Sunday, 27 February 2011

Gergovie Wines - Food Find

In the railway arch 40 Maltby Street is a new addition to my Bermondsey Trail.  Raef Hodgson and Harry Lester have created a great wine bar/tasting room showcasing a new generation of natural winemakers.  Open Saturdays only, there is also an expanding range of food and off-sales. 

Gergovie Wines

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Bread and Butter Pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding

After two days of leaden skies we need cheering up.  The kitchen beckons and it's too horrible even to go shopping for ingredients.  A rummage around unearths a drying end of pain de mie (sounds so much better than sandwich bread).  I know I have a pot of use-me-now half-price double cream in the fridge which I couldn't resist buying yesterday, and I always have eggs.  I keep a jar of dark rum in a cupboard which I top up with raisins or sultanas ready for times like these.   Perfect ingredients for a traditional English Bread and Butter Pudding.  Not to be confused with Bread Pudding, which is an altogether different dish, this dates from the early 18th century.

You can use left-over fruit bread or pannetone instead of bread, then the added fruit in this recipe would be unnecessary.  For me, best of all is to replace the bread with brioche which makes for a fantastically light and moreish pudding.  This recipe is based on that of Swiss-born chef Anton Mosimann, which he perfected in the 1980's working in England.  Mosimann became famous for his Cuisine Naturelle and still cooks in London.  This recipe is difficult to better, but having played with the ingredients, quantities and cooking times over the years I have been making it, this is my version.  Placing the dish in a bain-marie (water bath) ensures the custard mixture doesn't overcook.  It should have a slightly wobbly quality when you take it out of the oven.

Bread and Butter Pudding
(Serves 4)

170ml (6 fl oz) semi-skimmed milk
170ml (6 fl oz) double cream
Half a vanilla pod
A pinch of salt
30g (1oz) unsalted butter
2-3 medium slices of white bread or brioche
2 large eggs
85g (3oz) caster sugar
A level tablespoon of sultanas or raisins, pre-soaked in sherry or rum but drained
A heaped tablespoon of apricot jam, mixed and briefly warmed with a level tablespoon of water
A little icing sugar

Preheat oven to 160C.  Butter a 1 litre/2 pint pie dish.  Butter the slices of bread/brioche and place, buttered side up, in the dish.  Scatter the raisin/sultanas over the bread.

Split open the half vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into a  pan containing the milk, cream and salt, then add the vanilla pod if you like.  Bring to the boil whilst you are mixing together the eggs and sugar until pale, remove the vanilla pod if using then add to the egg/sugar mixture stirring continually.  Pour the mixture into the dish (the bread will float and that's fine). 

Place a couple of sheets of newspaper in a roasting tin before placing the pie dish in the tin.  Carefully add boiling water to the roasting tin until it comes halfway up the sides of the pie dish.  Place in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. 

Warm the jam and water in a pan and brush the glaze over the cooked pudding.  Serve warm, dusting with a little icing sugar just before eating.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Pasteis de Nata - Food Find

Look out for the Pasteis de Nata on the Borough Market Rainha Santa stall (Stoney Street, outside Ginger Pig/Brindisa) - only £1.00 and the best I've found in London.  More about Rainha Santa Portuguese products later.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Brawn Wine Bar and Restaurant

Brawn Sample Menu
'Brawn' is the new offshoot from the team who set up 'Terroir' wine bar and restaurant just off Trafalgar Square a couple of years ago. Inspired by Parisian natural wine bars, they proudly offer rarely seen natural wines, some biodynamic, from small producers.  Co-owner Eric Narioo is the wine expert, often disarmingly referring to the wines as "cloudy reds and murky whites".  Their stated aim is to serve food and wine which is natural, free of additives and from artisan sources, in a relaxing, friendly environment.  Terroirs has quickly built up a loyal following for both its unusual wines and its hearty food so a new venture in Hackney was something I had to check out.

Though only a few weeks old, Brawn has been receiving some very positive reviews.  Its location on Columbia Road may prove a bit more challenging than its West End parents' site.  There are certainly plenty of potential customers around on Sundays when the well-known Columbia Road Flower Market, and the interesting eclectic mix of entrepreneurial shops, is in full swing.  Weekdays it is currently rather quieter.  However, with the nearby Old Street area of Shoreditch being talked up as the UK's answer to Silicon Valley, and only a stroll away, maybe it's a smart decision.  Decor-wise it certainly fits right in with the Hackney/Shoreditch style - mismatched tables and chairs and a slightly worn recycled look for this former wood-turning workshop.  Nothing wrong with that if they can deliver, and here they mostly do.  It's a no-fuss, sit where you like sort of place and at a weekday lunch staff were friendly and laid-back (but thankfully not too laid back).  The two dining rooms look out onto lovely London Plane trees across the road.

The name alerts you to the fact that there is plenty of that noble animal, the pig, on the menu and it was reassuring to recognise the provenance of the charcuterie.  It comes via the trader I buy my own carefully sourced cured meats from.  The Jesus du Pays Basque of Pierre Oteiza has a sweet, porky depth and a silky texture spiked with cracked black peppercorns, whilst the Saucisse Seche has a drier, pleasingly chewy quality.  The Piero Montali Prosciutto is, in my view, the best you will find in London.

A commitment to seasonality is clear and careful, and sourcing is sometimes very local, including the bread with a delicious, crunchy-crusted, Hackney Wild Sourdough from the E5 Bakery in close-by London Fields.  With a range of delicious sounding small dishes on offer the difficulty is in choosing.  On a cold winter's day a creamy Abruzzo Bean Soup served with a slug of excellent Valentini olive oil hit the spot.  Baked Field Mushrooms spread with bone marrow, garlic and parsley were juicy and unctuous  - nice to have the earthy flavour of the undervalued field mushroom.  Mussels from the Shetland Isles were plump and tasty served with a leek and bacon broth, and Chanterelles on toasted sourdough were made lipsmackingly good with the addition of a duck egg yolk.  As you would expect, there is Tete de Veau on the menu, served with a classic Sauce Ravigote but that will have to wait for another time.  For pudding, the  Crepes were a little resilient, though the Salted Butter Caramel sauce was gorgeous.  With treacle tart and Yorkshire Rhubarb Crumble currently on the menu, it's a tough choice.

Wines here, as mentioned, need to be approached with an open mind, or as Terroir/Brawn put it regarding the "truly natural" wines they offer, take "a walk on the wild side".  A couple of 175ml carafes of Ferme Saint Martin Cotes du Ventoux "La Gerine" came to £13.00.  The vineyard is certified organic and this Grenache grape wine is an naturally produced one.  The first taste was odd but ultimately rewarding.

The menu changes daily, always a good sign.  On Sunday a set-lunch for £25 per head is offered.  Our bill, with a couple of espressos came to £56 for two including service.  Overall, good value and very good food and I'll definitely be back, though something tells me I may not just be able to walk in off the street for much longer.

49 Columbia Road
London E2 7RG
Tel: 020 7729 5692

Friday, 11 February 2011


Leeks for Flamiche

At this time of year it's easy to forget we have an allotment, especially when winter is turning out to be so long and cold.  Well, it feels long, and it's only the first week in February.  Having been unable to dig parsnips from the frozen ground for Christmas lunch the previous year, we made sure we got some up the week before this time round.  These are the dog-days of winter where growing our own veg is concerned.  Apart from Parsnips, we are reduced to Brassicas - Savoy cabbage and Cavolo Nero.  The purple sprouting broccoli is just beginning to show promise.  The saving grace is the Leek which thrives in winter's grip and is at its flavoursome best right now.  In the teeth of a howling gale I managed to extract half a dozen of them from their sodden clay bed.

Flamiche 1

So, what to cook?  Something warming and comforting is needed, and a hot creamy leek pie fits the bill well.  Yes, it's rich but that's what we need in this weather.  The Belgians and French have a lovely word for this pie - Flamiche.  Provenance is claimed by them both and, depending where you find it, it can be a single pastry layer tart or a pie.  At this time of year my preference is for a rich, filling pie.  Some recipes add eggs to the mixture, which is deeply wrong I think.  This recipe is inspired by La Flamiche restaurant in Roye, about 80 miles north of Paris.  I prefer to make a rough-puff pastry rather than using puff pastry, but it's up to you.  If you've never made rough-puff do give it a go as it's really easy and works well in many recipes which advise puff pastry.  The baked pastry is not quite as light but I prefer the slightly resisting texture, and I even use  it in dishes such as Tarte Tatin.

Flamiche 2

(Serves 4-6)

You need 450g/1lb Rough-Puff  or Puff Pastry
If making rough-puff:
190g plain flour
190g unsalted butter
Half tsp salt
90ml iced water

900g/2lb Leeks (discard the tough dark green part), sliced, washed and dried
75g/3oz unsalted butter, diced
6 tbsp Double cream
A little nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1 egg yolk

To make rough-puff pastry, add the salt to the flour and place on a work surface.  Add the butter and rub it into the flour.  When the butter cubes are small and half squashed, form a well and pour in the iced water,  gradually mix in until everything holds together.  Do not knead or your pastry will be tough.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 1cm thick.  Fold in three, bottom to mid-point, then top to bottom, and turn 90 degrees.  Roll out again to a rectangle and fold in three again.  You have completed "two turns".  Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes then repeat to complete two more turns. 

Cut the pastry in half  and roll out two rounds of pastry to around 22cm/9" and place both on a plate, separated by greaseproof paper, and return to the fridge for 30 minutes  (this will make your assembly of the Flamiche much easier and stop the pastry from shrinking and spoiling the shape whilst baking).

Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the leeks.  Cook gently until very soft - 15-20 minutes.  Add the cream, increase the heat and cook for a couple of minutes to thicken the cream  (you do not want a wet mixture).  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Transfer it from the pan into a bowl and cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 210C.  Place one round of pastry on a baking sheet.  Working quickly, brush a 2.5cm edge with egg yolk and place the cold leek mixture on the pastry in a flattish mound within this.  Place the second round of pastry on top, pressing the pastry edges together with the tines of a fork to seal the Flamiche. Brush with the remaining egg yolk and make a couple of incisions in the top to allow steam to escape.  Decorate the pastry with the point of a knife if you like but don't pierce completely through as you want the filling to be contained.  Bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden brown. 

Allow to cool for 10 minutes then serve in wedges with your choice of crisp dressed salad - you may be more organised than me but in my case, in deepest February, shop-bought!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Brindisa - from saffron to smoked anchovies

Saffron strands

Brindisa has long been the place to shop in the UK for the best choice of ingredients from Spain.  Starting with a small warehouse in The Borough area of London, they would throw open the doors to shoppers on a Saturday morning.  Some weeks they would set up a tiny barbecue outside to offer free tastings of their cooking Chorizo.  These were the early days of Borough Market's retail trade, and how things have changed.  These days you can find Brindisa in a large retail space in the Market fronting Stoney Street, and you can buy a spicy barbecued Chorizo sandwich from the Chorizo grill.  At the London Bridge end of the street, on the corner with Southwark Street, you can find Tapas Brindisa.  On Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings it does a good market breakfast with a Spanish twist before the tapas gets underway.  Jose Pizarro was the chef behind the launch of this great little tapas bar which has spawned a couple of offshoots.   Sadly Pizarro has moved on, but the good news is he is planning his own place - more of this later.  (See my Favourite Books section for a review of Pizarro's first book).

So, a photograph of saffron to head up this piece.  An obvious choice given the subject matter of a Spanish food shop and the name of my blog.  But there was a third reason for choosing to write on this topic now.  The market in this most expensive spice has been hit by scandal.  The Spanish newspaper El Pais recently revealed that although Spain produced around 1,500 kilos of saffron in 2010, it managed to export 190,000 kilos!  Most of the Crocus sativus flowers from which saffron is derived are grown in the La Mancha region and its quality is renowned.   Saffron is also produced in Iran, and some companies have been importing and passing off this inferior Iranian grown saffron as Spanish.  It is currently not illegal to do this - for labelling purposes it is where the product is processed that counts - but Spanish authorities are under pressure to act to protect their lucrative market.

Good quality saffron takes time to release its colour and aroma but when it does so your patience is rewarded with a golden glow and sweet taste.  Inferior saffron can sometimes contain more of the flower than just the essential stigma.  That's not to say carefully sourced Iranian saffron does not have its place.  As long as you are confident that what you are buying has been carefully sourced and labelled, a cheaper, lower quality, saffron may be adequate for what you want to use it for.  Brindisa keeps two saffrons - one I am assured is a carefully sourced Iranian grown one, and the other is a La Mancha grown saffron.  The Iranian one is labelled honestly (product of Iran, packaged in Spain) and sells for £2.95 for 0.5 gram, and the Spanish one bears its DO (Denomination of Origin) and sells for £9.99 for 1 gram.

In Brindisa's shop you'll also find Serrano and Iberico hams being hand-carved, cooking and cured Chorizo, a great range of artisan Spanish cheeses, Arbequina olive oil, Calasparra rice, salt cod, Ortiz Atun Claro tinned tuna and anchovies, Catalan Alemany honeys, almonds, delicious turrons and much more.  Whatever you do, don't miss the amazing smoked anchovies from Nardin.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Les Deux Salons

Les Deux Salons Menu
I've always considered the drag between the Strand and the National Portrait Gallery to be a particularly faceless part of London, dominated as it is by a large, unlovely post office.  It was a surprise when Terroirs restaurant trailblazed with its opening on William IV Street a couple of years ago, but successfully so.  Now we have Anthony Demetre and Will Smith choosing it as the location for their third restaurant venture.  Then again when you consider its proximity to the West End Theatres, Galleries, railway and tube stations, it looks like a pretty smart move. 

Having had huge success with their intimate restaurants Arbutus and Wild Honey, Demetre and Smith have now upped the volume with a classic grand French brasserie seating many more than their other restaurants combined.  Spread over two floors, the upstairs for private dining, it's spacious and stylish and clearly some serious money has been spent.  Tiled floors, brass rails, globe lighting, comfortable banquettes and some discreet corners, it's a long way from the building's former incarnation as a Pitcher & Piano bar.  The one bum note being the really bad faux-aged mirrors which, frankly, look as though they've come from B&Q. 

Arriving late for a quick lunch without a booking, they just managed to fit us in amongst the media and business lunchers.  There was a lively buzz, though thankfully there are enough soft surfaces to soak up the clatter.  The evening crowd is probably a bit less buttoned-up and I can see this place attracting some of the customers from The Ivy and Sheekey's, maybe even The Wolseley.  The food is less creative than can be expected at Arbutus and Wild Honey.  At Les Deux Salons you'll find French Brasserie classics such as Bouillabaisse, Belly of Pork petit salé and Sliced tête de veau, and a "Josper" charcoal grill offering Bavette of Scottish Beef, Elwy Valley Lamb Barnsley Chop and Andouillette de Troyes.  A sprinkling of English dishes fit in seamlessly - Slow Cooked Ox Cheeks with Parsnip Mash, Cottage Pie, Herefordshire Snail and Bacon Pie.

The offer of a Dish of the Day is very French and very welcome.  Being Thursday it was the day for Cassoulet, a dish I find hard to resist.  The Cassoulet was served correctly in a covetable cast-iron skillet.  Even the French cannot agree on how to make Cassoulet so it's pointless to consider how authentic this version is.  I can tell you the haricot beans were satisfyingly creamy and topped with breadcrumbs, the garlicky Toulouse sausage was very meaty, the pork tender and the skin of the duck leg nicely crisped - all-in-all delicious.  Now, a small gripe about those skillets.  Seeing most of the main courses arrive in identical dishes was puzzling.  The food was good but for me this presentation introduces a note of dishonesty, especially when a waiter warns you the pot is hot and actually it isn't.  Serving a dish of Fillet of Pollack in a skillet seemed, frankly, silly.  If the pot had been hot the fish would be overcooked by the time it arrived at table.  Is it for show, or is the kitchen so far away from the diners that this is the only way they can serve the food warm?  Having got that out of my system, I have to say my Ox Cheek with Parsnip Mash served with glazed carrots was very good - if a little tepid in its skillet!  The side of winter greens was generous and virtuous.

Chocolate Mousse, Crème Brûlée, Rum Baba and Floating Islands are certainly authentic French Brasserie dishes, and all able to be pre-prepared.  We had no time to try any so I can't comment on how well they are done here.  I do recall that the Floating Islands dish served at Wild Honey is far too sweet for my taste.  It's a pity the English influence hasn't extended to the puddings, this is, after all, something we do rather well and I could see Bread & Butter Pudding, Apple Crumble or a Rhubarb Fool fitting in rather well at this time of year.   After all, even the French love an English Crumble.  But maybe hot puddings would be putting too much stress on the kitchen.

Most of the wines are available by the 250ml carafe as well as by the bottle, a good number of them reasonably- and all proportionately- priced.  You'll even find the odd English one.  A carafe of Corbières at £6.50 went down very well - yes, I know I'm a cheap date.  Service was slightly mechanical but swift and efficient, and given how busy they were perhaps to expect any more at these prices would be asking too much.  A daily Set Lunch is offered and Theatre Suppers are served 5-6.30pm  - 3 courses for £15.50 make both options excellent value.  The style of Les Deux Salons bucks the trend for the small plates/sharing plates which we've seen with recent London openings such as Polpo, Polpetto, Morito and Brawn.  Given the size of restaurant, it needs to remain busy to retain its "place-to-be" atmosphere.  Whilst I don't think this will become my favourite dining spot, I would certainly recommend it for a lively lunch or pre-theatre dinner.  With the afternoon tea market also catered for, Demetre and Smith may be paying off that debt sooner than most restaurateurs could manage. 

Les Deux Salons
40-42 William IV Street
London WC2N 4DD
Tel: 020 7420 2050