Friday, 15 January 2016

Good & Proper Tea

Good & Proper Tea

The first really cold day of winter and I'm in need of something hot and comforting.  It's more than two years since I first queued at Good & Proper Tea's silver Citroen H van, parked up in south London, for a steaming hot cuppa.  There were hot buttered crumpets too, with honey, marmite or jam for those in need. The sheer simplicity of a good and properly made cup of tea and a freshly made crumpet was such an obvious winner, I wondered why I'd never seen it done before.

There are food and drink trucks all over London serving up everything from Pizzas and burgers  to pork buns and gumbo.  Personally, I can pass on 90% of them, but, when they really focus on what they do best, they are a glorious part of London life.  Good & Proper Tea is definitely in my top 10% category and, finding myself in Old Street, I headed straight for its first premises to refuel.

It's not easy to find right now being in a not-quite-finished office development, but if you find yourself by Old Street roundabout it's worth seeking out.  The space is small but functional.  A long bar allows you to see all the teas on offer - a selection that has grown over the past couple of years and ranges from a strong Indian Assam black tea through a savoury Sencha to a tart, ruby-red infusion of Egyptian Hibiscus.  You can take-away or, as I did, shelter from the cold on the single bench inside in the warmth.  A delicate cup of fresh, floral Oolong was very welcome and, joyously, there are still crumpets for tea - now made with a sourdough starter and all the better for it.  It's not at all compulsory but I confess I like to talk tea and Manager Ashley happily and knowledgeably obliges.  I hear a second branch, in Soho, is planned.

Somehow they've managed to keep the easy-going air of that Citroen van - which is still on the streets by the way, including south of the river at Brockley Market where I first encountered it.  Good tea, properly made, and crumpets.  I like Good & Proper Tea very much.

Good & Proper Tea Co  
The Bower
211 Old Street
London EC1V 9NR

Monday, 4 January 2016

What excites you for 2016?

Celeriac & Ardrahan Pie
at 40 Maltby Street

The last weekend before the return to work and the last party of the holidays.  The hosts are generous, they have the ideal party space, and the food is simply delicious.  It's the perfect start to the New Year.  Maybe because the guests are mostly from the arts world rather than food, and I've successfully switched off from the food side of my life, but I shouldn't have been taken by surprise by the question "What excites you for the coming year?"  He wants to know what new things I think will be interesting, intriguing and inspiring in the food world in 2016.  I open my mouth and nothing comes out for a good 10 seconds.  I'm shocked at my initial lukewarm answers - a couple of promising restaurants openings, some good new voices in food, like the lyrical Rachel Roddy.  But surely it isn't all about the new.  A quick glance back to the food press predictions of 12 months ago confirms how over-excited we can get about all those new restaurant openings and book launches.   How many lived up to promise?

I was still thinking about the question, and my reaction, 24 hours later.  So it's the subject for my first post of the New Year, because if I can't get fired up about what's happening in food in London, there is no point to this blog. For me, and most Londoners, our food lives are mostly about the tried and tested  favourite restaurants, producers,markets, shops and bars.  I'm as likely to tell you about a restaurant that's been around a while as I am to introduce you to a new one - plenty of other people are doing that and by the time I've satisfied myself they are not a flash-in-the-pan, they are no longer the newest.  But here goes.  Firstly, 2015 restaurants I haven't yet managed to get to include Bao in Soho (I love their pork buns but not the pavement queues here at their permanent home); The Good Egg in Stoke Newington, serving up all-day Middle Eastern breakfasts; Lurra in W1, which describes itself as a "Basque Grill" and is sister to one of my favourite places, Donostia, next door - excellent meat and fish, I'm assured; Kitty Fisher's in Shepherd Market - I like the sound of everything that comes on the menu but I'm no good at booking ahead; Pizza Locadeli where Giorgio Locatelli has created a pop-up pizza joint.  It may sound an unlikely diversion for the chef behind Locanda Locatelli unless you remember Spiga in Soho's Wardour Street which opened in 1997.  In its early days when, Locatelli was involved, it served up the best pizzas and pasta in town and it was a sad day when he cut loose.  Originally Pizza Locadeli was meant to end its short life at Christmas but will now, I hear, go into March 2016.

As usual, there have been plenty of announcements for the coming year but the ones that have caught my attention are Clare Smyth, having just cut her ties to Gordon Ramsay, planning to set up her own restaurant in London; Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes returning to his Viajante roots in Wapping (if he can raise enough crowdfunding cash); Monica Galetti setting up Mere in Fitzrovia's Charlotte Street after leaving Le Gavroche; and Greg Marchand arriving from Paris to set up Frenchie in Covent Garden.

Page from
30 Ingredients by Sally Clarke

There are voices in food well worth tuning into.  One book that just managed to squeeze into 2015 sounds well worth a read - First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson explores where our food habits come from, how we can influence our childrens' tastes and change our adult ones for the better.  Joanna Blythman's Swallow This was a must-read in 2015 with insights into the reality of the modern food processing industry.  On the cooking front, one of the freshest voices has to be that of Olia Hercules, whose first book Mamushka hit the bookshelves in 2015.  She is everywhere right now with recipes and stories straight from her Ukrainian heart and a work ethic to go with her talent.  And soon we'll have Rachel Roddy's second book - expect it to be laced with her lyrical prose along with excellent recipes.  Her first, published in the UK as Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome is coming out in Canada and the USA in early 2016 with, for some reason, a name change to My Kitchen in Rome: Recipes and notes on Italian Cooking.

Edmund Tew
from Blackwoods Cheese Co

We all have our favourite shops and producers.  In London when a loved small producer sells out to big business it doesn't go down well with the customers and when it's a brewery it cuts deep. The end of 2015 saw London-based Camden Brewery take the money and run.  Other producers I like who are still doing it their way, and doing it well, include Bermondsey-based The Kernel Brewery, just a few doors up from cheesemaker Bill Oglethorpe of Kappacasein whose Bermondsey Hard Pressed, along with a few other cheeses, is maturing nicely.  His cheese toasties from a stall at Borough Market still can't be beaten - many have tried.  Another cheesemaker to watch is Blackwoods Cheese Co based in Brockley, South London.  Starting out with a simple, delicious feta-like cheese, Graceburn, sold in jars, they've added Edmund Tew and William Heaps to their range (named after convicts who were transported to Australia's penal colony for stealing cheese!). These guys know what they're doing.

I can't fail to get excited by bakeries.  Good bread used to be really hard to find in London but these days you don't have to go far to find a decent loaf or croissant - E5 in London Fields, The Little Bread Pedlar in Bermondsey, Brick House Bread in East Dulwich, Hedone in Chiswick, Bread Ahead at Borough Market, and Brixton-based Brockwell Bake being among the most notable.

Cinnamon Bun and coffee
at Brick House Bakery

A lot of these small producers are able to sell direct but London's small independent food , coffee shops and markets are invaluable in making them available beyond the close range of production.  Here are a few, The Quality Chop House shop on Farringdon Road; General Store in Peckham; Leila's Shop in Shoreditch; Jones of Brockley; Neals Yard Diary in Covent Garden and Borough; Sally Clarke's Shop in Kensington; Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden and Borough; Fowlds Cafe in Camberwell; and La Fromagerie in Marylebone and Highbury.  It's not easy being a small independent shop in London.  I wish there were more because without them I wonder if some of London's small producers would have a local market.  Weekly food Markets are all over London, Some of the best being Brockley MarketCrystal Palace Food MarketHerne Hill Market; and, London Farmers' Markets.

I'm not one for resolutions but this year I have plans to get out of London more and try places like The Sportsman in Seasalter and the Arts Cafe in Aberystwyth, but where London's concerned there's plenty to interest, intrigue and inspire.

Now, ask me that question again, just don't expect my answer to be all about what's new.