Friday, 30 March 2012

Maltby Street & Spa Terminus

Don't forget, the Maltby Street award-winning traders are on the move. Saturday 31 March is the first day of retail trading at new arches and units for the traders affected in phase 1.

Check this link to find your favourite traders in their new homes:

Maltby Street award-winning traders

I hear there will also be a Monmouth Coffee pop-up at the new location. has now been updated too.


Garlic - Wet and Wild

Wild garlic tagliatelle

"Eat neither garlic, nor onions, for thy smell will betray the peasant in thee" Don Quixote admonishes his squire, Sancho Panza.  Garlic, or Allium sativum, a member of the lily family, has been cultivated for thousands of years.  Pliny the Elder praised it as a remedy for a host of ailments from asthma to insanity - though he also warned excessive use caused flatulence.  French biologist Louis Pasteur praised garlic's qualities as a disinfectant and recent studies have backed long-held beliefs that compounds in garlic reduce cholesterol levels in the arteries and thus protect the heart.  At one time despised in some countries as a poor man's spice, garlic is now an indispensable ingredient in so many cuisines. 

The arrival of the new season garlic, in its wet (green) and wild (also known as Ramsons, Buckrams, Wood garlic or Bear's garlic) forms, set me thinking about these two members of the allium family.  I grow my own garlic, mostly for drying and using over the autumn and winter months.  Usually my stocks run out around this time of year.  Much as I love the fact I grown my own, I'm happy not to have more stock as storing beyond this time imparts a harshness in flavour.  I look forward to buying the fat-necked green garlic bulbs which start to appear at markets in early spring.  Picked at this stage, the green garlic doesn't keep very well but it is at its sweetest.  You can, after peeling away a layer or two of skin, eat both the white and the pale green stem, discarding only the basal core. Green garlic is mild and sweet with none of the hot, pungent qualities of mature garlic.

Green garlic is perfect for roasting whole with a little thyme, olive oil and a splash of water.  Squeeze the roasted cloves to release the caramelised garlic.  Spread on a fried bread crouton or mix with some anchovies melted in a hot pan and some butter  to make the Italian dipping sauce, Bagna Cauda.  A broth of roasted garlic has long been considered a health restorative.  Whizz the garlic with some good chicken or other stock, salt and lots of pepper, adding a few chopped chives and a little parsley just before serving.

Garlic is very easy to grow and is very well behaved in the kitchen garden.  You need to start off with bulbs from a nursery or seed merchant as these will be certified free of disease.   After that you can grow from your own stock and they will adapt to your conditions over several years.  Garlic needs a month or two of cold weather to stimulate the bulb. In the UK, I find November is a good time to plant varieties like Solent  Wight and Thermidrome. Split up the dried garlic bulb into cloves and plant, root side down, 5-8 centimetres below ground and about 10-15 centimetres apart.  Each planted clove develops into a new bulb.  Harvest when the leaves turn yellow, in June.  If not using straight away, dry them a for week either outside or in an airy shed.  The bulbs will then keep for several months.

Wild Ramson, Allium ursinum, is a wild relative of chives.  Unlike garlic, they are somewhat thuggish and, being perennials and self-seeders, are difficult to eradicate once they take hold.  Better to allow them to rampage under a deciduous tree if you are lucky enough to have a garden where you can devote the space to it.  They like damp and shady conditions and will flower in early spring before the tree canopy shades out the light.

Wild garlic (Ramsons)

If you are into foraging you will find Wild garlic in deciduous woodland.  Take care to crush a piece of leaf between your fingers to release the distinctive pungent  garlic smell to confirm you have the right plant.  My friend Liz at Forage Fine Foods gives good guidance on foraging for wild garlic.  Do also use the flower buds along with the leaves.  The strength of flavour in the leaves diminishes once the flowers mature.

Ramsons have an affinity with eggs, so are wonderful added to egg-based dishes, such as omelette, and frittata - you will need only a few leaves.  They're also good added to soups.  I sometimes make a wild garlic pesto, but be aware that this treatment concentrates the pungent flavour so use sparingly.  I love to use wild garlic in a quick and simple pasta dish.  This is hardly a recipe at all, but I do like to make my own fresh pasta.

Tagliatelle with Wild Garlic
(serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main)

100g (4oz) 'OO' flour
1 large egg
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
A little polenta to help prevent sticking
50g (2oz) unsalted butter
A large handful of wild garlic, well washed and cut roughly

Put all the ingredients except the butter and wild garlic 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.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and salt the water.  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).   Pass them through the tagliatelle cutter.  Boil the pasta for no more than 3 minutes. 

While the pasta is cooking,  Heat the butter in large pan and add the garlic leaves, salt and pepper.  Cook for one minute then take off the heat.  Add the drained pasta.  Mix in a tablespoon or so of cooking water to loosen slightly.  Serve with lots of grated parmesan.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Gresca - Barcelona at its best

at Gresca

The problem with Barcelona is there is so much good food around that the choice can be overwhelming.  Good small-plate food is not hard to find - Cal Pep and Tapaҫ 24 for instance - but when you've had your fill of tapas and raciones, and a proper three-course meal regains its appeal, you need to give it some thought.  On this visit, one of my top finds was Gresca.  This understated 26 cover modern bistro restaurant came up with almost the best meal I've eaten so far this year (only outshone by the excellent Dabbous in London).

Some find the room too monastic but it suits me fine.  Paired down to hard, plain surfaces softened only by white tablecloths, there's an absence of frippery and a concentration on food and service.  For me the choice of restaurant was largely informed by a stated commitment to using local produce whenever possible and an emphasis on quality of ingredients.  Chef Rafa Peña has worked at Ferran Adrià's El Bulli (now closed) and Martin Berasategui's Lasarte so we expected a few surprises to the simply described dishes, and there were.  The cooking though is toned down in line with the Bistronomia movement, of which Peña is a leader.  There is an emphasis on Catalan classics updated by some modern techniques.

After the lightest parmesan wafers, a "soufflé" starter arrived as a beautiful flower of puffed egg-white unfolding to reveal a deep yellow yoke centre, set on a tagliatelle of potato and chive butter sauce.  Light, gorgeous to the eye, technically intriguing and delicious.  Tiny onions on a bed of deeply caramelised onion slices were paired with salty roquefort, the dish given another dimension by a disc of toasted (possibly macadamia) nuts as the base.  The tenderest rib of pork came with a pleasantly sweet sticky sauce; the richness cut with a sharp coleslaw - a refined take on 'ribs and slaw'.  Succulent squid was served with fondant potatoes and red onions, the dish brought together by delicate saucing.  A perfect light, warm chocolate pudding served with crème fraiche and a pretty, flower-strewn dish of citrus panna cotta coated with the thinnest slices of lemon and blood orange ended the meal perfectly.

Warm chocolate pudding
at Gresca

The wine list was reasonably priced, wide-ranging though predominantly Spanish.  A bottle of Catalan Les Paradetes 2007 Conca de Barbera from celler Escoda Sanahuja was delicious and well-priced at 24 Euros - and it was natural.  Natural wines appear less common in Spain although given the avid interest in them both in Paris and London, I am sure it is only a matter of time before they become the new trend in Madrid and Barcelona. 

Amazingly the restaurant remained empty, save for us, throughout a mid-week lunch service. Where was everyone?  Were we seeing recessionary Spain, which is being hit particularly savagely right now?  Or had a day and a half of pouring rain dampened appetites?  We were assured by both front of house, and by friends, that this situation was very unusual for Gresca.   Our bill of 72 Euros for two seemed a bargain to us.  On this day the unassuming Catalan chef Rafa Peña cooked just for us, and it was superb.  We will probably not be as lucky again.  Next time I will be booking ahead as the disappointment of being turned away would be too much to bear.  With a charming front of house and a soft background of jazz from Charlie Parker, we walked out into, finally, blazing Barcelona sunshine.

 C/Provenҫa 230
08036 Barcelona
Tel: 934 51 61 93

Monday, 19 March 2012

New season garlic - Food Find

Real signs of spring.  I noticed wild garlic leaves (Ramsons) at market last Saturday and this week they've been joined by wet (green) garlic.  The Ramsons have a wonderful affinity with eggs so work well added to a frittata or omelette.  The stems of my home-grown garlic are barely a pencil's thickness so it will be another 10 weeks or so before I harvest them.  Having used up all but one bulb of my 2011 crop I plan to make the most of the wet garlic on offer.  It is best used within a week or so to enjoy its sweet, mild flavour.  You can use the stem as well as the cloves so it's an economical buy. 

Friday, 16 March 2012


Salad of fennel, lemon balm
and pickled rose petals
at Dabbous

Few restaurant dishes have reduced me to silence, and this was a salad for goodness sake.  It's true, Dabbous is extraordinary.  Having read two rave reviews, and ascertained prices were reasonable, I made a booking and thereafter avoided reading another word on the cooking of Ollie Dabbous.  I'm going straight to the food as this place surely deserves it - pausing only to apologise to my fellow diners for taking photographs of my plates.  How could I not when they were this beautiful?

A paper bag of in-house sourdough bread and a pat of home-made whipped butter delicately salted to just the right degree - could have been gimmicky if they hadn't been delicious.  Returning to the salad, oh yes, let's return to that salad.  The finest shaved fennel and a little cos leaf, a few translucent slivers of preserved lemon, finished with wisps of pickled rose petals and a lemon balm 'sand'.  It was juicy and zingy, the delicacy of the rose petals rising above the most gentle of pickling liquid.  It was sublime. 

Barbecued wild Ling, virgin rapeseed oil
mayonnaise, Jerusalem artichoke
at Dabbous
Next up was Barbecued wild Ling, a member of the Cod family.  A pearly lozenge with little more than a whiff of smoke was served with Jerusalem artichoke (too crunchy for me) and a rapeseed oil mayonnaise.  A scattering of bush basil and a 'soil' of something, which doubtless came via some coastal forager, brought the dish together wonderfully well. 

A meltingly soft Roast pork belly followed, crackling intact, nestled on an inspired acorn - yes, acorn - savoury praline.  Wilted turnip tops were alongside and an apple vinegar cut the rich sweetness of the pork.  

I could, and probably should, have stopped there as by now my expectations were stratospherically high.  At the end of a meal anywhere else the dessert would likely have seemed very good, but the two I managed to taste fell just a little short.  Barley flour sponge soaked in red tea was a beautifully light, moist cake sitting cosily on a bed of fluffy Tahitian vanilla cream - good, but lacking some texture.  Chocolate and virgin hazelnut oil ganache, basil moss and sheep's milk ice cream was stunningly presented.  The textures were well-balanced and the ice cream was a nice contrast but the basil - three-ways - dominated the dish.

Chocolate and virgin hazelnut oil ganache,
basil moss, sheep's milk ice cream
at Dabbous
That said, I haven't been this knocked out by a meal since an early visit to Alain Passard's L'Arpège in Paris.  For that reason I will, for old time's sake, be looking out for the coddled egg I saw on Dabbous' menu.  The words 'sand' and 'soil' in relation to food have, until now, not been in my lexicon but these textures are appearing on the plate more and more.  I think Noma led this trend.

Dabbous declare simplicity, restraint and a lighter style of cooking to be their objective, with an emphasis on fruit, vegetables, herbs, infusions and wild foods.  Chef, Ollie Dabbous, was picked out as a rising star a couple of years ago by those in the industry.  His CV includes Head Chef at Texture and short stints at Noma, The Fat Duck and more.  Dabbous has clearly put in the work in a short space of time.  Now, at the age of 31 he has his own restaurant and it's affordable and accessible. 

Service was unstuffy but professional from start to finish.  The very young sommelier, dandily dressed in velvet jacket and cravat, produced a lovely Touraine Chenin Blanc with delicious tangerine notes.  Our waiter was charming and enthusiastic.  I remember the dining room when it was a utilitarian internet cafe.  As Dabbous it has had an industrial design makeover.   Downstairs is a very individual bar serving cocktails and drinks such as 'Sloe Gin Punch'.

We ate from the Set Lunch Menu at £21 for 3 courses, £24 for 4 courses.  Portions are not large but if you have a hearty appetite it's easy to go off-piste and slip in a dish from the a la carte.  With prices of £5-11 for starters, £11-14 for mains and £4-7 for desserts the temptation is there.  There is also an 8 course Tasting Menu for £49 per person.  Normally I pass on tasting menus but here it does appeal.

Booking is currently 4 weeks ahead but undoubtedly it is going to become harder to get a table.  Much as I would love to see these prices held, it's not likely to happen.  I've already booked my next visit while the going is good.

39 Whitfield Street
London  W1T 2SF

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Maltby Street Award winning traders are on the move

Phase 1 of Maltby Street
traders move 31 March 2012

The Observer Food Awards 2011 Maltby Street traders are to start their phased move from the Bermondsy railway arches on 31 March 2012.  Moving just a few minutes walk further up the railway line out of London Bridge will place them handily just 5 minutes from Bermondsey Underground station.  The traders mentioned in my 'Bermondsey Trail' will be occupying arches and units centred around the disused Spa Road London to Greenwich railway terminus.  Not everyone will be moving in phase 1 on 31 March but as of that date you'll find your favourite traders at the following.

Malby Street & Spa Terminus
(Note retail trade Saturdays - core hours 9am-2pm - some stay open later) 
Phase 1 move Saturday 31 March 2012:

60 Druid Street
Tayshaw Ltd (Tony Booth Fruit & Veg) - unchanged by phase 1

34-36 Maltby Street
Monmouth Coffee Company - unchanged by phase 1
La Grotta Ices - unchanged by phase 1

40 Maltby Streeet
40 Maltby Street/Gergovie Wines - unchanged by phase 1 (Thurs & Fri from 5.30pm, Sat 10-5.30pm)

72 Druid Street
St John Bakery - unchanged by phase 1

104 Druid Street
Topolski - unchanged by phase 1
Kase Swiss - unchanged by phase 1
Boerenkass - unchanged by phase 1
Jacob's Ladder Farms - unchanged by phase 1

Unit 1 Voyager Business Park, SE16
Kappacasein - unchanged, already trading
Neal's Yard Dairy - new location

Unit 2 Voyager Business Park, SE16
Mons Fromager - new location
Aubert & Mascoli - new location

Unit 3 Voyager Business Park, SE16
South East Fruits - unchanged, already trading

Unit 4 Voyager Business Park, SE16
The Ice Cream Union - unchanged, already trading

Unit 5 Dockley Road, SE16
The Little Bread Pedlar - unchanged but now opening for Saturday retail from 31 March
Coleman Coffee Roasters - new location

Unit 6 Dockley Road, SE16
The London Honey Company - new location

Unit 10 Dockley Road, SE16
Fern Verrow - new location

Arch 11 Dockley Road, SE16
The Butchery Ltd - new location
The Kernel Brewery - new location

Arch 10 Dockley Road, SE16
The Ham & Cheese Co - new location

Dates for the move of those traders unchanged by the phase 1 move are to be advised later.  This will be a more settled home for the award winning traders who have worked so hard to build their businesses and serve us with some of the best produce in London.  You can pick up a copy of the flyer photographed above from The Ham & Cheese Company at 1 Ropewalk on 17 or 24 March.

I expect will be updated soon.  If you already know 'Maltby Street', I hope this information helps you find your favourite traders.  If you haven't discovered it yet, you'll find some of the best produce in London here.


Saturday, 10 March 2012

Cooking with Dave Cook

Hands on in
Leila's kichen

It's a cold, damp evening in early March and the lights are burning late at Leila's shop and cafe in Spitalfields.  Inside, a long table is spread with a still life of ingredients: vegetables, wild mushrooms, pulses, grains, herbs and spices, sausages and saffron.  People arrive in ones and twos, muffled against the chill and bearing strangely bulky shoulder bags.  An easy camaraderie quickly develops, fuelled by a glass of wine and a shared passion.  Later the cafe windows will become opaque with steam, causing passers-by to peer in curiously. 

Aprons are donned and a dozen enthusiastic cooks surround the large kitchen table and immediately we are hands-on prepping ingredients for the dishes we will help to cook.  We are the lucky few to attend this oversubscribed lesson on Mediterranean Pulses and Grains with chef Dave Cook (ex-Moro and Bocca di Lupo and currently cooking at 40 Maltby StreetLeila's and Towpath Cafe).   

Over the next few hours we learn about buying, preparing, cooking and serving various beans, chickpeas, lentils, barley, farro and fava beans.  We make soups and stews, dips and salads, a perfectly herbed and spiced falafel and a moreish dish of fried chickpeas and cauliflower tossed in coriander and cumin.  It's almost enough to turn a carnivore vegetarian, but then comes Lentil, chorizo and piquillo pepper stew followed by Lamb and barley broth.   We share knowledge and experience and we taste as we work.  Rather than meagre sprigs, we learn to use handfuls of fresh herbs which make the dishes zing.

Ten dishes and four hours later the mystery of the bulky bags is revealed to be a myriad of containers.  What we didn't manage to eat is borne off to feed countless others.  Not only do we come away with ten good, healthy, tasty recipes but we have asked all those questions you want answered when cooking  new recipes.  Best of all, the whole group has had a hand in making every single dish in a relaxed, yet learning environment.  With Dave's capable and good humoured assistant, Stasia, keeping everything on track, we go off into the night, notes, aprons and food bagged, with a lot more knowledge of those nutritious ingredients.

Dave doesn't do many of these classes and word of mouth is enough to fill them.  If you ask at Leila's or 40 Maltby Street, maybe he'll be persuaded to do more.   With a warm and engaging personality and a wealth of experience cooking in his native Australia - notably Pier restaurant in Sydney and MG Garage restaurant before coming to the UK - he's a natural teacher.  As long as there's room for me around the table, I'd love to see you there.

Here is my interpretation of the chickpea and cauliflower dish we made, which is a great appetiser. The texture of the fried chickpeas is rather like a savoury popcorn - but much nicer. The recipe is very easy.  Taking the time to toast and grind whole spices instead of buying powdered is well worthwhile.

Fried Spiced Chickpeas and Cauliflower

About 200g dried chickpeas, pre-soaked, cooked and well drained
1-2 cauliflowers
Rapeseed oil (or your preference) for frying
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted lightly and ground to a powder
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted lightly and ground to a powder
A large handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Cut the cauliflower into small florets.  Deep fry the chickpeas and cauliflower separately until both are golden and crispy before draining on kitchen towel.  Rapeseed oil is healthy and good for frying as it takes a higher temperature than many other oils (UK grown cold-presssed is the only one I would use).  Immediately mix the freshly fried peas and florets with the seasoning.  Add the coriander leaves and serve.

Dave Cook also holds classes at Mersea Island Cookery School You can find a profile of him here.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Pitt Cue Co - Soho's barbecue hotspot

Pitt Cue Co

Meat lovers have been raving about Pitt Cue, formerly trading from a van under Hungerford Bridge and now in its new Soho home on the corner of Newburgh Street. Just off Carnaby Street, its location could hardly be more central. Set up by Tom Adams, ex-Blueprint Cafe and the Ledbury and friend Jamie Berger, a line snaked out the door at this American style smokehouse as soon as the news went round that they'd found a permanent home. On a Tuesday lunchtime before 1pm the queue was already formed. “Today’s Beasts” were Gloucester Old Spot and North Devon beef and the charcoal grill delivers tender, flavoursome American barbecue style favourites like Pulled Pork, Ribs and Brisket. Portions are large and meats come with house pickles.

The queuing system has the novelty of your own numbered “cow” tab for drinks whilst you wait for one of the tables in the tiny downstairs to come available. The drinks menu is heavily American inspired with beers, cocktails, Bourbons and Ryes, and soft drinks. Their Picklebacks - a bourbon shot with a house pickle brine chaser and pork scratchings - has attracted a lot of positive attention. Not my thing I'm afraid. Thankfully for me, closer inspection turned up local gems like the Kernel Brewery pale ale.

Tables turn fairly quickly even though service is a little slow with the tiny kitchen delivering take away as well as eat-in. Main dishes are generous and simply presented street-food style, but here in enamel dishes. Desserts seem a little incongruous but do continue the American theme by serving up ice cream with both a chocolate brownie and a lemon tart with rhubarb and ginger.

It’s a friendly place. The bill came to £60 for 3 people. Would I go back? Yes, if I was with friends of a strong carnivorous bent.

Pitt Cue Co.
1 Newburgh Street
London W1F 7RB
(No bookings)

A version of this article can be read at Huffington Post


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Petersham Nurseries - more to it than a Michelin star

Welcome to
Petersham Nurseries

The recent publicity about chef Skye Gyngell leaving Petersham Nurseries Café put me in mind of the 80’s V&A Museum campaign  - “an Ace Caff with Quite a Nice Museum Attached”.  You could be forgiven for thinking Petersham Nurseries is only about the unlikely Michelin-starred earth-floor venue in Richmond, west London.    There is, however, far more to the Petersham experience than the celebrated Café.  Many people go to this little oasis without ever being able to take a stance on its Michelin worthiness. 

Seating at
Petersham Nurseries
Let’s be clear, Petersham Nurseries is, in all departments, nothing fancy. The simple, seasonal cooking in the Café using super-fresh ingredients was much appreciated, despite the high prices which certainly scared me away. The award of a Michelin star however raised expectations for everything which normally goes with it, and Gyngell felt unable to satisfy them. The Café attracted a starry clientele, even before the accolades, but the place is literally ‘down to earth’ with rickety tables set out on a dirt floor. 
Petersham Nurseries began life as a plant nursery. It’s this, and the very simple tearoom, which attracts me.  The potting shed style tearoom provides soups, salads and substantial slices of no-nonsense cakes.  Prices are much lower here.  There are no fireworks on the menu, but it’s certainly far better than you expect to find in a plant nursery. 

Petersham Nurseries
Take your tray into one of the characterful conservatories, or for more privacy bag one of the tables outside, scattered around the walled garden.  Visiting on the first day of March, the sun shone warm and bright and the conservatories were perfumed with the heady scent of potted hyacinths.

The thing about Petersham Nurseries, for me, is that it’s totally relaxing.  With trains taking less than 20 minutes from London Waterloo station, Richmond is a great escape when central London gets a little too much.  You are encouraged to  approach the Nurseries by bicycle or on foot.   The route alongside the river Thames is nice enough but it then takes you across the stunning unspoiled water meadows sweeping down to the river.  The bucolic scene was painted by JMW Turner and Sir Joshua Reynolds and the meadows have inspired poets and writers for centuries.   By the time you reach Petersham Nurseries your stress levels are reduced considerably.  Walking through the gates will take them down a few notches more.

It’s impossible to visit the Nurseries without being seduced into buying a plant or two.   Displays are uncontrived.  Staff are helpful and know their stuff.  Prices are pretty good too but if you go on a Monday you’ll get a 10% discount and expert plant advice.  If you’re looking to learn more, they run courses in pruning, willow-weaving and the like. 

Oh, and if you’re tempted by that celebrated Café, Skye Gyngell may have taken down her Michelin star, but fellow Australian chef Greg Malouf, of MoMo in Melbourne, is soon to take over for a three month stint.  The question is;  will the starry clientele stick with it or can they bear to tear themselves away and follow  Skye wherever she pops up next?  Fond as I am of my food, in this case, all I need to know is whether this change to one part will have an effect on the whole Petersham Nurseries.

Petersham Nurseries
Church Lane
Off Petersham Road
Surrey  TW10 7AG

A version of this article can be read at Huffington Post