Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Return to Rochelle Canteen

Hake, Monk's Beard & butter sauce
at Rochelle Canteen

I've written about Rochelle Canteen before but, hard as it is for me to believe, that was almost three years ago.  I liked it very much then but now Anna Tobias is in charge of the kitchen and cooking so beautifully that I have to take you with me on a return to Rochelle.

Confit Duck Leg with Lentils
at Rochelle Canteen

It's not the easiest place to find.  You're looking for a former bike-shed in an old school yard with walls too high to see over.  You do a circuit, or two, of lovely Arnold Circus and look for a door set in the wall marked "Boys".  Press the bell and you're buzzed through to the partly-lawned yard.  It's a space that used to echo to the cries and laughter of the children of the surrounding Boundary Estate.  These days the school has retrenched to a building diagonally across the Circus and the old Victorian brick building has a new lease of life housing arts and media businesses and exhibition spaces.  Rochelle serves as a "Canteen" for them and for those intrepid good-food hunters amongst us who don't mind sharing bare tables and, sometimes, high decibel levels.

Hake with laverbread butter
at Rochelle Canteen

Head Chef, Anna Tobias, arrived at Rochelle Canteen in 2013 from Rose Gray and Ruth Roger's The River Cafe.  Anna's cooking stays true to the style of Rochelle's owners - Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold - but there's a new confidence and a particular sympathy in the handling of fish. You can expect 5 starters and 5 mains.  There's often a dish of rillettes or a terrine; maybe smoked cod's roe or brandade; when the season is right there may be a perfect plate of asparagus with hollandaise or samphire with brown shrimp.  Mains might be a gutsy Rabbit Stew; a Smoked Eel, Leek and Parsley Pie; maybe some Sweetbreads; a vegetable-based option or two; and, possibly, a simply cooked Sole or Fillet of Pollock.  Vegetables are highly valued - some of the veg, as well as herbs, are grown in raised beds in the schoolyard.  Puddings are often classics, so you might find a Lemon Posset; an Eton Mess; a Chocolate Tart; or their might be a Lemon Sponge Pudding.

Apple Fritters with Caramel Ice Cream
at Rochelle Canteen

On recent visits I've enjoyed a bowl of Brandade with a soft boiled egg and sourdough toast; a Crab and Little Gem Lettuce salad; a perfectly cooked fillet of Hake served with Monk's Beard and butter sauce; meltingly tender Confit Duck leg with lentils and watercress; another fantastic piece of meaty Hake, this time with laverbread butter; sweet/sharp Apple fritters with caramel ice cream; an Apple Galette with vanilla ice cream; and a heavenly Rhubarb trifle.

Apple Galette & Vanilla Ice Cream
and Rhubarb Trifle
at Rochelle Canteen

Being located in a former school, Rochelle Canteen is restricted to opening for breakfast, lunch and tea Monday to Friday only.  Restrictions also mean there is no drinks licence but you can take a bottle  with you and pay a very reasonable £5 corkage charge.  Handily you can pick up a bottle at Leila's Shop, a half circuit of Arnold Circus away on Calvert Avenue.

Turkish Coffee Cake & Espresso
at Rochelle Canteen

Service varies from briskly efficient to deliciously relaxing depending on how busy the room is but you never feel less than welcome.  If the weather is kind you may get a table in the schoolyard and, if  you're lucky, you might find this joyous Turkish Coffee Cake on the menu to finish with an Espresso. Expect to pay around £25-30 a head including service (excluding drinks).

Rochelle Canteen
Rochelle School
Arnold Circus
London E2 7ES
Tel +44 (0)20 7729 5677 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini

Egg in the Middle
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

There seems to be no let-up in the trend for cookbooks based on one prime ingredient.  In recent years we've seen In Praise of the Potato by Lindsey Bareham, Le meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre by Joël Robuchon, Bacon by Michael Ruhlman, and The Tomato Basket by Jenny Linford.  Ruhlman followed his Bacon book up with the 2014 publication Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient.  But before Ruhlman turned his pen to the egg came Jan Arkless with How to Boil an Egg in 1986. Within the past decade we've seen The Good Egg by Marie Simmons; Michel Roux's Eggs; Jennifer Trainer Thompson's The Fresh Egg Cookbook; Lara Ferroni's Put an Egg on It; A Good Egg by Genevieve Taylor; and the latest addition to the pot, Blanche Vaughan's Egg.  The egg's protein-packed versatility makes it the perfect food and so the books keep on coming.

Rose Carrarini's How to Boil an Egg, hit the bookshelves in 2014.  The choice of title surprised me as I had fallen for the media myth that Delia Smith had got there first with that one.  In reality, Delia devoted the first three chapters of her 1998 How to Cook book 1 to the subject of eggs, including instructions on exactly how to boil an egg. The fact she had the audacity to suggest anyone might not know how to boil an egg brought a degree of media ridicule not shared by her grateful readership and Delia had the last laugh with phenomenal book sales. Whatever you think, her advice "If you want to learn how to cook, start with eggs" remains excellent advice, I think.

My favourite of the clutch, Rose Carrarini's book is truly all about the egg and shows just what an essential role it plays in our cooking. Whether it's the star or has a supporting role, here the egg carries the dish.  Based on the cooking for her Anglo-French bakery and restaurant Rose Bakery in Paris, means she offers some more unusual recipes and twists on the expected classics.  Continuing the theme of her first book, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, this book is presented in chapters.  'Eggs for Breakfast' offers Chocolate Orange Muffins and Lemon Pancakes as well as Egg in the Middle and Eggs Baked in Dashi.  'Eggs for Lunch' range from Poached eggs in Tomato and Fennel Broth through gratins, tarts and salads to Japanese inspired 'Chawanmushi' savoury custards.  'Eggs for Tea' offers treats like Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake, Green Tea Genoise, Îles Flottantes, Deep Custard Tarts and a Semolina Pudding that might just banish all memories of school lunches.  Low sugar and gluten-free are something of a passion too.

I've tried several of the recipes in this book and I have to say it is not without the odd editing error or omission - one recipe forgets to mention the essential component in the ingredients list, another doesn't supply the oven temperature.  It's not a hand-holding kind of book in the manner of a Delia but the small mistakes are pretty obvious so you can't go far wrong.  In another of the 'Egg' books the instructions for 'scrambled eggs' extend to a page and a half, so I'm relieved to say that here they take up a mere three sentences.

Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

And if you're thinking how beautifully photographed the dishes are, look again.  Illustrations are by
Fiona Stricklanda botanical artist who has made an intriguing diversion into food illustration. Different painting techniques had to be explored, including the use of opaque watercolour mixes and a lighter weight of paper.  Shades of white had to be painted-in rather than Strickland's usual technique of allowing the white of the paper to shine through colour to provide highlight and contrast.  The results are, mostly, astonishing.  From the moist crumb and sticky glaze of Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake, to the luscious dish of caramel-drizzled îles Flottantes, you can't quite believe what you are seeing.  My favourite illustration, perhaps, accompanies a recipe for Egg in the Middle (at the start of this piece) where the crispness of the fried bread and the just-cooked egg are so perfect you want to reach for a knife and fork.

Eggs Baked in Dashi
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini
Illustration by Fiona Strickland

Here's my adaptation of A Simple Apple Flan.  I like it particularly because rather than being predictably encased in pastry, it's held together by eggs, a touch of corn flour and a layer of caramel. It's light and, despite the caramel layer, slightly tart from the lemon juice which is there more than to simply prevent the apples from oxidising.

A Simple Apple Flan
from How to Boil an Egg - Rose Bakery
by Rose Carrarini

A Simple Apple Flan
(Serves 6)

150g (5½oz or ¾ cup) Caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
60g (2oz or 4½ tablespoons) butter, diced
1kg (2¼lb) cooking apples such as Bramleys
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)

Pre-heat the oven to 140C(fan 120C)/250F/Gas(oven temperature was missing from the printed recipe so this is my advice)
Heat 100g caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small, heavy-based pan over a high heat, gently swirling the pan to dissolve the sugar.  Then boil without stirring for 4-5 minutes to achieve a smooth caramel.
Remove the pan from the heat, add half the lemon juice and 25g butter and mix well.
Pour the mixture into a round ovenproof dish (or smaller dishes) to cover the base and set aside.
Peel, core and slice the apples.  Put them in a stainless steel pan with the rest of the lemon juice and cook over a low heat to a soft purée.  Stir in the remaining sugar.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the beaten eggs, the remaining butter and the cornflour.
Pour the mixture over the caramel and bake for about 30 minutes until it has firmed slightly.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool then refrigerate overnight.
Just before turning out the flan, place on a low heat for a few minutes to release the caramel base then invert onto a serving dish.  
Serve with custard or double cream.

How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini - Published by Phaidon

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Barcelona Spring 2015

Barcelona roost

Late February in Barcelona and the citrus trees are festooned with heavy fruits, leafless white-barked plane trees soar into blue skies (maybe we were lucky) and a few delicate blooms of purple bougainvillea cling on gamely.  The squawks of the Monk Parakeets vie with the roar of traffic around the City, sending you scuttling for the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic when the noise gets too much.  Here, I find the most ridiculously picturesque feral pigeon roost I'm ever likely to see.

Breakfasting in a hotel rarely appeals to me.  Early mornings are, I think, the best times to dive into unfamiliar streets and simply follow your nose.  The aroma of eggs being cooked, bread baked and coffee brewed draw me down the streets and alleyways of cities.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes bad and, if you’re lucky, it can be revelatory.  

Nømad Coffee - Barcelona

I know Barcelona pretty well and this time I’m staying close to the best place for coffee.  I was introduced to Nømad Coffee soon after it opened in 2014.  Starting off its life as Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions), which I wrote about last year,  I'm glad to see it has now settled on an easier name to remember.  The place has only got better, serving up, for my money, the best filters and cortados you will find in Barcelona.  The staff are lovely, it's hip without trying and it sits in the rare haven of peace that is Passatge Sert in El Born.  What's more they'll now serve you the best croissant in Barcelona too, from nearby El Born bakery Hofmann.  

Satan's Coffee Corner

Another recent arrival is Satan's Coffee Corner in the Barri Gotic.  It's very close to the Cathedral de Barcelona but hell to find.  Worth seeking out too for Ken's great sandwiches and salads.  If you prefer your coffee more traditionally Spanish, the best place for that is the institution that is El Magnifico at Career de l'Argenteria 64

Sardines & Anchovies
at Monvinic

When lunchtime comes around, I make no apology for yet again recommending Monvinic in the Eixample district.  I last wrote properly about this fantastic wine bar and restaurant back in 2013 and its standards are as high as ever.  The cellar stores several thousand bottles of wine from all over the world and there's a library should you want to make a real study of them.  But it's not just the wines that bring me back to Monvinic.  The food, served in both the low-lit bar and the stylish restaurant is very good and the Menu del Dia remains astonishing value.  Two 'Tapas' dishes (really not that small), a main, a dessert, a glass of wine, bread and water for Euros 19.50 is a steal.  To start, a small dish of Sardines and Anchovies - a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity; a cocotte of just-cooked vegetables in a light, buttery broth; a cream of cauliflower soup; and a bowl of whipped bacalla served simply with toasted bread.  The Monvivic take on the very British Shepherds Pie, in this case using shredded confit duck, was irresistible to us both as a main dish and with our included glass of Catalan Do Empordà Sellecció Vinyes Velles 2011, it did not disappoint.  The dessert was the only no-choice course but was a delicious chocolate tart with orange sorbet.  Honestly, just go!     

Natural wines - L'Anima del Vi

There is a clear interest in natural wines in Barcelona, evidenced at the tucked away L'Anima del Vi and nearby Bar Brutal in Can Cisa on Calle Princesa.  However, it's the cosy Bar Zim which is a firm favourite for me.  Francesco keeps a short wine list available by the glass or bottle and manages to deliver a few freshly prepared tapas using good ingredients and benefitting from having the brilliant Formatgerie La Seu just a couple of doors down.

Quimet y Quimet

For Tapas, the Adria Brothers' Tickets and Bodega 1900 are the current hot spots, both in Parallel. Cal Pep in El Born continues to serve very good seafood but you really should squeeze into the ever-crowded Quimet y Quimet.    

Hofmann Pastelería

I've already mentioned you can buy Hofmann croissants at Nømad Coffee, but for the full range of cakes and pastries a visit to their El Born Pastelería Hofmann is well worth doing - get the almond one!

Fish stall in Mercat de Santa Caterina

There are numerous good markets in Barcelona.  I rarely visit La Boqueria (at La Rambla 91) but can recommend Mercat de Santa Caterina on Av. Francesc Cambo and La Llibertat in Gracia for shopping. La Libertat is the least visited by tourists but there is fabulously fresh produce and I always make a bee-line for LaGrana where the delightful smallholder will point out the best Catalan pine nuts, Marcona almonds, Malaga raisins and so many fruits and then vacuum-pack them for travel - great service of excellent produce.

Oh, and did I mention the beach?

A February evening on the beach
in Poble Nou, Barcelona

Passatge Sert 12
08003 El Born
Twitter: @nomadcoffeebcn
Current opening times Mon-Fri, 8am-3pm
Directions: Passate Sert runs between Carrer de Trafalgar and Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt
Diputació 249
08007 Eixample

Carrer de l'Arc de Sant Ramon del Call 11
08002 Barcelona

Carrer Dagueria 20
Barri Gotic
08002 Barcelona

Poeta Cabanyes 25
El Poble Sec

Flassaders 44
El Born
08003 Barcelona