Friday, 30 September 2011

Rose Bakery, and more, on rue des Martyrs

Sweet Chestnuts

On a quick trip to Paris this week I decided to look up what I guess now could be called an old favourite.  I don't remember what had taken me to rue des Martyrs that day in 2003 but it was the intriguing wrought iron decorated door which caught my eye and the aroma of baking which lured me in.  If I had needed any more impetus to enter Rose Bakery it was provided by the sight of a familiar face glancing up to greet customers. 

In 1988 the Anglo-French team of Jean Charles and Rose Carrarini set up one of the most influential food shops cum café/restaurants in London.  With their treasure of an epicerie fine, Villandry, they drew people from all over the capital to their tiny space in what was then a rather jaded Marylebone High Street.   In the early days, the shop was stocked with continental foods mostly unheard of anywhere else in London – Italian Pagnotta and French Poilane breads, perfectly ripe French cheeses, top quality cured meats and bacon, preserves, wines and an ever-changing array of sweetmeats.  These were supplemented by savoury and sweet tarts, cakes, and biscuits.  Ingredients sold in the shop were used to produce deliciously simple dishes for the café.  It was a joy to have the flexibility to walk through the shop and select a perfect Saint Marcellin to eat in the café with good bread, a glass of wine, a perfectly dressed mesclun salad and followed, perhaps, by a slice of fig tart.

The atmosphere was quirky, the staff laid back, and the attitude unpretentious.  A strong design eye was evident in the second-hand furnishings and the eye-catching, ever changing window displays.  Back then this was pioneering stuff in London and everyone who aspired to open their own traiteur or deli checked out Villandry first.  The Carrarini’s left Marylebone High Street, when the property owners, Howard de Walden Estates began their gentrification of the area.  Leila's in Calvert Avenue is a welcome, more recent, embodiment of what I think of as those Villandry principles.

It was that style which I subconsciously recognised when I was stopped in my tracks and drawn into Rose Bakery on a perfect autumn day in the 9th arrondisement.  Although I was surprised, in fact it made perfect sense for them to be here.  Instead of bringing France to London as they did for many years, they have, since 2002 been bringing Britain to an appreciative Parisienne clientele.  Jean Charles' design background is visible in the eclectic mix of second hand furnishings, stark paintwork and concrete floors, enlivened by a hand-painted mural on the rear wall of the café.  It’s a look which suits this narrow space, a former chartil, where fruit and vegetable sellers stored their carts.  

The kitchens at either end of the shop are the domain of Rose.  She is supported by an energetic brigade who constantly pass through the café laden with the latest trays of baking fresh out of the oven.  Carrot cake, scones, shortbread, slab cakes, crumbles and brown betty go down a storm.  Savoury dishes include kedgeree, bangers and mash, organic Irish smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, soups, tarts and pizzettes.  Seasonal risottos and dishes such as Braised Artichoke, Lemon and Lamb Chops make use of what is best, and preferably organic, at that moment.  British cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy confirm the French have developed a taste for British food at its best.  Even Christmas cakes and puddings are lapped up in December.  

An exceptionally good value ‘formule’menu is available weekday lunchtimes, always including a mix of salads which the French clientelle expect.  Saturday brunch of eggs, bacon, tomatoes and toast, or soft boiled eggs with marmite soldiers, porridge or pancakes is popular.  The ethos is simplicity and quality.  Customers are predominantly French with some expats.  The young, multinational staff can get a bit distracted, but Jean Charles does not miss much, and they are so damned nice you forgive them any lapses.  Prices, it has to be said, are on the high side, reflecting the quality of the ingredients so you may want to consider their take-out instead of eating in. 

Rose Bakery is not the only draw on rue des Martyrs.  Paris' 9th arrondisement is bordered by the Gares du Nord, de l'Est and St-Lazare.  This may not sound like the most appealing location to recommend to you, but stick with me.  Rue des Martyrs snakes uphill  from Boulevard Haussmann (rue Lafitte becomes rue des Martyrs) to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.  It's also an easy 15 minute walk from Gare du Nord, so a perfect place to either start or end a visit to Paris.  Food now dominates the street with good fromageries, traitteurs, boulangeries, patisseries, cafes, a poissonerie and more.  The latest opening is La Chambre aux Confitures dedicated to preserves and honeys.  Using four suppliers, who prepare the confitures with the lowest possible sugar to fruit ratio, which varies to suit the particular fruit, they are presented with typical French style by the charming Lise.

The Carrarinis have not totally cut their ties with London.  You can visit a scaled-down version of Rose Bakery on the top floor of the ultra-cool Dover Street Market in W1. Rose's book, ‘Breakfast, Lunch, Tea’ still sells well.  It is based on the food at Rose Bakery and almost twenty years of dedication to good food.  Rose is not a trained chef and this is not simply a list of recipes but also an expression of the philosophy and style of the Carrarini’s.  It conveys a deep love for good ingredients and a passion for cooking and feeding people which all true cooks should have.  Further Rose Bakeries can be found in Japan and, I understand, will continue to open to spread the philosophy.  

Rose Bakery
46, rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris
Also at: 30, rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris

and now at La Maison Rouge Foundation, 10 Boulevard de la Bastille 75012 Paris
Dover Street Market, Dover Street, London W1

Monday, 26 September 2011

Terroirs - Natural Wine Bar

I finally got round to trying Terroirs when I met a friend who was staying in a hotel between the Strand and the river and we needed somewhere local to eat and catch up.  This was the opportunity to enjoy more, natural wines and, after all, I had enjoyed Brawn over on Columbia Road.

Terroirs was buzzing and the crowd had spilled out onto the pavement in one of the most unlikely streets around Trafalgar Square for a good wine bar. After stepping down into the basement room I was struck immediately by the weight of the leather clad wine list handed across the bar.  As I struggled to select a suitable red, a friendly voice from the other side of the bar invited me to try an unusual blush white which they had decanted and which reminded me of the cidery “nose” often found on natural whites at Gergovie Wines.  With advice and a tasting to confirm, I selected an Italian red (Trinchero) from Piedmont and we were set for a good evening.

The food menu was short but interesting with small and larger plates.  As I had heard, the charcuterie was good.  The freshest sardines were served whole with a salsa to cut the oiliness of the fish.  Fegato Veneziana came with a side dish of soft polenta.   One gripe I had was that bread and butter (and not the greatest bread), a staple accompaniment to charcuterie, was extra, and a request for more incurred a further charge.  Note to restauranteurs: parsimony is not an attractive trait.   

All in all it was an enjoyable experience, too noisy for a quiet chat, but another triumph for natural wines and the culture of enthusiasm and knowledge they seem to engender.  Of the 200 wines on offer, there was little under £20 a bottle.  The bill for two - four dishes, wine and service (and not forgetting the bread and butter) - came in at £90 including service.  Well, it is the west end so you can expect west end prices.  Making the inevitable comparison with Gergovie Wines, I will be back at my seat at the bar at 40 Maltby Street in Bermondsey, next opportunity.

5 William IV Street
London WC2N 4DW
Tel: 020 7036 0660

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Early autumn foods

Still life with crabs at
Gergovie Wines

The days have shortened and the sun has lost some of its heat but the food larder just gets more interesting.  Jars of jams, bottled beetroots, compotes and candied fruits all await their moment when, in the depth of winter, a twist of the wrist releases those heady summer fragrances.

Apples and pears have arrived a little early this year, perfumed Norfolk Royal Russets and silky Red Beurre Hardy pears are amongst the first.  Wet walnuts, sweet chestnuts in their spiky overcoats and luscious purple figs have arrived from France.  Greengages and other plums have been fleeting this year but Damsons are still available for making into crumbles or Brown Betty.  Ceps and chanterelles are appearing at market, the latter being particularly abundant right now and, consequently, well priced.  Game birds and venison are plentiful, and cuts of pork come back into favour, all pairing well with our varied autumn fruits. 

The photograph above of a dish of crabs on the bar at Gergovie Wines  (now additionally open Thursday evenings) at the weekend speaks for the beauty of our shellfish at this time.  Simply boiled and served with mayonnaise as it was here, it beats lobster hands-down for me.  According to Fergus Henderson, cooking time (from boiling point) is roughly 15 minutes for the first 500g then 5 minutes per further 500g.  He also warns against boiling your crab in insufficiently salty water (it "must be as salty as the sea") or it can result in a wet flesh to the crab.  Jane Grigson advises salting the water until an egg will float.  When cold, pull away the main shell and remove the fluffy greyish gills either side of the body (the' dead mens' fingers') and discard.  St John Bread and Wine serve a deliciously simple dish of brown crabmeat on toast with mayonnaise, which requires only a squeeze of lemon to make it perfect.

As September rolls on, pumpkins and squashes are just beginning to make an appearance, but let's not rush things.  The mellow days of autumn have only just begun.

Gergovie Wines
40 Maltby Street
London SE1 3PA
Currently open Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturday  10.00 to 5pm

St John Bread & Wine
94-96 Commercial Street
London E1 6LZ

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Brogdale Fruit time at Neal's Yard Dairy - Food Find

The season of mellow fruitfulness is here.  The Brogdale Farm fruit has arrived at Neal's Yard Dairy.  This week crates of Red Beurre Hardy pears and apple varieties Cox, Norfolk Royal Russett, Ribston Pippin and Oaken Pin are stacked outside the shop on Park Street SE1.  You'll also find them at Neal's Yard Covent Garden shop.  Varieties change by the week so it's a great opportunity to try some of the hundreds of varieties of apples and pears which Brogdale, home of the UK's National Fruit Collection, does so much to preserve.  Make the most of the next few weeks of availability.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Borlotti Bean Bruschetta

Borlotti beans

It's been a strange year for growing fruit and veg in England.  As in the flower garden, my vegetable plot has raced through spring and summer with each crop being a fleeting affair.  Even courgettes were not so prolific this year whereas last summer I was sinking under the weight of the crop.  Borlotti beans have fared a little better. They are neither the easiest nor the most productive, but they are certainly the most beautiful legume to grow.  Personally I dislike runner beans - the only vegetable I turn my nose up at - so I grow these beauties instead.

I have no time or space for starting plants off under glass so I plant straight into the ground around the second week of May and provide a wigwam of 2m canes for them to twine their way up.  The pods start off green and go through to deep pink/white then purple marbling if you leave them on the plant long enough.  It's best to harvest the pods when deep pink and obviously plump with beans.  Leave them too long in the UK and they become vulnerable to pests and disease, particularly in wet weather.

If I get a good crop I leave some pods to dry on a well-ventilated windowsill for a couple of weeks before podding them and storing the beans in a jar.  Later in the year I'll rehydrate them for use in a Ribollita soup, but mostly I'll use them fresh within a day or two of picking.  This recipe is a favourite in my family.  The method for cooking the beans is borrowed from Sally Clarke, though she uses a mixture of fresh herbs instead of gremolata to flavour the beans.  I prefer the punchiness of this classic garlic, lemon zest and parsley mix.

Borlotti beans with gremolata 

Borlotti Beans with Gremolata

Fresh Borlotti beans (you are unlikely to have a huge amount so whatever you have)
1 small onion
1 carrot
1 stick of celery
stalks from the parsley leaves used in the gremolata
1 clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

For the gremolata:
1 clove of garlic, crushed to a paste
zest of half a lemon
a handful of parsley leaves, chopped

Pod the beans and place them in a pan.  Add a few rough chunks of onion, carrot and celery, a bay leaf and a crushed garlic clove.  Cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes until the beans are tender.  Add a good pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper and leave to cool in the liquor.  You can refrigerate for 2-3 days at this point. 

Drain the beans and remove the pieces of veg and the herbs.  Put the beans in a bowl and marinate in olive oil.  Mix the gremolata ingredients together and stir into the beans and olive oil.

I like to serve this on grilled sourdough as bruschetta, but it also goes well with slow-roasted tomatoes and mozzarella.

TIP: If only it was possible to preserve the wonderful colours of the uncooked beans.  The reality is cooked beans lose almost all of that marbling.  My friend, the chef, Carla Tomasi recommends adding a few drops of vinegar at the start of cooking and I'm convinced this does preserve a little of the colouring.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Fish suppers I have known

Fish and Chips at 149 has won first place in the national Fish and Chip Awards for 2011.  Matthew Silk and Tracey Poskitt have years of experience in fish frying and, finding themselves competing for the same premises, decided to join forces in 1988 to open this award winning chippie.  Surely, I thought, I don't have to go to Bridlington, East Yorkshire for perfect fish and chips. 

Bridlington is not the easiest place to get to from London but I have to say I'm tempted.  Having grown up in the North East when a decent fish and chip supper was taken for granted, I've struggled to find it in the South and it's not for want of trying.  The best I've eaten in recent years came from Rick Stein's chippie in Padstow, Cornwall.  We drove from Fowey on Cornwall's South coast to Padstow in the North to get them.  It was pouring with rain so we committed the cardinal sin of eating them in the car.  Sitting in cosy comfort with steamed up windows knowing we would regret it tomorrow when we got into the car to that unmistakable odour.  But it was worth it.  The freshest cod steamed in the crispiest, light batter and perfect crisp and fluffy chips, which you only get from using Maris Piper potatoes. 

There is something about the seaside and fish and chips.  I can go for months in town without thinking about a fish supper but as soon as I hit the coast I must have one.  I suppose we think we're by the sea, we must be able to get good fish.  Sadly, it's not always so in England but somehow our expectations remain high.  Not having the time or opportunity to go to either Bridlington or Padstow last week but, craving a whiff of ozone, we took the train to an English coastal town in the South East.

The town is trying hard to resurrect itself but sadly this shiny new chippie, which I won't name as I don't do hatchet jobs, isn't going to draw me back anytime soon.  Pallid, floppy chips, thick undercooked batter, which masked what might have been good haddock, left us regretting our decision for some time afterwards.  Overall, it lacked attention to detail.  So, it's so long thanks for all the ozone - but I'll eat elsewhere.  Having read how Fish and Chips at 149 are so particular about the temperature of the batter they use (it's kept at 6C) it's disappointing to see how many chippies place the batter container on the fish fryer 'warming nicely'.  Oh, and while we're at it, can we have more than a nod to sustainability.

So, I think I'll just make that trip up to Brid next time I get the craving, unless you can offer a recommendation nearer to home.  This year the award for 2nd place went to Peck-ish Fish & Chips in Camelford, Cornwall in South West England and 3rd to Seniors at Marsh Hill in Thornton, Lancashire in the North West of England.


Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Ice Cream Union - Food Find

Another artisan ice cream maker joins the Bermondsey Trail.  The Ice Cream Union is now open Saturdays under the railway arches at 4 Voyager Business Park (just 3 doors up from Kappacasein).  One of their signature flavours is Dulce de Leche, based on the sweet, sticky Argentine caramel.  Maybe I need to do a taste-off between this and Real France's Salted Caramel.  Union also deliver - see the website for more info.