Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Spanish Flavours by José Pizarro

Spanish Flavours
José Pizarro

Most of José Pizarro's recipes use admirably few ingredients.  Recipes can, I think, display a lack of confidence when lists are too long.  There is no such problem with those in Spanish Flavours, or in Pizarro's first book Seasonal Spanish Food.  Seeing Spain, from a culinary point of view, as many countries rolled into one, he has organised the book into five chapters covering North, East, Centre, South and the Balearic and Canary Islands.  It's not an original concept but it works.  Fish and seafood, of course, plays a major role throughout Spanish cuisine but regional specialities are brought into the mix and inspire these recipes.  Pizarro is also happy to credit his present home, London, where he owns restaurants José and Pizarro, as an influence on how he uses certain ingredients.

The North of Spain, which has high rainfall, is a dairy and farming region so as well as Griddled scallops with cauliflower puree and chorizo oil, there is a recipe for Baked cheesecakes with blueberries.  The East is rich in funghi, game and rice, demonstrated by Caldoso (meaning soupy rice) with quail, wild mushrooms, artichokes and black olives.  The Centre is where Pizarro is most at home, being a son of Extramadura.  Peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, saffron, and Manchego cheese are celebrated along with the products from the magnificent Iberico pig and Jamόn de Teruel.  A recipe for Braised Iberico pork with tomatoes, chorizo, thyme and black olives is the region personified.  The South has the Moorish influences represented here in dishes such as Spicy lamb albondigas, a take on kofta meatballs, flavoured with North African favourites cumin and coriander.  The final region is the Islands, where Pizarro found "simplicity, freshness and strong flavours" summed up the cuisine, inspiring dishes such as Lobster caldereta (stew) and Avocado with prawns and tomato vinaigrette

Puddings throughout rely heavily, and deliciously, on fruit.  Even the Spanish version of eggy bread manages to incorporate some orange.  Almond and honey creams with lemon verbena peaches and Orange-scented apple buñuelos are must-trys.

The atmospheric photography by Emma Lee successfully captures the rustic style of the dishes and the little explanatory drawing in the introduction is delightful.  This book certainly makes me want to get cooking - Braised peas and Jamόn with eggs, perhaps.

Spanish Flavours by José Pizarro
Published by Kyle Books
Book courtesy of Kyle Books

Friday, 25 May 2012

Paris Spring 2012 - Comme à Lisbonne and more

Hôtel de Sully
Le Marais, Paris

Hôtel de Sully is one of my favourite places in Paris.  In spring, birds make full use of the ivy-clad walls to nest.   At this time of year, the courtyard is full of birdsong and the hungry cries of baby birds.  History permeates this quiet and peaceful space in the heart of the Marais.  It was built in the late 1620s as a Hôtel Particulier, or private mansion, for the financier Mesme Gallet.  Soon afterwards Henry IV's former surintendant des Finances, Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Sully, acquired it.  At quiet times, like the one above, it has a still, ghostly air and makes you feel that you wouldn't be a bit surprised if M. Gallet were to appear in the doorway. 

These days Hôtel de Sully is a state-owned monument historique.  You'll find the entrance on the busy rue Saint-Antoine, close to Métro Saint-Paul.  In one corner of the building there's a lovely tranquil gallery where some fantastic photographic exhibitions are curated.  Walking out of the other side of the courtyard takes you into the historic Place des Vosges.

On this spring visit, a short walk from Hotel Sully, I came across Comme à Lisbonne on rue du Roi de Sicile (parallel with rue de Rivoli).  Instantly recognising the name from one of David Lebovitz's excellent posts on his Paris-based blog I stopped off for, coffee.  The shop is tiny but has a couple of stools where you can perch.  They offer one of the best Pastéis de Nata I've ever tasted.  The pastry was not quite the one I expect from this little Portuguese custard tart - maybe this is because the baker hails from the Azores rather than mainland Portugal  -  but it was undeniably good.  The custard filling was all the more delicious for not being thickened with cornflour, as is the norm.  The baking is done on the premises.  Fresh batches of tarts regularly arrive from the kitchen and there is an optional sprinkle of canelle (cinnamon).  The owners are charming and the take away trade is brisk.  Apart from stocking a small handful of Portuguese products, that's all there is to it - and it's all the better for it.  I'll definitely be returning.

Another find on this trip was a small, unassuming place on rue Oberkampf called Aux Deux Amis.  Serving natural wines at reasonable prices this neighbourhood cafe bar proved well worth seeking out.  Lunch was over by the time we got there but its aroma lingered enticingly.  I noted that it would be a good place to try for lunch on a future visit. On this occasion it was a welcome pitstop and reminder of genuine 60s cafe style.  

I still haven't had my fill of Pierre Cluizel's chocolates at Un Dimanche a Paris, which I've written about previously.  A cup of hot chocolate as you browse the chocolate, pâtisserie and glaces is a must.  The shop's a two minute walk from Métro Odéon on Cour du Commerce Saint-André in the 6th arondissement.  Take care not to turn an ankle on the the ancient cobblestones.

A ten minute stroll from here to the stylish rue Bonaparte brings you to Pierre Hermé's fantastic pâtisserie.  Although you can buy Hermé's macarons and chocolates in London now - from Selfridges and a Pierre Hermé shop at 13 Lowndes Square SW1 - to taste his baked goods you  have to go to Paris.  If you can bring yourself to disregard the fabulous pâtisserie, walk to the back of the shop to seek out an individual Kugelhopf.  Fluffy, coated with sugar syrup and spiked with excellent quality fruit, it is outstanding baking.  Take it to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens and enjoy amongst the collection of apple, pear and vines.

Hôtel de Sully
62 rue Saint-Antoine
(Marais 4th arondissement)

Comme à Lisbonne
37 rue du Roi de Sicile (4th)
Open: Tues-Sunday 11-8pm

Aux Deux Amis
45 rue Oberkampf
Paris 75011
Metro: Oberkampf
Open: Tuesday-Saturday

Pierre Hermé
72 rue Bonaparte
Paris 75006
(and other branches)

Other Paris postings on this blog that you may find useful:

Les Fies Gueules, Paris

Rose Bakery, Paris

Le Cristal de Sel

Du Pains et des Ideés

 Un Dimanche à Paris

The True Price of Fish

The Christchurch Fish stall
This is a very short but important post about the sad loss of two of our young fishermen.  Christchurch Fish from Dorset, which is a collective of 7 inshore fishing boats, bring their catch to London's Maltby Street (Ropewalk) and Kensington and St John's Wood Farmers' Markets every Saturday.  Please take the time to read the note from Les Lawrence below which brings home the true price of fish.

"dear customer
You may have seen the news a few days ago about the terrible loss in Weymouth last thursday of the three fishermen on "Purbeck Isle." Christchurch Fish has four boats in Christchurch and three in Weymouth,and Rob, one of the youngsters lost had been working working on one of them  for the last few years leaving to join the " Purbeck Isle" just last month. Jack, the other youngster crewed on another of our three Weymouth boats until a couple of years ago. Both were in their early twenties and Rob leaves three kids, all under 5. A fund has been set up with all monies going to the kids at 21, we will have a collection tin at the stall tomorrow for amyone wishing to contribute and if you aren't at the market tomorrow and wish to contribute you can send a cheque payable to " Weymouth and Portland Licensed Fisherman's and Boatman's Association " to
Purbeck Isle Appeal
Dorset Echo
Fleet House
Hampshire Road
DT4 9XD"

Friday, 18 May 2012

Taylor St Baristas

Taylor St Baristas
at Brooks Mews
Mayfair has long been a bit of a desert for good coffee.  So often, it seems to me, the pricier the area the poorer the food and drink choices.  My antennae are finely attuned to coffee and I'm always on the lookout for something good.  Passing through the west end a few months ago and glancing down Brooks Mews, at the back of Claridges Hotel, I spotted a new branch of Taylor St Baristas

Starting out with a single shop in Richmond this independent coffee shop now has 5 more branches in London, including a garden shed in Shoreditch, and one shop in Brighton.  Using Marzocco and Nuova Simonelli machines, they produce excellent coffee from Union Coffee Roasters 100% arabica beans.  They describe their espresso as a "constant work in progress" and although the blend does change, it is always very drinkable.  Last week I sampled their introduction of a delicious Union single origin Tanzanian bean at the Mayfair branch.

All of the branches are different, from the primped-up smartness of Mayfair to the dress-down trendiness of the East End 'shed'.  What they have in common is the consistency of the coffee and the knowledgeable, genuinely friendly staff.  At the Mayfair branch they offer a good selection of sandwiches and cakes, preparing everything on-site.  It's off the main drag but close to Bond Street and a very welcome arrival in an area not well served by good coffee spots.

Taylor Street Baristas
22 Brooks Mews
London W1K 4DY
(and other branches)

Saturday, 12 May 2012

New Park Farm Asparagus - Food Find

New Park Farm

Usually you can rely on the UK asparagus season starting on 1 May, sometimes a few days early, occasionally a few days late.  This is proving to be the strangest year for asparagus growing in the UK that I can recall.  There is always the odd grower who manages to get some to market a week or two early, but the long-term health of the plant depends on not over-stressing it by harvesting for more than about six weeks.  This year some Wye Valley spears could be bought in very early April due to an unseasonably warm March.  A cold wet April then plunged the crop back into dormancy.  I stubbornly resisted the temptation to buy the few, weedy stems on offer.  Until last week, that is, when one of my favourite restaurants, Rochelle Canteen, put some lovely, fairly plump, Essex-grown spears on their menu.  Finally the season has properly started with the arrival of my favourite Kent grower, New Park Farm.  Setting up stall at Borough Market today, they also expect to be at Marylebone Farmers Market tomorrow.  Offering three grades of asparagus, every year, normally from 1 May to mid-June, New Park Farm bring some of the very best asparagus to London's markets.  Buy it while you can as who knows whether the season will end prematurely this year.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Rochelle Canteen

Rochelle Canteen

I've just been told Tim Hayward has a review of Rochelle Canteen out today.  Damn the man's eyes, he writes like a dream!  Well, here goes anyway.  I really don't know why it took me so long to go back to Rochelle Canteen.  Maybe it had something to do with the fact you have to go through a school door to get to it - my relationship with learning was complicated.  You buzz for entry through the 'Boys' gate to find yourself in a small, partly-lawned school yard.  Ignoring the Victorian red-brick building you follow your nose to the bike shed.  That's more like it.

The door opens straight into the small, plainly stylish dining room set for communal eating, with the kitchen off to the left.  As you can see from the photograph it's quite a small space, around 30 covers, so it's best to book ahead.  In summer, tables are set up outside amongst a few pots of herbs and the odd bike.  This is Spitalfields so don't expect fancy.  I would say it's classy.

The menu changes daily and there is a blackboard of specials.  Rochelle Canteen's food is reliably seasonal and has the knack of being just what you want to suit the weather.  Chorizo and Potato Soup matched the stop-start feeling of spring this year.  Jersey Royal potatoes, Watercress and Soft Boiled Egg acknowledged the welcome appearance of the first potato of the year and the return of the peppery cress.  We ate a generous, creamy, portion of Brandade on Toast, a perfect balance between salt cod and potato.  Poor weather has caused the Asparagus season to get off to a haphazard start so a few Essex-grown spears simply served with clarified butter and a mound of sea salt was gratefully devoured. 

Mains of Boiled Meats and Green Sauce, Wild Sea Trout, Kohlrabi & Cucumber were on offer but Pollock Chips & Tartare Sauce proved too hard to resist for one.  The fish was fresh and flaky, the batter crispy, the chips just what you hope for.  The tartare sauce alongside was a bit too punchy for the Pollock but the traditional option of malt vinegar suited better.  Lamb, Artichoke and Rocket Salad was a plentiful plate of silky, pink roast, possibly hogget, given its good flavour, with well-dressed fresh artichokes and leaves.  We never made it to pudding but could have had Merinques and Poached Rhubarb, Lemon Posset and Strawberries (presumably Gariguette), or ice-creams.  You do need a good appetite if you're going to manage three courses here. 

Rochelle Canteen is run by Melanie Arnold & Margot Henderson (wife of Fergus Henderson of the St John establishments).   The cooking is gutsy and unflashy, less full-on than at St John.  It has no drinks licence but you can take a bottle - they charge a very fair £5 corkage.  When we were there a group of wine buffs were having a whale of a time pairing wine with the food.  It was nice to see them leave the unfinished bottles on the lunch table being set up for the chefs at the end of service.  The staff care and it's a good team.

You can't help wondering, as you look out onto the schoolyard, where all the kids are.  Rochelle School was built to educate the children of The Boundary Estate which replaced the Victoran slums centred around Old Nichol Street.  Arthur Morrison drew inspiration for his book A child of the Jago from the area.  Head for the distinctive landmark of Arnold Circus with its bandstand raised high on a mound.  It's midway between trendy, neat Hoxton Square and vibrant, dishevelled Brick Lane.  There is still a school in the Circus but the main Rochelle building now houses arts and media businesses and provides exhibition spaces.  The former bike shed serves as their Canteen but there is more around.  Calvert Avenue, running off Arnold Circus is home to the lovely Leila's Shop and Cafe.  Trendy Redchurch Street is a 5 minute walk away and you can go East to Columbia Road flower market in 10. 

Now, time to read Tim Hayward's review - damn his eyes.

Rochelle Canteen
Rochelle School
Arnold Circus
E2 7ES
Tel: 020 7729 5677

Open Mon-Fri for breakfast, lunch & tea (NOT DINNER) 9am-4.30pm 
Bring your own wine - corkage is a reasonable £5.
Around £60 for two including corkage