and, you won't find any grand statements of their past glories.  They wear their heritage lightly.  That's not to say Genoa isn't an attractive city.  The architecture is imposing rather than flashy.  The people are friendly and helpful but interact with a formal politeness which is charming.

    With the Mediterannean to the south and the Maritime  Alps to the north, Liguria has an enviable micro-climate. Olives, citrus, hard and soft fruits, chestnuts, pine nuts, mushrooms, chickpeas, vegetables such as artichokes and chard, and herbs grow particularly well.  The three foods you will see again and again are pesto (mostly using basil but sometimes other herbs), focaccia (or fugassa) and chickpea farinata (a thin, crustless savoury tart/pancake, known as Soca over the border in France).  A dish of Trofie pasta with basil pesto, a Levante speciality, is on most menus, and take-away farinata shops abound.  Genoese locals like their focaccia or fugassa quite thin but crisp outside and fluffy within and take it with a morning cappuccino.   If you'd prefer something sweeter for breakfast, and I'm afraid I do, then breakfast at Fratelli Klainguti Bar Pasticceria on Piazza Di Soziglia.  Its history goes back to 1826 when two Swiss brothers, who were trying to get to America, missed the boat and stayed on to open a Pasticceria instead - the caffe was good and the Kranz delicious.  Another speicality of Genoa is the pandolce cake studded with pine nuts and candied fruit.

    Despite its proximity to the sea, apart from anchovies (Acciughe) and air-dried cod (stoccafisso - more pungent than salt cod), of which they are very fond, the Genoese have a great love of vegetables.  In particular chard and bitter field greens (preboggion) which they use in tarts (torta salata).  Their similarity to ancient pastry dishes of Greece, Turkey and Persia speak of the influences of past trading links.  Tripe and rabbit are popular too.  A big feature of Genovese cooking is the wood-burning oven and you will see them in many of the trattorias, making for cosy meals.

    Sugared Marzpan
    Genoa is full of small food businesses that have been around for generations, and they are still there for good reason.  One of the oldest and best is the confetteria Romanengo fu Stefano, who I managed to catch on their short visit to London last month.  Producing seasonal candied fruits, including the rare chinotti, a locally grown rather bitter citrus fruit which is transformed by sugaring (and can also be found locally as a soft drink) and chestnuts, syrup-filled dragees, chocolates, marzipan sweets, delicious sugar coated pinenuts and aniseed.  They also make a sensational rose petal jam, delicate syrups of orange blossom and an intense wild cherry.

    I was lucky enough to be shown around their factory on Viale Mojon where the fruits and nuts used arrive mostly from Ligurian growers, suppliers for generations  No artificial preservatives are used and everything is hand made in small batches using decades old equipment and molds.  The skills of the craftsmen and women is essential to the processes involved and it was a joy to see.  Needless to say, the aromas were heavenly and the tastings - no doubt helped by the fact the products were just made - amazing. The purety of the fruits and fruit syrups shine through, rather than just tasting sweet as many such products do. 

    Sugar coated cinnamon bark
    at Romanengo fu Stefano
    The first batch of sublime soft almond torrone, which is only made in November and December, was cooling as we passed by.  Invited to sample it, I can honestly say it was without doubt the finest I have ever tasted. 

    The original Romanengo shop is in the Caruggi area of Genoa nand has been since 1814.  Dive into these medieval alleways off the beautiful Palazzo-lined Via Garibaldi.  The Caruggi and adjoining Molo areas, descending to the port, are the best places to go to get a handle on Genoese food.  The numerous narrow streets are home to hundreds of Pasticceria, Tripperia, Drogheria, Salumeria, Alimentari, Gelateria and Enoteca along with Restaurante, Trattoria, Taverna, Osteria and Caffe.  You will never go hungry in this area.  Ristorante La Berlocca on Via Soziglia, for one, proved a good lunch stop for a dish of Minestrone and a plate of Stoccafisso with onions, potatoes and olives in front of the wood-fired oven.

    Another must-see is the Mercato Orientale (meaning in the east of the city rather than any reference to the orient).  There are several food markets but if you can visit only one, I recommend this one on Via XX Septembre which operates every day except Sunday.  Check out the lovely fish and vegetable stalls and the trader who specialises in tomatoes and chillies/peppers.  The streets around the market are good for food shops too - the Vias Vincenzo, Galata, Colombo and also Piazzaa Colombo.  There is a lovely fresh pasta shop (its name escapes me for reasons which wiil become clear later); Cremeria Colombo for artisan ice creams made only with ripe fruit, high quality milk and cream and natural flavourings; Eto Oleo Granoteca for olive oils and dry goods and Gerolame Pernigetti-Gamalero for dry goods (both on Via Galata); and the grocery store, Chicco Caffe.
    Fritture at Sa Pesta

    Trattoria Sa Pesta on Via Giustiniani is listed in the Slow Food Guide to Genoa and proved to be a good recommendation for dinner.  The atmosphere is laid back, the room simply furnished, and the food straightforward.  We ate Farinata layered with Strachini cheese, Verdure Ripieni (stuffed vegetables), and shared an excellent dish of Fritture of fresh anchovies, baby squid and other small fish.  With half a litre of local red wine and coffees the bill came to 35 Euros.

    The following evening Trattoria Rosmarino  just off Piazza de Ferrari (you can't miss the the huge fountain) proved friendly and welcoming and served local food with a bit more refinement.  The highlights were an antipasti, Sformato - a fantastically light artichoke (carciofo) souffle with a goat cheese sauce - and  pasta dish of Trofie, made with chestnut flour and served with basil pesto genovese.  Although not listed in my guides we had a good time here and the service was excellent.  My view could be coloured somewhat by the fact we were struggling to find any restaurants open after a day of constant heavy rain which caused the centre of the City to be virtually closed down.  So bad was the freak weather that the next morning the area around the Mercato Orientale was a mud bath and many of the shops remained shuttered all day.  Disappointing but it only meant we would be returning to see what we missed.

    The Riviera's steep, terraced terrain does not allow for much grape growing but the wine produced is generally light and fruity.  Varieties have small yields and require hand-harvesting so local wines are relatively expensive.  The main grape varieties for Ligurian white wines are Vermentino and Pigato, and the main red is the Rossese.  They are, however, very acceptable to my, admittedly untutored, palate.

    Look out for words such as Tipico, meaning local or regional; Genuino, meaning genuine, authentic; Naturale meaning wholesome, without artifical flavourings etc used particularly in ice cream making; Cucina casalinga meaning home cooking.  If you plan a trip to Genoa I highly recommend David Downies book "The Italian Riviera & Genoa".  It's a weighty tome but it proved invaluable on our trip and it's stuffed with useful information.  The only regret was we didn't have time, or the weather, on our side to do it justice.

    Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano
    Via Soziglia 74R
    16123 Genova
    and also at Via Roma 51R, 16121 Genova (they have a small number of select stockists around the world.  In London you can buy some of their products at La Fromagerie on Moxon Street, Marylebone).

    Monday, 7 November 2011

    Cod, Kippers and Yorkshire Brack

    Herring in Fortune's
    Smokehouse, Whitby

    Not having been to Whitby for years, I was expecting a nippy autumn day, quiet streets and no queue at The Magpie Cafe.  How wrong can you be?  The weather was warm and sunny, the streets as busy as on a summer day and the queue at the Magpie was enormous.  The streets were full of goths, corseted maidens, black-cloaked counts, bustle-bearing ladies and top-hatted gents, and a chap in a truly gorgeous red dress.  I'd been away for so long that for a moment I thought this might be normal for Whitby as the locals were taking it all in their stride, but trust me to pay a visit during the annual Bram Stoker film festival. 

    So, I can't introduce you to the food of Whitby, in the farthest reaches of North Yorkshire, without getting the Dracula thing out of the way.  Whitby is the small north-east England fishing town where the Irish novelist, Bram Stoker, began to write the story of 'Dracula'.  Largely thanks to its picturesque ruined clifftop Abbey and atmospheric churchyard sloping towards the sea, it is a huge draw to devotees of the book.  Go in winter or early spring to see Whitby at its quietest and, if you're lucky storm-lashed, best.

    By 1890, when Bram Stoker lived in Whitby, Mr William Fortune had been firing up his tiny smokehouse on Henrietta Street for 18 years.  Now, 139 years later, the fifth generation of the Fortune family continue to cure herring to turn them into the delicacy known as kippers.  Gutted and briefly soaked in brine, they are then hung from rods and cured in the original smokehouse over oak, beech and softwood chippings before being moved to the shop next door.  It can take up to three firings and 18 hours to produce the perfect Fortune's kipper.  

    Herring shoals move around our coast and until 1979 locally caught 'silver darlings' were landed at Whitby during their short season.  Today, sadly, due to EU quotas the Whitby herring fleet is no more but north-east Atlantic caught herring are used instead.  Frozen immediately after being caught, they are defrosted, gutted and cured by the current family members, Barry and Derek, using the same methods employed by William Fortune.  Kippers are one of our best British products and those from Fortune's Smokehouse are, I think, exceptional.  If you get to Whitby, a visit to Fortune's is a must and don't miss any chance to poke your head round the door of the wonderfully tarry smokehouse (ask permission, of course).  They used, occasionally, to smoke the odd salmon which came their way.  These days haddock, salmon and sides of bacon find their way to the smokehouse.

    The aroma of grilling or frying kippers is appealing to me, but if you are concerned about lingering smells you could cook them using the "jugging method".  Place the kippers head down in a tall warmed jug, pour on boiling water to cover all but the tails and leave for 5-6 minutes.  Serve them up dressed with a knob of butter, a slice of buttered brown bread and a mug of tea. 

    With my own newspaper-wrapped pair of kippers secured (sadly in The Sun rather than the Whitby Gazette) I headed for the Magpie Cafe for a take-away of cod and chips.  The Magpie is a relative newcomer, having been a cafe since only 1939.  Their fish and chips are far from a secret and they have won several awards in recent years so I was keen to try them, especially as they cook locally caught and sustainable fish as much as possible.  I hardly ever get to eat cod these days - the guilt trip is just too much - so, accepting that it was sustainably fished cod, I had to have it.  It was super-fresh and the crispy batter was excellent.  The chips were fat and fluffy but a little bit longer in the fryer to give them more colour and they would have been perfect.  Well worth queuing for but, for me, they didn't quite match up to my memories of Rick Stein's take-away in Padstow, Cornwall.

    I had to finish my visit with tea and Yorkshire Brack at Botham's.  I thought Fortune's Smokehouse had been around a while but here we go again - the bakers Elizabeth Botham and Sons started out in 1865.  If you're familiar with Betty's tearooms in York, you will be disappointed by the look of this shop and tearooms.  What was once no doubt quite a grand space is somewhat faded, but you will get a very good cup of tea and a delicious slice or two of Yorkshire Brack.  This version of a tea loaf (somewhere between a cake and a bread in texture) is moist, treacly and packed with good quality dried fruits.  I think it needs no additions.  I can recommend the Stem Ginger Brack and the Plum Tea Loaf as well. 

    If you can't get to Whitby, you can buy from Fortune's and Botham's on-line (Botham's also has a limited number of stockists).  The Magpie Cafe now has a wet fish shop (The Whitby Catch) a few doors down and they sell locally caught fish on-line too.

    I didn't see any Bram Stocker devotees on my food trail.  Don't these people eat!

    Wednesday, 2 November 2011

    Celeriac Soup with cripy pancetta or toasted hazelnuts

    Celeriac Soup
    with crisp pancetta

    Bonfire Night approaches so what to serve up before the fireworks get going?  Last November I suggested a sticky Gingerbread recipe.  A quick look at the weather forecast for the UK this 5th November suggests we might need something warming, so here's my plan.   Celeriac is perfect for now.  This knobbly, beige, unpreposessing root veg is far from beautiful to look at but its creamy texture and mild celery taste make a luscious soup.  A few additions can turn it into something special. 

    Celeriac is a close relative of celery, though hardier and less trouble to grow.  The leaves can be used in cookery but personally I find them too strong and prefer to use celery leaves instead.  The swollen stem is the prize here.  Seeds planted in late spring take 22-26 weeks to grow into a usuable size.  They can stay in the ground right through winter if protected from frosts with straw or a cloche.  Slugs do like it, but they like most things.

    Celeriac Soup
    with toasted hazelnuts

    Topping a bowl of celeriac soup with a few pieces of crisply fried pancetta or bacon and a good grinding of pepper, adds a porky kick and gives it carnivore appeal.  Don't waste the fat which is rendered by the bacon, it has lots of flavour so pour it on as well. 

    Alternatively, for vegetarians, use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and garnish the soup with a few roughly chopped hazelnuts.  Toss the whole nuts in a hot pan to toast lightly and loosen the skins.  They will mostly come off under thumb pressure.

    So, if the weather where you are is set to be unkind, try this warming soup.  Whatever you eat, enjoy your Bonfire Night party.

    Celeriac Soup with pancetta or hazelnuts
    (Serves 6-8)

    30g (1oz) unsalted butter
    1 onion, diced
    1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced
    2 medium-sized or 1 large celeriac, peeled and chopped (if you do this in advance you'll need to place the pieces in acidulated water)
    2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped
    1 small deseeded red chilli (optional), sliced
    1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
    Salt & pepper
    2-3 tablespoons of double cream

    1. A thin slice or two of pancetta or bacon, fried until crisp and crumbled.
    2. A good handful of hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

    Heat the butter in a large pan and fry the chopped onion gently to soften.  Add the sliced garlic and continue cooking for a further couple of minutes.   Add the chopped celeriac and the potatoes (and the red chilli if using) and cook for a further 3 minutes.  Add the chicken or vegetable stock, bring to the boil, season and simmer for 30 minutes.  Puree the soup until smooth (if you want a very silky result, pass the soup through a sieve but I find this unneccesary).  Add the double cream and adjust the seasoning.  Serve garnished with one of the above.

    To turn it into a really special dish, you could top the soup off with a slice or two of ceps instead, fried in a little butter until they caramelise then cut into manageable pieces (in this case you may want to pass your soup through a sieve in honour of the king of mushrooms).