Category Archives: London Restaurants

Recipe: My version of Moro’s chocolate and apricot tart

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This recipe was inspired by my recent trip to Moro. No hold on a sec, that’s not entirely honest; inspired isn’t really the right word. Perhaps spurred on is more accurate, or maybe challenged…anyway, let me elaborate.

While I was in London I celebrated my birthday with dinner at said restaurant. As it was my birthday I was strictly banned from

a/ making notes

b/ taking pictures

My family hate me photographing their food or ‘working’ while socializing with them. The teen even exclaimed once that she wanted to ‘copyright’ her dinner so I didn’t photograph it. So this said I have no photographs of Moro, but I have a lot of good memories of the tastes, textures and combinations of flavours served to me on the night. The food was truly delicious and well worth the trip up to Exmouth market, but there was one thing that sadly failed to hit the spot; their chocolate and apricot tart.

Now I’ve read a few reviews and people have raved about it, but none of the four of us were convinced….in fact none of us even liked it! There was barely a hint of apricot and the chocolate was so dark and strong it was overpowering. It simply lacked any depth to the flavours.

I came home and thought about it a bit, strangely unsettled that something using chocolate didn’t work! So I decided to experiment a bit.

The Moro tart uses an apricot paste called amradeen, widely available in Lebanese shops, but not here in North Wales so I substituted it for organic dark apricots, doubling the measure for a stronger richer taste.

To the chocolate mixture I also added 2 tablespoons double cream, which I think lightened and balanced the flavours….More apologies for the shoddy pictures. I now have a new camera so I’m hoping my images will be a tad better from now on (hooray!!)

Sweet pastry:

140g plain flour
30g icing sugar
75g butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk

Apricot paste:

180g amradeen or 400g organic apricots

6 tablespoons of water

juice of one small lemon

Chocolate:

One bar of Divine or other good quality chocolate (about 100g, but no more than 150g) at least 70% cocoa

2 eggs yolks

100g unsalted butter

60g caster sugar

2 tablespoons double cream

Sift together the flour and icing sugar and rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and a drop of icy cold water and bring together until it forma a ball. Wrap in cling film and allow it to rest in the fridge for about half an hour. Roll out to fit an eight inch tart tin, prick the bottom lightly and line with baking paper. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 200 degrees, gas mark….after 10 mins remove the baking paper and cook for another 5 minutes until the base is ‘set’…i.e. firm but not turning brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Chop the apricots roughly and put in a pan with the water and lemon juice. Simmer for about five minutes or so then turn off the heat and allow to plump up and soften. Tip the lot into a blender and puree until smooth.  Spread the paste on the cool tart shell and leave to set for 10 mins or so while you prepare the chocolate mixture.

Combine the chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl and either melt in the bottom of the warm oven or if you want to do it the ‘conventional’ way make a bain marie by putting the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. While it’s melting, whisk the eggs and sugar together until light, and then fold into the slightly cooled chocolate mixture along with the double cream. Spoon over the apricot tart, and bake in the oven for 25 mins, at 180 degrees. Remove from the oven while it still has a slight wobble to it, it will finish setting as it stands and cools.

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Serve with whipped cream, or creme fraiche

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Filed under baking, chocolate, home cooking, in the press, London Restaurants, middle eastern food, Recipes

Literary dinners @ Hardy’s W1

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Some of you will know that I don’t just write about food. As an academic writer (in my earlier profession) I was widely published. After my redundancy I began working on prose, poetry and short stories. Now I’m writing a novel (which may never be finished let alone published). I also love literature and reading and have attended many book readings, signings and the like, mostly in small, dusty cramped book shops, impersonal university lecture rooms or a muddy literature tent at a festival. This was my first grown-up literary dinner which was held at Hardy’s Brasserie and Wine Bar.

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The prospect of a more glamorous experience with a three course dinner cooked by Hardy’s new head chef, Raymond Blanc protegé Sam Hughes, filled me with excitement and anticipation. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The meal entitled ‘food for love’ was advertised as a ‘traditional’ Welsh dinner inspired by writer Deborah Moggachs new book Heartbreak Hotel. Set in the rolling hills of Powys the food was matched perfectly and the ingredients and menu were right up my street, but the literary experience? Intrigued, I was keen to find out.

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Deborah’s book focuses on a bed and breakfast in Powys taken on by ex-Londoner Russel ‘Buffy’ Buffery. To make a bit of money he runs ‘Courses for Divorces’ where spurned ex’s learn the skills their partner brought to the relationship. This is not my usual reading matter. I am a fan of the ‘gritty’ novel and when I tell you that my favourite writer is Solzhenitsyn, you will realise how far out of my usual reading sphere I had travelled. My choice of reading is the polar opposite of stories about the divorced middle classes bonking in a Welsh B&B, if get my drift. Needless to say I felt a little out-of-place among the Marylebone women and at one point imagined I’d stepped into an upper class WI meeting, where everyone is getting tight on wine and having a jolly wheeze!

Sadie and Kate, my dinner companions, were by far the youngest people in attendance. Kate is an art writer, photographer and avid reader, while Sadie is London poet and barkeeper whose idea of a romantic night out is trying out a series of outrageous chat up lines on unsuspecting men (hi, i’m fertile, whats your name?….reserved for men of a certain age or, hi, I really need a seat…can I use your face….should really be saved for the council estates of Dartford and not used in a classy Marylebone bar). Needless to say the pair of them got their entertainment by spending most of the evening eyeing up the barman and the waiter in turn, as we realised Deborah’s books attract a totally different demographic to us!

Hardy’s is a stylish, cosy bistro on Dorset Street, close to Marylebone station and Baker Street tube. It’s not my usual haunt (even when I lived in London or even when I visit) but it is for Sadie who works just around the corner. The evening we attended was busy. Very busy. Clearly the literary dinner is proving popular and we were almost literally shoe-horned into narrow seats near the bar.

Hardy’s staff were friendly and welcoming if a little flustered at times. I didn’t get much of an opportunity to chat to the hosts as they were understandably busy and this seems to be something of a new venture for them. They are clearly still getting used to dealing with the massive influx of dinner guests arriving at once.  As I sat at my table the waiter swiftly offered an aperitif; wine or Brecon gin and tonic. I opted for gin as I know and love Brecon. There wasn’t a huge amount of space to move chairs in and out; not a problem for me as the other dinner guests were quite understanding, but others might find this less relaxing. Bread arrived as did the offer of tasty canapes with laverbread and pancetta which we nibbled as we while we studied the menu and made our decision about what to eat. Tempted, Kate devoured several claiming she’d never tried laverbread, and choosing to ignore the rest of the topping “Do not tell anyone I ate pancetta”….(now lapsed vegetarian).

We all settled on something different so we could have a taste of each others. Kate chose baked oysters with laverbread and crispy pancetta (yep, well and truly lapsed veggie by this point). The sauce was flavoursome, although even confirmed salt-fiend Kate said it was a little too salty with the pancetta. Sadie opted for Welsh black beef carpaccio, anchovy, garlic and rosemary dressing which was lovely. Small tender beetroot chunks worked well and we all enthused over the dressing which was the best bit. I chose steamed mussels with leeks and wild garlic. The mussels were delicious; plump, salty and perfectly cooked while the leek base was well seasoned and tasty, but only a mild hint of the wild garlic came through.

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Black beef carpaccio with beetroot, anchovy, garlic & rosemary dressing

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Baked oysters with laverbread & crispy pancetta

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mussels with leeks & wild garlic

For main Kate chose Cod ‘Cymru’ with cheese sauce, spinach, slow roast cherry tomatoes. The cod was cooked perfectly, the sauce and mash, which was rich and creamy, were delicious but the dish itself was a little uninspiring overall. This again was a theme with Sadie’s Glamorgan sausages, mash potato and spiced tomato relish. The relish was well-flavoured, but the mash was more like crushed potato and not half as rich or creamy as Kate’s and the Glamorgan sausages were just lacking in flavour a little. A good strong Welsh cheddar would have perked these up and not a light Caerphilly, which just doesn’t have the strength. I know it’s traditional, but hey! Finally, I chose the 12 hour slow roast lamb in lavender with braised onions and potatoes, chanteney carrots. The lamb was delicate, tender and melted in the mouth. It had just the slightest hint of sweetness (which I presume was from the lavender) but the lavender itself was barely detectable among the deep flavours of the jus. The carrots and potatoes were nice but perhaps a leeky mash might have been better to soak up the sauce.

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Glamorgan sausages, mash potato, spiced tomato relish

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Cod cymru with cheese sauce, spinach, slow roast cherry tomatoes

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12 hour slow roast lamb in lavender with braised onions, potatoes and chanteney carrots

We all felt full at the end, but not too full for dessert. Again we chose three separate dishes which turned into musical bowls! Kate chose a ‘Snowdon’ steamed marmalade pudding, I opted for the cheese board with Perl Wen and Golden Cenarth from the Caws Cenarth cheese makers of whom I am a regular customer and Sadie went for a Welsh borders lemon meringue tart.

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Welsh borders lemon meringue tart

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‘Snowdon’ steamed marmalade pudding…already minus a spoonful!!…I missed the cheese completely

The cheese plate was sadly disappointing. There were plenty of crackers and a beautiful home-made fig and pear relish, but there were only two small pieces, which barely gave a taste of what Wales has to offer. Either a greater choice or at least slightly larger portions might have been nice. Kate looked at my plate declaring that she would have preferred cheese, not having a sweet tooth, so I offered to swap. Her steamed marmalade pudding was more to my taste as I definitely do have a sweet tooth. It was delicious, but I’m greedy and would have liked a bit more custard. I only had one spoonful when Sadie declared that she wasn’t that keen on lemon and the tart was very lemony. She looked at me beseechingly, so once again this time with a small sigh of regret, I handed over my plate. I loved the sharp lemony tart but was slightly disappointed to find that the top of the meringue was finished with a blow torch and not oven baked so it lacked the crispy topping and marshmallow centre that I love.

Along with our meal we devoured two bottles of Cuvee Jean Paul Rouge, Vins de Pays de Vaucluse. The Grenache-Syrah mix made for a medium-bodied, soft, fruity and very drinkable house red, which went exceptionally well with the lamb, but clearly affected my ability to remember to take photo’s as the evening wore on (the girls chided me for this later!)

My thoughts overall? I love the concept of the literary dinner. It’s a more refined, grown up way to enjoy literature and all the flavours of a books setting….its an all glamour and no mud affair and a very sociable one too. The cosy environment, a shared interest in the writer, book and food created a more relaxed environment to dine in, but I was rather disappointed that Deborah didn’t read an excerpt. Even if her books are not strictly to my taste its nice to listen to a writer read from their work in their own ‘voice’ as it gives the reader an insight into the creator of the story. Instead we just got an introduction to the background and a general chat about the book.

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Deborah Moggach talking about her latest book ‘Heartbreak Hotel’

Would I come again? Well, I think that perhaps a different writer would attract a group with whom I might feel more akin. This was a little like being the cuckoo in the nest, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the evening or that I wouldn’t recommend it, because I would. There are two up and coming events I have my eye on…

Beyond the Cherry Orchard….A Russian Feast on Friday 22nd March and Viva Tequila! with Cleo Rocos (which sounds right up my street) on Thursday 18th April…Cevice, squid and chorizo, pulled pork…plus tequila, what’s not to like!!

The food was undoubtedly delicious and well worth the £40 a head price tag. We agreed that Sam has a particular talent for sauces and dressings, all of which hit the spot pleasingly. The ‘Welsh’ menu could have been more inventive and there were elements that didn’t work as well, but having said this its nice to see a chef experimenting with different food/menu’s etc. That is the pleasure of running a supper club, the opportunity to experiment and these dinners provide exactly that for Sam. He was also very happy to talk to us after the meal, but I think the girls may have scared him with their drunken insistence that he come to the pub round the corner for cocktails. He looked a little scared……so sorry for kidnapping you Sam, we are quite normal really.

Hardy’s Brasserie and Wine Bar is at

53 Dorset Street, London, W1U 7NU.

For more information you can speak to Rosie or Dominique; call 020 7935 5929 or email hardysbookdinners@gmail.com

Sadie Jane Medhurst, Kate Withstandley and I were guests of Hardy’s Brasserie and I extend my thanks to Rosie Apponyi and Dominique de Bastarecchea for their hospitality.

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Global Feast 2012

When Kerstin Rogers (aka msmarmitelover) emailed me last week to ask how my supper club was doing, were we still up and running? I thought it was just a polite inquiry. The next minute she was asking me if I would be a guest chef at Global Feast 2012’s British food night!

Excited is an understatement. When I took a look at the other contributors ( list at the bottom of those confirmed) many of whom I have followed and admired from the depths of the Welsh mountains, you will get an understanding of just how excited I am and how amazing it will be. I’m brimming with more than a little nervous anticipation of what promises to be a busy, but superb twenty days.

Global Feast 2012 coincides with the Olympics and is the brainchild of Latitudinal Cuisine (started by Alex Haw, whose team at atmos also designed the central table…more on that in a sec!), a collective culinary project bringing people together to create and enjoy great global food and local conversation and curated by Kerstin Rodgers (msmarmite lover from The Underground Restaurant).
Between Wednesday 25th July and Monday 13th August guests will be invited to take a journey into the world of food. They will  travel through the cultures and cuisines of the entire world, tasting a different specialty each night lovingly prepared and cooked by the best local supper club cooks and chefs from the UK. The diverse culture of London and the UK will be there for all to see as will the quality and variety of the British and local produce used to create the dishes.
Lets get it right; this is not a night for the corporate, the glitterati or the feted….this is a night for those with a taste for the underground; those who like something a bit more creative, different, real.  With that in mind you can guarantee this talented group of Londoners (as well as a few of us that do not have a Londoncentric life), proper food lovers, artists and entertainers will be loving the opportunity to create a unique and unforgettable experience. If this isn’t enough in itself, guests will sit at Worldscape – part architectural masterpiece, part art installation-which is apparently the tallest table in the world, made from its contours and designed by atmos.
picture courtsey of atmosstudio

Dinners will take place in the covered courtyard of the Old Town Hall in Stratford (pretty much next door to the Olympic venue) and the schedule is as follows…

18:00 Bar opens
18:30 Welcome cocktail and canapés
19:30 Starter
20:00 Entertainment begins
20:30 Main Course
21:30 Dessert
02:00 Bar closes (4am on Friday/Saturday)

 

I will be cooking Welsh inspired dishes on British food night (Friday 27th July) and will be bringing in as many of my favourite suppliers (and products) as possible…there are so many to choose from!…

These are some of our glorious Welsh producers…but the list is endless….Welsh lamb from my mountain, Welsh black beef …so many growers within a mile of my home…Halen Mon salt are on my doorstep….Welsh cheese (how many varieties?)…we also have the best goats cheese dairy ever!….a smokery (fantastic smoked Brie and paprika)…amazing Welsh grown shiitake mushrooms…so many food orgasms without having to travel more than 20 miles!! Of course these are very Northcentric… but there are many fantastic South Wales producers too….Calon Wen cream and butter, Rachel’s Organics, Perl Wen and Perl Las cheese, Trealy Farm, Caws Cenarth….I could go on forever!! Not all will focus in my dishes, but I’m damn sure I will wedge in as many as I can!

If you wish to come along to any of the evenings (see the website for a full list of events and more information about the project) you can buy the Global Feast tickets by clicking on the link below.

http://www.globalfeast2012.com/#Book/

Those who already make up the all-star parade of guest chefs from the very best supper clubs are as follows….

Arno Maasdorp of the  SaltounSupper club (representing South Africa)

Aoife Behan of My Home supper club and Jelly and Gin (representing Scotland and Ireland)

Moel Faban supper club (representing Wales)

Plus Six Five supper club (representing Singapore)

Sabrina Ghayour supper club (representing Persia)

Uyen Luu of Leluu supper club (representing Vietnam)

Lee Sylvester of Tan Rosie supper club (representing the Caribbean)

Martin Morales of Ceviche restaurant and pop ups (representing Peru)

Carina of Russian Revels supper club (representing Russia)

Chris Massamba of Full House supper club (representing West Africa)

Caroline Hobkinson (representing Poland)

Pistachio Rose (representing Indian desserts)

As a last thought…if anyone would like to comment on or suggest their favourite Welsh dishes and desserts please I would welcome it!

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Filed under British food, eating out, event catering, home cooking, living room restaurant, London Restaurants, Pop-up cafe, Uncategorized, underground restaurant

A trip to Brixton Market

Its been a long time since I visited Brixton. Once upon a time, while I was a student in London, it was a regular haunt. My then boyfriend Gary was president of the student Union at Brixton College and he lived not much further up the road, so I often went over to visit and just as often went clubbing at ‘The Fridge’. Oh how I loved being a twenty-something in the 80’s! Back then the eclectic and vibrant market and Electric Avenue were a real revelation to me. I grew up in the suburbs and although we had several shops that sold Indian food, Brixton market with all its Caribbean delights were new, exciting and ready for exploration. The colourful exoticism of the market halls enticed me and kept me enthralled. My Jamaican boyfriend introduced me to patties and bun, curry goat and rice and peas and of course jerk chicken. I still love them to this day.

The recent history of Brixton market is one of degeneration, sell-offs and reprieves, followed by gentrification and trendy food establishments. When the council sold the market off in 2007, locals came together to save it from redevelopment. The Friends of Brixton Market (a voluntary not for profit group) was established by local resident Alex Holland in 2008. Made up of local residents, shoppers and people who just love the Market the aim was to see the market survive, thrive, improve and keep its character, while remaining affordable and culturally diverse.

The first four of these aims have definitely been achieved. The market is pretty much as I remember from my student days. The same riot of sound and colour greeted me and my teen and she was immediately captivated, just as I was twenty odd years ago. She loved it. The noise, diversity, characters and stalls!

The only thing that was noticeably different were the tiny cafe’s tucked in snugly alongside the breadfruit and akee, butchers, wig shops, fish, pattie stalls.

Hip cocktail bars such as Seven (fab mojito’s), kitchen shops selling local produce and shabby chic household goods (Brixton Cornercopia) share space with cafe’s such as Rosie’s deli, purveyor of great cakes.

Our lunch destination was French & Grace; a restaurant owned by Ellie and Rosie of salad club with whom I worked at Harvest last year. Seating only about twelve people inside (plus a few outside), it is small but perfectly formed. Informal and friendly it was like sitting down to dinner in my house. Cutlery brought to the table in a mug and food served on tin plates and dishes gave it an informal, picnic like quality.  It reminded me of their festival stall, but with a fixed counter, doors and windows.

It was great to catch up and see how full-time restaurant life suited them, plus the chance to eat their fab Mediterranean inspired street food (the lamb was delicious as was the toffee and ginger pudding with salted caramel sauce) and just sit and chill for a while as we watched the world go by before we headed back into central London for a trip to Tate Modern.

My return visit this Easter (the first time in about 15 years!) filled me with renewed hope for the future of Brixton market. It has survived with its charm intact and mercifully it still resembles the one I remember. The influx of creatives hasn’t taken away from the great stalls, great food and multicultural nature of the place.  The one thing I’m not sure about yet is whether it will meet those last two aims; to stay affordable and accessible to the local community. With the influx of trendy cafe’s and middle class chic comes the tourists looking for something new, the media types with plenty of disposable income. Brixton market was always the heart and soul of black Britain and I’d hate to see it become just another expensive fashionable foodie destination.

When it comes to prices though I’m probably not the best judge. I live in Wales where things are half the price of London and it always horrifies me how expensive food and drink is in the city. Still £7.50 for a cocktail; £8.00 for a wrap?….Call me a country bumpkin but I think this is quite expensive (back home no one would pay more than £3.50 for a wrap!)

The market arcades are open:

Monday – Wednesday from 8am – 6pm
Thursday – Saturday from 8am – 10pm
Sundays from 10am – 5pm

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Filed under British food, eating out, Eating out with kids, London Restaurants, produce markets, Uncategorized

Alex James’s Harvest: the full foodie round-up

The Salad Club stall....it looked so pretty at night with all the fairy lights lit up....so much more alluring than many of the big food stalls

Another weekend another festival…well that’s kind of how it feels at the moment!  This time though I was working with award-winning food bloggers Ellie and Rosie of Salad club on their street food stall. There were four of us, helping the two of them, making a jolly band of six. The team members included Kirstin whose day job is at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen, Izzi, who writes Shepherd Market Sweet Tart food blog, Clare, a friend of mine who stepped in at the last-minute after a helper dropped out and myself. It was a lovely gang and we all got on immediately, sharing our passion for good food and promptly adopting the role of protective foster parents over Ellie and Rosie’s ‘baby’. I don’t think I have ever been surrounded by so many avid foodies (with the exception perhaps of my appearance on Britain’s Best Dish) and it was a great feeling just being on the same food loving wavelength.

The festival itself was a strange one. Not at all typical or what I expected. It was predictably all about the food, while music from the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop, the Kooks, KT Tunstall, Benjamin Francis Leftwich (the ones I got the opportunity to see) provided an added bonus. It was clean, polite and considerably posher than the usual festival I tend to frequent. Wellies were more a fashion accessory than necessity. I guess all this was understandable since the Cotswolds is a pretty affluent area and food festivals tend to attract visitors with a higher than average disposable income. It was clear that many of the visitors lived in the Oxfordshire and Cotswolds area as indeed did most of the traders. It’s not a festival than I would have chosen to go to had a not been working there, but we had fun all the same.

It was on the Friday evening as we got ready to open for business, that it all became a bit weird. Rebekah Brooks (of News International phone hacking scandal) wandered past the stall and Alex James, once cool bass player with Blur stood at an inflatable tent flogging cheese on toast, the cheese being from his less than convincing Asda range.  Jeremy Clarkson rolled up in his Range Rover and on Saturday David Cameron wandered past baby strapped to his chest. So having got myself all excited over hugging and being photographed with Alex I promptly went off him, after seeing his choice of friends and tasting his curry flavoured cheese (heavy on the cumin and not much else). You can call me fickle if you like, but I like a man with taste and a high moral code.

Alex chatting to Rebekah Brook.....unfortunately didn't manage to snap her and the PM cosying up in the same field..he appeared on Saturday

As a few of us stood around his stall tasting samples from his range, while being given the hard sell by his publicist. I felt quite depressed about the fact that people actually want to buy bread shaped cheese slices flavoured like tomato ketchup. I wondered what was the matter with ‘normal’ cheese, good old-fashioned mature cheddar and when did we lose the ability to cut our own cheese or add tomato ketchup when it’s cooked? As for curry flavoured cheese….less said the better I think.

The chefs table...which sadly I didn't get to sit at

I guess Alex’s cheese, and not getting the chance to eat at the chef’s table (a rather lovely festival ‘restaurant’ featuring dishes created by Stevie Parle and Yotam Ottolenghi to name two), were the two culinary low points of the weekend but the rest of the foodie stuff was just fantastic.

So good in fact that I don’t know where to begin: Brewed Boy selling the smoothest, creamiest Square Mile coffee…..

Real proper burgers from Meat Wagon…thank you Yani for keeping us fed….

Meat Wagon

Real proper burgers

Brownies and ice cream from Choc Star gave us just the sweet kick we needed as we grew tired on the Sunday afternoon…perfect with yet more coffee, this time from the Little Green Coffee Machine, our lovely adrenalin and caffeine fuelled, pirate themed, hoolahooping next door neighbours….

choc star menu

fudge brownies yummy

brownies and ice cream...even more yum!

The Little Green Coffee Machine

I came home with a whole smoked Brie offered at traders price by Hall’s Dorset Smokery. It was absolutely delicious, possibly even subtler in flavour than from my usual provider…..the excellent Prosecco from Saltyard….beautiful dried rose petals and buds for the wedding i’m cooking at this weekend from Herbal Pantry and Fair Trade chocolate from Plush.

Whole Smoked Brie from Halls Smokery

beautiful dried flowers and herbs from the Herbal Pantry

I was like an excited schoolgirl meeting Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, which as some readers might have gathered is my strange foodie crush and watching him cook and tasting the food from his demo made my day. Yes I did become a touch giggly, tongue-tied and a hot and bothered imbecile when I actually got to talk to him. I was slightly more composed meeting Stevie Parle from the Dock Kitchen and even managed an intelligent conversation about visiting his restaurant and the lovely Tamarind sorbet he made. Sadly I didn’t get to meet Yotam Ottolenghi, but I did watch his demo and taste one of his dishes, a simple prawn and feta topped stew which was lovely. He really is the master of spices.

Stevie Parle's demo

photo opportunity with Stevie

Yotam Ottolenghi

diving into his dish as it was passed to the audience

 

Hugh with phallic vegetables

me getting all hot and bothered

Jay Rayner Observer food critic and friend of Ellie and Rosie’s paid us a visit at the stall on Sunday. I didn’t tell him I knew his mother (having once worked with her in my earlier career) and I’m ashamed to say I totally abused my position mercilessly bending his ear about Moel Faban Secret Supper Club and thrusting my card into his unsuspecting hand while serving him wraps. I couldn’t resist. It was an opportunity not to be missed. He was very gracious but got his own back when I insisted I HAD to take a picture of him (for the blog of course). When he left the girls laughed at me and told me I was shameless. Oh well, you don’t get anywhere by being coy!!

Jay Rayner at the stall...is that two wraps you wanted? 🙂

It was also great to catch up with Charlie Beldam of Cotswold Gold. He’s come a long way since we first met at Ms Marmitelovers produce market two years ago, now having no less than nine Michelin starred chefs using his Rapeseed oil! It was great to discuss our personal triumphs and long may his continue, he has a great product.

All in all it was a brilliant, if slightly surreal, weekend. We all worked hard and the salad club wraps flew…the Saturday rush left us feeling like we’d been hit by a truck! It must have been one of the most popular foods on sale at the festival (it certainly felt like it) and deservedly so. We ate a few ourselves. The simple combination of flavours worked perfectly; hot smoky chorizo or halloumi, a creamy butterbean and rosemary hummus, fresh beetroot and carrot slaw with sesame and Nigella seeds and sharp salsa verde with a little kick of chilli…all wrapped up in a holy land bakery flatbread.

filling the wrap

finished and wrapped up...ready to eat

Ellie and Rosie had worked hard to perfect the formula and it was spot on. They were also the loveliest people to work with and for and they looked after us well; they fed us, kept us in beer, tried to make sure we had plenty of fun time and bought Prosecco for us all to celebrate. Even the sun shone, a nice little bonus considering the forecast had promised rain, storms and hail….which finally arrived on Sunday night…as we headed home after a  fantastic weekend.

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Filed under British food, festival catering, festival food, local produce, London Restaurants, Organic meat, produce markets, Uncategorized

Polpo

It’s not often I get to totally indulge myself, but on a rare free day (meaning no kids) during a visit down south to see my parents, I took a trip into the city for a lovely lunch, before a meeting with my writing mentor. It’s no secret that I miss eating out and that there is little opportunity for leisurely lunches back in Wales and since i’d read several glowing reviews of Polpo and sister restaurants Polpetto and Spuntino in the past few months I thought I’d pay the first of these a visit to check it out.

I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d like the ‘small plate’ concept as usually my leaning is towards a good-sized serving of hearty country fare, but since none of the reviewers appeared to have left the place hungry I guessed I should put my faith in their comments.

Polpo is beautifully laid back and full of understated style. Modelled on the traditional Venetian bacaro but housed in a traditional 18th century London building, it exudes its own rustic charm. My table faced a pretty little internal courtyard, bathed in sunshine and overflowing with scarlet geraniums I could almost have been in Venice. Well maybe not, but it certainly succeeded in reminding me of some of the places I visited when I was there many years ago.

Thankfully I got there early enough so that I didn’t have to wait for a table; fifteen minutes later the place was packed out. The young friendly waiters and waitresses were attentive and helpful and very ready to answer my questions “what are polpette”?  and the menu was adequate without being too extensive.

I ordered smoked salmon, horseradish and dill crostino to begin and then Polpette (meat balls), fennel and endive salad with almonds and some grilled focaccia to follow. I wasn’t sure how big the small plates would be so I erred on the side of caution not wishing to leave hungry! In the end I found that I had over ordered and couldn’t manage the last piece of focaccia.

Smoked salmon, horseradish and dill crostino

I was pleasantly surprised at the good chunky crostino with its generous helping of smoked salmon and the dollop of horseradish was as I like it, creamy and with a kick, but not too overpowering.

The polpette were deliciously rich and tomatoey, tender and juicy while the fennel and endive salad was sharp and fresh. The two complimented each other beautifully and I really didn’t need the focaccia, which was the only disappointing thing about the lunch. I like a chunky, earthy focaccia liberally strewn with rosemary and garlic, which is how I make it, while this was a rather thin and more ciabatta like bread.

I'm a rubbish food photographer...my stomach got the better of me and I layered everything on to my plate before I photographed it!!

While I still had time to spare I finished with a Machiatto and some chocolate salami, one of my favourite coffee accompaniments and one not often seen on restaurant menus. The waitress and I had a long conversation about it and I ascertained that this was a sugarless version made with figs. It certainly wasn’t as sweet as when I make it using cranberries or cherries, but was just as nice, with its slightly salty, earthy taste derived from the nuts and figs. It went very well with the dark chocolate and coffee.

Machiatto and chocolate salami

Russell Norman and Polpo definitely won me over and gained another fan. I have to admit that it really wasn’t a hard job; I am already a lover of good Italian food and all they had to do was give me that and plenty of it.  I want to go back. I want to take friends, but I will now have to wait until my next visit to London to try one of the other restaurants in the group.  I can’t wait!

My lunch cost me £20 for 3 courses and coffee. This included service. Bookings can only be made for lunch.

Polpo
41 Beak Street
London
W1F  9SB

020 7734 4479

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