Doughnut Takeover at Bruno’s Coffee & Bakes

Join me and Bruno as we transform his Rochester shop into a fabulous doughnut emporium for one day only!

Following, as I’m sure you can imagine, a highly excitable telephone brainstorming session, we can confirm we’ll have the following doughnut options available:

Bacon & Maple Syrup Doughnut Sandwiches (peanut butter/fried egg optional)

Bags of ‘Nduja filled Doughnut Holes 

Coffee, Cardamom & Rum

Cherry, Pistachio & Black Pepper

Hazelnut Praline Creme with Raspberry

I expect there’ll also be some blueberry fritters and deep fried cheesecake. Well, just because. If you’re going to spend a whole day deep frying, why not go, ultimately, for certain death.

Rochester may sound like somewhere out of a Dickens novel; well, it is. It’s also really not that far out of London and the quaint, historic town of Kent makes for a fine day out. Bruno is a talented French patissier with a passion for fine French patisserie mixed with a healthy dose of Southern American flair. Me? I just like doughnuts.

See you there this Saturday 25th October. I’ll be the innocent looking one with an air of sugar, oil and jam about my person.

 

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Picture

I’ve had Picture nagging at me from my ‘to visit’ list ever since I first came across it, I think on Lizzie’s blog, almost a year ago. It’s a restaurant that I don’t think has ever really reached deserved peak consciousness, falling instead into a gentle undercurrent of awareness. It’s why I’ve not previously felt the urgency to visit, not like you do with the latest hotspots, that aggressively screech for attention, brazenly splashing social media with *that* signature dish like cheap perfume. I’m ashamed to say, like many more no doubt, that it’s due to the hiring of a PR that I finally find myself with no choice but to visit.

I’m just around the corner on a Saturday, post Workshop espresso masterclass, with a gurgling espresso ravaged stomach and in need of something quick and substantial to calm it down. It’s late afternoon, I’m alone and hoping for bar dining, but a cursory peer into Picture reveals a slightly cold and unwelcoming sight; an empty steel bar and a distant flurry of activity past this at the back. I do however clock a ridiculously reasonable set lunch menu and make a mental note to return with a friend, or indeed just a smidge earlier than I am at that moment,  if it’s to be a solo visit. In the meantime I smother my growling stomach with ramen at Tonkotsu.

Before I have a chance to return of my own accord, their PR sends an invite. Well ok, yes, actually I would very much like to visit, thank you; promptly a friend and I are booked in for dinner.

On a Thursday evening, I arrive before my friend, am sat at the bar and greeted warmly by manager Tom who gives me a bit of their background; he, together with the head chefs of Arbitus and Wild Honey had decided to open their own place. They didn’t want to make a song and a dance about it, they just wanted to have their own restaurant, cooking their own thing, and hence that original decision not to hire a PR. Fitzrovia it turns out, is much cheaper than Soho where they originally had sights, the name is chosen simply to fit with the area than for any other highfalutin subliminal reason. Located a fair way up on Great Portland Street, they weren’t getting the passing footfall they’d hoped for and without a PR, they missing much needed awareness, and so the decision was made. I’ve consequently seen a steady stream of my Twitter feed visit now and I hope it makes the difference for them, as I really warmed to Picture and the team behind it.

The evening of our reservation arrives and I come riding in strong on a lunch of Campari and sodas, it seems prudent to order an off menu Negroni to round things off. The barman is a kind looking man with a twinkle in his eye whom I watch with great pleasure pouring, not your la-di-da and reserved wine measures, but great glugging glassfuls, generously splashing in as much as possible. My friend, when she arrives orders a champagne cocktail laced with lemon and mint adorned with a purple flower, it tastes sweetly of fresh lemonade.

I hadn’t realised the restaurant was quite so small, little more than a long corridoor, the first half dominated by this slick looking bar that, to me, feels incongruous to the second half of the room as it has a far warmer, more rustic and trattoria vibe, replete with back wall mural and dappled paintwork. The menu is divided into a la carte on one side with a tasting menu on the other. We decide to leave ourselves in the hands of the kitchen, pretty much always a wise move, and at £35 for six courses seems to be very good value too.

Expectations are raised with a platter of bread and butter; two, very cute, individual baguettes, warm and crusty, are served with whipped butter. We choose a red wine that is on the cheaper end of the list that has a heavy aroma but is surprisingly sprightly and juicy on the palate.

We start proper with a Squash Velouté, I never order soup (boring) but this is a tiny bowl that smells of autumn, tastes of fennel and cumin seeds and has a luxurious texture that is velvety and mousse-like.

Our next course arrives swiftly after; Grilled, tender stem broccoli sits on top of goats curd, finely diced plum tomatoes, capers and a hearty dose of dill, little croutons add necessary texture and interest.

Next up is the triumph of the night; shoulder of lamb is so soft and full of flavour we guess it’s been sous vide-ed, devoid entirely of stringyness, it falls apart at the slightest prod. Chunks of meruez sausage boost richness and add spice, coco beans and tomato make a jus and puree. An astonishing simple and yet vibrant plate of food.

Three perfect parcels of ravioli with Italian greens and ricotta, really benefit from the warming spice and flavour of chilli.

28 Day Dry Aged Beef served in two, well cooked, chunks with curly kale, sweet potato puree and salsify suffers only from it’s position after that lamb dish, lacking quite the requisite punch of flavours that we’ve only just experienced. Not a negative, more of a comment on how good the former was.

Dessert is a heavenly combination of chocolate mousse, diced and caramelised banana with a peanut cream. Combined, the elements remind me of the artificial greatness of foamy banana sweets. I can’t resist hunting down the original sweets a few days later, the idea lodged firmly in my head.

We make pigs of ourselves by ordering a cheese plate to share, having decided, our waiter leaves the choice up to us, to take this after dessert. Oatcakes and three cheeses from La Fromagerie are swiftly polished off, you can tell we’re having a good time as I’ve given up taking photos at this point.

You know my only gripe? It’s with those big, statement-y plates that have become so popular but really grate on me and dwarf food. I’m pretty sure this is a personal quirk though as everyone else seems to like them…

Picture is the sort of place that feels like it would benefit from a different location, as a neighbourhood restaurant on the edges of town it would really have the chance to sparkle, as it is, it feels a bit strangled by the cluttered network of other dining options in the surrounding areas. Above all though I get a real sense of integrity, a warmth and honesty that behaves like MSG to the tastebuds and emanates from the staff. I note that they have a BYO Monday, which seems like the perfect excuse to instigate another wine evening with friends, it’s the sort of place you can imagine laughing and chatting for hours over a few bottles.

Picture is less slick in feel than you might expect from it’s front, though the service is exemplary, and all the better for it in my opinion.

 

Picture on Urbanspoon

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Greengage, Cobnut and Stem Ginger Cake

Harvest is a word that I associate with the rosy blush of autumn, just the very sound of the word conjors the crisp crunch of tiny British apples and juicy bite of plums. No doubt I’ve been influenced by many a school assembly of yore, worshipping at the alter of the harvest festival, whereby we were instructed to shun the actual harvest and instead gather non perishables that lends, to me, dusty store cupboard connotations and rather random, occultish images of straw sculptures. Still though, harvest has remained synonymous with this period, even if my associations with it have changed.

This year, post fig excitement, I’ve mainly been inspired by the combination of greengages and cobnuts, both insistently and persistently catching my eye at the little grocery store by Herne Hill station. When ripe, it seems almost a crime to do anything more with them than to serve together simply with a dollop of Greek yoghurt. The humble greengage almost glows with an internal iridescence that’s more ethereally beautiful than any stained glass window; subtle shades of peachy yellow through bright to dusky, blueish green. Cobnuts are cousins of the hazelnut and akin in flavour but taste fresher and brighter when they’re new, as they are in the shops right now.

It wasn’t a mistake to serve them grilled on toast with a little Comte as a post dinner savoury. Or with a chunk of Comte and a glass of light Jura red. That may just happen again since I brought over 1.5 kilos of the cheese back with me from Jura….(more on that trip when I have a little more time and on harvest too)

This week I decided to try something a touch more elaborate, spurred on by a craving for cake, my current flavour obsessions leading the way. I based this on a plum and hazelnut recipe on the Daily Mail website, not my usual source of anything, but the ratios seemed ok and fruit/nuts interchangeable, I added a smidge of stem ginger for some warming spice that’s not immediately apparent but builds gently on the finish.

Greengage, Cobnut and Stem Ginger Cake – Makes 10 large wedges

200g butter at room temperature, cut into pieces

200g golden caster sugar

4 large eggs beaten

120g self raising flour

80g wholemeal spelt flour

salt

200g cobnuts – roasted and blitzed in a food processor – retain a handful of whole for the top

stem ginger chopped finely plus syrup

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 punnets greengages

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees and line a 25cm ish spring form cake tin with baking paper.

Roughly stone and chop the greengages from one of the punnets (250g)

Add the caster sugar and butter to a large bowl and cream together until smooth. Gradually add in the eggs, beating to combine after each addition. Fold in the flours, baking powder and a pinch of salt and finally stir in the chopped greengages, cobnuts and stem ginger (I used just 3 pieces plus a drizzle of the syrup but add more or less to taste), reserving a couple of tablespoons of ground cobnuts for topping.

Pour batter into the cake tin. Stone and halve greengages from the 2nd punnet and lay on the cake surface, cut side down. Mix reserved ground cobnuts with the demerara sugar and sprinkle over the top then finish by scattering over the remaining whole cobnuts.

Bake in the centre of the oven for around 40-45 or until the surface is crisp and golden and an inserted knife comes out clean.

I served simply with a big dollop of natural Greek Yoghurt

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Of Pasta & Figs

I love the transition between Summer and Autumn possibly most of all of any of the other season’s handovers. It’s perhaps no coincidence then that this ephemeral, twilight period is when figs drop auspiciously into shops, causing my heart to go all a flutter due to their fleeting seasonal window. As a rule it’s best to ignore those found in supermarkets, dumbed down and packaged sorrowfully to within an inch of their extended, flavour curtailed shelf life. Head instead to places that aren’t scared to stock rudely ripe fruit that’s close to busting out of it’s skin, droplets of juice oozing from heavy bottoms, begging to be eaten and casting in their wake a pale, damned shadow on their clinically packed cousins. Find them in proper old school markets, food centres (there’s a Turkish one near me that’s good) and even good old Lidl; the best will have to be gorged on the way home, for they’d never survive the paper bag journey, turning quickly to purple and crimson mush.

Fig season, this year, coordinated rather well with my learning how to make pasta. Well, you can probably see where this is going right? Here’s a couple of recipe simple ideas that I can heartily recommend.

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This n’duja, fig, mozzarella and basil dish may be my actual new favourite thing.

Simply boil pasta for around 4-5 minutes until al dente, remove from the saucepan and drain. Meanwhile, cut figs into slices of eighths and grill for a few minutes to release their juices.

Add a lump of n’duja to the pan in order to warm through and melt a little, then return the pasta and toss with the torn mozzarella and basil leaves and three quarters of the grilled figs.

Add the remainder of the figs to serve as they’ll have retained their shape more pleasingly than those that have been smooched with the pasta mess. Season with plenty of cracked black pepper.

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Gorgonzola, fig and cacao nibs – I like that this is a delicate balance between sweet and savoury; the creamy but piquant gorgonzola has enough saltiness to win the tussle though.

As before, boil pasta for around 4-5 minutes then drain, meanwhile grill the eighthed figs lightly.

Return the pasta to the pan, add a large chunk of broken up gorgonzola, a knob of butter, seasoning and most of the figs, then toss to coat.

Finish with the remaining pieces of fig and scatter across the cacao nibs.

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Oh, and here’s a cheeky little toastie. Well, just because; who doesn’t love a toastie? N’duja, lincolnshire poacher & sliced fig; it was GOOD.

 

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Casual Dining Spots; Roti King, On The Bab, Burro E Salvia, Dindin Kitchen

As much as I enjoy a leisurely evening of cocktails and nibbles or a long, lazy brunch at the weekend, there’s also something to be said for cheaper, maybe more perfunctionary eats. Be that a working lunch or an early, or late, snappy evening meal. I’ve enjoyed a number of great spots recently, that I’m too lazy to write up as a whole blog post each, so I thought I’d share a bunch in one fell swoop.

Burro E Salvia is a charming little spot behind Shoreditch High Street which I found on James Lowe’s recommendation and before Lyle’s was quite open itself. A tranquil restaurant that is calming, sweet and whitewashed, the antithesis of what much of Shoreditch has become. Just watching the ladies at the front of the shop hand shaping pasta is soothing and therapeutic in itself. That handmade pasta, along with a small range of Italian grocery items are available to take away, whilst the back section and bar against the wall opposite the counter becomes a restaurant.

I choose a rustic dish of potato and thyme filled pasta with a meat sauce; the pasta is super fresh, well cooked, pleasingly toothsome and the flavours simple and delicious. Comfort food at it’s best. It’s a fantastic hidden oasis of calm for lunch, or they open for dinner Thursday through Saturday.

I was invited to try Dindin kitchen, one of a rash of new Persian inspired places that have opened of late, this one claims to be, PR fail if I’m honest, an Iranian Itsu, like that’s a good thing… I turn up to a late lunch hungry but not prepared for the avalanche of food that’s sent out, luckily they’re more than happy to pack up most of it for me to take away, and boy and I feed off it’s contents for the next day. Ok, so the space is not a remotely glamorous one and yes, I can see the comparison to other high Street chains in this respect, being functional and harsh of light, and for this reason I’d highly recommend taking away, the ambience doesn’t do the food justice.

The food is good though. I try a selection of their dips with some flatbread and love the walnut and aubergine and another smoky baba ganoush type thing best. The wraps are well stuffed and generous of size and hold up well even though I eat mine on day two. It’s the boxes I’d go back for though, a combination of tender, spiced meat served with a side, salad, pickles and sauce, the barberry rice in particular is ace, studded with dried fruit and herbs, I like the combination of flavours all in one box. The fig and goats cheese flatbread and egg pots sound like a good idea for breakfast, but not so sure about the cronuts on display on their counter. Surely they could have come up with something a bit more interesting and, umm, Persian?!

Oh man, I’d been meaning to go to Roti King for so long and it more than kept up it’s part of the bargain. Once I find it that is. So I forgive them for moving it. I turn up at the old site on Charing Cross Road after an admittedly superficial Google search, not twigging that it had relocated to up behind Euston Station, I then proceed to walk past the entrance twice as the dodgy looking takeaway place can’t be The One. Oh how wrong I am.

Once you get past the decor and ignore half the menu (they still have the old residents menu displayed – yeah, confusing) it’s more than worth the effort. There really is only one thing to order here, don’t waste the opportunity to eat the best roti in London and watch mesmerised as the chef pulls and spins gossamer thin pastry with easy dexterity as though it’s not the faerie lace creation it is, that would become a heavy, broken beast in any clumsier hands. The curry served with is more of a dip and accompaniment to that etherial bread, I rarely feel the need to pull pieces of meat from bone, satisfied just to dunk and mop greedily into that satisfyingly fiery sauce. A dessert is a shared plate of more of that bread fried in sugar and butter. OOF. I go with friends for an early dinner and have no trouble getting a table but it soon fills up and I’m told there are adequate queues for lunch.

Despite it’s terrible name, On The Bab is a great little restaurant. I’ve been twice now and it definitely satisfies a desire for something a bit different, I love that you can order light with just one or two items or more heartily. As you might expect, I like to perch at the tall bench along the right hand wall rather than at the squash of tables that fill the room.

The dishes I try err on the sweet and tempered side and I could definitely do with a bit more heat; kimchi pancakes are tasty but perhaps lacking punch and chicken dumplings are nice enough. Kimchi arancini I want to love but don’t blow me away, I think maybe I don’t love arancini that much. I order better on my second visit, drafting in a friend to help share, and in doing so order more.

Bulgogi beef buns are maybe not as good as Bao, frankly I’m not sure any are to be fair, but very enjoyable all the same and fried chicken is lurid red, sticky sweet and like a good sweet and sour Chinese. The winner for me is kimchi Bokeum Bab, essentially a Korean kimchi and bacon paella served in a tin dish and topped with an oozy fried egg, I imagine pretty perfect hangover fodder indeed.

Maybe not perfect but it satisfies a snacky format that I love; a pick and mix savoury assortment.

As this post was.

On The Bab on Urbanspoon

On The Bab on Urbanspoon

Dindin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Roti King on Urbanspoon

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La Cucina Asellina – Pasta Masterclass & A Brunch Pasta Recipe

Ever since my trip to Rimini in June this year I’ve been contemplating making pasta. Fully contemplating mind, not actually doing, for it’s remained one of those things that seems specialist, requires niche skills, best left to the experts or bought from a shop. This teamed with the fact that I’ve always been slightly underwhelmed by the stuff meant that I never had the burning desire to do anything about that situation. All of a sudden though, whilst away I ‘got it’, that lightbulb moment, and I proceeded to spend the rest of my trip ingesting pasta in it’s various forms every day, making up for lost time, fearful of losing that spark of inspiration. It’s true that many dishes embody and absorb their terroir; I thought perhaps pasta would never taste quite the same at home under different skies, and perhaps it doesn’t, quite, with more worries resting on my shoulders, but I was open to giving it a chance.

Therefore, when I received an invite from the PR who looks after La Cucina Asellina, at ME Hotel on The Strand, to a pasta masterclass, I gave it a casual, oooh, 5 minutes before snatching it out of their hands.

A bunch of us met at the bar and got stuck into an aperitif and some snacks. You don’t need me to tell you what I had right (I actually wrote about this in some respect a short while ago)? Before long, we were led away by a chef, handed an apron and got stuck into our lesson. All of the restaurant’s pasta is handmade in the way we’re taught next, fresh each morning by a dedicated chef. The process reveals itself to be ridiculously simple and alarmingly effective.

Best bit?

Playing with the pasta rolling and cutting machine. At around £8k a pop and with crushing rollers and sharp knives incorporated, we were watched with hawk like eyes as we fed through our improbable lumps of dough and watched them transform into silky sheets of pasta with each incrementally narrow feed. Without exception each of us squealed with delight as our own ugly lumps became beautiful carby swans stretched, pulled and sliced into piles that looked alarmingly like real pasta. We were briefly taught how to fold a filled pasta shape but I expect I’ll leave that until I’ve mastered the basics.

Quick lesson over, we retreat to the restaurant and tuck into a three course meal, enjoying charcuterie and bread, perfect pasta (not our own to my disappointment, I have a horrible feeling our attempts were whisked rapidly to the bin) and desserts, a small huddle of us loitering for a post postprandial martini. The star of the meal for me, without doubt is my pasta main; I chose a buttery black pepper tagliatelle with chicken liver, pancetta and sage.

A lovely introduction indeed but mostly I’m desperate to have a go at home, and after my trip to Copenhagen I’m right in there. With no fancy, luminous yellow yolked Italian eggs or snazzy rolling machine, I make do with Waitrose’ finest and my trusty rolling pin, cutting a wibbly wobbly path with a pizza wheel for the most ‘rustic’ tagliatelle you’re ever likely to see. That’s the charm though non? My finished brunch dish tastes of so very much more than the sum of it’s parts; of Italian dreams, my own limitations conquered, hearty spice and reward, I can almost smell the blossoms of Rimini in my nostrils. I’m sure most Italians would wince at my creation but I stand by it as the best thing I’ve put in my mouth for a long time.

Anyway, in regards to pasta making, seems I was wrong; as with most things made from scratch, the end result is just a part of the process and I’m thrilled with the results, I may not have made restaurant grade pasta but that wasn’t the plan anyway. This is home style pasta that tastes almost better than that, made by my own hand as it is, it has that additional flavour of achievement and it’s ludicrously easy to boot, it’s also best dressed simply. I’m excited and enthused to have a new technique in my repertoire. Bring on the pasta experimentation.

Brunch pasta

For the pasta

300g ’00′ flour

3 large eggs

large pinch of salt

Put a mound of flour onto a clean work surface, make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs, adding a pinch of salt. Slowly mix the eggs with a fork, gradually incorporating the internal edges of flour until you can do away with the fork and get stuck in with your hands. Work the mixture until it’s all together then knead for a few minutes until you feel the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place in the fridge for an hour or longer to rest.

When ready to start your dish, take your dough and roll out as thinly as possible onto a surface sprinkled with flour, then slice into threads, the more irregular the better. Ahem.

I used 75g pasta for this dish, but made up a larger quantity to keep in the fridge for a couple of days

For Brunch Pasta – serves 1

75g fresh pasta

handful of cherry tomatoes

couple of spring onions

25g n’duja

olive oil

seasoning

egg

Bring a pan of water to the boil and drop in the pasta, cook for around 4-5 minutes until al dente. Remove from pan and drain.

Add a little olive oil to the pan and chuck in quartered tomatoes and n’duja to soften and melt a little respectively, whilst in a frying pan fry an egg in a little more oil over a highish heat.

Return the pasta to the saucepan and toss to coat with the tomatoes, nduja, 1 sliced spring onion, plenty of black pepper and a little salt.

Add the pasta to a plate and top with the crispy fried egg and the other sliced spring onion as garnish.

Cucina Asellina on Urbanspoon

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L’anima Cafe, *that* N’duja & A Peach, N’duja & Comte Toastie

I hurriedly made a reservation during L’anima Cafe‘s soft opening around a month ago, if I’m honest on the merit of just a couple of items that had been brought to my attention via social media. It’s often the way. One or two dishes will naturally capture the imagination and litter Instagram with echoes of their image. Recently, we’ve been subjected to *that* polenta at Palomar, *that* lahmacun at Arabica, *those* crab doughnuts at Chiltern Firehouse and on and on it will continue, one image shining like a beacon of promise from each new spot. Here? Well it was a multitude of similar images of *that* N’duja bread, and a smear of that same n’duja on the side of a plate of ragu pasta.

It’s the fun, younger sister restaurant to ostentatious (read expensive) Italian restaurant L’anima, which I’ve never been too. Greeted by a slightly odd European tableau just inside the doorway of a scooter and baskets of produce, I ask for a seat at the bar as I’m dining alone. My first experience isn’t the most amazing, maybe a little awkward as I feel they’re bemused (?) by my desire to dine at the bar, though a guy next to me is, but the food and service is nice, and relaxed enough for me to want to return – it’s their first week after all. And I do.

On that first visit, a starter portion of beef carpaccio with blue cheese and walnuts is generous and all-of-the-tasty but it’s the tiny scroll of bread, that’s really a mini pastry, from the fabled bread trolley that draws a delighted gasp, and it’s the deeply satisfying ragu that I tuck into with gusto. It’s the fiery heat within the leaves of pastry of that roll that plays on my mind and the smear on the side of my pasta plate, smoky with buckets of flavour and spice, that sees me keen to make a hasty re-visit.

In fact, the next time I’m within the depths of the city I pop into the deli, attached to the cafe, to have a nose. The deli actually offers a third, and even more casual, dining option with a rather nice selection of deli items, sandwiches, freshly cooked pasta and cakes (hey pistachio croissant and doughnuts) to take away or sit in. It’s a nice space for a quick, informal lunch and although I like the cafe, I find it very large and slightly lacking in charm and character (though the staff have plenty). I have eyes only for a slab of n’duja that I purchase for just £7.50, and I scuttle away with the taste of spicy Calabrian promise on my lips.

I return for a third visit for lunch with a group of friends, determined to beat a fast track to more of that pasta, however it turns out we’re in the hands of the restaurant (nice surprise!) and some lovely dishes start to arrive along with lubricating prosecco. First though, we’re wheeled out that bread trolley, something I missed out on during former visits, a couple of pouches containing a selection of their various breads are left with us, a trio of dips including a smoky aubergine and more of that n’duja, with some extra of the scrolls at our request. Those scrolls. That n’duja. A group of starters is a little seafood heavy for my tastes, but my friends quickly mop up, each is lovely and vibrant, the burrata a fantastic specimen of it’s kind.

I’d been trying to eye up the pizza on previous visits and so I’m pleased when one is brought before us, a scorched beauty anointed with more nduja (happy faces all round) with more meat and topped with milky, raw mozzarella. It’s good. Maybe not quite Pizza Pilgrims good, but still we enjoy every last bite. Cocktails and desserts, of which a panna cotta and cassata are favourites, cap an epic weekday lunch.

Still. That n’duja.

I spend the following week ingesting it in various guises as it finds itself in every meal taken at home and probably will do until it’s used up, and then I shall buy some more.

If you know me at all, you’ll know it christened a shakshuka and accompanied some fritters, it also stole the show of some cheese on toast. And then….

Avocado on toast? With n’jua and halloumi? YES. With an egg for brunch? Yup.

Hash of potatoes, broad beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, spring onions,? With n’duja? YES.

N’duja fried aubergine with spring onions on toast? MASSIVE YES.

Winner? For me it has to be a toastie. Which, considering it’s still August seems to herald the oncoming of the next season. You know that point in Summer when something shifts? There’s an inkling of Autumn. The air has a certain briskness to it’s edges and you’re suddenly aware of leaves rustling, the light sits low and colours are gilded with a saturation that brings on a yearning for wool and boots. Don’t get me wrong, I’m egging the Summer on to continue for as long as it can. But a couple of days ago, I also had the distinct feeling that it was on it’s way out and surrendering itself to Autumn.

It’s funny that as much as I love the reality of peaches, as an idea they inspire very little in me. I blame their overexposure in dodgy desserts and synthetic scents of my childhood. Yet one sniff of the aroma from a real, ripe peach makes me go all funny. Every time.

I’ve already made this toastie a number of times and I’m not over it yet. So simple but effective, it’s just buttered bread (BOTH sides), then layer up n’duja, wafer thin peach and grated Comte cheese.

The beauty of Summer and Autumn colliding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Peach & Pistachio Friands with Honey Whipped Greek Yoghurt

Guessed my latest food obsession? That’s right; peaches. I cannot get enough of them, and you’ll know this if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram. What? I have an addictive personality ok?! This year, it’s mainly the pale fleshed varieties, subtly sweeter and more aromatic than their yellow cousins, but still juicy and pure summer in every bite.

I had a serious craving for cake one morning this week, whilst miles from anything discernible and firmly lodged at my desk in dreary Lower Sydenham. All day I dreamed of sweet baked things, tortured by images from friends at afternoon teas and others working from cafes, of which, we all know, cake scoffing is a prerequisite. I quickly started plotting a spot of baking for that evening, mentally concocting an easy twist on a favourite.

I love friands, partly because I have a cute little baking tray which delivers dainty, bite sized versions, and partly because they’re so easy to tweak to incorporate whatever it is I’m obsessing over at any particular moment in time. You can’t really go wrong with a light but rich almond base, they have an addictive sugary crust and can contain anything you like really. Light and crispy when they first come out of the oven, they develop a moist crumb over the next couple of days, if they happen to last that long.

This time I kept it simple, pairing soft, ripe peaches with nibbly pistachios, keeping the baking ingredients on the golden side to enhance those summery flavours, a honey whipped greek yoghurt the perfect, delicious accompaniment. I love these best with a mug of coffee (I’m loving the Kenyan coffees from Square Mile and Koppi at the moment) for breakfast.

Makes around 16 teeny tiny bite sized friands, but the recipe is easily scaled up to fit larger versions or even a small muffin or fairy cake tin

40g ground almonds

25g wholemeal spelt flour

60g melted butter

75g golden icing sugar

2 egg whites

pinch of salt

1 pale fleshed peach chopped into tiny peices

25g pistachios pounded lightly in a pestle and mortar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and put a baking tray to heat through on the middle shelf. Brush the insides of your moulds with some of the melted butter.

Beat egg whites until thick and pale, then stir in the almonds, flour, most of the pistachios (retain some for decoration), icing sugar, salt and finally the butter and peach pieces.

Spoon carefully into the moulds, pace on the pre-heated baking tray and bake for around 15 minutes until golden.

Finish by scattering over the remaining pistachios.

Serve with yoghurt whipped with a drizzle of honey to naturally sweeten.

 

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Griddled Doughnut Peaches, Feta, Pistachio & Mint

This is more of a suggestion than a recipe really as it’s all I’ve been craving in these lazy days, full of glorious sunshine and air like soup, that inspires a big fat negative on the activity, and certainly cooking, front. Peaches, juicy, ripe and fragrant peaches are sometimes enough to be honest, I’m faintly obsessed with them this Summer, but when I can be bothered to do more, it’s this.

Not only are doughnut (or flat, but why take the fun out of it?) peaches blessed with The Best fruit name, they’re comical, cute, look like ballerina buns and stack prettily in pictures. No, I didn’t. Griddled, they soften and the delicate almond flesh turns to sticky honeyed sweetness, caramelises in parts and releases the most beautiful perfumed fragrance that translates entirely to taste. The downy skin wrinkles a little in places and reminds me of the soft focus, fading beauty of rose petals; peach, mottled plum and violet blush. A punchy, barrelled aged, feta becomes creamy in contrast and adds just enough salty to balance. Torn mint lends a herbal, almost medicinal quality, I smile at textural play betwixt fuzzy peach skin and ever so slightly rough mint leaf surface. Pistachios because…. Well, always pistachios.

I’m inclined to dress with a grassy olive oil but it just doesn’t need it, just some cracked black pepper, the flavours here and soft, oozy, peach juice is just enough.

What a sexy little summer salad, non?

 

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The Palomar & Arabica Bar & Kitchen

I’m always attracted to food that’s roughly influenced by the Middle East, there’s something mystical about the fragrant and often heavily spiced cuisine that I find so utterly different from the food I was brought up on and therefore bewitching. Attempts to cook it at home, often from recipe books or from googled recipes, I find a magical process. Not quite knowing how the dish I’m making should really taste, look or smell; serious kitchen alchemy happens when I’ve created something I couldn’t possibly have come up with on my own, having been exposed to so little of the history and culture, so integral to this type of cuisine, myself.

Two recent London openings have been broadly flaunted as Levantine, that is food influenced by the tick list of states of the Levant; Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, and as such, they immediately rose to the top spots on my must visit list. I arranged to meet a friend for lunch on two consecutive Tuesdays, walking straight into respective bars with no bookings; they’re both in fairly early stages of opening. Here I’d say the similarities ended, we were bemused at the very different experiences we had at each. I’d feel lazy in lumping the two in the same blog post except for this interesting comparison.

Probably still makes me lazy. Whatever.

I arrive before my lunch date at The Palomar and am seated, hesitantly at first in case I waste the second (empty for now) space for too long, at That Bar. It’s attracted plenty of press since it opened and rightly so as it harnesses all the best bits of bar dining; you’re in the eye of the storm, practically on top of the kitchen, who’s chefs banter and dance the steps of a busy, tiny kitchen, our barman is literally in front of us, mixing drinks and engaging in friendly chit chat at our whim, waiters appear to hold the whole thing together, weaving between chefs and punters in an elegant but tightly choreographed routine. There’s a room at the back that can be pre-booked but it looks wholly staid and prim; frankly why bother when the action is at this bar?

Amongst the many words already lavished upon Palomar, there seems to be a sharp divide between those that do and those that do not *get* it. Those that rave about it tell a tale of a wild and hedonistic atmosphere; free food being sent down the bar and shots necked by staff and guests in wild abandon. Those that don’t seem miffed that the hype wasn’t worthy. My experience was no food rave, it was good, but no cigar. Perhaps because my friend and I visited at lunch? But, I’m not sure it matters, I wouldn’t normally expect all that from a restaurant visit, and anyway I have work to do later on that afternoon, shots or no shots.

It doesn’t stop me from pondering the cocktail list before falling back on a Negroni, it’s what I fancy after all. It all starts so well, the glass is weighty glamour incarnate, but the stirring continues for almost an eternity and eventually I hear myself bleating for the bartender to stop, fearing for a watery drink (the nemesis of the Negroni – I love mine to start mouth puckeringly bitter, then to mellow out as I sip and dilution takes hold). My friend arrives shortly after and we’re jostled to order, not in a rude manner, but it feels as though there’s a fast pace and rhythm integral to the aesthetic, as if there’s a conductor in the wings somewhere maintaining a heavy, fluid beat. The menu is succinct, which helps, and we’re praised for our selection, staff are jovial, enthusiastic, in your face, and quick to lavish praise on us and the food.

We start with the Yemeni pot baked bread, a sort of brioche, we rip into it and dip into the accompanying tahini and shaved tomato dips, soothing and vibrant respectively. The Jerusalem polenta is supposed to be the thing to order, so we do; it’s silky, buttery rich, and honks of truffle, we dig for mushrooms and asparagus and sweep bread around the bottom to mop up any we’ve missed.

We share two meaty mains from the Stove, Josper, Plancha section of the menu; the Shakshukit, described as a deconstructed kebab and the pork belly tajine. Both are intensely rich, almost cloyingly so, spicing keeps it addictive but it’s oily and pretty heavy going. The kebab is a pile of mince daubed with four loud sauces on a bed of oil, enriched tahini and yoghurt, we barely touch the pitta crouton, choosing instead the light brioche for scooping. The pork is a lusciously fatty, tender coil of belly meat that sits on a bed of Israeli couscous, spiced with ras al hanout and anointed with sweet, plump dried apricots.

And breath.

We can’t face desserts, though I love the sound of Malabi; rose scented milk pudding with pistachios, meringues and the like. Entirely sated we’re surprised by a very reasonable bill, £30 or so each, no freebies, we feel faintly short changed however of greenery rather than booze. The Palomar is vibrant, saturated colours and flavours, almost too much.

So, in contrast, Arabica Bar & Kitchen feels entirely different. For a start the space within a railway arch is spacious, The Palomar being little more than a narrow bar, there’s room to appreciate the turquoise leather banquets, a stunning Moroccan style metal meshwork design feature on the back wall and a lengthy, cool and smooth concrete bar. Naturally we hop up to that bar, enjoying a light breeze that ruffles our hair through a front that entirely opens up to one of the more sedate corners of Borough Market. We’re again here for a late lunch and have most of the restaurant to ourselves, the waiting staff waft around without engaging, seemingly nervous of disturbing our chatter.

Eventually drinks are ordered, a Levantine Martini for me incorporating Kamm & Sons, gin, vermouth and preserved lemon brine, it’s zesty and potent, but it takes far longer for us to decide on food. Divided into subsections, the menu is everything I want from this sort of food and it’s hard to choose one thing over another. Eventually we make our minds up before trying to catch the eye of a waitress who verges on the too polite to disturb again. We don’t mind, it suits our languid mood on this sunny afternoon.

Quickly food starts arriving from the kitchen at the far end of the bar. First Moutabel, a smoked aubergine and garlic dip that’s dotted with tart pomegranates, it comes with a flatbread in cute branded wrapper on the side. I could easily have ordered one of each from the dip section, but refrain in order to leave room for meat and stuff, in similar sacrifice we skip the fried offerings. I’m sad about that now. Instead, we go straight in for the Lahmacun, for it’s this that first caught my attention on the menu prior to visiting. It’s much smaller than we’re expecting but delicious in every way, basically a turkish pizza, a flat bread base is topped with spiced lamb, tomato, peppers and pine nuts, sunshine flavours that have us craving more immediately, it lasts a matter of seconds.

We’re in the mood for some meat, and the beef and bone marrow kofta hits the nail right on the head, two skewers offer three bouncy, juicy meatballs each, served rare as advertised and unctuous as you like, we fight, in a ladylike manner, over the pickled chilli and roasted tomato on the side. Chicken and pistachio skewers are slightly more restrained, I drag them through the cardamom and honey dressing, not wanting to miss a drop. In fact we order some more bread for fear of missing out on any flavourful juices, the heavily za’atar topped flatbread does the trick beautifully.

Desserts round the meal of superbly, a simple but heavenly assembly of candied clementine served with buffalo ricotta and pistachios appears to be The One, that is until the Knafeh arrives. This automatically becomes the winning dish and one I’m dying to recreate back at home; crispy, Levantine, whisper thin shredded pastry harbours a molten cheese base, all drenched in orange blossom honey and scattered with pistachios. It’s utterly glorious in every conceivable way.

So, although I enjoyed our experience at The Palomar, food was heavy, rich but reasonable, it felt like more of a one trick pony. In contrast, Arabica Bar and Kitchen felt less satisfying as a whole and small plates added up quickly, however it holds many things I still have the desire to try on their menu. Maybe a less intense experience but Arabica is the one I’m keen to return to, very soon indeed.

The Palomar on Urbanspoon
Arabica Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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