Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Jose, Bermondsey Street, London SE1

104 Bermondsey Street

The figure of José Pizarro standing on the corner of Bermondsey Street and Morocco Street, mobile phone glued to ear, was an all too common sight this spring.  Keeping a close eye on his first venture since leaving the kitchens of 'Brindisa' has paid off in a tapas and sherry bar with a truly Spanish feel.  Small it may be but, apart from a problematic constricted section of the bar which needs to be carefully managed, it has arrived perfectly formed.  Hams hang at one side of the bar, a glass counter at the other displays some of what's on offer.  Marble-topped counters give it a sleek look but wood, red brick, some tiling, old light fittings and warm staff make for a cosy atmosphere.

It's been in soft opening phase for a couple of weeks and the bills being reduced by 50% have pulled in the crowds, but the staff have hit the ground running and already it feels almost fully formed.  From tomorrow they have another hurdle to jump when they start charging full prices in a street that has a number of good eating options.   The neighbourhood feel of Bermondsey Street helps, but 'Josẽ has the feel of walking into the best tapas bar in Barcelona (and that's damn good).  Pizarro and his staff are in no way complacent.  A public holiday two weeks' after opening is a trial to any business, with suppliers taking a break and customers an unknown quantity. Arriving early for lunch today it was clear that some quick thinking about the menu was going on as fresh supplies came through the door but the customers who came in after us would not have known of the extra stress put on the kitchen.  All was calm and controlled once the orders started to come in.

The food is centred around the best seasonal produce.  Born in a small agricultural village in Extramadura, Pizarro grew up with quality fresh produce always available.  With an emphasis on "bright flavours, simple techniques and not too many ingredients", you will not get Spanish molecular gastronomy. The basics are here, from the perfect Pan con Tomate, using the lightest of breads from St John, the Classic Tortilla, Patatas Bravas to plates of silky Jamόn Ibérico and impeccable Jamόn Croquettes.  Asparagus cooked on the griddle and served with either Jamon or Manchego was seasonal and good but Hake fried in a feather-light batter with a dollop of allioli stood out, as did a dish of Peas, poached egg, migas and chorizo.  'Specials' when we lunched were a Tortilla of Spinach layered with walnuts and Picos blue cheese which worked really well and, from the plancha, the freshest sardines were plainly served and some large, juicy prawns with chillies and garlic provoked several more orders.

Sherries have equal prominence to wine on the drinks menu and, all are available by the glass or bottle .  A Palo Cortado Apόstoles matched the food well as did an El Quintanal Rueda.  Even at full price our bills would have come in at under £50 for two (service is not included) for food and a glass of sherry and of wine each.  I ate at Josẽ twice over the past fortnight for two reasons.  I wanted to make sure it was good before I sent anyone there - I've learned the hard way that first impressions can be wrong - and, well, who wouldn't at these prices.  I will definitely be back.

UPDATE: Pizarro restaurant is now also open a few doors down at 194 Bermondsey Street.
104 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UB
Tel: 020 7403 4902 (no reservations)

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Breakfast Fruit and Oats

Breakfast Fruit and Oats
with blueberries and raspberries

Leaving home to go market shopping this morning the first thing I saw was a guy in a top coat, hat, gloves and scarf.  It's the end of May, what's going on.  Ten minutes later I passed a plucky London girl in shorts.  That's more like it, the summer wardrobe is out and it's staying out.  I don't know about you but, chill or no chill, I've had enough of steaming hot porridge breakfasts for a while.  Yet oats are so good for you.  

From its humble origins as a cheap stomach-filler, its status has risen to 'superfood' level with reports that oats are good for everything from lowering blood pressure and cholesterol to increasing brainpower and libido.  So, rather than abandon it entirely in the "heat" of summer, why not tweak it with the seasons.  Used as a base for seasonal fruits and nuts you can vary it throughout the year and make the most of our outstanding home-grown fruits.

Breakfast Fruit and Oats
with cherries

The original "Bircher" Muesli, on which this dish is based, was introduced by the Swiss Dr Bircher-Benner as a nutritious dish for his patients.  The recipe contains oats soaked in water, grated apple, lemon juice, a little cream and a few hazelnuts or almonds.  I've been served this for breakfast in Berlin and it's very nice if a little worthy, and, like porridge, I can see it could become a bit boring.  To ring the changes, I soak the oats (rolled oats are best and the mix can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days) in apple juice or milk instead of water, use yoghurt instead of cream, and add seasonal fruits as well as nuts.

Breakfast Fruit and Oats
with blueberries

Fruits can be changed to reflect seasonality from spring to late autumn - raspberries, blueberries and blackberries work best but strawberries, rhubarb compote or sliced apricots ring the changes.  In the winter months, raisins or sultanas are good soaked for a few hours in apple juice. As for the nuts, for me hazelnuts are the best choice but in summer their sweet, milky cousin Kent Cobnuts are delicious, or try almonds.  I also add a little honey to counteract any acidity in the fruit, the amount will vary depending on which fruit you choose.  Here is my basic recipe.  It's not only good for you but moreish rather than worthy.

Breakfast Fruit and Oats
(Serves 4)

5 tablespoons Rolled Oats
100ml milk or apple juice
150g plain yogurt
2 apples, cored (but not peeled) and grated
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
Honey to taste
A handful of nuts, halved (toast them briefly in a frying pan if you have time)
300g of fruit (see above)

Soak the oats with the milk or juice overnight or for at least 2 hours.  To your soaked oats, add yoghurt, grated apple, lemon juice, honey and nuts and stir to combine.  Fold in the fruit and serve.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Josẽ Pizarro is OPEN - Food Find

Finally, what we've all been waiting for, the doors are open at 'Josẽ' on Bermondsey Street SE1.  Authentically Spanish, it already feels like it's always been there. A refined list of sherries and wines, a good focused short menu of regular tapas dishes plus daily specials could make this serious competition for Barrafina.  Josẽ is currently in soft-opening phase, with reduced prices.  More after my second visit (which will be very soon).
104 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UB

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Jacobs Ladder Farms - Food Find

Jacobs Ladder sells meat from a collective of Sussex farms - principally Montague, Hophurst, Old Plaw Hatch and the biodynamic Perry Court.  Phill, their first class butcher, has now moved from Borough Market to 104 Druid Street  New to the counter are delicious firm-fleshed Chickens and Guinea Fowl.  To be added to Jane's mailing list for weekly updates, email  jacobsladderfarms@googlemail.co.uk

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Prufrock Coffee

Billy at Prufrock Coffee (Woodhouse)
My first taste of a Prufrock espresso was on a cold, grey, wintery day in London.  Cutting through Whitecross Street (EC1), picking my way through the City office workers out to grab a quick street lunch, I was stopped in my tracks.  The foodstalls here are pretty good but it was the guy with the coffee machine who caught my attention.  The chalkboard showed simply four options: an espresso shot £1.50, and three measures with milk - 4oz/£2.00, 6oz/£2.20, 8oz/£2.40 - no gimmicks. This, I learnt, was Prufrock.  The name meant something to me; snippets of a poem;  "Let us go then, you and I when the evening is spread out against the sky ....."  I was in a hurry.  My espresso was pulled with great care and tasted fantastic.  I knew I'd be back.

A couple of days later I stumbled upon another 'man with a machine', this time at the front of a mens' clothing shop on Shoreditch High Street.  At the risk of offending the barista, it was the machine that caught my eye.  A beautiful, gleaming, hammered-finished La Victoria Arduino, which I still covet.  It was paired with a Mazzer grinder and the result was delicious.  That name again, Prufrock, and that same attention to detail.  Who was this Prufrock?  As so often, the best things come to you when you aren't looking for them.  I'd encountered Gwilym Davies (none other than the World Barista Champion 2009) and his business partner Jeremy Chandler.  Together they are Prufrock, though they are quick to credit their whole team for how their business is now taking off. 

These days barista, Matthias, is most often to be found at Shoreditch.  It really is a one man set-up.  If there's a queue and you're in a hurry, go elsewhere.  Coffee this good can't be rushed, and it's well worth any wait.  Prufrock have recently opened a two floor cafe in Leather Lane EC1 - between Farringdon Road and Gray's Inn Road.  It has plenty of space to stretch out, a Nuova Simonelli machine along with another La Victoria Arduino, some comfortable Ron Arad chairs and well-trained, engaging staff with mostly arts backgrounds.  It's the kind of place you pop into for five minutes and are still there half an hour, and a couple of espressos, later.  You can also perch on a stool at the brew bar to watch the performance art involving siphons and burners, if that sort of thing presses your buttons.  They've still got work to do to get the food right but this is being addressed as I write.  Barista training is also on the menu at this their flagship cafe.

As for the beans and roasting, Prufrock are currently happy to buy in.  The coffee they use is roasted by one of London's best, 'Square Mile'.  This week they were trying out a double blend espresso roast but the single estate delivers a smoother, satisfying shot for me.  Given the choice, I prefer my coffee in a glass - an espresso with just the right amount of milk for me.  That's definitely not a Macchiato, as most Baristas seem to think.  So, whenever I can, I get a double shot of espresso and a jug of hot milk on the side rather than try to explain just how much milk.  If the place is good and the barista's know their stuff, I can ask for a Spanish 'Cortado' and get pretty much what I want from an espresso.  At Prufrock their 4oz cup or glass delivers a single estate creamy, caramel dose of perfection. 

Their latest opening is a one-man machine in Woodhouse menswear shop smack in the middle of Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill.  It's also where they've installed their first Kees van der Westen machine.  Barista, Billy, delivers a first class espresso from a fabulous looking 'Mirage'.  UPDATE - no longer at Westbourne Grove but you'll usually find Billy pulling shots at Leather Lane.

Prufrock haven't weaned me off Monmouth coffee but out of all the new coffee businesses popping up, this really is 'the business'. *"I measured out my life in coffee spoons ...".   Poetry in motion? (I'm so sorry).

* The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock - TS Eliot

23-25 Leather Lane, London EC1
Mon-Fri 8-6pm; Sat 10-4pm
Tube: Chancery Lane or Farringdon
Prufrock @ Present, 140 Shoreditch High Street, London, EC2
Tube: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street
Prufrock coffee carts at Whitecross Street Market EC1 and Colombia Road Market E2

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Gergovie Wines and Food

Gergovie Wines


The popularity of underground 'supper clubs' is evidence of the appetite for a different experience in dining out.  Eating in a stranger's private home, knee-to-knee with a bunch of people you don't know is proving a hit with some diners.  So what's the appeal of supper clubs? 

Well, I guess there's the thrill of the unknown, the daring to be different, and the hope that you will strike up new friendships.  It's adventurous, sociable and intimate in a way that a restaurant usually isn't.  Paying £25-35 each you don't know what the menu is going to be or how good the food will be yet you'll take along a bottle of wine in the hope it will be a reasonable match for whatever comes out of the kitchen.  The scene is changing though as some high profile chefs get in on the act by opening up their own homes and charging up to £100 a head.

There is a third way - take a south London railway arch, an open kitchen and bar, a welcoming and enthusiastic owner and a good professional chef, add carefully sourced ingredients and natural wines matching the food.  A run of trestle tables, a few vases of flowers, lots of candles, delicious aromas and adventruous people turn an unpromising Bermondsey railway arch into a cathedral-like dining space.  This is Gergovie Wines *Friday night dinners - SEE UPDATE BELOW.
Gergovie is introducing a new generation of natural winemakers from the South-East France/Northern Italy/Slovenia winegrowing areas.  Employing ethical methods of growing, some organically or biodynamically, with little intervention in the development of the wine, produces some interesting and surprising results.  The yield from these growers is small, hence the labels on offer at Gergovie are ever-changing as they find more good, artisan winemakers.

The ethos of the business is heavily influenced by Raef Hodgson's Neal's Yard Dairy/Monmouth Coffee background.  Hodgson, having worked with business partner Harry Lester (ex-Eagle in Clerkenwell and Anchor & Hope in Waterloo) and in the kitchens of similar beacons of straightforward cooking, has teamed up with Lester to set up a new venture in this Bermondsey railway arch.  When Harry isn’t cooking there himself, the talented Dave (with experience at Moro and Bocca di Lupo) is manning the stove.  Athough Raef leads the wine side of the business, he knows exactly what he wants from the food to complement his carefully sourced bottles.  The team is completed by brother Kit's skills in the kitchen and Harry Darby's front of house expertise.

The food subscribes to the admirable philosophy that if you are going to eat an animal you should pay it the respect of not wasting any of it (cf Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating).  At a recent dinner we were welcomed with breaded deep-fried olives stuffed with minced pork over a glass of refreshing cidery, Pignoletto Frizzante from Alberto Tedeschi.  Around 40 of us sat down at two tables to a starter of chard with ewes milk cheese followed by warm salad of lamb "pluck" (the heart, liver, and  lungs - there may have been kidney too but, it being a communal dish, I possibly missed it).  Then the main course -platters of tender and sweet roast suckling lamb, new potatoes and spring greens.  Next came cheeses - all excellent but the Lincolnshire Poacher stood out.  Bowls of simple, zingingly fresh leaves of bitter chicory with an AgroDolce and olive oil dressing cleared the palate.  Caffeine cravings were satisfied by sensational soft, intense espresso biscuits served with a creamy hazelnut pudding with a contrasting jellied layer.

Taking Raef and Harry D's advice, we drank wines by the glass - apart from the Pignoletto, I don't recall the wine names but I enjoyed each well-matched glass.  A herby Grappa-like digestif brought the meal to a satisfying end.

The guys are lovely, the food and wine is great, the setting atmospheric, and the diners a mixed bag (which in my book is far more appealing than "just like us"). Oh, and it will cost you £25 per head plus wine (by the glass or bottle). 

On Saturday mornings you might find Dave at a trestle table rolling fresh pasta to make the most of anything which wasn't used the night before, married to fresh fruit and veg from Tony Booth's arch 100 metres away. Last Saturday, lunch at the bar included Corned Beef Hash, Pappardelle with Beef Cheek, Lentils with All-spice and Goats Cheese, a Frittata, and New Season French Peas in a basil-scented broth, as well as Gergovie's own charcuterie and Neal's Yard and Mons cheese plates.  All of the meats come from trusted sources, fruit and vegetables mostly from Tony Booth and bread from St John Bakery round the corner.

I love it and think you will too.  Book ahead for dinner as word is getting out, or turn up for a glass and a plate on Saturdays late morning/early afternoon, when lots of the food arches are open, and maybe take away a bottle or two, or more.

Gergovie Wines
40 Maltby Street
London SE1 3PA
Currently open Thursday and Friday evening
Saturday currently from about 10.00 to late afternoon (just turn up)
* Update: the format is now drop-in bar with food - now open Thursday & Friday evenings and 10-5pm Saturday.  No booking required.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Borough's Loss is Bermondsey's Gain

The simmering rows between core traders and Borough Market management have finally reached a climax with 8 long-standing businesses being evicted last week.  Their crime seems to have been to open their nearby storage/maturing spaces for a few hours on Saturdays whilst continuing to support Borough.   The buzz about the activity half a mile up the road in Bermondsey seems to have become too loud for comfort.  Apparently, Borough Market management viewed their actions as competition rather than as a complementary food venue which brought in more customers to the area.   Is this a result of big business management being brought to what is supposed to be a charity serving the local community?

It could be hard on the remaining good traders at Borough and it will be interesting to see how the market management can find the quality traders to fill the shoes of those they have ejected.  Even if the traders are out there, the Market management will need a complete re-think of how they attract them.  Surely this recent ruthless action, and the local reaction to it, will focus a few minds at last.

Giving the traders only one week’s notice seems a pretty shabby way to treat people who have worked hard for many years to grow the Market.   Many of the businesses were landmarks at Borough and beacons of good food.  There is much discussion (and not a little abuse) on the”london-se1” website about the disastrous results of the attempts to micro-manage the traders – talk of preventing them from growing their businesses at the Market, and from trading elsewhere.  However, there is a case for traders to "stick to their knitting" as excessive diversification can confuse the customer and, in a small business, dilute standards. Local shoppers are in despair at how a once fantastic wholesale and retail market has, for them, descended into a tourist area best avoided. 

Entering the Green and Jubilee Markets today was a sorry sight.  No Comte from the Borough Cheese Company, no Ham and Cheese Company Parmesan, no Kaise Swiss cheese, nor French cheeses from Mons.  Even Kappacasein with their renowned Toasted Cheese Sandwiches and Raclette have been given their marching orders.  Ironically, these are businesses which have maintained their focus.  It was impeccable timing when, only yesterday, Kappacasein was highlighted as a Borough Market trader in The Times column 'The Table'. 

Happily, Bill Oglethorpe at Kappacasein has been able to move fast and normal service will resume from this Saturday 9-2pm at his new railway arch unit– a trailblazing extension to my Bermondsey Trail. It’s just a little farther up the London Bridge to Dover line from the arches housing the other “miscreants”.  Let’s show the Bermondsey traders our support, but still buy selectively at Borough.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 2011 - Happily now that the management of Borough market has changed, Kappacasein and The Borough Cheese Company have returned to stalls at Borough Market (still open at their Bermondsey Trail arches on Saturdays).

1 Voyager Business Estate
London SE16 4RP

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Fiendish & Goode - Food Find

Fiendish & Goode - fantastic name, fantastic cakes.  Miniature cakes and biscuits not only look good but deliver on lightness and flavour.  Intense Lemon Drizzle Cake with Pistachios and sensational (flour, egg and sugar-free) Bramley Apple Fruit Cake.  "Little treat/big reward" sums it up perfectly.  Parsnip Ginger Pecan Cake anyone?  Find them every Saturday at Broadway Market, Hackney, London E8 and selected stockists. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Barcelona Roundup

Barcelona Buoy
With great architecture and museums, good food and wine, and even a beach, Barcelona pretty much has it all. In my last posting on Barcelona I spent so much time telling you about the delights of the Mercado de Santa Catarina that I didn't get round to my other finds.  Here's a brief round-up to tempt you to go to this fabulous city.

I briefly mentioned places in the El Born district close to the Mercado you could check out, such as the venerated and influential tapas bar Cal Pep just north of the Plaça de PalauThis is the daddy of Barcelona tapas bars and has been such an influence on the Hart brothers' Barrafina in London's Soho.  You probably won't be offered a menu at Cal Pep but the barman's recommendations are generally a good guide.  However, be warned, the fish dishes can be expensive.  It will be fabulously fresh - the trifasic (fried whitebait, squid and shrimps) is a must, and the deep fried tiny fish with a freshly fried egg, chopped and mixed into the mass, sounds odd but tastes great.  Botifarra sausage and beans is a local speciality.  My tip is not to join the queue which forms before the shutters go up - these are tourists and will be moved on quickly.  The second wave is much more welcome.

In the same area, don't miss the atmospheric old grocer Gispert with lovingly displayed preserves, wooden tubs of dried fruits, roasted nuts and coffees and spices including genuine high quality La Mancha saffron.  It's close to the starkly beautiful Basilica Santa del Mar and the Catedral La Seu, as well as the wonderful Museu Picasso.

You cannot visit Barcelona without taking in the inspiring Antonio Gaudi architecture.  Everyone visits the Sagrada Familia church but both Gaudi's Casa Batllό townhouse and La Pedrera apartment block are on Passeig de Gracia.  They are spectacular and unmissable. At the top of the street, on the corner of Av. Diagonal, are the Jardins del Palau Robert, a lovely spot to cool down.  You'll also find a tourist information office here.

Close by is the Passatge de la Concepciό (off the Passeig de Gracia) and the buzzing Mordisco, one of the latest ventures from Grupo Tragaluz, owners of the Hotel Omm round the corner.  Entering through the shop and cafe, you graduate to an art space and a sleek white bar before reaching the light-filled conservatory dining room.  Upstairs are lounges to encourage lingering over a drink.  Expect dishes such as Smoked Sardines with Sweet and Sour Aubergine, Foie Gras with Fig Brioche, and mains of Roast Beef on Toast with Onion Confit and Chargrilled Mixed Vegetable Tatin.  Puddings might include Grilled Wild Strawberries with Black Pepper or Mordisco Cheesecake with Raspberries. 

Emerging from the Passatge onto Rambla de Catalunya, you will find Hänsel close to the junction with c/Provenca.  This is a stylishly fitted-out, friendly small bakery and coffee shop.  The cafe cortado is fine, the bread, particularly the Flauta is good but the Palmeras are exceptional – the burnt sugar edges are deliberate and delicious. 

A further five minute stroll down the Rambla de Catalunya brings you to Casa Vives, a traditional Catalonian bakery.  Amongst the array of cakes and chocolates are delicious tuna, onion and red pepper Empanadas, little oblong cakes similar to French Financiers and, when we there, light as air Bunyols (Lenten doughnuts).  Perfect for a picnic in Gaudi's Parc Guell or on Barcelonetta beach.

Cal Pep
Placa de les Olles 8

c/Sombreres 23

Passatge de la Concepciό 10

c/Provenca 237

Casa Vives

Sunday, 1 May 2011

New Park Farm Asparagus - Food Find

Every year I look forward to the six-week English asparagus season.  Each year I come to the conclusion that the tastiest crop comes from  'New Park Farm', Groombridge, Kent.  You can find them at Blackheath and Marylebone Farmers' Markets and at Borough Market until around 20th June.  If you visit their farm shop you can even buy crowns to grow your own.