Friday, 25 July 2014

Barrafina, Adelaide Street WC2

Baked John Dory
at Barrafina, Adelaide Street

Did I really need to stick to my two visit rule before writing about the new Barrafina?  I know the original Barrafina on Soho's Frith Street pretty well so could it be so different?  Well, yes and no.  First there's the room.  Occupying a corner site, it's curved frontage is hard to miss and it feels so much bigger than the Frith Street original.  Inside, all the essentials of the Barrafina I know and love are in place - granite, glass, stainless steel, red-topped stools, Estrella on tap, happy staff, and the aroma of damn good food coming from the open kitchen.  Long-time employee, José Etura is front of house.  In these early days, Nieves Barragan Mohacho, Executive Head Chef for Barrafina and Fino restaurants, is hands-on in that kitchen, and what capable hands they are.  Owners Sam and Eddie Hart don their white jackets and one of them will generally be greeting and serving.

The extra space in Adelaide Street has allowed for a longer bar accommodating 29 stools and more space to wait comfortably for one of them.  It's also good to see there's space to breath for the staff, more room for equipment and, hence, a more extensive and adventurous menu.  Don't get me wrong, after 7 years of eating at Barrafina in Soho I still feel a sense of excitement thinking of what might be on the menu this time.  But the two tiny cooking areas there do restrict what can be served up even by the best chefs, and Barrafina's are very good indeed.

Stuffed Courgette Flower
at Barrafina, Adelaide Street

At this second incarnation the Barrafina philosophy holds true - top quality ingredients served up with "minimum fuss".  The menu at first glance looks similar and you're likely to find some old favourites but a closer look reveals additional sections on 'Frituras' and 'Chargrill'.  Suckling Pig's Ears or Milk Fed Lamb's Brains, perhaps.  The biggest difference comes from the installation of a Josper charcoal oven which allows dishes like whole fish for sharing to be served up in 10 minutes.  It also produces those Milk Fed Lamb's Kidneys, served on their skewer grill over a little hillock of smoking charcoal.

Dishes we tried included Crab Croquetas which were outstanding; a lovely mix of dark and white meat, good consistency and just enough chilli heat to bring out the crab flavour.  A fried Courgette Flower stuffed with goats cheese, finished with honey and a bunch of micro herbs, was pretty as a picture and, though a safe choice, was summery and delicious.  The John Dory was succulent and perfectly cooked - simply baked with a crust of breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs and olive oil and dished up with a wedge of lemon. We ordered the deep-fried Ortiguillas - Sea Anemone -  out of curiosity but didn't really get the point of them.  But the hints of iodine brought memories of seashore rockpools.  A dessert of Milhojas was as rich as it looks in this photograph but a delicious version and perfect for sharing.

If that Estrella beer doesn't grab you, there is a good list of sherries and wines , including a specially selected Manzanilla en Rama.  Personally, I find a glass or two of the familiar Cuatro Rayas 2013 Verdejo Viñedos Rueda, at £5 a glass, difficult to resist.

at Barrafina, Adelaide Street

So, yes I did go twice, and so will you.  The biggest problem now is in choosing which Barrafina to head for.  Go to Barrafina Frith Street for the cooking of Allyson McQuade - perfect small tapas.  Go to Adelaide Street for more space, a bigger menu and the fish and meat dishes that come out of that Josper charcoal oven.  Join the queue at either Barrafina for the buzz, great food and drink and excellent service.

10 Adelaide Street
London WC2N 4HZ
29 stools
No reservations, first come first served
Adelaide Street has more space than Frith Street to enjoy a glass and a bite while you wait for a seat.
Groups of 8+ can book the downstairs private dining room

Friday, 11 July 2014

Cherry & Almond Strudel

Cherry & Almond Strudel

The soft fruit season is always a time of too much arriving too quickly and then come the cherries, sometimes before we've had time to eat our fill of strawberries and raspberries.  This year is racing along on the fruit front.  The cherries are here and very soon we'll be feasting on plums too. Checking the the allotments' communal plum trees today, it looks like we're in for a bumper crop.  The boughs are laden with clusters of green fruit just beginning to show a streak of purple.

So, while I continue to pick raspberries and gooseberries, and now the first blackcurrants, am busy bottling fruit and making ice cream, there are cherries to consider.  So, what to do with the first of cherries?  Well, as I have a few sheets of filo pastry left over from making a chicken pastilla, strudel immediately comes to mind.  A recent visit to Trieste, where a Mitteleuropean cuisine still fights for supremacy with Italian food, reminded me that strudel is not only about apples. Cherry Strudel was much in evidence, a legacy of Trieste's Habsburg era.

Cherries have an affinity with almonds.  Not surprising when you consider the tiny kernel inside the stone of cherries, apricots and peaches (all stone fruit in fact) has an almond flavour and is known as noyau.  Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest you take a hammer to the cherry stones here.  If you do want to try extracting the noyau, apricots are a bit more rewarding.  Add a few to an Amaretti biscuit mix for a delicious hint of bitter almond.  I have to give the warning to use sparingly as they do contain tiny traces of cyanide, though you'd have to eat quite some quantity for it to have any effect..

Cherry Strudel & cream

Having very good juicy, sweet cherries with just a hint of sharpness, (variety Summer Sun) I didn't want to interfere with their flavour too much so I've kept the filling simple for this one.

Cherry & Almond Strudel
(Serves 4)

350g (12oz) cherries (weight before removing stones)
60g (2oz)caster sugar (depending on sweetness of cherries)
1 level teaspoon of cinnamon
30g (1oz) finely chopped almonds or hazelnuts of a mix of both
30g (1oz) roughly chopped almonds (preferably skins removed)
2 sheets of filo pastry (about 45cm x 25cm)
60g (2oz) unsalted butter, melted
1 heaped teaspoon of icing sugar

Heat oven to 180C (160C Fan)/Gas 4.  Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Remove the stones from the cherries and mix with the caster sugar and cinnamon.
Combine both the fine and roughly chopped nuts.

Place first sheet of filo  pastry on a clean tea towel, narrow end closest to you, and butter the sheet, leaving 1cm unbuttered on the end farthest away from you.  Brush that strip lightly with water.
Scatter the nuts over the pastry to within 1cm of each side.
Add the cherries in a heap at the end closest to you about 5-6cm from the edge and leaving 3-4cm either side uncovered.
Place the uncovered pastry nearest to you over the cherries then use the tea towel to help roll almost to the far edge. Tuck the right and left edges up into the parcel to help seal-in the contents and finish rolling to the end.  Make sure the water-brushed pastry strip seals to the parcel.  Place it on the lined baking sheet.  Brush with melted butter.
Repeat STEP 2 with the second pastry sheet and then bake the parcels in the oven for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut each pastry in two, dust with sifted icing sugar and serve. 
Good with double cream or vanilla ice cream.

Note: It's also almost time for the Brogdale Cherry Festival - this year it's 19-20 July.

Other recipes using cherries:

Cherries with almonds & Sabayon sauce

Summer Pudding with cherries

Cherry frangipane tart

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Trieste - is that Italy?

Chiesa San Spiridione

How to begin a piece on Trieste?  I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked "Trieste, where is that?" Jan Morris associated the city with a sense of "nowhereness".  In her book Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere Morris writes "People who have never been there generally don't know where it is.  Visitors tend to leave it puzzled and, when they get home, remember it with a vague sense of mystery."   Admittedly four days is not long to try to get under the skin of a city, but it was long enough to feel a certain dislocation, in place and time, walking the streets of Trieste.  

Arriving in the late evening, stepping from the airport bus into grey, quiet streets is not the best introduction to a city.  Such a lack of exuberance seems thoroughly un-Italian - no honking horns, no fearful step onto a pedestrian crossing, no loud conversations at caffè tables.  A few minutes of walking and our eyes are no longer fixed to grey stone but sunset over the Adriatic - a satisfying dish in lieu of the dinner we searched for in vain that night.

Piazza Unità

Next morning the sun performed its magic, bathing the grey stone in a more welcoming tone and revealing a teal blue adriatic sea.  That evening we caught the sunset from the Piazza Unità a little earlier, just as it illuminated the gilding on the Palazzo di Governo.

Palazzo di Governo, Piazza Unità

Trieste is a curious city, reflecting its location and past.  It occupies the last sliver of Italian soil a mere 5 miles from the Slovenian border and petering out into Croatia to the south.  Originally an Illyrian coastal village trading in fish, salt, olive oil and wine, it was colonised by Rome, occupied by Venice and France, before being protected and declared a Free Port by the Habsburgs. Its position, and its enterprising merchants, turned Trieste into a major link between Europe and Asia until the break-up of the Habsburg empire.  Giacomo Casanova sojourned in Trieste; James Joyce lived in the city; Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, passed through its streets in their coffins 5 days after being assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip.

Following the First World War the city came under Italian rule.  In the mid-1930s Mussolini's fascists made Trieste one of its showpieces.  When Italy turned against the German Reich, the city was annexed by Germany and became the only piece of Italian soil to have a concentration camp. Trieste was occupied by Britain, America and Yugoslavia and briefly become an Independent Free Territory under the United Nations.  In 1954 the port city of Trieste returned to Italy and its surroundings were handed to Yugoslavia and became, as Jan Morris puts it, "Italian by sovereignty but in temperament more or less alone".  The years of uncertainty sparked race riots in Trieste but these days the Slovene language has official parity with Italian.  Jan Morris' observation that "the further you walk out towards the perimeter of the city, the more slav it feels" still holds true.

On the road to Duino

In the heat of summer Trieste has a languorous air but, in winter, a vicious wind known as the Bora whips through the city.  While in Trieste, Joyce wrote A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and devised much of Ulysses along with his play Exiles.  The city is clearly proud of the association, and in this otherwise most un-touristy city, there's a James Joyce trail.  Our visit coincided with the annual 'Bloomsday', celebrating all things Joycian.  A display of paintings, both amusing and lewd, by Ugo Pierri  hosted by the Joyce Museum was, for us, the highlight.

The leafy hillside of Colle Capitolino leading to the Museo and Cattedrale St Giusto and Basilica Romano and the narrow streets of the old town below provide relief from the heat.  The Teatro Romano, nestled between the two, is impressively preserved but not overly restored. 

Dome - Chiesa di San Spiridione

The Serbian Orthodox Church of San Spiridione on Via San Spiridione was far and away the most impressive church we saw in Trieste.  Recently renovated, it's spectacular inside and out yet feels quite intimate.  The main food market housed in an interesting, if neglected, modernist building is mainly made up of fruit & vegetable stalls with just one or two fish and meat counters.  Much better was the small outdoor market beside Canale Grande (close to Chiesa San Spiridione) where a cluster of stalls were stacked with 'bio' fruit and vegetables seeming, from the vehicles, to have been brought in from nearby Slovenia.
Caffè San Marco
So, what of the food in Trieste and what of the coffee? - this is the home of Illy after all.  I'm not a particular fan of Italian coffee but, of the 'names', Illy is the best-respected.  The Caffè San Marco on Via Cesare Battista, with its spectacular eagle-topped Copper Elektra machine, produced the best espresso.  Dating from the Habsburg era, though substantially rebuilt after WWII, it has retained the look and feel of a Viennese cafe.  On a smaller scale Pasticceria Pirona is pretty unmissable too.  Dating from the same era, it's a lovely place to stand with your macchiato and choose a tiny cake from one of the polished wood and glass cabinets.  Both places have been popular with poets and writers for over a century.

Spaghetti alla Vongole
Hostaria Malcanton


There is still a Habsburg influence on the food in Trieste.  What we had of that was on the stodgy side so we preferred to feast on seafood and pasta, following up with gelato - in this, at least, Trieste felt like Italy.  Hosteria Malcanton on Via Malcanton in the old town was a good starting point. It's an honest, checked-tablecloth kind of place with good-value local wines.  A generous plate of Spaghetti alla Vongole with asparagus and a plate of Monkfish risotto with crisped lardo were all we needed for lunch.  The bill for two with a carafe of the hostaria's Friuli wine came to 38 Euros.

Mezzeluna Ripiene
Alla Dama Bianca


The village of Duino is a short bus ride away from Trieste.  With the road hugging the coast north out of the city we saw what "going to the beach" means for locals.  The 'Barcola' is a long concrete promenade on the road to Miramare Castle.  The lack of sand seems not the least off-putting to the dedicated sun worshippers with the Adriatic to dip into.  Snaking our way through tiny mountain villages the bus arrived at the quiet, picturesque village of Duino complete with its 14th century castle.  The classy but relaxed Alla Dama Bianca proved the perfect antidote to the heat of the city.  We idled away an hour sipping prosecco on a shady terrace and envied the swimmers their cooling dips in the sea (go prepared).  

Tagliolini Marinara
Alla Dama Bianca


Lunch was simple and perfect - a  buttery dish of seafood Mezzeluna Ripiene, given crunch by a scattering of poppy seeds, a plate of Tagliolini Marinara followed by a shared Grilled Orata with vegetables and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.  A bottle of Vinnae from the local Jermann vineyard at Collio and coffee afterwards brought the bill to just over 100 Euros.  If you want to stay somewhere quiet, they have rooms at Alla Dama Bianca.

Grilled and filleted Orata & vegetables 
Alla Dama Bianca

You'll have no difficulty finding a gelateria in Trieste but I recommend Gelato Marco on Via Malcanton.  The gelato is made on site, there is every flavour you could dream of, both dairy and non-dairy, and the Nocciola is outstanding.

When the diners, drinkers and gelato-eaters have had their fill there is undoubtedly an air of melancholia about Trieste.  Maybe it's the relics of its turbulent past, its rusting warehouses, overgrown railway lines and abandoned jetties, disregarded in favour of new industries.  Then there's that mysterious overgrown, padlocked garden we stumbled upon, seemingly lying unused for decades.  Trieste has many things to like but Jan Morris is right, the city is a puzzle.  But, given all it has experienced, it's not surprising it leaves you with the feeling that you didn't quite get under its skin.