An Italian Education – Part Uno

A holiday to the beautiful country that is Italy deserves its own dedicated blog post. While I, of course, plan to discuss the fantastic food discovered, the wonderful restaurants eaten in, and the gallons of wine happily quaffed down, I will undoubtedly stray into the territory of a travel blog and wax lyrical about the scenery, the people and the culture. Therefore two posts seemed more appropriate in order to prevent the inevitable boredom often brought about by the dreaded recount of someone’s holiday.

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Flying over the Alps

We travelled just south of the northwesterly city of Turin (Turino to give it its proper name), capital of the Piedmont region of Italy, to the small town of Bra, home to the Slow Food movement. As someone who genuinely takes delight in knowing about their food, where it comes from and all those other annoyingly pretentious traits of the so-called foodie, the entire reason for holidaying here was because of this food movement. However, if you are less than familiar with the Slow Food movement, I will try and summarise for you in as short a paragraph as I can manage.

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Slow Food

Slow Food is an organisation that promotes local food and producers, along with traditional cooking and farming methods. The idea is to take a step back from the mass globalisation of food and to regain control of local food systems by sourcing from as close to you as possible. The traditional, small-scale farming systems are also viewed to be better than our modern large-scale ones as they are less damaging to the environment, using the knowledge that for centuries enabled civilisations to grow food, eat and survive without the use of our modern technology or by moving food half way across the globe. It is said that one of the catalysts for Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, was the opening of Italy’s first branch of McDonald’s in Rome in 1986. This introduction of “fast food” to the country inspired Carlo and a group of passionate gastronomes to found the contradictory Slow Food movement.

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Local – Bra

Having plane-d, train-ed and automobile-d (not necessarily in that order) down to the town of Bra, and in much need of some lunch, we wondered aimlessly from the train station to what looked like it could be the town centre in search of somewhere good to eat. Amazingly, the first place we encountered (that wasn’t a gelateria) was a glorious looking café-come-deli with a blackboard outside listing that days lunch menu (or pranzare if you want to learn some Italian while you’re here). We dragged our suitcases into the quaint café like the thoroughly irritating tourists we are, and took a table in the corner that had a great view of the meat and cheese counter that locals were constantly flocking to.

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Local ~ Deli Counter

For context within the realms of this Slow Food trip, I’ll tell you a bit about Local. It’s a food shop and café that was set up by two graduates from the nearby University of Gastronomic Science, based on the concept of having as small a supply chain as possible. This means that not only is the food sourced locally to the town and so the business has a close relationship with its suppliers, but the shop’s customers can also have the chance to build a relationship with the producers. People are therefore more aware of what they are eating and they know who they are supporting when they buy these products. If you take a look at Local’s website and Twitter page, you’ll also see that they host a number of meetings with local producers, as well as food and drink masterclasses.

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Local ~ Fresh Produce

The dish I had here was “Il primo del giorno”, the risotto of the day which came with radicchio, pancetta and walnuts. As you would expect from the Italians, the risotto was the perfect texture; the rice al dente and not swimming in sauce. The lovely meaty, salty and fatty chunks of pancetta providing contrast to the bitter radicchio leaves.  I’m still somewhat on the fence when it comes to radicchio. Sometimes I find the bitterness just a bit too much, and it really shows how the accompanying flavours can alter its taste. For me, the citrus touch of the blood orange enjoyed at Ellory is still the best pairing to radicchio.

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Risotto ~ Radicchio ~ Pancetta

Lunch eaten, we headed off to find the local bus to take us to our hotel Albergo dell’Agenzia. A short fifteen minute trip through the rolling countryside and neighbouring villages later, we arrived in the village of Pollenzo. Small, quiet, and peaceful (apart from the roaring main road straight through the middle of the area), this town is the surprising home of the University of Gastronomic Science, and the headquarters of the Slow Food movement. Our hotel was (and still is) actually on the tiny university’s campus and not only shares its beautiful architecture, but guests of the hotel can also enjoy free entry into the university’s much treasured Banca del Vino.

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Albergo dell’Agenzia

Yes, that’s right. A Wine Bank. Like the Caves of France, this is a huge underground collection of wines from all across Italy. Unlike Caves however, the Wine Bank is more of a museum, set up by the university in order to maintain a historic record of the grapes, vintages and soils from the area that have been lost over the years. If you are not a guest of the hotel, you can enjoy a full priced guided or a self-guided tour around the Bank for a whopping 3 Euros, followed by a tasting of a rotating selection of wines from the Bank. So, what do you do when day two rolls around and its torrential rain all day? You go to the Wine Bank of course.

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Banca del Vino

I’ll focus on the most interesting part of this afternoon which was, of course, the wine tasting. There are four whites and four reds to choose from at any one time, but the maximum number of tastings you can do is five, but do not fear, you get more than a decent size glassfull.

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Setting up the wine tasting

Doing the sensible thing and opting for the five glasses meant that between us, we could actually have a small sample of the full eight wines on offer.  From white to red, I drank my way through the following:

  1. La Raia – Cortese di Gavi
  2. Umani Ronchi – Plenio Castelli Di Verdicchio – 2014
  3. Vino Bianco – Carolus
  4. Barolo Castagni – 2011
  5. Barbaresco Baserin Reserva – 2011
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Wine tasting

I wish I could offer some insightful tasting notes into the complexity of the flavours and the notes of chocolate or blackberry or whatever else it is that you are supposed to smell from the bouquet…but I can’t. Mainly because I enjoy drinking wine and not dissecting every little thing about it. I will say this though, that Barbaresco has to be one of the most interesting red wines I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Almost brown out of the bottle, it smelt and looked as though it could be on the edge of turning. However, the flavour was deep, malty, and almost Marmite-like, with a mildly treacle-like mouthfeel. I’m probably not doing a great job of selling it here, but it was my second favourite to the Carolus Bianco, which I think I could have quite happily (and easily) polished a bottle of all by myself.

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Friends ~ Wine ~ Love

I’ll end Part Uno of our trip to Piedmont with a very brief diary of the food enjoyed in between these two particular highlights of the trip. Check back in for Part Due where we will pay homage to the two entirely Slow Food accredited meals eaten, along with some must see #foodporn moments.

Ciao.

Food Diary

Day 1 – Cenare (dinner) at La Soffitta:

  • Pizza x3: Speckotta, Cristian and Chiara.
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Cristian (ndjua) ~ Chiara (burrata)

Day 2 – Colazione (breakfast, all ingredients from Slow Food producers):

  • Cheese from the Piedmont region x5.
  • Salami.
  • Fruit salad.
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Cheeses from Piedmont

Day 2 – Pranzare (lunch) at Caffe La Rosa:

  • An assortment of ciabattas with prosciutto, cheese and salami.

Day 2 – Cenare at La Soffitta (again, it’s a very small town):

  • Pasta x3: Tajarin (a 40 egg yolk fresh pasta), Pesto, Pancetta.
  • Affogato x2.
  • Cassata x1.
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Tajarin ~ Bra sausage ragù

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Pesto

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Affogato

Day 3 – Calazione:

  • More cheese and meat.
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Cheese at breakfast

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Delamina

Amid the current plague that is shutting our beloved restaurants down, a tale of two pop-ups that were so successful that they managed to turn permanent, gladdens the heart and raises a smile on our faces.

Strut and Cluck in Shoreditch came to my attention back when I worked for a company looking at the sustainability aspect of restaurants. The reason it sparked my interest was because the restaurant claimed to be the first to serve up free-range turkey. Firstly, seeing turkey on a menu outside of the Christmas season is about as common as a blue moon, but to be serving it free-range was something really special indeed. To my constant annoyance, I still have not actually eaten here despite having spent an inordinate amount of time perusing the menu, reading their newsletter, and drooling over the many, many Instagram posts that feature this restaurant’s food. So when the news that husband and wife team Limor and Amir Chen were to open a second restaurant in Marylebone, I jumped at the chance to visit.

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Delamina

You can find sister-restaurant Delamina a couple of roads back from Oxford Street’s Debenhams. Light, wooden and reminiscent of a John Lewis tool shed, Delamina serves up a menu inspired by the couple’s Eastern Mediterranean heritage, with some Tel Aviv, Russian and Iranian influences thrown into the mix. By a sheer stroke of luck, I am certain that we ended up with the best seats in the house. On entering, we were led past the bar, down a flight of stairs and to the table sat directly in front of the pass in the basement seating area. This gave us prime view into the kitchen to oversee how the chef’s were faring on their second day of service.

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At the pass

Vegetables dominate the menu here offering up a choice of mouth-watering sounding dishes, ranging from snacks to full-blown main course sizes. We eventually selected four vegetarian, one meat and one fish dish to share, ensuring that we got some must-have ingredients and flavours, such as hummus, za’atar, and harissa, into the mix.

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Menu

Our first plate to arrive was the pita balagan. Roughly translating as “hullabaloo” in Hebrew, the balagan is a daily changing pita bread topped with a selection of “today’s larder”. For us, this was a za’atar spiced pita, topped with maple roasted butternut squash, roasted feta, topped with rocket, almond dukka and barberries.

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Balagan ~ Daily special

They serve you proper pitas here. Not the flat, oval, cardboard-esque ones that you get in supermarkets, but lovely big, soft, puffy, round ones that stand up to a great bit of chargrilling.

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Balagan ~ Squash ~ Feta

We were both really looking forward to the smoked aubergine dip with this pita dish, but it was the tahini one that actually blew us away, thanks to that added garlic-herb punch coming from the spoonful of pesto.

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Aubergine ~ Pita ~ Tahini

We added the tempura okra to our order as an afterthought, and after eating, probably wouldn’t bother with them again. I ended up dipping mine in that wonderful tahini dip (above), mainly because okra doesn’t have a huge amount of flavour in the first place, but the spicy tempura didn’t really deliver either.

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Spicy okra tempura

The squid marinated in za’atar with crushed tomatoes, crispy cavolo nero and caper berries sounded like the best fish dish on the menu. It was certainly cooked perfectly and the roasted tomatoes were a fantastic accompaniment to the squid. I’m still not convinced about the whole deep frying leaves thing though. Next time, I would love to try the Seafood Chrayme – a type of stew with chickpeas and kalamata olives (in my opinion, THE best type of olives).

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Squid ~ Za’atar ~ Tomatoes

A case of eenie-meanie saw the charcoaled leeks with manouri (a cheese similar to feta) and dried apricots win over the charred cauliflower dish with pomegranate molasses. A classic combination of flavours, this was absolutely lovely, the only downside being that this cooled down quickly when brought out with all the other dishes.

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Leeks ~ Manouri ~ Apricots

Hands down my favourite dish of the night were these Angus beef and venison koftas. Moist as you like, spiced and sat on enough hummus to shake a pita bread at, these were just divine. A lovely drizzle of harissa oil gave a bit of a spicy kick to this winning dish.

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Koftas ~ Hummus ~ Harissa

We finished the meal sharing the very traditional Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean dessert of halva. Made from tahini (sesame paste), the parfait was on the savoury side of the dessert spectrum, sweetened by the drizzle of date syrup sauce. Nice to end the meal on more of a savoury note rather than a sweet and sickly one.

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Halva ~ Almonds ~ Tahini

After all of the fantastic things I’d read and all the stunning pictures I’d seen of the food being produced at Strut and Cluck, I was certainly not disappointed by our trip to Delamina. In life though, people often say that you can’t beat the original so I guess I will just have to strut my stuff over to Shoreditch one day soon, just to see if there’s any truth in the saying. Oh the hardship of it all.

 

 

Am Gariad Llysiau

Am gariad llysiau. According to the expert that is Google Translate, this should roughly translate to the Welsh for “For the love of veg”; the title of chef Bryn Williams’ new cookery book and the ethos behind his new restaurant in the South Wing of the beautiful and majestic Somerset House. Officially opened on 5 March, we popped along to the soft launch to sample this Welsh chef’s modern British food.

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Restaurant Bryn Williams

Bryn Williams’ food philosophy revolves around making fruit and vegetables the focal point on all dishes on the menu. This explains why, upon first reading the menu, I was convinced that it was entirely vegetarian. Indeed it wasn’t until I read the last dish on the main courses where the words “pork chop” made me do a double-take, that I noticed that actually most of the dishes had a meat or fish element to them. This is really interesting in terms of menu design because it really drives home how little we actually take in when reading. With most menus focussing on the animal protein, it will be great to see how this restaurant fares over the coming months given the success and popularity that vegetarian and vegan restaurants have recently been enjoying.

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Menu

As seems to be quite popular at the moment, the interior of the restaurant features a lot of blue; the furniture is light brown and there are some stunningly detailed photographs of a variety of fruit and vegetables hung on the walls. Apparently the design is supposed to unite Somerset House’s naval history with Williams’ Welsh roots. I however, know little about our naval history and even less about Welsh-printed upholstery, so I have no idea if the decorators have achieved this or not. I like it though, if that counts for anything…which it probably doesn’t.

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Bar

I’m not sure how much of a role the vegetable-centric menu played in the fact that myself and my two companions found it almost impossible to choose what to eat. In the end, we decided to be extremely awkward and order four of the five starters to share, as well as a main course each. The starter we decided against – the wild garlic soup with pink fir potatoes and crème fraîche – was eliminated simply because soup is not the most practical thing to share; avoiding the dreaded double-dipping simply isn’t possible.

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Toasted sourdough ~ Butter

Slightly frustratingly, the famed Welsh soda bread had run out and so we were substituted with toasted sourdough – nice but not what we were hoping for from our Welsh food extravaganza. However, this Sweet Old Fashioned made with bang-in-season rhubarb infused gin, went some way to make up for the lack of soda bread.

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Rhubarb Sweet Old Fashioned

So, to the starters. I desperately want to sit here and tell you about how our four starters drew attention back to the focus on vegetables; I badly want to sit here and reel off some spiel about how eating more veg and less meat is better for our health and for the planet, and how this menu embodies all of those principles. But I can’t. And I can’t because all I can remember is just how damned pretty everything was and how gloriously tasty each mouthful was.

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Starters

I’ll start with the compressed watermelon, topped with Dorset crab, avocado and sea vegetables. It just goes to show what a difference a vac-pac machine really can make in the kitchen. Stick a slice of something like watermelon in one of these bad boys and you’ll end up with a sweeter, more intensely flavoured slice of deliciousness. You can’t go wrong with the combination of these flavours and this was a wonderfully refreshing couple of bites.

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Watermelon ~ Avocado ~ Crab

Sat on top of a pile of braised and spiced red cabbage, looking like half a boiled egg, the British burrata was a thing of beauty. A plate very heavy on the purple, the beetroot chutney paired surprisingly well with the red cabbage, bringing that sweet yet earthy flavour to the mix. Oh, and if you still haven’t tried burrata yet, then there is something seriously wrong with you (or you’re lactose intolerant, in which case…I’m sorry).

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Red cabbage ~ Beetroot ~ Burrata

If you were to throw a stone anywhere in London at the moment, the chance that it would land near a restaurant serving some sort of cured salmon is pretty high. So it wasn’t particularly surprising to see a dish of (heritage) beetroot-cured (organic) salmon on the menu. Salmon is one of my favourite fish and eating it raw or cured is one of several food addictions that I have tried, and failed, to kick over the years. To my delight and shock though, the best thing on this plate was actually the smoked rosemary mayonnaise. Another kitchen cupboard ingredient enjoying a revival, mayonnaise with far-out-there flavour twists is also fairly common in restaurants at the moment, and with good reason too.

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Heritage beetroot ~ Salmon ~ Rosemary

When people ask me “what’s your favourite food?” I tell them they would be better off asking what food I don’t like, because the answer is pretty damn short. Radishes. I just don’t see the point in them. Small, bland and boring, my heart normally sinks at the sight of them on a menu. That said however, if I had been ordering a starter all for myself, I would have picked this one of pickled radishes, black garlic purée, apple and pork belly. My reasoning for this? Simply that when you pickle a radish, you change this ridiculous excuse for a vegetable into one of the most moreish, tastiest things you can put in your mouth. That raw one on the side though? Well, that one can do one quite frankly.

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Pickled radish ~ Black garlic ~ Pork belly

One of those vegetables enjoying its 15 minutes of fame at the moment, Hispi cabbage was the focal point of the pork main course. Chargrilled and tossed in a cider dressing, this was another example of a lovely twist on a classic pig dish. Although considering the “eat more veg” principle of this restaurant, that was still quite a hefty pork chop on the plate.

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Hispi cabbage ~ Apple ~ Pork chops

The only fish dish of the main courses, the grey mullet looked almost sparse in comparison to our other main dishes. Once again, everything was cooked to perfection, but that’s what you expect from a restaurant so what was there that stood out on this dish? Well, that would be what was cleverly hidden within those two crispy battered objects: olive tapenade sandwiched between two sage leaves, battered and deep fried. Wow.

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Broccoli ~ Olive tapenade ~ Grey mullet

Perhaps it is testament to the philosophy of this restaurant that for the three of us, it was the roasted cauliflower dish that was the highlight of our meal. Yes, it is so simple to cut a cauliflower in half, drizzle it with an array of spices, seasonings and olive oil, stick it in the oven and simply not burn it, but it is so delicious. Topped with salty capers, salted grapes, fruity raisins and coriander, I was thoroughly pleased that this was my main course to enjoy (mostly) to myself. I admit that I have no idea what the purée was that came with it, but it doesn’t matter; you couldn’t possibly have made this dish any better.

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Cauliflower ~ Raisins ~ Salted grapes

Actually, you can and he did. A moment of silence please to show appreciation for this bowl of soft polenta.

Oh. Dear. Lord. I cannot even put into words how amazing this creamy, cheesy bowl of polenta was. All I know is that I couldn’t stop eating it despite being on the verge of being completely stuffed. Go there; eat it; understand me; then let’s talk.

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Polenta ~ Parmesan

The pitfalls of having a menu where everything sounds too good to miss out on, is that you tend to fill up before getting to the puds (or cheese). This meant that we ended up ordering just one of the great sounding desserts to share between the three of us. Something that I confess I would never have personally ordered, we agreed to try the lemon posset served with lavender and blueberry ice cream, and a lavender meringue shard. I’ve had several lavender things, like shortbread for example, in the past and not really enjoyed it. But it seems that I have been missing out on the key complimentary flavours of lemon and blueberry. I didn’t think it would work, but it did, and it was great.

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Lavender ~ Blueberry ~ Lemon posset

Having worked on a number of sustainable food initiatives, seeing a menu that makes a big deal about the fruit and vegetable elements on the plate is refreshing and exciting. It would have been nice if, having made all of that noise, the dishes themselves had had smaller meat and fish elements on them, and I say this even though every meaty and fishy bite was completely delicious. The idea of having more vegetables on your plate and less but better quality meat is certainly the way that I think a lot of menus are going to go in the future, so Restaurant Bryn Williams has a great opportunity to be front runners of this movement. It’s a great gem of a restaurant in the most beautiful surroundings you could ask for; I highly recommend it.

Oh, and you should probably also know that Bryn Williams cooked for the Queen’s 80th Birthday Party in 2006, after getting his Fish Course through to the final of Great British Menu. So, if you ever see turbot on his menu, get yourself down there for some Royally-approved cooking too.

 

 

 

 

 

In loving memory of Ellory

There’s a plague devastating London at the moment. A plague that is having a catastrophic effect on our restaurant industry. Restaurants are shutting down left, right and centre. Small independents, big names and even chains; this disease isn’t being picky in choosing its victims.

A couple of weeks ago, news reached us that Ellory – Hackney’s one Michelin-starred sharing plate restaurant – is to close its doors for the last time today, Sunday 4th March. “My God” we thought, “When will a cure be found?”

But fear not! For this is not one of the many casualties of this plague. No indeed, the restaurant and its staff will live on through new venture Leroy, which will open its doors later in March, just a stones throw over in the hipster-haven that is Shoreditch.

Victim or not, this closure still marks the end of an era. So, what else was there to do other than to book us a table and get on down there to pay tribute to one of London’s greatest?

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Ellory may have only been open for a little over two years, but it has held a Michelin star since 2016. While this credential can attract and deter punters in equal measures, Ellory’s laid-back, minimalist style goes against the commonly perceived notion of this calibre of restaurant. The restaurant is found behind a run-down, industrial building and just on the right side of the tracks. Not the location that immediately springs to mind when you say “Michelin star”, but inside it’s as cosy and welcoming as you like. My favourite feature has to be the annoyingly cool collection of vinyl records sat behind the bar.

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The bar

Tealights provide that atmospheric detail that whisks you a million miles away from Hackney, and although the staff are on-point with their professionalism, tattoos peaking out of t-shirts remind you that this is new age fine dining; no stuffiness allowed.

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Sacred Gin ~ Tonic

The ethos of the menu is to share everything, and so the menu consists of four snacks and a choice of 12 dishes. However, if you, like Joey, refuse to share food with other people, then there is always the Chef’s Choice Menu which is a similar concept to a tasting menu and purely dictated by the powers that be. Eager to try as many dishes as possible, we plumped for five of the main courses to share and left room for a dessert.

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Menu

Our dishes came out one-by-one, allowing us plenty of time to spend endlessly photographing; on occasion videoing; and exactly halving each dish in the way that the Instagram-age has forced us into behaving when dining out.

We’ll start with the mussels and sea herbs. It is arguably one of the most simple dishes imaginable, but how often have we ordered these and then encountered the dreaded horror of overcooked, rubbery mussels? Or how often have we paid good money only to end up with a mouthful of ‘beard’ because someone hasn’t bothered to prep them properly? Too often quite frankly, so it is with great pleasure that I can honestly say that I’ve never eaten a bowl (well, half a bowl) of mussels so quickly in my life. There was no need for close inspection of these mussels. Each shell had opened up like a book to reveal lovely plump, orange mussels that came away from the shell with little effort. A dish that bore testament to the chefs’ cooking skills.

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Mussels ~ Sea herbs

We live in that interesting age of food where a dish called “Pickled herring on toast” can either lead to the imagination running wild with excitement, or leave people running scared. It’s a dish that conjures up images of the type of grub that someone like my gran could have expected to eat way back when fridges were not a norm in the kitchen. It harks back to a time when people knew how to preserve food and not how to waste it, and for that, I loved the sound of it. Punchy vinegar balanced out the oily fish; the toast underneath soaked up the acidic juices and the horseradish crème fraîche added that bit of heat for a mouthwatering kick of nostalgia.

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Pickled herring ~ Toast ~ Cucumber

To the most expensive dish on the menu; the lamb saddle with artichokes and anchovy, on for the reasonable price of £24. Classic combinations plated in a contemporary manner. The tips of the small cigar-like leaves of chicory had been playfully used to keep the delicate anchovy sauce separate from the other ingredients. Well cooked (as if in cooked well, we like our lamb pink around here), well presented and a well balanced dish.

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Lamb ~ Artichoke ~ Anchovy

To the dish that I wish I hadn’t had to share: scallops, lardo and parsnip. To no ones surprise, the scallops were perfectly cooked. Hidden under a ribbon of lardo (cured pork back-fat), this was a fabulous twist on the tried and tested surf’n’turf scallop combination. The smoothest parsnip purée and slices of earthy mushroom finished the dish off wonderfully.

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Scallops ~ Lardo ~ Parsnip

To my surprise, my favourite course of the night was the bitter leaves, blood orange and ricotta. I hold my hands up and wholeheartedly admit that I ignore salads when I eat out. I use eating out as an excuse to pick the ingredients and the dishes that I wouldn’t have at home, and so salads usually don’t even make it on to my radar. But here we had a simple plate of radicchio – bitter, yes, but as far from unpleasant as you can get – a simple vinaigrette, beautifully refreshing segments of blood orange, and creamy ricotta. Delicious. Seriously considering making this my new “packed lunch” for work.

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Radicchio ~ Blood Orange ~ Ricotta

We’re not known in Britain for having the most exciting natural larder of fruit, but one of the things that we should be more proud of is the British pear. Constantly taking a backseat to apples in desserts, it’s a lovely surprise when you see it on menus, and so we ended our time at Ellory was a pear sorbet topped with a chamomile syrup. Simple, delicious, divine.

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Pear sorbet ~ Chamomile

The end of an era, the end of a legend. In the butchered words of Rita Ora “RIP to the restaurant you used to be”. Ellory may be dead, but long live Leroy.

We enjoy Saturday night at Restaurant Richard Wilkins

Quite often at work, I find that my morning routine (hour) of “catching up with what’s going on in the world” (website hopping) includes checking in with The Caterer to see what big and exciting things are happening in the restaurant world. One of the more interesting segments on The Caterer is their Menu Watch, which showcases menus “to watch” outside of central London.  It’s here that I found out about Pascere and where I first read about Restaurant Richard Wilkins.

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Restaurant Richard Wilkins

My first thoughts when reading about this restaurant were, “This menu sounds just up my street” and “What? You can get to Essex on the underground?!”. With that in mind, we fake tanned up and caught the Central line to Brockhurst Hill for a Saturday night out in Essex.

About a 10 minute walk from the station, next to an Indian restaurant and opposite a fancy dress shop, sits this charming little restaurant. The dining room consists of a lot of blue, white table cloths and a carpet so thick I nearly stacked it in my ridiculously high heels. A two-man band (plus a KP) make up the kitchen team which made us quite keen to show some support for this place, especially given the current restaurant climate in the UK.

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Menu

The restaurant only offers a set menu which is limited to just two or three dishes for each course, not surprising given the size of this operation. Eliminating which starter to go for was fairly easy, based on the following logic “Well, I eat a lot of salmon and I drink a lot of gin, so going for the gin-cured salmon seems a bit pointless”.

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Parmesan sablé ~ Mackerel cone

Decisions made, our waiter brought over our canapés before taking our order for the rest of the menu. Parmesan sablés (savoury biscuits) and cones filled with a light mackerel crème fraîche were presented in a box filled with uncooked rice. Lovely tasty mouthfuls, except for the rice grains which stuck to the canapés leading to some unexpected crunchiness.

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Mackerel crème fraîche

The recently confined to Room 101 bread and butter offering arrived just in time to accompany our starters of Colchester oysters and foie gras.

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Bread ~ Butter ~ Sea Salt

Yes, I admit it, we picked the foie gras. It may seem pretty cut and clear when it comes to ethical decisions for choosing to eat foie gras, however, we decided to do a bit of research into this kind from the Chalosse cooperative before making our decision. Found in the south west of France (around an hour and a half drive from San Sebastián FYI), the Chalosse cooperative achieved Label Rouge in 1998, which gives its ducks the equivalent status of free range in the UK. So still not OK, but a lot better than nothing.

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Foie gras ~ Hazelnuts ~ Apple

Beautifully pan-fried and served with slices of crisp Granny Smith Apple and hazelnuts, this really was delicious and showed a chef who treats his ingredients with respect. We also delightfully slurped down the fresh Colchester oysters with little kicks of lime.

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Colchester oysters ~ Lime ~ Shiso

Still a common sight on menus despite its overfished status (depending on where it’s caught or farmed), the main of seabass – caught off the west coast of France – came with an unusual garnish of beetroot and a langoustine broth, served on an equally unusual blue plate. Slightly out there, but it all worked together really well.

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Seabass ~ Beetroot ~ Langoustine

The other main on offer, the lamb saddle, was cooked to perfection with that lovely crunch of fat making my mouth water even now. The heritage carrot garnish was, literally, one carrot and there were a couple of chunks of butternut squash scattered around the plate. With another slightly unusual twist, the lamb came with a Parmesan emulsion which I think worked really well, but I’m sure a fair few people who are mint sauce advocates would disagree with me.

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Lamb ~ Carrot ~ Parmesan

With plenty of room left for dessert, the chocolate moulieux and the Yorkshire rhubarb soufflé immediately jumped out at us. But to be sure we weren’t missing out, we asked for more details on the citrus variations dish. Helpfully, we were told that it was citrus fruit done in a number of ways. So, chocolate and rhubarb it was.

Just the season to enjoy this wonderful pink fruit, the Yorkshire rhubarb soufflé had risen beautifully and our waiter made for an epic #foodporn moment as he dunked the rhubarb and tokai sorbet right in the centre.

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Rhubarb soufflé ~ Rhubarb sorbet

Our other dessert was the stuff that chocoholics’ dreams are made of. Cutting through the chocolate moulieux like butter revealed a gorgeously soft mousse-like centre on a crispy base. Chocolate heaven.

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Chocolate ~ Passionfruit

So what did we think? Overall, our trip to Restaurant Richard Wilkins was really quite delicious. We love supporting small, independent restaurants and enjoy finding chefs with some talent to showcase. The menu is slightly on the conventional side but it is very reasonably priced at £45 for three courses and, while there was a supplementary charge for the foie gras, at £4 it’s still not breaking the bank. It’s also outside of central London which is nice for a change, but is still easy to get to on the underground so a repeat visit is well within reason.

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White chocolate ~ Lychee ~ Financiers

One niggly issue for me, however, was the wine list. A great selection, don’t get me wrong, but with only two whites and two reds available by the glass, the overly long wine list for the short menu becomes very limited very quickly. Further to this, the wine list loses the mark completely when comparing it to the price of the menu. A £45 set menu really doesn’t justify a wine list with bottles on it priced from £24 to a staggering £345 for a bottle of Cos d’Estournel. A few more bottles under £50 and a few less over would not go amiss.

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Wine list

It’s certainly worth hopping on the Central line and making your way over to Brockhurst Hill to try what’s on offer at Restaurant Richard Wilkins. The food is without a doubt as good as or better value than a lot of central London restaurants, although the wine list wouldn’t be out of place in a Michelin Star Mayfair restaurant. It also makes for a nice suburban escape from the busy city life, and reassuringly on our visit, there wasn’t a fake tan in sight.

Desperately seeking pancakes

OK, so it’s Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day, and you live in London so the burning question is: where on earth do you choose to go for your pancake fix? Well you go to where the pancakes are of course…quite literally.

Yes, you could have chosen to really push the boat out this year and paid £26 at Christopher’s for their grilled lobster and purple sweet potato pancake, or headed to Shoreditch and feasted on a stack of espresso martini-inspired pancakes at The Book Club. But we put a little bit of thought into our choice when we chose the all-year round pancake extravaganza restaurant in Flat Iron Square that is Where The Pancakes Are (WTPA).

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Where The Pancakes Are

Now the reason that I say “we put a little bit of thought” into our venue of choice, is no mere throwaway statement. Having spent more than the designated lunch break hour trawling through this years Pancake Day specials, our interest was peaked upon hearing that this restaurant had teamed up with food-rescuing, pickle-producing, condiment-creating brand Rubies in the Rubble. Born literally out of the horrendous food waste problem that we have in this country, Rubies in the Rubble take fruit and vegetables that are rejected by markets because of the way they look and turn them into delicious relishes, pickles and sauces. Together, they politely requested people not to be tossers and added two ‘Thoughtful Pancakes’ to the menu to celebrate sustainability and to fight food waste.

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Don’t be a tosser

It’s not until you remember that the idea behind Shrove Tuesday was to use up eggs and fats (such as butter) before the fasting for Lent began, that you realise how clever this partnership actually was. Not to mention delicious.

And so to the pancakes. Prior to eating at WTPA, I said hands-down that the best type of pancakes are the French crêpes and that American pancakes are thick, dry tasteless place mats. However, this experience changed all of that. WTPA serves stacks of American pancakes made with buttermilk which means that these thick pancakes are lower in fat than their standard milk equivalents – great news when you plan to pile them high with calorific chocolate sauce and marshmallows!

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Savoury blueberry ~ Sweet banana

Two pancakes topped with smoked streaky bacon, whole blueberries and a pot of Rubies in the Rubble Blueberry BBQ sauce made up our ‘Thoughtful Pancake I’. This was a delicious mix of lighter-than-air pancakes, rich salty bacon, and smokey yet sweet sauce – a classic combination with an ethical twist. We went for this over the ‘Thoughtful Pancake II’ which came with Rubies in the Rubble Banana Ketchup instead, having decided on the Banana Praline Marshmallow pancakes for afters.

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Thoughtful pancake I

As planned, our highly indulgent sweet choice of pancake consisted of bananas, hazelnut-sunflower-cocoa-nib (whatever that means) praline, basil marshmallows and our choice of chocolate sauce.

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Banana ~ Chocolate ~ Basil Marshmallow

Yes, that’s right, basil marshmallows. Green, slightly peppery and yet sweet, these were great little bites on their own but led to diabetes-inducing heights of sweetness when eaten with everything else.

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Basil Marshmallow

Despite the couple of hours wait in the drizzly English weather that “forced” us to go around the stalls in the food market and try several different dishes before we could settle down for pancakes, this was a thoroughly enjoyable visit. A very clever partnership for this years Pancake Day, and it certainly made us think about wasting food a lot less and eating pancakes a lot more.

 

 

We give Amber the…amber light?

The Amber Trade Route, famous for bringing us this prized fossilised tree resin all the way from the Baltic Sea down to the Mediterranean, now brings us Amber in Aldgate East.

Nestled behind the Curzon cinema, this Middle Eastern restaurant brings us a menu inspired by the chef’s Eastern Mediterranean heritage fused with London’s modern food scene. So you can expect an open kitchen, lots of sharing plates, a plether of lamb and aubergine dishes, and of course every hipster’s favourite fridge staple, hummus.

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Amber’s open kitchen

We were given the menu and left to our own devices for a reasonable while – it was the opening week and a soft launch, so we were prepared for this in terms of service. Unfortunately, because we were pretty damn hungry, this then led to one of those classic cases of our eyes being bigger than our bellies.

The menu reads like a dream, practically every dish description evoking extreme salivation which makes it quite difficult to limit yourself to the recommended 2/3 plates each. Regardless of this, we stuck to the recommended quantity and ordered ourselves a mixture from the ‘Fish’, ‘Meat’, ‘Vegetable’ and ‘Pide’ options. The two ‘Feast’ dishes – glazed lamb shoulder and whole trout – were also extremely tempting, nevertheless, we resisted temptation in pursuit of sampling as many dishes as we could.

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Feast

We were told that the dishes would arrive as and when they were ready. Absolutely fine, except that they arrived pretty much all at once and our small table for two quickly became overcrowded. Putting our #FirstWorldProblems aside and with almost military-like precision, we divvied up the hot dishes and stacked the plates on the nearby table before we lost food to the floor.

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Chicken liver ~ Minted lime yoghurt

The first dish that we tucked into was without a doubt the best one of the meal. Cubes of chicken liver coated in the most aromatic and spicy mix of chilli roasted almonds and cumin, had been deep-fried and laid on a cushion of minted lime yoghurt. If you are the type of person who gets stupidly over-excited by any sort of offal on a menu, but is then frequently disappointed by being presented with over-cooked, tough morsels of at-this-point-god-only-knows-what-this-originally-was, then I highly recommend that you go and order this dish at Amber. The beautifully crisp, spicy shell gave way to the silky liver; its deep, iron-rich flavour lifted by the yoghurt and the citrus from the lime cleansing the palette. It was like the best slivers of buttery foie gras, but without the hefty price tag or the ensuing guilt-trip.

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Cauliflower ~ Green tahini ~ Pomegranate

The other stand out dish from our selection was the fried cauliflower served with crispy shallots, pomegranate seeds and green tahini. One of the best culinary revolutions in recent years has got to be the rebirth of the cauliflower. Long gone are the days were this poor vegetable was boiled to a tasteless, mushy death; or lathering it in a cheesy béchamel sauce being pretty much the only way you could get most people to eat it (although I must point out that cauliflower cheese has always and will always be one of the greatest inventions of all time). This humble vegetable, sat on a herby sesame tahini sauce, had been marinated in an aromatic concoction of spices before being fried, ensuring that it was still firm to the bite.

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Aubergine ~ Labneh ~ Chimi churi

Our grilled aubergine dish also embodied classic Middle Eastern flavours. The slices had been liberally coated in a chilli maple labneh (a strained yoghurt), and balanced out perfectly with dashings of fresh, herby chimi churi.

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Chicken thigh ~ Sharon fruit ~ Red slaw

Sadly, the one dish on the menu that I wanted to try more than anything else was unavailable for some reason. Called ‘Amuse Bouche’, this dish promised crispy chicken skin, pancetta jam, marscapone and chilli, but faced with this crushing disappointment, we went with the alternative crispy chicken thighs. It came with blobs of pickled sharon fruit (or kaki) which were delicious but there certainly weren’t enough of them for the number of chicken strips on the plate.

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Salgam seabass ~ Fennel ~ Orange

A bowl of red-y/purple-y liquid marked the arrival of our ceviche course. Salgam (a type of turnip juice) cured seabass lay under shaved fennel, coriander and orange segments. Ceviche is nice, and this was nice although a bit heavy on the Salgam, however, with its strong Peruvian roots, I’m not entirely sure if this dish deserved a place on the menu.

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Pide ~ Lamb belly ~ Harissa

Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without a traditional Turkish pide bread. Originally cooked in clay ovens, these flat breads are usually stuffed, the fillings varying between different regions. Out of the burnt leek, lamb belly and sobrassada (a raw, cured pork sausage from the Baleriac Islands) options, we went for the lamb belly with sweet potato cubes and spicy harissa sauce. The only thing missing here was a generous helping of cheese, the likes of a salty, crumbly feta would have worked a treat.

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Coffee ~ Vodka ~ Pannacotta

To finish our visit, we decided to share the only dessert option on the menu; coffee, vodka pannacotta with a berry compote. To be perfectly honest, this was not a great dish. We have our fingers crossed that, in time, it is replaced with something more exemplary of its heritage, that perhaps plays to its Amber namesake.

Overall, our trip to Amber made for a pleasant Sunday evening. The menu promised an awful lot and the food – for the most part – delivered. I reckon with a bit of time to find its feet, this will be a great little spot in Aldgate East.

 

 

There’s something tasty happening in Herne Hill

If you go south of the Thames today, you may be in for a big surprise.

Go crazy and take a 20 minute walk (or a 7 minute bus journey) south of Brixton station, and you’ll find a little place called Herne Hill. Walk round the east side of Brockwell Park and you’ll discover a row of retail units, with shops and takeaways a-plenty. And there, lying in the midst of all of these, you’ll find a little jewel called Park’s Edge Bar and Kitchen.

Inside the restaurant, seductive blues and ostentatious chandeliers make you feel like you are a million miles away from Herne Hill. A wall of Nyetimber bottles above a higgledy-piggledy collection of books draws the eye and confuses you into thinking that you are in the library of some grand country mansion – a wall of bubbly is standard in a mansion library, right?

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Park Edge Bar and Brasserie

In spite of the wall of English sparkling wine, it is the menu of this recently opened restaurant that I’m really here for. The menu is an ideal length in my eyes; a choice of four small plates, four mains, four desserts plus the option of sides and cheese. It was also refreshing to see that there was no “safe choice” chicken dish, or even a steak to satisfy the most carnivorous of consumers. Instead, the menu looks to have been designed by two chefs with a bit of imagination and what turns out to be a lot of skill. Thanks to that age old mantra of “its not what you know, it’s who you know”, instead of having to make the difficult choice of what to order, we were sent a selection of the chefs’ favourite dishes off the menu instead.

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January’s Menu

First to arrive was the potted rabbit. A cross between a pâtè and a rillette, it was topped with a crystal clear rabbit consommé and a quenelle of truffle and whole grain mustard, presented in a suitably rustic Kilner jar. Although extremely reminiscent of country pub gastronomy, the flawless execution of every technical element of this dish, along with the slices of homemade rosemary focaccia, made this dish more than just your typical pub grub.

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Potted rabbit ~ Mustard ~ Rosemary focaccia

Straying from the English countryside to the rugged, mountainous landscape of Japan, our next small plate of lamb was a delightful combination of hearty, game-y flavours with cuttingly sharp, spicy Asian notes. The presentation was distinctive with the slow cooked lamb breast sliced into triangles, sat alongside a “sandwich” of romaine lettuce, homemade kimchi and pear purée.

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Lamb ~ Kimchi ~ Romaine

Next to land on our table was the Devonshire crab risotto. A staple Italian dish which often suffers presentation-wise from a somewhat dull and stodgy appearance, the kitchen team here managed to lift this dish to new visual heights. The scattering of pickled fennel and blood orange segments added both contrasting bold colours and new flavour dimensions of what I’m going to creatively label as “zing-iness” to the creamy risotto.

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Crab risotto ~ Blood orange ~ Fennel

Had I been choosing a main course to enjoy all to myself, my dish of choice would have been this next one of salt-baked celeriac, kale, pine and dill oil. Having spent nigh-on a decade of my teenage years a vegetarian, main courses without a meat element have long held my interest. As a vegetarian, going out for dinner has a reputation for being extremely dull; the extent of most chefs imagination when it comes to vegetables often seems to be relegated to variations on goat’s cheese and beetroot, or aubergine parmigiana for those who really struggle with the concept of having no meat or fish on a plate. But, if you can go into a restaurant as a fully fledged carnivore and find yourself enraptured by the course with no meat, then the chances are that you have stumbled on to a very good restaurant indeed.

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Celeriac ~ Kale ~ Pine

Salt-baking root vegetables is a winner every time and this sweet, aniseed-y chunk of celeriac was no exception. Shrouded in dehydrated kale leaves that had turned a charcoal black in the process, you could cut through the celeriac like butter and drag it through the crème fraîche to pick up the pine and dill oil, which had been made from the ashes of a Christmas tree. Another Christmas tree inspired dish? It’s almost like this is becoming a trend.

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Salt-baked celeriac

Our final savoury course was the Gilthead bream. A huge fillet, its skin glistening in the light of the chandeliers, covered another collection of Asian-based ingredients; kohlrabi, pak choi and a Jerusalem artichoke purée (labelled as sunchoke purée on the menu, a nod to the chef’s time spent in America). The bream had been poached instead of pan-fried, which preserved the fragile texture of the fish and hence the glisten on the skin, but the real beauty of this dish was the broth. All good sauces – be they broths, stocks or gravies – require time and dedication to extract the maximum flavour from their ingredients. The secret to this broth was the use of the Jerusalem artichoke skins which were caramelised and left to infuse in the fish stock, adding that iconic smokey note to the broth.

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Bream ~ Kohlrabi ~ Jerusalem artichoke

And so we end this delectable journey in true Great British Bake Off style, with one hell of a show stopper. Every once in a while, something of the utmost intrigue jumps out of a menu at you; the stars align and the question of which side of the Lunacy/Genius line (that’s a real thing by the way) this dish is going to land on, presents itself. For me, it was this dessert of parsnip, coffee mousse, chocolate soil and yoghurt.

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Parsnip ~ Coffee ~ Chocolate

Glazed and caramelised, like you would a banana, the parsnip was firm to the cut yet chowing down on it gave the same texture you would find after roasting the vegetable for say, a traditional roast dinner. The yoghurt element turned out to be a scoop of perfectly spherical “fro-yo” infused with rosemary, which of course we knew would pair perfectly with the parsnip centerpiece. The stroke that saw this dish fall well and truly onto the ‘Genius’ side of the line, lay within the chocolate soil. Deep-fried ribbons of parsnip skin had been mixed with the soil – homemade and blitzed Oreo-style cookies – which gave every mouthful wonderful little crunches of smokey and salty crispness. A deliciously inspired way to ensure that no unnecessary food waste is generated when prepping ingredients.

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Chocolate soil ~ Parsnip skin

The south side of the Thames can be a strange and daunting place to us Northerners; we have safe havens such as the likes of Brixton where we know for certain that the scene is strong with the food. It is, however, discoveries such as this that make us shameful to admit that our attention often lingers on restaurants on the north side. The restaurant was quiet on our visit, and, having seen the menu, eaten the food, and paid the bill, I can’t for the life of me work out why. Is it perhaps the location? The great value dishes? A monthly changing menu? Dishes inspired by travels from around the world? I really couldn’t say, but this is my two cents worth to try and spread the word of this great little find, south of the river, down Norwood Road way.

Deliciousness a-plenty at Koya City

You’re never far from fantastic food in London, but even luckier for me, a short stroll from work is the new Bloomberg Arcade. Awash with some “city” versions of our favourite restaurants and tipped for the next Andrew Wong venture, we hit Koya City for some after work deliciousness.

Koya City sits on the main causeway of the arcade, nestled just behind Bleecker Burger. Inside, there is plenty of seating choice, either at tables or counter-top dining which stretches across both the bar and the open part of the kitchen, making this a great place for solo diners as well as groups.

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Koya City ~ Bloomberg Arcade

The restaurant specialises in Japanese udon noodle dishes, which can either be enjoyed hot or cold, as well as an array of small plates and a choice of Donburi dishes (rice bowls with a selection of toppings). There is also a very intriguing English Breakfast option which, unsurprisingly, is only available in the mornings, so no luck trying it on our post-work visit.

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Koya City Menu

The first thing to jump out at me on the menu is a dish half way down the small plates selection: Prawn Heads.

Yes, you read that correctly, deep fried prawn heads. I look up at my companion and say “We’re having that, right?”, to which she fervently nods her head. Much umming and ahhing later, I decide on my main dish of Kamo Hiya-Atsu; a cold udon dish with hot broth and duck breast, while my companion chooses Buta Kasu-Miso; a hot udon in hot broth dish with pork and kasu – a byproduct from the sake production process.

What feels like mere seconds after placing our order, our waiter is back at the table carrying the dish which promises more excitement than the whole of Christmas and New Year combined. A total of six deep fried prawn heads sit piled upon one another; legs flailing and emerging from the batter at all kinds of angles. Our waiter points to the heap of sesame seasoning sat on the side and instructs us to dip each prawn head in the seasoning to achieve maximum flavour. Chopsticks at the ready, we eagerly dive in to what must be the Japanese equivalent of the British chippy’s iconic bag of scraps.

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Prawn Heads ~ Sesame Seasoning

Each mouthful was a delicious explosion of flavour; beautiful prawn mixed with the salty sesame seasoning, the crispy batter delivering on that exquisitely indulgent, albeit dangerously greasy taste of the deep fryer. Do not – I repeat! I beg! I implore! – do not be put off trying these because they are heads, they are just wonderful, pure and simple.

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Prawn Head

Prawn heads devoured, we move on to the main event. Again, after what seemed like only moments, lovely steaming bowls of fragrant broth were placed before us.

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Buta Kasu-Miso ~ Kamo Hiya-Atsu

A plate of thick white udon noodles accompanies mine and I get a lesson in how to eat my dish the proper way. Take one pair of chopsticks; pick up one, long strand of udon noodle; dunk it in the hot broth; lift out and slurp it up in one go. Intersperse noodle dunking with fishing pieces of the beautifully moist, pan-fried duck breast out of the broth, and ladling spoonfuls of the hot liquid into your mouth. Simple.

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Duck Breast ~ Hot Broth

What a wonderful find Koya City was, and how happy I am to literally have it on the doorstep of my work. The deep fried prawn heads were a revelation; how is it that for decades, we have been meticulously shelling prawns at the dining table, only to then throw away one of the tastiest parts of the crustacean? Well no more, I beg of you! Let’s stop wasting food because it’s a “bit weird” and open our minds to trying something unusual. You never know what you might discover, but if it it anything like these, chances are, it will be magnificent.

 

Pine-ing for Christmas

Supper clubs. We have a lot to thank them for. Without these hard working, aspiring chefs opening up their beloved homes and cooking meals for a bunch of complete and utter strangers, we wouldn’t have such treasures as The Clove Club and the newly opened Bistro Mirey.

However, having proceeded to sing their praises, I must admit at this point that I had never been to a supper club before. The idea of mixing with strangers in a rather intimate setting in someone’s home and being forced to make small talk with them is, quite honestly, one of my worst nightmares. However, it’s 2018 and in my rather well thought out and very original new year’s resolution to – quote – “do more stuff”, I decided to pick a supper club to attend.

So, I headed to the Grub Club’s website to find something that would take my fancy, and boy-oh-boy did I find one that sounded right up my street. I present to you: “How to eat your Christmas Tree!”.

This coniferous supper club, hosted by The Bread Companion’s Carb Club (@thebreadcompanion), was back for its third year after sell-out events, and aimed to showcase the multitude of ways in which you can cook with pine, spruce and fir trees, aka Christmas trees.

Tickets booked, friend coerced into accompanying me, we headed off in search of the ‘secret location’ for my first supper club. Address inputted into Google Maps incorrectly, we knocked on the wrong house and unintentionally confused and clearly horrified an unsuspecting stranger. One phone call later and the right address popped into the app, we arrived at the correct location.

We were greeted by our host, the lovely Julia who bakes by day and supper club hosts by night. She pushed metal mugs of Douglas fir syrup and lemon cordial into our hands and we took our first sip into this Christmas tree infused night. Oh what a glorious thing it was. Douglas fir has a very fragrant lemony flavour, but also has what can only be described as a distinctly “green” undertone which is slightly resiny, but the resulting combination is truly wonderful. Next Christmas, lop some branches off your tree and boil them up with water, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and boom, you’ve got yourself a cordial that will hands down beat an elderflower one any day of the week.

We wandered into the beautiful (and bloomin’ massive) flat, to see another eight guests milling around talking to one another. Fortunately, our slight detour meant that we were spared the forced pre-dinner mingle and were all asked through to the dining room straight away. Julia brought in our starter of beetroot and spruce cured salmon atop some of her very own home-baked rye bread. A myriad of colours sat on top; a variety of spruce pickled vegetables, a pink pickled egg and creme fraiche. A beautiful dish and extremely tasty, although lacking in a clear “tree” flavour. That’s not a bad thing though.

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Beetroot ~ Spruce ~ Salmon

Before moving on though, can we just take a minute to talk about this pickled egg? The second confession of this entry, is that I had never tried one before this night. I spread that gloriously gooey yolk, dyed pink from the pickling, onto the rye bread and greedily devoured it. More of that right now please, thanks very much.

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Pink Pickled Egg

The smell of slow cooked lamb interrupted our suffering of the inevitable small talk in between starter and main. A lamb and retsina tagine sat on a bed of pine and mint couscous; sweet bursts coming from the pomegranate seeds and dried apricots dispersed throughout the couscous.

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Lamb ~ Pine ~ Couscous

However, it was the side dish of pine-smoked cauliflower and pine nut stuffed mushrooms that stole the show here. That smokiness enhanced every bite of cauliflower and would have made the most magnificent purée to accompany the lamb.

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Smoked Cauliflower ~ Pine Nut Mushrooms

To the dessert, and the reason why I haven’t been able to get rid of that hankering for chocolate brownie since. A pine nut fudge brownie, and a blue spruce ice cream, studded with stem ginger. How, oh how, can I describe this glorious ice cream flavour? I guess the closest one I can put my finger on is rosemary; a stunning botanical concoction that really has to be tried to be understood.

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Pine Nut Brownie ~ Spruce Ice Cream

We finished the night with the cheeseboard. A Cornish yarg and a crunchy cheddar paled in comparison to the apple and fir chutney and homemade Douglas Fir biscuits that accompanied them.

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Yarg ~ Cheddar ~ Apple ~ Douglas Fir

So, in conclusion, I declare my first supper club experience a resounding success. Each course was quite easily tastier than its predecessor, not an easy feat in itself. But the overall idea behind the club, to think about cooking with Christmas trees rather than just throwing them away come the 6th January, was intriguing. Rethinking food waste, cooking outside of our norm and using ingredients we aren’t used to is inspiring and I hope to see more of it in the coming years.